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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.4
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.4

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 

  I rolled my eyes. "That isn't necessary with me."

  "It will hurt more because you're in human form," she warned, but there was pleasure in her voice. Sirens fed on pain—emotional and physical.

  The water's edge was several yards away. I could've begged her to do it in the water so it wouldn't hurt as much. Then I reminded myself that the pain would be nothing compared to what awaited me on the Triple Eighteen. Might as well get used to it.

  "More pleasure for you, my garnet goddess. Have your way with me."

  Her mouth closed over mine and I forced myself to think of the memory I had tried so hard to bury. Bringing it to the surface, I focused on the last time I had seen my grandmother's sapphire eyes, and the fear in them as she died—gruesomely and needlessly—because of me. Just like my mother.

  Nixie's teeth sank into my bottom lip. I clawed at the muddy ground as my back bowed, plowing my shoulders deeper into the earth. The pain forced me to tense so rigidly I thought I would snap in half. Nixie moaned in ecstasy while she devoured a pivotal moment of my life—removing it from my mind and soul forever.

  How could I possibly act normal when my world was crash-and-burning? Suspecting Treygan had kidnapped Yara was one thing. Actually facing the reality of her as a mermaid had my head all jacked up. How much did she remember about me, or us, or any of her past?

  Treygan screwed up everything. Years of planning, wasted. I had lost her. My heart, my soul, the love of my life—we would never have our happily ever after. There had to be a way to fix it. True love always triumphs. Isn't that what fairytales preached?

  To add to the misery of my current hell, it had to be nearing ninety degrees outside. The ocean breeze wasn't helping my internal temperature. My blood felt like it might start boiling any second.

  Yara ran her hands over the fur of my coat. "I've never felt anything so soft against my skin." Her voice sounded silkier than the layers of fine, white hair she was petting. Her mer traits were already developing. "It's incredible."

  I faked a smile. "You look incredible in it."

  She stopped walking and squeezed my hand. "You don't have to pretend you're okay with this. I know you're not, and neither am I."

  I pushed a damp, blonde lock of hair over her shoulder. Waves of repulsion shot through my arm, but I stopped myself from cringing. "I did like you better as a brunette."

  She pressed my palm against her cheek and sighed. "Me too."

  How long would it be before she realized my touch didn't feel the same? Could the bond we shared be strong enough to keep her crushing on me? The answer terrified me.

  "Jesus, Rownan! What happened to your arms?"

  I forgot she would be able to see my scars. Playing dumb would be my best option. "What are you talking about? They've always been like that."

  She held my hands in hers, studying the faded lines on the insides of my arms and the bruise from Nixie. "There's like a hundred. What happened to you?"

  "Clumsy kid. Lots of accidents."

  "How did I never notice them before?"

  "You're a mermaid now. Your sight has enhanced. I can barely see them." That sounded good, even to me. Totally believable.

  Her new fluid voice went all soft and weak. "Are you grossed out by me?"

  I wanted to say yes. I wanted to scream it. "Baby, no, of course not. Have you seen yourself? You're glowing."

  "Ugh. I don't want to glow. I don't want to be a mermaid."

  I didn't want her to be a mermaid either. I wanted a rewind button so I could go back and do it all kinds of different. I would keep her locked in my arms, surround us with an army, and do whatever it took to keep the merfolk from getting anywhere near her. Why hadn't I done that in the first place? My piece of shit brother had ruined my last chance at having love in my life. "Treygan will pay for this. I promise."

  "Yeah, about that, why didn't you tell me you had a half-brother who was a merman? Kind of an important detail considering how much you hate their kind, don't you think?"

  "Their kind? You mean your kind." I waited for her to respond, but she only gave me the evil eye. At least in human form her eyes were the same light brown they used to be. "I didn't tell you because we don't associate. We share blood, that doesn't mean we share anything else."

  "Same mother or father?"

  "Father."

  "I don't understand. How can you be human if he's a merfreak?"

  Sweat dripped down my neck and back. "Long story. I'll explain after we get you home and into some clothes. You must be burning up in that coat."

  She fanned herself. "It is hot under here. How can you wear this thing all the time?"

  "My blood runs cooler than most." But not without my coat. I would have to think through every word I said from now on—unless I came clean. What would happen if I told her the truth?

  "Treygan said I haven't even been gone a full day. Have you checked on Uncle Lloyd? Is he home yet? He got stuck on the mainland during the hurricane. I'm worried about him."

  "Haven't seen him."

  "Is my house damaged?"

  "Definite windburn and water spoilage, but nothing I can't repair. Less than three weeks and you'll forget all of this happened."

  Her head drooped and she kicked a shell along the ground. "I'll never forget this. It's like I'm stuck in a nightmare."

  "I hear ya." My worst imaginable nightmare had come true. I put my arm around her shoulder and pretended we were a happy, normal couple. Yeah, right. It made me nauseous, but at least I had contact with my coat again.

  She stiffened when she saw the house. "The roof! The porch. It's—look at it."

  "It can be fixed."

  "The house is the least of my worries. We need to check on Uncle Lloyd."

  We kept walking past her property. Her eyes lit up when she saw the old man's place. "His is fine! Look!" Same old buttercup-colored dollhouse with gag-me-green shutters and a garden so full of flowers a clan of faeries should have been living in it. You would think after his wife died he would've made an effort to make it look more manly.

  "Come on!" Yara's barrel-you-over spirit hadn't changed. She took off running, but I was hella burning up, and running would've made it worse.

  "You go ahead," I shouted. "I'll catch up."

  Nobody was around so I pulled out a seagarette and lit up. I held my breath for the rest of the walk, letting the ice-cold smoke fill my lungs and cool my insides.

  Four minutes later I stood at Lloyd's doorstep and exhaled a cloud of silver smoke. Smoking made me feel somewhat better, but I would have to make sure this wasn't a long visit. Treygan would be right behind us. Yara needed to hear the truth from me. He would take way too much pleasure in telling her my secret. I couldn't figure out why he hadn't told her already. Sneaky, self-centered fish—they always had an ulterior motive.

  I took one more drag from my seagarette, put it out on the porch railing, and saved the rest for later. Then I wiped the frost from my lips and debated whether or not to knock on Bastard Lloyd's door.

  Uncle Lloyd was already home. He had removed all the boards from the windows and was polishing the re-hung mermaid portrait. He looked great. Not a scratch on him or the house. After exchanging our usual greetings, I insisted he sit in his leather armchair and relax.

  "You had your dialysis treatment, right?"

  He grunted, which meant yes and he had hated it.

  I sat on the ottoman at his feet and gave his knee a squeeze. "You feeling okay?"

  "Some hours are better than others." He picked up a picture of his wife, Liora, from the side table and polished the frame.

  Liora had passed away before I ever arrived at Eden's Hammock, but that was before he became so sick. Without me around, he would have no one to take care of him. I guiltily looked away from him.

  My life was here with Uncle Lloyd, not underwater. I watched an orange and black fish swim around his aquarium—three-hundred gallons of tropical reef, smack-dab in the middle of his living room. Littl
e did he know a real version awaited me just outside his door. How could I tell him I had been turned into a supposedly mythical creature? The very thought of it seemed so insane.

  He scratched his flaking forearms and I grabbed the bottle of cocoa butter from the coffee table. Treatments dried out his skin, and he was awful at taking care of himself.

  "It's amazing how your place didn't get hit." I rubbed lotion into his arms and hands. "Did you see my house? It's in shambles."

  He waved me away and wiped off the excess lotion with the bottom of his shirt. "Storms are finicky things. The sisters of nature must have kept my house out of their path of destruction."

  Storms. One of the few things my mother had loved, and one of the only things we had in common. "Do you think my mom would have cared what happened to our house?"

  "My guess would be no. But I do think she would have enjoyed the storm. Nature's fury dancing on our little island would have made her smile."

  "My mother never smiled."

  He studied me all fatherly-like and mussed up my hair. "Once upon a time she smiled a lot."

  The only memories I had of my mother were of her sad and crying, or her mumbling—in a drunken, catatonic state—that she wished I was never born. If she had never had me, maybe she would've been the happy, goodhearted person my uncle spoke of so fondly.

  She died when I was eight, so Uncle Lloyd took me in. He was the only person in my life I truly loved and trusted. I could still remember moving into his house. My room had periwinkle walls and white lace curtains. The dresser and headboard looked like dollhouse furniture—not that I knew what dolls were at the time. He said it was my new home, and that he and I were family.

  "The kind who takes care of each other," he said.

  He held me when I cried, made me love-cooked meals, and tucked me in at night. All of those things were strange and new to me, things my mother had never done. One night Uncle Lloyd gave me a stuffed teddy bear, but I didn't know what to do with it.

  "You just love it," he told me.

  "Love?"

  He sighed and shook his head. He did that a lot the first year of us living together. As I got older and learned about the world beyond our little island, I discovered many interpretations of childhood, family, and love. But my uncle's definition of love—the one he told me while I held my first teddy bear in my hands—was my favorite. "It's when you care about someone so much you would risk everything to keep them safe."

  We never kept things from each other, but this mermaid craziness would have to be an exception. He would be safer not knowing, and part of loving him meant keeping him safe.

  "Decided to try being a blonde?" Uncle Lloyd asked.

  I froze. I had forgotten about my hair. He had been gone a couple days. I could say I had dyed it before the storm. Easy peasy. "I d-d-d—"

  Crap! Why couldn't I speak?

  He saved me from my stuttering spell. "Didn't think I would notice? I must say, you look beautiful."

  His compliment made me smile, but the knock at the door made me smile even bigger. "That's Rownan. We're gonna do damage control on the house, but I'll be back in the morning."

  I kissed Uncle Lloyd's cheek, and he grunted as I left the room. He didn't think Rownan was good enough for me. Truth be told, in his opinion, no man would ever be good enough.

  Rownan swooped me into his arms and carried me up the steps to my house. Things felt off between us, but what could I expect after being transformed into a half-fish?

  "Is this what it'll be like on our wedding day?" I teased.

  He rolled his eyes and nodded at the front door. "Open that and you'll get it."

  I turned the handle and pushed the door, which was much harder to open than usual. The floors were covered with an inch of water. "Aw, crud."

  "I didn't want you walking through it in your bare feet. I'm not ready to see you with fins yet."

  Me with fins. How could he say it so casually? What would happen if we went swimming and he saw my tail? I bet he wouldn't act so nonchalant after that freak show.

  "Believe me, it's not pretty." Looking down at my feet, I saw the hem of his white coat was caked with mud. Add another item to the long list of reasons why he should dump me. "Ugh, I ruined your coat! I'm so sorry."

  "No biggie."

  "Yeah, right. I'm sure it costs a fortune to have this dry-cleaned."

  He carried me up the stairs to my room without saying another word and set me down on my bed. "You should get dressed. We need to talk."

  "Okay." A lump formed in my throat as he walked out of the room. Would he break up with me over this? Of course he would. Why would someone like Rownan keep a half-fish as his girlfriend?

  I changed into my favorite sundress, hoping it would give me a shred of confidence, and then called him back into the room.

  He looked relieved when I handed him his coat. Even though the house was stifling, he slipped his arms into the heavy sleeves and instantly relaxed. "Yara, I need to tell you something."

  This was it. I was going to lose him because a cocky finhole had turned me into a freak of nature.

  "Sit down." He pulled out the chair to my vanity table.

  "No, thanks, I'd rather stand." Even if I couldn't be strong on the inside, I could fake it on the outside. Never let them see you vulnerable. One of the few useful lessons my mother taught me.

  "There's a lot you don't know about me. Stuff I couldn't tell you before. Now that you've been turned, you have to know. Things will change between us and—I don't know how to say this."

  Then don't say it, I mentally begged. Stay with me even if I am a monster. "Just say it."

  "I'm a selkie."

  Not even remotely close to what I expected. "A what?"

  "Selkie."

  Silky, silky, silky. The familiar sound ricocheted around my brain like I should know what it meant, but no definite answer or image came to mind. "Repeating the word doesn't explain what it means."

  "Selkies are … we're sea creatures who can shape-shift into humans. In the water we're half seal."

  I fought back a laugh. "Is this your way of making fun of me?"

  His jaw muscles rippled as he rubbed his hand over his goatee. "No. I swear it's the truth."

  My mind went blank. I stared at him, unblinking.

  "Yara?"

  "You're telling me you're like a merman, but instead of being part fish, you're part seal?" He nodded. "There's no such thing."

  He stood up taller and lowered his chin. "I assure you there is. Many such things."

  I shook my head involuntarily. He had to be kidding. Never in all my home schooling, or all the stories told to me by vacationers and boaters, had I ever heard or read about a creature like that.

  He took my hand and put it against his fur coat. "This coat is like a skin to me; it helps my blood stay cold. Selkies are meant to live in cold temperatures. Without our coats and some other preservers, we'd die—especially here in this warm climate."

  "We?"

  "My kind."

  My fingers gripped the soft, white hairs. How had I never questioned why he wore a fur coat in the hot Florida weather? Why didn't everyone who saw him question it? "There are more people like you?"

  "Of course." He said it all snarky, like I was the strange one for not being savvy about secret seal people.

  "For weeks you've been telling me how much you hate merfolk. Now you're telling me you're just like them?"

  "We're nothing like merfolk. You and I are very different, but that doesn't change the way I feel about you."

  My mind raced. Did this mean we could be together? We were both some sort of half water, half land weirdos. Would this bring us closer, or drive us further apart? Rownan had never taken me to his house, never introduced me to his family or friends. The mysterious thing had seemed cool at the time, but now I understood why he was so secretive. "Do you really live in Key West?"

  "Yes, I didn't lie about that."

  "What else di
d you lie about?" My legs felt wobbly and my heart pounded so hard I could feel it in my throat, but Rownan didn't seem rattled at all.

  "You never asked me if I was a selkie."

  "I didn't know such a thing existed! Why would I ask you about it?"

  "If I told you, what would you have done? Freaked out? Never spoken to me again?"

  He was right. I probably would've run away screaming if he told me he was a—"Selkie," I whispered, trying to lodge the strange, new word into my vocabulary.

  "We're extraordinary creatures if you keep an open mind about us. Please don't shut me out because of this. You have no idea how important you are to me."

  Yesterday hearing Rownan say something so sweet would have sent me floating into the clouds. He never talked to me that way. Today his words sent a chill through me. Shock. My body must be reacting so strangely because of shock.

  He was the same as before. Dark chocolate hair, goatee to match, and thin lips that curved downward into a sexy pout. His strong hands still looked like they could snap someone into pieces, contrasted by his big, puppy-dog eyes. His irises were so dark they almost blended with his pupils; two black, full moons floating in almond-shaped skies. He did resemble a seal, but he also resembled his half-brother.

  I pictured Treygan's eyes. They were the same shape as Rownan's, but Treygan possessed blue moons—rare, unusual, blue moons. Stop it, Yara. No more thinking about Treygan.

  "I'd never shut you out, Rownan. We're meant to—we're—" Why couldn't I say it out loud? A week ago I had started telling him we were meant to be together. It was my line. It always made him smile.

  "I know, baby. You don't have to say it."

  Warmth spread over my skin, but it had nothing to do with Rownan. My mind felt like it was physically stretching out the bedroom window and down into the front yard.

  "Treygan's here," I announced suddenly. How did I know that? It was like I could sense him approaching the house, but how? Were merpeople psychic? Too many new things were being thrown at me at once. I felt dizzy.

 
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