Deeper Than The Ocean
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by Dee Carney
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: The life of a merman should be relatively simple, but not for Danyl. His mother's been murdered, his father's responsible and now he's out for blood. Thank the gods, the key to doing so rests in the hands of a beautiful human who is his pleasure to pursue. Di has hit pay dirt. Years of solo dives on a barely functioning boat has yielded an ancient coin certain to secure her financial future. A chance rescue by a merman knocks her plans awry. Falling for him certainly was never a part of those plans. Now, the two must depend on each other--extending a little bit of faith, and a whole lot of trust--in a quest for vengeance and their ultimate survival.
eBook Publisher: Atlantic Bridge/Liquid Silver Books, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: July 2010
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [103 KB]
Reading time: 62-87 min.
The Phoenix rose from the flames, the scent of charred feathers stinging Ancelin's nose. Darkness held him tightly, the only light coming from the eerie wavering form of the Phoenix and the fire. He tried to move his limbs. Nothing. Awareness flooded his brain as the light from the Phoenix grew brighter.
"I'm dreaming," he said.
"Of course," the Phoenix replied, although its beak never moved.
"This is a prophecy." Ancelin's heart thundered.
In all the years he had been mated to Nix, her phoenix-driven prophecies had never touched him. Every night he slept beside her and knew she dreamed of the destinies of others. Yet, not once had she dreamed of him. Tonight, the world as he knew it shifted on its axis as her phoenix--her soul--came to him as he slept.
"You have no need of explanations, Ancelin," the Phoenix told him. "You know what I tell you shall come to pass."
Ancelin might be a demi-god, but the power of the Phoenix was beyond his control. "Just tell me and get it over with," he gritted out arrogantly, unwilling to admit fear crept into his heart.
The Phoenix's flames burned hotter, the image glowing brighter. "Your transgressions shall be the vehicle of your end, Ancelin. The pain you have caused others will turn on you. The trinity will break you, and you shall be no more. Your fate is at hand."
Ancelin swallowed hard. If he had been able to feel his limbs, he knew they would be trembling. A phoenix prophecy could never be reversed. It always came to be.
The Phoenix's voice grew cold and disdainful. "Three and three have you used for your own ends. Three times have you broken your vows. Your life force shall be the payment for your transgressions, and three hands will bring about your death. With your passing, new lives will be wrought for those whose lives you've torn. With your blood, the circle shall be mended. It has already been decreed."
With a start, Ancelin awoke, gasping for air. Beside him, the flame-haired form of his mate lay still as marble, barely breathing. Anger flooded him, and he wondered if he could break the prophecy by killing her as she slept.
Her eyelids flickered. "You have not the ability to snuff the Phoenix's flames, Ancelin," she murmured, her turquoise eyes boring into his as she sat up in their bed.
Rising to his feet, Ancelin yanked the silk sheet and wrapped it around his hips. He glared at his mate left sitting on the wide mattress, her naked skin glowing in the moonlight. "That's what you think. And even if I couldn't kill you, that does not mean I cannot change the prophecy by snuffing out the lives of those who seek to end mine," he snarled.
"I did not dream that on purpose, my lord." His mate's words were cool, but respectful.
He stormed toward the bathroom, fury riding his heels. "You did, Nix. You knew I was unfaithful, and this is your punishment."
She shook her head, the red-gold curls tumbling around her shoulders. "Ancelin, you know I have no control over the dreams, over the Phoenix..."
"Fuck you. I always knew you were a cold-hearted bitch. Why do you think I sought comfort from others?" Ancelin sneered. He went into the bathroom and slammed the door.
Left alone, Nix rose from the bed. The moonlight showcased her perfect form as she crossed the room to an escritoire. From a small drawer, she withdrew a hand mirror with a gilded frame shaped like a phoenix.
She brushed her fingers over the glass and a vision appeared in the oval. A young man with dark hair and argent eyes stared at the ocean, watching the movement of the waves. Nix touched the mirror where his arm was, and he flinched. There on his skin appeared a phoenix mark. He blinked in shock and stared at the tattoo-like artwork that swirled over his bicep.
Nix swept her palm over the mirror, and the vision changed. This time, two men, obviously twins, one dark and one light, materialized on the glass. They stood in the forest gazing at the moon. Nix's fingertip touched the mirror, over the right side of one's chest, then over the left side of the other. Both flinched as black tribal lines, the mark of the phoenix, wrote themselves onto their skin.
Again, Nix's palm passed over the mirror. She closed her eyes for a moment, a spasm of pain crossing her beautiful features. Opening her eyes, she gazed at the image of a man with hair as fair as the moonlight, his eyes glittering like jet. He stood beside a fire, his face turned toward her. Her fingertip pressed the glass gently, as if she actually touched the side of his throat. Unlike his brothers, shock did not show on his face. Instead, his eyes seemed to bore into hers.
She passed her hand over the mirror, and it darkened. Putting it away, she returned to the bed she had shared with Ancelin for the last century. A loveless bed. A loveless mating. Soon the prophecy would come true and she would be free. Ancelin thought he could break it. Nix knew it was possible under certain circumstances, but she was determined that it would not happen this time. The Phoenix would win. It almost always did. And this time, if she were to survive, it must.
* * * *
Danyl used the powerful muscles of his tail to push through the water. He would not let them see his disappointment. Or his anger.
Another pairing ritual and another humiliation he'd been forced to live through. Coupled with everything else he'd been through recently, he didn't know how much more he could stand.
Of course. He didn't have to turn to recognize to whom that voice belonged. No one else would bother to seek him out.
He slowed enough to allow Gagan to catch up. He remained facing forward though. If he had to look upon his best friend's luminescent skin or the perfection of his silver fluke right now, he'd vomit. The only things really silver about himself were his eyes. Of course, they weren't quite natural either. Every other mer-person had mesmerizing blue eyes.
No point in mentioning his own tail, which for years had the disappointing habit of becoming legs at a moment's notice until he'd learned to control it. Legs. Who in Hades had need for human legs underwater?
"What?" he snarled, forcing the cool ocean through his gill sac. Despite being located in the back of his throat, he could feel it wave in the water with the effort. Yet another thing that marred him as not quite like the others. To them, breathing was just another natural act. For him, it was an ongoing agony.
"Danyl, be patient. You will be mated--"
He whirled on him. "When Gagan? When the maids have decided that they wouldn't mind being mated to a freak? When their curiosity about fucking me overrides their common sense?"
What could he offer a mate? Unnatural sex and perhaps, deformed children who had legs, too. If nothing else, choosing to mate him guaranteed a lifetime of ridicule for any maid, for sure.
Gagan shooed at a school of fish daring to linger and eavesdrop. "Danyl, you are a good man. If none of the maids have realized that yet, it's their loss. When the time is right, you will be mated. And I have no doubt, you will love her with a passion that is unrivaled. With an intensity that will be the envy of merfolk for generations to come."
Good old Gagan. Ever the poet, who wore his heart on the outside for the world to see.
Danyl looked away, for if he looked into his friend's eyes a moment longer, he would fall under their hypnotic spell. His friend believed so truly that a mate existed for him, while Danyl's hope in that belief faded with each passing day. His friend believed so deeply in love and forever that he'd convinced Danyl to attend a pairing ritual yet again, as he had time and time before.
Danyl kicked and rode the undercurrent away from Gagan. "I don't have the stomach for this," he muttered.
"Gods damn it, will you wait?"
He wouldn't wait. Everything about his life had reached a crux. The ridicule, the alienation and now the abandonment and the loneliness left him shattered in ways that made him an unsuitable companion, anyway. Why this desperate hope for shelter and acceptance he could never dream of attaining?
Danyl pulled his shoulders forward as he swam. He knew why.
Because without the sliver of hope still shining through, he no longer had anything worth living for.
Gagan managed to catch him up, his lean length an enviable sight as he swam. Few of the mer-people could match his strength or speed. How they'd become fast friends was anybody's guess. He didn't so much as breathe heavily when he called out to him again. "Danyl!"
He made a show of swimming beneath Danyl, rising up to his other side without breaking his cruising speed. Fucking show off.
When he did it again, Danyl surged forward, determined to not be outdone. Damned mermen were always playing games. Why couldn't the idiot see he wasn't in the mood for friendly competition? He didn't want to have fun. He wanted to find some dark hole where blind fish nestled and hide from the world.
Putting on another burst of energy, he sliced through the water, almost daring Gagan to match him around the jagged edges of coral and through the stinging wisps of grass growing in crags. Despite his very best effort to not enjoy it, stretching out and gliding through the water at breakneck speeds sent a thrill through him. He thought little of safety or boundaries. He gave no care to mermaids or matings. He almost managed to discard thoughts of family and home, too.
The two mermen whipped past startled schools of fish, scattering them in various directions before they reassembled. Jutting rocks from cliff ledges gave Danyl opportunity to dodge and put distance between them. They swam through hot spots only to be greeted by frigid cold spots moments later. Through it all, the vast ocean fanned out around them in a kaleidoscope of greens, blues and blacks.
By the time Danyl slowed, his earlier disappointment had worked out of his system. Chest heaving, he waited for Gagan to catch him up. To his complete surprise, he'd manage to out-swim his friend by a few lengths and they'd swum at least three nautical miles if not further. More energy must have been penned up inside him than he thought.
"That was awesome," Gagan called as he neared. "I didn't know you could do that!"
That made two of them. "It wasn't a race. I was trying to get rid of your sorry tail."
Gagan chuckled before his face straightened, becoming serious. "I wanted to talk with you alone, Danyl, and out here," he glanced at their sparse surroundings, "is probably a better place than any. It's about your mother. And your father."
Danyl almost looked away, but forced himself not to move. "What is it?"
"I'm sorry to tell you this, but we've looked into your suspicions."
"You were right." Gagan reached for his shoulder and clamped a supportive hand around it. "The evidence is stacked against him. Based on what we've found, we agree that he most likely murdered your mother."
He wasn't surprised. He couldn't be. And now, he wouldn't let the news affect him.
No--that wasn't true.
He would let it affect him, for now he had something to live for.
He needed to stay alive long enough to kill his father.
Di ignored the sweat hanging off her brow and wound the winch as hard and fast as she could. It would do no good to wish yet again that she had a crew to do the heavy work. The Sea Anemone was hers free and clear. So was the work that went with operating her.
She gritted her teeth and ignored the pull in her muscles. The anchor had to come up now because she wanted to get back to land immediately. The weather had dropped unexpectedly since she'd arrived this morning and made staying out here miserable. Besides that, three years of searching were now over! True, she still hadn't found the true object of her intent but if that little silver coin was any indication, she was damned close.
Cold, salty water splashed over her hands and face as she worked on getting the anchor up. It must have been hung on something. She took a step back and tugged the lead rope directly opposite the winch.
Damn! Whatever it was hooked on had it wedged good and tight. She wasn't going anywhere unless she managed to dislodge it. Most likely, the anchor had found a nice comfortable spot in between two rocks and now made her late afternoon wretched.
She made quick work of donning a mask and jumped over the side. The water temp was an instant reminder of why wetsuits were a necessary luxury, but she'd hoped to be in and out before it made too much of a difference. That wish didn't stop an immediate eruption of goose bumps to overtake her. Better make this quick. It was way colder than she'd thought it would be.
Swimming around to the front of the boat, she located the long length of rope with ease and used it to lead her down to the anchor. By the time she reached the large piece of metal, her body felt like one big ice cube. She was further down than where the depth finder indicated the ocean floor should be. Working as quickly as her numb hands would allow, she freed the heavy weight and let it drop to a sandy area. She'd have to work fast to get inside the boat before it drifted, taking the anchor with it, into another inconvenient location.
As she started the ascent, she caught movement, or what she thought was movement, off to the side. A claustrophobic's nightmare, the mask was the ultimate definition in tunnel vision. She had to turn her entire body to face whatever the movement might have been. Probably some curious fish wondering why an air-breather had the nerve to venture below.
Speaking of, her lungs began to remind her that she needed to move a little faster. The slow burn might be a thrill to some divers, but if she allowed it, instead it meant that her anxiety level cranked up a few notches.
Maybe it was the anxiety. Or perhaps a touch of oxygen deprivation. Hell, it might have been a touch of hypothermia. But when she turned to meet the movement head on, she could have sworn there was a man swimming in the distance.
Di blinked twice and squinted through the condensation forming inside the mask. He was gone now, but she was so sure...
Never mind. Get on the Sea Anemone and back to land. That coin needed to be dated and confirmed. Visions of men swimming beneath the water also indicated she definitely needed a good old romp in the hay--if only it were that easy.
Pushing aside frustration with her nonexistent sex life, she focused on what had to be her priority now. She kicked her legs, expecting to slice through the water. Instead of an easy graceful movement, her ankles groaned in protest, muscles in her lower legs burning with the effort. She'd left the fins on board, and truthfully she didn't know if they would have been a help or a hindrance. Her body was so tired. Still, if she wanted to get back to the boat, she had to swim.
She kicked again. Nothing happened.
Medals and trophies from swim meets lined the otherwise stark walls of her apartment, but right now her legs scissored with the grace of wooden logs during a river drive as she tried to make some progress.
The fatigue was only one part of the problem. Di was so cold too. She brought her hand to the mask and noted the blue tinge outlining her nails.
Her lungs burned. Her body refused to gain speed. Goose bumps covered her everywhere. She was underwater with only a mask and none of her other diving equipment.
So not a good place to be.
Don't panic. She would get back inside the boat in short order. Focus on one thing at a time. There wasn't a damned thing she could do about air, but she could kick her legs. She would, damn it.
There. One little kick, but it was something. She just needed to do it again and in a short while, she'd reach the boat, right?
Di looked up and despite her instructions to herself, panic rocketed through her.
The surface was a hell of a lot higher up than she thought possible. Oh, God ... all of her friend's admonitions about being in the boat by herself came back to haunt her in that single moment. Divers worked in pairs, they'd told her. Boaters knew better than to go out alone. But determined as ever, she'd ignored them all. Finding the sunken Greek transport had become almost an obsession and that meant working without the benefit of a partner.
Now she might pay for it with her life.
The spots in front of her eyes appeared in a variety of colors, her brain desperate and conjuring more reminders that hey, some air would be good. Slamming her eyelids shut, she wanted to cry, but she kicked feebly again instead. If anything, her body drifted down instead of up.
She was not going out like this. Not like this!
Di kicked again, but she couldn't tell if she moved because she couldn't feel her legs. Thoughts of the Sea Anemone, the silver coin and her life's goals filtered through her mind. For some reason, she thought of that man who'd been swimming underwater with her a few minutes ago.
And then she thought of nothing at all.