Authors: Cassie Alexander
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I’d like to thank all the usual suspects that make writing these books possible—my husband Paul, my alpha reader Daniel Starr, my agent Michelle Brower, and my editor Rose Hilliard. There is no possible way I could do this (and on this schedule!) without their support.
I also got some special help on
from Ian Tregillis, Ben Hanelt, Deirdre Saoirse Moen, and Stephen Blount. Ian and Ben (especially Ben) put up with endless what-if questions from me, and Deirdre and Stephen were fantastic resources on cruise ship logistics, operation, and engineering. Their help was invaluable, although as always any errors are all mine.
I can’t wait for you all to see what’s in store for Edie next—I hope you enjoy it, and thank you for continuing to read!
A woman knows the face of the man she loves as a sailor knows the open sea.
—Honore de Balzac
I wake up with a start, gasping for air. I have to tell Asher something.
Everything’s bright and orange, and I can only see through one eye. The other eye’s swollen shut; it burns when I try to open it. Water slaps rubber, over and over, in endless slow applause. I remember the sound from childhood, floating down a lazy river in an inner tube, drunk from beer my older brother had snuck me when I was sixteen.
“Edie? Are you okay?” Asher’s leaning over me. His voice is hoarse.
I have to tell him something.
But I can’t. There’s rope in my mouth. And I can’t pull the rope away because my hands are tied. My feet too. I’m hog-tied, and when I move, my shoulder starts to throb.
“Is it still you?” Asher asks me. I don’t know why he’s asking. I don’t know what he means.
I have to tell you something,
I try to say around the rope, even though I can’t remember what it is.
“I’m so sorry, Edie. I’m so, so sorry. It is you, right?” he asks, and his voice cracks.
I want to comfort him. To tell him that I’m okay, even though it’s clear that I am not. He looks so afraid right now. I’ve never seen him this afraid before.
“We’re going to be all right. We’re going to get away from here. I’m going to save you,” he says, more to himself than me. He scuttles backward and brings up what I realize is a paddle, then leans over the side of the orange thing we’re riding on, paddling for all his might.
Inside my mind, things slide into place. My ties, our lifeboat. What I want to say to him.
He’s paddling so hard to nowhere that salt water is spraying my face.
And I remember.
* * *
I had a death grip on the balcony railing and was looking down at the ocean with trepidation. Our room on the
was six floors up, maybe four down to the waterline. I couldn’t help but wonder just how deep the sea was after that.
“Edie, it’s not like I booked us on the
” Asher called from the doorway of our room.
I turned around to give him a nervous grin. “I know,” I said, then returned my gaze to the sea. He’d planned this trip for us. A chance for us to get away from the weather in Port Cavell, to go on our first official vacation together. It was just what we’d needed, especially when winter rolled in with a white-out blizzard that’d lasted two weeks, making it impossible for us to get to the clinic where we both worked, me as a nurse and him as a doctor. We met before I knew he was a doctor, I swear.
Our cruise had sounded fabulous up until my last-minute packing extravaganza this morning. That was when I realized my period was a week late. My luggage had felt like I’d been carrying an anchor with me ever since—and it was why I was staring out at the ocean like it was a Magic 8 Ball now. I was hoping for a sign, a yes or a no, but the only thing the waves seemed to say was
Reply hazy, try again.
“Don’t help or anything. I’ve totally got it all,” Asher said behind me, bringing in our bags.
“Okay!” I said with feigned gullibility. He rolled his eyes and tossed the last of our bags onto the bed. I let go of the rail and came over to him. “If you hadn’t booked us such a long trip, I wouldn’t have had to pack so much.”
Asher spread his hands. “Well, if you’d just listened to my plan to keep you in here naked the whole time, I feel sure we could have gotten you down to one small carry-on. I kept telling you they have twenty-four-hour room service.”
His look—mystified at how I could fail to grasp such logic—made me laugh. He reached for me, and I stepped into his arms. “Think of it, Edie. A two-week trip from LA to Hawaii and back. No snow the whole way.”
“Yay, adventure!” I said from the safety of his armpit.
“No. We’ve had enough of adventure. This”—and he swept his arm grandly over the ocean, like he was Poseidon—“is a vacation.”
I hadn’t had a vacation in a very long time. The road trips my brother and I had been hauled on as a kid where we’d seen Mount Rushmore hardly counted. I’d had time off before, but I’d never been on a
And Asher was right about adventures. I didn’t need any more of those. I’d spent a year of my life knowing too much about the underworld of our hometown, being involved in what could charitably called hijinks or more reasonably Machiavellian death plans orchestrated by the vampire, werewolf, and shapeshifter communities.
All of that had ended when I’d started dating Asher seven months ago. In a way, the past seven months with him had already been the best and longest vacation in my whole life.
Asher spun me and I yelped in surprise. We both landed on the bed—all white linens, with mountainous amounts of white pillows—and Asher pulled me closer to him. “Imagine it. Two weeks, no patients, no MRSA, no vampires—just you, me, and the sun.”
I propped myself up, put my chin on his chest, and squinted at him. “No norovirus?”
He laughed. “I may be a doctor, but I’m not God. No guarantees.”
His warm smile lit up the whole room. I was so in love with him. I thought about telling him then, blurting out that I was late—but what if it was nothing? Or—what if by saying something, I jinxed it? Would that be a relief? I didn’t even really know yet if I wanted to be pregnant, or even if I was. I was sort of happy, sort of scared, and everything was still sort of imaginary. But we were on board this ship for two weeks—I’d know by the end of our trip. My uterus would have to declare itself one way or the other by then.
He reached out and smoothed my brow with his thumb. “I love you. Everything’s going to be perfect.”
Yeah. It would be. Either way. I had him, and he had me. I tilted my head to kiss the inside of his palm. “I completely believe you.”
The boat, or ship, whatever it was supposed to be properly called, left the dock with a lurch and began to rock beneath our feet. We gained speed as we left the harbor and I heard the sound of waves slapping against its metal sides. It made noises like an older building in a strong wind.
Asher rolled out of bed and started to industriously unpack.
“Can’t we go look around first?” Our luggage wasn’t going anywhere, and Asher was right, I had packed a lot of stuff. It wasn’t my fault there were two separate formal nights on board. Formal nights required a lot of extra provisioning.
“Hang on,” he said, while pulling out a stack of jeans, shorts, and swim trunks. “There’s a safety lecture coming up that we have to go to.” He started putting his clothes away into the drawers beneath the desk diagonally across from our bed.
“How do you—” I was asking when a five-note chime crackled overhead from an intercom I hadn’t noticed in the ceiling. Captain Ames introduced himself and welcomed us aboard at incredible volume, and then a scratchy recording instructing passengers to report to their designated safety zones began.
“I just know,” Asher said, answering my unfinished question when our instructions were over. “But after this, we can take a tour. I promise.”
I just know
was Asher’s polite way of telling me he
knew. From before, when he’d been a full-fledged shapeshifter.
Despite us dating for seven months, there were all sorts of things I didn’t
know about Asher. Things I might never even have the time to find out. As a shapeshifter, he wasn’t just the summation of his own memories and experiences, he was the combination of the knowledge and form of everyone he’d ever touched. Anyone he’d ever had skin-to-skin contact with before this past summer was inside him, and he could make himself look like them, and have access to everything they knew. Up to and including me.
Back in July he’d almost gone insane because of it, like all shapeshifters approaching their mid-thirties. He’d been saved from his fate by Santa Muerte, whom we’d been helping at the time; she’d stopped his descent into madness. Afterward, Asher could access old forms and memories, but not take on any new ones. Which was nice because it meant he didn’t always know what I was thinking anymore when he touched me. But it was still strange when he
things for no good reason.
And it was one of the reasons why I’d sort of assumed we couldn’t have kids, much to my mother’s dismay. I knew enough science to know about interspecies dating. Maybe Asher and I would have a liger together. I snorted.
“What?” Asher asked from inside the closet, where he was hanging up his suit jackets.
“Nothing! Hey, can you hang up my dresses for me?”
I watched him from my position sprawled across the arctic-white bedspread. When he was done he came over to stand beside me on the bed, the red formal gown that I’d bought specifically for this trip hanging down in the open closet behind him.
“Hey,” he said quietly. “What’s wrong? Are you sick or something?”