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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.21
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.21

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  Pango looked at the door and stuck out his tongue. "He tries to make jokes, but it's just not his cup of tea. I'll tell you my plan, but I have to be quick about it. We don't have much time."

  I nodded as he pressed a Band-Aid on my arm.

  "If there is another way to open the gate, you have to figure it out. And you can't do it here on Solis. The Violets will ask us for the truth tomorrow and we can't lie. Merrick will spew out the details like Old Faithful, and the Violets would never be convinced another plan could be spelled out on a Ouija board. The sirens may be your best bet. Stay with them until you figure this thing out. Because unless you agree to our method and can swear to the Violets you'll drain Treygan of all his songs, they will be forced to give you to the selkies. None of us want that. So, my juristic jailbird, you have to fly this coop and go find your last-minute miracle."

  "But what about Merrick?"

  "Let me worry about him. Just follow my lead once we leave this room." Before turning the doorknob he paused and whispered, "Be careful with the sirens. If you suspect they're in cahoots with the selkies, get out of there fast."

  Visit … sirens … blood … die.

  I silently prayed that I hadn't tragically misinterpreted my mother's message.

  I tripped on the first step and stumbled onto the porch, cursing under my breath. I pounded on the door, leaned against the railing and waited. A few minutes later the door creaked open and we sized each other up in the darkness.

  "Can you at least turn on the porch light?" I grumbled.

  "Are you drunk?" Lloyd asked.

  The porch seemed to sway under me. "Why? You offering me a drink?"

  "I'm not offering you anything, but I am wondering why the hell you're at my door in the middle of the night."

  "Yara. Why else?"

  He swung the door wide open. "Get in here, but leave that chip on your shoulder outside. I don't have the energy to fight with you."

  We sat at the kitchen table in bitter silence. Lloyd wouldn't let me say a word until I ate something and drank some coffee.

  "I hate coffee." My words came out semi-slurred. "It doesn't sober you up. That's a myth."

  "It's to wake your ass up. You look like you're about to fall over. Not to mention you reek of liquor and are stinking up my home."

  "Been a rough few days."

  He grunted and watched me take a swig of my steaming, liquid manure. I fought the urge to spit it out.

  "Okay," Lloyd said. "Get on with it."

  "Your adopted niece is in love with Treygan."

  "Well, lah-tee-dah."

  I set my mug down. "I came here to ask for advice. Can you stop being a dick?"

  "I'm sorry. Refresh my memory. When was the last time you and I sat down for a cozy chat? I can't recall us having any father-son moments in decades."

  "Spare me the sarcasm. You knew where to find me if you wanted to see me."

  "For a month you've paraded around this island—right outside my door, no less—and made yourself comfortable in one of my homes, yet hardly said a word to me. You think I didn't know what you were up to? You're lucky I didn't tell Yara who you were and what you planned to do."

  "Look at you," I sneered. "The more you meddle the sicker you get. Jack knew you couldn't stop me. Look at what happened to your kidneys when you helped Vyron cast that spell. You're barely hanging on as it is. We're all shocked you aren't dead yet."

  "No kidding," he grumbled. "I've had to watch my step every day. If I meddled again, Yara would have been left with no one. Do you have any idea how many times I wanted to smack some sense into you?"

  "Trying to earn another Daddy of the Year award?"

  "Dammit, Rownan, you're my son!" His palm slamming the table made coffee splash over the rim of my mug. "I hate that you let Jack push you around and tell you what to do, even when you know it's wrong. But I still love you. Whether you believe that or not, I have always loved you."

  "Bullshit! Look around this place. All your precious carvings of mermaids, sirens and gorgons, but there are no selkies, huh? Heaven forbid your illegitimate son's species be represented in your home."

  He lowered his eyes and turned his balding head.

  I gripped my mug and stared at the ring of coffee on the table. "You're the only father I'll ever have, and you hate me because of what my mother did."

  "I forgave your mother a long time ago. Liora and I both forgave her."

  "Ha! You think Liora didn't die resenting my mother for having your first child?"

  "Liora gave me a child too."

  "A child who killed her."

  He slammed his hand on the table again. "Shut your mouth!"

  "You'd prefer it were me, wouldn't you? Would you rather I volunteered to live as a gorgon? For Treygan—your good son—you would do anything. For me you couldn't care less."

  "Your brother is cursed with the ability to turn people to stone. You think he considers himself my good son? Don't you realize all three of us are cursed with burdens and tragic flaws? Most days I hate myself for messing with nature. I greedily threw stones into the water, and look at the damaging ripples it caused." He took a deep breath. "But then I think about you boys, and Yara, and how much I love all of you. I would do it all over again."

  I shook my head and stood up. "Yeah, right." Turning to Lloyd for help had been an epic mistake.

  "Sit down. I'm not finished talking." He leaned forward, resting his ashy elbows on the table. "The past eighteen years have bordered on nightmarish. Lately, the only thing that made it bearable was Yara and Liora."

  "Liora?"

  He flicked his hand in the air. "She still hangs around. She assures me all of this hasn't been for nothing. Me helping Vyron and Cleo turn human, the broken promise, the gate closing, the war between the sea creatures, between my sons—all of it is for a reason. That's the only thing that keeps me going. Otherwise I would have told Yara the truth years ago and let the curse kill me. I couldn't leave her alone. I had to make things right."

  "You've lost it, old man. You're claiming to talk to ghosts."

  "One ghost. You can think I'm crazy. I don't give a damn. I know what's true, what's right, and what has to be done."

  "You swore you would never take sides."

  He shook a calloused finger at me. "And I've kept that promise."

  "You let Treygan turn her into a mermaid."

  "I wasn't here when that happened. I had nothing to do with it."

  "They're in love! His emotions could turn her to stone in the blink of an eye."

  "I couldn't change what he did. All I could do was make sure she had protection."

  "Protection? She's not protected. I've seen them together. He looks at her with so much passion it's a miracle she's not a statue already."

  "She has the necklace. She'll be fine."

  I squinted at him, trying to figure out his twisted, senile mind. "What necklace?"

  "I gave her a necklace containing my good gorgon blood. She's protected from being petrified."

  "I've never seen her wearing any necklace."

  His fuzzy, white eyebrows lifted. "What?"

  "Yara hasn't been wearing a necklace the past few times I've seen her. Mermaid armband, plant hallmarks, wrinkled dresses, yes, but no necklace."

  He stood up, bracing himself on the table. "Without the protection of that necklace they could slip up. One heated or intense moment and Treygan could kill her."

  His nose and hands twitched a few times as he stared across the kitchen. It was the first time I had ever seen him scared. Then I had an epiphany. "You knew they would fall for each other. Why else would you give her a necklace with good gorgon blood in it?"

  "They've loved each other for years. He was in the picture long before you showed up, ever since the night he saved her from drowning—she just never knew who he was."

  "Legit? Treygan saved Yara's life?" How did I not know that?

  "Do you know how many times I watched her stand in the
surf, crying into the ocean? She may not have remembered him saving her, but her soul knew he was out there somewhere." Lloyd fiddled with a plastic hospital bracelet around his wrist. "They were already connected. There's no stopping the bond soul mates share once they've met. Look at you and Vienna."

  The mention of Vienna melted my heart. "You really believe Treygan and Yara are soul mates?"

  "I know it. But that doesn't mean her life isn't in danger by being with him unprotected."

  "They aren't together. The Violets ordered them to be kept apart until the Triple Eighteen. They don't think Yara will go through with their plan now that she's in love with Treygan."

  "What are they going to do?"

  I leaned against the counter. I didn't want to tell him, but I had to. "Help us with our plan."

  "No," Lloyd gasped.

  "See, you are taking sides."

  "Jack's plan is asinine. I don't understand how he could think killing her is the answer. He used to be much more intelligent."

  "He thinks it's the only shot we've got at opening the gate."

  Lloyd started limping around the kitchen. "I've got to find her."

  "To warn her about us? It's a little too late for that, Dad. She's run out of options."

  "Rownan, I'm going to need your help."

  I laughed. The alcohol must have weakened my defenses. Time to tell the old man the truth. "I came here to ask you for your help."

  "My help?"

  He watched me suspiciously, but for the first time in almost two decades I thought I might say something to make my father proud. "I don't know if I can go through with it. I keep telling Jack I will, but when the time comes, when it's just me and Yara at the gate, I don't think I'll be able to hurt her."

  His whole body seemed to relax. He rubbed a hand over his chin and hobbled toward the counter. "Well, then, I'll put another pot of coffee on. It seems we have a long night of planning ahead of us."

  Day 11

  The sun would be rising in a couple of hours. Delmar and I had been hiding behind some boulders overlooking Pango's house for almost an hour. Delmar insisted we had to wait for the changing of the guards, but I was antsy.

  Everything felt wrong: being apart from Yara, Delmar risking his rank to help me, asking guards to look the other way, and the Violets considering the selkies' plan. To make things right within a week seemed impossible, but there had to be a way.

  "There are Jalen and Enzo coming for their shift," Delmar said. "We'll be able to go in soon."

  "What if they changed their minds?"

  "Then we fight."

  "Pango and Merrick really don't know we're coming?"

  Delmar shook his head, keeping an eye on Jalen and Enzo. "They haven't been out of the house since sunset. I couldn't get a message to them without looking suspicious."

  "What does Kimber think about all of this?"

  He flashed me a sideways grin. "Who do you think has been watching the house all night?"

  "Ugh. Delmar, I don't like her being involved."

  "Aw, come on, it's like the good old days when all of us used to get into trouble together. Only now we're working against Rownan instead of with him."

  "That was innocent kind of trouble. Who knows how the Violets will react if we get caught."

  "Don't worry about that unless it happens." He motioned for me to follow him. "Time to go."

  We hurried along the path, hiding in the shadows until we reached the house. Jalen walked away when he sensed us, acting like he needed to do a perimeter check, but Enzo stared at me as we approached him.

  "Hit me," he said.

  "What?" Delmar and I glanced at each other.

  Enzo pointed to his face. "Hit me. And you better lay me out cold. If the Violets question me, I want to be able to say you knocked me out."

  "Enzo," I started, "I don't think that's necessary for—"

  Before I could finish my sentence Delmar hit Enzo so hard he flew backward, landing unconscious on the ground.

  "Delmar, what the hell?"

  He shrugged. "Now he can say he never saw it coming, and it won't be a lie."

  "He's your friend."

  "Right. That's why I did what he asked. Now go get your girl."

  He pushed open Pango's front door, but neither one of us were prepared for what we saw: Merrick tied to a chair with a hand towel gagging his mouth and secured with duct tape.

  "Well, that's unexpected," Delmar said, shutting the door behind us.

  Pango came around the corner holding a martini and wearing an apron that said, Squeeze me, stomp me, make me wine. "Hello, gentlemen. May I offer you a drink while the cinnamon buns finish baking?"

  I walked over to Merrick who was trying to hop his chair toward us. "Why is Merrick gagged and tied up?"

  Pango sipped his drink. "He was being difficult and had to be restrained."

  "Difficult about what?"

  "Helping you and Yara. He wanted to go to the Violets and tell them everything."

  I had just pulled the towel out of Merrick's mouth, but shoved it back in before he could say a word. "Hand me the duct tape."

  Merrick groaned and tried kicking me, but Pango had tied him up too tightly.

  Delmar put his arm around Pango's broad neck and laughed. "Damn, you two are an entertaining couple."

  "Is Yara resting?" I asked.

  One of Pango's green eyebrows lifted. He took another sip of his martini and turned toward the kitchen. "Was that the timer dinging?"

  "Pango." I drew out the 'o' until he turned around.

  He set his glass down. "Fine. Truth be told, she isn't here."

  "What do you mean she isn't here? Where is she?"

  "She flew the coop."

  "Did she go to see Lloyd again?" Delmar asked.

  Pango glanced at the ceiling, rocking his head from side-to-side. "Not exactly. Maybe flew the coop wasn't the right choice of words. More like she fled to the nest."

  "The sirens' nest!" I shot across the room, ready to throttle him.

  Delmar stepped between us. "Hang on, let's hear why. Pango wouldn't tie Merrick up for no good reason."

  "Of course I wouldn't. I'm the one who likes to be tied up." Pango blew a kiss at Merrick who grunted through his gag.

  I backed away from everyone. My mind was already out the door and speeding through the ocean. I needed to find Yara. "Start explaining, Pango, and do it fast."

  "Technically, you're my aunt," I told Otabia. "Aren't you obligated to help me? Bound by blood to your dead sister, or something?"

  Otabia circled the sunken living room where Nixie and I sat together. Every ten seconds Otabia would let out an ear-piercing shriek. Her constant twitching made her black bangs swing over her-fast blinking eyes. It was a little scary and a lot disturbing.

  "Are you okay?" I asked her.

  Nixie had her head in my lap, twirling the ends of my hair around her fingers. "She's hungry and mobbing you."

  "Mobbing me?"

  "This is her normal feeding time, and your unexpected visit has her on the defensive. It's her natural instinct to treat you like a predator. She wants you to leave our nest."

  "But you're fine with me being here?"

  "I think you being here is a good thing." Nixie's shimmering, red hair tickled my legs every time she moved her head. Her sisters intimidated me, but something about her comforted me.

  "Why are you so nice to me, but she," I glanced up at Otabia, "seems to hate me."

  Nixie's ruby eyes illuminated with joy. "I owe my life to your mother. No other water sprite in all of history has been promoted to a siren. I might have died like the rest of them if she hadn't chosen me as her replacement." The burgundy toenails of her bare foot pointed at Otabia. "She and Mariza have always been sirens. They're just bitter because Cleo chose to leave them and be human."

  A white heron had been perched quietly on a windowsill, but squawked obnoxiously when Mariza flew into the room. Her brown wings flapped so hard my hair
blew into my face.

  Otabia let out another high-pitched shriek. "Useless harpy! I've been calling to you for an hour. Where have you been?"

  "Call me a harpy again," Mariza threatened, "and I will pluck all of your feathers out."

  Otabia continued circling. Mariza looked me up and down and started blinking fast too. She followed her sister at a slower pace around the room.

  "I came here for help," I explained. "I just want answers."

  "You want answers?" Otabia hissed. "Fine! I possess them, but you'll have to drink from me to learn the truth."

  I swallowed hard.

  "You should take her up on it," Nixie said, running her nails along my neck. "She might not offer again."

  I promised Treygan I would never drink blood, but when I told the sirens I suspected the merfolk and selkies' plans were wrong, they didn't deny it. If Otabia was offering me a chance to save my life and Treygan's, then wouldn't it be worth drinking a little blood?

  "Okay," I muttered.

  The heron flew into the room. The torches burst into roaring flames. Nixie shot up from my lap. Mariza and Otabia moved so fast they were a blur of brown and black. Suddenly, all three sisters were within an inch of my face, pupils dilating and heads bobbing while they made clicking noises with their tongues.

  Otabia strutted in place and spread her wings, snapping her teeth at Nixie and Mariza until they backed away. "Mine. She's mine, hags. Buzzard off!"

  Otabia grabbed my wrists and yanked me to my feet. Her fingers felt hard and crusty, and her thumb nail pierced my skin. I looked down. Her fingers were talons, curved, ugly and dangerous. Blood trickled down my arm.

  Nixie and Mariza sang, their wings quivering. Why did I agree to this? I had a sickening feeling that I might be dead within minutes.

  "First, I drink from you." Otabia licked her charcoal lips. "Otherwise I'll be too famished to share."

  The other sisters laughed. I figured she was lying, but I was in no position to argue. The pain in my wrists got worse the longer she held onto me. "Fine."

  Otabia's wings wrapped around us so fast I didn't have time to see Nixie and Mariza's reaction. We were enclosed in total darkness. The other sisters chirped frantically outside the wall of Otabia's wings, but I focused on her guttural breaths.

 
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