Authors: Kimberly Frost
Tags: #Paranormal, #Literature & Fiction, #Romance
We crossed Harborside Drive, and the ocean’s briny scent flowed in with the waves. “But you’d have given up your own chance to swim as a dolphin?” I blurted. I wasn’t even a water sign but I’d always wanted to swim with a gang of dolphins.
“Not my chance. Only full fae can shift using the bracelet. It was valuable and beautiful, very decorative on my wrist, but not magical for me.”
“What went wrong?” Bryn asked.
“I died before I got the chance to put things right. This way,” she said.
We followed her past Joe’s Crab Shack and past rows of cars parked on a blacktop road between piers. Fishing boats bobbed and herons and pelicans rested on posts. When we reached the pier with the party boats, I had to stop to catch my breath and dig a corset bone out of my ribs.
“These booties are cute but they weren’t meant for walking a mile. Two of my toes are making blisters.”
“Here we are,” Sal called, beckoning us on.
I glanced around. “I’ll take them off. I’d rather go barefoot.”
“Not here, sweetheart. There’s too much debris. Wait until we get back to the street.”
“Tammy Jo! Hurry!” Sal ordered, oblivious to my smarting feet.
Bryn muttered a curse, but I put a hand on his arm to calm him and called, “Coming, Sal!”
A group of bagpipers played next to a dock, where a white boat strung with red and white lights awaited us. Scattered couples frolicked on the deck and the crew, in Victorian sailor suits, readied the ship for a moonlit cruise.
When we reached Sal, I asked, “Are we going on that boat?”
“No,” Bryn said at the same time Sally said, “Yes.”
“Why?” Bryn asked. “We can cast a water spell from the dock.”
“You can’t drop full-sized merrows into shallow water. They need deep water. They’ll have to dive to catch their breath after their transformation. Unless you want to risk them getting tangled in seaweed under the pier. Seems a pity to steal them at gunpoint if you’re not going to take care when putting them back in the sea.”
Bryn scowled, but I rubbed his arm. “It’s a nice night. The boat staff plays music and serves food. Things could be worse,” I said with a shrug of my brows.
Bryn drew in a measured breath and nodded. Sally grinned.
“Now listen, I’m not coming aboard so pay attention. The spell you need is taped under the inside of the back cover of the captain’s log. It’s belowdecks. One of you will have to nick it. You have to cast the spell from the deck of the ship, starboard side. Drop the merrows in before you say the word ‘size.’ Whatever you do, don’t leave out any verses. If you betray me or forget to praise the ocean, the consequences will be on your own heads. Don’t cast the spell until you’re at least a mile from shore.”
“Why aren’t you coming with us?” I asked.
“Can’t, love. I wish I could!” Turning, she yelled, “Here, Midshipman Griffith, these visitors will be wanting tickets.”
A young man in a uniform came over and Bryn bought tickets, expensive ones. I grimaced, and when the sailor stepped away from us, I promised, “I’ll pay you back.”
“Do that with a kiss on his tallywags,” Sally said.
“He’s got a pair. You haven’t. Hint enough for you?” she asked with a saucy grin.
“Sally!” I admonished.
“What? From the money in his wallet, I’m sure he’d fancy tupping you more than being paid back. Pretty bobtails are just the thing for rich men. And he’s wound tight as a drum. Do the world a favor and help him relax.”
“He’s not relaxed because he doesn’t trust bawdy ghosts,” I whispered. “Try to behave.”
“Flash the man your bubbies to put him in mind of something other than brooding,” she advised, unconcerned with my scolding. “My spell’s going to set the world to rights and we’ll all be celebrating come the witching hour. Now go on!” she said and disappeared.
“Her expressions are pretty . . . colorful,” I said.
“Undoubtedly she was once the poet laureate of Postoffice Street.”
I laughed. “Not likely but I bet men liked her anyway.”
The corners of Bryn’s mouth tipped up. “I’m sure. Cheerful and enthusiastic has always been popular, but ‘top of the line’ prostitutes have come a long way since Victorian times.”
“How would you know?” I asked sharply.
I grinned. “Good answer.” Then I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Did you ever go to one? When you were a teenager or anything?”
He shook his head.
“Me either,” I said, which made him laugh.
When we’d crossed the deck to the front of the boat, Bryn stiffened and glanced around.
“I feel magic. Not ours.”
I looked over my shoulder. The crew had unhooked the boat and was pulling up the plank when Mercutio raced up and leapt aboard. He landed with a sound
on the deck. When I met Mercutio, he was seven months old and roughly the size of a housecat. In only six weeks, he’d grown several inches longer and several pounds heavier. Pretty soon no one would mistake him for a regular cat.
I hurried to him, holding out a hand to the people on deck who’d stopped to stare. “He’s with me,” I said, bending down to give his fur a stroke. The corset squeezed me nearly breathless, and people, cheerful on beer and margaritas, edged forward to admire and pet him.
Mercutio ignored the attention, meowing at me and putting a paw on my side. His claw caught the material over a corset bone. The sound he made left little doubt about what he thought of the outfit. It wasn’t fit for fighting, so would never be Merc approved. As my head swum, I straightened up, wobbling slightly.
Merc yowled softly when I thrust out an arm to catch my balance, nearly toppling over. Bryn’s strong hand steadied me.
“Like always, you’ve got a good point,” I told Mercutio. “I need a bathroom. I’ve got to get this corset off,” I whispered to Bryn.
He nodded. “The restroom is near the stairs that lead belowdecks.”
Mercutio padded along with us, giving my purse an interested sniff.
“I know they probably smell tasty but the fish in my purse are actually part people.”
Merc batted the pouch, which swung like a pendulum.
I raised my arm out of reach and shook my head. Merc gave his whiskers an impatient swipe and darted off to explore the ship.
Bryn opened the door to the bathroom and I wrestled my way inside.
“Darn you, dress! This bathroom isn’t big enough for the both of us.”
“Tamara,” Bryn said.
Midway to closing the door, I stopped. “Yes?”
“You’ll need help with your laces.”
“True.” I frowned, struggling to turn my back toward him. My skirts twisted and I held the doorframe to keep myself from spinning back like a top. The outfit squeezed me like a juicer about to make Tammy Juice. “I can’t take this!” I told the wall. “I can’t breathe.”
“Easy,” Bryn said. He’s more patient than I am. Also, he wasn’t the one being suffocated. His hands on my shoulders turned me back, making it easier to breathe. Then he reached behind me to undo the laces of the dress. With a sharp tug on the corset, its laces sprung apart and I sucked in a deep breath. It was like escaping a giant snake.
The dress sagged down, exposing my breasts. I almost didn’t care. I crossed my arms over my chest. “Just gimme a sec,” I said. Bryn stood in the doorway, blocking most of me in case anyone should come. “I wish I could borrow your shirt. I’ve got cutoff shorts on under this and—”
“It would attract attention,” he said.
“Yeah,” I reluctantly agreed. “At least get me out of the corset.” I held my arms over my head. He tugged the human bondage device out.
“So much better!” I said.
He grinned, setting the corset against the wall.
“Note to self,” I said. “Never buy underwear that can stand by itself.”
He chuckled. I twisted at the waist. “Tie me up.”
“That conjures a certain image,” Bryn murmured, his thumbs brushing my shoulder blades. I shivered.
“Bryn,” I warned.
With a few deft movements, he’d adjusted the laces and snugged me back into the dress. It wasn’t nearly as constricting without the corset, which was a relief, but I’d have to take care not to make any sudden movements since the top felt like it barely covered me.
“What should we do with it?” I asked, nodding to the corset.
Bryn set it behind a post. “It won’t fit in your purse.”
“All right, you stand guard at the stairs and I’ll go down to the captain’s room.”
“There’s probably not much room to maneuver down there. I’ll go.”
I chewed my bottom lip then nodded. “I’ll keep watch and distract any crew that comes along.”
Bryn glanced at my bodice and said, “I’m certain you will.” He stepped over the chain that blocked the stairs and descended.
When people came to use the restroom, I made a show of checking my cell phone. It’s a handy ruse because a lot of people do that for hours at a time.
Mercutio streaked up with a yowl. He ducked his head, darted under the chain, and raced down the stairs. My jaw dropped and I glanced around. A middle-aged woman in purple taffeta raised her brows. I gave her a sheepish smile.
“He’s an explorer.” I straightened and waited anxiously for her to leave. Bryn had been gone awhile. Too long. And Mercutio had gone down the stairs with purpose. He could sense magic. And trouble. I wanted to get down there to check on my guys, but the woman stood next to the bathroom door like she’d sprouted roots.
“The restroom’s empty,” I said.
“I don’t need to use it,” she said and glanced at the sign on the chain that had
printed on it.
“They probably won’t want an animal wandering around belowdecks,” she said.
“I’ll get him,” I said, raising my skirts to step over the chain.
“I meant you should find a crew member to retrieve him.”
“Um, they might be mad, and they’re busy. Better not to bother anybody. I’ll just zip down and fetch him. No harm done,” I said with an imploring smile.
My full skirt’s excesses of fabric caught on the chain and nearly caused me to topple down the stairs. I grabbed the wall to catch myself.
“Careful!” she said. “You really shouldn’t be doing that.”
“All good! I’ll be right back,” I said with false cheer. I bet I had about a minute to collect Mercutio before she alerted the crew that there were interlopers downstairs.
I bustled down the narrow corridor, the dress pressing against my legs. Bryn’s magic is the only sort I can feel, and I followed it to him. Unfortunately he wasn’t alone in the captain’s office.
He saw me in the doorway and shook his head sharply. I paused and took a step back, but not fast enough to remain unseen.
“Here she is,” the armed crewman said. He had thick brown hair pulled into a short ponytail. He was in his mid-twenties and sharp-eyed as a hawk, but he stood almost casually, not too straight or stiff.
Mercutio crept toward him as though stalking prey. If Bryn could’ve disarmed the guy with magic, he wouldn’t have been standing there at gunpoint. It meant the guy was doubly armed with magic and the 9mm.
“Hey there,” I said. “We’ve got about a minute to resolve this situation before a nice lady in ten pounds of taffeta sends one your crewmates down for me and my cat. And speaking of him, I’m going to pick him up, ok? So he doesn’t try to attack you.”
He inclined his head in a half nod.
I bent, my cleavage practically spilling from my dress, and grabbed Merc from under a table. I bumped my head when I rose. Mercutio protested and twisted, but I held tight.
I bent my mouth to his ear and whispered. “Hang on, Merc. You couldn’t have gotten behind him. This isn’t our moment. Not yet.”
Merc stopped squirming and allowed me to hold him against me. “I’m Tammy Jo. Who are you?”
“We came to borrow something.”
“You came for Sally O’Shea’s spell,” he said. “Give it here, Lyons.”
“Do you know him?” I asked Bryn, surprised.
“Oliver’s a weather wizard. It was his magic I felt when we came onboard the boat,” Bryn said. He raised the captain’s log and opened the back cover. The corner was peeled up and a page lay between the cover and the final page. “Hang on,” Bryn said to Oliver. “Sally O’Shea gave us reason to believe that Tamara’s magic is needed for the spell to work. Weather magic alone won’t be enough to cast it.”
Bryn gave me the paper, his fingers grazing mine, power arcing between us.
“She’s taken a poem by Andrew Marvell, one of the metaphysical poets, and bastardized it to create a spell that suits her needs,” Bryn said.
I scanned the words. “It seems like it might do more than just what she told us it would.”
“Yes,” Bryn said.
I glanced down at the page again. “Why does she care about this other stuff? She’s a ghost. What difference does it make to her now? Why pay her debts and make amends for things she did a hundred years ago?”
“I wondered the exact same thing,” Bryn said, and then looked from me to Oliver. “What do you think, Oliver? You’ve been hunting for her spell. Why?”
“A lot of witches and wizards have been searching for that spell. You must have heard the legend of the spell’s payoff or you wouldn’t be here.”
“No,” Bryn began, but voices stopped him.
“Give me the spell,” Oliver said, holding out a hand.
“No.” I shoved it down the front of my dress, banking on the fact that he wouldn’t shoot us with someone coming down the hall.
Oliver’s expression never changed. He was as smooth and silky as melted chocolate as he set the gun onto the desk behind him. A second later the door swung open.
“What the hell?” a tall, middle-aged crewman demanded.
“What’s going on, Cosaar?”
“These are friends of mine. They came down to look for me.”
“None of you belong in here, Cosaar. Clear on out.”
“Sure,” he said, walking past his crewmate and waiting in the corridor. I glanced at the desk. The gun was gone.
“You’d better watch your cat,” Tom said. “We don’t have a life preserver in his size, and if he falls overboard, no one’s going in after him.”