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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.2
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.2

           Karen Amanda Hooper

  Are you feeling alright? Creepy Guy asked.

  Of course not! I'm a mermaid, and you're the finhole who kidnapped me.

  His eyes widened. Maybe he thought he deserved more respect but, like my mother, I've never been good at controlling my temper.

  What is a finhole? he asked.

  An asshole, but custom-tailored for you.

  He shook his head. That doesn't even make anatomical sense.

  Whatever. Makes sense to me.

  A school of orange fish swam by us. It concerned me that I could hear them humming a high pitched tune, but I had a hunch that many bizarre things existed in this world—a world I'd been brought to against my will. I ignored the fish and refocused on Creepy Guy.

  Between his nearly-black eyes, corpselike skin and sharply angled chin, he looked like the Sea Devil of Death. I didn't know which emotion had more control over me: fear of being alone with this ghoulish, twice-my-size guy, or shocking disbelief that I was deep in the ocean, with a tail, having conversations through my mind.

  Creepy Guy glanced to the east. What the—? How did I know which way was east? In every direction I saw nothing but turquoise water, colorful coral and plants, then more water. Nothing indicated which direction was which, but I felt like I had a built-in compass.

  Your guardian will be here momentarily. Until then I suggest we refrain from communicating. He floated away from me.

  I am eighteen. I don't need a guardian. I packed the thought with plenty of attitude, but he didn't flinch or respond. No way was some gothic-looking freak going to ignore me, or hand me over to some guardian. Tell me how to get back to my island!

  Still no reply. I swam over to him, reaching up to poke his shoulder, but a rush of water churned around us and the current pushed me backward. When the bubbles cleared, a second merguy floated eye-to-eye with him.

  The newcomer had blue hair that almost matched the water around us. His repulsive tail and fins were a shade lighter and iridescent. He looked colorful compared to the other guy. I swam forward and floated beside them, but neither turned to look at me.

  Symbols, scrolls and designs similar to mine covered their opalescent skin in shades of silver, black and blue. I blinked several times, trying to figure out if the artwork was shimmering or if the water created the illusion. Regardless, they looked like freaks. And I had become a freak too. My uncle could never see me like this.

  My uncle. Dear God, what would I tell him? What would Uncle Lloyd think when he got home and found me missing? He'd spaz out! How long had I been under water? Hours? Days? Weeks? Stress was the last thing he needed in his condition. I had to find a way home.

  Looking up, I watched the indigo merman swim away. His dark tail and hair snaked up and down as he faded into the distance. The other monster stared at me. He was the guy from the house—Treygan.

  Hello, Yara. His eyes matched his Smurf-blue hair.

  I crossed my arms over my plant-motif chest. Why had I trusted some stranger who appeared out of nowhere? Just because he was helpful and attractive? How stupid could I be? I felt like crying, if it was even possible to cry under water.

  This guy—or whatever he was—wasn't worthy of my tears. I steeled myself and met his gaze again. You did this to me. I trusted you, invited you into my uncle's home, and you put me in some kind of trance and kidnapped me.

  His head slowly turned from side-to-side. I couldn't tell if it was on purpose, or because of the water. Everything around me seemed to be in constant motion.

  I didn't kidnap you. I saved you.

  I slapped him. I couldn't stop myself. But slapping didn't work any better than slamming. I only brushed my hand against his cheek. He looked amused. Frustrated, I turned my back to him.

  That was supposed to be a slap across your face! I mentally shouted. How dare you bring me here? I didn't agree to this. I have loved ones who need me. They'll be worried. You can't just take someone from their home and—

  His hand touched my shoulder.

  I spun around to face him. Don't touch me.

  He squinted, but didn't look away. I wanted to make sure you were alright.

  Are you deaf? I just told you, I hate you for bringing me here. You had no right to do this to me.

  Something about his chest caught my attention. Had his tattoos moved and changed color? I stared at them, expecting to see it again, but he waved his fingers in front of my eyes, breaking my focus.

  I can't hear your thoughts if I can't see your eyes. If you thought something while your back was turned to me, then yes, I was deaf to it.

  Oh. I didn't realize— I shut my eyes, trying to gather my thoughts without having them overheard by my new worst enemy. He saved me from the hurricane? I would have rather drowned, or suffered a fatal head wound from flying debris—anything but being taken from my home and turned into a fish.

  My boyfriend hadn't been kidding. The evil mermonsters he warned me about were real. Why hadn't I listened to him?

  Where was Rownan? Was he okay? Had the hurricane hit his town? We were supposed to go on vacation together to celebrate my birthday, but now he'd be disgusted by me. My eyes flew open. I need to find my boyfriend.

  Your boyfriend? I didn't know you had a boyfriend.

  You don't know anything about me!

  He spun halfway around, then faced me again. This boyfriend of yours, what is his name?

  None of your business.

  His hands balled into fists. How do you expect me to help you find him if I don't know his name?

  If I tell you, do you promise to take me back to Eden's Hammock? He's probably there, worried to death.

  I promise to take you home.

  Deal. His name is Rownan.

  The chest thing happened again, and this time I got a good look at it. The skin around his tattoos changed from pearly white to dark silver. Has this Rownan claimed the title of your boyfriend?

  My heart fluttered. We had fought over this issue. He doesn't like labels.

  Of course he doesn't, Treygan scoffed.

  You don't know him. Keep your snobby remarks to yourself.

  Does he have spiky brown hair and a beard that matches it?

  I lifted my chin. He has a goatee, not a beard.

  Does he wear a long, white coat?

  I looked away. Rownan's coat. I had never seen him without it, and never seen anything—or anyone—more gorgeous. He had such a cool style. It was one of the million attractive things about him. Yes. How do you know him?

  Treygan's entire chest turned metallic gray and the tribal rope around his stone anchor tattoo definitely moved. Rownan is a lying, cunning cheat—who happens to be my half-brother.

  Yara repeated the words, "He's lying," in various tones: certain, doubtful, questioning and back to certain. The sooner she mastered our form of communication, the better off we would both be.

  Merfolk do not lie, I countered calmly.

  Ha! That's a lie to cover up all your other lies! Merfolk are known for their evil tricks.

  Delmar thought he had drained her of any sea creature knowledge. However, it seemed she remembered being educated—or miseducated—about our kind.

  Unraveling the intricate knots of Rownan's lies would take a while, so I made myself comfortable on a nearby boulder. When I looked up, Yara was rambling.

  No way is that guy related to Rownan. No freakin' way. He really needs a haircut. How is he sitting underwater? This stupid way of life makes no sense—

  Sitting is easy, I interrupted, gesturing at a large rock. Why don't you try it?

  What? Hey, I didn't—some of my thoughts aren't meant for you to hear. Stay out of my head.

  Look away if your words aren't meant for me. It isn't a difficult concept. I couldn't hide my annoyance. Transforming and educating humans was a daunting and never-ending task, and I had no time for it.

  She eyed me from head to fins, her scowl softening a bit. How can you live underwater and not be wrinkled like a prune?

  It's a sea creature thing: minimal effects of gravity, proper hydration, limited exposure to human pollutants, and other factors that could be compared to a fountain of youth.

  She stared at me, a jumble of incoherent thoughts passing through her mind. For the briefest moment her eyes reminded me of autumn suns. Her long eyelashes fanned outward like amber rays of light. Then she squinted and returned to scowling.

  How old are you? Twenty?

  A few decades have passed since I was born.

  A few decades puts you at thirty. That's a third of the way to ancient.

  Ancient. She had no concept of what ancient meant. Not in our world. Most of us live to be three-hundred years or so.

  Three-hundred! Why would anyone want to live that long?

  We aren't considered old until about two-hundred and fifty. We age differently than humans. I had promised the Violets not to participate in Yara's education without discussing it with her teacher first, but I wanted to suck this girl into my mind and show her the truth until her pretentious head exploded. You have a lot to learn about the mer way of life.

  Apparently I had a lot to learn about human transformations. Her yellow hair and golden irises were perplexing. She should have started as a Red. Delmar assured me there had to be an explanation. He was on his way to update the elders, and soon we would have answers.

  Yara continued to ramble. I don't want to learn about this ridiculous way of life. I want to be human again. Take me back to my island. She waved her hands above her head. This is not my home and it never will be.

  Pissy—I believed that was the current slang word to describe her attitude. The pissy side of Yara was one I hadn't seen much of throughout the years. I didn't care for it at all. If human life is so splendid then why did you spend so much of yours sitting on the beach, crying for hours on end and gazing at the ocean?

  She inhaled a mouthful of water. You spied on me?

  Don't flatter yourself. I avoid going ashore whenever possible, and I have better things to do than stalk a human child.

  I'm not a child! I'll be eighteen tomorrow!

  My focus shot toward a turtle swimming in the distance. Yara didn't know today was her real birthday. Her mother was smarter than I had given her credit for. It reminded me that there were only eighteen sunsets left until the gateway to our realm could be unlocked. The reward was well worth putting up with this childish drama. I would do anything to return my people to safety, including keeping up my end of this wretched deal.

  Our eyes met again. Yara, I am well aware of your age. Reporters have been assigned to you for quite some time.

  Reporters? Numerous merfreaks have been spying on me?

  Call my people freaks one more time and I will show you just how freaky I can be. I swam forward until our faces were inches apart. If you think you hate me now, wait until you see me angry.

  I wanted to retract my words immediately. A lump bobbed in her throat as she watched my hallmarks swirl through my skin. Why was I letting this girl get me so riled up?

  Yara rubbed her eyes. Do your tattoos keep moving, or is the water making me hallucinate?

  I forced my thoughts to take a calmer tone. They are called hallmarks. They represent our heritage and individual character traits. They also adjust according to our emotions.

  She glanced down at her own symbols and shook her head. Back to my question. Who has been spying on me?

  Let's go meet some of the others, including the mermaid who reported your whereabouts to me. Rude thoughts continued to gush out of her. Civil conversation didn't appear to be an option, but maybe humor would help. Shall I gather the seahorses for the long journey?

  She paused, glancing at the fish and plants around us. You ride seahorses?

  I fought back a laugh. If you believe that, I nodded at the hallmark leaves covering her breasts, you must also think the women wear seashell bikini tops.

  She folded her arms over her chest and floated away from me. We had a deal. You said you'd take me to find Rownan. Or was that one of your merfolk lies?

  If I could have tied her to a sunken ship and left her there I would have. Who could have guessed she would transform into such a cantankerous brat? Fine. We will find Rownan first.

  Then we would find Koraline. She had failed her assignment miserably. How did we not know Rownan had been interacting with Yara? My serpent hallmark slithered down my back. Its silver eyes burned against my skin. Yes, let's go find Rownan. My big brother might be surprised to see me.

  Yara's house was all jacked up. Sections of the roof were missing, pieces of siding had come off, and lawn ornaments had blown around to random places. A garden gnome sticking out of the shed with his red boots in the air made me chuckle. I banged on the front door and discovered it was unlocked.

  "Yara?" No answer.

  After doing a sweep of the house and finding no trace of her, I stepped out onto the wraparound porch. The hurricane had given it one hell of a beating. Picking up a broken railing spindle, it occurred to me that playing Mr. Fix-It would be a good excuse for me to hang around and keep an eye on her. No need for the birthday vacation scam anymore.

  I stared down the muddy road leading away from her house. Most likely, she had gone to Lloyd's place. Why she loved that old man I would never understand. They weren't even blood related.

  "Rownan." Nixie's voice startled me.

  "Nix, what are you doin' here?"

  She flashed her sultry smile and leaned against the railing, flaunting her cleavage. Not that I minded—I'm loyal to my girl, but not blind.

  "This storm was my doing," Nixie purred. "I wanted to appreciate the fruits of my harrrd labor."

  Even with her sexy "r" rolling skills Nixie knew I would never give in to her flirting, but she couldn't help going through the motions. Sirens were hardwired to be seductive. I had a thing for redheads, so Nixie was hands-down my favorite eye candy.

  "Your doin', huh?" I blew a crimson feather off of her neck. The satisfaction of mischief-making sparkled in her eyes and we both smiled. Then a realization hit me and I pulled back. "Why did you pick this Podunk island to bust up with a storm?"

  Shrugging, she brushed the lingering feather from her bare shoulder. "Oh, I don't know, a certain handsome aqua stud might have asked me for a favor."

  My blood ran ice cold. I tightened my grip on the spindle in my hand. "Nixie, no. Not Treygan."

  She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "What's the big deal? Delmar had a gripe with some islander and Treygan asked me to give him a scare."

  "Dammit, Nixie! Way to royally screw us!" I threw the spindle against the house and started pacing. This couldn't be happening. He used the storm as a cover and took her. So help me gods, I'd rip his fins off!

  "Darling," Nixie cooed, "it was just a little hurricane. A Cat 2. Not even my best work."

  I grabbed her by the shoulders, fighting the urge to shake her. "You're missing the point. He made you brew up that storm so he could take Yara."

  She flinched and shrugged my hands off of her. "Yara? No, he said—"

  "I don't care what he said! Tomorrow is her eighteenth birthday. He used you so he could kidnap her."

  She tried to laugh, but doubt flashed in her ruby eyes. "No. He wouldn't have—he would've told me—we were just—"

  "Ugggh, Nix, when are you gonna realize he's a manipulator?"

  Her wings drooped low at her sides. "Treygan wouldn't lie to me."

  "He twists the truth. It's as bad as lying."

  It was Nixie's turn to pace. She walked so fast that her high-heeled boots didn't have time to sink into the mud. Her obsession with Treygan had cost me Yara. Every breath I took felt like inhaling dry ice. I cracked my knuckles over and over, trying to keep my hands from doing something I'd regret. If I didn't fear the wrath of Nixie's deranged sisters, I might have strangled her to death.

  Treygan would pay for taking Yara. I didn't know how yet, but I would figure out a way.

  Nixie scr
eeched—a telltale sign of a pissed off siren—and our eyes locked. She looked as furious as I felt. Her wings extended high and wide behind her. "That bastard. Did he think he could deceive me and get away with it? Wait until I tell Otabia and Mariza."

  Perfect. Let Treygan be the focus of the sirens' fury for a while. I had people to see and a plan to whip up—pronto. I hopped over the railing and pushed past her. "Send Mariza and Otabia my love."

  She grabbed my arm in an iron grip and I gritted my teeth. Sirens were deceptively strong. I could already feel the bruise forming.

  "Rownan, what are you going to do?"

  "Try to shadow Treygan and get Yara away from him. They can't be far. Yara will be worried about Lloyd. She'll want to come back to check on him."

  Nixie released my arm as her crimson wings flapped violently, lifting her into the sky. She gave one last nod and flew away.

  I bolted for the water. Time was precious. They couldn't turn Yara until she was eighteen. I needed to find her and get her far away from any and all merfolk before her birthday tomorrow. If I screwed it up, we were all dead.

  Relief set in once I saw the lighthouse poking through the nearly-endless blue of ocean and sky. Eden's Hammock was just up ahead. Home had never looked so good.

  While we swam, I kept sticking my face in the water and inhaling. It was refreshing and tasted clean, like lemons. Breathing water made me feel better, which freaked me out a little. Since being turned into a freak of nature, the world seemed different above the surface. The air was humid and had the familiar saltwater smell, but it tasted dirty. Colors looked dull.

  My swimming slowed as we reached the dock—what was left of it.

  Treygan held onto the ladder with one hand. "Ladies first."

  "I can't get out yet. My tail will disappear and I'll be naked, right?"

  His blasé expression didn't change. "Yes."

  "If you think I'm letting you see me naked, you've lost your waterlogged mind."

  He dropped his hand back into the water. "Why are humans so embarrassed about being unclothed? It's the way you were born."

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