The Maine Coast—July
he summer storm swept in without warning. Black clouds rolled across a lightning-streaked sky sending fishermen and tourists racing for snug harbors. Sheets of rain fell, and thunder boomed as waves and wind churned the scenic coastal waters into a deadly maelstrom.
One aging forty-footer with a crew of three—father, son, and grandson, didn’t join the other boats in flight. Instead, the vessel foundered in the rock-studded waters as waves crashed over the pitching deck and gusts ripped at the open cabin and dislodged stacks of lobster traps in the stern. Aboard the old boat, one man struggled with a sputtering engine while the gray-haired captain fought the wheel, attempting to steer the foundering craft away from a looming island.
Hidden from sight by a rocky outcrop, Morgan watched the human drama unfold with mixed feelings. These fishermen were his mortal enemies. Their kind was responsible for the thousands of wire cages littering the ocean floor, ghost traps that caused the senseless death of too many living creatures to count.
Lost nets, tangles of rope, rusting hooks, and wires snagged fish, whales, dolphins, sea birds, and turtles, speeding the destruction of an abundance of sea life that had thrived for eons. Humans polluted the oceans with their trash and chemicals and spilled oil, and they decimated whole species of fish and shellfish.
Morgan knew he should hate these men, and he would have despised them if he didn’t pity them for their ignorance. They didn’t seem to understand that instead of destroying food sources, they should be protecting them, an act that might keep millions of humans from starvation someday.
Once, these men who breathed air and walked the earth had been brothers and sisters of his race, but no more. In their quest to leave the sea and conquer the land, humans had lost wisdom and a compassion for all living things. If these men were dashed on the rocks in their puny lobster boat, if they drowned, what was it to him? He wasn’t one of them.
With a shrug, Morgan started to turn away and leave the fishermen to their fate, but before he could slip back under the blue-green water, the engine roared to life, and a third member of the crew appeared on the deck.
“Dad’s got it running!” This wasn’t a man, but a boy. Morgan caught a glimpse of wide blue eyes and a pale freckled face, just before a giant wave swept over the deck, knocking the child overboard.
The gray-haired captain saw him and shouted, “Joe!”
The mechanic who’d been working on the engine charged up the stairs onto the deck. Ripping off his rain gear, he leaped into the water after the boy. The old man steering the boat secured the wheel long enough to snatch a life ring off the gunnel and toss it over the side.
“Evan! Evan!” Joe swam strongly despite the force of the waves, but there was no sign of the boy’s head above water. Morgan knew the hungry tide had claimed him, and his death was certain.
Cursing his gentle heart, Morgan plunged into the maelstrom and dove deep under the water. The tide was strong, but he’d learned to swim in storm surges. He blinked to clear his vision and swam under the boat to the spot where the child had gone down. Above, Morgan could just make out the thrashing shadow of the man, but below there was only sand-tossed bottom. A few powerful strokes carried him in the direction the tide was flowing. On land, he was as clumsy and weak as a human, but in the water he could swim as swiftly as a shark.
Even for him, the churning waves made it almost impossible to see more than a few yards, but he calculated the direction and speed of the tide and drove on. There! Something was there, just ahead of him, not swimming, but tumbling helplessly in the current. Morgan kicked hard and let the water’s force carry him. In seconds, he reached the drowning boy and seized him. For an instant, the human child opened his eyes and stared directly into his own, but then he went limp. Quickly, Morgan swam to the surface with him in his arms.
Casting a net of hypnotic illusion around himself for protection, he pushed the half-conscious child into the father’s grasp. He already held the life ring, and the older man on the boat was able to pull them both in.
Morgan lingered in the water, just out of sight beneath the boat, using his superior hearing to eavesdrop on their conversation. “Did you see that?” Joe sputtered as he shoved the choking child up onto the boat. “Did you see what that dolphin did, Pop? He saved Evan. The dolphin saved him.”
Morgan heard the boy cough and spew up a bellyful of water, before beginning to cry.
“That’s it, get it out of you,” the grandfather urged. “Did you see it, Evan? Did you see the dolphin? Big one, it was.”
“No,” the boy protested weakly. “It was a man.”
“A man?” his father scoffed. “It was a dolphin, son. I wasn’t three feet away from it.”
“A man,” the boy repeated groggily. “A blue man. He came up out of the dark.”
“Hush, now, save your strength for breathing,” his father said.
“Don’t know what he’s saying,” the captain said. “We nearly lost him. No wonder he’s talking foolish like.”
Smiling, Morgan spread his arms wide and sank into icy depths. Human adults were easy to deceive, but human children were different. They saw and heard things that adults had forgotten. He’d been lucky. No one would believe the boy’s story. He’d never attempted to use mind control on more than two at a time and never on a child. Had his spell cracked, one of the men might have seen him for what he actually was, and that would be dangerous. The security of his kingdom, of his race, depended on keeping the land dwellers ignorant of the world beneath the sea.
As he swam into deeper water, out beyond the island, Morgan almost convinced himself that he’d skirted the law and gotten away with it… . Until he noticed a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye.
“Going somewhere, Brother?”
Morgan turned to face him, wishing he was armed with something more than a short sword. He and Caddoc were never on the best of terms, and his half-brother had tried to kill him on more than one occasion over the years.
“I saw you.”
Morgan didn’t answer. Had Caddoc witnessed the incident with the lobster boat or had he seen him watching the woman?
“You’re a fool. You of all people should know the penalty for breaking the law.”
Morgan shrugged. “You’re free to make a report to the council.”
“Oh, I will. You can count on it.”
Caddoc favored their father in appearance. Dark haired like his mother instead of blond, but the proud features, the high cheek bones, the broad forehead, and the square chin were identical to that of the king.
Caddoc rarely traveled alone, and Morgan wasn’t surprised when two of Caddoc’s cronies appeared out of the murky darkness. If an accident occurred here, no one would ever know what had happened to him, and his half-brother would be one step closer to the throne he coveted so badly.
“You’ll stand trial,” Caddoc warned. “Crown prince or not, you’re not above the law.”
Morgan waited, unwilling to provoke a confrontation, but prepared to fight if pushed into it. Three to one was not the best of odds. Caddoc was better armed, and he was known for his skill with a trident. Perhaps his half-brother was right. Maybe he was a fool to risk being seen to save a human child from drowning, but he’d make the same decision again, given the circumstances. If there were consequences, he was prepared to face them, beginning with Caddoc.
Even as the three closed in on him, he couldn’t stop thinking about the woman and wondering why he’d been so drawn to her. Small hairs on the back of his neck tingled as he placed a hand lightly on his sword hilt. “Well, big brother,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
“Put down your weapon, Morgan. I’m placing you under arrest.” Caddoc raised his trident to shoulder height. The three razor-sharp prongs gleamed in the half-light that filtered down from the surface.
Morgan smiled and drew his sword.
Claire Bishop sat at the bay window and stared out at the rain. Wind lashed at the house and bent the tree branches, knocking limbs against the house and sending them tumbling across the wide expanse of lawn. Pitchforks of jagged lightning illuminated the sky, and the rumble of thunder echoed through the house.
“Come away from that window,” Mrs. Godwin urged. “My sister knew of a woman who was struck dead as a doornail by lightning while standing at her own bedroom window.”
“Dead as a doornail,” Claire murmured. “I’ve always wondered how a doornail could be dead when they aren’t alive to begin with.”
“You know what I mean,” the housekeeper fussed. “It isn’t safe.” Her Maine accent was as thick as the carpet underfoot, but Claire had been coming to Seaborne since she was a child, and neither Mrs. Godwin nor her peculiar dialect intimidated her.
“It’s time for your medication.”
“Leave it on the table,” Claire said.
“You need to take it regularly. Once the pain gets hold of you—”
“It’s not bad today.” The pain in her neck was always there, waiting to grab her in its sharp teeth and shake her like a terrier would a rat, but today she felt a more dull, grinding ache rather than an all-consuming fire. “Just leave it. I’ll take it in a few minutes,” she said.
“You’d better. You’ve got to take better care of yourself.”
Claire forced a smile. “You worry too much.”
“Someone has to.” The housekeeper brought the small paper cup with the pills and a glass of water to the side table on Claire’s left. “Land sakes, but you’ll catch a chill. It’s like a grave in here.” She picked up a sweater from the rocking chair and draped it around Claire’s shoulders. “Come to the dining room and have something to eat. I’ve made a clam chowder to die for. Your spirits will pick up if you have something hot in your stomach.”
Claire grimaced. “If your clam chowder would cure my woes, I’d gladly bathe in it. But I’m not hungry. And I’m content where I am.”
“At least turn on some lights. This storm is so wicked you can hardly see your hand in front of your face.” Mrs. Godwin went to the wall switch and flicked on several lamps. “I’ve got biscuits in the oven. Are you certain—”
“At supper, I’ll make a pig of myself,” Claire replied. “I’ll slather your biscuits with butter and honey and dunk them in a wash basin of chowder. But for now …” She met the housekeeper’s gaze solidly. “For now, I prefer to be left alone.”
Claire turned her attention to the falling rain. Still mumbling, Mrs. Godwin hustled out of the room, leaving her blessedly alone again. The woman meant well, but she hovered over her like a mother hen.
It was raining so hard now that the large drops created a steady drumming against the windowpanes. It would probably rain all night. She hoped the storm would pass by morning. She hated the days when bad weather kept her from the beach. She was always happiest near the water.
Her cell phone rang. She glanced at the number and held down the button until the phone powered down. As much as she loved her father, she’d already spoken to him twice today. There was nothing more to be said and no reason to start the argument up again. Richard Bishop didn’t want her here at the Maine house. He wanted her back in New York with him. He simply couldn’t understand why she felt that she had to get away from doctors, hospitals, and his constant worrying.
But, he couldn’t force her to return to the city. Seaborne was hers. Her grandmother had left it to her, along with a trust fund that insured the taxes were paid and the property was kept up for decades. Not that she needed the money, but Grandmother was nothing if not efficient. She’d loved the big rambling house and she’d known that Richard, her only son and Claire’s father, hated it. He would have sold the family estate within weeks of her death. Claire had been pleased to inherit Seaborne, but she’d never realized what a refuge it would become.
The clock on the mantel chimed the hour, and Claire glanced at it. Above the clock hung an oil of Claire and her favorite gelding, Gold Dust. She wondered how he was getting on with his new owner. She’d sold him to a promising young rider when she’d given up the sport.
She wished Richard hadn’t asked Mrs. Godwin to hang the painting in here. Tomorrow, she’d ask her to put it in the attic, along with the boxes of trophies and plaques that she’d acquired in her years on the international riding circuit. She didn’t want to look at them anymore. All that was in the past.
Two years ago, at twenty-seven, she had every reason to expect a bright future. She had health, brains, and ambition, and she’d earned a coveted spot on the American Olympic riding team. Now, she had nothing to look forward to but a day on the beach, staring at the waves. And today, even that was ruined by the rain.
Was this a preview of the rest of her life? Years of sitting at a glass window and staring out at the world? Was she such a coward that she couldn’t face the truth? What was the use of living like this?
She wasn’t a quitter. When her marriage to Justin had crashed and burned, she’d acted like an adult and divorced him. Then, she’d concentrated on her riding career and made a whole new life for herself. She’d always gone into any effort wholeheartedly, full force, and taken no prisoners.