Authors: L.J. Hayward
Tags: #Urban Fantasy/Paranormal
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
The great white shark attacked, massive jaws wide. The tuna jerked out of its reach and the jagged teeth snapped shut on water only. Momentum carried the large shark into the floating cage, rocking it violently. Its rough skin grated against steel as the fish rolled away, tail thrashing clear of the water as it strived to dive back into the depths. As the caudal fin slapped down, a great fountain of water splashed over the rack hanging from the back of the ship.
A raucous cheer went up from the people gathered on the rack. They laughed and pointed to the still rocking cage, and called up to their fellows on the deck above, teasing them for being so far away from such a spectacular sight. One of the divers in the cage rose to the top and stuck a hand up through the gap. The signal he gave was a delighted thumbs up, eliciting another round of cheers.
Tom Ellis, on the deck, waved back and hoisted in the rope he dangled over the side of the ship. The tuna head secured to the end came out of the water, tattered from the attempts of the sharks to snatch it. The guests encouraged him to hurl it back out, eager for another close encounter.
Amaya leaned on the railing beside Tom, a tray of toasted snacks balanced on one hand. “You’d think they’d get tired of it after a while,” she mused, watching the excited people on the rack. “Especially after having their feet dunked in fifteen degree water over and over.”
To illustrate her point, the ship rocked up and down. The rack, positioned so its base sat on the water surface, dipped knee deep into the chilly southern Indian Ocean. Like a horde of drunken revellers at a bucks party, the rack population cheered even this.
Tom laughed. “If they ever got tired of it, we’d be out of jobs, Amaya. Did you ever think of it that way?”
“Well, there is that,” she conceded.
Tossing the tuna head back out into the water, Tom scanned the ocean for the tell-tale shadow of an approaching shark. The people not lucky enough to be on the rack or in the dive cages gathered at the railing around Amaya and Tom, staring intently. Tom’s job wasn’t to feed the sharks, but to lure them in to thrill the people on the ship. If a shark approached, he had to ensure it didn’t actually get the tuna.
“And you have to admit, even after all the time you’ve been on the ship, you’re still fascinated by the sharks.” Tom glanced at her, expression slyly knowing.
She picked up a toastie and shoved it in his mouth. “I’m here to cook, nothing more. Watch the water. You lose another bait and Nick’ll have your head on a rope, bobbing in the water.”
He crunched on the
toastie and contemptuously jerked the rope. The tuna head shot backwards through the water. The shark prowling by twisted lightning fast and lunged after it. Snout and teeth surging out of the water drew happy gasps from most people and cameras clicked madly.
“Show off,” Amaya said and moved away.
She spent a while taking the tray of snacks around the guests on the ship. To a person they were hyped up. Today was a record day. Eighteen individual great whites and it was barely lunch time. And the beasts were particularly playful. Both of the surface cages had been put out and every diver was desperate to get in and experience the great predators in their element.
Finishing with the guests, Amaya made the rounds of the crew. Some were fishing off the bow, though it didn’t seem to be going so well. Amaya asked them to try for ocean whiting and promised to make lemon and herb crumbs if they succeeded. She left them with a zeal in
their eyes for whiting. More were mid-decks operating the crane on the bottom cage, including Nick.
Dr Nick Carson, one of the leading authorities on great white sharks in the world. When he wasn’t on the international lecture circuit, he was most often found at the Neptune Islands, cataloguing tagged sharks, tagging new ones and doing his best to dispel the ‘vicious killer’ myths around the beasts. It helped immensely that he was young, handsome and charming. But none of those traits were why Amaya was with him.
For her it was something different, something deeper.
And, yeah, it was just an added bonus that he had a cute arse.
Amaya slid in beside him, her hand trailing over that arse lingeringly.
“Hey, babe.” He leaned over the side of the ship, peering into the water. Dark hair flopped over his forehead and into his blue eyes. Amaya’s fingers itched with the need to brush it out of his way. He would just shake his head and back it would go.
“Hungry?” she asked.
She handed him a toastie anyway and he ate it, then reached for another one.
“Problem?” she asked, looking over the side of the ship.
The water was a deep blue in the shade of the ship. Amaya could just make out the shape of the bottom cage and the quick flitting fish around it.
“Then what’s so interesting down there?”
“Dunno. Just have a feeling, I guess. Like something bad is coming.” With visible effort he lifted his gaze to her face and smiled sheepishly. “Probably just hunger.”
Giving in, Amaya fixed his hair. “Probably. Hot dogs for lunch today. How many do you want?”
“Are they proper hot dogs? Or just
saveloys rolled up in bread?”
“I’ll never live that down, will I?”
“Nope. Anyone would think you’d never seen a real hot dog before. And you being a chef and all.”
Amaya offered him the last
toastie. He took it and she batted him over the head with the empty tray. He caught her around the waist and kissed her hard.
Dropping the tray, Amaya wrapped her arms around him and surrendered to the kiss. Heat threaded through her body from the lips down, coiling deep in her abdomen. He pushed her against the side of the ship, bent her back over the railing.
“For Christ’s sake, get a cabin,” Saul muttered.
Laughing, Nick released Amaya. She wobbled a bit, and it wasn’t from the rocking of the ship.
Saul Baker, the ship’s engineer, scowled at them good naturedly.
“I’d better go get lunch started.” Amaya picked up her tray and scurried away before Nick could catch her again.
“Two,” Nick called out after her.
She scrambled up the steps to the upper deck and into the door leading down to the galley. In her cramped kitchen, she hurriedly prepared lunch for the guests and crew. Graeme helped her dispense the hot dogs while they were warm, a caddy of sauces hung around his neck.
When everyone was happily munching down, Amaya escaped to the mizzen deck with a cup of tea and a book. Leaning against the mizzen mast, Amaya surveyed the ship. She was the Renata Rose, a 1920s schooner out of Holland, her original masts still standing proud even though she’d had an engine installed in the forties. Refitted many times, she was as hardy as any modern built ship, but with an old world charm that drew many a person wishing to experience something unique. For some, the draw was in the sharks the Rose chased across the southern ocean. For others it was the sharks and the ship, passing over the other tour operations utilising pristine, sleek motor cruisers.
For Amaya, it was Nick. His passion was great white sharks and he’d turned that passion into a business by opening up his research to the public. Of course, he charged them an arm and leg—hopefully not literally (so he said in his ship safety speech)—for the pleasure of helping him catalogue the shark population around the Neptune Islands off the coast of South Australia. And Nick was Amaya’s passion. She’d follow him anywhere.
Under the warming sun of a southern, late spring day and to the ragged chorus of overjoyed shark enthusiasts, Amaya drifted into a shallow trance. It was a relaxed state where her body was able to recharge and the constraints on her thoughts eased.
Her awareness spilled outward, a dam overrunning its banks. The minds on the ship chatted at her with wild insistence. Excited, overwhelmed thoughts crowded in around her. She pushed past them. If she wanted to hear what the guests had to say, she would have sat on the deck with them and listened with mundane ears. Instead she quested a bit further and dipped down into the water.
Instincts were clearer to read than thoughts. They were simple and direct. The sharks were nothing but instinct. They swam and they looked for food, they swam and they looked for a mate. When they found either, they did what was necessary, then swam on. To do so, they had eight sensory methods. Not five, or if you wanted to stretch it, six. Eight. With that much information coming in, Amaya could understand why there was no time for pesky things like conscious thought.
Life was so much easier when instinct ruled.
She drifted with the circling sharks, filtering all the complex information of their senses into her own, trying to numb her mind to the screaming demands of human existence. She wanted to float, to be swayed by the currents, to answer to the call of hunger and lust only if she wanted to, not because someone else deemed it normal.
Then, on the edges of her perceptions, came something big. It was primal, pure instinct, but its weight warped everything around it. Amaya had a moment only to touch it, to recognise it, before a bright, sharp lance of pain pulled her back onto the ship and into her body.
Stunned, she looked at her hand, where she’d felt the pain. Nothing there.
She was on her feet and clattering down the stairs from the mizzen deck without thought. Rushing back toward mid-deck brought her right to Nick and Saul, coming in the other direction. Saul had a hand under Nick’s arm, supporting him. Nick was bare-chested, holding the thick wad of his rolled up shirt to his right hand. His face was pale.
“What happened?” Amaya took Nick from Saul.
“It’s just a cut,” Nick muttered.
“It’s nearly a severed hand.” Saul opened the door to the stern companionway.
Grimacing, Nick said, “I guess this is the bad thing I sensed.”
“Let’s hope so,” Amaya said.
In Amaya and Nick’s cabin, Amaya unwound the blood soaked shirt while Nick tried not to show any pain. There was a deep slash right across the middle of his palm. The flap of skin between thumb and first finger was cut right through. When Amaya mopped away the blood, there were glints of white bone for a second before red welled once more.
“How did it happen?” Amaya asked Saul.
“We were pulling up the bottom cage when a line snapped. Took him right across the hand.”
The lines were all steel wire an inch thick. It was a wonder Nick hadn’t lost fingers, let alone his whole hand.
“Did the cage get up okay?”
“Yeah. Everything’s fine, except for Captain Courageous there.”
“Put a Band-Aid on and I’ll be fine.” Nick’s voice was stretched around the pain and sounded brittle.
“It’ll need stitches,” Amaya said. “I’ll get Tom.” Tom doubled as their medic.
“Stay and keep up the show for the guests,” Nick said, trying for stern and getting barely to firm.
“I hardly think anyone’s going to care if they can’t –”
“Amaya. It’s a record day. Keep them entertained and keep watching the tags. I can’t let this opportunity to mark as many sharks as possible slip by. Please?”
It was the please that did it. He didn’t have to ask, but that he did meant something to her.
Leaving Nick with Saul, Amaya went and told Tom what had happened. He immediately handed over the bait rope and went to tend Nick. Amaya wasn’t fond of teasing the sharks, but if Nick wanted it, then she would give it.
Amaya climbed down the ladder to the rack.
“Where’s Tom going?” Angelique, one of the American guests, asked. She was blond and bubbly, used the word ‘awesome’ far too much and had a big crush on Tom.
“To help Nick,” Amaya said, moving to a corner of the rack. Though space on the rack was a highly coveted thing, they gave her room happily enough. Whosoever holds the tuna-rope is as God. “There was a small accident. Just a cut hand,” she added hastily when the guests got that OMG!-man-overboard! look.
To a chorus of understanding ‘aahs’, Amaya stepped up onto the lower rung of the railing around the rack. Bracing her knees against the upper rung, she hauled in the tuna head. Like Pavlov’s dogs, the guests focused on the water at the signal of the tuna-rope.
The men in the crew preferred to stand on the deck and be up high to look for the sharks. Amaya liked to be on the rack. Closer to the water meant she didn’t have to look for the sharks, she could just feel them.
Easing into a near trance, Amaya let her senses fly into the water once more. Tuna-rope ready, she felt a shark approach and tossed the bait. The shark crashed out of the water and down on the bait, but she pulled it away in time. The guests oohed with appreciation and Amaya repeated it.
She’d been at it for about fifteen minutes, chatting with two tourists from South Africa, when she felt it.
It was that thick, primitive force she’d touched on the mizzen deck. It wasn’t a shark, it wasn’t a predator of the ocean at all. It was a dark, questing power created by grief and rage—two powerful emotions that weren’t about to be denied.
There was a moment for her to think, ‘Oh no, not again’, and then it drove deep into her guts, digging in like a barbed hook. Gasping in pain, Amaya lost her balance and tipped forward. The ocean full of sharks rushed up to catch her.