Minnie Kim Vampire Girl #4
Minnie’s first love is dead and there’s nothing she can do about it.
But when the wild dog she met months ago tracks her down, and turns out to be a werewolf—now that’s something she can deal with.
The task seems simple enough: Help Cheveyo regain his memories, find his family, and reunite them. It’s the perfect distraction from the sorrow that’s plagued her all summer.
The task, however, isn’t at all what it seems. Instead of a happy reunion, Minnie discovers a dark underside to the supernatural world that not only threatens Cheveyo’s life but the life of supernaturals the world over.
This vampire life isn’t turning out at all like Minnie hoped.
There were so many voices in my head, I hardly missed the one I wanted to hear most.
A flock of birds argued with a family of squirrels over the vegetable garden; farther up the mountain the deer sought out the best places to graze; and in the house behind me, my family worried.
But Philo was silent.
I swear I felt him—felt the string or connection or whatever it was that had always connected us—but I knew that was impossible.
Philo was dead.
Once, I tried to shut down the connection. Sort of. To be honest, I hadn’t tried very hard. I wasn’t sure I wanted the connection to be gone, even if it was only the memory of one.
David advised me to leave it alone. I think he was afraid it would drive me crazy, but I was fine.
In fact, in the two months since I got back from Korea, I’d completely turned my life around. I’d read The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Vampire from cover to cover and was currently taking notes, making a compilation of the facts, lies and contradictions in its pages. I decided I would, actually, write a version of the book for new vampires as well as a companion edition for human family members. I figured if I were to make a difference in the world, if I was going to prove vampires were still human, it wouldn’t hurt to begin establishing my name as a reputable source of information on the subject of vampires.
I’d also asked every member of my family for lessons in whatever they could teach me, and I’d learned a lot. Siobhan sparred with me every day, and had recently graduated me from open hand fighting to weapons. She said I was a fast learner and was becoming a good fighter. Okay, she might have said I was becoming a good “little” fighter, but I chose to believe she meant my size and not my ability.
Fearghus taught me about mythology and the supernaturals living in the world. If I’d known even half of what was living right alongside us when I was a human, I would never have slept a wink. Even now, it took concerted effort not to peer into shadowy corners or look too closely at the flares of light that sometimes caught my eye.
Jack and Mrs. Hamburg taught me about history, and their lessons were funny and heartbreaking and inspiring. Mrs. Hamburg pretended to be prickly, but inside she was just a big softie who’d lived a hard life and lost so much before she’d been reMade.
Sang was hesitant to commit to helping me with anything, but after I promised not to accompany him on all his travels representing the huge K-pop talent agency, and fangirl at every chance I got, he agreed to “add what he could” to my fighting lessons. Since he was much more willing than Siobhan to hurt me, I wasn’t sure I’d made the best decision there. Of course I healed super fast, but I swear I could still feel the bruises and cracked bones for days after one of our lessons.
I even met with Master Yi via Zoom every week. He taught me about the cosmos and the power I can draw from the world around me. His lessons were probably my favorite—especially when Junu popped in for a visit. He and I texted often, but with the time difference and his busy schedule we didn’t connect face-to-face as much as I would have liked. Master Yi was helping him, too. I wasn’t sure how, exactly, but Junu had changed in the few months since I’d seen him.
He was still training at the K-Pop Academy Sang recruited for, and seemed to be at the vanguard for improving gay rights in Korea. He even had a boyfriend, who I had yet to meet. But man, the pics of the two of them were freakin’ adorable.
Life was good. We’d all settled into a new normal.
And no one knew I was a mess inside.
Even though Ying Yue and Hashiki were dead, I still had this feeling of impending doom. Like they were right behind me, stalking me.
And I still felt hollow inside. Like a part of me was missing.
I sat on a cushion at the edge of our patio, overlooking the lawn, and closed my eyes. Some days were harder than others to practice the meditation techniques Master Yi had taught me. I breathed in, focusing on my mantra: I am powerful. I am eternal.
Loss was to be expected. It was a natural part of life.
But I missed Philo so, so much. No matter how much I told myself to just let go and move on, already.
But it wasn’t Philo who’d called me, and disappointment weighed on me like a physical thing.
I sighed and opened my eyes. Unsurprisingly, I sat on the stone bench in the woods outside the Council’s North American residence, and across from me stood Thor. “I told you to quit doing that.” At least he didn’t bring me to that creepy forest he used to go to.
He took a step toward me, even though he already stood too close, making me crane my neck to meet his gaze. “I wouldn’t have, if you’d given your answer yesterday as you promised.” He wore a light gray T-shirt stretched across his broad chest and he still wore his hair a little long—like a Viking surfer or something. He stood with his fingers tucked into his jeans’ front pockets—he appeared casual, but I knew better. His ice-blue eyes were unreadable as he regarded me.
Even after all this time, I still didn’t know what to make of him. He was both charming and pushy which, combined with the intensity most vampires I knew seemed to possess, made him a little hard to read. It also didn’t help that he was a vita ambularae, like me; he never let me see anything he didn’t intend to show me. My family seemed to have some animosity toward him, but then he’d helped save my life at the dance earlier this year when Ying Yue and her minions tried to kill me. Good guy or bad guy? I wasn’t sure.
I focused on the smell of rotting pine needles and tree sap, the birds fluttering in the leaves above my head—anything and everything to keep him from gaining access to my own thoughts. He’d been helping me this summer, too—a decision I still didn’t know whether or not to regret. At least my ability had grown. As long as I didn’t relax, which wasn’t a problem around Thor.
Abandoning his too-close-for-comfort stance, he took a couple steps back and sat on the bench across from me. He leaned forward onto his elbows and stared at me intently. I scowled back.
“You’ve done a lot of good work these past couple months, but you know your greatest strength lies in your mental abilities. There’s no one better to teach you than me, and I can only teach you so much like this.” He waved his hand in the air, indicating the mind-space he’d created for us to meet in despite the physical distance between us.
He scoffed and looked away, a muscle clenching and unclenching in his strong jaw. “We already talked about this. I don’t even know why you’re so set on going to school, particularly after how they treated you last year.” He turned stormy eyes on me and I couldn’t tell if he was legitimately concerned for me or if he was just trying to manipulate me. “I can get you tutors. I can promise they’ll do a far sight better than that public school you attend.”
“Because I’m still a kid!” I popped onto my feet and wrapped my arms around my stomach. “You wouldn’t understand. And I get it, I do. You’re old school and all that. But I want to do this the right way. I want to help bridge the gap between vampires and humans. Not—”
He stood, too, and raised his hands as if to grab me, but he dug them into his hair instead. He glanced away and took a breath, as if fighting for control. “I know you haven’t spent time with your friends—with Stacey. You’ve got to see by now how different you are from them.” I opened my mouth to respond, but he went in for the kill. “And it must be hard living in that house, being reminded of Philo every day.”
I tried not to flinch, but knowing Thor, it didn’t matter. He could read me like a book. Plus, everything he said was true. I’d seen Stacey less than a handful of times since I got home, and half of them I couldn’t even remember because I’d been so overcome with grief and guilt. And living here? Seeing Philo’s empty chair every night at dinner? It was like a stab to the gut every time.
Thor gently placed his hands on my shoulders, drawing them down until he had my hands in his. I stared at his chest, wondering how the fight had left me so quickly. “Have things improved with your family?”
See, this is how Thor didn’t fight fair. Even without getting in my head, he could play me like a fiddle. And he knew very well nothing had changed with my parents. My mom and dad had refused to take my calls, and hadn’t responded to either of the two texts I’d sent. Maybe I could have tried harder, but I think my parents had been pretty clear when they denounced me in that hospital room in Korea.
I was dead to them.
I stepped back from Thor, grateful he didn’t try to hold on to me. I rubbed my forehead, as if I could scrub away the lingering headache, but it didn’t budge. It never did. It was as constant as the ache in my heart.
“Minnie,” Thor coaxed, his fingers touching mine. It was the lightest touch, but his gaze saw all the way inside me and left me stripped bare of all my secrets, all my grief. “You can start new in Lake Tahoe. You can begin to live again.” He pulled more of my fingers into his and tightened his grasp. “You can make new memories.”
With him, he meant. He’d always wanted me to join him, from the very first time we met. I never knew what that meant exactly, but I knew it wasn’t only training or a new place to live he was offering. He wanted to replace Philo in my heart.
Or at least in my life.
I didn’t even know if it would ever be possible to give that place in my heart away again. And while I (sometimes) liked Thor, and appreciated what he’d taught me, I’d never wanted him. Not in the way he wanted me.
“I don’t know,” I said. I’d always been a fan of I don’t know, but I’ll find out. It meant there was something new to learn. A way to improve. To be better than I was before.
But now I just didn’t know. I didn’t know anything.
I didn’t know what to do.
I didn’t know what I wanted.
I didn’t know how to go on.
Without my permission, Thor gently pushed images into my mind. Images of me on a small boat in the lake, my fingers trailing in the water; me, reading on the bed Thor had carved to look like the bow of a Viking ship; me, jogging through the woods, a wild and carefree grin on my face. He was smart to leave himself out of these snapshots, but it didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that he imagined himself with me.
Especially when his hands were warm on mine, their pressure gently increasing as he subtly drew me nearer. Especially when his bright eyes seemed to have darkened as he gazed into mine. I took a shaky breath and tried to think of something else. Anything else.
Thor was definitely sneaky. Since his disastrous attempt to get with me in the spring, he’d been careful to only show me stuff he knew I desired. Like me attending Council meetings, learning new skills, training with him and becoming one of the strongest and most skilled mens moderators, or mind controllers, alive. He even encouraged me to imagine myself as more powerful than him.
But I was powerful, maybe more than he realized. When he sent me those possibilities, he couldn’t erase his own bias. I felt his desire for me, his wish for something more, something romantic, like flavors and scents accompanying each vision.
I had to admit—only to myself, never to Thor—some of it was appealing. It was so different from the life I had now, from the life I’d pictured with Philo. Maybe if I took a completely different path, the memories and hopes I’d once had wouldn’t haunt me so much. Wouldn’t hurt so much.
And how many of us ever got a second chance? I could be a different Minnie—one who didn’t dream of Philo or wish he’d just magically show up at dinner every night.
Thor began circling his thumbs on my palms, his gaze fixed on mine. “No one will know you there. There aren’t even any servants who served Ying Yue. No one will know what you’ve lost. You can make yourself new in every way. You can even rewrite your past, if you like, and I’ll support you. We could travel anywhere you wished to go. I could show you the world.”
I stared into his eyes, his earnest, ancient eyes, and I wanted to believe.
Out of the corner of my eye, a light appeared. A beam of sunlight shone on a path like a spotlight, and for a moment, it seemed as if another, more precious mind space overlaid Thor’s.
I instinctively moved toward it, my heart thumping painfully. Philo?
Thor squeezed my hands. “He’s not there, Minnie. He’s gone. Well and truly gone.”
Well and truly gone.
And he was right. The light, or the vision—whatever it was—was gone.
“Come with me. I can have a car pick you up tomorrow morning and fly you here. I’ll take care of everything. It’s a good decision, Minnie.” He focused on me intently, and while I felt the edges of his influence crowding against my mind, he didn’t push it. He left me free to choose for myself. For Thor, that was something of an improvement.
But was it enough?
He wanted what he wanted, and while he’d proven himself a friend, I knew he strained against the boundaries I’d put on our friendship. If he had his way, he would simply use his gift to persuade me and I’d be 100% his. He’d defend his actions by claiming it was what I wanted, that I just needed help getting there. And maybe, eventually, I’d feel as if the decision had been mine.
I was grateful he didn’t, because even knowing what he was capable of, I almost wanted to go. To forget. To leave all the memories behind. To take the easier path.
Master Yi’s teachings came into my mind then. We’d spoken many times lately about the path our feet are on, and the dangers of wishing ourselves off of it. “You must look to the Buddha for understanding,” he’d said. “You must look inside your own self for peace.” Then he’d sent me a text with a quote from Gautama Buddha. I’d liked it so much I’d made it my phone’s wallpaper.
No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.
I sharpened my gaze on Thor’s face.
Everything I knew was here. Everything I was and everything I’d become—it was all grounded here. There was comfort in the normal, the same, especially when everything inside me had changed.
“When should I tell the car to arrive?” he pressed.
A flicker of a smile ghosted over my lips. I had to hand it to the guy, he was persistent. And man, it would be so easy to give in. He’d not only take care of all the details, he’d take care of me.
I took a step back from him, breaking his hold on my hands.
A dog barked. I glanced toward the path, the one that led out of Thor’s mind place.
“Maybe?” he urged stepping toward me.
His countenance darkened just as his mind place grew gloomier and just a tad threatening. I wasn’t sure how far he’d go to get what he wanted.
“I’ve gotta go,” I said. We didn’t have a dog, but one was definitely barking—and nearby, too. “Let me take care of this and I’ll get back to you.”
“That’s what you said before. I’ve already waited long enough,” he growled.
I turned away, barely able to stop myself from running down the path toward . . . something.
“Minnie.” Thor’s sharp command stopped me in my tracks, and I turned back to look at him.
I tried to offer him a smile, but I knew it would do little to ease his frustration. “You can’t save me, Thor. No matter how much I wish you could. There’s a reason I’m on the path I’m on. I need to see it to the end.”
He opened his mouth to respond, but I yanked myself out of the vision . . .
and I was once more sitting at the little table on our patio. I opened my eyes and saw—
the fathomless amber eyes of a very large, very intimidating, very familiar, dog.