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Authors: Christine DePetrillo

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BOOK: Deeper (Elemental Series)
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Already he felt pulled
toward it. The moment he set foot on land, his body craved the salt, the liquid
embrace, the cool depths of the ocean. His skin itched like crazy. It always
did whenever he spent extended time in human form. He didn’t mind being amongst
them. They were fascinating creatures after all, but life beneath the sea was
his true destiny. He’d do anything to keep his home, Selecahnia, his underwater
kingdom, safe.

Even if that meant
ignoring the curious female at the hotel’s front desk.

It had been fun
engaging in playful banter with Miss Crystal Bawle. It was even more
entertaining realizing she wanted him naked, but he had work to do. He hadn’t
spent all this time on land attending different marine conferences and speaking
about keeping the oceans healthy only to lose his momentum. Although that
vision of hers had painted an incredible scenario. She’d been ravishing in it
with her chestnut hair flowing in long waves about her shoulders, her eyes a
bright sapphire, and her skin simply glowing. Ray could tell that woman existed
underneath the exhausted version he’d met at the front desk.

What was keeping poor
Crystal Bawle from sleeping? So unfortunate that his mind reading wasn’t all
encompassing. The ability was limited to what people were subconsciously
willing to share. If he could determine the source of her sleeplessness…

“No. You don’t have
time to solve her problems. Everyone is counting on you.”

Squaring his shoulders,
Ray walked back into his room and hauled out his presentation to review. The
Marine Wellness Conference here in Bermuda would be the biggest audience he’d
lectured so far. He was so close to getting policy makers to pass stricter
hazardous waste guidelines for ocean vessels and seaside businesses. He’d
already lost too many of his kin to human carelessness when it came to the
water. He would lose no more. He refused to look upon his people covered in
oil, poisoned by factory chemicals, or injured by the items humans discarded.
Selecahnia, his treasured home under the sea, had been around since Earth’s
beginnings. Ray would do whatever it took to guarantee it and his people would
be around forever.

You could mate with
Crystal Bawle and create new generations. That would help the cause.

He pushed that thought
away. Though it was true he could turn any human into a Selecahe, a mermaid, or
a Selecahi, a merman, doing so for one evening of physical pleasure was not
acceptable.

And mating? He
certainly didn’t have time for that.

“There is something
about her though.” He had seen countless human females in his journeys on land,
but their faces quickly faded from his memory. Crystal’s delicate features and
eyes that reminded him of home, however, were burned into his mind, coming into
view each time he blinked.

“Work. Focus on work.”

He changed out of his
traveling clothes into a pair of gray cotton shorts. For the next three hours,
Ray tweaked his presentation, prepared his materials, and rehearsed. When he
finally took a breath, he was surprised to find a blue-green patch of scales on
his abdomen.

“Damn.”

He’d gone too long out
of the water. If he wasn’t careful, he’d morph back to full merman and
literally be a fish out of water. Fortunately, the sun had gone down and a
lovely night bloomed on the beach outside. After putting his presentation away
so it’d be ready for the morning, Ray slipped on swimming trunks—purely for
appearances—and grabbed a towel.

When he arrived at the
shore, he was pleased to find it quiet. Most of the hotel guests were at the
conference dinner party. A dinner party he was supposed to be at as well. Just
a quick swim to rejuvenate and he’d make an appearance at the party to chat up
his initiatives with other presenters.

After a quick glimpse
around, he dropped his towel and swimming trunks on the nearest beach chair
then ran for the water before anyone could see he was naked. He didn’t stop
until the water covered him completely.

So good.

The rush of water
caressing his body from all sides caused the rest of his scales to blossom from
under his ribs all the way to his tailfin. With powerful thrusts of his fin, he
burrowed ever deeper until schools of small fish joined him. Two dusky sharks
flanked either side of him, sending vibrations of greeting. He felt so
connected to them, to everything. He’d be glad when his time on land was done.
Between attending human school to get a doctorate in marine biology, so he’d be
taken seriously, and traveling the globe spreading his messages of marine
health, he’d been away from Selecahnia for too long. Making only pit stops to
check in with his father, king of his people, Ray hadn’t been afforded a chance
to soak up his true lifestyle in years. It was taking a toll on him physically.
He’d noticed he needed more frequent swims to keep his human form, and
sometimes he found it difficult to breathe on land. With this conference,
however, he should be able to wrap things up and return home for good.

Until the next time his
people needed him. He’d sworn to protect them, and he’d honor that promise. 

After swimming until
the moon hung solidly overhead, Ray broke through to the surface. As he reached
the shallower shore, he stood on reformed human legs and his scales retreated
with the water that rolled off him. When his feet touched sand, that patch of
scales on his abdomen below his ribs remained.

“What in Hades?” That
hadn’t happened before. Usually he emerged from a swim completely human in
appearance. What did this patch mean? Thank Poseidon he was almost done with
his work on land.

“What is that? And why
are you naked?”

The voice startled him.
There hadn’t been anyone on the beach when he’d walked out of the water, but
now Crystal stood there, her hotel uniform replaced by a killer bikini the same
blue-green as his scales. A small, glittery hoop pierced her belly button,
decorating a sublime navel, all smooth and fit. Ray’s gaze combed the length of
her and though her eyes still looked tired, the rest of her lean body was
amazing.

“Why are you out here?”
His voice was harsh. Too harsh. Why did his towel have to be behind her?

“Can’t sleep, per
usual.” She shrugged her right shoulder, one Ray wanted to run a finger along
as she looked over his naked body, lingering first on the scales then on his
other equipment.

“So you’re going to
swim instead?” He put his hands just above his hips hoping to both hide the
scales and look as if he were impatient for her answer. Nothing he could do to
conceal his other exposed…pieces.

At this question,
Crystal took a few steps back enough to be behind the beach chair now. He
whipped out a hand and wrapped the towel around his torso so it covered the
scales and anything else he didn’t wish to advertise.

“No. I…I don’t swim.”
Crystal dug in the sand with her big toe.

Even in the dim
lighting, Ray saw her pale at the mention of swimming.

“Why the gorgeous
bikini then?”

Her lip twitched up at
the corner. “Well, it is Bermuda, and it is hot out here. Do you recommend I
wear a fur coat instead?”

“No fur coat. Please.”
He took a step closer. Her hair was unbound, no longer corralled into that
messy ponytail. A faint breeze sent wisps fluttering about her face, and she
hooked some of them behind her ear. Her movements captivated Ray.

“So, are you going to
tell me what that blue stuff is on your stomach and why you’re swimming naked?”

“Blue stuff? What blue
stuff?”

“I may be exhausted,
Doctor Ray, but I know what I saw. It looked like…scales.” She narrowed her
lovely blue eyes at him.

“That’s ridiculous.”
His voice wavered.

“Is it?” She reached
out a hand and tugged at the towel until it fell at their feet.

No use in trying to
react, trying to stop her. He had only two options now. Lie and tell her it was
a tattoo or something while he high-tailfinned it back to his room or…tell her
the truth.

For some strange
reason, he didn’t want to lie to Crystal.

He didn’t say anything
as she ran her fingers over the scales, her nose crinkled in confusion. Her
touch was outstanding, like newborn gull feathers brushing against him.

“They
are
scales,”
she whispered, meeting his gaze.

“Do they frighten you?”
He held his breath.

“No, but you have some
explaining to do.”

And so, for the first
time, he did.    

Chapter Two

 

“A merman? Come to save
the oceans?”

Crystal folded and
unfolded her arms as she sat on the couch in Ray’s hotel room. He sat across
from her in an overstuffed chair. He’d slipped his swimming trunks back on
before leading her up the stairs to his balcony doors, his towel gathered
securely around his mid-section. Of all the possible explanations she’d thought
he’d give her, a merman complete with an underwater kingdom was not one of
them.

“You don’t believe me.”
He looked down to his lap, resting his elbows on his knees.

Crystal studied the top
of his head. All that thick, black hair, still wet from his swim, beckoned her
fingers to comb through it. “What scares the shit out of me is that I
do
believe you.”

He raised his head, his
unusual colored eyes searching her face. She’d never seen a more perfect
combination of features on a man. He did have an otherworldly aura about him. A
glow of some kind.

“Answer this,” she
said. “Am I asleep right now? Have I finally fallen to sleep, a slumber so deep
and complete that this is actually a dream? Not the nightmare I usually have,
but a fantasy dream with an attractive man in it? Well, actually a crazy man,
but you’re still ridiculously handsome.”

He laughed, and damn,
it sounded like a real laugh. “You’re awake, Crystal. This isn’t a dream. Come
to the conference tomorrow, and I’ll prove everything I’ve said is true after
my presentation.” He moved to sit on the couch, a single cushion the only
buffer between them.

“Sure, why not? It’s my
day off anyway. I’d like to spend it sleeping, but that’s unlikely.”

“Tell me about your
nightmare.” Ray propped a foot on the driftwood coffee table in front of the
couch, and Crystal’s gaze traveled from his heel all the way up to the hem of
his swimming trunks. She couldn’t get rid of the image of him naked. Scales or
no, human or merman, she wanted to see all of him again. Better yet, she wanted
to touch him again. Running her fingers over those scales had brought her such
a sense of tranquility and restfulness. She hadn’t felt that in forever.

“The nightmare always
starts out the same.” She recanted the familiar, plaguing sequence of deadly
events, the need to touch him growing more powerful as she became anxious
replaying the nightmare in words.

When she finished
telling him about the water, the lightning, the paralysis, and the drowning,
Ray’s dark eyebrows lowered as he pulled at his lower lip with his index finger
and thumb. Crystal couldn’t help wondering if in merman form webbing connected
his long fingers.

“What?” she finally
asked when his pensive expression remained.

He blinked as if coming
back to the present time and looked at her. “Nothing. I’ll explain later. After
the conference.”

Crystal shrugged.
“Okay.” She glanced at the towel he held closed with his other hand. “Can I…can
I see them again?”

He tightened his grip,
his knuckles going white.

“Please?” Crystal
rarely begged for anything besides sleep, but she had to see them again.

Slowly, Ray loosened
the towel until it pooled in his lap. “After a swim, they usually fade away. I
think I’ve been on land too long.”

“They’re stunning,
Ray.”

He offered her a
half-smile. One that made her feel totally comfortable around him. “No human
has ever seen my scales before. You’re the first.”

“Bet you weren’t
looking forward to telling someone your secret, were you?” She inched a little
closer, dying to get her fingers on those scales.

“I wasn’t. I thought
there might be more screaming or fainting or…something.” He slid the towel off
his lap and put it behind him as he moved onto the cushion between them.

“I’m not a screamer or
a fainter, but if someone told me this morning that I’d be sitting on a couch
with a merman tonight, I’d have called hotel security.” Her hand made its way onto
his bare thigh. His skin was cool and speckled with sand that sparkled in the
dim light of a single lamp.

“I’m glad I didn’t use,
‘hello, I’m a merman’ as my opening line then.” He covered her hand with his,
brought it over to his scales, and pressed her palm against them.

Crystal shivered with
arousal. The salty sea air fragrance exploded into the room, and she took a
deep breath. Closing her eyes, she sifted the breath out slowly. When she
opened her eyes, Ray had moved closer, his lips mere inches from hers. She
traced a finger down the scar on the side of his face. It made him more real
somehow. That small imperfection.

BOOK: Deeper (Elemental Series)
7.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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