Like he could take on an army and win.
The thought made my palms sweat, so I took a few more steps into the ocean, my muscles clenching so tightly that I worried briefly that I was going to cramp up.
Is he really glowing? I shot another look at him from beneath my lashes. No, of course not—it was just the sun shining off all that silky, raven black hair.
Then what? Something was different. Of this I was absolutely certain. “Are you okay?” I demanded, unconsciously echoing the question everyone had been asking me for the last five days.
“Yeah.” His eyes smiled at me. “Why?”
“You look …” I stopped. What could I say that wouldn’t sound totally lame?
I didn’t answer. Instead, I moved deeper, and the currents caught me—played tug-of-war. Pushed me closer to Kona then pulled me back. Again and again, until Mark shouted, “We’re going again. Are you coming?”
His voice was strange, strained, and I realized I’d been paying far too much attention to Kona. I knew better—Mark had always been the jealous type, and obviously he’d reached his breaking point.
I couldn’t help the way I responded to Kona, though—every inch of my body (and most of my concentration) was tuned toward him like he was a lightning rod. There didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it.
“Are we, Tempest?”
My mouth was desert dry, so I just nodded.
“You bet!” Kona called back to Mark as he ran to shore to retrieve our boards. And then his hand was cupping my elbow, his strong, calloused fingers relaxed as he propelled me deeper into the surf.
The second he touched me that strange, tingling heat started again—warmth spreading through me, taking me over. Like a rogue wave—unexpected, frightening, dangerous.
But oh so exhilarating.
Pulling my elbow from his grasp, I tamped down on the feeling and pushed toward Mark, who was looking at me when he should have been looking at the wave about to take him out like a total newbie.
“Hey, watch out!” I called. “Mark!”
He just laughed and bodysurfed the thing—board and all. In that moment, his laugh was smooth, uncomplicated, beloved. I laughed with him.
It was either that or scream. Because the farther I got away from Kona—and the distraction he presented—the more I was feeling the elemental changes to my body. My chest was tight, the gills behind my ears straining to be immersed in the water. My skin, where the sun touched it, felt raw, and my whole body was one huge, vibrating guitar string. Waiting, just waiting, for the next note to be played.
I glanced down at the sea, watched as a wave stacked up. It was the one I wanted—a little swollen, a little out of control, a little too big for any sane person to catch.
It was perfect—especially since these days I was definitely on the shady side of sanity.
Pushing off, I rode my board the rest of the way, ignoring Mark’s shouts and Logan’s curses. My blood was humming in rhythm with the wave, my body literally quivering with excitement. As the wave continued to stack up, sea foam flew everywhere, hit me in the eyes, the mouth, the nose.
Don’t let me wipe out, don’t let me wipe out. The words were a mantra, running through my head again and again as I took off. If my legs wigged out this time, I had no idea what I’d do. No way Mark would buy another lame excuse, especially since we both knew I had no business surfing this wave. No one did.
“Breathe. Everything will be all right.” Kona’s voice was firm, solid. Something to hold on to in the raging maelstrom of the sea and my emotions.
I turned toward him, shocked that I could hear him from so far away, especially over the roar of the ocean. But when I looked, he wasn’t speaking, wasn’t even looking at me. For all intents and purposes, he was completely engrossed in finding the sweet spot of the wave we’d just dropped in on—something I should have been doing as well.
“Move forward a little or you’ll miss it.” Once again, I heard Kona’s voice, felt the intensity behind the words. I followed his directions, focusing on the wave for the first time since I got out there. And of course, he was right—I needed to get going or I was going to end up wiping out again—this time from sheer stupidity.
For the next couple of minutes I forgot about my birthday, forgot about being mermaid, forgot about Kona, and just surfed the hell out of the wave. And when it was done, when we had both ridden the thing into shore (Kona making it even closer in than I could) I felt at peace for the first time in a very long time. Like my body belonged to me again.
Like everything was going to be okay.
Mark met me at shore and I let him pull me into a huge bear hug, concentrating on the feel of him against me, his breath sweet and warm and normal in my ear. “That was kick-ass!” he said, his lips skimming over my cheek and down my jaw.
“I know.” I laughed up at him.
He pulled back with a grin, slung his arm around my shoulder, and propelled me up the beach toward home.
We were halfway there before I remembered. Stopping dead, I turned and searched the beach for Kona. He was nowhere to be found. “Where’s Kona?” I demanded. I needed to thank him, needed to … I didn’t know what I needed to do with him. But I burned with the need to see him again. To figure out how he’d managed to talk to me over the roar of the ocean.
“Why?” Mark said, his smile gone so fast it was like it had never been.
“I don’t know. I just thought I’d—” I stopped, unsure of what to say, especially when confronted by the tension that had invaded Mark’s body.
“He ducked out a few minutes ago,” Logan said as he walked by on my right, saving me from having to come up with an answer for Mark.
“Did you see him go?”
He shot me a funny look. “No, but I don’t think he sprouted wings and flew away, do you?”
Logan’s words sparked the memory of when I’d first met Kona, when he’d all but vanished in front of me. Wings? Did I think he’d grown wings? Of course not.
But scales were a whole different story.
“The cure for anything is salt water—sweat, tears, or the sea.”
I looked down at the piece of pizza with the works and knew I couldn’t eat a bite. Not tonight, not now, when my seventeenth birthday was a few short hours away. Shoving the plate back, I tried to act naturally when Mark gave me a concerned frown.
“What’s wrong, Tempest? You’ve been acting funny all night.”
“I’m not hungry.”
He stared at me incredulously, and I understood his shock. For the last six months I’d been ravenous, eating everything I could get my hands on without ever gaining an ounce. Most girlfriends let their boyfriends have the last piece of pizza in the box, but with Mark and me it had been the other way around for a while now. Yet tonight, I couldn’t even work up the will to eat one piece, let alone my usual four.
“Are you sick?”
“No.” I snapped out the word, annoyed beyond measure with people asking me if I was okay or sick or upset or whatever.
Mark reared back at the ugly tone in my voice, a quick flash of hurt crossing his features before he could hide it. Right away I felt like a bitch, particularly since I’d spent most of the last week thinking of another guy.