Authors: Dee Carney
He descended and located the coral slate hidden between rushes along a stone ledge.
A whispered word activated it and the glow pulsed to life. It still showed that the key was somewhere close by. Why then couldn't he find it?
The noise in the background drifted away and he made a mental note of its direction, but kept his attention on the glow … that soon began to move, too.
Danyl looked up, and searched frantically for the lights on Di's boat. It was the only thing moving out here. Holding the slate up to the lights in the background confirmed it.
The pulsing glow moved away from him and toward the beautiful human.
She had the key on the boat. Maybe she knew it was there, or maybe she didn't, but
she had it
He released a litany of swearing and pushed off, his sight never leaving his new target.
Did it get any worse? Really?
She'd almost drowned, battled a minor case of hypothermia and was now sinking in the middle of the ocean with nothing but darkness surrounding her. If days got any worse than this, please God, please never let her encounter one. She didn't know how much more her frazzled nerves could take.
One would think she would know how to get out of these types of messes, except nothing wanted to go her way today. The stupid flare gun, her last hope for a quick rescue, had fired just fine. Too bad it didn't spark against the sky.
Okay. She could defeat this disaster if she kept her head about her. First, put on every piece of gear she had available, because she knew all too well how cold the water was tonight.
Di stripped out of the wetsuit and donned a diving skin. Before sliding the zipper all the way up, she stuffed the coin in between her skin and the silver-colored material designed to provide additional heat. She picked a new wetsuit out of her bag and slid it on. This one was a thicker model with cushioned booties. If she didn't make it out of this mess, maybe they'd find the coin with her still and at least know she'd done what she said she would do.
She decided that all she could afford to take with her besides her regular diving gear was a single dive knife and spear gun when she went overboard. She didn't know how long it would be before the tank on her back would begin to act as a hindrance instead of a help. Additionally, at some point she might be forced to discard it and good old manual power would be all she had to rely on.
With those preparations taken care of, she cast a last forlorn look at the deck of the
. If she could get help in time, maybe they could come back and retrieve it.
Doubtful, but maybe.
Gritting her teeth, she stepped onto the ladder bobbing in the water, her fins in hand.
Tears stung her eyes and she had to lift her mask to wipe them away before taking this incredible leap of faith.
In her surprise, she almost stumbled headfirst into the water. With a frantic wave of her arms, she regained her balance. Her heart pounded like she'd just run a marathon and she couldn't honestly say whether her surprise or her relief drove it. She had to squint, but there he was, bobbing in the water just beyond the boat. "Danyl? How…"
"Has something happened?" He rode the waves toward her and she had to stifle a smile of admiration. But wait … how did he always manage to find her just when she needed him?
"I hit a rock and my boat's sinking. Can you take me aboard yours?"
His response was slow in coming. "Your radio?"
Heat rushed her cheeks because any boater knew better. But damn it, she just didn't have the money to fix or replace it. She'd been counting on this find to break the dry spell she'd been facing. She'd been so close, how could she give up now? "Broken," she mumbled. "Has been for weeks."
The resulting silence hung like an accusation over her head. He drifted closer, and she could finally see the fine details of his face. A sudden image of him leaning over her, their mouths poised to touch, rushed into her mind and she had to push it aside. Rescue now. Hormones later.
"I'm not supposed to—" he said after another minute passed.
"Not supposed to? Are you seriously going to let my ass drown instead of helping me out?"
"You didn't let me finish."
He stretched an arm toward her and beckoned her closer. "As I was saying, I'm not supposed to interfere, but since I've broken that already today, what's once more?
He blew out a breath as if stymied on how to continue.
. Di brought the mask down over her eyes and moved closer to the edge. Whatever reservations he had, she didn't want to know about right now. They needed to get back to land if she had any hope of saving the
. She jumped off before he'd have the chance to change his mind.
The suit did a miraculous job of maintaining her warmth. With the exception of the splash onto her face, she would have never known how deceptively cold the water truly was. Her rebreather hung idly by, but if Danyl had swum here, perhaps she wouldn't need the scuba gear. He didn't seem to need any.
Her gaze traveled over him and her mouth dropped open.
Wait a minute
. "Danyl, are you even wearing a suit?"
Wide-eyed, he shook his head. It was the deer-in-headlights look that captured her attention the most. She knew that caught-in-the-act expression just a little too well. What the hell was he up to?
It didn't matter. He would catch his death of pneumonia if they didn't get him on board like now. Damn it, what was he thinking?
In a split second, every memory of her encounters with him rushed in to toy with her mind. It reminded her that the first time he'd come aboard, he'd been naked as a newborn.
The second time, too.
Why before now had she not thought to question how he'd been coming and going into water that sent her body temperature dropping like a stone weight? "Danyl," she said on a strangled breath.
Her stunned mind refused to form any other words. What was going on?
She must not have hidden the shock well, because he swam closer but stopped after a respectable distance separated them. Di tracked his movements, unable to focus on anything except his bare skin above, and presumably below, the water line.
"Di … do you know what a merman is?"
This would not have been the way he would have liked to approach the subject with her, but what choice did he have? She'd already proven what happened when a human ventured into the sea without adequate protection. Look at all the stuff she outfitted herself with now for proof of that.
Already he could almost see her mind forming question after question. Most of them were probably not ones he wanted to address. She didn't seem capable of answering the single question he posed to her. Probably too wound up to think straight.
"Take my hand, goddess, and let's go. I'll get you to safety and we'll talk. I have a feeling you want to." He stretched his hand forward again and waited to see if she would take it. Mistrustful eyes searched over him. He waited with infinite patience though. As far as he was concerned, nothing had cooled between them and he had all the time in the world to wait for her to realize that.
He held open his palm, and let her study it. His hand and fingers looked exactly like hers, he already knew. Where his species and hers differed showed most prominently below the waist.
Another few minutes passed and he started to doubt whether she would indeed come with him. A sorrowful study of her boat's demise helped make up her mind though. Di slipped her hand in his and Danyl curled his fingers around hers.
"I'm not fully aware of your limitations, so if I go too fast or if you can't breathe or something happens, tug on my hand and we'll stop, okay? I'll keep us as close to the surface as possible, but there will be times when we'll venture below."
Her hesitant nod didn't flood him with good feelings. Nor did the fact she hadn't spoken yet.
"Ready?" he asked. It was a final chance to change her mind, but she really didn't have much of a choice. Besides, once he was able to get her to safety, he could return and locate the key in her boat. Her life in exchange for the necessary tool to avenge his mother's death. A fair trade as far as he was concerned.
Once he had the key in his possession, he'd be allowed to enter the underworld and traverse to the place where gods and their demi-god children resided. And he'd see to the being formerly called his father, once and for all.
He started off slow, uncertain as to how far he should test her faith in him. On his own, he could have made it to the secluded side of the island in no time. With her drifting behind, he moved slower. Had he thought it wise, he would have pointed out some of his favorite secluded spots. As it was, swimming with her near his side fitted him with a sense of comfort that almost made him forget everything but her presence.
A pang of jealousy stabbed him because this was what travelling with a mate felt like all the time, wasn't it? This rightness and ownership of belonging to someone.
Of course, it was ill-advised as well as just plain insane to associate this feeling with Di. Any attraction that might have been on her part evaporated the minute she realized he was a freak. In his world, he would forever be abnormal for his ability to use legs and for her, his kind lived in mythology only. Neither his home nor hers would ever be a sanctuary for him. His mother, his only ally in life, did her best to provide for him. In truth, she would have served him better by never allowing him to be born. Once he eliminated his father, he would truly have nothing worth living for. Perhaps when this was over … perhaps…
The change in water opacity and a new flush of temperature interrupted his self-reflection. He hadn't realized he'd taken them exactly where they needed to be without conscious thought. The secluded beach would be uninhabited in most circumstances.
With only the moonlight to see by, only someone with a purpose would venture here now. It would be an ideal place to talk to her. Also, when he left, Di could walk to a populated area with ease and get the help she sought.
So why did that make him feel like whale vomit?
He pulled her to his side, and just as he thought, she began swimming the shallower water on her own. Once she was closer inland, he lingered behind long enough to push energy through his tail and make the necessary transformation into legs. By the time they solidified, Di waded onto land.
The temperature here wasn't as biting as when they'd been on the open sea and Di stripped without speaking, her wary eyes looking up on occasion to watch him approach.
It was a struggle to remove the metal contraption on her back, but she managed without his assistance. He would have offered, but she didn't seem as trustful as before.
As for the dark bulky material, when she stepped out of it, Danyl's stomach tightened and he had to swallow hard. The tight, silver material she wore beneath hugged every soft curve of her body, leaving little to his imagination. Her fingers tugged on a metal piece near her neck and she dragged it down. When it opened, she revealed her lovely flesh beneath.
Water dried on his skin, and his hair dripped more of it down his back. The shiver that ran down his spine might have been from its cool caress, but he didn't think so. A century of time crawled by as Danyl watched her near-nudity be exposed. The sight of that stretchy black material covering the barest parts of her coaxed a low growl from his lips.
When she looked up with both seduction and innocence in her eyes, the ache between his legs grew unbearable. He had to take this chance, because it might never reach him again. Not with her.
"Di," he said hoarsely, "come to me."
She didn't hesitate and that made his heart pound even harder. But an eternity must have passed before she slipped into his embrace.
"Who are you, Danyl?" she murmured. "
"I'll explain everything, goddess." He placed his fingers beneath her chin and tilted her face toward his. The moonlight reflected in her rounded eyes, but in them a hint of trust waited. Her guileless expression, the way she tightened her arms around his waist prompted him to lower his mouth to hers. The heavens met him in their kiss.
Her lips parted beneath his. Caressing him. Teasing him. The tight buds of her nipples pressed against his chest and he pulled her closer. Every part of him wanted to be next to her, in her. He remembered the simple knot holding her top together and he tangled his fingers in it, working quickly to release her. Her nude breasts were as lovely and as enticing as he knew they would be.
"My people are born of the sea. It's where we live. Where we thrive." He kissed her again. "Where we love."
Oh, yes, he knew that word. And he knew this feeling coursing over him as he ran his fingers over the soft curve of her breasts, memorizing them.
"But … God, Danyl, am I in shock? The hypothermia…"
Once the foreignness of an external arousal had subsided, he recognized his body's natural reaction to her. Its hardness pressed against her now, the sensitive head on her belly spilling waves of pleasure through his groin. "Do you feel that, Di? My need for you is no dream. No sickness induced illusion. Touch me and know."
He captured her mouth beneath his, and savored the salt lingering on it. His tongue teased between her lips, meeting hers and heating his blood from a simmer to a raging boil. Together, they wrapped their fingers around his cock, and stroked its length. His heartbeat pounded in his ears, his moan of satisfaction drowned by it. If he didn't stop her now, this mounting pressure making his testicles ache would devour him.
The strength it took to pull away from her rivaled his need for air to breathe. "I don't know how… Show me how to please you, Di."
There was a question in her glittering green eyes, but she lifted their entwined hands and placed them on her breast. "Here," she whispered. Danyl rolled the delicate peak between his fingers. She made a low sound in her throat but then moved his hand lower.