The water was around my waist now, licking at me in a nightmarish parody of a caress, and my heart was pounding so hard I was afraid it would burst right out of my chest.
With every breath I took, the water crept higher, and I knew that if I didn’t think of something soon I was going to get a chance to try out my new gills in the most miserable way possible. Seeing as how none of this whole mermaid thing was turning out the way I’d thought it would—the way I’d been told that it should—I wasn’t exactly counting on the stupid things to do what they were supposed to. Which meant I might drown if I didn’t figure a way out of this—and quickly.
There’s only one way out. It was that damn voice again, echoing from the deepest, darkest corners of my mind. Come to us. Come to me. We will save you.
Yeah, and if I believed that, she probably also had some nice beachfront property in Colorado to sell me.
Choose me, Tempest. Choose the beauty of the darkness. Keep resisting and you’ll die.
Maybe she meant to sway me with her threats, but all they did was piss me off. She could stop this anytime she wanted. She was torturing me, pinning me down like an animal for slaughter, all in an effort to break me. But I would rather drown than listen to her, rather die than become whatever it was she wanted me to be.
Anger burned through me, not erasing the horror and dismay, but definitely overtaking them. It cleared my head, let me think past the imminent threat of oncoming death. As the rage crackled down my nerve endings, growing and expanding with each breath I took, I focused on it. Used it. Let it—and the power that came with it—fill up every part of me.
It was a fire burning inside me, a blaze that threatened to consume all of me if I kept it inside. I didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t know how to do what my instincts told me I could. I knew only that I would not die, not here. Not now. Not like this, at the mercy of some madwoman with a God complex.
Taking a deep breath, I unclenched my fingers one by one and sent the heat inside of me outward in one fast, quick strike.
I didn’t know what I was doing—or even if I was doing anything at all—but whatever it was must have worked because her scream ripped through me, tearing at me until I felt like I was bleeding.
But the wind was gone. My bonds were gone. Then I was up and running straight back from the ocean, desperate to get away from the sea witch Kona had warned me against.
Desperate to find safety, somewhere.
I didn’t realize the wind had come back, stronger than ever, until it slapped me in the back so hard that I stumbled, nearly fell. Would have fallen, if I hadn’t known what was waiting for me if I gave in.
You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you, little girl? The voice was a high-pitched cackle now, a supernatural sieve that drained the power from me as quickly as it had come.
No, but I had hoped. The wind came up, formed a wall in front of me that made it almost impossible for me to move forward. I dug deep, tried to find more of that same, strange electric current, but it was gone. Used up. There was nothing left and I was trapped out here in this maelstrom, unable to defend myself against a monster who wanted every part of me.
Give up. Give in. The voice was everywhere now.
You can’t fight me. I slipped, fell to my knees. Tried to crawl forward but I couldn’t do it. The wind was just too strong.
You can’t resist me. I was determined to do just that, clawing at the sand until my fingers bled. But still I couldn’t hang on.
You belong to me. An inexorable force was dragging me back, dragging me down.
I WILL NOT BE DENIED! Lightning rent the sky above me, cleaving it in two before ripping through the night straight at the ground in front of me.
“No!” I screamed out my opposition just as a new but unmalicious force hit me, sent me rolling through the sand at a crazy speed. And then it was rolling with me, straight across the sand to a large pile of rocks just feet from the shoreline.
We didn’t stop until we’d crashed right up against the stones. I lay there for a moment, stunned, as the earth around us bucked and roiled. Between the impact of hitting the rocks and the strong, hard male body above mine, it took me a minute to drag breath into my tortured lungs.
But eventually they started working again, and as my oxygen-starved brain finally got what it needed to function, I became aware of just who was resting above me. “You!” I said, shoving at Kona as hard as I could.
“Stop!” he hissed at me, pressing me deeper into the sand.
I cried out in pain as something dug into my back, and I reached beneath me, yanking out a child’s bucket and shovel that had been left behind by someone who had had better luck than I on this stretch of beach.
“Stop moving! You’re making yourself a target.”
“I’m sorry.” I shrank into myself, tried to make my body as small as possible as he tucked himself around me, ensuring that no part was exposed. Which was a really good thing for me as lightning popped and sizzled all around us, striking the rocks and the sand.
But it wasn’t so good for Kona, I realized with a detached kind of dread as lightning arced straight at us. Kona tensed against me then, his entire body arching into one taut line.
And then he began to convulse.
“Kona!” I screamed, rolling him over as his body wigged out in about a hundred different directions.
Forget him. He can’t help you. No one can. Another bolt of lightning shot down, struck him straight in the chest. At the impact, his body literally came off the ground, then slammed back again, hard.
The convulsions stopped when he hit, but as I stared at him I was terrified to see that his breathing had stopped as well.
His shirt was in tatters and there was a huge, black, oval-shaped burn in the center of his chest, directly over his breastbone. Over his heart. I ripped the rest of his shirt away, laid a trembling hand on his stomach—too scared to touch the wound—and waited for the inhalation of breath that signified he was still alive.
Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod. The words circled in my brain as I stared at Kona’s lifeless body. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
This wasn’t supposed to happen!
Around me the world was exploding, claps of thunder booming across the sky, one right after the other. Frenzied streaks of lightning blasted the sand around us repeatedly, gouging huge holes in the normally pristine beach, hitting and breaking rocks all around me. There was no rain, no water, just the most freaked-out electric storm I had ever seen, and I knew then that whatever battle I was locked in was far from over.
She—whoever she was—was still looking for me. Would drag me straight out to sea if she had half a chance.
Every instinct I had told me to run, to duck down low and put as much distance between me and the thrashing sea as I could. But Kona had sacrificed everything to save me and I couldn’t just run away. Not until I at least tried to save him.
With my ninth-grade CPR instructions rusty in my head, I knelt on the ground next to him. Again I searched for a sign that he was breathing and found none. I searched for a pulse, to the same effect.
Tilting his head back, I sucked in a huge gulp of air, then leaned forward and covered his lips with mine. I breathed the air into his mouth, before moving to his chest to start the compressions. Except the spot I was supposed to press was exactly where the burn was. Would it hurt him more if I touched it? Would I do more damage?