The Fathoms Below
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by Deanna Lee
Category: Romance/Dark Fantasy
Description: Madeline Keys had washed up on the shore of an island in the Florida Keys six years before with no memory of who or what she was. Never regaining her memory, she resolved to rebuilding her life. Bastiaan, the Triton of Atlantis, had spent six years looking for Madeline. He searched the earth over for the woman that had been his lover for more than two hundred years. When he finds her in Marathon, Florida he's confused and elated. Upon finding out that she has no memory of her life before she washed up on shore in Florida he is furious. An enemy had cast his mate and wife to the world with no memories of who she was. He'll do whatever it takes to give his wife the life that is meant for her.
eBook Publisher: Cobblestone Press, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: January 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [93 KB]
Reading time: 59-82 min.
"No." Madeline Keys tapped slim fingers on the small desk in front of her and looked toward Detective Austin Monroe. She was his case, had been since she'd washed ashore in Marathon, Florida almost six years ago.
"Madeline, this will be national coverage. It could be exactly what we need to find your family."
Madeline dropped her gaze to the surface of the desk. She'd rescued it from a garage sale just before she'd opened Fathoms Below, the small gallery in which they were currently sitting. "I've done my last television appearance."
"Madeline." There was a hint of temper in his voice.
"Austin." She looked to him then. "I won't do it again. If anyone legitimate were going to come forward, they would have by now. I'm alone in the world. I've come to terms with it, and I honestly wish you would as well." She stood up and looked out into the gallery as a couple entered. "Now, I've got some tourists to wrestle."
He stood up as well and shook his head. "I can't believe that anyone would leave you alone, Madeline. At least not on purpose. I look at you and a part of me aches for the man who put that ring on your finger."
The ring she no longer wore. Madeline looked down to her barren hand and swallowed. Taking off the ring had been the hardest thing she'd done since she'd been found. It lay in her jewelry box in her bedroom. Sometimes, at night, the ring seemed to call to her. She sighed and rubbed her face with shaking hands.
"I can't have a future if I drown in my lack of a past. We can't be for sure whoever he was survived whatever happened to us. I washed ashore alone, and there were never any reports of wreckage found. No vessels were reported missing." She moved past the detective and put on a bright smile for the obviously honeymooning couple who had entered the shop several minutes earlier. "I know just what you're looking for."
She guided them to a seascape of manatees and dolphins playing in deep, clear water. The new husband didn't hesitate to pull out a credit card. After she rang them up and made arrangements to ship the painting home to Nebraska for them, Madeline closed up her shop.
* * * *
She'd used the jewelry she'd been found with to start a new life. The astounding quality of the gems set in gold had given her enough money to purchase a small cottage and rent storefront space to showcase and sell her work. Madeline regretted the sale of the jewelry, but the pieces had offered nothing but her name.
She winced as a brief flash of male hands, moving on her shoulders as he fastened the beautiful locket around her neck, invaded her mind. Her name had been gently carved into every piece.
If she let herself dwell on those hands long enough, memories of them sweeping over her body would surface. Never his face or his name. Those beautiful, strong hands were all she had, and sometimes in the barest moments, they were enough. Madeline pulled her keys from the ignition and stared at the small cottage she had purchased. Setting down roots had been difficult. It had been admission of the possibility she would never return to the life that had been ripped from her.
Who was he, and why had he never searched for her? He had touched her a thousand times in love. The pleasure she'd known in his arms seemed to envelope her in the night. It offered remembered comfort and security, yet never did it offer her a way home. Furious with the train of her thoughts, she slammed her car door and looked out to the ocean. Fear and sadness mingled as her gaze took in the water. Perhaps he'd never searched for her because he had died. Died in the accident that had stolen her past.
She dumped her purse on the deck before she walked out across the sand, discarding her shoes along the way. A quick walk down the empty dock left her standing on the end. She sat down, crossed her legs, and stared out over the water. It was something she did often. There was no way she could ever explain the longing the water stirred in her any more than she could fully explain the fear that swept along with that naked desire.
Reaching out, she let the tips of her fingers tease the surface of the water. Touching it was never enough, but the thought of slipping off the dock and into the water was horrifying. The need to do so was sometimes overwhelming. Desire slipped over her as she let the tip of one finger brush against the water, and for a moment she stopped breathing.
Sucking in air, she felt the sadness rush to her as well. What had she suffered that night? Maybe her memories had never returned to her because what happened had been unbearable. Just as she pulled her hand back and started to rise, the sleek head of a dolphin popped up from the water.
The animal made several snapping noises at her and edged as close to the dock as he could. Hesitantly, Madeline reached out and touched him. The dolphin bumped gently against her hand.
"Well, aren't you the friendly sort?" She rubbed his head carefully, keeping an eye on his mouth. Though she didn't fear he'd harm her, it never hurt to pay attention.
Suddenly the animal darted away and disappeared beneath the water. Bereft, Madeline stood and made her way into her cottage. The silence wasn't comforting, it never had been. Curling her still damp hand into a fist, she leaned against the closed door and held herself still. Pain and sorrow drifted over her skin like another layer of clothing.
* * * *
Bastiaan, the reining Triton of Atlantis, sat back in his chair and glared at the Captain of the Guard. "I told you specifically that you were not to engage the divers off the coast of Africa."
Cassandra shrugged. "I couldn't help it. They were very interesting."
"And you can be fortunate that only tabloids decided to report on it. Can you imagine the destruction that could be done to our world if you'd been captured? Do you think they would content themselves with just you?" Bastiaan stood. "Have you not a single ounce of willpower?"
"I have served Atlantis for two hundred years," Cassandra responded coolly. "I've never endangered our people, and I've always done what had to be done to ensure the continuation of our race."
"So you say, yet you play the siren with the best of the nymphs."
"There was a time when such a thing would have made you laugh. Have you not, over the years, been responsible for some of the most daring stories reported by the human world?"
"You know very well that most of that crap was made up." Tired, Bastiaan sat back down. "Besides, we can all thank your dear cousin, Ella, for the most persisting myth on earth."
"Oh, well, you can't blame her." Cassandra grinned, her skin brightening almost to gold as she did so. "If I'd been stuck in a loch all winter, I'd have some fun with the local inhabitants, too."
"One incident could be excused." Bastiaan pointed toward the door. "Go, and I swear if you don't cease your incessant pranks, you'll be barred from the water for a year." It was the most heinous punishment he knew for her.
Cassandra flushed with anger at the threat. "Good day, Sire."
Bastiaan sighed as she left the room. In truth, he was angrier with himself than her. Cassandra had indeed served Atlantis with distinction and honor all of her life, so if she liked to play with a few humans now and again, he should be willing to overlook at it.
Yet, he couldn't. He'd never be able to again. The loss of his wife had changed him and all of the occupants of his kingdom. He no longer found any amusement in the waters of Earth, and he saw danger and strife for his people at every turn.
In two hundred and fifty years ruling Atlantis, he'd faced only one defeat in the protection of his people. The loss of Madeline had taken the joy out of his life. Now, he had duty. Duty to Atlantis, and to the people his queen had loved so dearly. He would not fail to protect them again.
Bastiaan turned and then stood as one of his guardsmen strode into his office. "Dornar, is something wrong?"
"It is Nanatu. He's at the queen's moon pool. His behavior is erratic. I haven't seen him in such a state since Her Majesty disappeared." Dornar flushed as he said it.
Nanatu had served his wife for nearly a hundred years and had been despondent over her loss. Bastiaan frowned. He'd been very afraid the dolphin would starve to death. Yet, several weeks after her disappearance, he started to leave Atlantis for long periods. A part of him knew that the dolphin had been searching for his mistress. Six years had passed, and no matter how Bastiaan tried, he'd never been able to get the dolphin to accept the loss.
"I'll see to him."
Dornar nodded abruptly and cleared his throat. "Should I prepare to take him to Dr. Williams?"
Bethany Williams was a marine biologist, and like her ancestors, she served Atlantis. Very few humans were allowed such a relationship with the inhabitants of the underwater kingdom. Secrecy was the only real protection they had. Because of this, her relationship was never misused. There were very few circumstances where she would be called upon to travel to Atlantis herself, though she was certainly welcome. More often, the beings of Atlantis went to her.
"No, I doubt that will be necessary."
He dismissed the guard with a nod and then walked toward the back door of his office. A short hall lead him directly to the queen's pool, an area he had installed when he'd taken a mermaid for a wife. Nanatu surfaced as soon as he entered, and laid his head against the edge. His clicks were mournful.
Bastiaan sighed and sat down on the edge of the pool.
The dolphin moved closer and rubbed his head against his thigh.
"Old friend, you mustn't upset yourself this way." He rubbed the dolphin's head thoughtfully. "I know how much you miss her. There is nothing I wouldn't do to bring her back to us."
The dolphin clicked and turned to capture Bastian's fingers in his mouth. Gently, he pulled and backed away from the edge. After several seconds, he released the fingers and slid away into the water. Bastiaan sighed. He did not have time to swim with the dolphin. Yet, he found himself standing and diving into the water. His water form was similar to a merman, and he easily transitioned into it as he followed the dolphin away from the city.
Bastiaan broke the surface seconds after Nanatu did. The dolphin brushed up against him and clicked rapidly. They'd swum for hours, and for some reason that was nearly beyond him, Bastiaan had been unable to persuade the dolphin to return home. Concerned, he'd continued with the animal. They were off the coast of Florida in the island chain the humans called the Florida Keys. Three hundred yards in front of him lay a secluded stretch of beach with several small cottages.
"What is it, Nanatu?" He reached out to the dolphin and stroked his head. "Is this place special to you?"
Nanatu clicked again and prodded Bastiaan toward shore. Swearing, Bastiaan did as the dolphin urged and wondered yet again why he indulged the animal. He shifted as he approached the shore and stood on two legs in the shallow waters, looked back to Nanatu, and then strode forward. The part of him that was incapable of disappointing the animal that his wife had loved so dearly pushed him to leave the water.
The short white kilt he still wore clung to his thighs as he strode from the rushing tide. The sand was rough on his feet, but not unpleasant. He looked toward the cottage and for a moment, a wild, unacceptable hope filled him.
After six years, he couldn't let himself have such dreams. Yet, he moved quickly up the beach to the cottage. Just shy of the small porch that extended out in front of him, Bastiaan stopped. The open window drew him closer, and for the first time in six years, he found himself staring at his wife.
"Madeline." Her name was harsh in his mouth, bursting out with anguish. His legs grew weak, and he sank to his knees.
* * * *
Madeline finished washing the last of her brushes and turned toward the picture window that faced the sea. She pulled off her smock and shook back her hair as she walked toward the window. Silently, she wished the sea a good night and left the studio.
She moved through the dark cottage and into the bathroom where she shed the rest of her clothing. With economical movements, she turned on the shower and adjusted the temperature of the water to just above frigid, which suited her. Discovering that she preferred cold showers had been an odd experience. Stepping into the bracing cold, she felt her body heat in response. It always did. The water slid over her skin with relentless pressure, and as always, her body responded with heated pleasure.
Leaning against the cool tile, she let the water pour over her and reveled in the heady bliss of it. Her nipples tightened into hard, needy peaks, and her sex rushed wet with need. It had been at least six years since she'd known a man, and despite opportunities, the need to put one in her bed had never surfaced. She was lonely, more lonely than she'd thought was survivable, yet no man tempted her. There had been men who had charmed her into dates, but they'd never made it past her front door. In fact, most of them had never even gotten a kiss from her.
Lost in the pleasure of the water, the memory of his hands returned to her. The gentle, insistent hands that roamed her body with knowledge and love. So content with the images, her hands moved over her flesh, mimicking what her mind gave to her, until she slid two fingers into the mound of her sex. Her clit was already throbbing, her pulse a steady tattoo in the hardened flesh.
She rubbed herself in a steady circle all the while her mind was totally given over to the memory of another's touch. Orgasm came swiftly, and Madeline cried out with the lonely pleasure of it. Sliding to her knees, she rocked under the rush of water and sucked in a deep breath to keep the sobs at bay.
* * * *
Dr. Bethany Williams had met the Triton of Atlantis only once, and that had been the day she'd been told of her grandfather's role in the ancient and beautiful undersea kingdom of Atlantis. As a child, she'd gloried in tales of the Olympians, mermaids, and the mermen that might populate the sea in secret places. Finding out the stories her grandfather had told her were real had nearly given her a stroke. Still, she thought she'd recovered nicely and only managed to stutter for the first half of the conversation she'd had with the triton.
The fact that Bastiaan, the triton, was waiting in her office had her on edge. She'd dismissed her afternoon class nearly an hour early when her teaching assistant had brought the message that a Mr. Triton was waiting to see her. She pushed open the door and sucked an in deep breath. One was entitled to be a little breathless when faced with a real live demigod. Bastiaan was by far the most beautiful man she'd ever seen.
Long, dark hair fell to his shoulders, and more than once she'd had to still the urge to run her fingers through it. His tanned skin seemed to glow with vitality and power, and vivid blue eyes were framed by enviable lashes. He was broad-shouldered, slim-hipped, and just about every woman's walking sex fantasy. He was standing in her office, regarding her with a cool and appraising look she found disconcerting.
"Sire." Beth closed the door and flipped the lock. "I am surprised to see you."
"I don't often find a reason to come ashore."
"No. You don't." Beth walked to her desk and swallowed as she sat. "Is there an illness?"
"No one in Atlantis is in need of your services." Bastiaan sat down in the chair in front of her desk and was silent for a moment. "My wife is alive and living in the Florida Keys."
Beth's mouth dropped open. The loss of the Mermaid Queen nearly six years ago had been a personal blow for her. She remembered Madeline fondly and had always hoped that she would be around to see the triton and his queen have children. "Alive?"
"Yes." Bastiaan frowned. "You can trust that I find this situation upsetting. I had no indication from her that she was unhappy in our marriage. So unhappy that she would fake her death and live as a bloody human." He grimaced and waved a hand in defeat. "Not that there is anything wrong with being human."
Beth cleared her throat. "Well, given a choice, I'm sure a great many humans would love to live as you do. Have you spoken with her?"
"No. Nanatu brought me to her last night." He grew silent, his fists tight in his lap. "I'm afraid that if I approach her, I won't be kind."
"Sire, I'm sure you feel betrayed by this." Beth swallowed. One hundred and twenty years of marriage... She could barely imagine dating a man for a month, much less being married for over a hundred years. "The queen never once expressed that she was unhappy in her marriage to you. In fact, during her last visit with me, she spoke of having children."
"We kept putting it off." Bastiaan stood and walked toward the one small window in her office. "You have to find out why she left."
"Yes, you. I can't send anyone else. I won't have her think she has no choice but to return to me."
Beth stood and crossed her arms over her breasts. "And if she chooses to remain where she is?"
"I just want to know why she left me," Bastiaan snapped. "She's running a little art gallery in Marathon, Florida. She calls it Fathoms Below."
"How do you know this?"
"I stayed close to the cottage she's living in all night, and when she left, I searched through it trying to find some clue as to why she was there. All I found was paperwork on the storefront she's renting."
Beth went back to her desk and sat down. "Let me look it up on the Internet. Most tourist places have an Internet site..."
* * * *
Madeline glanced up at the two women drifting around her shop. She knew only one of them would purchase and was waiting for the right opportunity to approach them. Her ability to know her customers had been frightening when she'd first opened the gallery. Now it served to calm her. In the gallery, she was in command of the world around her and nothing was beyond her control. That could not be said once she left the shop.
She looked toward the customers once more and centered on the woman who would purchase. She would want a beach landscape, something simple and elegant to remind herself of her time in the Keys. Putting down the accounting ledger she'd been working with, she walked to the woman.
"Good afternoon, are you finding what you need?"
Both women turned to smile at her.
* * * *
"She doesn't know who she is."
Bastiaan sat back in his chair in shock. "What?"
"I can't believe I've missed it." Bethany clenched her hands into fists, her own anger surfacing. "She washed ashore in the Florida Keys, naked except for a few pieces of jewelry, only days after she disappeared from Atlantis. She knows nothing of what she is or where she comes from. There were a few tabloid stories about her, but I avoid those unless you ask me to clip things about merfolk sightings."
"It's true. From what I've been able to find, she believes she was in an accident at sea and that her husband must have died in the accident. When no one legitimate came forward to claim a relationship of any kind with her, she accepted that she was alone in the world.
"Over the last two years, she's begun to refuse interviews and television appearances. It has been reported that her amnesia might be permanent and the result of a very traumatic emotional loss." Bethany took a deep breath and tried to concentrate on what else she had to say. "There has been no real evidence that she's been romantic with anyone since her discovery."
"Even if she'd lost her memory, her natural instincts and drive for the water would have eventually revealed her nature to her," Bastiaan snapped.
"She hasn't gone into the water since she was found."
"Madeline hasn't been in the sea in six years?"
She cringed at his outrage. "She's afraid of it. I am so sorry, Sire."