This time the voice was much closer and definitely masculine. Young, sexy, pissed off, and maybe even a little scared. I stopped, for the first time uncertain of my course.
What are you doing? screeched the first voice. You can’t stop now. You’re almost there.
Loud splashing came from behind me, and then strong hands were grabbing on to my shoulders, pulling me back against a warm, rock-hard chest.
“Damn it, Tempest.” The voice was softer now, in my ear instead of my mind. “What are you doing out here?”
Shivers went down my back and every cell in my body went on red alert. I swear I could feel them knocking against each other in excitement as his arms locked even more tightly around me.
Kona. How could I not have recognized him sooner? Yet, even in the middle of all this, it was a shock to realize that Kona had been speaking inside my head, now and in the water the other day. Compared to the woman’s voice, he sounded so normal, so human, that I had a hard time comprehending that he really might be something more.
“Tempest?” he prompted.
“I was walking.” The words were stupid and only partially true, but my brain couldn’t function with him so close and my new understanding echoing in my head.
“In the ocean?” he whispered against my ear. He was so close I could feel his breath—hot and cinnamon scented—against my neck and shoulder. He was breathing hard, his chest rising and falling rapidly as if he’d been running for a long time.
I looked down at the water we were both standing in, was shocked at how deep it was—and how turbulent. It had kicked up much more since I had first entered it, until it was thrashing and snapping around me like the hungriest of sea animals.
And it was cold, so cold that it seeped into my bones when I was normally impervious to its temperature.
I had the strange, disorienting feeling that if Kona hadn’t been holding me I would be sucked under, washed away.
“I guess. I didn’t think about it.”
“Let’s go back to shore.”
I nodded. “Okay.”
He kept a firm grip on me as he backed toward land. I glanced up at his face, was surprised at how angry he looked, at how his eyes constantly scanned the dark water.
My hands tightened on his arms and for the first time I realized how intimately we were connected—his arms firm bands around me as he pressed me, back to front, against him from shoulder to knee, as if he was afraid to let any space come between us.
Thunder boomed overhead; lightning lit up the sky, hitting around us like a particularly aggressive military strike. My heart started racing, my breath coming in quick, shallow pants that had nothing to do with exertion and everything to do with fear.
“What’s going on?” I shouted to be heard over the storm’s sudden escalation.
“Can’t you feel it?”
But I didn’t need him to answer, because just that suddenly, I could feel it. Fingers wrapping themselves around my ankles, waves pressing against us, forcing us out to sea when all we wanted was to find our way back to shore. An aura of doom—of hopelessness and helplessness—surrounded us, pressing in from every side.
What is the point? I wondered wildly. What am I fighting to hang on to? Maybe I should just—
Tempest! It was a harsh reprimand in my mind, delivered in Kona’s voice as his arm tightened around me. She’s doing it. She wants you. Don’t give in to her.
“Who’s doing what?” But I knew. It was a replay of that night six years ago, an almost exact replica of what had happened to me once before. Only this time I wouldn’t escape as easily. I could feel her determination, and I had nearly walked straight into it—like a lamb to slaughter.
How could I have been so utterly moronic? She wasn’t a nightmare, wasn’t a voice in my head. She was real and I had almost fallen right into her trap.
Stop it! Again Kona’s voice was in my head, slicing like broken glass. Just trust me. Hang on for a few more minutes.
He pulled me another couple of feet toward the sand. I tried to help, but my body was like lead, my feet incapable of moving on their own.
Not again! my frantic brain shouted. I couldn’t be turning mermaid now when I so desperately needed to be human.
“Relax.” This time he spoke the words aloud, instead of straight into my head. “That’s the least of your troubles right now.”
Kona moved back yet another foot, his grip on me never wavering. Only my chest moved with him. My feet stayed planted where they were.
“Come on, Tempest! You need to fight!”
“Fight what?” I screamed as I kicked out against invisible bonds. Alarm raked sharp claws down my spine, had me sobbing and bucking and twisting without even knowing what I was doing. “There’s nothing to fight!”
“I told you—she wants you.”
“Who wants me? For what?” They were the same questions I had asked years before, only to be told by my mother that I had gotten tangled in seaweed and imagined the rest.
I’d tried to believe her—for six long years, I’d tried to ignore what I knew was true. But I couldn’t do that anymore. Not when I could feel the water witch’s evil presence, seething just below the surface as she waited for me. I didn’t know who she was or why I was important, but I did know that Kona was right. She wanted me.
Like my mother before him, Kona didn’t answer my semihysterical inquiries. Instead, I could hear him chanting in some language I didn’t understand. It was beautiful, rhythmic, and somehow brought the agitation I was feeling to a manageable level. Even better, it calmed the violent water. Not a lot, but enough for me to pull my legs free of the strange locks that bound me.
Kona seemed to sense my newfound freedom because he broke off chanting long enough to yell, “Run!”
And then we were thrashing through the water, him half carrying, half dragging me as I struggled to keep up with the crazy, breakneck speed he was setting.
It occurred to me, randomly, as we staggered onto the shore that it was inhuman for anyone to move as fast as he had in the water. But I didn’t fight him as he pulled me all the way to the shelter of my rock, his body covering mine as the heavens bombarded us in a full-blown tantrum.
I lay there beneath the shelter of him for long minutes, panting up at the sky as I tried to piece together everything that had happened. But as it all hit me—the strange voice, the fact that Kona had spoken to me in my mind now for the second time, the greedy hands that had anchored me in the sea—I stiffened and yanked away from him.
Oblivious to the storm still blasting away at us, I leaped to my feet and asked the question that had been haunting me for over a week now, since that day in the rain when Kona had disappeared right in front of me. Since the day I had my first inkling that he was something more than human.
“Who the hell are you and what do you want from me?”
His eyes were steady and dark as magic as he stared back at me. “Are you sure you’re ready for me to answer that?”
His question hung in the air between us, a loaded gun ready to go off. Suddenly I wasn’t sure I wanted the answers.
I wasn’t sure of anything.
In less than two weeks my entire life had turned upside down, until normal was a world away and every day was just a little more messed up than the one that had come before it.