Love Struck | Chapter 4 of 16

Author: Melissa Marr | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1047 Views | Add a Review

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Love Struck

 

MELISSA MARR

 

DESPITE IT BEING AT the beach, the party was lame. A few people were trying to turn noise into music: if Alana had been high or drunk, it might’ve been tolerable. But she was sober—and tense. Usually, the beach was where she found peace and pleasure; it was one of the only places where she felt like the world wasn’t impossibly out of order. But tonight, she felt anxious.

A guy sat down beside her; he held out a cup. “You look thirsty.”

“I’m not thirsty”—she glanced at him and tore her gaze away as quickly as she could—“or interested.” Eye candy. She didn’t date eye candy. She’d been watching her mother do that for years. It was so not the path Alana was taking. Ever. Instead, she stared at the singer. He was normal, not-tempting, not-exciting. He was cute and sweet, but not irresistible. That was the sort of guy Alana chose when she dated—safe, temporary, and easy to leave.

She smiled at the singer. The bad rendition of a Beatles song shifted into a worse attempt at poetry. . .or maybe a cover of something new and emo. It didn’t really matter what it was: Alana was going to listen to it and not pay attention to the hot dreadlocked guy who was sitting too close beside her.

Dreadlocks, however, wasn’t taking the hint.

“Are you cold? Here.” He tossed a long brown leather coat on the sand in front of her. It looked completely out of place for the crowd at the party.

“No, thanks.” Alana scooted a bit away from him, closer to the fire. Burnt embers swirled and lifted like fireflies rising with the smoke.

“You’ll get cold walking home and—”

“Go away. Please.” Alana still didn’t look back at him. Polite wasn’t working. “I’m not interested, easy, or going to get drunk enough to be either of those. Seriously.”

He laughed, seeming not insulted but genuinely amused. “Are you sure?”

“Leave.”

“It’d be easier this way. . ..”

He moved closer, putting himself between her and the fire, directly in her line of view.

And she had to look, not a quick glance, but a real look. Illuminated by the combined glow of firelight and moonlight, he was even more stunning than she’d feared: blond hair clumped in thick dreadlocks that stretched to his waist; a few of those thick strands were kelp-green; his tattered T-shirt had holes that allowed glimpses of the most defined abs she’d ever seen.

He was crouched down, balancing on his feet. “Even if it wouldn’t upset Murrin, it’d be tempting to take you.”

Dreadlocks reached out as if he was going to cup her face in his hand.

Alana crab-walked backward, scuttling over the sand until she was just out of his reach. She scrambled to her feet and slipped a hand into the depths of her bag, past her shoes and her jumble of keys. She gripped her pepper spray and flicked the safety switch off, but didn’t pull it out of her bag yet. Logic said she was overreacting: There were other people around; she was safe here. But something about him felt wrong.

“Back off,” she said.

He didn’t move. “Are you sure? Really, it’d be easier for you this way. . ..”

She pulled out the pepper spray.

“It’s your choice, precious. It’ll be worse once he finds you.” Dreadlocks paused as if she’d say something or change her mind.

She’d couldn’t reply to comments that made no sense, though—and she surely wasn’t going to change her mind about getting closer to him.

He sighed. “I’ll be back after he breaks you.”

Then he walked away, heading toward the mostly empty parking lot.

She watched until she was sure he was gone. Grappling with drunk or high or whatever-he-was guys wasn’t on her to do list. She’d taken self-defense and street-defense classes, heard countless lectures on safety, and kept her pepper spray handy—her mother was very good about that part of parenting. None of that meant she wanted to have to use those lessons.

She looked around the beach. There were some strangers at the party, but mostly the people there were ones she’d seen around at school or out walking the reef. Right now, none of them was paying any attention to her. No one even looked her way. Some had watched when she was backing away from Dreadlocks, but they’d stopped watching when he left.

Alana couldn’t decide if he was just messing with her or if someone there really posed a threat. . .or if he was saying that to spook her into leaving the party so she’d be alone and vulnerable. Usually, when she walked home, she went in the same direction he’d gone, but just in case he was lurking in the parking lot, she decided to go farther down the beach and cut across Coast Highway. It was a couple blocks out of the way, but he’d creeped her out. A lot. He made her feel trapped, like prey.

When she’d walked far enough away that the bonfire was a glow in the distance and the roll of waves was all she could hear, the knot of tension in her neck loosened. She had gone the opposite direction of danger, and she stood in one of the spots where she felt safest, most at peace—the exposed reef. The ground under her feet shifted from sandy beach to rocky shelf. Tide pools were spread open to the moon. It was perfect, just her and the sea. She needed that, the peace she found there. She went toward a ledge of the reef where waves crashed and sprayed upward. Mussel shells jutted up like blunt black teeth. Slick sea lettuce and sea grasses hid crabs and unstable ground. She was barefoot, balancing on the edges of the reef, feeling that rush as the waves came ever closer, feeling herself fill up with the peace Dreadlocks had stolen.

Then she saw him standing in the surf in front of her, staring at her, oblivious to the waves that broke around him. “How did he get here first?”

She shivered, but then realized that it wasn’t him. The guy was as defined as Dreadlocks, but he had long, loose, dark hair. Just a surfer. Or Dreadlocks’s friend. The surfer wasn’t wearing a wetsuit. He looked like he might be. . .naked. It was difficult to tell with the waves crashing around him; at the very least, he was topless in the frigid water.

He lifted his hand to beckon her closer, and she thought she heard him say, “I’m safe enough. Come talk to me.”

It was her imagination, though. It had to be. She was just freaked out by Dreadlocks. There was no way this guy could’ve heard her over the breaking of waves, no way she could’ve heard him.

But that didn’t change her suspicion that somehow they had just spoken.

Primal fear uncoiled in her belly, and for the second time that night, she backed away without looking. Her heel sliced open on the edge of a mussel shell. The sting of salt water made her wince as she walked farther away, unable to ignore the panic, the urge to run. She glanced back and saw that he hadn’t moved, hadn’t stopped watching her with that unwavering gaze. And her fear turned to fury.

Then she saw the long black leather coat slung carelessly on the sand; it looked like a darker version of the coat Dreadlocks had offered her. She stepped on it and ground her blood-and-sand-caked foot on it. It wasn’t smooth like leather should be. Instead, the material under her foot was silk-soft fur, an animal’s pelt, a seal’s skin.

It was a pelt.

She pulled her gaze away from that dark pelt and stared at him. He still stood in the surf. Waves curled around him like the sea had formed arms of itself, hiding him, holding him.

He smiled again and told her, “Take it. It’s yours now.”

And she knew she had heard his voice that time; she’d felt the words on her skin like the wind that stirred the water. She didn’t want to reach down, didn’t want to lift that pelt into her arms, but she had no choice. Her bleeding foot had broken his glamour, ended his manipulation of her senses, and she knew him for what he truly was: a selchie. He was a fey creature, a seal person, and he wasn’t supposed to exist.

Maybe it was fun to believe in them when she was a little girl sharing her storybooks with Nonny, but Alana knew that her grandmother’s insistence that selchies were real was just another type of make-believe. Seals didn’t walk on land among humans; they didn’t slip out of their Other-Skins. They were just beautiful myths. She knew that—except she was looking at a selchie who was telling her to take his Other-Skin.

Just like the one at the bonfire.

She stood motionless as she tried to process the enormity of what had happened, what was happening right now.

Two selchies. I met two freaking selchies. . .who tried to trap me.

And in that instant, she understood: the fairy tales were all wrong. It wasn’t the mortals’ fault. Alana didn’t want to stay there looking at him, but she was no longer acting of her own volition.

I am trapped.

The fishermen in the old stories who’d taken the selchies’ pelts hadn’t been entrapping innocent fey creatures: they’d been entrapped by selchie women. Perhaps it was too hard for the fishermen to admit that they were the ones who got trapped, but Alana suddenly knew the truth that none of the stories had shared. A mortal could no more resist the pull of that pelt than the sea could refuse to obey the pull of the moon. Once she took the pelt, lifted it into her mortal arms, she was bound to him. She knew what he was, knew the trap was sprung, but she was no different from the mortals in the stories she’d grown up hearing. She could not resist. She took the pelt and ran, hoping she could foist it off on someone else before he found her, before Murrin followed her home—because he had to be Murrin, the one Dreadlocks was talking about, the one that the creepy selchie had told her was worse.

 

Murrin watched her run, felt the irresistible need to follow her. She carried his skin with her: he had no choice but follow. It would have been better if she hadn’t run.

With murmured epithets over her flight, he stepped out of the surf and made his way to the tiny caves the water had carved into the sandstone. Inside, he had his shore-clothes: woven sandals, well-worn jeans, a few shirts, and a timepiece. When his brother, Veikko, had gone ashore earlier, he’d borrowed the soft shirt Murrin had liked so. Instead, Murrin had to wear one that required fastening many small buttons. He hated buttons. Most of his family didn’t go shore-walking often enough that they needed many clothes, but Murrin had been on land often enough that the lack of a decent shirt was displeasing. He barely fastened the shirt, slipping a couple of the tiny disks into the equally tiny holes, and went to find her—the girl he’d chosen over the sea.

He hadn’t meant for her to find his Other-Skin like this, not yet, not now. He’d intended to talk to her, but as he was coming out of the water, he’d seen her—here and not at the party. He watched her, trying to figure how to walk out of the surf without startling her, but then he felt it: the touch of her skin on his pelt. His pelt wasn’t to be there. It wasn’t to happen like this. He’d had a plan.

A selchie couldn’t have both a mate and the water, so Murrin had waited until he found a girl intriguing enough to hold his attention. After living with the moods of the sea, it wasn’t an easy task to find a person worth losing the waves for.

But I have.

So he’d intended to ease her fears, to try to woo her instead of trapping her, but when she stepped on his Other-Skin, all of those choices had vanished. This was it: they were bound. Now, he was left doing the same thing his father had once done, trying to convince a mortal to trust him after he’d trapped her. The fact that he hadn’t put his pelt where she’d find it didn’t change anything. He was left trying to wait out her fears, to find a way to convince her to trust him, to hope for a way to persuade her to forgive him: all of the very same things he’d wanted to avoid.

Mortals weren’t strong enough of will to refuse the enchantment that bound him to her. It wouldn’t make her love him, but selchies grew up knowing that love wasn’t often theirs to have. Tradition mattered more. Finding a mate, making a family, those mattered more.

And Murrin’s plan to buck tradition by getting to know his intended first had gone horribly off course.

Thanks to Veikko.

 

At the dirty bathrooms along the beach parking lot, Alana saw a girl clad only in a thin top and ragged shorts. The girl was shivering, not that it was cold, but from something she’d shot up—or hadn’t been able to shoot. Usually, the junkies and vagrants clustered in small groups, but this one was alone.

The pelt tingled and resumed looking again like a beautiful leather jacket as soon as Alana saw the girl. Perfect. Alana walked up and tried to hand it to the girl. “Here. You can use it to warm—”

But the girl backed away with something like horror on her face. She glanced from the coat to Alana’s face, then out to the mostly empty lot. “I won’t tell or anything. Please? Just—” She made a gagging noise and turned away.

Alana looked down. The pelt, still looking like a coat, was covered in blood. It was on her hands, her arms. Everywhere the seawater had been was now black-red in the glare of the streetlight. For a heartbeat, Alana thought she’d been wrong, that she’d hurt the selchie. She looked over her shoulder: a trail of almost perfectly tear-shaped droplets stretched behind her. Then, as she watched, those droplets shifted to a silvery-white, like someone had spilled mercury on the sand. They didn’t sink. They balanced atop the sand, holding their shape. Alana glanced down and saw the blood on the coat shift to silver, too.

“See? It’s fine. Just take it. It’ll—”

The shivering girl had already gone.

“. . .be fine,” Alana finished. She blinked back tears of frustration. “All I want is someone to hold out their arms so I can let go of it!”

With the same surety that told her what Murrin was, what Dreadlocks was, she realized that she couldn’t cast the pelt away, but if someone was to reach for it, she could let go. It could fall to the ground, and then no one would be trapped. She just needed to find someone willing to reach out.

Twice more as she walked home she tried. Each time it was the same: people looked at her with terror or disgust as she held out what looked like a bloody coat. Only when they turned away did the dampness of the coat resume the appearance of thick, salty tears.

Whatever enchantment made her unable to resist taking the pelt was making it impossible to get rid of the thing, too. Alana thought about what she knew about selchies; her grandmother had told her stories of the seal people when Alana was a little girl: selchies, seal women, came to the shore. They slipped out of their Other-Skins, and sometimes, if they weren’t careful, a fisherman or some random unmarried guy would find the skin and steal it. The new husbands hid the selchies’ Other-Skins to keep their wives entrapped.

But Nonny hadn’t said anything about male selchies; she also hadn’t said that the seal women had entrapped the men. Nonny’s stories made the selchies seem so sad, with their freedom to change to their seal shape stolen when their Other-Skins were hidden away. In the stories, the selchies were the victims; the humans were the villains—snatching helpless seal wives from the sea, tricking them, having power over them. The stories were all quite clear: the selchies were entrapped. . .but in the real world, Alana was the one feeling trapped.

By the time she reached her apartment, she was wishing—yet again—that Nonny was still around to ask. She felt like a little kid missing her grandmother so badly, but Nonny was the Grown-up, the one who’d made everything better, while Mom was as clueless as Alana felt most days.

Outside her building, she paused. Their car was parked in the street alongside the building. Alana popped the trunk. Carefully, she folded the coat-pelt. After a furtive look around, she rubbed her face on the soft dark fur. Then, with a level of care she couldn’t control, she tucked it under the spare blanket her mother kept in the trunk—part of the emergency kit for when they broke down. It felt as if there wasn’t any other choice: she had to keep it safe, keep it out of his reach—and keep him out of others’ reach.

Protect my mate. The words came unbidden—and very unwelcome—to her mind. She slammed the trunk and went to the front of the car. And as she did so often when she needed to be outside at night, she stretched out on the hood. It was still warm from the drive home from whatever party her mother’d been out to tonight.

Alana stared up at the moon and whispered, “Oh, Nonny, I’m so screwed.”

Then, Alana waited. He’d come. She knew he would. And having to face him with her mom lurking around, gleeful that Alana’d brought home a guy. . .it would only make a bad scene worse.

Better to do this outside.

 

Murrin saw her reclined on a car reminiscent of the ones he’d seen parked by the beach for days on end. It was unsightly—covered in rust spots, one door handle missing. She, however, was lovely, long limbs and curved body. Short pelt-brown hair framed her sharp-angled face. When he’d seen her on the beach several good tides ago, he’d known she was the one: a girl who loved the reef and the moon was a treasure. The waiting had been awful, but he’d watched her habits and planned how to approach her. Things weren’t going according to his plans, of course, but he’d find a way to make it work.

“Wife?” His heart sped at saying it, naming her, finally saying the word to her. He stepped closer to the car, not close enough to touch her, but closer still. After so many years dreaming of finding a wife, it was a heady thing to be so near her. It might not be how he’d imagined it, but it still was.

She sat up, her feet scraping against the car’s hood. “What did you call me?”

“Wife.” He approached her slowly, hands held out to the sides. No matter how many mortals he’d watched, or how many he’d met, he was unsure still. Obviously, calling her “wife” was not the right tactic. He tried again. “I don’t know your other name yet.”

“Alana. My only name is Alana.” She moved so she was sitting with her legs folded to the side, in a posture typical of a selchie girl.

It was endearing. Her words weren’t, though.

“I’m not your wife,” she said.

“I am Murrin. Would you—”

“I’m not your wife,” she repeated, slightly louder.

“Would you walk with me, Alana?” He loved the feel of her name—Alana, my rock, my harbor, my Alana—on his tongue.

But when he stepped closer, she tensed and stared at him with the same cautious expression she’d had on the beach. He liked that, her hesitation. Some of the mortals he’d met on the beach when he’d been in this form had been willing to lie down with him after only the briefest of words exchanged. It had been fun, but that wasn’t what he wanted in a wife. The lack of meaning saddened him: he wanted every touch, each caress and sigh, to matter.

“Would you walk with me, Alana?” He ducked his head, causing his hair to fall forward, offering her as meek a posture as he could, trying to show that he wasn’t a threat to her. “I would talk to you about us, so we can understand each other.”

“Lanie?” An older version of his mate, obviously Alana’s mother, stood with the light behind her. “Who’s your friend?” She smiled at him. “I’m Susanne.”

Murrin stepped toward Alana’s mother. “I’m Murrin. I—”

“We were on our way out,” Alana said. She grabbed his hand and pulled. “For tea.”

“Tea? At this hour?” Alana’s mother smiled, laughter playing under her expression. “Sure, baby. Just come home after the sun rises. We’ll all sleep late tomorrow.”

 

As they walked, Alana tried to think of what to say, but she found no words to start the conversation. She didn’t want to ask him why she felt so drawn to him—or if it would get worse. She suspected that it was a result of whatever enchantment made her unable to give away his pelt. They were tied together. She got that part. She didn’t want to know if he felt the same compulsion to reach out a hand and touch. But she knew resisting it took supreme effort.

It’s not real. She glanced at him and her pulse sped. It’s not forever, either. I can get rid of him. I can. And I want to.

She shoved her hands into her pockets and continued to walk silently beside him. Usually, the night felt too close when people—well, just guys, actually—were in her space. She didn’t want to turn into her mom: believing in the next dreamer, chasing after the illusion that lust or neediness could evolve into something real. It didn’t. Ever. Instead, the giddiness of the initial rush evolved into drama and tears every single time. It made more sense to end it before that inevitable and messy second stage. Short-term dating was cool, but Alana always abided by the Six-Week Rule: no one she couldn’t ditch within or at six weeks. That meant she needed to find a way to extricate herself from Murrin within six weeks, and the only one who could help her figure out how was him.

At the old building that housed the coffee shop, he stopped.

Murrin glanced at her. “Is here good?”

“It’s fine.” Without meaning to, she pulled her hands out of her pockets and started to reach out. She scowled and crossed her arms over her chest. “It’s not a date. I just didn’t want you near my mother.”

Silently, he reached out to open the door.

“What?” She knew she was surly, heard herself being mean. And why shouldn’t I? I didn’t ask for this.

He sighed. “I would sooner injure myself than harm your mother, Alana.” He motioned for her to go inside. “Your happiness, your life, your family. . .these are what matter to me now.”

“You don’t know me.”

He shrugged. “It is simply how things are.”

“But. . .” She stared at him, trying to find words to argue, to make him. . .what? Argue against trying to make me happy? “This doesn’t make sense.”

“Come sit down. We’ll talk.” He walked to the far side of the shop, away from the well-lit central space. “There’s a table open here.”

There were other empty tables, but she didn’t point them out. She wanted privacy for their conversation. Asking him how to break some fairy-tale bond was weird enough; doing it with people listening was a bit too much.

Murrin stopped and pulled out her chair.

She sat down, trying not to be touched by his gentlemanly posture or seeming disregard for the girls—and a few guys—who were staring at him with blatant interest. He hadn’t seemed to notice them, even when they stopped talking midsentence to smile up at him as he walked by their tables.

And who could blame them for looking? Alana might be unhappy being caught in this weird situation, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t just a little dazzled by how very luscious he was—not so much that she would want to stay with him, of course, but her heart sped every time she looked at him. Pretty packages don’t mean a thing. None of this matters. He trapped me.

Murrin sat down in the chair across from her, watching her with an intensity that made her shiver.

“What do you want?” she asked.

He reached out and took her hand. “Do you not want to be here?”

“No. I don’t want to be here with you.”

His voice was soothing as he asked, “So how can I please you? How do I make you want to be around me?”

“You can’t. I want you to go away.”

A series of unreadable expressions played over his face, too fleeting to identify, but he didn’t reply. Instead, he gestured at the giant chalkboard that served as a menu and read off choices. “Mocha? Americano? Macchiato? Tea? Milk?”

She thought about pressing him for the answers she needed, but didn’t. Hostility wasn’t going to work. Not yet. Fighting wasn’t going to get her answers, so she decided to try a different approach: reason. She took a steadying breath.

“Sure. Mocha. Double shot.” She stood to reach into her jeans pocket for money.

He jumped up, managing to look far more graceful than anyone she’d ever met. “Anything with it?”

“No.” She unfolded a five from the bills in her pocket and held it out. Instead of taking it, he scowled and stepped away from the table.

“Hold on.” She shook the bill and held her hand farther out. “Take this.”

He gave her another small scowl and shook his head. “I cannot.”

“Fine. I’ll get my own.” She stepped around him.

With a speed that shouldn’t have been possible, he blocked her path; she stumbled briefly into him, steadying herself with a hand on his chest.

Sighing softly, he put a hand atop hers. “May I buy you a cup of coffee, Alana? Please? It doesn’t indebt you to me or anything.”

Reason, she reminded herself. Refusing a cup of coffee is not reasonable.

Mutely, she nodded and was rewarded with a warm look.

Once he walked away, she sat down and watched him wind through the crowd. He didn’t seem fazed by the people jostling him or the crowded tables. He moved through the room easily, unnaturally so. Several times, he glanced at her and at the people seated around her—attentive without being possessive.

Why does it matter? She looked at him with an unfamiliar longing, knowing he wasn’t really hers, knowing she didn’t want to be tied to him but still feeling a strange wistfulness. Is it a selchie thing? She forced her gaze away and started thinking again of what to say, which questions to ask, how to undo the mess they were in.

A few minutes later, and again without any visible effort, Murrin moved through the crowd until he reached her, balancing two cups and a plate atop each one. The first plate had a thick sandwich; the second one was stacked high with brownies, cookies, and squares of chocolate. He handed her the mocha.

“Thank you,” she murmured.

He nodded, sat down, and slid the plates to the center of the table between them. “I thought you might want to eat something.”

She looked at the plate of desserts and the sandwich. “This is all for me?”

“I didn’t know what you’d like best.”

“You to leave,” she said.

His expression was serious. “I can’t do that. Please, Alana, you need to understand. This is how it’s been for centuries. I didn’t intend for you to be entrapped, but I can’t walk away. I am not physically able to do so.”

“Could you take it back? Your, umm, skin?” She held her breath.

He looked at her sadly again; his eyes seemed as wet-black as the sea at night. “If I find it where you’ve hidden it without you intending me to do so. Pure coincidence. Or if I’m angry enough to search after you’ve struck me three times. Yes, there are ways, but it’s not likely. You can’t help hiding it, and I can’t search for it without cause.”

Alana had suspected—known—it wasn’t something she could easily escape, but she still needed to ask, to hear him tell her. She felt tears sting her eyes. “So what do we do?”

“We get to know each other. I hope you discover you want me to be near you. You hope I say something that helps you find a way to get rid of me.” He sounded so sad when he said it that she felt guilty. “That, too, is how it’s been for centuries.”

 

The next hour passed in fits and starts of conversation. Periodically, Alana relaxed. Murrin could see that she was enjoying herself, but each time she noticed she was doing so, he saw a shadow of irritation flit over her face, and she put her walls back up. She swayed toward him, but then darted away from him. Hers was a strong will, and as much as he respected it, he despaired that her strength was set against him.

He watched the tilt of her head when she was listening; he heard the rhythm of her words when she spoke of her life on shore. He knew that it was a conscious machination—that she was assessing the situation in order to get free of him. But he had learned patience and flexibility in the sea. Those were skills that every selchie needed in order to survive. Murrin’s father had warned that they were equally essential in relationships, and though Murrin hadn’t thought he’d follow his father’s way, he’d listened. Tonight he was glad he had.

Finally, the shop was empty of everyone but them, and Alana was yawning.

“You need to rest, Alana.” He stood and waited for her. Her eyes were fatigue-heavy. Perhaps a good night’s sleep would help them both.

She didn’t look at him, but her guard was low enough that she accepted his hand—and gasped softly when she did.

Murrin froze, waiting for her to determine their next action. He had no answer, no clue how to respond. No one had warned him that the mere touch of her hand would evoke such a feeling: he’d fight until his last breath to keep her near him, to keep her safe, to make her happy. It was akin to the sea, this feeling that pulled at him. He’d drown under the weight of it, the enormity of it, and he’d not object as he did so.

 

Alana tried not to react to the feel of his hand in hers, but there was something right in the sensation; it was like feeling the universe snap into order. Peace, an always elusive sensation, was filling her. She found that on the reef, under the full moon, but it wasn’t a feeling she experienced around people. She let go of his hand briefly—he didn’t resist—and the feeling ebbed. But it was like watching the sea run away from her, seeing the water escape somewhere she couldn’t follow. The water would flee even if she tried to grasp it, but unlike the sea, this felt like something almost tangible. She grabbed his hand and stared at their entwined fingers. He was tangible.

And of the sea. . .

She wondered if that was why she felt this way—touching him was the same as touching the sea. She ran her thumb over his knuckles. His skin was no different than hers. Now, at least. The thought of him shifting into something else, something not-human, was almost enough to make her let go again. Almost.

“I won’t hurt you, Alana.” He was speaking then, murmuring words in a rhythmic way that was so very not-human.

She shivered. Her name had never sounded so beautiful. “People don’t use names with every sentence.”

He nodded, but his expression was guarded, carefully empty. “Would you prefer that I don’t? I like your name, but I could—”

“Never mind. Just. . .I don’t know. . .. I don’t like this.” She gestured at their hands, at him, and back at herself, but she held on to him as they left the coffee shop. She was so tired, so confused, and the only moment of peace she’d felt was when she’d touched his skin.

Once they were outside, she shifted topics again. “Where will you stay?”

“With you?”

She laughed before she could help herself. “Umm, I don’t think so.”

“I can’t be too far from you now, Alana. Think of it as a leash. My reach only extends so far. I can sleep outside.” He shrugged. “We don’t exactly stay in houses most of the time. My mother does, but she’s. . .like you. I stay with her some. It’s softer, but it’s not necessary.”

Alana thought about it. She knew her mother wouldn’t care: Susanne was utterly without what she liked to call “hang-ups,” but it felt like admitting defeat to let him crash on her sofa. So I tell him to sleep outside like an animal? He is an animal though, isn’t he? She paused; he stopped walking, too.

What am I thinking to even consider letting him in my home? He wasn’t human, but an animal. Who knew what sort of rules he lived by—or if he even had rules or laws. She was no different from her mother: swayed by empty words, letting strange men into her haven. But he’d trapped her. And he wasn’t the only one who’d tried. Something odd was happening, and she didn’t like it. She let go of his hand and moved away from him.

“Who was the guy at the bonfire trying to give me his skin? Why were both of you. . .He said you were worse and. . .” She looked at him, at his face. “And why me?”

Murrin couldn’t speak, couldn’t process anything beyond the fact that his brother had tried to lure away his intended mate. He knew as soon as it happened that Veikko had taken Murrin’s Other-Skin and laid it where Alana had found it, but he hadn’t thought Veikko had approached her, too. Why did he? Veikko still had rare bursts of pique over Zoë’s leaving, but they’d talked about it. He said he understood. . .so why was he speaking with my Alana?

Murrin wondered if he ought to assure Veikko that Alana would be safe, that she was not like Zoë, that she would not be lost in a potentially fatal depression. Perhaps he was trying to protect Alana? And me? That would make more sense to Murrin, but for the almost certain fact that Veikko had been responsible for putting Murrin’s Other-Skin in Alana’s path. No other selchies had been on the shore.

None of this makes sense. . .nor is it something to share now.

It was far more complicated than Alana needed to deal with on top of everything else, so Murrin quashed his confusion and suspicions and said, “Veikko is my brother.”

“Your brother?”

Murrin nodded.

“He scared me.” She blushed when she said it, as if fear were something to be ashamed of, but the open admission was only a blink. Alana was still angry. Her posture was tense: hands clenched, spine straight, eyes narrowed. “He said you were worse, and that he’d be back. He—”

“Veikko—Vic—is a bit outdated in his interactions with. . .humans.” Murrin hated having to use the word, but it was unavoidable. He was not what she was, would never be what she was. It was something they needed to acknowledge. Murrin stepped closer. Despite her anger, she was in need of comfort.

“Why did he say you were worse?”

“Because I wanted to get to know you before I told you what I was. None of this was intentional. My Other-Skin was. . .” He paused, considered telling her that he suspected that Veikko had entrapped her, and decided against it. There were many years in which Alana and Veikko would be forced to be near each other: with a simple omission, the strife of her resenting him was avoidable. “It was not to be there. You were not to be there. I was coming to meet you, to try to date you as humans do.”

“Oh.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “But. . .”

“Vic thinks I am ‘worse’ than others in my family because I am going against tradition. . .or was hoping to.” He gave her a sheepish smile. “He thinks it is worse that I would try to court you and then reveal myself. Not that it matters now. . ..”

“How is that worse?”

“I’ve been asking that question for years.” He held out his hand. “It is not what I will teach my children. . .one day when I become a father. It is not what I wanted, but we are together now. We’ll work it out.”

She took his outstretched hand in hers. “We don’t have to stay together.”

He didn’t answer, couldn’t answer for a moment. Then he said, “I’m sorry.”

“Me, too. I don’t do relationships, Murrin.” Her fingertips stroked his hand absently.

“I didn’t mean to trap you, but I’m not eager to let go, either.” He expected her to argue, to grow angry, but like the sea, her moods weren’t quite what he anticipated.

She smiled then, not like she was unhappy, but like she was dangerous. “So I guess I need to convince you then.”

She really is perfect for me.

 

Over the next three weeks, little by little, Alana’s doubts were replaced by a tentative friendship. It doesn’t hurt to be nice to him. It’s not his fault. She started telling herself that they could be friends. Even if she couldn’t get rid of him, she didn’t necessarily need to date him, and she definitely didn’t need to marry him.

One night, she woke with a start in the middle of the night, shivering and thinking of Murrin. They were friends. Okay, he was crashing on her sofa, and he did share her meals, but that wasn’t a commitment. It was practicality. He had nowhere to go. He couldn’t sleep on the beach. And he bought the groceries, so he wasn’t mooching. He was just. . .a good friend who was always there.

And he makes me happy.

She went into the living room. Murrin was standing in front of the window, eyes closed, face upturned. The expression on his face was one of pain. She was beside him before she’d thought twice about it.

“Murrin?”

He turned and looked at her. The longing in his eyes was heartstoppingly awful, but he blinked and it was gone. “Are you ill?”

“No.” She took his hand and led him away from the window. “Are you?”

“Of course not.” He smiled, and it would’ve been reassuring if she hadn’t seen the sadness still lingering in his eyes.

“So, what’s up?”

“Nothing.” He gestured toward her bedroom doorway. “Go ahead. I’m good.”

She thought about it, about him being away from his family, his home, everything familiar. All they talked about was what she wanted, what made her happy, how she felt. He had just as much upheaval, more even. “Talk to me. We’re trying to be friends, right?”

“Friends,” he repeated. “Is that what we are going to be?”

And she paused. Despite the weirdness, she wasn’t feeling uncomfortable anymore. She touched his cheek and let her hand linger there. He was a good person.

She said, “I’m not trying to be difficult.”

“Nor am I.” He leaned his face into the palm of her hand. “But. . .I’m trying to be careful.”

She put her hands on his shoulders and went up on her tiptoes. The touch of her hand against his skin was enough to make the world settle into that wondrous sense of completion that it always did. Over the last couple of days, she’d let her fingertips brush against his arm, bumped her shoulder into him—little touches to see if it was always so perfect. It was. Her heart was racing now though.

He didn’t move.

“No promises,” she whispered, and then she kissed him—and that feeling of bliss that she’d brushed with every touch of his skin consumed her. She couldn’t breathe, move, anything but feel.

 

Murrin watched Alana warily the next day. He wasn’t sure what had happened, if it meant anything or if she was just feeling sympathy. She’d been very clear in her insistences that they were friends, just friends, and that friends was all they ever could be. He waited, but she didn’t mention the kiss—and she didn’t repeat it.

Perhaps it was a fluke.

For two more days, she acted as she had before The Kiss: she was kind, friendly, and sometimes brushed against him as if it were an accident. It never was; he knew that. Still, she didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.

On the third day, she flopped down next to him on the sofa. Susanne was out at a yoga class—not that it would’ve mattered. Susanne seemed inordinately pleased that Alana wanted him to stay with them; Murrin suspected Susanne wouldn’t object to him sharing Alana’s room. It was Alana who set the boundaries—the same Alana who was currently sitting very close, staring at him with a bemused smile.

“I thought you liked kissing me the other night,” she said.

“I did.”

“So. . .”

“I don’t think I understand.”

“We can pretend what we are is friends. . .but we’re dating. Right?” She toyed with the edge of her shirt.

He waited for several breaths, but she didn’t say anything else. So he asked, “What about your plan to convince me to leave?”

“I’m not sure anymore.” She looked sheepish. “I can’t promise forever, or truthfully, next month, but I think about you all the time. I’m happier around you than I’ve ever been in my life. There’s something. . .magical when we touch. I know it’s not real, but. . .”

“It’s not real?” he repeated.

“It’s a selchie thing, right? Like the urge to pick up the Other-Skin.” She paused. Her next words came out in a rush. “Does it work both ways?”

She was close enough that it would be only natural to pull her into his arms. So he did. He lifted her onto his lap and threaded his fingers through her hair. He let the tendrils tangle around his fingers.

“It’s not a selchie thing at all,” he told her, “but it does flow both ways.”

She started to pull back. “I thought it was just. . .you know. . .a magic thing.”

He cradled her head in his hand, holding her close, and said, “It is magic. Finding a mate, falling in love, seeing her love you back? That’s real magic.”

And his Alana, his mate, his perfect match didn’t move away. She leaned close enough to kiss. . .not in sympathy or misplaced emotion, but in affection.

Everything is perfect. He wrapped his arms more securely around her and knew that, despite his inability to court her before they were bound, it was all going to be fine. She hadn’t said the words, but she loved him.

My Alana, my mate. . .

 

The next evening, Murrin took the bag of pearls to the jeweler his family had always gone to see. Davis Jewels closed in a few minutes, but the jewel man and his wife never objected to Murrin’s visits. Mr. Davis smiled when Murrin walked in. “Let me ring Madeline, and tell her I’ll be late.”

Mr. Davis went to the door, locked it, and set the security system. If Murrin closed his eyes, he could watch the older man’s steps in his memory, and they’d not vary from what was happening in front of him.

When Mr. Davis went to call his wife, Murrin waited at the counter. He unfolded the cloth he carried for such trips and tipped the bag’s contents on to the smooth material.

Mr. Davis finished his call and opened his mouth to speak, but whatever he’d intended to say fled when he looked at the counter. He walked over, glancing only briefly at Murrin, attention fixed on the pearls. “You’ve never brought this many. . ..”

“I need to make a purchase as well this time.” Murrin gestured at the glass cases in the store. “I am. . .marrying.”

“That’s why the necklace. I wondered.” Mr. Davis smiled, his face crinkling into a maze of lines as thick as the fronds of kelp, beautiful in his aging skin. Here was a man who understood love: Mr. Davis and his wife still looked at each other with a glow in their eyes.

He went in the back of the store and brought out a case with the pearl necklace. It was strung with pearls Murrin had selected over many years.

For Alana.

Murrin opened it and ran his fingertip over them. “Perfect.”

Mr. Davis smiled again, then he took the pearls from the cloth over to his table to examine them. After years of buying pearls from Murrin’s family, the man’s examination of the pearls—studying their size, shape, color, and lustre—was cursory, but still a part of the process.

The order of the jeweler’s steps was as familiar as the currents to Murrin. Usually, he waited motionless while the man went about his routine. This time, he stared into the display cases.

When Mr. Davis came over, Murrin gestured at the rows of solitary stones on plain bands. “Help me select one of those?”

The jeweler told Murrin how much he’d pay for the pearls and added, “I don’t know how much of that you want to spend.”

Murrin shrugged. “I want my wife to be pleased. That is all that matters.”

 

Alana wasn’t surprised to see Dreadlocks—Vic—leaning on a wall outside the coffee shop where she’d been waiting while Murrin was off on a secret errand. She’d thought she’d seen Vic several times lately. She didn’t stop though. She wasn’t sure she knew what to say to him. When she’d seen him watching, she thought to ask Murrin about him, but she wasn’t sure what to say or ask.

Vic matched his pace to hers and walked alongside her. “Would you hear what I have to say, Alana?”

“Why?”

“Because you are mated to my brother, and I am worried about him.”

“Murrin doesn’t seem like he’s very close to you. . .and he’s fine. Happy.” She felt a tightness in her chest, a panic. It was so unlike what she felt when she was with Murrin.

“So you haven’t seen him watching the sea? He doesn’t ache for it?” Vic’s expression was telling: he knew the answer already. “He can’t admit it. It’s part of the. . .enchantment. You trapped him here when you stole his Other-Skin. He can’t tell you he’s unhappy, but you’ll see it in time. He’ll grow miserable, hate you. One day you’ll see him staring out to sea. . .maybe not yet, but we can’t help it.”

Alana thought about it. She had seen Murrin late at night when he thought she was asleep. He’d been staring into the distance, facing the direction of the water, even though he couldn’t see it from the apartment. The look of longing on his face was heartrending.

“He’s going to resent you in time. We always do.” Vic’s mouth curled in a sardonic smile. “Just as you resent us. . ..”

“I don’t resent Murrin,” she started.

“Not now, perhaps. You did though.” Vic toyed with one long green strand of his hair. “You resented him for trapping you. It’s a cruel fate to be trapped. My mate resented me, too. Zoë. . .that was her name. My Zoë. . .”

“Was?”

“I suspect it still is.” He paused, a pensive look on his face. “But in time, we resent you. You keep us from what we deserve: our freedom. I didn’t want to be angry with my Zoë. . ..”

Alana thought about Murrin being trapped, being angry at her, resenting her for keeping him landbound. The bitterness in Vic’s eyes wasn’t something she wanted to see in Murrin’s gaze.

“So what should I do?” she whispered.

“A mortal can’t be tied to two selchies. . .just lift up my skin. Murrin will be free then.”

“Why would you do that? We’d be—” Alana tried not to shudder at the thought of being bound to Vic. “I don’t want to be your. . .anything.”

“Not your type?” He stepped closer, as predatory and beautiful as he had looked at the party when they first met. “Aaah, Alana, I feel badly that I bungled things when I met you. I want to help Murrin as my brother helped me. If not for him, Zoë and I would still be. . .trapped. I’d be kept from the sea. Murrin unbound us.”

“It’s cool that you want to help him, but I don’t want to be with you.” She repressed another shudder at that thought, but only barely.

Vic nodded. “We can work around that detail. I won’t ask what Murrin has of you. . .I don’t seek a wife. I need to fix things, though. Maybe I didn’t know the right words when we met. I can’t say I have the kind of experience that Murrin has with mortal girls, but. . .”

Alana froze. “What do you mean?”

“Come now, Alana. We aren’t exactly built for faithfulness. Look at us.” Veikko gestured at himself. That self-assured look was back. “Mortals don’t exactly tell us no. The things you feel when you see us. . .hundreds of girls. . .not that he’s been with every one of them. . .What you feel is instinct. It’s not really love; it’s just a reaction to pheromones.”

Alana struggled between jealousy and acceptance. Vic wasn’t telling her anything that she hadn’t thought. In some ways it was just an extreme version of the logic behind the Six-Week Rule.

“I owe him this,” Vic was saying. “And you don’t really think you love him, do you?”

She didn’t cry, but she wanted to. She hadn’t said those words to Murrin, not yet, but she’d thought about it. She’d felt it. Am I a fool? Is any of it real?

She’d asked Murrin, but was he telling the truth? Did it even matter? If Murrin would hate her in time, she should let him go now. She didn’t want that between them.

If Vic was telling the truth, there was no reason to keep Murrin with her, and plenty of reasons to let him go. Soon. He wasn’t hers to keep. He wasn’t really hers at all. It’s a trick. He belonged to the sea, and with that came relationships, fleeting relationships, with other girls. Is the way I feel a lie, or is Vic lying? It made more sense that Vic was telling her the truth: people didn’t fall in love this quickly; they didn’t break all of their rules so easily. It’s just the selchie thing. She forced her thoughts away from the roiling mix of emotions and took several calming breaths. “So how do we do it?”

 

Murrin found Alana sitting at the reef, but she wasn’t happy. She looked like she’d been weeping.

“Hey.” She glanced at him only briefly.

“Are you okay?” He didn’t want to pry too much: her acceptance of him in her life still felt tenuous.

Instead of answering, she held out a hand to him.

He sat behind her, and she leaned back into his embrace. The waves rolled over the exposed reef and up to the rocky ledge where they were sitting. He sighed at the touch of the briny water. Home. He couldn’t have imagined being this content: his Alana and his water both against his skin.

Perfection. . .except that Alana seems sad.

“I didn’t expect. . .to care, especially so soon. I want you to be happy,” she said. “Even if it’s not real—”

“It is real.” He took out the pearl necklace and draped it around Alana’s throat. “And I am happy.”

She gasped softly and ran her fingertips over the pearls. “I can’t—” She shook her head. “Do you miss it?”

“The sea? It’s right here.”

“But do you miss. . .changing and going out there? Meeting other people?” She tensed in his arms.

“I’m not going to leave you,” he consoled. His mother had often looked at the sea as if it was an enemy who’d steal away her family if she wasn’t careful. That wasn’t what he wanted. He wrapped his arms around her again. “I am right where I need to be.”

She nodded, but he could feel her tears falling on his hands.

 

Alana thought about it and decided that trusting Vic completely was foolish. He was right: she needed to let Murrin go before he resented her for keeping him from the sea. Murrin wasn’t thinking clearly. Whatever enchantment made him need to stay close to her was keeping him from admitting that he longed for the sea. If he went back. . .there were selchies he could meet. None of that meant that she wanted to risk being tied to Vic—so she opted to try a plan she’d come up with before, but had rejected as too dangerous.

And unnecessary because love took over.

He was sleeping when she left the apartment. She thought about kissing him goodbye, but knew that would wake him.

She let the door close behind her; then she went silently to the street and popped the trunk of the car. It was in there, his pelt. It was a part of him as surely as the seemingly human skin she’d caressed when he sat beside her late at night watching old movies with the sound down low. Gently, she gathered the pelt to her, trying not to wonder at how warm it was, and then she ran.

There weren’t tears in her eyes. Yet. She’d have time enough for that later. First she had to focus on getting to the beach before he realized what she was doing. She ran through the streets in the not-yet-light day. The sunrise wasn’t too far off, but it was early enough that the surfers hadn’t started arriving yet.

She knew he’d come soon. He had to follow the pull of his pelt when it was in her hands, but knowing didn’t make it any easier to hurry. She felt an urgency to get done with it before he arrived, but she felt a simultaneous despair.

It’s for the best.

She waded into the surf. Waves tugged at her, like strange creatures butting at her knees to pull her under the surface; kelp slid over her bare skin, slithering lengths that made her pulse race too fast.

It’s the right thing for both of us.

He was there then. She heard Murrin calling her name. “Alana! Stop!”

In the end, we’ll both be miserable if I don’t.

The pelt was heavy in her arms; her fingers clutched at it.

He was beside her. “Don’t—”

She didn’t hear the rest. She let the waves take her legs out from under her. She closed her eyes and waited. The instinct to survive outweighed any enchantment, and her arms released the pelt so she could swim.

Beside her, she felt him, his silk-soft fur brushing against her as his selchie pelt transformed his human body into a sleek-skinned seal. She slid her hand over his skin, and then she swam away from him, away from the wide open sea where he was headed.

Goodbye.

She wasn’t sure if it was the sea or her tears, but she could taste salt on her lips as she surfaced.

When she stood on the beach again, she could see him in the distance, too far away to hear her voice if she gave in and asked him to come back. She wouldn’t. A relationship based on enchantment was ill-fated from the beginning. It wasn’t what she wanted for either of them. She knew that, was certain of it, but it didn’t ease the ache she felt at his absence.

I don’t really love him. It’s just leftover magic.

She saw Vic watching her from the shore. He said something she couldn’t hear over the waves, and then he was gone, too. They were both gone, and she was left reminding herself that it was better this way, that what she’d felt hadn’t been real.

So why does it hurt so bad?

 

For several weeks, Murrin watched her, his Alana, his mate-no-more, on the shore that was his home-no-more. He didn’t know what to do. She’d rejected him, cast him back to the sea, but she seemed to mourn it.

If she didn’t love me, why does she weep?

Then one day, he saw that she was holding the pearls he’d given her. She sat on the sand, running the strand through her fingers, carefully, lovingly. All the while, she wept.

He came to shore there at the reef where he’d first chosen her, where he’d watched her habits to try to find the best way to woo her. It was more difficult this time, knowing that she knew so many of his secrets and found him lacking. At the edge of the reef, he slid out of his Other-Skin and tucked it in a hollow under an edge of the reef where it would be hidden from sight. Giant sea stars clung to the underside of the reef ledge, and he wondered if she’d seen them. His first thoughts were too often still of her, her interests, her laughter, her soft skin.

She didn’t hear his approach. He walked up to stand beside her and asked the question that had been plaguing him. “Why are you sad?”

“Murrin?” She stuffed the necklace into her pocket and backed away, careful to look where she stepped, no doubt looking for his Other-Skin, then glancing back at him after each step. “I set you free. Go away. Go on.”

“No.” He had dreamed of being this close to her ever since he’d been forced away from her. He couldn’t help it; he smiled.

“Where is it?” she asked, her gaze still darting frantically around the exposed tide pools.

“Do you want me to show—”

“No.” She crossed her arms over her chest and scowled. “I don’t want to do that again.”

“It’s hidden. You won’t touch it unless you let me lead you to it.” He walked closer then, and she didn’t back away this time—nor did she approach him as he’d hoped.

“You’re, umm, naked.” She blushed and turned away. She picked up her backpack and pulled out one of the warm hoodies and jeans she’d found at the thrift store when they were shopping that first week. She shoved them at him. “Here.”

Immeasurably pleased that she carried his clothes with her—surely that meant she hoped he’d return—he got dressed. “Walk with me?”

She nodded.

They walked for a few steps, and she said, “You have no reason to be here. I broke the spell or whatever. You don’t need—”

“What spell?”

“The one that made you have to stay with me. Vic explained it to me. You can go get with a seal girl now. . .. It’s what’s best.”

“Vic explained it?” he repeated. Veikko had convinced Alana to risk her life to get rid of Murrin. It made his pulse thud as it did when he rode the waves during a storm. “And you believed him why?”

Her cheeks reddened again.

“What did he tell you?”

“That you’d resent me because you lost the sea, and that you couldn’t tell me, and that what I felt was just pheromones. . .like the hundreds of other girls you. . .” She blushed brighter still. “And I saw you at night, Murrin. You looked so sad.”

“Now I am sad in the waves watching you.” He pulled her closer, folding her into his arms, kissing her as they’d kissed only a few times before.

“I don’t understand.” She touched her lips with her fingertips, as if there were something odd about his kissing her. “Why?”

Even the thriving reefs weren’t as breathtakingly beautiful as she was as she stood there with kiss-swollen lips and a wide-eyed gaze. He kept her in his arms, where she belonged, where he wanted her always to be, and told her, “Because I love you. That’s how we express—”

“No. I mean, you don’t have to love me now. I freed you.” Her voice was soft, a whisper under the wind from the water.

“I never had to love you. I just had to stay with you unless I reclaimed my skin. If I wanted to leave, I’d have found it in time.”

 

Alana watched him with a familiar wariness, but this time there was a new feeling—hope.

“Vic lied because I’d helped his mate leave him. She was sick. He was out with mortal girls constantly. . .and she was trapped and miserable.” Murrin glanced away, looking embarrassed. “Our family doesn’t know. Well, they might suspect, but Veikko never told them because he’d need to admit his cruelty, too. I thought he’d forgiven me. He said. . .”

“What?”

“He is my brother. I trusted him. . ..”

“I did, too.” She leaned closer and wrapped her arms around him. “I’m sorry.”

“Sooner or later, we will need to deal with him.” Murrin sounded both sad and reluctant. “But in the meantime, if he talks to you—”

“I’ll tell you.”

“No more secrets,” he said. Then he kissed her.

His lips tasted like the sea. She closed her eyes and let herself enjoy the feel of his hands on her skin, gave in to the temptation to run her hands over his chest. It was the same heady feeling she dreamt about most every night since he’d gone. Her pulse thrummed like the crash of waves behind her as he moved to kiss her neck.

He’s mine. He loves me. We can—

“My beautiful wife,” he whispered against her skin.

With more than a little reluctance, she stepped away from him. “We could try things a little differently this time, you know. Go slower. I want you here, but being married at my age isn’t good. I have plans. . .”

“To see other people?”

“No. Not at all.” She sat down on the sand. When he didn’t move, she reached for his hand and tugged until he sat beside her. Then she said, “I don’t want to see other people, but I’m not ready to be married. I’m not even done with high school.” She glanced over at him. “I missed you all the time, but I don’t want to lose me to have you. And I want you to be you, too. . .. Did you miss changing?”

“I did, but it’ll get easier. This is how things are.”

Murrin sounded so calm, and while Alana knew that Vic had lied about a lot of things, she also knew this was something he hadn’t needed to lie about. She hadn’t imagined the sadness she’d seen on Murrin’s face when she’d seen him staring toward the water.

She asked, “But what if you could still have the sea? We could. . .date. You could still be who you are. I could still go to school and, umm, college.”

“You’d be only mine? But I get to keep the sea?”

She laughed at his suspicious tone. “You do know that the sea isn’t the same as being with another girl, right?”

“Where’s the sacrifice?”

“There isn’t one. There’s patience, trust, and not giving up who we are.” She leaned into his embrace, where she could find the same peace and pleasure the sea had always held for her.

How could I have thought it was better to be apart?

He smiled then. “We get each other. I get the sea, and you have to go to school? It sounds like I get everything, and you. . .”

“I do, too. You and time to do the things I need to so I can have a career someday.”

She had broken her Six-Week Rule, but having a relationship didn’t have to mean giving up on having a future. With Murrin, she could have both.

He reached over and pulled the pearls out of her pocket. With a solemn look, he fastened them around her throat. “I love you.”

She kissed him, just a quick touch of lips, and said it back. “I love you, too.”

“No Other-Skin, no enchantments,” he reminded her.

“Just us,” she said.

And that was the best sort of magic.

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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