Shit. Was this how I was going to spend the rest of my life? Freezing my ass off and hiding from the world?
I took a curve too fast, but I’d had superquick reflexes since birth—an interesting by-product of the whole mermaid thing—and the car didn’t so much as slide. I took the next curve even faster.
I was being careless, reckless even, and I tried to work up the will to care. But the road was deserted—as it always was during a thunderstorm—and the only life I was risking was my own. Right at the moment, it didn’t seem like such a bad gamble. After all, if things continued the way they’d been going, I’d be shark bait in a matter of days anyway.
Still, as the weather grew worse, I slowed down. Took a couple of curves at a more sedate pace before pulling to a stop by the side of the road.
I don’t know how long I sat there, listening to the hollow drum of the rain against my roof and the roar of the angry ocean. It was really pouring now, the water coming down in great sheets that coated my windshield and kicked up the surf to dangerous heights. The waves coming in were monster huge and menacing as hell.
I longed to ride them, though my father had expressly forbidden me to do so. He so rarely put his foot down about anything that I tended to listen to him when he did—especially when he told me stories of friends he’d lost in just such conditions.
The stories had frightened me, as he’d meant them to, but today fear wasn’t enough to stop the yearning, the bone-deep desire to throw myself into the roiling ocean and just let it have me.
I still don’t know what possessed me to do what I did next. Ignoring the rain, ignoring the cold, ignoring my chattering teeth and half-frozen appendages, I climbed out of the car and let the rain and the wind wash over me.
It tore through my hair, whipped against my tender skin until tears of pain rolled down my face. Lightning rent the sky, flashed above the ocean like a bomb exploding mere moments before thunder shook the ground. And still I stood there, refusing to get back in the car where it was safe.
My name wasn’t Tempest for nothing.
Unwilling to give in to the wind or the rain or the voice in my head that warned me away, I staggered toward the water. It seemed a better idea than throwing the mother of all temper tantrums and screaming “it’s not fair!” at the top of my lungs.
Life’s not fair, little girl. For the first time in years, I heard my mother’s voice in my head. Sometimes you’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got. The advice might have meant more if it hadn’t come from a woman who had run away from every responsibility she’d ever had.
There was a rocky slope between me and the beach, and I stumbled down it—slipping and sliding with single-minded intent. I wanted only to get to the water. To feel the ocean lapping at my feet, before it surrounded my frail, human body. To be free in a way I couldn’t be when I was on land.
I spilled down the last few yards, tumbling onto the beach—and my ass—as my legs went out from under me. I hit the ground hard, so hard that I didn’t immediately climb back to my feet. I just sat there in the middle of the storm, the sand cold and squicky beneath me, and let the rain have me.
I was colder than I’d ever been—nearly frozen—my body struggling to regulate itself in the downpour. Another gift from dear old Mom, this inability to control my own body temperature except in the water. Not for the first time, I wondered if I really was as cold-blooded as I felt.
A hint of color in the middle of the blue gray waves caught my eye, had me convinced I was imagining things. Except when I looked again, it was still there—a flash of red in the middle of the bobbing, threatening waves.
The rain was still coming down hard, so hard that for a minute I was sure I was only seeing the reflection of light through water, like a rainbow. But there was no sun and little light out here in the middle of the storm.
I jumped to my feet, wiped the streaming rain out of my eyes, then cupped my hands around them in an effort to keep the water out as I tried to find that little dot of crimson again.
There it was—my heart beat double time as I realized what I was seeing. Someone was out there. Someone was swimming in the seething, storm-tossed waters.
What a moron, was my first thought.
My second thought was that there was no way he was going to make it back to shore. Not in the middle of all this. He was going to drown trying.
I fumbled for my cell phone, started to dial 911—in the winter there were no lifeguards on these beaches—even as I kicked off my shoes, some unconscious part of me already preparing to plunge into the water to try and save the idiot.
Only, as precious seconds passed, I figured out he didn’t need saving. Before my pissed-off, terrified eyes, he stood straight up in the middle of the thrashing waves.
For one brief, bizarre moment the water was so high that it looked like he was hovering on the surface of the waves—literally walking on water.
But then the wave crested and I realized he was actually surfing the monster waves, his board cutting through the disturbed water like a knife through soft-serve ice cream. His red swimsuit was a beacon of insanity.
My God, was all I could think as I watched him maneuver through the waves like a maestro.
My God, he was good.
And my God, what I wouldn’t do to be out there with him—suicide or not.
The waves bucked and roiled around him, but you would have thought he was having a picnic out there amidst all that crashing. He never faltered, his body staying in perfect form as he rode the wave in much farther than even I would have been able to on my best days.
When he finally dropped back down to the board, I was as disappointed as I was relieved. Watching him had been like watching art come to life.
I started across the squishy, waterlogged sand, unsure what I was going to say to the guy. But approaching him was almost a compulsion, one I had no desire to resist.
We made it to the water’s edge at the same time. I stopped uncertainly as I got my first real look at him rising out of the ocean like Poseidon himself, all muscles and wet, sleek, tanned skin.
He towered over me despite the fact that I stand close to six feet, without shoes. And he was gorgeous—so gorgeous that I couldn’t help staring at him. Thank God he didn’t seem to mind, and was in fact studying me right back.
He had a fallen-angel face that was as compelling as anything I had ever seen. Perfectly chiseled, amazingly crafted, he was so beautiful I almost wanted to reach out and touch him, just to ensure that I hadn’t made him up in all my topsy-turvy angst.
His too-long black hair hung in watery clumps around that face and his smoky eyes watched me with a sexy intensity that belied his easy grace on the surfboard. He wore a strange necklace, a rawhide band with some sort of pouch attached to it, and his biceps were covered with oddly glowing black tattoo bands in an intricate pattern of symbols I had never seen before, and which certainly didn’t seem normal. It was a design that was echoed beneath his muscular pecs and—I saw when he dropped his board—across his broad shoulders as well. My fingers itched with the need to paint him.
Who was he and why had I never seen him out here before? A guy that surfed as well as he did would have to ride the waves a few hours every day to stay at the top of his game. This wasn’t my normal beach, but I surfed here enough to recognize most of the hard-core wave riders.