Authors: M. Leighton
Tags: #fairy tales mermaids love paranormal romance young adult action adventure folklore fantasy
As I swam deeper and deeper, my focus pinpointed on the wellbeing of my family, something penetrated the trembling white haze of fear that had infused my mind. It was the sound of movement. Something was behind me.
I kept my eyes straight ahead, but cocked my head slightly to one side, listening to the muffled sounds that the murky ocean carried to my ears. It was the powerful thrashing of a bigger fish. Or a bigger Mer.
Unable to spare any fear for myself, I put all my energy into swimming as fast as I could and getting through the barrier so that I could hear the voice of my parents. I pushed myself, flipping my feet harder, wiggling my body faster to send me further down—down, down.
I could sense the portal just ahead, knew that it lay close, and I dove frantically toward it. At the same time, I could feel the presence of something large behind me, closing in on me. But still I headed for the opening.
As I drew near to the barrier, a high-pitched alarm began to sound, loud and crippling in its frequency. I opened my mouth to scream, but it died in the water as every muscle in my body became paralyzed by the noise. I wanted to put my hands to my ears, to muffle the sound, but I couldn’t raise my arms.
Unable to move, even enough to swim away from the siren, I felt myself falling, sinking toward the bottom of the sea, further and further away from the opening that would take me to my family.
The crushing weight of the deepest waters pressed against my chest, smothering my ability to breathe, to circulate water through my adaptive lungs. As the world grew dimmer and my thoughts grew fuzzier, I concluded with some surprise that I was likely going to die, a deep sea burial being one of the few weaknesses that Mer have.
That was the last thought I had before I felt strong, steely bands wind around my waist and then I was weightless, drifting in the dark.
The coarse sloshing of water penetrated the fog first. It was the sound of movement through thigh-high water. Next was the feeling that I was safer than I’d ever been. I could tell I was being cradled against a wide, rock hard chest inside strong, capable arms and that I was being carried somewhere. My head throbbed with every bouncing step as whoever it was pushed through the shallows.
I could smell the salty sea air behind a dankness that reminded me of wet wood. But something incongruous swirled in the back of my mind—glistening blue eyes that had come back to haunt me.
As the sloshing dissipated and became the slap of bare feet against wet sand, I forced my eyes open a tiny crack. A thick, tanned neck and a blinding brightness filled my vision, and then I was sinking.
I wondered if I was dreaming. I felt safe and happy and complete, more at peace than I could ever remember being, and it made me wonder if my mating tie to Aidan had begun to take hold. It had to be him who carried me because I was melting, just like I’d always dreamed that I would in the arms of my mate.
I felt sand beneath my back from head to toe and it grated against my skin. The strong arms that had made me feel so perfectly protected slipped out from under me. I felt instantly bereft and uneasy, so I forced my eyes open once more.
Dark wooden beams crossed overhead and it only took me a few seconds to realize that I was staring at the underside of the pier. As I was piecing together what had happened in the water, a breathtakingly handsome face entered my vision.
Madly, talk to me. Are you alright?”
The smooth, rich baritone caused chills to break out all over my arms. It was then that I concluded I was definitely dreaming, because it wasn’t Aidan leaning over me; it was Jackson, and there was no way that he could make me feel this way. No possible way.
Am I dreaming?”
Jackson exhaled what sounded like a sigh of relief and his perfectly shaped lips curved into a smile. I thought my heart would stop.
No, you’re not dreaming. Do you feel ok?”
As I stared up into his pale eyes, I felt as if I was lost once again in the gentle sway of hypnotic waters.
My eyes dropped back to his mouth. I reached up and ran my fingers lightly across Jackson’s lips, and as I watched, his smile faded. I felt a puzzled frown pinch at my brow. He certainly
real, not like a dream. But what does a dream really feel like?
Jackson’s lips pursed as he kissed my fingertips, sending a shockwave of electricity scorching its way along my nerve ends. My eyes flew back to his. The sky blue was nearly imperceptible now, eclipsed by his ever-widening pupils. And in them there was a heat, a want that resonated somewhere deep within me. It fluttered in my stomach like a thousand butterflies, butterflies that knew something that I did not. It burned in my chest like the age-old flame of recognition.
I blinked, not trusting my eyes, but nothing changed. Somehow, my head knew that this was all wrong, but my heart thought nothing had ever felt so right.
Jackson?” I said uncertainly.
I felt his fingers wind around my wrist.
I’m right here,” he whispered.
I felt the scratch of his stubble against my fingers as he turned his face into my palm.
Madly, you scared me half to death.”
But you’re not Aidan. This is all wrong.”
As I watched, the heat in Jackson’s eyes turned to ice, freezing me where I lay in the sand. I saw anger flicker to life in the darkness of his pupils and he pulled my hand away from his face.
Then I guess you’d better get dressed and get back to him before he starts to worry.”
With that, Jackson rose fluidly to his feet and trudged off through the wet sand.
I lay on my back, head turned toward him, watching Jackson go, when it dawned on me what he’d said.
I bolted upright, looking down at my completely naked form. When he’d brought me from the water onto dry land, my scales had disappeared, leaving me bare for him to see. I felt the sting of embarrassment burning in my cheeks.
Though I was somewhat relieved to see a pile of soggy clothes lying at my feet, I was sure I’d never be able to look Jackson in the eye again.
Reaching down for the dripping pile, I pulled the wet garments protectively against my body, as if that ridiculously belated effort could erase what Jackson had seen.
After a few minutes of stewing in my humiliation and confusion, I slipped on my shirt and skirt, the only things Jackson had recovered on his way back to shore, and I stood. I wanted to gripe about not having underwear, but I was so pleased that I had
to wear that I couldn’t.
Just as I was coming out from under the pier, Aidan and Jersey came running down the beach toward me. Jersey was the first to speak.
Ohmigod! Are you ok? Jackson said you almost died.”
My cheeks flamed again.
I’m fine. But we need to get to Transport. Something’s wrong.”
What do you mean, ‘something’s wrong’?” Aidan asked.
When I got close to the opening, the alarms sounded.”
For real? I mean, they weren’t just testing them?”
No, this was real. I couldn’t even swim. The frequency completely paralyzed me.”
Jersey stared at me with wide eyes and an open mouth. Aidan was frowning.
Then how did Jackson get to you?” he asked tersely.
I felt the blood rush to my cheeks again and I cursed my embarrassing reaction.
I don’t know. I guess—”
Jersey interrupted me with an answer, her shock evidently wearing off.
He was the only one in his class to swim against the alarms. He even beat all the instructors.”
Jersey looked proud. Aidan just looked aggravated.
I ran my fingers nervously through my hair.
Ohmigod,” Jersey said again, looking at my arm.
Your bracelet. Look at the pearl.”
I lowered my arm and turned my wrist over. The once silvery orb at the center of the water-filled ring had turned to ebony.
My heart felt like it came to a screeching, painful stop right beneath my sternum.
You know what this means?”
We all three looked at one another.
It’s true. One of the Lore has escaped,” Aidan said flatly.
We paused for a fraction of a second while that sank in before we simultaneously turned and ran up the beach. We were heading for Transport, the only place on dry land that had an open line of communication with Atlas.
Despite my experience with the alarm, I was energized from my time in the water. It irritated me that I had to hold back a little and wait for Jersey and Aidan. I was desperate to get to Transport as quickly as possible so that I could find out what was going on at our home below the sea.
Slumber was a small town, so we were rushing through the doors at Transport less than ten minutes later.
Transport was an innocuous-looking brick structure. It appeared to be nothing more than an administrative building. And some floors were. But the area we sought, the most important location in all of Slumber, was the tunnel that ran underground, leading all the way back to the sea.
Once inside the building, we made our way to the elevators and I hit the
button. I prayed all the way down that the alarms were some kind of mistake, or that they were doing some enhanced testing of their capability and
is what turned my pearl black.
The elevator doors slid open revealing the Operations Center of Transport. It spread out before us in a maze of fully-automated, technologically-advanced, highly-classified machinery. It hovered just above the mouth of the tunnel, which still held one transport unit—the one we’d arrived in two months prior.
From Transport, we could communicate with Atlas, as well as harness the power of Atlas to maintain the magic shield that protected Slumber from the human world. I suppose it also protected the human world from Slumber, since the shield disabled the magic of the Lore descendants, ensuring that everyone within its borders maintained a human form.
Inside the enchanted borders of Slumber, the descendants of the Lore would look like normal teenage boys and girls, remaining unaffected by the curses of their gruesome, bothersome ancestors as long as the shield was operational. It also inhibited the use of their familial powers, like keeping werewolves from turning, shifters from shifting, witches from bewitching, killers from killing— basically it kept everything nice and normal. Yes, Transport was definitely the single most important location in all of Slumber.