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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.3
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.3

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 

  Just the thought of Treygan seeing me naked made my cheeks burn. "Umm, hello? Ever heard of modesty, or indecent exposure?"

  He swam beneath the dock and seemed to search for something. "You're the one who demanded we go ashore. What do you suggest we do?" He glared at me.

  "Get me some clothes!"

  "There are none," he said through his teeth. "We usually keep a supply of garments stashed under piers, but the storm must have blown them away."

  Clothes stashed under piers? He had to be kidding. "There's no way. I've swam all around this island and under the piers. I've never seen any clothes anywhere."

  "Merfolk have certain abilities that allow us to hide many things from humans."

  I paddled closer to him. "You're telling me that you can make things invisible?"

  He tilted his head to the side and winked, which I assumed was a cocky yes, but I didn't believe him. Rownan had warned me about merfreak lies, and I wasn't falling for this one.

  "So, what are we supposed to do?" I asked, flooding my words with sarcasm. "Walk around the island naked?"

  We both floated in silence, looking around and up at the sky like clothes might drop from the clouds. I bet his stupid magic merman powers couldn't make that happen.

  Treygan spoke flatly. "We're not supposed to be here. You should be with your teacher, learning how to survive as a mermaid."

  "How's it different from being human? I mean, besides the obvious."

  "It's not my job to educate you."

  "Not your job? You turned me into a fish. I'd say it's your job to answer every question I have."

  His indifferent tone didn't waver. "You are not a fish, and I didn't turn you. Delmar did."

  "Delmar? The scary Goth guy?" He shot me a mean look and mumbled something under his breath about interpretation. "You said you 'saved' me from the hurricane and took me underwater. So what, you couldn't go through with it? You had to ask that other guy to finish the job for you?"

  He leaned back and closed his eyes, floating in the water with total ease. "I do not have the ability to turn anyone."

  I hated that I was intrigued enough to ask more questions, but I couldn't help myself. "What do you mean?"

  "Important matters such as transforming humans are delegated by ranking. Only Indigos can complete that task without killing the person they are turning."

  Rownan had mentioned a color ranking in the mer world. He said it established an order, but he never mentioned their color gave them special abilities. "Doesn't your order start with red?"

  He perked up, surprised, and resumed treading water. "Yes. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet."

  "The rainbow? Seriously?" I wanted to gag at the sickening cheerfulness of it. "So, you're blue?" He nodded and smoothed down his wet hair. It wasn't until then that I noticed the color had changed again. "Your hair is darker. Like bluish-black. You look like you did during the storm."

  "We are above water in human territory. I'm supposed to look 'normal,'" his fingers poked through the water, making air quotes. "Have you ever met a human with bright blue hair?"

  "People dye their hair crazy colors," I snapped. You could pull off the punk look. Especially with your long hair and all your tattoo—er, hallmarks."

  He lifted his arm above the water. As quickly as water dripped from his fingers, his markings vanished. His skin lost its pearly hue. He did look "normal." If he wasn't a mermonster, I might consider him attractive, maybe even bordering on hot. Maybe.

  "Wow. That's too weird," I mumbled, shrugging my shoulders above the water. My leaf thingies disappeared and my skin looked ordinary again, but through the water I could see blurry hallmarks covering my shimmery chest. My hair, on the other hand, didn't go back to normal. I had always been a brunette like my parents. It was weird to see blonde hair floating around me.

  "Why is my hair blonde, and why was it yellow underwater?" Again with the questions. Why couldn't I pretend not to give a crap about this stuff?

  "I've been wondering the same thing. You should be a Red like every other new mer. You're an enigmatic Yamabuki."

  "What did you call me?"

  "Enigmatic."

  "No, the yama word."

  A cocky smile spread across his face. I wanted to smack it off of him. "Yamabuki."

  "What's that?"

  "Look it up."

  What a prick. Why were the good-looking ones always such toolboxes? "If you're going to insult me, at least use words I understand."

  "Why are you so defensive?"

  "I'm not." He squinted, studying me like he was trying to read my mind, so I looked away. "Whatever. It's probably some merfreak thing. I don't care what it means. I'll find a way to be human again if it kills me."

  "Do you have any idea how blessed you are?" Judging by the anger in his voice, he did want to kill me. "You're insulting our way of life without knowing anything about us."

  "I know plenty about your kind."

  "You only know what Rownan told you. He is not mer, therefore he doesn't know most of our secrets. Tell me, what do you think of his world? Does his way of life appeal to you?"

  "His world is my world. We don't live underwater. We have legs and normal skin. We don't communicate through our minds." My voice got louder, but I couldn't control it. "We live in houses, wear clothes, listen to music, read books and drive boats. You know, human life!"

  Treygan's forehead wrinkled and his mouth opened, but no words came out. Suddenly, Mr. Know-it-all didn't have much to say. He probably didn't know what movies or books were.

  I had been gone less than a day and I already missed home. Would I ever help Uncle Lloyd in the garden again? Would we ever play another game of Scrabble together? Were my days of cuddling on the couch with Rownan gone for good? Would he ever kiss me again if he found out I had been turned into a mermaid?

  "Rownan cares about me," I said. "He likes me for who I am, not what I am. He won't let this mermaid thing ruin our relationship."

  Treygan arched an eyebrow. "Who are you trying to convince, me or yourself?"

  I didn't have an answer. My comment replayed through my mind and I realized what a stupid, random thing I had said. Jeez, Yara, keep your big insecure mouth shut. Treygan stared at me so intently that I wondered what else he could see in me—or if he saw anything at all. Maybe he was just looking through me like my mother used to do. "I can't hear your thoughts anymore."

  His eyes didn't even flicker. "We're not underwater."

  "That's the only time it works?"

  "Yes."

  At least my thoughts were my own again. Thankfully, he hadn't heard that I considered him borderline hot. He already came off as too full of himself, jutting his chin out when I asked a question and constantly squeezing the bridge of his nose like I gave him a headache.

  "You have a wide nose," I mumbled.

  "You have a narrow mind," he shot back.

  "Well, you could really use a haircut."

  Another eyes-closed nose pinch. "If you tame your attitude, I'll cut my hair."

  "Why are you so concerned with my personality?"

  "Why are you so concerned with my appearance?"

  I opened my mouth to deny giving a crap about his appearance, to tell him I didn't find him the least bit attractive, but the untrue words refused to come out.

  Finally, silence. I thought she would never shut up.

  How could one soul be so important, yet so impossible? In the old days it would have been simple: drag Yara through the gateway, show her our world and she would never want to return to human life. Then again, if the gate was open, we wouldn't need her.

  I floated at the edge of the drab dock, waiting for Rownan's radar to kick in so he'd make an appearance and I could get back to my mission. If all went well, we wouldn't step foot on land. Yara would be so furious she would beg me to take her away from Rownan.

  "What do we do now?" she whined. "Float here all day waiting for clothes to magically appear?
"

  Her question made my skin prickle with irritation. Sarcasm was a lost art that Yara hadn't come close to mastering. "Rownan will be here shortly."

  Her eyes bugged like a Black Moor Goldfish. "What?"

  I didn't elaborate. Perhaps if I stopped answering her questions she would stop asking them.

  "What do you mean, Rownan will be here? How could he possibly know where we are? He can't see me like this."

  I heard my son-of-a-psycho half-brother approaching before I saw him. Better to ignore him until the last second. "He won't see you naked unless you get out of the water."

  "You know what I mean. I'm a freakin' mermaid."

  Rownan's boots stomping down the dock diverted her attention. I wondered how much she truly knew about him. How much did I even know about him anymore?

  "Yara, baby!" he shouted. Baby. How nauseating.

  "Oh, my God," she moaned under her breath. Her eyes darted around the water. "Rownan, this isn't what it looks like. I—"

  "I've been so worried about you," he interrupted.

  Reluctantly, I turned my head to see my nemesis squatting at the edge of the dock. Our eyes met for the first time in over a decade. My jaw tightened, as did his.

  He reached out for Yara. "Let's get you home."

  "The storm—I—something horrible happened," she said, not taking his hand.

  "It's all good. No worries," he assured her in a tone so fake it made my skin crawl.

  She kept one arm pressed tightly to her chest while the other treaded water, then she shot me a smoldering glare. "He kidnapped me. I've been turned into a mermaid."

  Rownan looked at me with shock and a hint of panic. Only a daft half-breed like him wouldn't have noticed the change in Yara's hair color, or her hallmarks and tail shimmering below the surface. He still believed her birthday was tomorrow. Chalk one up for keeping secrets.

  Yara's bashful mumbling interrupted our brotherly stare-down. "I'm not wearing any clothes."

  Rownan took off his coat, holding it open as it waved in the wind. "I won't look until you're covered. Sir, will you turn around while my girl gets out of the water?"

  Sir? Really? Yara glanced at me and I did an about-face while her knight in furry armor pretended to rescue her. After some splashing and gasping from Yara, I turned back around.

  "It was instant." She glanced from me to Rownan. "My legs, my arms. I feel normal again."

  Rownan hugged her, blocking her face from my view while he sneered at me. They looked completely wrong together. Yara cloaked in white next to Rownan's black pants and t-shirt. Yin and yang, dark and light, cold and warm. Mr. Full-of-Lies and Miss Empty-of-Memories.

  I cleared my throat loud enough to interrupt their phony sentimental moment and climbed out of the water.

  "What are you doing!" Yara shrieked, shielding her eyes.

  I brushed the water off my arms, torso and thighs. "You may be bashful and uptight, but that doesn't mean I have to be."

  "Rownan, make him cover up," she ordered, keeping her back to me.

  "Unfortunately," Rownan snarled, "I can't make him do anything."

  "I'm not talking to either one of you until he covers up. I don't need to see his—you know."

  "Have some manners, Treygan. Stand behind a tree or something."

  Yara dropped her hands from her face and stepped closer to him. "You know this guy?"

  Rownan didn't flinch. "Yes, babe, we know each other. I'm surprised he didn't tell you."

  To spare all of us from more of Yara's shrieking, I moved behind a waist-high sago palm.

  She cautiously peeked at me, then relaxed when she saw the lower half of my body hidden from view. "He said you two are brothers, but I thought he was lying."

  "We are half-brothers," Rownan said, "but obviously not by choice. What else has he told you?"

  Rownan appeared calm and collected, but I could imagine the panicked thoughts racing through his mind. How had I beaten him to the punch? How had I known today was Yara's real birthday? Had I exposed him? Had I told her his plan, his secrets?

  Don't answer him, Yara. Unfortunately, we weren't in the water, so she couldn't hear my thoughts.

  "He's told me lots of stuff," she said. "Most of it I don't believe."

  Ooh, fantastic answer! I wanted to applaud, but instead I shrugged, letting Rownan imagine the worst.

  He caressed her cheek and did a poor imitation of a man in love. "We can discuss it later, after we get you home."

  I could have acted like a Neanderthal and dragged Yara back into the water, but I knew if I waited long enough, Rownan would dig himself into a hole even he couldn't claw his way out of. Not anymore. Things had changed.

  He turned to me with a devious glimmer in his dark eyes. "Treygan, Nixie's on her way with clothes for you, so you should stay put."

  My muscles tensed. "Nixie?" Why would she be coming?

  He failed to suppress a grin. "We chatted earlier. She wants to discuss the storm with you."

  Son of a bitch—literally. Well played, Rownan, well played. "Great," I said, as carefree as I could manage. "You two love birds go on ahead. I'll find you soon."

  I expected a bratty remark from Yara, but instead she held Rownan's hand and they walked away without another word.

  Thoughts of Nixie caused beads of sweat to form on my forehead. This would be difficult to smooth over. Nixie knew the grand plan, but this was a detour she hadn't seen coming. Sirens despised not knowing everything.

  I hadn't lied. Nixie would already know that. Delmar really had quarreled with one of the islanders—a few of them, actually—but I had used Nixie in a roundabout way and she wouldn't let that go unpunished. Hopefully, she hadn't told her sisters what I had done.

  "Treygan, you beautiful bastard!" Nixie shouted over the fluttering of her wings.

  "Nixie, my favorite garnet goddess!"

  "Don't try to sweet-talk me. I know what you—" her red eyes looked me up and down, lingering at my crotch. She landed in front of me, almost on top of me. "Mmm, I do love it when you're in human form, especially raw human form."

  I bowed politely. "Rumor has it you brought me clothes."

  She licked her strawberry lips and pressed against me. Her wings folded backward, covering the bag strapped to her back.

  "Clothes? I don't have any clothes," she said innocently, twirling around. "But I could strip out of mine if you'd like." Her talon-like fingers ran along the hook-and-eye closures of her corset top.

  "Nix, hand over the bag, please."

  She grabbed hold of my wrists and pushed herself against me, whispering against my neck. "You want it? Then take it off me."

  "I can't. Your wings are in the way."

  A hollow snapping sound echoed behind her as her wings disappeared. The gust of air blew her hair into my face. Locks of shimmering red faded to a human shade of auburn. I slid the bag straps down her arms while she evaluated me with rust-brown eyes. They were much less intimidating in her human state.

  "You tricked me, Treygan."

  "I did not trick you. Delmar did have a problem with those men. He and I are grateful to you for the storm. You did wonderful work."

  Unzipping the bag, I found a pair of tan shorts with more pockets than one person could possibly need and put them on. I held up a blue t-shirt with a red and yellow triangle on the front. The letter S in the middle of the symbol was cracked and fading. "What's the S for?"

  "Slimeball." She zipped up my shorts. "This is all backward, you know. Usually I'm undressing someone."

  I pulled the Slimeball shirt over my head. "Thank you, Nixie, for everything. You're a life saver."

  She twirled a strand of hair around her finger. "Are you referring to the clothes, the storm, or the fact that I unwittingly provided you with a distraction while you stole that over-hyped human and turned her into one of your kind?"

  I could've added a few more items to her list. "Take your pick."

  In a blur of red she threw me to
the ground so hard it knocked the wind out of me. She straddled me and sat down.

  "You choose, Treygan. Share a song, or I tell my sisters what you did."

  I closed my eyes, debating which would hurt less, the wrath of Otabia and Mariza, or Nixie taking a part of my soul. A few minutes of pain and my debt to Nixie would be paid. Who knew what the outcome would be if Mariza and Otabia got involved. They knew how to hit where it hurt, and they knew I'd endure any amount of torture to protect my people. Nixie was offering me a reprieve.

  "This is very gracious of you," I replied.

  "Gracious if you choose correctly."

  "My decision was made before I asked you to conjure up the hurricane. I had a feeling you would find out about Yara, and I knew the consequences. What I didn't know was if you would let me choose the memory."

  Her eyes glistened with hunger. "You anticipated sharing yourself with me?"

  "Payment for the prize."

  She squeezed her thighs tighter and pinned down my arms. Rocks dug into my back. "You are a fool for thinking your idea will work. You and your brother are both fools."

  "Yes, stupidity runs in our blood." Stupidity and evil.

  "It's not the blood you share that makes you fools. That cold blood is your only saving grace. You should stop fighting your heritage and embrace it."

  Rage coursed through my veins as I reared against her, but on land sirens were stronger than mer. I barely budged her. How dare she bring my father into this? She knew I despised that part of me. She leaned so close I could smell her metallic breath. "Mmm, yes, struggle, my love. It makes this dance more exciting."

  Gray clouds above me became thicker, dropping from the sky and stretching around us like a web. Lightning flashed, sending an electrical current buzzing through my muscles. The change in weather meant Nixie was becoming ravenous. We needed to get it over with.

  "Do it, Nix. If you want to enjoy yourself, take the memory I chose for you."

  She bit her bottom lip. "If it's not a juicy one, my thirst won't be quenched and the process will take much longer."

  "Trust me, it's as juicy as it gets."

  She gave one powerful lurch forward. Her body arched as her wings exploded from her back and spread out behind her. The red in her irises returned. Her hair shimmered around her narrow face while she sang a melodic siren song.

 
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