Unedited excerpt from Siren’s Desire:
Little Mer Island
Hands clasped around her legs, Gabriella Randall sat on the craggy shore of Little Mer island. Propping her chin on her knees, she gazed over Penobscot Bay. The lights of Port Rock glistened in the distance, choppy dark waters separating the small island from the rest of civilization. A wind scented with the brine of the frigid sea kicked up, stirring the leaden clouds looming above her head.
Reluctant to abandon her perch, Gabriella relished the isolation, enjoying the solitude of the empty shoreline. The breeze grew stronger, smacking the waves against the shore before sending up a chilly spray. Invisible fingers tugged at her hair, caressing the hollows of her face. The sound of a foghorn challenged the crack of lightning and roll of thunder unleashed by the gale.
Still, she sat. Unlike people who liked a calm sunny day, she preferred gloomy, threatening skies. The thunder, the lightning, the way the wind beat the water to a froth appealed to something wild, something primal, deep inside her soul.
Gabriella turned, and her searching gaze focused on the solitary figure trekking across the rocky outcropping. Fighting the wind, the tall figure picked his way up to her perch.
She allowed a reluctant smile. “What’s up, Pops?”
Kenneth Randall answered with a shake of his head. “I’ve come to see why my daughter is too silly to get out of the storm.”
She shrugged. “Suits my mood.”
Her father gave the shifting depths beneath the rocky outcropping a chary glance. “It doesn’t suit mine, especially when there’s lightning.” He held out a hand. “Get up, kiddo. Dad says so.”
Gabriella climbed to her feet. Her father had always been her protector, the knight every little girl needed to slay the dragons. “Don’t worry. I’m fine. Really.”
He rescanned the angry sky. The storm intensified. A bolt of lightning streaked toward the earth, followed by a violent roll of thunder. “I’d feel better if you came inside.”
She nodded. “Okay, dad. Whatever you say.”
Her father reached for her arm, linking them together. They walked together, leaving the shore behind. Glancing up, Gabriella caught sight of the island’s lighthouse. The tall edifice stood resolute, defiant against the stormy tempests of autumn. Strong and sure, its beacon sliced the dusk, marking the dangerous coastline.
As they passed it, she glanced toward the high perch circling the lanthorn. The narrow catwalk surrounded by a high railing allowed a complete of the island and surrounding water from all sides. A lone figure in a yellow slicker and holding a pair of high-powered binoculars occupied the lookout.
Gabby sighed. Her sister. Her twin. The bane of her existence. Now she knew who’d ratted her out. Tattletale!
Izzy waved. She shouted something, but her words were swept away.
Gabby shook her fist in the air. “Fink!” She gestured harder. “I’ll get even.”
Kenneth tugged her arm. “She’s just worried about you.”
She let her hand drop. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
The trail leading to the house was composed of meticulously placed stepping stones lined by manicured lawns and low hedges. Pine trees clustered around the two story Cape-Cod style home afforded a bit of leeway from a continual battering of wind and water. It wasn’t a large structure, but it was well maintained and projected an image of simplicity and elegance.
They entered through the back door, pausing by the utility room to shed their jackets.
That done, Kenneth placed his hand on the small of Gabriella’s back and gave her a gentle shove into the adjoining kitchen. “Sit down.”
Her reply was a mumble. “Okay.”
Feet dragging, Gabby headed toward the table. Damn it! She was twenty-three years old, but when her father put that tone in his voice, she felt like a six year old again.
Tessa Randall glanced up. “I see you found our missing child.” She stood at the kitchen stove, stirring something in a saucepan. The burners were loaded down with the night’s meal; spaghetti boiled in one pot, potatoes in another. The sauce, a thick mix loaded with tomatoes, garlic and other fragrant spices scented the air.
Gabby released a sound of disgust. “I’m not missing, mom.”
“She’s got your heart, Tessa.” Kenneth offered his wife a quick hug. Married for twenty-four years, their relationship was rock solid. “Can’t stay away from the water when the weather’s ugly.”
Tessa tossed a smile. Dressed casually in jeans and a man’s flannel shirt, she’d twirled up her hair, securing it with a simple clip. A delicate gold chain holding a simple crystal pendant and a plain gold ring was all the jewelry she wore. “Of course. A stormy day is what bought you my way.” She elbowed him back. “But I’m tempted to toss you back if you don’t get out of the way.”
Kenneth backed off. “Whatever you say, boss.” Reaching for the coffeepot, he filled two cups. He sat one steaming mug in front of Gabriella. “Warm up.”
“Thanks.” Cupping the mug to warm her hands. Gabriella inhaled the fragrant steam of the French style coffee infused with the cloying taste of mocha. Now that she was inside, it was easy to admit she was a little cold. She added heaping spoons of sugar and a lashing of cream before the brew suited her.
Kenneth sipped his coffee before impaling her with an inquiring gaze. “So why the long face? You’ve been moping around since you got home from college.”
Gabby shook her head. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s something,” her father prodded.
Tessa cut into the conversation. “That’s not what Isabella says.”
Gabby rolled her eyes. Why did that brat, her younger sister by ten whole freaking minutes, have to rat her out? She should’ve known confiding in Isabella was a mistake. That fat mouth couldn’t keep a secret.
She caved. “Oh, for heaven’s sake. So, I’m a little depressed. It’s been three months since I graduated, and I can’t find a job.” As a newly minted graduate with a B.A in Archaeological Studies, she still hadn’t nailed down a position in her profession.
“You’ve only just began sending out resumes,” Kenneth said. “Someone will ping you soon, I’m sure. Until then, just chill and enjoy life.”
Gabriella drummed her fingers. She didn’t feel like hanging around, waiting. She wanted action. Soon. “You’d think a Mer would be the first one they’d want to call for undersea exploration and recovery, but noooo.”
Moving the sauce off the burner, Tessa wiped her hands on a dishrag. “People are still iffy about our kind, Gabriella. Only a few decades have passed since we came out into the human population.”
Gabriella found it hard to suppress a frown. She couldn’t imagine constantly trying to conceal her origins. Her mother, her aunts, other Mer… Back then, their numbers were few and far between, and survival depended on hiding their true natures. Although the rediscovery of Ishaldi had revealed an entire lost civilization to the eyes of the world, the Mer born undersea were reluctant to try and merge with a society they neither understood nor wanted to join. Naturally warlike and aggressive, the Mer simply didn’t like land-walkers. In their minds, human beings served two purposes: for servitude, or breeding.
Prejudice on both sides ran deep. She’d encountered it, time and time again. For every person who accepted her, there were ten more who didn’t want anything to do with her species. Though she worked twice as hard to fit in, she often felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
“And you think they’re discriminating against you because you wear a tail?” Tessa asked.
Gabriella shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. Trouble is, I just don’t know.”
Kenneth cocked a brow. As a man who’d married a mermaid, he’d endured a lot of ridicule — and fought a lot of battles — in an attempt to bridge the divide between the landlocked humans and the riverine females. “Give it some time. You know as well as I do underwater archaeology costs ten times more to fund. And with the Mer seeking to claim more territory beyond the Mediterranean, a lot of arguing is still going on over protection of sites they consider rightfully theirs.”
The wheels in her mind began to turn. “You know, my aunt is queen of the Mer. Maybe she could get something going…”
Tessa impaled her with a frown. “Gabby, don’t you dare bother Addison with your whining.”
Gabriella flicked a fall of stray hair out of her eyes. “I’m just kidding.”
“Instead of kidding, maybe you should inquire about an internship in Ishaldi,” her father suggested. “The undersea Mer are still trying to undo the damages of their long isolation.”
Gabby sipped her coffee, barely palatable a lukewarm temperature.
The Mer still had an uphill battle ahead, and it wasn’t going to be easy or painless. She’d specifically chosen underwater archaeology, not only because she had an advantage, but also because she hoped to locate evidence that Aqua-sapien and Homo-sapien had the same point of origin.
She was about to say as much, when Isabella burst through the back door. A spray of sea-salted wind and water followed her.
Izzy ripped off her slicker. “Hell of a storm.”
“Hang it,” Tessa warned. “And watch your mouth.”
Slicker properly dealt with, Isabella ruffled her wet hair and headed toward the coffee pot. With her disheveled short crop and fogged glasses, she resembled a myopic chicken.
Gabriella sighed. Right now she felt her life was a whole lot of nothing. Going nowhere.
Izzy sipped her coffee. “I thought you’d be all happy-joy crazy today.”
Gabby gritted her teeth unwilling to cut anyone slack. “Why would I be happy, you dip?”
“Girls,” Kenneth rumbled.
Tessa looked up from her cooking. “You two are too old to bicker.”
Izzy sneered. “I think my real sister was separated from me at birth.”
Tessa rolled her eyes. “Trust me, you two both came out of my womb. I recall every agonizing moment, too.”
Kenneth broke it up. “Izzy, stop being a pain.” A grin turned up one corner of his mouth. “Gabriella, maybe you should check today’s mail.”
Blood turning to ice, Gabriella felt her heart miss a beat. “Where is it?”
Tessa walked to the catch-all basket sitting on the buffet. She plucked out an envelope and handed it over. “Good news, I hope.”
Throat tight, suddenly unable to breathe, Gabriella looked at the letter. The upper left corner bore the identity of the sender: National Oceanic Research Administration. It also bore the name of the sender. Professor Bernard Hubbard. Fighting to swallow, she forced herself to take a breath. “Holy crap.”
“Well?” All three inquired at once.
Gabriella lowered the letter. “I can’t…”
“Why not?” Isabella demanded.
Gabriella tried to force calm upon her erratic pulse. “Professor Hubbard is one of the few archaeologists working in the field of Mer historical studies. He only picks the best to work on his team.” Hardly daring to hope, she’d applied for a scientific diving internship.
Kenneth beamed. “Well, that would be my daughter.”
Blinking hard, she fingered the heavy linen paper. “But what if it’s not?” At this point she had a feeling her chances were slim to none. Top-quality programs usually received a ton of applications for a few precious slots.
“Oh, for the love of the goddess.” Isabella plucked the letter out of Gabby’s numb fingers. Without hesitation, she tore into the envelope and extracted its contents. Glancing at it, her face fell. “Well, that sucks.”
Gabriella pitched forward, pressing her forehead against the cool tabletop. “I knew it,” she moaned. “He turned me down.”
A sharp smack ricocheted off her skull. “You’re in, dumbass.”