A seaside christmas, p.1
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       A Seaside Christmas, p.1

           Susan Donovan
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A Seaside Christmas


  A Seaside Christmas

  Susan Donovan

  INTERMIX

  NEW YORK

  INTERMIX

  Published by Berkley

  An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

  Copyright © 2013 by Susan Donovan.

  Excerpt from Sea of Love Copyright © 2013 by Susan Donovan.

  Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

  INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

  ISBN: 9780451488725

  Signet mass-market edition / November 2013

  InterMix eBook edition / November 2016

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Version_1

  Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Excerpt from Sea of Love

  About the Author

  1

  “Gather ’round, ye maids. A storm brews.”

  Mona Flynn gestured for members of the Bayberry Island Mermaid Society to hurry into position around the fountain and its statue. Under the glow of flashlights, fifteen feet of bronzed female grandeur gleamed in the darkness. Mona knew it was a sight that never failed to delight and inspire their kind, a reminder that anyone who sought the mermaid’s guidance in matters of the heart would find their way to true love.

  The wind suddenly kicked up, whipping the members’ long tresses and misting their upturned faces with icy spray from the Atlantic.

  “O, Great Mermaid!” Mona cried out, her voice nearly carried away in the wind. “Hear this plea of pure heart!” She waited patiently for the impassioned echo of her words that was supposed to begin every Society ceremony. Instead, what she got was a lackluster grumble.

  “Ladies?”

  “O-Great-Mermaid-hear-this-plea-of-pure-heart.”

  “Not great, but better.” Mona knew she couldn’t fault the group for being less than enthusiastic. Standing in the icy rain on a black December night in nothing but a set of seashells and a spandex mermaid tail wasn’t exactly invigorating, even for a group of women prone to hot flashes. Just as Mona opened her mouth to intone the ritual of emergency love intervention, her eyes noticed a tiny reddish glow on the opposite side of the sacred circle.

  “Polly!” Mona waved her flashlight around in the darkness. “Are you nuts? You almost set your wig on fire the last time you tried to smoke in the wind!”

  “Keep your shells on, Mona.” Polly Estherhausen hiked up her mermaid tail and begrudgingly ground out her cigarette with the heel of her L.L.Bean snow boot. “Do you think we can zip this along? My bum knee is freakin’ killing me.”

  Mona sighed. Honestly, serving as president of this group wasn’t for a woman with a weak constitution. Nevertheless, it was her sacred duty to keep them on point. “Did we not agree that Annabeth Parker needs our help?” she asked. “Do our bylaws not state that an equinox—either the summer or winter solstice—is the best time to seek the Great Mermaid’s intervention? Is the winter solstice not ideal because it’s a time of rebirth and new opportunities?”

  “Excuse me,” Izzy McCracken said. “I think I got lost with all the double negatives.”

  “Every party needs an English teacher,” someone mumbled.

  Mona threw up her hands. “Is tonight not the winter solstice, people?”

  The women nodded.

  “Fine. Let’s start over, shall we?” Mona took a cleansing breath and gazed at the vision of aquatic grace and mystery towering above them. Even in winter, with her majestic fountain plumes of water silenced, she was a joy to behold. “O, Great Mermaid! Hear this plea of pure heart!”

  This time, the group’s response was loud and clear, which made her smile. Mona continued. “On this night, a daughter of the island is in need. She awaits her heart-mate, yet stubbornly refuses to ask for your help. Great Mermaid, look down upon our sister Annabeth Parker. Hear our plea on her behalf. Soften her resistance. Allow the water of love to flow through her. Light her way to shore.”

  The group responded on cue. “Help us.”

  “Soften her resistance,” Mona intoned.

  “Assist us.”

  “Allow the water of love to flow.”

  “Guide us.”

  “Light her way to—”

  “I need a hot toddy like a son of a bitch.”

  Mona’s head snapped around. She glared at Abigail Foster in annoyance.

  “Well, excuse me, Mona, but this ice is frizzing my new wig, and it’s so cold out here that my nipples are like drill bits.”

  Guffaws erupted all around. At this point, Mona couldn’t help but join in. “Oh, the hell with this, then. I guess Annie’s on her own.”

  A collective sigh of relief went through the circle. Everyone clicked off their flashlights, grabbed coats from the park benches, and cautiously made their way down the icy boardwalk to Polly’s house, where hot toddies and a roaring fire waited.

  “Annie will be fine,” Abigail yelled, zipping her parka and keeping her head down against the wind. “That girl gets a new toy boy every tourist season. Sooner or later the tide’s bound to wash up someone decent.”

  “It’s boy toy, not toy boy,” Izzy said, none too charitably. “And the Mermaid Society is about true love, not just boinking.”

  “Hey, I’d be happy with some good, old-fashioned boinking, thank you very much,” Polly shouted.

  Mona rolled her eyes. Certainly, this hadn’t been one of the Society’s most dignified gatherings. But she was certain Annie needed their help and she needed it now. The girl was her daughter Rowan’s lifelong best friend, and Annie could prance around like an independent, modern woman all she wanted, but Mona could see through the facade.

  Annabeth Parker needed a loyal, passionate, and courageous man, a man whose devotion knew no bounds, the kind of man who would not run from the awesome power of true love.

  Well, hell. They all did.

  • • •

  His callused, sea-roughened hands clutched at her glistening flesh. Their mouths met in a fierce tidal wave of a passion, the force of which threatened to wash him away, drown him. Yes, it was taboo. Forbidden. But Captain Forrest Burroughs didn’t care. He simply didn’t care!

  As Annie’s fingers flew over the laptop keyboard, a shudder of pleasure went through her. No doubt about it. Desire at High Tide was going to be her most popular installment yet. Fans of the Sea of Lust mermaid erotica franchise were going to love this shit!

  “Take me! Take me!” Neptunia cried, her glistening tail whipping around the captain’s torso, capturing him, pulling his masculine form to her heaving, shell-covered bosom.

  Annie’s fingers stopped. She scrolled back to the previous paragraph and shook her head in exasperation. She’d already used the wor
d “glistening” and certainly couldn’t use it again so soon. She’d have to wait at least two pages for the mermaid to glisten again. Annie deleted the word and replaced it with “slippery.” Good enough for the first draft.

  Absently, she reached toward the end table for her mug of hot cocoa, but got a handful of cat whiskers instead.

  “Mmmmrrrow.”

  “Oh, all right, Ezra. Hop on.”

  The big black kitty with white paws jumped from the table to her shoulders, where he draped his heft around the back of her neck like an overfed fur stole. Sure, this arrangement gave her a wicked backache after a while, but it made Ezra happy. And besides, his purring acted as a poor woman’s vibrating massager.

  “Now, where were we, E?” Annie sipped the cocoa, settled deeper into the club chair, and stretched her sock-covered feet toward the fire. She returned her attention to her laptop. If all went according to schedule, she’d have this one finished by March and could squeeze in at least half of another novel while preparing the store for the season. Added to the six she’d already written, that would bring her to seven and a half self-published books in six years—not bad for the off-season hobby of a tourist-town shopkeeper.

  Before her fingers could connect with the keys, her cell phone rang. With a groan, Annie snatched it from the side table to see that Rowan was calling.

  “How’s the interspecies porn coming along?” Her best friend, Rowan Flynn, wasn’t known for subtlety.

  “It was going along fine until my phone rang.”

  “Well, sorry for the mermaidus interruptus, but I wanted to make sure you were all right.”

  “I’m fine. Why?” Annie had to nudge Ezra off her neck. His purring was so loud, she could barely hear Rowan’s snarky comments.

  “The storm. We’re supposed to get a couple of inches of ice tonight. Maybe even some power outages. I swear to God, this island has more annual power outages than residents.”

  “Huh.” Annie peered out the front windows of her narrow little clapboard cottage to view the island’s boardwalk. “All I see is rain.”

  “Nope—it’s ice. It’s supposed to worsen as the night goes on. If I didn’t have a customer coming in on the ferry, I’d be over there to keep you company.”

  Annie laughed. “Captain Forrest Burroughs is keeping me company just fine, but I appreciate you checking on me. Everything okay over at the B and B?”

  “More or less. It’s six leaks and counting up in the attic, and another shutter just flew off. This place is falling apart faster than my love life.”

  Annie sighed. It had been about a year since Rowan left Manhattan and washed up on the familiar shores of Bayberry Island, her pride and spirit in tatters. Not only had Rowan’s fiancé crushed her heart, he also had talked her into investing what was left of the Flynn family fortune in what turned out to be an investment scam, leaving him indicted for securities fraud, Rowan without a home or a man—and the family flat broke. As a way to make amends to her family, Rowan offered to run the Flynn’s Safe Haven Bed and Breakfast. So far, it had been like a jail sentence for Rowan, and her wounded heart had been slow to heal.

  “I’ll come over tomorrow and help you look for the shutter,” Annie said.

  “I already called Clancy.” Rowan’s middle sibling, Clancy Flynn, was the island’s police chief and everyone’s go-to guy for off-season home repairs. “He said he’d patch the roof, too, while he was over here.”

  “But I really don’t mind—”

  “Oh, stop. I didn’t call to rope you into doing odd jobs. I just wanted to make sure you’re good.”

  Annie smiled. “I am, thank you.”

  “Then give Captain Burroughs a big ol’ wet one for me.”

  “Sure will.”

  “Has he discovered the ‘Piscem Problem’ yet?”

  Annie laughed again. Rowan had helped her brainstorm many a mermaid tale, either in person or on the phone from New York. Her friend knew the challenges of writing a hot-and-heavy love scene featuring an anatomically correct human male and a half-fish, half-woman mythological creature. Rowan dubbed it the “Piscem Problem” after an ancient poem by Horace, a Roman dude who hadn’t been much of a mermaid fan, apparently. He wrote that what began as a beautiful woman ended in the ugly, blackened tail of a fish. “Desinit in piscem mulier formosa superne.”

  Annie long ago decided that Horace—and all the other haters and doubters out there—could just stick it. These were her books. It was her world. Her stories. If she wanted to make it simple for her dashing sea captains and fetching seamaids to mate, then that’s what she’d do. It wasn’t as if she were reinventing real biology, for heaven’s sake. So she decided from the get-go that all her captains would have standard—albeit above-average—equipment, and all the mermaids would be like seaplanes—able to manage in water and on land with some minor adjustments. So far, she’d received only a few nasty online reviews, including one from a reader who claimed to be an actual mermaid. This made Annie think she must be doing something right.

  She said good-bye to Rowan, took another sip of cocoa, and got back to work.

  The captain lifted her effortlessly from the foaming surf, his mouth claiming hers roughly. In awe, he noticed that her mermaid tail had begun to split in two, a woman’s lovely, long legs taking shape in the summer air, a woman’s perfect nethermouth appearing at their glistening moist vortex.

  “Pffshew,” Annie said, fanning herself. She knew she’d be wise to switch from cocoa to cabernet if ol’ Forrest was about to hoist the mainsail.

  • • •

  “How ya holdin’ up there, sir?”

  Nathaniel Ravelle raised his watering eyes to the ferry conductor but kept the seasickness bag pressed to his mouth. He nodded that he was all right, which was a lie. One more pounding wave like that last one and he’d be face-first on the concrete floor of the passenger cabin. Maybe it was a good thing he hadn’t eaten anything but a bag of airline peanuts thirty thousand feet over Iowa City, a good seven hours before landing in Boston, getting a taxi to the Cape, and catching the ferry to Bayberry Island.

  “Takes some gettin’ used to, eh? Wintertime seas can get rough around here. Looks like we’re getting a nor’easter. My name is John. Let me know if there’s anything you need.”

  Nat nodded.

  “I bet you wished you’d stayed in Los Angeles.”

  You have no idea.

  “All right, well, only about fifteen minutes till Bayberry. You’re the only passenger getting off there. Have to say they don’t get many tourists this time of year. Mostly just during summer. They have a Mermaid Festival every August, you know.”

  I know. Trust me.

  “You should be glad you’re not going all the way to Nantucket tonight, because that would be another half hour. Not much fun in your condition, to be sure.”

  Nat nodded.

  “I hope you’ve made arrangements for someone to pick you up at the dock. This is no night to be wandering around in the—”

  Mercifully, the conductor noticed a woozy passenger darting out into the rain for relief, and he ran off in pursuit. Nat rested his forehead against the cold glass of the ferry window and talked himself out of getting sick. The conductor would never know this, but the fact that one little choppy ferryboat ride could flatten him like this was nothing short of an embarrassment.

  Nat had grown up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where he’d made the acquaintance of moody Lake Michigan before he’d learned to walk. He spent every available moment boating and fishing as a kid, and later taught sailing lessons in high school to earn money for college. Maybe his mother had been right when she’d admonished him a few months back, claiming that a dozen years in LA had changed him.

  The ferry lurched, rising up with a wave and slamming down again. Nat stared out into the blackness, knowing that he’d feel less nauseated if he
could spot the horizon line. Suddenly, he saw a blurry strip of lights break through the sleet, and he smiled at the promise of solid ground. The smile didn’t last.

  Why, exactly, was he out here on the stormy Atlantic in a 150-decible, diesel-spewing tin can of death? What, in his executive producer’s bizarre little mind, was so critical that Nat was booked on a plane stuffed with holiday travelers and shipped off to the East Coast on a moment’s notice?

  Fucking mermaids.

  Seriously, as soon as Nat got back to LA, he was getting a new job. He didn’t care that he was the only one of his film school friends with a career in entertainment that didn’t involve squirting butter on popcorn. Four years as a segment producer for the cable paranormal reality show Truly Weird was about three and a half years too many. In the name of advance-location scouting, he’d been sent to chat it up with Sasquatch witnesses in southeastern Ohio, alien abductees in Alabama, and enough alleged victims of demonic possession and ghostly hauntings to fill every seat in the Staples Center.

  Nat wasn’t entirely clear why this particular assignment was shaping up to be the proverbial last straw. Maybe the disgust was cumulative. But, really, an island full of insane people who thought a mermaid statue had been setting up happily-ever-afters since the nineteenth century? An entire population brainwashed into thinking a bronze fountain could grant requests like a disc jockey at a wedding reception? People who actually believed there was such a thing as true, abiding love between a man and a woman in today’s world?

  Sure. And Bigfoot shopped at the Trader Joe’s on La Brea and Third.

  There was only one good thing about this trip. His whole family happened to be in Boston for the holidays, because his big sister lived there with her kids and husband. Nat had already told his mom that he’d be joining them as soon as he could get the hell off Bayberry Island, news that made her cry with happiness. It had been years since they’d all been together for Christmas.

  The boat engine began to slow. It wasn’t long before Nat’s feet were on the slippery dock and the ferry pulled away, belching fumes in his direction as a final insult. He looked around, making several observations. First, he couldn’t help but notice the largest live Christmas tree he’d ever seen towering over the public dock, decorated in festive lights and topped with, of course, a large mermaid, now swinging precariously in the wind. Next, he saw that the promised taxi was not waiting for him and there wasn’t another human being in sight. And last but not least, he realized the stuff coming out of the sky was ice.

 
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