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Diary of a radical merma.., p.8
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       Diary of a Radical Mermaid, p.8

           Deborah Smith
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  I set Heathcliff down on the bed, then slowly edged over to the bay window. Its window seat was cushioned with sumptuous silk pillows. I eased down on them, craned my head, and peeked down at the beach.

  My breath caught in my throat. He stood, a dark, masculine silhouette with moonlight carving his face, at the edge of the tide. The foaming water curled around his feet like cream being whisked. From the tilt of his head I knew he was looking up at me. That we had found each other. Found each other. What a thought. I was too used to loneliness to believe I’d found or been found by a man.

  Well, Molly Revere, it’s good to see that you look none the worse for being kidnapped by Juna Lee.

  How can you know anything about me? I’m just a dark shape in the window.

  Some shapes are better than others.

  Oh. Plus, I have a vagina.

  Do no’ be pretending you don’t appreciate the fact that I have the opposite.

  Ah hah. The opposite. He was a gentleman. A gentleman didn’t say penis until the lady said it first. Shy. No. Not shy. Gallant.

  But I was in no mood for gallantry. You have a big, wagging, testosterone-overloaded penis, you mean.

  He gave a psychic cough. That would be the technical term. I prefer to call it my Moby Dick.

  I burst out laughing, then stopped, horrified. I clasped a hand to my mouth, as if my mouth was working without me. Not only had I lost my mind, I was casually discussing penises with a stranger. Me, a Presbyterian librarian from Boston. While I was still being held prisoner in Casa de Juna.

  About my circumstances, Mr. Dick . . .

  I’ll have you out in a minute.

  My nameless visitor stepped out of the surf and strode across the sandy yard toward the cottage. I watched, breathless and intrigued, as his tall, muscular form disappeared beneath my window.

  Be careful! You’ll have to get past a huge wrestler named Charley the Tuna.

  I already have. He’s locked in the boat house.

  I sank back on the pillows, speechless.

  I was being rescued.

  * * * *

  The peal of a ship’s bell in the mansion’s turret at Sainte’s Point interrupted mine and Anna Chin’s meeting of the Diamond Appreciation Society. We followed the crowd to the lawn below the mansion’s broad verandas. Oil lamps and lanterns flickered everywhere, casting lovely fingers of light up into the moss-draped oaks. Deer, raccoons, wild turkeys, and other wildlife stood respectfully in the shadows, munching a wedding feast of fine grains and corn, while spectating on our sport. Behind us, the Atlantic kissed the shore, drew back coyly, then kissed and withdrew again. A number of guests wore soaking wet gowns and tuxedoes, having succumbed to the usual Mer fondness for a tipsy tickle-and-grab in the ocean. Waiters and waitresses handed out tall crystal flutes filled with lots of vodka and a little tonic (a Bonavendier tradition at celebrations).

  Amidst a glow of lights and applause, Lilith and her two full sisters, Mara and Pearl, appeared on the veranda. The three of them made an awesome sight: stately Lilith, sarcastic, beautiful Mara (my favorite), and sweet, flaky Pearl. Imagine an eagle, a hawk, and a parakeet. Talk about birds of a finned feather. Their men — Riyad, C.A. and Barrett -— stood behind them, as men should.

  “When we found our half-sister, Alice, in the mountains of northern Georgia,” Lilith said, looking like a dream in a strapless Oolterang, with her silvery auburn hair up in a pearl-wrapped chignon, “we prayed that she’d become a happy part of our family and our heritage. That dream has come true. And now it’s our immense pleasure to present her and her husband, who is also a dear part of our family. My friends, my kin, let us toast Ali Bonavendier Randolph and Griffin Randolph!”

  Cheers erupted. Crystal flutes were raised. In the cove that served as the island’s marina, dozens of dolphins raised their heads from the water and chittered their congratulations.

  Ali and Griffin came out of the mansion, hand in hand, him big and rough-edged (his father? A rich, brutal Lander!) but handsome, dressed in a tuxedo yet shirtless and barefoot; Ali glowing in an antique wedding dress that had belonged to some Victorian Bonavendier, her long brunette hair streaming over the fine silk and tulle in gleaming rivers. Saltwater dripped from the couple; Ali plucked a bit of seaweed off Griffin’s lapel.

  Everyone laughed and applauded. In true Mer style, the newly married duo had christened their union in the bay, making love under the water, surrounded by guardian dolphins.

  My heart twisted with envy. Oh, what a sucker I was for weddings. What an absolute, sentimental idiot. As Ali and Griffin waved to their guests, and everyone toasted them, I blinked back tears.

  I dodged out of the crowd, into the darkness along the beach. Stupid, stupid, stupid, I chanted silently. You wouldn’t marry Jordan, even if he asked you. Not that he’s ever asked.

  Help, a voice grunted in my head. I halted, listening. Uh, help, it said, plodding and masculine, a little embarrassed.

  Charley? What’s going on?

  Uh, well, nothing. Sort of.


  I’m locked in the boathouse at Randolph Cottage.

  I groaned. And?

  I’m never letting you talk me into building a bamboo raft again.

  Molly And Rhymer

  Chapter 10

  My rescuer — whatever his real name, I refused to call him Mr. Dick again — my rescuer jerked open the cottage’s massive front door downstairs, sounding as if he’d nearly ripped it from its hinges. Upstairs, I hurriedly guided Heathcliff into his wicker carrier, then grabbed my cane and waited.

  Soft thuds on the staircase. The rescuer was barefooted. I heard the sensation of his naked feet, I felt his thoughts — or, at least, some of them. Briefly I had dated a New York Times book reviewer who claimed to be psychic. “I knew you were going to say that,” he often claimed. He dropped me for a woman who wrote true-crime novels.

  “You can predict her reviews before she gets them,” I told him. “And help her solve who-dunnits.”

  But this, this involvement with the amazing stranger who’d come out of the bay at my call, was nothing so silly as that. I could feel his strong and steady heartbeat in my mind. His heart was coming up the stairs with him. I put a hand over my own heart.

  “Stand back, Moll,” he said through the door.

  Moll. I was a racy Scottish Moll now?

  “Moll is standing far, far away,” I confirmed.

  He kicked the door open. The lock ripped from its berth. Heavy wood splintered and sprayed. The ghostly fingertip of an oak tree stroked my cheek.

  My stranger stepped inside the dark room. Suddenly, he had a scent — a good scent, of salt and water and moonlight and sand — and a presence, a brisk warmth, an impression of broad shoulders, long legs, shadowed eyes. He towered over me.

  “Where do you want to go?” he asked.

  Wherever you are. Thank goodness, that thought didn’t escape my own head. He would have commented, surely. “Anywhere. I have a bus.”

  “Not anymore. It’s nowhere to be seen.”

  Juna Lee had hidden my bus? That woman. I sighed. “I noticed a beautiful little bayside village on the way here. Maybe it’s close enough to walk?”

  “Hmmm. Bellemeade. I’ll take you to the inn there. Good enough?”

  “Oh, more than . . . thank you.” Silence. I stepped into the moonlight, squinting as it bathed my face. I wanted a good look at him, but he stayed in the shadows. His face was beautiful, harsh but gentle, with big, sea-gray eyes and dark hair. I could feel him studying me, making my heart race. In my new mode as a psychic soothsayer, I could swear his heartbeat matched my own. Except yours truly was not the type who gave men palpitations.

  Tired and suddenly sad, I said crisply, “To whom do I owe the honor of rescuing me?”

  “Well, it’s not Tom the Ranger.”

  Exposed like a bug under a flower pot.

  “I have no idea what you mean by that.”

  “Right. But cal
l me Tom, if that suits you. Come along, Moll.” He reached for the cat carrier. “You and your worried puss, too.”

  “My puss and I,” I said drily, clutching the carrier’s handle, “can make our own way downstairs, thank you.”

  “Ar.” Some Scottish invective. Burp a haggis. That sound.

  I had a small problem. I was lying about being able to lug the carrier down a steep flight of stairs. Nonetheless, I picked it up and balanced heavily on my cane. Like most handicapped people confronted by able-bodied arrogance, I had a fierce need to appear completely and totally independent. “Excuse me.”

  He stepped aside.

  I lumbered past. Thump, step, thump, step. The dance of my daily life. I hated my scarred right leg. Hated the memory of the car accident on Cape Cod that had taken my parents and left me crippled when I was only fifteen. Hated the rare blood disease — leukemia, or whatever it was — that haunted me. Hated being an easy target for cheap pity and petty humiliation. Hated feeling Tom the Ranger’s dark eyes on me.

  “Moll, I’m in a bit of a hurry — sorry,” he said suddenly. He scooped me up into his arms, cat, wicker carrier, and all. “I’ll no’ drop you. Or your puss. You have my word.”

  I hugged the carrier and peered around it, staring at him, open-mouthed.

  “You better not drop my puss, at least.”

  Five minutes later we were standing on the sandy front walkway outside the cottage. At least, he was standing. I was still being carried. He shoved the pathway’s curlicued white gate open with his bare foot. I still had no idea who he was, where he’d come from, or why he happened to be barefoot and wearing a black wet suit, not to mention armed with what appeared to be a waterproof gun holster and a small, ceremonial sword belted to his waist.

  “I can walk now, Tom.”

  “Too slow for my purposes, Moll.”

  “Smile when you say that, stranger.”

  “I’m not making fun of you, and I’m not pitying you. You’ve had a hard day or two, Moll. Relax and enjoy the ride. Just do me a favor, will you? Latch your inside arm around my neck. I don’t fancy a mile walk to Bellemeade with your nicely pronged elbow in my ribs, hmmm?”

  “At least you didn’t call it a bony elbow.”

  “There’s nothing bony about you. Just . . . precise. The arm. Around my neck, Moll.”

  I slowly curled one arm over his shoulder, curved it behind his neck, and just as slowly unfurled a hand on the hard surface of his opposite shoulder. I felt his muscles shift under the thin wet suit. I forced my fingers not to stroke the movement. They curled and uncurled, despite me. “Your ribs are safe now.”

  “But as for the rest of me?”

  A heat lamp scoured my face. No doubt, I turned rose-red. “Perfectly safe, I assure you.”

  “Then you’re a grand challenge, Moll.”

  Inside the cat carrier, Heathcliff began to purr loudly. Tom the Stranger had that effect on a puss. As we stepped through the gate, fireworks burst from the island. Enormous chrysanthemums of gold and white bloomed over the bay, then streamers of magenta and multicolored whirls. The beautiful kaleidoscope sprinkled us with ethereal light. I was being showered by magic in the arms of a gallant, mysterious stranger.

  “Ah. The wedding,” he said. “It’s officially celebrated now. ’Tis a good thing, the honoring of bonds between a man and a woman.”

  I gazed at the beautiful night sky over Sainte’s Point with awe. This coast was full of magic. The lure was powerful. I wasn’t sure what to think, what to believe, or whom to trust. Except the man who held me in his arms. I’d finally been rescued.

  Don’t let him hear you thinking.

  Too late. He turned, frowning and tired, his head near mine, his lips near my ear. As the boom of the fireworks continued before us, he spoke intimately, brushing my skin with his breath. “The name’s Rhymer McEvers. And yes, if you and I had naught else to worry about, I’d love to dance with you under those lights.”

  With that — my heart and puss clutched firmly in his possession — he carried me to town.

  * * * *

  I’ve known women, lots of them — wink and a nod — but I’d not met one like this one, before. This Molly Martha Revere, as quaint as an old-fashioned pudding, as unpredictable as a minnow in the shallows, perched in the window above me, in the dark. I knew nothing but that Juna Lee had caught her up in some scheme. Kidnapping a fellow Mer — which this Molly was, even if a bit unsure about it all — kidnapping a fellow Mer was against the rules I was sworn to enforce, as a Peacekeeper for the Council. Beyond that, I shouldn’t have cared about Juna Lee’s victims one way or the other. I helped this little Molly minnow out of her puddle, admired her with a tug at my heart and my Moby, then disappeared back into the bay.

  But I could no’ forget her.

  * * * *

  “Give her back, Tula.”

  “I will not. Unlike you, Juna Lee, she’s a real writer. And a fan of serious fiction. I like her. We may start a book club.”

  Tula was pissed at me. After the wedding she’d returned from Sainte’s Point and dropped by WaterLilies Inn (which she co-owns with our Great-Aunt Pearl) for a nightcap, only to find a message from Rhymer McEvers about my perky little escaped prisoner, who he’d left at the sushi bar. Tula found her calmly nibbling steamed soy beans and ahi.

  “I can assume you’re my cousin’s kidnap victim?” Tula asked drolly.

  “Yes,” Her Mollyness replied. “You don’t seem surprised. She’s a sociopath, you know.”

  “I know. I’m so sorry. Truly.”

  “May I borrow your cell phone? I’d like to hire a hit man to break her kneecaps.”

  “Oh, please,” I said to Tula now, “like I haven’t been threatened by worse.” I jerked my head toward the broad windows of Tula’s Victorian marsh cottage. Bellemeade Bay shimmered in the moonlight beyond the gently swaying marsh grass. “Look, I don’t have time to argue. I didn’t know Rhymer had already reached Georgia. That means Jordan is out there in a cove somewhere, playing bodyguard to Rhymer’s nieces while Rhymer’s been rescuing Little Miss Molly Muffet from my evil tuffet, and he needs my help. So don’t piddle around. Give me my gimpy author back. She’s the ticket to my redemption with the Council. She’s the reason Lilith cleared me to stay here. All she is to Rhymer is an appetizer.”

  Tula waved both arms. The silk sleeves of her antique kimono fluttered. She looked like a big butterfly with red hair. “Juna Lee, haven’t you done enough damage? Leave Molly alone. She’s in my guest suite upstairs. Happily stoned on vodka tonics. I went up to offer her a midnight snack and she was out on the balcony, crying and looking toward Sainte’s Point. When I asked her what was wrong — besides the obvious, you know, like being kidnapped, transported across state lines, and held prisoner at Randolph Cottage — she hiccupped and smiled and said, ‘Who am I? Where am I? What am I? I’ve never found the real world particularly romantic before. But this world is a very romantic place.’”

  “So? She’s babbling. She’s one lipstick shy of a makeup kit. I’m telling you. It’s like trying to hold a conversation with Anna Nicole Smith.”

  “Juna Lee! Don’t you get it? Despite everything you did to her, she’s happy to be here. Rhymer rescued her and carried her all the way to the inn. Something happened between them. Something sentimental. Something good.”

  I gaped at my cousin. Finally, I smiled. “Ah hah! My matchmaking plan is already working!”

  “You call this a plan?”

  “Whatever. It’s working.”

  “Hello, Juna Lee, you bee-atch,” Molly said, drunk but dignified, above us. We turned and looked up. She wobbled then leaned rakishly on the white rail of the upstairs landing, which overlooked Tula’s luxurious, sea-colored wicker den. Her fine, short brown hair fluffed around her face, electrified by some alchemy of salt air and Rhymer lust and cola-induced inebriation. One of Tula’s slinky silk robes draped her like a Greek toga. She glared down at me. She looked like an enr
aged Tweetie Bird.

  I batted my eyelashes. “So you and Rhymer hit it off?”

  “He’s a gentleman. I appreciate a gentleman. That’s all I’m going to say.”

  “Too bad. So nothing fun happened?”

  “I want to know more about him. Tell me. Does he live near here? Is he some kind of law enforcement officer in the States? FBI? CIA? Navy Seal?”

  I snorted. “Maybe a selkie. Not a seal.”

  “Tell me more.”

  “So Molly The Magnificent admits she needs my help, hmmm?”

  “It’s research on mermen. For a future book.”

  “Oh, sure, you drunken little geek. Research. All right, I’ll tell you all about Rhymer. But only if you do something for me in return.” I smiled up at her. “You have to spend the summer at Randolph Cottage. And you have to promise to keep quiet about our little road trip from Memphis. Don’t use the k-word, again. Kidnapping. You won’t file charges. Capice?”

  She stared down at me, her fine-boned face working up a delicate pucker of disgust. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she hawked a loogy at me. I subtly moved out of range. Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t worry. I never spit in public.”

  Damn. She was hearing my thoughts. Her Mer talents were developing quickly. I put a hand on one hip. “Don’t get uppity, you stubby-toed Floater.”

  “Juna Lee,” Tula scolded. “How tacky. Picking on a fellow Mer’s toe status.”

  But my former captive wasn’t chastened. The smug little shark smiled, showing pearly teeth. “You need me. I need you. Fine. Tomorrow, I’ll move into Randolph Cottage. And I’ll pretend to forget that you k-worded me.” She turned away, then hesitated and looked back. “I want my bus here by eight a.m. With your lipstick stains washed off the glassware and your crayon marks scrubbed off the dining table. Good night.”

  She limped back to the guest suite while I went ah-ah-ah with my speechless mouth, then noticed that Tula was biting her fist to keep from laughing at me.

  * * * *

  Hello, hello? Calling Rhymer McEvers. It’s Molly Revere. The psychic pen pal you rescued earlier tonight. Testing. One. Two. Three. Testing. Oh, this is ridiculous. I can’t believe I believe this is possible. It’s not. I’m hallucinating. Suffering from PJSS. Post Juna Lee Stress Syndrome. Rhymer McEvers is out on the ocean somewhere, and I’m here at Tula Bonavendier’s home, and if I want to talk to him in the middle of the night I’d better pick up my cell phone — which would be way too bold for a Boston librarian turned world-famous author to do. I’m going to sleep, now. Sleep. Sleep. Concentrate on sleeping. I’m drunk on cola with a chaser of rum and I’m growing sleepy—

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