Authors: Anna Banks
“I know,” Galen says, nodding. “At fi rst, I thought she was faking it. But when I picked her up, she didn’t blush. She was defi -
“Even if she wasn’t faking it, how can she be of Poseidon, Galen? King Antonis’s only heir died in the explosion.” Galen shakes his head. “It doesn’t make sense, does it?” No matter how many times he runs through the facts, he can’t reconcile them with Emma. A long time ago, before Galen and Rayna were born, his brother Grom was engaged to King Antonis’s daughter Nalia. As Galen heard tell of it, they were very much in love, a perfect match between the houses of Triton and Poseidon.
The law requires the fi rstborn heirs of each house to be mated, every third generation. To most, it is an obligation to fulfi ll, a motion to be carried out. It hardly ever happens that the fi rstborns actually
to be mated. But these two were dif-ferent. Everyone insists these two had bonded the fi rst time they saw each other. But right before their mating ceremony, they got into an argument— about what, either nobody remembers or nobody is saying— but several saw Nalia fl eeing from Grom.
Apparently, he gave chase— right into a mine set by the humans,
who seemed to be at war all over the world at the time. Grom
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was badly injured. The best trackers from both kingdoms scoured everywhere. After days, they announced Nalia must have been blown to bits. Already widowed, the devastated poseidon king accused Grom of killing his only daughter intentionally. Then Antonis vowed never to take another mate, to never sire an heir again— therefore eliminating any chance of their off spring inheriting the Gifts of the generals, Poseidon and Triton.
When he decreed the house of Triton an enemy, the two kingdoms split for good. Grom has never spoken of it, has never shown his feelings about any of it. Except that, he never chose another mate.
But now he doesn’t have a choice. If Grom offi cially took the
reigns of rulership from his father, the law requires him to select a mate. And if Emma is of Poseidon, then she is in line to fulfi ll that law.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Galen says again. “But I know what I saw. She talks to fi sh. And they listen. She’s defi nitely of Poseidon.”
Toraf exhales in a gust. “So, where has she been all this time?
Why does she choose the company of humans over us?”
“That’s what I’m trying to fi nd out, idiot.”
“Listen, minnow, not to be overly critical, but you don’t really seem to know what you’re doing. Threatening to arrest her? Chasing her down the hall? That’s a little out of character for you, don’t you think?”
“I was frustrated. Do you realize how . . . how . . .
male humans are? Within ten minutes of walking through those 0—
doors, a swarm of them followed me.
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females in the offi
ce gave me mating signals! Rachel calls it hormones. She thinks hormones made Emma act so funny and run away like that, too.”
“But if Emma has hormones, that means she’s human.”
“Are you listening to me? She can’t be human. She has our eyes. And there’s no way I could sense a human like that.” Toraf grins. “Like what? What does it feel like?”
“Stop smiling like you know something. It’s not like that.”
“Well, what’s it like then? I’m a tracker remember? Maybe I can help you out on this one.”
Galen nods. If anyone could help him fi gure out his sensing, it would be a tracker. “It feels like . . . like . . . wrestling with an electric ray. And then when we touch, it’s like swimming over a volcano vent. Hot, all over. But it’s more than that. You know how you feel when one of our own is near? You feel their pulse, and you just know they’re there?”
“Well, it’s not like that with Emma, not exactly. I’m not just aware of her. I’m . . . I’m . . .”
“Drawn to her?”
Galen looks at his friend. “Yes. Exactly. How did you know that?”
“You remember the tracker who trained me?” Galen nods. “Yudor. Why?”
“Well, he told me once that . . . you know what? Never-mind. It’s stupid.”
“I swear, Toraf, I’m going to knock every one of your teeth
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“He said it means she’s your mate,” he blurts. “And not just any mate, your
mate. You feel the pull toward her, Galen.”
Galen rolls his eyes. “I’ve heard that before. Romul says that’s a myth. Nobody has a special mate.” And as the oldest living Triton, Romul would know. Galen started visiting him years ago when he became ambassador to the humans. Romul taught him all the laws of the Syrena, the history of their kind, and the history of their relationship with humans. He also taught him about the ways of males and females— long before his parents ever intended him to know. Normally, when a Syrena male at-tains the age of eigh teen, he becomes attracted to several match-worthy females at once. After spending time with each one, he is able to discern the most suitable for producing heirs and providing companionship. In cases of “the pull” though, he would only be attracted to one— and that one would be his perfect match in every way. It is thought that the pull also produces the strongest off spring possible, that it’s something in the Syrena blood that ensures the survival of their kind. A few among the Syrena still believe in it. And Galen isn’t one of them.
“Some think Grom felt the pull toward Nalia,” Toraf says softly. “Maybe it’s a family trait.”
“Well, there’s where you’re wrong, Toraf. I’m not supposed to feel the pull toward Emma. She belongs to Grom. He’s fi rstborn, third generation Triton. And she’s clearly of Poseidon.” Galen runs his hand through his hair.
“I think that if Grom were her mate, he would have found 0—
Emma somehow instead of you.”
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“That’s what you get for thinking. I didn’t fi nd Emma, Dr. Milligan did.”
“Okay, answer me this,” Toraf says, shaking a fi nger at Galen.
“You’re twenty years old. Why haven’t you sifted for a mate?” Galen blinks. He’s never thought of it, actually. Not even when Toraf asked for Rayna. Shouldn’t that have reminded him of his own single status? He shakes his head. He’s letting Toraf ’s gossip get to him. He shrugs. “I’ve just been busy. It’s not like I don’t want to, if that’s what you’re saying.”
“Name someone, Galen. The fi rst female that comes to mind.” He tries to block out her name, her face. But he doesn’t stop it in time.
It’s just that we’ve been talking about her
so much, she’s naturally the freshest on my mind,
he tells himself. “There isn’t anyone yet. But I’m sure there would be if I spent more time at home.”
“Right. And why is it that you’re always away? Maybe you’re searching for something and don’t even know it.”
“I’m away because I’m watching the humans, as is my responsibility, you might remember. You also might remember they’re the real reason our kingdoms are divided. If they never set that mine, none of this would have happened. And we both know it will happen again.”
“Come on, Galen. If you can’t tell me, who
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. And I don’t think you do either.”
“I understand if you don’t want to talk about it. I wouldn’t
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want to talk about it either. Finding my special mate and then turning her over to my own brother. Knowing that she’s mating with him on the islands, holding him close—” Galen lands a clean hook to Toraf ’s nose and blood spurts on his bare chest. Toraf falls back and holds his nostrils shut.
Then he laughs. “I guess I know who taught Rayna how to hit.”
Galen massages his temples. “Sorry. I don’t know where that came from. I told you I was frustrated.”
Toraf laughs. “You’re so blind, minnow. I just hope you open your eyes before it’s too late.”
Galen scoff s. “Stop vomiting superstition at me. I told you.
I’m just frustrated. There’s nothing more to it than that.” Toraf cocks his head to the side, snorts some blood back into his nasal cavity. “So the humans followed you around, made you feel uncomfortable?”
“That’s what I just said, isn’t it?”
Toraf nods thoughtfully. Then he says, “Imagine how Emma must feel then.”
“Think about it. The humans followed you around a building and it made you uncomfortable. You followed Emma across the big land. Then Rachel makes sure you have every class with her. Then when she tries to get away, you chase her. Seems to me you’re scaring her off .”
“Kind of like what you’re doing to Rayna.”
“Huh. Didn’t think of that.”
“Idiot,” Galen mutters. But there is some truth to Toraf ’s
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observation. Maybe Emma feels smothered. And she’s obviously still mourning Chloe. Maybe he has to take it slow with Emma.
If he can earn her trust, maybe she’ll open up to him about her gift, about her past. But the question is, how much time does she need? Grom’s reluctance to mate will be overruled by his obligation to produce an heir. And that heir needs to come from Emma.
Toraf nudges him from his thoughts. “You know whose advice I need?” He nods toward the gigantic house behind them.
“Actually, you don’t,” Galen says, standing. He reaches a hand down to help his friend.
“Rachel’s expertise lies more along the lines of communication. You won’t need to worry about communication when Rayna fi nds out you’re already mated.”
?” They both turn to Rayna who has stopped mid- stride in the sand. The emotions on her face change from surprise to full- blown murderous rage.
“You’re gonna pay a special price for that, minnow!” Toraf calls before he hits the water.
Galen grins as Rayna slices through the waves in bloodthirsty pursuit. Then he heads for the house to talk to Rachel.
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I PICK up the compact and smear porcelain all over my face.
The pressure makes me wince and sends a shooting pain to my eye sockets. At least I don’t have a bruise. Bruises— and zits—
show up especially well on white skin. I glide on some sheer lip gloss and pucker in front of the mirror. Then wipe it off . Who am I kidding? That sticky stuff will bother me all day. The mascara tube mocks me from the sink in the bathroom, daring me to put some on. I accept the challenge— I’m not in any danger of crying today. I seize the tube, giving my lashes two good swipes. Funny how a little sleep, a little makeup, and a lot of contemplation can make you feel like a diff erent person— a stronger version of yourself.
Mom wants me to stay out of school for one more day. But
that’s not going to happen. I spent all of yesterday in bed, alter-0—
nating between crying and sleeping. Finally, at midnight, the
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waterworks stopped and my brain started working. This is what I decided:
Chloe is gone. She is never coming back. And the way I’ve been acting would hurt her. For at least an hour, I switch places with her in my mind— I am dead and Chloe is alive. How would she handle it? She would cry. She would be sad. She would miss me. But she wouldn’t stop living. She would let people comfort her. She would sleep in her own room and smile at the memories as she drifted to sleep. And she would probably punch Galen Forza. Which brings me to what else I decided: Galen Forza is a jerk. The details are hazy, but I’m pretty sure he had something to do with my accident Monday. Also, he’s a bit weird. Staring habit aside, he keeps popping up everywhere. Every time he does, I handle it with the grace of a rhino on stilts. So I’m switching my schedule as soon as I get to school.
There is no good reason I should humiliate myself for seven periods a day.
I smile with satisfaction at my plan as I pull up a chair at the table. Mom serves me garbage eggs again today, and this time I eat them. I even ask for seconds. She sets a glass of milk on the table for us to share. I accidentally guzzle it all. I don’t even glance at Dad’s place setting. Or Chloe’s.
“You must be feeling better, then,” Mom says. “But I wish you’d just stay home one more day. We could have a girls’ day, you and me. Rent some chick fl icks, eat chocolate and drink diet soda, exchange some small- town gossip. Whataya say?” I laugh, which makes my head throb as if my brain is trying