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Authors: Anna Banks

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BOOK: Of Poseidon
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Galen looks like he wants to say something, but I turn away.

+1—

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He’s been a good sport, but I’m not interested in discussing swimmer safety— or being introduced to any more of his hos-tile relatives. Nothing he can say will change the fact that DNA from my cheek is smeared on his chest.

Trying not to actually march, I thrust past them and make my way down the stairs leading to the pristine white sand. I hear Chloe closing the distance behind me, giggling. And I decide on sunfl owers for her funeral.

—-1

—0

—+1

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2

THE SIBLINGS lean on their elbows against the rail, watching the girls they just met peel the T-shirts off their bikinis and wade into the water with the surfboard fl oating between them.

“She’s probably just wearing contacts,” Rayna says. “They make contacts in that color, you know.”

He shakes his head. “She’s not wearing contacts. You saw her just as plain as you’re seeing me. She’s one of us.”

“You’re losing it. She can’t be one of us. Look at her hair.

You can’t even call that blonde. It’s almost
white
.” Galen frowns. The hair color had thrown him off too—

before he touched her. The simple contact of grasping her arm when she fell dispensed any doubts. The Syrena are always attracted to their own kind— which helps them fi nd each other

-1—

across miles and miles of ocean. Usually that attraction is limited 0—

to water transmission, where they can sense the presence of one

+1—

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of their own. He’s never heard of it occurring on land before—

and never felt it so strongly, period— but he knows what he felt.

He wouldn’t—
couldn’t
react that way to a human. Especially given how much he despises them.

“I know it’s unusual—”

“Unusual? It’s impossible, Galen! Our genes don’t come with the ‘blonde’ option.”

“Stop being dramatic. She
is
one of us. You can see how bad she is at being human. I thought she was going to brain herself on the rail.”

“Okay, let’s say by some off chance she fi gured out how to bleach thousands of years of ge ne tics out of her hair. Now explain why she’s hanging out— no,
vacationing
— with humans. She’s breaking the law right in front of our faces, splashing around in the water with her obnoxious human friend. Why is that, Galen?” He shrugs. “Maybe she doesn’t know who we are.”

“What do you mean? Everyone knows who we are!”

“Obviously not. We’ve never met her before, remember?” She snorts. “Are you dehydrated? She can see our mark. It’s not like we were hiding it.”

“Maybe she thinks it’s a tattoo,” he off ers.

“A what?”

“Look around, Rayna. See the markings on that human girl’s ankle?” He points toward a man walking up the stairs. “See that male? He’s got markings— humans call them tattoos— all over him. Maybe she thought—”

Rayna holds up her hand. “Stop. She’d recognize the trident.

—-1

If
she was one of us.”

—0

—+1

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Galen nods. She’s right. A Syrena knows a royal by the small blue trident on their stomach— and dressed for the human beach, it’s visible on both of them right now. So, she has blonde—

white—hair, and didn’t recognize them as Royals. But he knows what he felt. And she does have the eyes. . . .

Rayna groans. “Oh, no.”

“What?”

“You’re making that face.”

“What face?”

“The face you make when you think you’re right.”

“Am I?” He watches Emma straddling the surfboard, splashing waves of saltwater in her friend’s face without mercy. He grins.

“We’re not going home, are we?” Rayna says, propping herself against the rail.

“Dr. Milligan doesn’t call for just anything. If he thinks it’s of interest, then it probably is. You can leave if you want, but I’m looking into it.” Dr. Milligan is one of the only humans Galen trusts. If the doctor were going to tell anyone about the Syrena’s existence, he would have done it the day Galen had saved his life all those years ago. Instead, Dr. Milligan returned the favor by denying he’d ever seen Galen— even when his scuba companions called the press. Since then, they had built a friendship by sharing sushi, afternoon swims, and most importantly, information. Dr. Milligan is a well- connected and highly respected oceanographer and the director of the Gulfarium here

-1—

on the coast, in a prime position to monitor the activities of his 0—

professional colleagues.

+1—

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When Galen received Dr. Milligan’s urgent voice mail yesterday about a blonde Syrena visiting the Gulfarium in human form, he swam the gulf in a day. If Dr. Milligan is right about Emma’s abilities, he’s found more than just a rule- breaking Syrena. The good doctor might have found the key to uniting two kingdoms.

But since Rayna’s specialty is not discretion— she would even tell on
herself
when she was younger— Galen knows he must keep this secret from her. Besides, he’s not sure he believes it himself. Even if he
did
believe it, if he
could
confi rm it, would Emma do what she must? And where has she been? And why?

Everything about Emma is a mystery. Her name doesn’t origi-nate with the Syrena— or her hair or skin. And the way her lips turned red when she blushed almost knocked the breath out of him.

“What?” his sister asks.

“Nothing.” He wrenches his gaze from Emma.
Now she’s got
me muttering my thoughts out loud.

“I told you, you’re losing it.” Rayna makes a phlegmy gagging sound and wrings her hands around her neck. “This is what Father will do to me if I come home without you again. What should I say when he asks where you are? When he asks why you’re so obsessed with humans? ‘But Father, this one is a pretty blonde with nice contacts’?”

Galen scowls. “He’s going to regret not taking an interest in them. At least Grom’s reasonable about it. It’s only a matter of time before they discover us and—”

—-1

“I know, I know,” she drawls. “I know how you hate humans.

—0

—+1

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Sheesh, I was just kidding. That’s why I follow you around, you know. In case you need help.”

Galen runs a hand through his hair and leans back over the railing. His twin sister does follow him around like a sucker fi sh, but being helpful has nothing to do with it. “Oh, are you sure it doesn’t have anything to do with settling down with—”

“Don’t even say it.”

“Well, what am I supposed to think? Ever since Toraf asked Father for you—”

“Toraf is foolish!”

Toraf has been their best friend since birth— that is, until he recently made his intentions toward Rayna clear. At least he had the good sense to hide out and wait for her death threats to subside. But now she gives him something worse than threats—

complete indiff erence. No amount of pleading or coaxing from Toraf has thawed her. But since she turned twenty this spring—

two years past the normal age of mating— Father couldn’t fi nd a good reason not to agree to the match. Toraf is a good candidate, and the decision is made, whether Rayna chooses to ignore it or not.

“I’m starting to think you’re right. Who would want to attach himself to a wild animal?” Galen says, grinning.

“I’m not a wild animal! You’re the one who isolates yourself from everyone, choosing the company of humans over your own kind.”

“It’s my responsibility.”

-1—

“Because you asked for it!”

0—

This is true. Galen, stealing an old human saying about

+1—

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keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, asked his older brother Grom for permission to serve as an ambassador of sorts to the humans. Grom, being the next in line for kingship, agreed with the need to be cautious about the land dwellers.

He granted Galen exclusive immunity to the law prohibiting interaction with humans, recognizing that some communication would be necessary and for the greater good. “Because no one else would. Someone has to watch them. Are we really having this conversation again?” Galen says.

“You started it.”

“I don’t have time for this. Are you staying or going?” She crosses her arms, juts out her bottom lip. “Well, what are you planning to do? I say we arrest her.”

“We?”

“You know what I mean.”

He shrugs. “I guess we’ll follow her for a while. Watch her.” Rayna starts to say something but gasps instead. “Maybe we won’t have to,” she whispers, eyes big as sand dollars.

He follows her line of sight to the water, to a dark shadow pacing beneath the waves where the girls share the surfboard. He curses under his breath.

Shark.

—-1

—0

—+1

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3

I SPLASH enough water in Chloe’s face to put out a small house fi re. I don’t want to drown her, just exfoliate her eyeballs with sea salt. When she thinks I’m done, she opens her eyes—

and her mouth. Big mistake. The next wave rinses off the hangy ball in the back of her throat and makes it to her lungs before she can swallow. She chokes and coughs and rubs her eyes as if she’s been maced.

“Great, Emma! You got my new hair wet!” she sputters.

“Happy now?”

“Nope.”

“I said I was sorry.” She blows her nose in her hand, then sets the snot to sea.

“Gross. And sorry’s not good enough.”

-1—

“Fine. I’ll make it up to you. What do you want?” 0—

“Let me hold your head underwater until I feel better,” I say.

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I cross my arms, which is tricky when straddling a surf board being pitched around in the wake of a passing speedboat. Chloe knows I’m ner vous being this far out, but holding on would be a sign of weakness.

“I’ll let you do that because I love you. But it won’t make you feel better.”

“I won’t know for sure until I try it.” I keep eye contact, sit a little straighter.

“Fine. But you’ll still look albino when you let me back up.” She rocks the board and makes me grab it for balance.

“Get your snotty hands off the surfboard. And I’m not albino. Just white.” I want to cross my arms again, but we almost tipped over that time. Swallowing my pride is a lot easier than swallowing the Gulf of Mexico.

“Whiter than most,” she grins. “People would think you’re naked if you wore my swimsuit.” I glance down at the white string bikini, off set beautifully against her chocolate- milk skin.

She catches me and laughs.

“Well, maybe I could get a tan while we’re here,” I say, blushing. I feel myself cracking and I hate it. Just this once, I want to stay mad at Chloe.

“Maybe you could get a burn while we’re here, you mean.

Matterfact, did you put sunblock on?”

I shake my head.

She shakes her head too, and makes a tsking sound identical to her mother’s. “Didn’t think so. If you did, you would’ve slipped right off that guy’s chest instead of sticking to it like

—-1

that.”

—0

—+1

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“I know,” I groan.

“Got to be the hottest guy I’ve ever seen,” she says, fanning herself for emphasis.

“Yeah, I know. Smacked into him, remember? Without my helmet, remember?”

She laughs. “Hate to break it to you, but he’s still staring at you. Him and his mean- ass sister.”

BOOK: Of Poseidon
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