Authors: Kaitlyn O'Connor
Tags: #Man-Woman Relationships
Children of Andromeda:
Lords of the Sea
© copyright by Kaitlyn O’Connor, June 2007
Cover Art by Jenny Dixon, June 2007
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
For Rosemary down under---you were right. This is the ‘real’ me!
And for the fan who looked for me at the RT book signing just to tell me she loved Below. I hope you enjoy this new tale of merfolk as much as I enjoyed writing it!
It was Mark who first noticed the blue glow coming from below. Cassia Pendell was lounging on the deck, more than half asleep and struggling with the exhaustion that seemed it would defy her will to stay awake. They’d headed out before daylight, though, and she was not only not used to being up and stirring about by five AM, she also wasn’t used to diving.
As a first date, however, it was definitely unique. It had sounded like something that might be fun. As loathe as she was to admit it, though, she’d been impressed because it seemed like the sort of thing only the rich and famous might indulge in and it was that that had finally swayed her more than the belief that she’d actually enjoy it.
She’d met Mark on an internet dating/mating site. They’d been chatting for weeks before he’d suggested an actual meeting. She’d liked what she’d learned about him in the time they’d been internet dating, but she’d been leery. He was still a stranger.
After all the horror stories she’d heard about women meeting psychopaths over the net, she’d been nervous as hell at the prospect of driving to a strange city to meet a man she really didn’t know. When he’d suggested that they could go scuba diving with the diving club he belonged to she hadn’t been a lot more enthusiastic, even though it removed the danger of being completely alone with him, mostly because she’d never done it before and she didn’t like deep water. She hadn’t wanted to tell him she was phobic about deep, natural bodies of water, though.
He was an amateur diving enthusiast. Exploring the ocean was his favorite pastime, something he did whenever he got the chance. If she couldn’t dredge up some interest in it herself, she figured their relationship was doomed before it had really gotten started.
Truthfully, she’d almost called it off right then. She had absolutely no sense of adventure. She didn’t like risks, and she especially didn’t like taking them. She wasn’t
‘addicted’ to the adrenaline rush of doing something wild and dangerous. She was allergic to it. She didn’t like having the hell scared out of her, not when it entailed her taking part in it—watching from a safe distance was alright, but not participating. She preferred being comfortable and safe.
Deep down, she’d accepted right then that they were completely incompatible.
She’d refused to acknowledge it, though. She’d convinced herself that it was time she put in the effort to lighten up and live a little—past time, actually. She was nearly thirty two, close enough to feel the chill, anyway. Even if it turned out to be something she hated, she needed to at least give it a try.
She hadn’t exactly hated it. She
hated getting up so damned early, but then she wasn’t the only one in the group that didn’t seem to be at their best that early in the day, or the only one who’d spent the time while the boat was en route to the chosen diving site sleeping. Mark hadn’t seemed to take that in bad part, which was a plus in his column.
The boat was big enough and the gulf waters calm enough she hadn’t gotten motion sickness or overly frightened. She still didn’t like it, but she hadn’t
Carl Smith, the man who’d founded the scuba diving club, had been patient in instructing her and had stressed safety, which she’d found soothed her uneasiness a great deal.
Despite the fact that she could tell Mark was anxious to strike out on his own, he’d also been patient and solicitous, which had earned him another mark in the good column. He’d ‘forgotten’ he was supposed to be baby-sitting her a couple of times and darted away, leaving her behind, and he’d also taken off into some dark, creepy places where she’d refused to follow a couple of times, but overall he’d been considerate.
She was still more inclined to think she was just getting used to the idea of deep water diving than actually beginning to like it, but she’d gotten over the first tremors of terror and was able to play off a token enthusiasm when everyone had settled in the boat to eat their lunch and discuss their experiences.
She thought that was mostly because she’d been certain it was over and they would be heading back after they’d eaten.
Mark had proposed they move on to another spot to dive, though—a minus in his column—and although everyone wasn’t in total agreement, she was the only one who actually hadn’t wanted to. Good manners had compelled her to join the group for a little while in the second dive, but she hadn’t stayed down long and had returned to the boat long before the last of the divers had returned.
Mark had been the last.
Another minus in his column, especially when someone had pointed out that it was probably going to be dark before they made it back to the dock.
She suspected Mark thought it would be a good opportunity for a little romantic necking, that darkness would give him the chance to cuddle up, but she wasn’t in the mood. She was exhausted. It was amazing how drained she felt from the little bit of actual swimming she’d done, but an inescapable fact, and beyond that she felt downright disgustingly sticky from both the water and the salt in the sea air. All she really wanted to do was bathe and collapse in the hotel room for a nice long nap.
She wasn’t a sun worshipper, but she’d reached the point where she didn’t think she could stand wearing the wet suit another moment. Peeling it off, she’d spread a thick towel on the deck, grabbed a life preserver to use as a pillow, and stretched out to pretend she was sunning when she actually only wanted to sleep.
Mark had obligingly slathered sun screen all over her, mostly, she thought, as an excuse to feel her up—not that she cared as long as it prevented her skin from turning lobster red. Since it had evolved into an erotic sort of massage, though, and had warmed her even as it relaxed her aching muscles, she gave him another plus in the good column.
Unfortunately, that made the scales more or less even since he’d accumulated almost as many minuses throughout the day as pluses. She was drowsing, debating whether or not she was interested in taking the next step and ‘test driving’ him that night when he suddenly sat back and stiffened.
“Hey! Look at that!”
Cassie didn’t even lift her head, despite the excitement she heard in his voice.
Whatever it was, she wasn’t interested.
“Carl! Do you see that?” he persisted, coming to his feet.
As she heard the rest of the diving party moving in their direction, curiosity finally penetrated her stupor of exhaustion and Cassie lifted her head to look around. She couldn’t see anything from her position and was tempted to dismiss it again until she realized that everyone was craning to look into the distance. It was the look on their faces that finally sent a shaft of alarm through her. Pushing herself up onto her knees, she followed the direction of their gazes, more than half expecting so see a ship flying a pirate flag.
She thought, at first, that the glaring sun had dazzled her and it was just a trick of the eyes. Blinking, she slowly got to her feet. The mirage didn’t disappear, though.
After staring at the thick bank of clouds rolling toward them, she swiveled her head and scanned the horizon all the way around. Her heart began to thud dully in her chest.
“What would cause that?” she asked of no one in particular. “Is it a storm?”
Several moments passed while first one and then another speculated as to the cause of the phenomenon and then it finally dawned on Cassie that no one was looking at the same thing she was. Everyone was staring at the water. Turning, she peered at the water again and realized that a huge patch of ocean was glowing a strange, eerie blue.
?” she gasped.
Something in her voice must have finally penetrated Mark’s absorption. He glanced at her, his expression questioning. “I don’t know. Never seen anything like it.”
“You think, maybe, it’s just … like sunlight reflecting off the clouds?” Cassie speculated hopefully
Mark frowned at her and then lifted his head to glance around as she had. “Shit!”
he exclaimed abruptly, drawing everyone’s attention to the bank of clouds that had ringed them. “What the hell!”
For several moments everyone babbled excitedly. Abruptly, Carl plowed his way through the group and headed for the controls. “Everyone get everything tied down.
NOW! Get your life vests on! We’ve got a freak storm rolling in!”
Cassie bent over and scooped up the life vest she’d been cuddling and began to struggle into it. She had no idea what else might need doing, but she wasn’t going anywhere until she had that on. She was still struggling with figuring out which loops went with which straps when Carl began to cuss loud and long. “The damned radio’s dead! I can’t get a call in to the coast guard!”
That announcement made everyone freeze.
“What do you mean the radio’s dead?” Ben, one of the group demanded, anger edging his voice. “Didn’t you check it out?”
“Of course I checked it out!” Carl yelled angrily. “What do you take me for? It was working fine when we left!”
“Maybe we’re just out of range?” Shelley, one of the women, suggested uneasily.
“It’s not picking up anything but static!
body should be close enough to pick up a mayday!”
“Why do we need to send out a mayday?” Cassie asked, trying to keep the hysteria out of her voice.
She didn’t think she succeeded very well. As low as she’d pitched her voice, mostly because she was too breathless with sudden fear to manage much more than a whisper, the question brought everyone’s attention to her.
“Just in case,” Mark muttered after a moment.
“In case of what?” Cassie demanded.
“The instruments have gone haywire,” Carl announced, dragging everyone’s attention to him.
“Electrical storm?” Jimmy, another diver, suggested.
Cassie was about to dispute that when she noticed a jagged streak of light threading through the clouds advancing on them. Her heart seemed to leap into her throat to strangle her as she turned slowly to survey the cloud bank and saw similar streaks forking down to the water all the way around them.
“Let’s just get the hell out of here!” Mark yelled.
“And go where?” Ben demanded. “You heard him. The instruments aren’t working.”
“So? We get clear of the storm, they’ll work, and probably the radio, too, and we can call for help,” Jimmy yelled back at him, seconding Mark’s motion.
“We don’t have enough fuel to wander around the gulf!” Carl, the doomsayer, announced. “We’ll be dead in the water if we aren’t careful. And what if the radio still doesn’t work? We don’t have enough food or water on board for more than a day.
Unless one of you has a really good idea of which direction to go, I say we drop anchor and try to ride this out. Any direction we take, we’ll be heading into the storm.”
“But it’s coming right toward us! We’re not going to avoid it.”
“Exactly my point—there doesn’t seem to be any possibility of avoiding it. I’d rather not take the chance of getting lost. If we stay put, when it passes over us, we should at least be able to get our bearings and then, even if the radio and the instruments still don’t work, we’ll have a better chance of making landfall.”
“How far are we from land?” Cassie asked.
Instead of ignoring her as they had before, several of the divers glanced at her and then turned to look at Carl questioningly. He shrugged. “The last time I checked about two hundred and fifty nautical miles.”
Cassie felt anger surge through her. She hadn’t liked the idea of sailing so far out they couldn’t see land in any direction to begin with, but now it seemed even more insane to her. She, at least, hadn’t known the potential for disaster. They
known and they’d still struck off for deep water as if it hadn’t occurred to any of them that they were land dwellers.
With an effort, she tamped her anger. Everyone was already on edge. Arguing wasn’t going to help anything. Apparently everyone else arrived at the same conclusion.
After glaring with angry accusation at one another for a few moments, everyone found a spot to settle and watch the clouds. After a while, although her nerves were still stretched tauter than a barbed wire fence, Cassie noticed something else strange about the glowing water and the bank of clouds.
“Is it just me, or does it seem to anyone else that the clouds aren’t moving?” The strange light was becoming more and more pervasive, as well, and her skin was prickling, as if static electricity was rippling over her.
“I think she’s right,” Mark announced after studying the clouds for several minutes. “They don’t look any closer to me either.”
Carl shook his head. “I can’t tell. It could just be a slow moving storm.”
“It doesn’t look like a storm, though,” Cassie disputed. “I mean—I’ve never seen a storm when I was at sea. Maybe they look differently than they do on land, but—
shouldn’t they be dark? They’re so white and fluffy they don’t even look like storm clouds. The lightening looks weird, too. It’s coming straight down.”
“The sea,” Mark said succinctly. “Water draws lightning.”
Lovely! Why hadn’t she thought about that? “Maybe it would be better to get inside?” she suggested uneasily.