Lorelei thrashed awake in the deep of night, her sheets tangled around her sweaty limbs, despite the January chill.
The dream stayed with her.
The lulling rock of the sea, a seal bobbing its head at her before it dove, a sparkling fish flipping out of the water, the blaring horn of a ship, strong hands and stronger waves, the cold of the water on her fragile, human flesh…Mama holding her.
This same dream had been haunting her nights for weeks. Lorelei rubbed her eyes and checked the clock. It was only three, but she was determined to stay awake now, so as not to slip back into the dream. It wasn’t a nightmare, but it pulled at her heart enough that she didn’t want to be there. She’d dreamed it enough times now that she could see the picture in her mind, almost as clear as if she’d lived it.
Swimming with seals shouldn’t make her sad. It was the part at the end. The part with her mother never failed to leave her heartsick.
Mama had left Dad when Lorelei was six. She’d never seen her again. She didn’t even know where her mother lived. And she’d never understood why.
Dad didn’t talk about it, besides to say it wasn’t her fault. Mama loved her, but she wasn’t built to be a mom, and other nonsense evasions. Lorelei had stopped asking about her years ago. But she still thought of her every day…and wondered.
Now this sea dream insisted on waking these feelings every single night.
Lorelei went down to the kitchen to make herself some tea, the long hours of early morning stretching out in front of her. Up at three in the morning on a Saturday? What was she thinking?
As she set the water to boil, she noticed a purse on the countertop and did a double take.
She crept to the front door and opened it, cringing at the squeaky hinge that marked her movements. Sure enough, Amy’s car was still in the driveway.
Dad had an overnight guest.
If she were in bed, she’d put the pillow over her face and scream into it. As it was, she bit a knuckle and let out a rather startling moan of disbelief.
Ew, ew, ew.
Feeling queasy, Lorelei went back to fixing her tea. She paced to the living room and flipped on the gas fireplace. Then she grabbed a thick fleece throw off the back of the couch, cuddling in.
Grandma’s painting drew her eye, the firelight making the colors seem to undulate, as if she were truly looking at an underwater scene. The glowing castle surrounded by a rainbow of seaweed. The eerie mermaids with their floating, glistening hair and fierce eyes that seemed to watch her now.
Dad’s mom had been a great painter. She was also mentally unstable, and abandoned the family when Dad was small. Lorelei and her father had that in common.
Of course, it made Dad assume he knew what she felt over her mother leaving. He’d never listened, or wanted to know, how she truly felt. He didn’t want to know how much she missed her mother. Just the smell of her, her warmth, the sounds of her breathing, her steady heartbeat. Her laugh. Lorelei barely remembered her mother’s laugh.
But she couldn’t sit here all morning, going over what had gone wrong in her life. She finished her tea and padded over to the dining room table to retrieve her calculus book. Time for studying. She’d be back at the top of the class in no time.
A note from Dad rested on top of her book, like this was exactly where he expected her to come first thing.
I have a guest over. Sorry I didn’t have a chance to warn you ahead of time. I don’t need a ride to the clinic after all. Have a good morning.
Okay. Most awkward note ever. But at least he’d tried.
All motivation to study having fled, Lorelei shut off the fire and retreated up the stairs, closing her door softly behind her and flipping the lock. She put her hands over her mouth, the urge to scream almost too much to ignore. She vaulted into her bed and beneath the covers, where she finally let out some version of that animalistic scream. Not the powerful one she wanted to, but she wasn’t about to wake the two of them up.
All these years, and Dad had never had a woman stay overnight.
Is this how it was going to be now? Tiptoeing around so as not to wake up her dad’s girlfriend?
Knowing all hope of leaving the house was off for hours yet, Lorelei pictured her grandmother’s painting and drifted off to sleep counting mermaids.
Lorelei was the first patron in the library later that morning. When she’d gotten up again, Amy’s car was gone, and so was her dad. She had to get out of there. Besides, she had studying to occupy her before swim practice later this morning. It was practically a weekend tradition.
Davey, the elderly man who opened the place on Saturday mornings, gave her a smile. “Good morning, Lorelei. Fancy seeing you here on a Saturday.”
She returned the smile and held up her bulging backpack. “Calculus.”
Lorelei took a seat at her favorite table, by a window that looked out on a tree-filled park next door, and heaved her textbook out of her bag. Notepad in hand, she started to work through the example problems, testing the theory Vardon had provided last night.
The problems absorbed all of her attention, and a half an hour later, Lorelei stretched her fingers and looked at her worksheet. Not bad. She almost had this stuff.
Thanks to Vardon.
He’d been polite last night, but after Dad came through he seemed to be thinking of something else. Lorelei wished she could go back and apologize for the strange meeting between them. Why they wouldn’t get along was beyond her, unless it was some macho thing. And that wasn’t necessary. She wasn’t dating Vardon. He had just been helping her study.
Would she date him if she had the chance?
She doubted it would come up after last night, and that was too bad. And if she felt that way, then probably…yes. She’d probably date Vardon if he asked.
Her friends would freak out.
Lorelei didn’t really date. She’d never met a guy who seemed worth her time, which was filled with a hectic mishmash of sports, friends and…well, math.
As if thinking of him had brought him here, Lorelei raised her head to realize Vardon was walking right toward her, beside a serious looking woman with long, wavy brown hair.
“Hi. You come to the library on Saturdays, too?” Or was he here because she was here? The woman was looking at her oddly, like she was trying to place her. But Lorelei didn’t think they knew each other.
“I needed to return some books. This is my mom, Crystal.”
Lorelei rose from her seat and offered Crystal Caster a hand. His mother. Great. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Caster.”
“And you, Lorelei. I heard you were helping Vardon study last night.”
“He was helping me, actually.”
“Teaching is the best way to learn.”
Lorelei gave her an uncertain smile, restraining the impulse to shuffle her feet like an awkward kid. Mrs. Caster’s words were harmless, but there was a tension in her posture that set Lorelei on edge. “Yes, I guess that’s true.”
Mrs. Caster stepped closer, and took a long breath…smelling her? Lorelei took a step back.
“Tell me of your family. I know of none other here that is like us.”
“Mom—” Vardon tried to break in, but his mom held up a hand and he shut his mouth, reduced to glaring behind her back while Lorelei dealt with the mysterious question.
“I’m Lorelei Dorian. My dad is the veterinarian at the Burrows Bay Veterinary Clinic.” Lorelei stopped talking. Is that what she wanted to know?
“A veterinarian named Dorian. Thank you.”
Was she going to check in on Dad? “Why do you care? Did you track me down at the library to ask who my dad is?”
Lorelei remembered how strange Vardon had acted after he met Dad last night. She pinned him with a glare. “Did you run home and tell your mother something about my family? What?”
Mrs. Caster moved between Lorelei and her son. “My dear, you almost act as if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Show some respect for an elder selkie.”
Lorelei didn’t bother to step back this time. Was this woman unstable? She tried to meet Vardon’s eyes, but he wouldn’t return the favor.
“I’m going now,” Lorelei stated firmly, expecting an argument.
“Yes. Run to your father. Tell him I know your family is here, without leave of the Council, and I will be in touch. Soon.”
“What Council? What in the world are you talking about?” Lorelei couldn’t help the questions once they finally burst forth – none of what this woman said made any sense. Vardon hadn’t seemed like the descendant of a crazy, but maybe her judgment had just been off because she’d known him for so long.
Something changed in Crystal Caster’s eyes. She realized something; maybe the truth of what Lorelei had said.
“They’ve hidden it from you? It isn’t possible.” Her eyes bored into Lorelei. “A selkie without her skin?”
More obscure questions. It was enough to drive Lorelei up the wall. “What is a selkie?”
“Oh, you will know. I doubt anything can stop you from discovering the truth now.”
“Mother,” Vardon said, putting one hand on her elbow, as if to guide her away. “No. You can’t.”
Mrs. Caster shook him off, her expression resolute as she regarded Lorelei. “A seal shifter. You are of the sea, my girl. I can smell it all over you.”
Find the Water Rites series at your favorite retailer.
Castle and Crown (**Coming winter 2017**)