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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.17
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.17

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  "I was?" Yara asked.

  Her lips were red and swollen. I glanced at Jack, realizing Nixie had sucked the memory of being kidnapped from Solis from her mind. Jack just shrugged.

  "You were," Nixie reassured her. "I told you Rownan was throwing you a party and you begged me to bring you here. That champagne must have hit you hard, because you passed out while we were flying."

  "Flying?" Yara sat up and looked around. "But … I don't remember. Did I—what did—does Pango know where I am?"

  "Of course," Nixie cooed, curling up beside Yara. "He made me promise to have you home by sunrise."

  No way would Yara buy that garbage. She looked confused and disoriented, but eventually she would realize Nixie was feeding her a bunch of B.S.

  "You threw me a party?" Yara asked me, blinking several times.

  "Don't you hear the music and all the people?" Jack pulled back the white fabric that separated us from the rest of the pool area. "They're all here for you."

  "Aww," Yara squeaked. "Look how pretty."

  I followed her gaze. All of my kind dancing in and around the illuminated pool did look impressive.

  Dina entered with a glowing glass in her hand. "Hi, Yara, I'm Dina. It's so nice to finally meet you." Jack took the drink from her and passed it to Yara.

  "Drink up," Nixie said.

  Yara sipped what looked like a martini, but I suspected it might contain more than vodka. Was there a secret meeting about how this thing would go down, and I wasn't invited?

  "Jack, will you show me the way to the bar?" Nixie asked.

  "Certainly." Jack assisted her out of the lounger. "We should let Rownan and Yara catch up." He slapped my shoulder as he and the girls ducked out of the cabana.

  Yara patted the cushion beside her. "Sit."

  I took a seat at the foot of the lounger.

  "Good seal," Yara barked, then giggled and took another sip.

  "Nixie's right, you're drunk."

  "Oh, please." She leaned back and pressed her bare feet against my stomach. "Only a few glasses of champagne."

  "A few? You've never had a drop of alcohol in your life." I tried taking the glowing martini from her, but she held it above her head, splashing it on her gown and laughing.

  "My party. My rules."

  "Hmph, you think so?"

  She nodded like a bobble-head doll. She was kind of cute in her intoxicated state—much less uptight and not nearly as chatty.

  "Love this music." She tapped her foot against my ribs.

  "We can dance if you want."

  "But my head's all spinny."

  The past few weeks of us as a couple—or whatever we were—had been an act, but the comfort between us was real. Out of habit, I took her foot in my hand and massaged up to her calf. She let out a sigh and went limp.

  "You did eat, right? Alcohol hits you hard if there's no food in your system."

  "Mmm, I had pancakes."

  "Pancakes?" It was nearing eleven o'clock at night. Merfolk would never serve pancakes at a welcoming dinner. "Are you telling me the last time you ate was at breakfast?"

  She giggled. "Looong day."

  "Hell, Yara, you need to eat. I'll grab you some food." I stood but she sat forward and clung onto my arm.

  "Don't leave me too." She sounded like she might be on the verge of crying.

  "Too?" I sat back down. "Who else left you?"

  "Treygan," she said through pouty lips. "He can't kiss me. I think he hates me. He didn't even give me a wish."

  What in the world was she rambling about? Treygan couldn't kiss anyone. I eased her back against the cushion. "Treygan isn't worth getting upset over. And I would never leave you, but you do need food. Be back in two minutes."

  A cheeseburger, half a dozen hors d'oeuvres, three glasses of water and seven songs later, we were on the dance floor, sweating out whatever alcohol was left in Yara's system. Being surrounded by forty dancing selkies made her awkward, off-beat moves look that much worse.

  "You're a horrible dancer," I shouted into her ear, trying not to get head-butted while she jerked back and forth.

  "I know, but I can sing." She lifted her elbows up and down in a wretched version of a chicken dance.

  I wiped the sweat off my face and looked at the pool. People kept jumping in to cool off before climbing out to dance again. Others danced in the water.

  "Go," Yara insisted. "This heat must be killing you."

  "I'd invite you to come, but the water is thirty-four degrees."

  "And I'm sure all these selkies would love my mermaid tail flapping around their pool."

  I kissed her sweaty hand. "Go dance with Dina while I'm gone."

  "I want to rest. I'm not feeling so great."

  Nixie had filled me in on Yara's condition when she took her from the island. She watched Yara drink non-stop for two hours after dinner. When Yara slipped away to the bathroom, Nix found her huddled by the toilet, sweating and clammy. Nix couldn't tell if it was from drinking too much or the first sign of cravings.

  "What's wrong?" I asked her.

  "Just need a breather," she said, turning away.

  Twenty minutes later when I walked into the cabana, Yara was curled up on the lounger. Dina dabbed her face with a wet towel.

  "I promise it will," Dina whispered to her.

  "No," Yara moaned.

  I sat beside them. "What's going on?"

  Dina pulled her hair back into a ponytail and shook her head. "She's started craving, but she refuses to drink blood."

  My eyes widened. Could she be any less subtle about it?

  "Simmer down," Dina continued. "She knows she drank blood at your house. She and Treygan discussed it and she promised to never drink again."

  Damn it. That would make convincing her to drink from me nearly impossible.

  "Yara," I said softly, rubbing her leg. "It gets worse. You'll have to drink to stop the pain. The sooner you do it, the less you'll have to suffer."

  "No," Yara argued, flipping over to face me. "The pain will stop. If I get through this without drinking, then I'll never want to drink again."

  "Ha! Who told you that?" Dina asked.

  "Treygan."

  "How would he know how it works?" Dina snarled.

  Dina and I both knew Treygan had experienced cravings firsthand when we were kids.

  "Trust me," Dina lied, "the pain doesn't stop, and you'll always crave another drink." From behind Yara's back she winked at me and tossed the wet towel in my lap. "I'm not hanging around to watch you wither in pain, but I will give you an easy way to make it stop."

  In true selkie style, Dina grabbed me so fast I didn't have time to react. She dug one of her claws into my forearm and tore open a long gash. Blood flowed instantly.

  Yara looked frenzied. She licked her lips, but turned away. "Get it away from me!"

  I covered the gash with the towel and curled up behind her, wrapping my non-bleeding arm around her waist.

  "I'm sorry," I whispered. I hated seeing her in such agony. "I should've warned you what was in my fridge. You shouldn't be going through this."

  "I feel like I'm gonna puke," she groaned.

  "I know, but you won't." I pulled her wet hair off of her face. She was already trembling. Treygan couldn't have told her everything or she wouldn't have agreed to stay at our party. She wouldn't be speaking to me, much less allowing me or Dina to take care of her. But he had discussed our blood habits with her. Did she figure out she drank blood, or did one of the other merfreaks? "Did the first time make you sick?"

  She shook her head. "It made me laugh."

  "Then why are you so against drinking again?"

  "Because it's disgusting."

  "What's so disgusting about it? It's our way of sharing ourselves with each other."

  She looked over her shoulder at me, almost shivering. "You drink blood."

  "You eat food."

  Her teeth were chattering. "What's that g-got to do with anything?"
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  "You eat to survive. Food provides you with energy. I've seen you eat hamburgers and steak. Are you denying there was ever blood in that meat? That you absorb the life force of the animal that died so you can stay nourished?"

  She gaped at me with dilated pupils.

  "What we do isn't nearly as bad," I continued. "We share. We don't kill or eat each other. We share blood to make others stronger, healthier, happier, or to feel loved. Our soul's energy carries through our blood the same way merfolks' does by sight. We're no worse than you, just different."

  Her eyes flickered to the towel on my arm. A dark red patch seeped through it. Thirst shined in her eyes, but she shook her head. "No. I'm a mermaid, not a selkie." She brought her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. "If I drink again I'll have to drink forever."

  Not forever, I thought. The Triple Eighteen was less than two weeks away—a reminder that I couldn't take no for an answer.

  "Selkie instincts are in your blood. You'll always have cravings." This was it. I had to tell her. I wasn't sure if she heard me, so I put my lips against her ear. "Yara, your father was a selkie."

  Her head snapped around so fast that her chin nailed me in the forehead. "Liar."

  "I swear on my life, it's true."

  Yara's whimpering and chattering teeth were her only reply.

  "He was brave and strong," I said quietly. "I had nothing but respect for him."

  Tears welled in her eyes. "Y-y-you knew my dad?"

  "Yes. Before he turned human and moved away."

  For a second she looked like she was about to ask something, but then her chest jerked forward and she gasped. "Owww! W-w-what was that?"

  "What was what?"

  "It felt like s-someone electrocuted me."

  "It gets worse. Please, let me help you." I slid the towel off my arm and squeezed the wound so fresh blood surfaced. "You can't fight your genes. Seeing you like this kills me."

  She wiped at her lips and rubbed the dark circles under her eyes. Her hands shook uncontrollably. "You s-s-swear on V-V-Vienna's soul that my father was a s-selkie?"

  "I swear." I lifted my arm. After a long moment of staring she took it in her hands, pulling my bloody gash closer to her mouth and swallowing hard. She leaned forward.

  The music stopped and a loud crash outside startled her. Someone shouted her name.

  "God dammit!" I jumped up from my seat. We kept this party location top secret. How did he find us? When I walked out of the cabana and saw Treygan surrounded by forty angry selkies, I covered my bleeding arm and cursed under my breath.

  Talk about the worst possible timing.

  Once I saw Rownan step out of the cabana I didn't need to ask where Yara was. I pushed my way through the crowd, but Jack grabbed my arm before I reached my son-of-a-psycho brother.

  "This party is invitation only," Jack said.

  I glared at his hand. "Take it off of me before I turn it to stone." He let go instantly. I could feel and hear the crowd gathering behind me. "Tell your minions to back off."

  Rownan stepped closer to me. "Your threats don't work on me, Treygan."

  "I'll petrify Jack in your place."

  "You wouldn't," he snarled.

  "Try me."

  "She wants to be here. She's free to make her own decisions."

  "Then why did you send Nixie to kidnap her?" I shouldered my way past him and into the cabana.

  Yara was balled up in a lounge chair, dripping sweat and shaking.

  "How bad is it?" I asked, kneeling in front of her.

  "M-my d-dad was a s-s-selkie?"

  I took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I wanted to tell you."

  Her bloodshot eyes wouldn't focus, and her blotchy cheeks weren't just from being sick. She was crying. Her shaking worsened.

  "I'm getting you out of here." I started to gather her in my arms.

  "No! I w-want blood. It's who I am."

  "No, it's not." I held her face in my hands. "You decide who you are. I don't give a damn who your father was. We make our own choices, and you can fight this. If you drink from one of them, they win."

  "W-w-win w-what?"

  "I should have told you everything sooner, and I promise I'll explain, but I have to get you away from here. Please, trust me."

  "Y-y-you left me."

  "I had to keep my distance from you today. I'll explain that too, but you're getting worse. We need to go."

  The selkies jabbered outside. The longer we stayed here, the more time they would have to come up with a plan to stop me, but I refused to leave here without Yara. I didn't want to petrify anyone, but I would to save Yara. Her eyes opened and closed slowly, then she sat up, looking like it took every ounce of strength she had. I leaned down to pick her up but she limply pushed me away again.

  "I can w-walk. Not help-l-l-less."

  She was in no condition to stand, but I let her try anyway. When her knees gave out I caught her and lifted her into my arms. "I know you're not helpless, but now is not the time to be stubborn." I pushed through the slit in the white curtains and stepped into a sea of drunken selkies.

  Rownan lifted his bleeding cut toward Yara's face. "Last chance."

  I wanted to rip his arm out of its socket. She buried her face against my chest.

  "Get out of the way," I ordered, flashing a warning glare at Jack.

  He stepped aside and the rest of the selkies cleared a path. Just as I reached the iron gate, Rownan put his hand on my shoulder. "Wait, Treygan."

  "Rownan, I swear to—"

  "Stop and listen, dickhead. She's sick. She needs blood. If it has to be mer blood, then so be it." His claws shot out, ready to strike my skin, but I jumped back.

  "Have you lost your beastly mind? I turn living things to stone! Who knows what would happen if she drank my blood?"

  His shocked expression proved he really was a clueless idiot. "Oh," Moron uttered, pulling his claws back.

  Yara moaned again. I shook my head in disgust and walked through the gate, hoping Rownan felt as guilty and barbaric as he looked.

  We reached the ocean and I swam to a secluded, private pier. Yara's shivering calmed down once we were in the water, but I knew the worst was still to come.

  "How long ago did it start?" I asked.

  Her eyes stayed closed and her head bobbed forward. Judging by her weakness, I would have guessed twelve hours, but she had only been missing for four.

  "Almost an hour," she murmured.

  That didn't make sense. Her symptoms should have been milder if she had only been craving for an hour. I thought her reaction might be weaker because she didn't drink directly from a selkie, but instead her symptoms were progressing faster than normal.

  There were no signs of humans nearby, but I wanted to be safe. This would take a while, and we couldn't risk someone seeing us. I stayed in human form, but Yara's yellow tail glistening under the surface would be easily visible. I paddled us over to the shallow, sloped area under the pier where it was darkest. Plowing my feet into the sand to anchor us, I sat down and pulled her onto my lap, trying to keep everything but her head submerged.

  Her eyes fluttered open. Her voice was weak. "Did you know him too?"

  "Who?"

  "My father."

  "I knew of him."

  Her eyelids drifted closed again. "Is it over?"

  "Is what over?"

  "The cravings."

  "I don't think so. Usually there's a period where it feels like an electric current is roaring through your veins."

  "I already felt that." Her hand floated up and rested limply on my chest.

  "You did?" She nodded—barely. "How long did it last?"

  "A second."

  I leaned her head against my chest so she couldn't see the worry on my face. In a perfect world she would never have to feel the electrical burning, in a fair world the second of pain she felt would be the only one she would have to endure. But we didn't live in a perfect or fair world.

&nb
sp; She needed to hear part of her story before the real wave of electric shocks hit. Mainly because she deserved to know, but also because she thought I had abandoned her. I needed to regain her trust, but now wasn't the time to explain why I had to stay away from her.

  "Would you like to hear a story about your parents?"

  Her chin glided against my chest as she nodded.

  "Your father, Vyron, was a highly respected selkie. Five years before you were born, he fell in love with your mother. Here comes another fact people have kept hidden from you." I looked down at the top of her head and took a breath. "Your mother was a siren."

  She slowly pulled back and stared up at me with quivering eyes.

  "For years they lived as a taboo couple. Your father wanted her as his mate and he wanted children, but sirens can't reproduce. Only one sea monster had ever successfully become human, but it was proof it could be done. Your mother went to Stheno and Euryale, the original gorgon sisters, and begged for her and your father to be turned human so they could have children."

  "And they agreed," Yara muttered.

  "They made a deal. Vyron and Cleo's first born—you—had to be given to the gorgon sisters. Then your parents were free to have as many other children as they wished."

  "But … why did they want me? I don't understand."

  I caressed her face, hating that I had to be the one to tell her all of this. "Medusa was the only mortal sister. When she was murdered, the sisters lost a lot of their power because they no longer had a third in their trinity. Stheno and Euryale wanted that power back, but Medusa's replacement needed to have human and monster blood like she did. You fit the requirement, and you would be too young to put up a fight."

  "They wanted me to be a gorgon?"

  "Yes, part of the cursed trinity. Meaning you would take Medusa's place and never be able to leave the sunless grotto."

  She shuddered. "That's why we moved away."

  A snowy white heron landed in the water practically on top of Yara. I splashed it away. The bird's S-curved neck extended toward me. It squawked in my face before flying up onto the pier.

  "Your parents loved you, Yara. The sea monster-turned-human I told you about, he helped your father put a binding spell on you. No sea creature could turn you until you were eighteen. Your dad figured by that age you could decide for yourself if you wanted that life or power, and you would be able to fight if you didn't want that dark existence. He took you away from here in case the sisters figured out a way to break the spell."

 
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