Authors: Anna Banks
He pulls back, clenching his teeth. His pockets are the only safe place for his hands at the moment. “Why don’t I meet her then? You think that would make her feel better?”
“Um.” She swipes her hair to the other side of her face. Her expression falls somewhere between shock and expectation.
And she had every right to expect it— he’s been entertaining the idea of kissing her for over two weeks now. She fi dgets the door handle. “Yeah, it might. She won’t let me go anywhere—
especially with you— if she doesn’t meet you fi rst.”
“Should I be afraid?”
She sighs. “Normally I would say no. But after this morning . . .” She shrugs.
“How about I follow you to your house so you can drop off your car? Then she can interrogate me. When she sees how charming I am, she’ll let you ride to the beach with me.” She rolls her eyes. “Just don’t be
charming. If you’re too smooth, she’ll never believe— just don’t overdo it, okay?”
“This is getting complicated,” he says, unlocking her car.
“Just remember, this is your idea and your fault. Now would be the time to back out.”
He chuckles and opens the door for her. “Don’t lose me on the road.”
~ ~ ~
8/23/11 3:44 PM
Emma tosses her backpack on the counter and pokes her head up the stairwell. “Mom, could you come down a sec? We’ve got company.”
“Sure, sweetie. Be right down. They just called me in, so I’m in a hurry though,” is the answer from above.
He shoves his hands in his pockets.
Why am I ner vous? It’s just
one more human to fool.
But everything hinges on this human liking him, accepting him. Winning over Emma’s mother is just as important as winning over Emma. Her mother could make his task more diffi
cult, cost him more time if she disapproves.
Self- doubt settles in. If he hadn’t practiced with Rachel for those two weeks before school, he wouldn’t even be trying this.
But Rachel was thorough. She ran through what to expect in school and how to act, what certain phrases meant, what he should wear and when he should wear it. They brushed up on his driving skills. She even anticipated him meeting Emma’s parents—
just not under interrogation circumstances. Now he wishes he’d called her on the way here.
As he again contemplates kidnapping Emma, he glances around the room. From his vantage point in the kitchen, he can see the entire fi rst fl oor. The only consistency in the decor is the theme of mismatching— mismatch appliances, furniture, paint.
All the rooms open into each other without doors, as if in welcome. Beyond the living room, sand dunes tufted with grass peer into the huge window like they’re eavesdropping.
All of this is already enough to make him covet this house—
it makes the one Rachel bought seem cold, distant, imper-0—
sonal. But what makes him downright jealous are the pictures
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smothering every wall of every room. Pictures of Emma. Her entire life hangs on these walls— and if he doesn’t fi nd a way to convince her mother of his good intentions, he might not ever get the chance to look at them.
ed footsteps plod down the stairs. Emma’s mother emerges, clipping something to her shirt. When she sees Galen, she stops. “Oh.”
Galen knows the shock on her face is mirrored in his own expression.
Is she Syrena?
All her features— dark hair and skin and lean muscular build— scream yes. Except those blue eyes.
Blue eyes that rake over him with a familiarity, as if she knows who he is, knows why he’s here. Then, with the next blink, those blue eyes change from guardian to hostess.
Emma transitions with grace. “Mom, this is my company.
This is Galen Forza.”
He smiles and holds out his hand to greet her, just as Rachel instructed him. “Hi, Mrs. McIntosh. It’s nice to meet you.” She meets him halfway and accepts his hand. Her grip is confi dent but not overbearing, and without the slightest tingle.
Not that he really expected electricity, but she
Up close, he notices thin slithers of gray weaving through her hair.
Signs of aging; a human trait
. Her tone is the epitome of polite-ness, but her eyes— blue
contacts, as far as he can tell—
are wide and her mouth never quite shuts. “Oh. Galen.” She turns to Emma. “This is
He can tell she’s asking Emma a question within that question— one that has nothing to do with being Syrena. He
shoves his hands in his pockets, abandoning his scrutiny of her
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in favor of memorizing each thread in the carpet. He can’t meet her eyes, knowing what she, at this moment, is envisioning him and Emma doing.
Idiot! She’s not worried why Galen the
be at her house. She’s worried why Galen the
Emma clears her throat. “Yep. This is him.”
“I see. Will you excuse us for a moment, Galen? Emma, can I talk with you privately please? Upstairs?” She doesn’t wait for a reply from either of them. Before Emma follows her up, she throws him an I-told- you- so smirk.
He acknowledges with a nod.
Since he doesn’t feel welcome to wander around the house and take in all the pictures, he trudges to the window, staring into the dune grass without seeing it. No noises— yelling, or otherwise—escape from upstairs, but he’s not sure if that’s good or bad. Humans resolve problems diff erently than Syrena, and even diff erently from each other. Sure, the Royals tend to have bad tempers. But most Syrena enlist the help of a third party, a mediator to keep things fair. Humans almost never do. They resort to yelling, fi ghting, sometimes even murder— how he found Rachel is proof enough of that. Tied to a cement block and thrown into the gulf. He was only thirteen years old at the time, he still remembers how fast she sank, wriggling like live bait and screaming through the tape over her mouth. And the knots. He tore his fi ngers bloody and raw getting those knots loose.
When he took her to shore, she begged him not to leave her. He didn’t want to stay, but she shook so hard he thought she
might be dying anyway. Grom had just taught him how to build a 0—
fi re— something most Syrena don’t learn until it’s time for them
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to mate on the islands— so he caught a few fi sh and cooked them for her. With guarded curiosity, he lingered while she ate. Any other adult human would have been rattled at seeing his fi n. Not Rachel. In fact, she ignored it so well he thought she might not have noticed— until she told him she’d spent the last thirty years keeping secrets for people, and why should he be any diff erent? So he stayed with her all night while she drifted in and out of sleep. In the morning, he announced it was time to part ways. She wouldn’t accept that, said she wanted to pay him back. Reluctantly, he agreed.
In exchange for saving her life, he asked her to tell him about humans. He met her on the beach every night, in a place she called Miami, and she answered all the questions he could think of and questions he wouldn’t know to ask. After he felt she’d repaid the debt, he insisted again on parting ways. That’s when she off ered to be his assistant. She said if he really wanted to learn about humans, to protect his kind from them, he would need her par tic u lar set of skills. When he asked her what skills she meant, she’d said simply, “I can do just about anything.
That’s why they tried to kill me, sweet pea. To humans, there’s such a thing as knowing too much.” And many times over, she’s proved just what she can do. Their running joke is how he’s the richest nonhuman on the planet.
Footsteps from the stairwell startle him from the past. He turns around as Emma’s mother takes the last step into the dining area, Emma right behind her.
Mrs. McIntosh glides over and puts her arm around him.
The smile on her face is genuine, but Emma’s smile is more like
a straight line. And she’s blushing.
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“Galen, it’s very nice to meet you,” she says, ushering him into the kitchen. “Emma tells me you’re taking her to the beach behind your house today. To swim?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Her transformation makes him wary.
She smiles. “Well, good luck with getting her in the water.
Since I’m a little pressed for time, I can’t follow you over there, so I just need to see your driver’s license while Emma runs outside to get your plate number.”
Emma rolls her eyes as she shuffl
es through a drawer and
pulls out a pen and paper. She slams the door behind her when she leaves, which shakes the dishes on the wall.
Galen nods, pulls out his wallet, and hands over the fake license. Mrs. McIntosh studies it and rummages through her purse until she produces a pen— which she uses to write on her hand.
“Just need your license number in case we ever have any problems.
But we’re not going to have any problems are we, Galen? Because you’ll always have my daughter— my
daughter— home on time, isn’t that right?”
He nods, then swallows. She holds out his license. When he accepts it, she grabs his wrist, pulling him close. She glances at the garage door and back to him. “Tell me right now, Galen Forza. Are you or are you not dating my daughter?” Great. She still doesn’t believe Emma. If she won’t believe them anyway, why keep trying to convince her? If she thinks they’re dating, the time he intends to spend with Emma will seem normal. But if they spend time together and tell her they’re
dating, she’ll be nothing but suspicious. Possibly even spy on 0—
them— which is less than ideal.
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So, dating Emma is the only way to make sure she mates with Grom. Things just get better and better. “Yes,” he says. “We’re defi nitely dating.”
She narrows her eyes. “Why would she tell me you’re not?” He shrugs. “Maybe she’s ashamed of me.”
To his surprise, she chuckles. “I seriously doubt that, Galen Forza.” Her humor is short lived. She grabs a fi stful of his T-shirt. “Are you sleeping with her?”
Sleeping . . .
Didn’t Rachel say sleeping and mating are the same thing?
Dating and mating are similar. But sleeping and mating are the exact same. He shakes his head. “No, ma’am.” She raises a no- nonsense brow. “Why not? What’s wrong with my daughter?”
That is unexpected. He suspects this woman can sense a lie like Toraf can track Rayna. All she’s looking for is honesty, but the real truth would just get him arrested.
I’m crazy about your
daughter— I’m just saving her for my brother
. So he seasons his answer with the frankness she seems to crave. “There’s nothing wrong with your daughter, Mrs. McIntosh. I said we’re not sleeping together. I didn’t say I didn’t want to.”
She inhales sharply and releases him. Clearing her throat, she smoothes out his wrinkled shirt with her hand, then pats his chest. “Good answer, Galen. Good answer.” Emma fl ings open the garage door and stops short. “Mom, what are you doing?”
Mrs. McIntosh steps away and stalks to the counter. “Galen and I were just chitchatting. What took you so long?”
Galen guesses her ability to sense a lie probably has
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something to do with her ability to tell one. Emma shoots him a quizzical look, but he returns a casual shrug. Her mother grabs a set of keys from a hook by the refrigerator and nudges her daughter out of the way, but not before snatching the paper out of her hand. She turns in the doorway. “Oh, and Galen?”
“Have your mother call me so I can get her number pro-grammed into my phone.”
“You kids have a good time. I won’t be home until late, Emma. But you’ll be home by nine, sweetie. Won’t she, Galen?”
Neither Emma or Galen say anything until they hear the car pull out of the driveway. Even then, they wait a few more seconds.
Emma leans against the fridge. Galen is growing fond of hiding his hands in his pockets.
“So, what did you two chitchat about?” she asks as if uninterested.
“You fi rst.”
She shakes her head. “Uh- uh. I don’t want to talk about it.” He nods. “Good. Me either.”
For a few seconds, they look at everything in the room but each other. Finally, Galen says, “So, did you want to go change—”
“That idea is fan- fl ipping- tastic. Be right down.” She almost breaks into a run to get to the stairs.
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