Authors: Leigh Michael
“Don’t come any closer.”
He gestured to the stone base of the fountain. “Can I at least get out of the water?”
“Really, Blake? You’re a seal for Christ’s sake and you want to get out of the water?”
A sly smile crossed his lips. I hated the memories that smile sparked inside of me.
“You’ve always been quick-witted, Belles. I like that about you. You know what else I like?”
I crossed my arms. “What’s that? The fact that you so easily duped me?”
I hadn’t expected him to say that. And nope, I wasn’t going to internalize what he meant either.
“Great. I’m glad I’m so well liked. So what’d you want to tell me?”
“Well that’ll be something new.”
He slowly took his remaining steps toward me, not stopping as he passed. I twisted my body so he wouldn’t brush against me as he did so. Once beyond me, I heard his hushed voice, “I deserved that.”
Standing with my back to him, I willed myself to be strong before I faced him again. My hand instinctively found the necklace around my neck, hoping it passed me some of the “peace” it represented.
I felt his gaze on me as I turned. From the first tier of the statue, he held a higher vantage point. I wasn’t going to allow that. I stepped up to be on level ground.
He didn’t meet my eyes when he spoke, “You know… I didn’t know anything about you when they told me to befriend you.”
Sarcasm oozed from my voice. “Well that changes everything, now doesn’t it? Where’s Lindsey?”
Ignoring me, he raised his eyes to mine. “It’s not like I had a choice. I was raised in this dystopia. I was taught that the Tritons were power hungry. That the Guardians were merciless and would do whatever necessary to get the shell back.”
“No, Blake. The Guardians protect innocent humans and sprites from people like you.”
“I see that now. Because of you. But I didn’t before. For as long as I can remember, it was drilled into my head that the Guardians had one focus: themselves. They didn’t protect humans for the greater good, they protected humans so they’d remain undiscovered. So they could search for the shell and the ‘Second Alpha’ without humans getting into the way.”
“Oh please, you guys searched for the ‘Second Alpha’ too. Except you killed people while doing so. The Guardians never did that.”
Throwing up his hands he continued, “I know, Belles.” His palms slapped back against his jeans as he lowered them, defeated. “You know when things changed for me?”
“That night on the Ferris wheel. Do you remember what I said to you?”
“No,” I lied.
My definitive response hurt him, the pain visible in his eyes. Still, the flecks of gold sparkled within the brown.
“I took your hand in mine and I said, ‘I really like you.’”
I hoped my gulp wasn’t audible. It was a memory that meant… I thought it’d meant the beginning of something good. I hated that I had to do it, but I turned my head. Looking away gave me the strength I needed to regain my composure before I spoke. “Well, I should’ve known then that you’re a liar. Would’ve saved me a lot of trouble.”
“Okay, I’ll admit it, when I first met you… I didn’t care about you. You were just a job. And you weren’t my first. I befriended a few girls before you.”
I felt sick to my stomach. “So you lured multiple girls into the water to drown them?”
“I never hurt anyone. I, um, led them there. But I didn’t kill them. I swear.”
We sure had different definitions of the word “hurt.”
My voice came out like fire. “It’s the same damn thing. Those people were innocent. Because of you they’re dead. Just some ‘job’ to you.”
“Trust me, I feel horrible about it.”
“Trust you? Trust you? You must be kidding me. Why would I ever trust you?”
“You did at one time.”
“I was wrong. Very, very wrong.”
“I didn’t have a choice. I know that sounds like a pathetic excuse, but it’s true. When Alastor tells you to do something, you do it.”
“Who the hell is that?”
“He’s our leader. An avenger of control. His bloodline is defiant against the Guardians who seek Triton’s shell. He believes we shouldn’t be domineered again. Anyone who disobeys him isn’t met with mercy. You’re seen as standing in the way of the betterment of our kind.”
“That’s a load of crap.”
“Maybe so, but it’s something taken very seriously. Especially for me.”
“My father… he’s Alastor’s second-in-command. Within the selkie, you answer to my father. I didn’t have the easiest upbringing.” He paused for a moment, leading to his confession. “I’m supposed to one day rule the selkie.”
So the kid had a rough upbringing. Lots of people overcame adversity. No one was forced to follow in their parent’s immoral footsteps.
Still, a miniscule portion of me felt for him that his father determined his life for him. My parents always told me I could be anything I wanted. They gave me the freedom and encouragement to pave my own path through life.
But this wasn’t the time for my humanitarian side to feel even the tiniest amount of sympathy for Blake. Fortunately, my next questions kept me from any real feelings of remorse.
“Were you going to lure me into the water? Is that why you suggested we go to Atlantic City?”
“I told you, things changed for me, Belles. That night at the festival, they changed. For months I struggled with my feelings versus my duty to Alastor.”
“Just answer me. Is that why you wanted to see that concert?”
His eyes once again dropped from mine. “Yes.”
That single word broke my heart all over again.
He quickly continued, his eyes still downcast. “They made me. I tried to fix it. When that guy showed up at the school, I tried to race to your house. I didn’t know if you saw a Tracker or Guardian. I wasn’t sure if the others sensed my hesitation to capture you.”
“You were there? At my house?”
“Yes, I saw the Guardian take you. I felt so helpless. And I tried to get you away from that merman when you were in the net.”
“Wait? That was you? That insane tug-of-war?”
He blushed, the darkness of his T-shirt emphasizing his cheeks. “I lost. But I tried again. I swear.”
“So it was you… chasing us in the caves?”
“After I opened the chest, we were chased.”
“No, that wasn’t me. I wouldn’t hurt you. They bragged about it. How you got banged up a little. It took all my willpower not to… I had to play along.”
“Why? Why didn’t you just leave?”
“So I could be on the inside and know what was going on. I wanted to protect you, to set things right.”
“What do you mean?”
“Alastor is ruthless. After you escaped from the caves, he told us to kill you on sight. He didn’t want me involved anymore, but I convinced my father to talk to him. When you came out of that alcove with the coins, I didn’t steal them for my own benefit. I wanted you to follow me. I thought if you chased me to shore, I could explain everything. But the others followed.”
I rubbed the back of my head where the Tracker had hit me. The memory hurt more than the wound. I didn’t know what to believe. Could I be wrong about Blake? Or was I wrong about being wrong about Blake?
“So what happened next?” I needed to know more. Like it or not, my demeanor softened toward him. I needed answers to justify the betrayal of my own emotions.
“I played along. I patted them on the back, told them job well done, and convinced them to take you and that merman back to headquarters instead of killing you. I wanted to make sure they didn’t hurt you. Things got heated when we were debating how to… handle things.”
So that was what I overheard. The arguing. It was Alastor’s silencing voice. He was the one who sentenced me to death.
When I didn’t respond, he continued, “We all heard the commotion. Voices, doors slamming, and saw Nysa was missing.”
“The young mermaid, the princess of Tritonis.”
“Her name is Aurelia.”
“Right, sorry. When Aurelia went missing and they followed after, I decided to leave once and for all. As you guys escaped, so did I.”
“So all this time you were just trying to help me?”
“Yes. All I want is for you to be safe.”
That was when it dawned on me.
“Lindsey isn’t here, is she?”
I knew the answer before he spoke.
Still, I heard him say, “No.”
“Where is Lindsey? Where is my sister?”
“I’d imagine she’s safe and sound at home.”
Relief. That was what I felt. But that wasn’t all. I needed more.
“Why? Why did you bring me here?”
“They want you dead. There are plans to ambush you before you got to the Lake of Elfin. I’m not talking about just a few Trackers either. A war. I couldn’t let it happen. I had to keep you away.”
I knew the answer to my next question already as well. I just needed to hear him say it, to silence the fear that bounced around in my head like a wrecking ball. I didn’t care if my words left him feeling betrayed.
“So this isn’t some ploy to stop me from getting to the shell and giving control back to the Tritons?”
His face looked like I’d slapped it. His head turned to the side, staring up at Arethusa. Like I said, I had to ask. He had fooled me once. Never again.
Then, he turned fully, his back now to me as he walked along the edge of the fountain.
“Come on, Blake. You can’t be surprised that I’m questioning your motives. You lead me here under false pretexts, after lying to me about your real identity.”
I didn’t expect his explosive response as he whirled back to face me. “I know! You don’t think I see the suspicion and doubt in your eyes. It kills me. The worst thing is… I didn’t ask for this. For any of it. You think I wanted to fall for you? To deceive you? To turn my back on the only family I’ve ever known because of my feelings for you? I’ve been living in this self-inflicted hell for the past year of my life.”
I took a deep breath and tried to reply, but nothing came out.
What reaction was appropriate in this scenario? I have a heart. I can’t be like…
Tough. Get over it.
After all that’d happened, another part of me couldn’t help but feel jaded. Then there was the fact that Blake sought to keep me safe. So I did what any normal person would do… I avoided the situation.
“I need to go.”
“I need to go. I have a duty to the sprites.”
Anger lingered in his voice. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“What? No. I’m the ‘Second Alpha,’ Blake. As crazy as that sounds, I am. And I need to live up to the expectations of that title. I came here because I thought my sister was in danger. Trust me, it was a decision that tore me up inside. Now that I know she’s safe, I need to go.”
“You’re going to leave? Just like that? And risk your life for them?”
“But what about us? Did nothing I just said change anything?”
“I don’t know. I don’t have the luxury of thinking about that right now.”
“Stay with me. Please, just stay with me. Let the others fight this battle.”
“I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
“It’s because of him, isn’t it?”
“You know who I’m talking about.”
“Whatever his name is. Is he the reason you have to leave?”
“I don’t know how to answer that question.”
Hurt radiated from Blake. I felt it in the air. It threatened to suffocate me and twisted my stomach in knots.
“You’re worried about him, aren’t you?”
I felt exasperated. “Of course I am. He’s my friend!”
“And is that all. Is he just your friend?”
“Blake. Look, I’m sorry, but I need to go. Can’t you understand? You were willing to risk your life for me.”
“But that’s different. That’s because I love you!”
My eyes dropped to my bare feet. I studied the chipping polish on my toes as if all the answers to life’s questions were held there. I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t face his declaration. I didn’t want to see his reaction to the realization of my feelings for Adrian.
“Well isn’t this an awkward moment?” I heard from a deep unfamiliar voice. It ripped me from my thoughts, causing me to nearly stumble off the ledge of the fountain as I twisted around.
Blake was the next to speak. Venom infused each word. “Logan, what are you doing here?”
“Aren’t you happy to see me, brother?”
My eyes darted between them. The closeness of their appearance was startling. Their builds, the hair, and even how they held themselves screamed they were related. Except for the eyes. Logan’s were dark through and through.
Blake growled back, “Happy isn’t a word I ever use to describe you.”
“Now, now. There’s no need to be mean. I just had to see this for myself. Father will be so proud.”
“Go to Hell.”
“Such a temper on this one. Don’t you think, Annabelle?”
The three of us created the points of a triangle, clouds looming above. Only a few feet separated me from Blake, with Logan only four or five paces away in the water.
Then, Blake closed the gap, moving to stand in front of me.
“Don’t you dare talk to her.”
“Or what, brother?”
“Don’t test me.”
Logan scoffed, staring intently in our direction. “Test you? Now why would I do that? You’ve already made your choice to betray us.”
“You shouldn’t talk about things you know nothing of.”
“Oh really? Perhaps you can fill me in.”
“You aren’t worth the explanation.”
“Now you’ve hurt my feelings.”
His sneer cut into my soul; so reminiscent of the Tracker I faced on top of the cliff.
“Why are you here, Logan?”
“That answer is simple enough. I came to finish what you’ve started.”
The threat hit the core of my body as Blake wrapped his arm backward to hold me in place.
“Let me be clear of one thing,
. You will not lay a hand on Annabelle.”
“Is that so? Father is quite disappointed in you. In fact, he’s denounced you as his successor. It appears I now have that honor.”