“They are beyond comprehension.”
“You could at least try. I’m not an idiot. I can understand basic English!”
“I never said you were an idiot. But that doesn’t mean I can explain to you what’s going on. It doesn’t mean that you’ll understand it when you know nothing of our rules or our lives.”
“If you can’t tell me, then show me. But do something! I—”
“What is all the commotion about in here?” The regal-sounding voice sliced through the room like a switchblade and had me pausing midcomplaint.
Turning toward the interruption I saw a tall woman standing at Kona’s bedroom door. She wore a beautiful black suit, four-inch heels, and more diamonds than I had ever seen on one person. She also bore a striking resemblance to Kona, though her black hair was pulled into a bun at the top of her head instead of flowing loose around her shoulders. Behind her was a man with Kona’s silver eyes and an even more massive build. He too wore an expensively tailored suit.
“Mom. Dad.” Kona’s grin was relaxed, but there was something in his eyes that alarmed me. “I thought you weren’t going to be back until late.”
“Obviously,” his mother bit out. “When are you going to remember your responsibilities?”
Kona’s expression turned stormy. “I am well aware of my responsibilities, Mother.”
“Really?” She arched one eyebrow and in that moment looked very much the queen I was just realizing she was. “You’re supposed to be in bed, resting, not standing around half naked with this—” Her eyes swept over me in a look that said I should be paid by the hour, and minimum wage at that. I tried not to grimace—there was nothing quite like making a good first impression.
“Tempest.” Kona’s teeth were clamped together so tightly the word was almost indistinguishable. I wasn’t sure what he wanted to say to me, but whatever it was, I was for it—especially if it got me out of the middle of this.
But he merely shook his head at me, instead focusing his attention on his mother. “This is Tempest, Mom. She wanted to make sure I was okay after the accident, so she followed me.”
I wasn’t sure why he’d referred to Tiamat’s attack as an accident, any more than I was sure that telling her I’d followed her son home like a stray dog was the way to diffuse the tension.
But he must have been right, because his mother, who had been so full of argument just a minute before, was struck completely speechless. Instead of continuing on with her rampage, she just stared at me, eyes wide, while her mouth opened and shut like a guppy’s.
Even Kona’s father, who had shown an amazing amount of equanimity up until that point, seemed at a loss for words.
Just when I was beginning to think they’d been struck dumb by the horror of their son being involved with a mermaid—or worse, a human—Kona’s mother extended a hand and murmured, “It’s so nice to finally meet you, Tempest.”
“Yes.” His father—the king, as it was just occurring to me with dawning horror—enveloped me in a huge bear hug. “It’s about time you found your way down here.”
“Absolutely. We’ve been waiting a long time for you.” His smile was as open and welcoming as his hug had been.
What did that mean? Had Kona told them about me? But we’d only known each other a few days—far from the long time his father was describing.
“But she was worth the wait.” The queen studied me with shrewd eyes, then turned to her husband. “It looks like the prophecy was right on, doesn’t it?”
“What prophecy?” I asked, wondering how Kona’s parents could be even more confusing and mysterious than he was. Obviously the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree.
“Oh, don’t you worry about that right now,” she all but cooed at me. “We’ll talk about it later, after you have a chance to rest.”
Her smile was blinding—or maybe that was the diamond pendant that hung around her neck. Either way, I tried to respond in kind, but could barely get my lips to tip up at the corners.
The walls were closing in and I suddenly felt, all too clearly, like Alice after she’d fallen down the rabbit hole.
“When beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it.”
Early the next morning, Kona and I walked down to the ocean in silence. A small table had been set up on the edge of the surf and it was covered with fresh fruit and sweet rolls. A carafe of some kind of tropical juice was nestled into a gold ice bucket with jewels the size of a baby’s fist inlaid around the rim. Next to it was a big bouquet of the most beautiful and exotic-looking flowers I had ever seen.
If I didn’t know better, I really would think this was paradise.
Last night, Kona’s parents had all but fawned over me. His mother had ordered some clothes—in my size, this time—to be delivered, and Vernon (his name wasn’t Alfred after all) was instructed to kill the fatted calf—or swordfish, as had been the case. Dinner was a formal affair, as far removed from what usually happened at my house as it could possibly get and still be considered a family meal.
The king had sat at one end of a long polished table and the queen at the other. Kona, his sister Alana—who had loaned me the too-tight clothes—and I had sat spread out, between them. None of the rest of his siblings had been home.
Conversation ebbed and flowed around me, and though none of the words spoken had been about me, I had sensed an electricity in the air, an excitement that had everyone at the table glowing. Everyone but me, who was still on the outside looking in. It was a position I was rapidly getting sick of.
Now, as we sat down at the breakfast table, Kona glanced over and caught me grimacing. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Why should anything be wrong? Your family is treating me like I’m a cross between a magician and a messiah, but I have no idea why. I ask questions that go unanswered, am caught in some kind of odd time warp, and haven’t slept in over thirty-six hours because I’ve been too busy trying to figure out what the hell is going on.”
Kona’s smile was sympathetic, but then he ruined it by gesturing to the food. “Are you hungry?”
“Are you serious? That’s the best you’ve got?” I shook my head, stood up, and stormed past him as I went to the water’s edge and looked out across the vast ocean. It went on forever and I despaired of ever finding my way back home.
An awkward silence stretched between us, not because there was nothing to say, but because there was too much. I had a million questions and Kona had all the answers, yet he would give me almost none of them. It was incredibly frustrating, and fury burned in my gut. But I wasn’t going to ask again. I wasn’t going to beg him to tell me something I should already know.
I would find a way home without his help and when I did … When I did, there was no way I would ever come back here again. My mom and Kona could take this world and the whole mermaid gig and go drown with it.
I was finished.