Liquid Crystal [Department 57]
Click on image to enlarge.
by Lynne Connolly
Description: When an unsuspected enemy rises up to threaten Crystal's life, her old friends, Bryn and Kai, rescue her from a nearly fatal plunge into the Thames. Later, they share a bed, and their bodies. The passion they wake in each other is as incredible as it is inevitable. But Bryn and Kai have a secret. They are mermen. Crys is intrigued, so they introduce her to the pleasures of underwater loving, and the passion they release steams up the water. Yet their enemy still chases them, and they'll have to defeat him before they can give in to love's demand. [Publisher's Note: This book is a re-edited revised version previously released by another publisher, and contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Anal play/intercourse, male/male sexual practices, menage (m/m/f), sex while in shifted form, violence.]
eBook Publisher: Loose Id, LLC, 2008
eBookwise Release Date: November 2008
47 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [171 KB]
Reading time: 102-144 min.
When her boyfriend put his arm around Kai Murdoch, Crystal knew trouble wasn't far behind. Bolstered by drink, the prejudices Geoff usually hid behind his genial exterior pushed themselves forward, and she knew what was coming. She'd seen it before, and she dreaded it every time. To do him justice, Geoff tried very hard to overcome his upbringing, and his prejudices only emerged when he was off balance or half cut. Like tonight.
Already committed to this party, neither had been in the mood for it, but as the alcohol flowed and the music rocked the Thames-side pleasure boat, Crys relaxed. Geoff only got drunker. She watched him lose his balance more than once, and he burst into laughter as he collided with people. Luckily they all smiled back at him, even the one he spilled beer over.
"'Ow are you, me old mate?" Geoff said boozily, hugging Kai close. Crys wanted to die.
"Fine," Kai answered dryly. The music pumping through the pleasure launch made everything but close conversation impossible, but they were standing close, and she could hear every word. The muscles in Kai's arms, revealed by his figure-hugging muscle shirt, bulged as he pushed away from her boyfriend's clinging grip.
Geoff didn't let him and dragged Kai back to his side.
Crys scanned the room to see if anyone else was watching. From the other side of the room, light glinted against brown hair as Kai's partner, Bryn Murchison, lifted his head. Bryn and Kai locked glances, and Kai shook his head. His gaze strayed to Crys and he flashed a reassuring smile at her.
Geoff glanced at Bryn, but turned his attention back to Kai. He punched Kai's arm, none too lightly, and Crys took a step closer. Kai didn't particularly like to be mauled. Except by Bryn, presumably.
A light touch on her shoulder made her turn and stare up into Bryn's sea green eyes. She always lost herself in those eyes. If she wasn't involved with Geoff, if Bryn wasn't gay ... She cut off her thought. She had fantasies about these two, but they were only dreams; she knew that. "Leave them alone," he murmured. "Kai's not drunk, and he's not upset, he'll handle it. Come and dance. We'll keep an eye on them and enjoy ourselves at the same time."
He pulled her towards the crowded dance floor and drew her into his arms. Now it was safe for her to dream, held in the arms of a devastatingly attractive man, but a man who wouldn't be interested in her as a lover. It made him a safe fantasy, but nothing else. A familiar sense of melancholy crept over her when she remembered that.
A slow power ballad drifted across her senses, and she let herself relax, her tense muscles loosening in his light hold. Bryn was right. Kai could handle Geoff on his own. Not for the first time, she wished Bryn and Kai weren't gay, but not from any bias. More a longing for a shot at one of them. Or both. Or one after the other; she wasn't fussy. She sighed wistfully. Who was she kidding? Bryn had always dominated her fantasies about them, for all of Kai's broader outlook and killer physique. Bryn's more powerfully built body, his smiles and consideration, lightly covering a ruthlessness he only hinted at in unguarded moments, called to her as few other men had.
A chuckle over her head made her look up again. "You should keep your thoughts to yourself."
She smiled back but felt the hot blood rush to her cheeks. Caught out again. Bryn and Kai were well aware that she fantasized about them, but perhaps not to the extent that she did, or the things she imagined doing with them. When she'd discovered the empathy that existed between the three of them, she'd been cynical, then delighted, but it existed, they'd proved as much. They could pick up her thoughts, and more rarely, she could pick up theirs. Bryn usually knew what she was thinking. She shouldn't have allowed her mind to drift like that. "Can't blame a girl for wishing."
Bryn's easy smile faded, and his expression changed to something she couldn't interpret. Speculative, certainly. Crys had no problem waiting to hear what he had to say. Handsome as hell, Bryn had a deep, charismatic attraction, though whether from his shimmering green eyes or his perfectly toned body Crys couldn't say and didn't much care. Tall, strong, and with a decidedly interesting wardrobe, Bryn was a woman's wet dream, but for the year she'd known him, Bryn's interest in women had only been of the friendly kind. Still, she appreciated having friends like Bryn and Kai. And they were distinctly easy on the eyes, whether dressed for the evening or for the office.
She glanced to where Geoff was still with Kai, standing by the dance floor. Just as Kai opened his mouth to speak, Geoff's bellow interrupted him. Bryn swiftly maneuvered them across the floor so they could hear what the two said. "I say you're a sea creature, and I should know, for God's sake!"
Crys let her head drop against Bryn's chest. "Not again!"
Bryn stopped moving her in the dance, and she felt his fingers under her chin, gently pushing it up. "What do you mean, again?" he said when they were once more looking into each other's eyes. While his voice was still gentle, it held a sterner note. Those eyes, so magnetically green, almost made her forget what they were talking about.
"He has this obsession." She made a face, deprecatingly apologetic. "He's prejudiced."
"You mean against gays? We're used to that, so don't worry. Kai will handle it."
She swallowed. "No. God, this is hard. I think Geoff's nuts, and I've tried to stop him, talked to him about it. No, Bryn, he thinks you and Kai are ... are..."
"Spit it out, precious."
"He thinks you're mermen," she finished in a rush, before she could lose her courage and sound even more stupid than she felt. It sounded much worse when she said it out loud. Geoff's research was thorough and convincing, but it hadn't quite convinced her, even though she'd had her own mermaid fixation in her childhood. That was what initially brought them together. He even had her believing it sometimes, but not Bryn and Kai. When she pointed out the obvious fact that both Bryn and Kai had legs, Geoff said they could change at will, like the Little Mermaid when she got legs instead of a tail.
Still, sometimes Geoff had made her wonder if there wasn't some truth in it.
"Does he, by God?"
Why wasn't Bryn smiling? Gay bashers were disgusting, but Geoff's particular obsession was risible, especially to people who hadn't listened to his arguments. Bryn ought to be relieved Geoff had some kind of weird fixation. He shouldn't be frowning in concern; he should be laughing. Bryn caught her gaze and drew her to the edge of the small dance floor, past her genially drunk work colleagues.
At last, Bryn took his attention away from her and looked away. She followed his gaze to where Kai glared at Geoff. He turned his head to Bryn. Their gazes locked and an unspoken communication passed between them, almost as if they were speaking mind to mind. They said they could and when they exchanged gazes so intense she believed them.
"Don't mind Geoff; he's mad," she said, drawing Bryn's attention. "I'll take him home."
Bryn's head jerked, as though she'd broken into a conversation. When he turned back to her, his genial expression was back in place, curving his strong mouth and touching tiny lines to the corners of his eyes. "Probably best if you do. I'll take you over to him. But I want to come and see you soon, Crys, to make sure you're all right."
Before she could answer, he took her hand and pulled her behind him, pausing a couple of times to speak to people and murmur a few reassuring words about the brief altercation between Geoff and Kai. Few people had noticed, but Bryn and Kai must have been aware their invitation was for novelty value, a pair of real-life gays in this otherwise boring office party. His hand, firm in hers, made her long for things she could never have, things it wasn't even right to think about.
She probably wasn't the only woman to think that. Bryn's tight T-shirt and equally tight jeans displayed every gorgeous, bulging muscle on his body. Kai's black waistcoat and leather trousers clung to his lithe, athletic form lovingly, outlining every movement with drooling, delicious perfection, and Kai's spectacular mane of white-blond hair drew every eye. More than one woman had found an excuse to touch it tonight.
Watching Kai and Bryn made her realize what a perfect couple they were, and what a perfect couple she and Geoff weren't. The feeling had built for some time, ever since she'd met Geoff's crazy parents, and Geoff had tamely agreed with their insane ideas. His parents displayed every prejudice they could think of, while Geoff was obsessed with one fixation only. The stupid merman thing. The stupid merman thing she couldn't let herself believe, despite the photographs, the studies, and the seemingly incontrovertible evidence on Geoff's computer. They didn't exist, and that was that. But still, at the back of her mind, she desperately wanted to believe, she wanted her reason to be wrong and her instincts to be right. All she needed was proof.
It had to end. They had to end. She swallowed, realizing the necessity, understanding how the split was about to disrupt her life. But she couldn't do anything about it now; she'd have to get Geoff out of here and home, where she could figure out what to do. The flat was theirs, so she might have to find something else for a while. Her parents lived in Newcastle, at the other end of the country, but an urge seized her, a need for loving arms that asked nothing of her and gave everything. Perhaps she could get leave from her job and go home while she sorted her life out.
If Geoff refused to leave the flat. Perhaps he'd be a gentleman and move out. After all, his parents only lived in Plumstead so he wouldn't have to disrupt his life if he went home. She could hope. That would solve a few of her headaches, at least leave her with somewhere to live.
When they reached the other side of the dance floor, a few people watched them, most with hopeful expressions. A fight would ginger up this decidedly lackluster party, a winter party thrown by hers and Geoff's employers, done on the cheap. This pleasure launch had been a favor from a friend, and if they hadn't used it tonight, it would have stood empty. Accountants always knew how to make the best of every asset, even if they lacked the heart to make it a real party. Tired decorations and a pay-for-your-own bar, plus a subpar singer had made the evening tedious rather than fun. Why Kai and Bryn had accepted her invitation passed her understanding. But they had, and she felt better for having them there.
Not least because Geoff was as drunk as a skunk, and ready for trouble. When they reached him, Bryn stood in front of him, and Crys moved to the other side to Kai, neatly boxing him in. Geoff flicked her a glance and then immediately returned to the two men. "How do you do it, eh?"
"How do we do what?"
In any other circumstances, Geoff might have taken notice of Bryn's strongly muscled body and quiet, determined tone, but not after half a bottle of whisky. "Change into mermen. And are your dicks covered up by your tails, or not? I've always wondered that."
Bryn slapped his legs. "No tails here, Geoff. Where do you get ideas like that?"
"My parents, to start with." Geoff took a sharp breath, cutting off whatever he was about to say next. He didn't sound so drunk now, for some reason. "They taught me things about people. But they don't like anyone who's any kind of different from them. Hell, they don't like my Aunt Cathie because she's Welsh!"
Bryn smiled grimly, while Kai caught Crys's attention, his blue gaze searching hers briefly. "You okay, Crys?"
She caught her breath. This was the first time she'd heard words in her mind, words that didn't come from her. She answered without thinking. "How do you do that?"
"I'll tell you later. No, you're not imagining things."
The feeling receded, and Kai turned back to Geoff. "So what did they tell you?" His voice was just as mild as Bryn's, but only a fool would ignore the careful control, and the underlying menace in his stance.
"That your kind change when you hit the water. You can't help it; as soon as you get wet, you change into a fish. You talk mind to mind, and all that stuff." Geoff grinned, but it looked sickly and insincere. "Come on, guys, I thought you'd like the joke!"
"Sure. Very funny." But Bryn wasn't smiling.
"Shall we go home now, Geoff?" she tried, hearing her conciliatory tone and hating herself for it. But she had to get him out of here. Her work colleagues were looking at them in suspicion. She'd never hear the last of this. Neither would Geoff. Best to get away now, before he made it worse and got labeled as the company nutter.
"Yeah." He sounded sulky now but not drunk. "But be warned, guys. We're on to you."
Kai quirked a fair brow, but said nothing. Bryn ignored Geoff, addressing Crys directly. "Do you want to come home with us?"
She forced a smile. "No, not tonight guys." Geoff gripped her arm, digging his fingers in.
"Although," Geoff said, belying his painful grip by his easy smile, "if she had to go home with a couple of men, I'd pick you two. She couldn't be safer, could she?"
Bryn tilted his head to one side and smiled wickedly. "Oh, I wouldn't say that, Geoff. Why don't you try us and see?" His short brown hair gleamed in the low lights of the launch. The music resumed, the slow dance interval obviously over, and Status Quo pumped out of the speakers. The deck shook with the pounding.
Geoff grinned. "Definitely time to go home. G'night, guys."
Bryn still held Crys's other arm, and seemed reluctant to let it go. "You'll be okay, Crys?"
"Oh yes. No problem."
Geoff chuckled and glanced around, snagging his jacket off the back of a nearby chair. "We'll have to get a cab."
At that moment, Geoff's boss walked past, obviously on his way out, too. He couldn't have heard much of the conversation, thank goodness, but he heard the last remark and stopped. "You live in Stratford, don't you? Do you want a lift? I'm headed that way, and I'm a designated driver. Sober as a judge."
Crys eyed the group of people obviously with him dubiously. "That's nice of you, Mike, but aren't you a bit crowded already?"
"Nah, I brought the SUV. Plenty of room. Come on."
With one last glance back at Bryn and Kai, she let Geoff tug her along. Kai mouthed, "We'll call you," and she nodded.
Out of the heated pleasure launch, Crys took a moment to adjust to the dim lights along the Embankment, casting a soft glow over the ever-swirling Thames. She loved the river, it had marked her life, and now her parents were living next to another great river, the Tyne. A change of rivers might do her good. A change of boyfriend certainly would.
But not tonight. It was too late, and she was too tired. Geoff almost dragged her down the ramp linking the boat to the narrow stairs leading to the Embankment, and she had to concentrate on keeping her footing on the damp, occasionally slick steps. No time to think of anything else.
The SUV wasn't far away, parked in the office car park. The office, near St. Catherine's House, was a dingy building, but it had the luxury of a piece of waste ground for a car park, although Crys wasn't sure any ground in London could be described as waste. Some of the most expensive real estate in the world. The parking lot was handy, though, avoiding meters, clamps, and the horrible charges public car parks extorted. Not that Crys used anything but the Tube every day. Too expensive to do anything else.
The big silver vehicle gleamed in the moonlight. Geoff glanced up into the sky. "Full moon. They have to change at the full moon. We should have asked them if we could watch." While she waited for the others to climb in and take their seats, Crys pulled her jacket closer around her. Her sundress was definitely too thin for the October weather, which had turned colder in the last week, and her jacket left the bottom half of her body at the mercy of the lazy wind that whipped around her legs.
"Don't go on about it, Geoff. They weren't amused, you know."
"Neither was I, particularly." Geoff said "particularly" almost without thought, and at that moment, Crys realized he wasn't drunk in the least. He'd dumped the copious amounts of whisky he'd bought, or used ginger ale to eke out a couple of singles. At any rate, he was no more drunk than her. Her feeling of uneasiness increased. What was going on here? Why had Geoff deliberately provoked Bryn and Kai? And why wasn't anyone laughing at his stupid obsession with merpeople?
At last they could climb into the car. The two spare seats were in the middle of the vehicle, and Geoff sat next to the window. Mike started the engine, and the heaters blasted into life. "I'll just give the windows a minute to clear," he announced, and turned in his seat. "There's a bottle of vodka somewhere in the back, and some lemonade. If you look in the bag, there should be some paper cups, too. I can't drink, but there's no reason you shouldn't have one."
With delighted exclamations of thanks, the drinks were found and handed around. Crys didn't particularly want one, but perhaps it might warm her a little. She watched to make sure the drink handed to her wasn't too strong. Someone took a sip from their cup, and smiled at her, holding up their cup. "Cheers," he said.
Only when she'd taken a deep swig of the mixture in her cup did she notice the slightly off taste, something bitter, not right about it. She checked the label on the lemonade bottle. No, not bitter lemon. Suddenly, all the drinks she'd had that evening returned to haunt her, and she shut her eyes against the dizziness that hit her, but opened them again in alarm when the world spun. She took another sip. Now they had their lift there was no reason for her not to. She'd just drunk too much, that was all, and perhaps another would get her past the dizzy stage.
"So you don't believe in mermen, Crys?" a feminine voice asked. Crys vaguely recognized it as Carol, one of the girls who worked in accounts.
"Does anybody?" She was glad of something to concentrate on, to focus the dizziness until it went. Perhaps she was tired. She'd been overdoing it lately. She could have sworn she had no more than three drinks all that evening, although perhaps they'd been stronger than she thought. "I mean, I loved The Little Mermaid when I was a child, but it's hardly likely, is it?"
"What if I said I'd seen one?" Carol asked.
Crys frowned and looked around, blinking. The car had fallen strangely silent, apart from the soft purr of the engine. "What is this?"
"Well, it's like this." Geoff gently pushed the cup up, and she had to move her hand to stop him forcing her to drink. "We know they exist. We have the proof. But we need to capture one. When we discovered you were good friends with a couple, we had our bait. Now we're setting the trap. Drink up, darling."
"No." She tried to lower the cup, but he held her fast and wouldn't let her.
His voice turned hard. "Finish it."
Fear crawled through her, raising the hairs on the nape of her neck. "What's going on?"
"We're going to flush them out." That was Mike, still sitting in the driver's seat, but not wearing his seat belt, his body twisted toward hers. "Tonight or never. We thought you'd be perfect bait, and everybody knows you need bait to catch a fish. So finish your drink."
Geoff's grip on her arm tightened and when she tried to push him away, Crys found someone on her other side, stopping her moving away from him. Another pair of hands came from behind her seat, gripping her shoulders, holding her in place. Yet another gripped her hair and yanked her head back, pinching her nose tightly, and when she opened her mouth to breathe, Geoff tipped the drink down her throat.
Drugged. Her last sight was of Geoff, smiling grimly down at her, as her eyes fluttered closed.