“Hey, that’ll come in handy more often than you think.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Don’t be. I told you, Tempest, it’s usually really calm around here. You just came at a bad time.”
“That’s the understatement of the year.” I looked out at the ocean as it slowly settled down. “But if I can’t control this thing, how can I keep from striking someone else?”
“You’ll learn. It just takes practice. And if you do hurt someone in the meantime, we’ll fix it.”
“What if whoever I hurt isn’t a selkie? What if we can’t heal him or her?” I asked fiercely. “I want you to explain things to me. To teach me everything my mother should have, so that this never happens again.” I held out my hands, gesturing to the rain that was continuing to fall.
He pulled away then, his arms dropping from around me as he put space between us. “Are you sure? Because once you start down this path, you can’t just go back. It doesn’t work that way.”
I stared at him incredulously. “I thought you were the one who wanted me here.”
“I did. I do. But if you get in any deeper, if Tiamat figures out that you’re here, training against her—”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it training.”
“I would. And that’s not the point. If she knows you’re down here but not with her, she won’t let you leave. She’ll kill you first.”
His words seeped inside of me, mixed with the emotions and fears I already had. For the first time since I’d gotten that letter from my mother—for the first time since I realized she’d left me—I began to wonder if it had been more than the call of the sea that had pulled her away from us. More than selfishness. More than greed.
Because if the prophecy was as real as Kona said—if Tiamat was real—then I couldn’t help wondering about that night six years before. Had I gotten tangled in seaweed, as my mother had tried to convince me, or had Tiamat come for me, even then?
I turned back to Kona. “Well, don’t pull your punches. Tell me how you really feel.”
”You said you wanted to know.”
“Yeah, but hearing you talk about my death so casually—”
“It’s not casual. Believe me.”
“Whatever. But you really think Tiamat believes that stupid prophecy? That she’s afraid I’m going to kill her?”
“Or save her. There’s a chance—or at least she believes there is—that she can bring you over to her side.”
“So that I can live off the blood of mermaids? Eeew. No thank you.”
He rolled his eyes. “Trust you to get caught up in that one small fact.”
“I don’t really consider drinking blood a small thing.”
“Glad to hear it. But you are a mermaid. I don’t think the whole drink-blood-to-stay-young-and-beautiful rule applies to you.”
“Yeah, but if she’s got me, doesn’t that mean she’s got her own built-in blood supply?” I shuddered at the thought of being some sea monster’s midnight snack, again and again and again.
“You’re smarter than you look.”
I sneered at him. “Too bad I can’t say the same about you.”
He laughed and the arm he had draped around my shoulder tightened a little bit. Suddenly, the feeling of comfort was gone. In its place was a warmth that was decidedly uncomfortable.
“So what do we do now?” I asked, shocked at how husky my voice had turned.
He brushed his thumb down my cheek and over my jaw. I closed my eyes, shivered as he stroked my upper lip, then my lower one. He lingered for a moment, toyed with the deep v in the center of my top lip.
I wanted him to kiss me again. How crazy was that? Here I was, locked in a battle for my life and my sanity—maybe for the entire Pacific Ocean—and for a moment all I could think about was the feel of his mouth on mine.
“Now, Tempest …” His breath was warm against my temple.
“Now, we swim.”
I was so far gone that his words barely registered, at least not until he stood up with me in his arms and tossed me, sputtering, into the surf.
By the time I surfaced, Kona was already in the water, a good twenty feet in front of me. Annoyed by the unexpected dunking—though it had definitely cooled me off—I kicked hard in an effort to catch up to him.
Three strokes and I was next to him, another two and I was ahead. Finally an advantage to this whole mermaid thing. It had only taken me seventeen years to find it.
Kona kicked hard a couple of times and caught up with me, a huge grin splitting his face. It was a distinctly wicked smile and the wink he added to it had my brain stuttering just a little bit. Still, I couldn’t just let him get away with dropping me like that. Reaching out, I grabbed his shoulders and shoved him down hard.
He went under the water instantly, but grabbed on to me as he sank. Before I knew what was happening, I was going down with him, my body plastered to his. I started to pull away, then changed my mind at the last minute. If Kona wanted to hold me like this, who was I to protest?
A minute later I was very glad that I hadn’t. His eyes darkened and then he wrapped his arms firmly around me and we took off, spiraling through the water at speeds so fast they made my head spin. But at least my gills had kicked in quickly this time. I was breathing easily, no clawing at my throat required.
Kona zipped us through a huge coral reef and I gaped at the incredible reds and blues and violets. Then we dove under a forest of jellyfish—I looked up over his shoulder and was awed by the sight of all those translucent bodies floating directly above us. Was I ever going to get used to how vivid everything was down here?
I hope not. Kona slowed us a little bit as we came up next to a school of multicolored fish. I like seeing the world through your eyes.
I wanted to yell at him for being in my head again, but couldn’t work up any indignation—not when the world he was showing me was more beautiful than anything I had ever imagined. My mermaid vision let me see things I never would have been able to as a human.
You need to block the thoughts you don’t want me to hear, he said, amusement ripe in his voice as he took me in a deep dive that had me squealing and hanging on to him for dear life.
Why are we going so fast? I was breathless with the new sensations bombarding me.
How else will I get you to hold on to me like that?
I swallowed uneasily, unsure of what to say to that. But my arms tightened even more, until we were pressed so tightly together that I could feel the wild beat of his heart against my own. His eyes went darker and his hands pressed more firmly into my back. He liked being this close as much as I did.
How do I block my thoughts? I asked, shocked at how breathless I sounded, despite the fact that the sounds were coming from my mind and not my voice box.
I must not have been the only one affected by our closeness, however, because I had to ask the question three times before I finally got an answer.
Why do you want to know that right now? he demanded, his voice a rumbly growl in my mind.
Because. I smiled mischievously. There are some things going through my mind at the moment that I’m not sure I’m ready for you to hear.