After knocking on her door, I waited patiently to be admitted by one of her servants. But when it finally swung open, the merman standing there was definitely not like any servant I had ever seen.
Dark and gorgeous and charismatic, with piercing blue eyes that looked right through me, he exuded power from every pore. He was as tall as Kona—which meant he was huge, as my boyfriend was close to six and a half feet tall in his human form—and heavily muscled. More than that, though, nearly every inch of skin between his neck and his waist was covered with dark blue tattoos. And not the kind you got in a tattoo parlor.
No, I thought as I pressed closer to him without conscious thought. These tattoos, with their slight phosphorescent glow, were like mine. Like Kona’s. Like Hailani’s and my mother’s. They were gifts from the sea, markings of true Mer power.
I couldn’t help staring in astonishment. Not because he was the first merman I’d ever seen with such marks—he wasn’t, of course. But never before had I seen so many on one person. Not even my mother or Hailani, or even Kona’s incredibly powerful father, had close to this number
Who was he, I wondered, as I shifted uncomfortably under his scrutiny. And why was he looking at me like I was a present he couldn’t wait to open?
“Come in, Tempest.” Hailani’s voice echoed from within the chamber. Tearing my eyes from her mystery guest was more difficult than it should have been, but I managed it as I started to step into the large, opulent room that served as Hailani’s meeting room while she was below the surface.
I expected the merman to move aside as I entered, but he didn’t. Instead, he stood right in the middle of the doorway so that I was forced to brush against him as I passed. Jolts of electricity shot through me, sizzled along my nerve endings, and if we hadn’t been underwater I would have sworn that I’d been burned. A quick, startled look at him confirmed that he had experienced the same thing. Only he didn’t look at all surprised.
Who was he? I wondered again. He didn’t look much older than I was, but I’d learned that, down here, looks could be deceiving. After all, Kona—despite just having reached the end of selkies’ teenage years—was actually several hundreds of years old.
Even more important than who the guy was, however, was the question of how Hailani was planning to use him against me. Kona would think it was crazy of me to be so suspicious, but I’d been around the merQueen long enough now to know that she never did anything without a purpose. And that purpose was always self-serving.
Come over here, Hailani told me impatiently. I don’t have all day, especially considering I’ve wasted most of the morning waiting around for you to wake up.
I’m sorry. My experiences yesterday left me quite... drained.
She studied me through narrowed eyes, meticulous in her search for a weakness. She found it in my almost completely healed tail. Did one of Tiamat’s soldiers do that to you? she asked.
Yes. I straightened my shoulders, tried to look as healthy as possible. If she sensed I still wasn’t one hundred percent, she’d poke at me until I was too weak to continue. But it’s fine now.
Well, I guess we’ll see about that, won’t we?
Shit. I obviously hadn’t done as good a job of faking it as I thought I had. What do you want, Hailani?
Queen Hailani or Your Majesty! she snapped back at me.
I stared back at her with a look that was deliberately insolent. Of course. Your Majesty.
She looked ready to take offense at my provocation, which was juvenile I know but so satisfying, when the merman cleared his throat.
Hailani looked at him and some of the fire died out of her eyes. Tempest, I called you here to introduce you to my grand-nephew, Sabyn. Sabyn, this is Cecily’s daughter, Tempest.
Nice to meet you, Cecily. He stuck his hand out to shake mine, a friendly look on his face that did nothing to put me at ease. I’d learned from bitter experience that Hailani’s smile was sweetest right before she stabbed someone in the back.
Even worse, the second our hands touched, electricity once again rocketed through me.
Sorry, he told me, so softly that I knew he didn’t want his aunt to hear.
No problem, I answered, though half my body ached from our contact.
Sabyn is going to take over your training, the queen told me.