Authors: Dee Carney
Gagan chuckled before his face straightened, becoming serious. "I wanted to talk with you alone, Danyl, and out here," he glanced at their sparse surroundings, "is probably a better place than any. It's about your mother. And your father."
Danyl almost looked away, but forced himself not to move. "What is it?"
"I'm sorry to tell you this, but we've looked into your suspicions."
"You were right." Gagan reached for his shoulder and clamped a supportive hand around it. "The evidence is stacked against him. Based on what we've found, we agree that he most likely murdered your mother."
He wasn't surprised. He couldn't be. And now, he wouldn't let the news affect him.
No—that wasn't true.
let it affect him, for now he had something to live for.
He needed to stay alive long enough to kill his father.
* * * *
Di ignored the sweat hanging off her brow and wound the winch as hard and fast as she could. It would do no good to wish yet again that she had a crew to do the heavy work. The
was hers free and clear. So was the work that went with operating her.
She gritted her teeth and ignored the pull in her muscles. The anchor had to come up now because she wanted to get back to land immediately. The weather had dropped unexpectedly since she'd arrived this morning and made staying out here miserable.
Besides that, three years of searching were now over! True, she still hadn't found the true object of her intent but if that little silver coin was any indication, she was damned close.
Cold, salty water splashed over her hands and face as she worked on getting the anchor up. It must have been hung on something. She took a step back and tugged the lead rope directly opposite the winch.
Damn! Whatever it was hooked on had it wedged good and tight. She wasn't going anywhere unless she managed to dislodge it. Most likely, the anchor had found a nice comfortable spot in between two rocks and now made her late afternoon wretched.
She made quick work of donning a mask and jumped over the side. The water temp was an instant reminder of why wetsuits were a necessary luxury, but she'd hoped to be in and out before it made too much of a difference. That wish didn't stop an immediate eruption of goose bumps to overtake her. Better make this quick. It was
colder than she'd thought it would be.
Swimming around to the front of the boat, she located the long length of rope with ease and used it to lead her down to the anchor. By the time she reached the large piece of metal, her body felt like one big ice cube. She was further down than where the depth finder indicated the ocean floor should be. Working as quickly as her numb hands would allow, she freed the heavy weight and let it drop to a sandy area. She'd have to work fast to get inside the boat before it drifted, taking the anchor with it, into another inconvenient location.
As she started the ascent, she caught movement, or what she thought was movement, off to the side. A claustrophobic's nightmare, the mask was the ultimate definition in tunnel vision. She had to turn her entire body to face whatever the movement might have been. Probably some curious fish wondering why an air-breather had the nerve to venture below.
Speaking of, her lungs began to remind her that she needed to move a little faster.
The slow burn might be a thrill to some divers, but if she allowed it, instead it meant that her anxiety level cranked up a few notches.
Maybe it was the anxiety. Or perhaps a touch of oxygen deprivation. Hell, it might have been a touch of hypothermia. But when she turned to meet the movement head on, she could have
there was a man swimming in the distance.
Di blinked twice and squinted through the condensation forming inside the mask. He was gone now, but she was so sure…
Never mind. Get on the
and back to land. That coin needed to be dated and confirmed. Visions of men swimming beneath the water also indicated she definitely needed a good old romp in the hay—if only it were that easy.
Pushing aside frustration with her nonexistent sex life, she focused on what had to be her priority now. She kicked her legs, expecting to slice through the water. Instead of an easy graceful movement, her ankles groaned in protest, muscles in her lower legs burning with the effort. She'd left the fins on board, and truthfully she didn't know if they would have been a help or a hindrance. Her body was so tired. Still, if she wanted to get back to the boat, she had to swim.
She kicked again. Nothing happened.
Medals and trophies from swim meets lined the otherwise stark walls of her apartment, but right now her legs scissored with the grace of wooden logs during a river drive as she tried to make some progress.
The fatigue was only one part of the problem. Di was so cold too. She brought her hand to the mask and noted the blue tinge outlining her nails.
Her lungs burned. Her body refused to gain speed. Goose bumps covered her everywhere. She was underwater with only a mask and none of her other diving equipment.
So not a good place to be.
She would get back inside the boat in short order.
Focus on one thing at
There wasn't a damned thing she could do about air, but she could kick her legs.
She would, damn it.
There. One little kick, but it was something. She just needed to do it again and in a short while, she'd reach the boat, right?
Di looked up and despite her instructions to herself, panic rocketed through her.
The surface was a hell of a lot higher up than she thought possible. Oh, God … all of her friend's admonitions about being in the boat by herself came back to haunt her in that single moment. Divers worked in pairs, they'd told her. Boaters knew better than to go out alone. But determined as ever, she'd ignored them all. Finding the sunken Greek transport had become almost an obsession and that meant working without the benefit of a partner.
Now she might pay for it with her life.
The spots in front of her eyes appeared in a variety of colors, her brain desperate and conjuring more reminders that hey, some air would be good. Slamming her eyelids shut, she wanted to cry, but she kicked feebly again instead. If anything, her body drifted down instead of up.
She was not going out like this.
Not like this!
Di kicked again, but she couldn't tell if she moved because she couldn't feel her legs.
Thoughts of the
, the silver coin and her life's goals filtered through her mind. For some reason, she thought of that man who'd been swimming underwater with her a few minutes ago.
And then she thought of nothing at all.
On her hands and knees, Di swayed with the steadiness of a drunkard. Her stomach lurched and brought up more saltwater. She'd already tried crawling to the ledge and leaning over it, but her weakened body refused to obey. Instead, Di suffered through her coughing and sputtering on the deck of the boat. She shivered uncontrollably, but lacked the strength to do anything about it.
Pulling up her head, she peered once again into the silver eyes of the man hanging on to the aft near the engine. "Who are you?" she croaked. Her mouth tasted like the ass end of a dog. Besides that, she fought the horrible urge to curl up and go to sleep on the spot.
Not that it mattered who he was or how he got there. No one had to tell her she owed him her life. She'd felt those last moments right before death pulled her into its warm embrace. To her surprise, she awoke instead, in his.
He should have been freezing. The sun had long since sunk beneath the horizon and she knew how cold the water had been minutes before the sunset. He didn't appear affected though. He just watched her through cool eyes, bobbing in the green-black ocean water.
Long, dark hair framed his face. Thick, black lashes dripped water onto his cheeks, but it didn't faze him. His features were well-defined; his face a map of angles and lines.
She would have guessed him of maybe Scandinavian descent based on his pale skin, but his dark features marred that image.
To her complete surprise, he hauled himself over the back end of the boat before she'd had a chance to finish analyzing his face. And sweet, sweet Mary, she now had a very up close and personal view of the rest of him. All of him, starting with the broad shoulders and chiseled torso, right down to the lovely column of flesh hanging between muscled thighs.
Breathe, woman. You've seen a penis before. But oh, my God…
Her shivering became secondary to the immediate need to stand and back away … or get closer, depending on a number of things.
"What are you doing?"
He side-stepped her and the mess she'd made and walked past her. Not exactly walked. He stumbled along, looking as shaky as she felt. Gripping the safety rail running along the boat kept him upright.
. Her rescuer was three sheets to the wind.
"Hey," she called, managing to inch her way into a new position that gave her access to see whatever it was he was doing. "Where do you think you're going?"
She had a tantalizing view of his backside as he ducked inside the cabin. Her shivering had subsided a little, but her stupid legs still refused to help her move closer.
By the time he stepped out a minute later, she ached from the effort to move. She hoped like hell he only planned on robbing her because if he tried anything else, she doubted she'd have the strength to attempt to stop him.
Her mouth fell open when she spied the bundle in his arms. He still staggered, but he made his way to her and dropped the blanket over her shoulders. "More careful next time," he murmured.
With shaking hands, she burrowed deeper into the blanket. "Thank you," she said with an ache of gratitude knotting her throat. Who knew a square of material could feel so good? Maybe she would curl up beneath it, right here. Just a little nap.
She forced her eyes to open wider when he dipped his chin and stood. She looked up just in time to watch him cast his legs over the edge of the boat and push off. But not before she saw his whisper of a smile.
* * * *
He'd never met Ancelin, his demi-god father, although his mother said he resembled him. When she was alive, she talked of Ancelin with a far-away look in her eyes, despite the many years they'd been apart. It'd been a brief affair, but she'd loved him with the force of a hurricane. Danyl had never understood the passion she still felt for his father, but after holding that woman, he started to have some idea.
She'd been soft and her skin so smooth. He thought human anatomy, those odd legs of theirs, would disgust him, but that had been far from the case. Unlike maids, she covered her breasts with triangles of stretchy material. It did little to disguise hardened nipples beneath. Since similar material covered the juncture between her legs, could that have been her genital slit? The scent of that place, again different from maids, yet at the same time still seductive, made him want to slide his nose there. Maybe insert his tongue for a taste.
He groaned. The very idea aroused him.
He swam circles beneath the boat now, unable to justify why he lingered when he had other matters to tend to. But she'd been so pretty. Far from what he'd ever imagined.
When he returned to the merfolk city, the library would be his first stop. He wanted to know more. Let the others continue to mock him for spending so much time there. He'd spoken to that human, knew a little about her vessel and might have a chance to test his knowledge again. It had taken his brain a minute to catch up, but thank the gods for his deity lineage. Who knew the gifts of language, of shifting and a myriad of others the mer-people found useless would serve him now?
The reasons for staying here were twofold, at least. The key rested somewhere in this vicinity if the hags were to be believed. He could do more than one thing at a time, right?
He'd search for the key while keeping an eye on her until she left. Although, what was this protective feeling he'd adopted? Frail humans survived long enough without any sort of help from his kind. Despite his curiosity, she'd fare well enough without him.
But where'd that thought been when he watched her sink earlier? Poseidon claimed her little body for his own, but Danyl interfered, the consequences to be damned. No doubt, there
be a consequence to interfering.
Wait, he thought, tightening his jaw. He needed to concentrate. The death of his mother, Simeona, must be treated with the respect it deserved and lust for a human offered none. It'd taken weeks to find a way to get to Ancelin, even with Gagan's help.
The time to meter out justice grew nearer.
Danyl glanced at the bewitched coral slate, whispered the magical word, and waited for the glow that marked the trail he needed to follow. It grew brighter as expected, but instead of forming a thin line for him to follow, the glow pulsed like a heartbeat. His own heart lurched.
It was here. Somewhere so close the slate could not pinpoint, the key rested.
He kicked his tail, keeping his attention on the slate. No matter which direction he moved though, the slate brought him right back to his original position. The boat floated above, and darkness greeted him below. And somewhere in between, vengeance waited.
He dove deep, ignoring the change in water pressure that made him breathe harder.
None of the other merfolk had to work for the simple autonomic reflex, but he knew every inhalation and exhalation he'd ever taken.
The water was cold down here. The fish no longer vibrant as higher up. But no matter how hard he searched, he could find nothing resembling a key anywhere. He swam back and forth, peering into dark places, reaching into pockets, looking for any place the key could have fallen.
Perhaps the hags had been mistaken or had tricked him just to get him out of their sights, but that went against everything he knew about the witches. So long as he would pay their price, they offered their services.