Authors: Kimberly Frost
Tags: #Paranormal, #Literature & Fiction, #Romance
Bryn whispered continuously, his muscles flexed, his body rigid with the strain of casting such powerful magic. Under Bryn’s protection, the boat righted itself and surged in the direction of the island.
“Move this ship!” I yelled at the captain. “You have to outrun the storm.” I put my arms around Bryn’s back and kissed his neck. “We’re okay. We’ve got this,” I said.
Mercutio yowled a warning.
“What, Merc?” I asked sharply.
Mercutio darted into the wheelhouse. His face popped back out for a moment and he meowed.
“I’ll be right back,” I said to Bryn, closing his shirt over my chest as I hurried inside.
Mercutio stood next to a speargun.
I grabbed it.
“Hey, you can’t take that,” a crewman said, but I slipped out.
The moments pulsed by in slow motion, revealing a rising wave and a rising body. The merrow had a weapon that looked like a sharpened piece of bone. His raised arm saw its target, Bryn’s chest.
In an instant, the gun swung up, I found the safety and unclicked it, took aim, and squeezed the trigger. The arrow kissed Bryn’s shoulder as it whizzed by him and harpooned through the flesh of the male merrow’s throat, carrying the creature backward. My hands burst off the gun to release it as it was dragged forward by the cord attached to the spear. I jerked forward and knocked Bryn aside to keep the gun from hitting him as it followed the merrow into the sea.
Bryn and I knelt facing each other on the deck. He glanced over his shoulder, brows rising. Then his gaze returned to me.
“Sometimes you move like you’re part ocelot,” he murmured.
“The best compliment ever,” I said with a smile. I traced the blood from the tiny scratch on his shoulder. “You okay?”
A huge wave crashed over the side of the boat and soaked us. We both sputtered.
“I may have spoken too soon.” He turned and grabbed the rail, forcing the magical shield around us again.
Lightning cracked the sky. I glanced at the shore, still at least a mile or two away. Then I looked behind us. The brewing storm was a nightmare of electricity, water, and wind. And the ocean swirled around us until there was a moatlike groove ringing the boat.
I turned my head. “Mercutio,” I said, crawling to him. “We may be taking this fight underwater. I need a weapon.”
Merc cocked his head and darted away.
I turned to Bryn. “You move back from that rail. I won’t be here to protect you for the next couple minutes.”
He smirked, continuing to whisper his spell.
I hopped up and hurried after Merc.
I slipped twice on the wet deck, landing hard on my knee one time. Jenna and Lucy, now wearing life jackets over their fancy outfits, tried to get in my way and assaulted me with accusations. I ducked around them and rushed after Mercutio.
What I needed to do was help Bryn save everyone on the boat, including the Reitgartens, and I didn’t have to talk to them to do that. And I didn’t have to listen to them ever again.
Mercutio stood next to a locked cabinet and tilted his head in question.
“Yeah, Merc. That looks like it could hold weapons.”
“Tammy Jo!” Jenna yelled, grabbing my arm. “You turn around and talk—”
Mercutio hissed, and I spun and slammed the heel of my hand into Jenna’s chest, knocking her down. Lucy started toward me, but stopped when I raised my fist.
“Do not get in my way,” I said. “I’m working.”
Lucy took a step back.
“Luce,” Jenna snapped. “There are two of us and only one of her.”
Lucy’s eyes locked with mine and then she glanced at Merc. Lucy took another step back.
“Not now,” Lucy said, grabbing Jenna’s arm. “Later. Not now.”
“For once, some sense,” I said.
I hurried to a fire extinguisher, grabbed it, and used it to break the lock. Opening the cabinet, I smiled. “Bingo.” I grabbed two guns and a knife in a harness. I strapped the knife to my thigh so I’d have each hand free to hold a gun.
The boat lurched, rocked by lightning battering the shield overhead. People stared at the sky, cringing. It was wholly unnatural. The rain poured down but didn’t land. It streamed away like we were under a glass bubble.
Two drops of water struck my cheek. All right, most of it was diverted by Bryn’s spell, but some trickled through.
Bryn’s strong magic still ruled the deck of the ship but it wavered. Nature was too powerful to be held at bay forever, especially with the magic of more than one merrow attacking from below at the same time. Even Bryn, supercharged with my synergistic magic, couldn’t hold them off forever.
I rushed down the aisle, hopping over people who sat in the corridor to brace themselves.
“Don’t sit here,” I warned. “If the boat capsizes you don’t want to be trapped under it. Get to the open deck and hold the rail.”
The boat zoomed forward at full speed. When I reached Bryn, I spotted Oliver standing at the rear of the ship, holding out his hands. He was pushing against the storm, too, trying to hold it back.
The boat bobbed over water, causing my stomach to churn. Then I spotted a whole tribe of merrows popping over the waves and heading for the side of the boat.
“Bryn,” I yelled, pointing.
He stood and turned his attention to them. He let go of the shield and hurled magic. Some of the tribe members were struck and driven back. But the others dove. I fired into the waves, shooting two, then lost sight of them.
A moment later, they slammed the undersurface of the boat. It lifted us clear out of the water. Bryn’s arm shot out and grabbed my wrist.
“Hang on,” he yelled, pulling me to the rail as the boat rocked upward. My stomach plummeted as the boat rose onto its side.
We dangled from the rail. Then in terrifyingly slow motion, the boat chose the wrong direction.
“Oh God!” I yelled, looking around for Mercutio. With a sickening lurch, gravity grabbed the ship and pulled.
“Deep breath!” Bryn yelled.
I sucked in air, and the next moment, we plunged underwater. The boat forced us down, and Bryn pulled me deeper and then swam forward, dragging me with him.
I kicked hard toward the surface, but hands on my legs grabbed me and jerked me back. I unhooked my holster and pulled the knife free. I slashed and connected with bone. The merrow released me, and I swam for my life.
The merrows could taste our magic. They would grab and drown us if given the chance.
Bryn’s hand tangled in my hair and pulled me. I was disoriented, but followed his lead, kicking as hard as I could. We broke the surface.
Bryn raised a hand to cast a spell but I screamed and shook my head.
“Cloak us,” I said, gasping. “Don’t use magic to fight. Cloak the magic so they can’t feel it and find us!”
Bryn grimaced, but nodded. He whispered a few words. Huge waves crashed over our heads, tumbling us. I tried not to panic. At least Bryn and I were together.
What had happened to everyone else?
Mercutio? Jenna and Lucy? Oliver?
Lightning lit the night, and I concentrated on sucking in a breath whenever my face broke the surface. We needed life jackets.
The waves surged toward the shore, and intermittent pulses of magic helped save us.
We rode the tide to the beach. When we hit land, the tiny pebbles were like a cheese grater scraping my arms and legs. The water slammed us against the ground.
We crawled up the beach, tired and breathless. I forced my shaking legs to hold me, and we ran inland.
I grabbed Bryn’s arm when we reached the sidewalk. “Wait.” I bent forward, gasping for breath.
“We need to keep going. This may turn into a hurricane.”
I looked along the shore and saw several people from the boat rolling over and over, washing in like driftwood.
“We have to help,” I said, forcing myself back to the beach.
We dragged exhausted survivors up the shore.
I spotted Oliver, unconscious and unmoving. Was he dead? I rushed to him. He wasn’t breathing.
I bent over him and breathed for him. “Bryn, help!”
Bryn glanced coolly at Oliver.
“I know you’re angry but he can help with the storm!” I pumped on Oliver’s chest. I spotted Mercutio dragging a pair of life-jacketed people. I realized it was Jenna and Lucy.
“Merc, you’re a hero!” I yelled when the pair of Reitgartens got to their feet.
“Get moving,” Bryn called, waving for everyone from the boat to head deeper inland. “There’s no time to evacuate, but we have to get as far from the beach as possible.”
Oliver coughed up some water and sucked in air. I moved to another man and did rescue breathing for him. My magic must have helped because everyone I worked on woke up.
Bryn cast magic to hold back the storm.
“Tamara, we need to go.”
“Well, well. You’re alive! I’m impressed,” Sal said, appearing on the shore.
“Sent us on a suicide mission, huh?” Bryn said knowingly.
She shrugged. “I’m cursed. To lift the curse, two things have to happen. You took care of the first by returning the merrows to the sea. It’s not my fault they sank the boat afterward.” She shrugged, but it was clear she’d known they would do it.
“Saints alive, you’re lucky pucks. And you’ve almost taken care of the second thing for me as well. Once my bracelet’s in the hands of the Unseelie queen, I can return to the sea. You have no idea what torture it is to be so close to the water but unable to go out on it. Land-bound! There’s nothing worse!”
Bryn glared at her. “This storm could destroy the island and kill thousands of people.”
She shrugged. “That’s the danger of living on the ocean. Storms happen.”
“Oliver, help us stop the storm. Help us drive it back to sea,” I said.
Oliver shook his head. “The treasure. The storm will bring in the treasure.”
I grimaced. “That’s why the storm was conjured? To dredge up your bracelet?” I snapped at Sal, trying to punch her. I’d forgotten she was only a spirit, and I fell through her and landed on my scraped knees. “Sally, you’re a monster.”
“As soon as the pearls are here, the storm will be over.”
“A lot of people might drown before that happens!” I spotted enormous waves, tidal waves really, swelling and rolling toward us. “Um, Bryn,” I called, nodding at the sea.
The beach was deserted except for us, Merc, Oliver, and Sal.
Bryn frowned. “We can’t outrun those,” Bryn said, raising his arms.
“Oliver, you have to help us! No treasure will do you any good if we’re all dead,” I said.
Oliver paused but then had to agree. He nodded and walked over. We moved into a tight circle.
But then Mercutio meowed and raced forward toward the ocean.
“Merc!” I yelled, rushing after him. What was he doing? Rain poured down, the drops pelting us.
Bryn called my name, yelling for me to stop, but I chased Mercutio. He wouldn’t have gone back into the ocean for no reason.
Bryn’s magic coursed over me as I dove into the water. It wrapped around me, protecting me from the sand and churning stones.
Teeth sank into my shoulder. I howled, catching a mouthful of salty water. I grabbed slimy hair and yanked, but couldn’t get the merrow off. Fur brushed against me, and Mercutio joined me in my fight against the merrow whose teeth were stubbornly buried in my flesh.
Desperate for breath as the creature dragged me into deeper water, I felt along its arm. My fingers locked around a delicate chain. I yanked and then kicked and thrashed. I punched the merrow and grabbed her throat. The teeth tore at me, but then we tumbled onto shore, carried by a big wave. I sucked in a gasp of breath and punched the merrow in the temple, which made it go limp.
Salt water stung my eyes, making me blink, and Bryn hauled the creature off me.
Water crashed over my head, and I rolled onto my hands and knees. The surge of water was so strong it lifted me and pushed me higher inland. Mercutio nudged me when I came to a stop. I coughed, hardly able to catch my breath. I looked at the gold and pink pearl bracelet in my hand and slammed it down onto the sand.
“We’re on land. Treasure is on land,” I yelled.
With a pop, the pouring rain slowed to a drizzle, and the crashing waves receded.
My shoulder wounds seared and throbbed, and my scrapes burned. I needed to rinse off the salt water.
“Christ, sweetheart,” Bryn said, bending over me. Dirty water dripped from his hair, but he still managed to look gorgeous.
That’s not fair
, I thought blearily.
He leaned down and kissed me softly. “You’ve got the devil’s own luck. And his courage,” he said, his Irish accent more pronounced than usual.
“I don’t know about that,” I said between panting breaths. “But one thing I have got is a certain ghost’s priceless jewelry,” I said with a smirk, holding up the bracelet. “Here,” I said, pressing it into his hand for safekeeping.
“It’s mine,” Oliver said, reaching for it.
“No!” Sal raged. “It has to go to the Unseelie. I’ve got a beachcomber coming—”
Bryn tossed the bracelet onto the sand away from us. Oliver scooped it up.
“You can take it, Oliver,” Bryn said. “But it’ll make you a target for the Unseelie. It’s a bad idea. If you only want it because you need money, leave it for Sally O’Shea’s beachcomber. Call my office next week. I’ll loan you what your mother needs to save her house and we’ll figure out a way for you to pay me back.”
“Oh!” I said, throwing my arms around Bryn’s neck and kissing him.
“It’s almost Christmas,” he said with a shrug and then smiled at me.
Oliver looked down at the bracelet.
Bryn pulled me to my feet, buttoned my torn white shirt as best he could, and hugged me.
Oliver glanced at us and I nodded, saying, “You can trust Bryn. If he says he’ll help. He will.”
Oliver dropped the bracelet at Sal’s phantom feet, still looking at us. “I don’t deserve your help, but I’ll take it. And I’ll make amends for what happened on the boat.”
“I’m sure you will,” I said with a smile.
I took a cool shower, and then Bryn bandaged the worst of my wounds and I bandaged his. Mercutio padded around the room until he got restless and scratched the door. I secured the towel around me a little tighter.