Of Poseidon 02: Of Triton (7 page)

BOOK: Of Poseidon 02: Of Triton
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I’ve known for some time that he wanted that eventually, but how soon? Before we graduate? Before I go to college? What does it mean to mate with him? He’s a Triton prince. His place is with the Syrena, in the ocean. And let’s not forget that my place with them is dead—no Half-Breeds allowed. We have so much to talk about before this can even happen, but I feel saying so might make him feel rejected, or embarrass him in front of his older brother, the great Triton king. Or like I’m having second thoughts, and I’m not. Not exactly.

I peer up at him, wanting to see his eyes, to see the promise in them that I heard in his voice.

But he won’t look at me. He’s not looking at Mom, either. He keeps his iron glare on Grom, unyielding and demanding. But Grom doesn’t wither under the weight of it. In fact, he deflects it with an indifferent expression. They are definitely engaging in some sort of battle of will via manly staring contest. I wonder how often they do this, as brothers.

Finally, Grom shakes his head. “She’s a Half-Breed, Galen.”

Mom’s head snaps toward him. “She’s my daughter,” she says slowly. She pulls herself from his lap and stands over him, hands on hips.
Oh, he’s in serious shiznit now
. And I can’t help but feel elated about it. “Are you saying my daughter’s not good enough for your brother?”

Yeah, Grom, are you? Huh, huh are you?

Grom sighs, the triviality in his expression softening into something else. “Nalia, love—”

“Don’t you ‘Nalia, love’ me.” Mom crosses her arms.

“The law hasn’t changed,” Grom says quietly.

“So that’s it?” Mom throws her hands in the air. “What about me? I’ve been living on land for the last seventy years! I’ve broken the law, too, remember? I broke it before I ever left.”

Grom stands. “How can I forget?”

Mom touches his face, all her previous haughtiness diminished into remorse. “I’m sorry. I know that’s why we … But I can’t let Emma—”

Grom covers Mom’s mouth with his giant hand. “For once in your stubborn life, will you let me talk?”

She huffs through his fingers but says nothing else. I blink at the two of them, at the familiarity of it all. The way they know how to handle each other. The way they read each other. The way they act like me and Galen.

And I hate it.

And I hate that I hate it.

After Dad died, I told myself I wouldn’t be one of those bratty kids who made it difficult for their single parent to date someone else, or to find love with someone else or whatever. I wouldn’t be an obstacle to my mother’s happiness. It’s just that … well, I was operating under the assumption that she loved my dad, that they were made for each other, so she probably wouldn’t find anyone else anyway. Now I feel that Grom had intruded on their relationship the entire time. That maybe they could have loved each other if it weren’t for him.

And somehow I feel that since Mom and Dad didn’t love each other, then I’m less … important. That I’m the result of an accident that is still complicating the lives of people I love. I also hate that I’m allowing myself to have a pity party when clearly bigger things than myself are happening.

Feel free to grow up at any time, Emma. Preferably before you push away people you love.

Grom retracts his hand from Mom’s mouth, and uses his fingertips to caress her cheek. My new and improved grown-up self tries not to think
Gag me,
but I accidentally think it anyway.

“I was going to say,” Grom continues, “that I’m sure your transgression can be forgiven, under the circumstances. But I think we should concentrate on that first. I don’t think we should bring Emma up at all. Not yet. Solid food is for mature ones.”

I feel Galen relax beside me. He nods up at his brother. “Agreed.” Then he looks down at me. “They’ll need time to digest all this. Once Nalia explains everything, and enough time has passed for them to accept—”

“There’s something else,” Grom blurts. He rakes his hand through his hair, something Galen does when he’s particularly frustrated. I find my immature self thinking,
I don’t want Grom and Galen to be alike,
and then my grown-up self says,
Knock it off
. And then Grom says: “I’m already mated to Paca.”

The realization slaps us each in a different way.

Me, with elation.

Galen, with … I’m not sure. He hasn’t moved.

Mom, with horror.

Toraf, with open-mouth shock that makes him look a bit silly.

Rayna, with “You idiot,” she spits. “We told you—”

Grom points at her in the universal watch-yo-self sign. “No, you
didn’t
tell me. All you told me was that I shouldn’t mate with Paca. That she was a fraud. But you…” Grom turns to Galen. “And
you
didn’t tell me the truth. I won’t take the full blame for this.”

I can tell Rayna’s all kinds of mad, but Galen cows her with a look. “He’s right,” he tells his sister. Then he nods up at Grom. “But we didn’t
know
the truth—well, not the whole truth—until we got back to shore after you banned us from the territories. We didn’t know Nalia was alive, but we should have told you about Emma. But are you so sure you would have listened? Seemed like you’d already made up your mind.”

Grom pinches the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know. Probably not. But I don’t think you understand what all this means.” By the way Galen cocks his head, I think Grom is right. In fact, by the way everyone holds their breath and looks at Grom, I think none of us knows what this means.

“It means, little brother,” Grom says, his voice full of bitter, “that you’re next in line to become Nalia’s mate.”

Ohmysweetgoodness.

8

EVERYONE IS
quiet, as if Grom’s words deprive the air of its breathable qualities. Nalia takes her seat in a chair this time, instead of his lap. She stares up at Galen in horror, the same horror you feel when you know something’s true but every fiber in your body rebels against it. The same horror saturating Galen right now, threatening to push him over the edge and riot against the idea of it all.

The Law of the Gifts states the firstborn of every third generation from each house must mate. That used to mean Nalia and Grom. When they thought Nalia was dead, there were no Poseidon heirs left for Grom to mate with. Grom was free to choose a different mate, which he did. But now Nalia is back from the dead. And though Galen is younger than Grom, he’s still from the same generation—and the next heir in line for the Triton kingship if something were to befall his brother.

This cannot be happening.

“I can’t believe our parents wanted more offspring after you,” Rayna tells Grom. Even hoarse, she’s still able to infuse her irritation in each forced word. “After birthing an idiot like you, I’d never even think about having more—”

“Quiet, Rayna,” Emma shouts. Emma has obviously learned how to deal with his sister; Rayna leans back against the headboard of the bed and makes her poutiest face. “He’s not finished. Keep going, Grom. We’re listening.”

Grom folds his hands in front of him. “Keep going with what, Emma?”

“The but,” she says.

“The … the but?” Grom throws an inquisitive glare to Galen, but he pretends not to notice. There’s no point. He’s got no idea why Emma’s talking about butts.

“You know,” Emma says, full of polite and calm. “Galen’s in line to become Nalia’s mate,
but
. That’s where you left off.”

“Ah.” Grom motions for Toraf to move his legs so he can sit on the bed across from Emma. “I’m afraid I don’t have anything to offer after the ‘but’ this time.”

Emma stiffens at Galen’s side, and he instinctively tightens his hold on her. He’s positive he can feel the makings of a temper tantrum rumbling through her. “Oh. So what you’re saying is that you’re out of your freaking mind.”

Grom crosses his arms. This could be bad.

Emma tugs herself from Galen’s grasp and stands. Galen knows he shouldn’t have let her free, because she’s definitely got tantrum all over her face, but he’s too curious to see how Grom will react. After all, Grom fell in love with the very female who pulled a knife on Galen. He figures Grom is due for his own battle.

“Galen is not mating with my mother. My mother is not mating with Galen. So run along to your new bride, and leave us all alone.”

Galen hears Rayna whisper, “What’s a bride?” but he keeps his eyes on Grom, who takes his time standing up, squaring his shoulders. He’s seen Grom do this before. Make himself appear as big as possible by invading the space of whoever he’s trying to intimidate. A challenge. This is the part where the other person backs down.

But the other person has never been Emma. She steps
toward
the Triton king. “I couldn’t help but notice you’re still here,” she says.

Grom’s face softens into what could be amusement. “You and I don’t know each other, little one. But I think we both know I’m not leaving.”

“You and I seem to disagree on a lot of points,” Emma returns.

“Not as much as you think.” Grom smiles down at her. “For instance, we both agree that Galen mating with your mother is the worst possible outcome imaginable.”

“Is there a ‘but’ to this statement?”


But,
before this gets out of hand, I think we should attempt to fix things the right way.”

“Which is?”

“Which is trying to get my mating with Paca unsealed, to start.”

Emma frowns. “Trying? What’s to try? You’re the king. Call it off.”

Galen stands and puts a hand on Emma’s shoulder. “It’s not that simple. The king can overturn mating bonds for others, but not his own. For that, he has to appeal to the body of Archives. It resembles the checks-and-balance system of some human governments we learned about in school.”

“But this isn’t a problem,” Nalia calls from her seat. “The Archives never go against the wishes of the throne.”

“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Grom says.

“We’re the firstborn heirs,” Nalia counters. “There is nothing complicated about that. The law is very plain regarding that particular issue. Even you and I couldn’t find a way out of it all those years ago, if you’ll recall.” Her smile is full of meaning and Galen is almost curious enough to ask. He’d always been told Grom and Nalia loved each other since the first time they met. Apparently, that was not the case, if they were looking for a way out of mating with each other.

Grom scowls. “Paca has proven she has the Gift of Poseidon, love. I’m not sure the Archives would unseal me from one who has the Gift. An argument could be made that it goes against the principle of the law, since the law is in place to produce the Gift.”

“And if anyone will make that argument, it will be Jagen,” Galen says. “I’m certain he’s been planning this union for a very long time. That’s why he sent Paca to land to learn the hand signals to control the dolphins. He is a patient enemy.”

Rayna laughs, but it sounds more like the bark of a seal. “Yes, hand signals! Paca does
not
have the Gift of Poseidon.
Emma
has the Gift of Poseidon. She can show you what it’s supposed to look like.”

“What?” Grom and Nalia say in unison.

Galen and Emma exchange a look; apparently they’d both forgotten to mention this tiny detail to Grom and Nalia. How could they have overlooked this?
Possibly because we were busy convincing each one the other was alive.
“That’s how I found Emma,” Galen explains. “Dr. Milligan saw her and recognized what she was and called me. That’s why Rayna and I were so confident that Paca was a fraud. We’d already seen the true Gift.”

“All those years ago in Grandma’s pond,” Nalia whispers at Emma. “Those catfish. You must have been calling for help. They must have understood.”

When Emma was just four years old, she almost drowned in the pond behind her grandmother’s house—except that the fish in the pond noticed her distress and apparently pushed her to the surface. Emma tried to explain this to her parents, but her mother never believed her. Until today. Of course Nalia knows what the Gift of Poseidon is. And by the look on her face, she needs no further proof that Emma has it.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you,” Nalia says. “It never occurred to me that—”

Emma shrugs. “It’s over now. We have bigger things to worry about.”

“Why didn’t you tell me in the diner, when we were spilling our guts about everything?”

“I didn’t think you’d believe me. You were so convinced that Galen was lying and just trying to trick us, that I thought mentioning the Gift wouldn’t matter to you. That you’d think it was part of the ruse.”

Nalia nods. “I’ll believe you from now on. No matter what. I promise. I’m so sorry, sweetie.”

This time a juicy tear does manage to spill down Emma’s cheek, but she quickly wipes it away. Galen fights the urge to pull her to him. “Let’s just get on with this.”

He knows she doesn’t feel as nonchalant as she’s letting on. She’s been harboring some resentment about the whole thing since she was a small child—for her to let it go this easily seems unlikely. When she gives him a tight-lipped smile, he’s certain they’ll discuss her true feelings later. He winks at her.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Grom says. “How is it possible that Emma has the Gift of Poseidon? Her father was human. The Gift can only be produced when—”

“The law is wrong,” Nalia says. It seems as if even the walls of the room stiffen with her accusation. “The Gift is genetic.”

Galen is suddenly glad that Nalia has been a nurse to humans all these years. She would know how to explain all of Dr. Milligan’s logic in a way that Grom would understand. It’s not that the principle of genetics is foreign to the Syrena, it’s just that humans have taken their study of the subject a bit further—and he’s not sure his brother will grasp it.

“Genetic?” Grom says.

“It means that traits from parents are passed down to their fingerlings,” Nalia says. “Traits like the shape of their noses, the way they swim, things like that. We already know fingerlings inherit these traits from their parents. But obviously the Gifts of the Generals are also passed down through genetics. Emma is proof of that.”

BOOK: Of Poseidon 02: Of Triton
12.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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