Mom slammed her phone down on the table and crossed her arms, her eyes full of fire.
“Not what you wanted to hear?” Dad asked.
Vardon took another bite of bacon, which he’d been hugely thankful to find when he returned from his swim, and listened, hoping to catch whatever had Mom scorched. The better to stay out of her way. There was no reasoning with her when she wore a look like the one she had on now.
“They’re coming. Next weekend. We have one week to prepare to have our space completely invaded.” She growled the last, and Vardon’s instinct was to hide under the table. But she wasn’t throwing sparks at him.
“Not to Anacortes?”
“No. Seattle. And that is far too close.”
“Who’s coming?” Vardon asked, forgetting himself.
Dad watched her for a moment, and when he decided she wasn’t going to answer, he spoke. “The Council is coming to Seattle to discuss what happened with Lorelei.”
“What?” Vardon asked, rhetorically. The selkie Council had never ventured across the Atlantic, as far as he was aware. He recalled the stooped old men from the Council from when he was seven, when they’d gone to Ireland. They’d shown their respect by making an appointment and stopping to greet the Elders of the Council. The only thing that had stuck with him was the stale smell in the cavernous stone room where they all sat in tall-backed chairs around a table that dwarfed figures shrinking with age.
“I have to call everyone.” Mom picked up her phone and went to the other room to start calling the local selkies.
“Does she have reason to be that worried?” Vardon asked Dad, who’d helped himself to another slice of bacon as soon as his wife left the room. He leaned back in his chair in what could have been a mirror image of Vardon’s posture.
“Yes. There’s reason to worry. What happened with Lorelei…” He met Vardon’s eyes, his look cool, parental.
“Was completely effed up.”
“Watch your mouth. If your mother hears that she’ll take you by the ear, and you know it.”
Vardon rolled his eyes. She would, too.
“Excepting Lorelei, Selkies and finfolk haven’t mixed blood in living history. There are a couple of stories, from centuries ago…but there are reasons our kind does not mix with their kind, Vardon.”
“What happened to Edeline Shaye,” Vardon stated.
“And what happened to you. A selkie can shift shapes, given our skins. We heal quickly. But that’s the extent of our powers. The finfolk…their powers are scary.”
“You don’t have to tell me. I’ve seen it.”
“As not many selkies have, not in real life. Most selkies have heard tales of the finfolk. We know that they’re out there, and we know to avoid them. But to meet one? This is the stuff of legend. And now legend has come home to roost in Anacortes. The Council is nervous.”
“Mom was worried before Lorelei’s birthday. Why didn’t they come then, before it was too late?”
“Is it too late?” Dad gave him a hard look. “Have you given up that easily?”
Vardon narrowed his eyes. “Mom acts like it’s too late. Lorelei is being trained—her finfolk mentor arrived today.”
“How do you know that?” Dad drew back, his tone annoyed. No doubt because Vardon had chosen to share this with him, and now they had to fill Mom in, and she would be mad that Vardon had gone to see Lorelei today.
He fessed. “We swam today.”
“What? You swam with Lorelei? You aren’t supposed to be even seeing that girl. What am I going to do with you? You have no fear—and the biggest fear you should have is that woman in there!”
“No, Dad, that’s your biggest fear. You’re the one tasked with keeping Mom happy. Good luck.”
Dad gave him a light, joking punch on the shoulder. “Just wait. Someday it’ll be you.”
Vardon was silent a moment, and Dad’s look grew thoughtful as he watched his son.
“Yeah,” Vardon said, his throat surprisingly tight. “Sure.”
“I know, son. I know you liked the girl. But she isn’t the last girl you’ll meet.”
She was the only Lorelei, and Vardon knew it.
“Is the Council going to try to get Lorelei’s skin back?” he asked, betraying the true line of his thoughts with his careless question.
“I’m not privy to the Council’s thoughts. I can’t get past the idea that they’re coming here.”
“It’ll be okay, right? They’re coming to help.”
The pause before Dad nodded was disconcerting. “Yes. They’ll help. Who they’ll help is another question, and I don’t know the answer.”
“Prince Clay,” Shona said as she walked from the waves on a small beach not far from Lorelei’s home. She opened a part of her mind to him, inviting him to communicate. From her thoughts he could see she craved escape from this series of islands and bays. It had been nearly a week since she arrived. She’d spent a lot of that with Lorelei, or watching the girl to learn more about her.
Clay wore his human form, the one Lorelei would recognize, and scorn.
“You called,” Shona said, meeting his intrigued gaze.
“And you answered. I am impressed.”
“You are exiled, sir, but you are still a prince and the chosen heir to castle and crown.”
“I am.” He puffed out his chest, but the look she gave him was unimpressed. No matter. And no surprise. Shona had never been drawn in by finfolk males. She liked the maids better. He chuckled inwardly at his own unspoken joke.
“What do you need?” Shona asked, showing her impatience.
“You have met Lorelei. How is she?”
“Is that why you called me? I’m not going to have a weekly meeting to update you, Clay. You’re supposed to be leaving the girl alone.”
“I have not given up on Lorelei. Is she well?”
Shona shrugged, and Clay wanted to throttle her. “Yes. She’s fine, I guess.”
They watched each other for a moment, and Clay realized that prince or no, Shona would not be an easy source of his love’s secrets.
“Why do you wear this form? Why meet me here?” Shona asked. “Why stay around Fidalgo Island at all? The girl resulted in your banishment. Why do you stay?”
Maybe he should have felt embarrassment, but all he felt was a shot of adrenaline. That’s what Lorelei did to him. “I will stay. I find I must.”
“She hates you. You do realize that?”
He didn’t answer. Lorelei might think she hated him now, but as she learned more, as she became a finfolk in spirit as well as blood…she would grow to love him. He knew it.
“There is something I would ask of you,” he said.
“What is that?” She was frustrated. He didn’t care.
“Tell Lorelei Dorian that I would see her. I would exchange words.”
“You have no right to command her now, Clay.”
He noted that she’d lost the ‘prince’ she had earlier attached to his name.
“No right to command, but every right to request.”
“I do not believe she will treat your request kindly, but I will give her the message.”
“In the current state of things, that is all I can demand.”
Someday, he would be Shona’s king. She knew it. And so she dove back into the waves, carrying part King Cleophus’ instructions and part his.
A weight that had been stifling him for weeks lifted. Lorelei would meet him. She must face him, and she knew it.
Find the Water Rites series at your favorite retailer.
Castle and Crown (**Coming winter 2017**)