Read An Elemental Tail Online

Authors: Shona Husk

Tags: #romance, #paranormal, #art, #mermaids, #mermen, #new adult

An Elemental Tail

 

 

 

 

 

An Elemental Tail

 

by

 

Shona Husk

 

 

 

An Elemental Tail

Copyright 2010, 2012 Shona Husk

Cover Art by
Helen Katsinis

Formatted by
IRONHORSE
Formatting

 

Smashwords Edition

 

First published in 2010 by The Wild Rose Press

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the
rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication
may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the
prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above
publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the
author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author
acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various
products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used
without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not
authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark
owners.

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Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Other titles by Shona Husk

About Shona Husk

 

 

Chapter One

 

Nik dug his toes into the grit that passed
for sand on this miserable island called England. The waves smacked
his rolled-up jeans and sucked at his feet, as if the sea could
draw him in and pull him home. If it were that easy, he wouldn’t
still be trapped in a human body. He sighed through clenched teeth.
Four hundred years of treading land and breathing air, and he still
missed the ocean.

The gray sea swirled around his ankles, and
he couldn’t feel it. Oh, it was cold and wet like water should be,
but he couldn’t
feel
it. The pulse of the waves no longer
echoed in his blood. The pull of a hurricane half a world away now
passed without his knowing. Currents swept across the globe, but he
didn’t revel in the eddy of power. He felt nothing from the water.
He closed his eyes and inhaled the damp-salty scent of the sea, the
element he had once been.

The wind caressed his cheek, tugging on his
crimson hair until the strands whipped around like seaweed in a
storm. Above him the heavy clouds promised rain. No, too cold for
rain. Sleet. Except for him, the beach was deserted. Sensible
people hid from the wild whims of the elements. But Nik had been
called to the shore by the alien joy and wonder flooding his veins.
Someone had touched the flesh that had once been his tail.

Without his tail he was powerless, an
immortal human, rejected by water. This time he wouldn’t fail. He
would reclaim the book made from his body and be whole. Elemental.
His eyes snapped open, fixed on a point in the distance too far for
him to see.

Once he would have crossed the distance as a
mer with a flick of his tail, or as water, one with the Atlantic
Ocean, depending on his mood. Now he would have to fly to America.
Nik shuddered, but not from the cold. He raised his eyes to the
clouds, and the wind giggled at his dilemma. Air and water didn’t
mix. Nik glanced back over the choppy sea. A ship would take too
long; it might be years before he got another chance at finding the
book. He waded back to the shore with leaden legs. He had a plane
to catch.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

“Hi, are you ready to order?” Isla stretched
her lips into a smile that exuded more energy than she contained.
Her pen hovered over her notepad. She hoped he wouldn’t rush. The
restaurant was packed, and standing still was the closest thing she
was going to get to a break.

The man glanced up from the menu, his eyes
like puddles of ink. “I’m ready.” He closed the menu and handed it
to her. As he moved, the lights shimmered over his hair so it bled
from black to crimson, a color that had to have come out of a
bottle, yet somehow suited his pale skin and dark eyes. “I’ll have
the fish of the day and a glass of the Sémillon.”

Isla nodded and noted down his request, but
her gaze was on the customer. He was eye-catching, like a lure
thrown out to tempt her. The man’s mouth turned up at the corner in
a lazy smile. Her cheeks heated; he’d caught her staring. Though
really, who dyed their hair that color and didn’t expect to get
looked at?

“Will that be all?” She held his gaze.
Looking away would be an admission of attraction.

“For the moment.” His eyes lingered on her
for a second too long.

The chatter of other diners faded beneath the
pulse of her heart. Was he flirting with her? Or was she so in need
of a night off she was fantasizing about attractive customers? He
blinked, and around her the world resurfaced. She turned away
before she lost herself in his eyes again.

She wasn’t the only waitress to notice him. A
man eating alone, no wedding ring on his finger, and a look about
him like he was on the hunt. There would be an argument to see who
delivered his meal. It wouldn’t be her. He was an exquisite piece
of eye candy and a reminder she couldn’t have more. Not without
sacrificing everything she’d worked for.

Another waitress took his meal over, but his
gaze was on Isla. She tried to ignore him, to stay away from his
table, yet as she worked she couldn’t help but steal glances,
memorizing his features so she could sketch him when she finished
work for the night. There was something about him that needed to be
captured. He sat so still, but his eyes were alive. He didn’t go
through the motions of living. He lived.

Isla turned around to take another look, but
he was gone. If it weren’t for the empty plate, she’d have believed
she’d imagined him into existence. She sighed and shook her head as
she picked up the plate and glass. The only thing she’d imagined
was that he would be interested in a dirt-poor no one like her.
Between the scholarship and the waitressing she kept her head above
water. If she got distracted, she would drown.

****

Isla unfolded the protective brown paper and
ran her fingertips over the supple leather for the hundredth time
since discovering the book in the box. If she kept stroking the
cover, she would wear a hole through the leather. The book was the
most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. From pale cream to black,
shot with crimson and turquoise. Colors rippled over the surface,
shimmering in the light as if the book was alive. Even the pages
inside were divine: thick cream paper with a hint of translucency.
Impossible, but the illusion was mesmerizing.

The book was a work of art.

She blinked back tears she’d thought spent.
Sarah had bequeathed Isla the book in her will; it was more than
she’d ever expected. Great Aunt Sarah had been the one person who’d
understood her obsession with art and encouraged her. The five
years she’d spent living with Sarah held all her happy memories
from her childhood.

When her mother’s boyfriend had eventually
tired of her mother and left, Isla had been dragged back home to
help with the new baby, and her mother had gone searching for the
next man. Her mother’s run-down three-bedroom house was devoid of
beauty. No paintings on the walls, no well-tended garden, no
books.

All the books she’d loved as a child had also
been in the box of things Sarah had left her, along with a small
amount of cash stashed between the pages and a necklace. A solitary
pearl, still partially embedded in the shell and tied with a
leather thong. The leather had disintegrated in her hand, so Isla
had hung it on a silver chain. It was the only piece of jewelry
she’d ever been given.

She’d never seen the blank leather-bound book
in Sarah’s house. But Sarah had always been at antique fairs
looking for a rare find. The book had obviously been packed away
with care. The brown paper was old, the string tired with age. She
gave the book one last caress and set it down, ready to be
rewrapped. Isla bit the inside of her lip, reluctant to pack the
treasure away. A book like this should be filled with drawings and
on display, not hidden in a box.

Isla tilted her head. It was a decent size.
More than a hand-span tall and wide. She flicked open the cover and
rubbed a page between her fingers. It was almost made for drawing
on. Sarah must have meant for her to use it as a sketchbook. Why
else would she have left it for Isla, and not her own sensible
lawyer or accountant children? She reached out and picked up a
pencil, writing her name in the front, then the year. The lead
glided over the paper. She rubbed her thumb over the letters. They
didn’t smudge. A smile curled her lips. Perfect.

Images of the mystery man from the restaurant
flickered in her mind. The tilt of his jaw, the curve of his lips
as he almost smiled begged to be captured on paper. An idea began
to form.

Her cell phone rang with a snippet of Mozart,
and the thought-bubble popped. She glanced at the number. Her
mother. She was tempted to let it ring out to hear the rest of the
tune. Three calls in twenty-four hours—no doubt her mother had
realized she’d missed out in Sarah’s will. Another measure played
as Isla readied herself to answer.

“Hi, Mom.” She forced enthusiasm into her
voice.

“How nice of you to answer this time.”

Isla winced. It didn’t matter what she did;
it was never right. “I was working last night.”

And by the time she’d gotten home it was
after midnight. She’d been too tired to draw, and while the
crimson-haired man had slipped into her sleep, this morning she had
been unable to put a single line down, his beauty lost forever. She
fingered the pages of the book. Maybe it wasn’t too late…

“Like you need to with that fancy scholarship
buttering your bread.”

“I still have to eat.” They went through this
every time they spoke. Her mother resented the several states
between herself and Isla’s bank account. In her mother’s ideal
world, Isla would still be working at the local supermarket and
handing over her paycheck.

“We all do.” The cigarette crackled down the
line as her mother dragged in a breath filled with smoke.

The remembered scent made her gag. She’d
spent too many years spent emptying ashtrays so her younger
siblings didn’t play with the butts.

“Spill—I know the uppity old bag left you
something. Don’t think about lying. I should never have let you
stay with her. You were never right after that.”

Isla closed her eyes as her mother salted old
wounds. She had been forced out of the house at five because the
new boyfriend didn’t like kids. Sarah had been the only family
member willing to take Isla on. She hugged the leather-bound book
to her chest. As always, her mother would take anything of value.
“Books.”

“Books? Is that all? What am I supposed to do
with books?”

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