Authors: Laurie Keck
Copyright © 2015 Laurie Keck
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, character, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or use fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published by Coastal Escape Publishing
A special thanks to my editor, Devin Govaere.
Another special thanks to Devin, Tomi, and Della for their unwavering support.
And a special wink to Roch, for his unknowing inspiration.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Siren Rock, Florida
Larina Bixby moved in rhythm with the waves, and her sinuous tail propelled her through the water. Her opalescent fin displayed a spectrum of colors among the scales, which mimicked a rainbow against the sapphire sky. Above, a glimpse of crimson peeked through the clouds. This morning, there were all the indications it would be a clear day. The water itself was as clear and reflective as blue glass. As she frolicked, dove, spun, and jumped, she was one with the dolphins. And, at this instant, for now at least, she felt safe.
Larina giggled as Shimmy, the name she had given this particular dolphin, nudged her. They rode off a short way together. She felt alive and free, and it had been a long time coming to feel this way. She knew, in part, it was because of her acceptance of who she was. For the first time, in quite some time, she shared a bond with those similar to her. That was what brought her this joy, this wonder.
Larina clutched her treasure, the piece of hematite she’d found within the depths, on this still very early day. She understood why mermaids would often use this reflective piece as a mirror. She saw her own reflection in this luminous stone. She could see her long, cool blonde hair as it glistened like a night star against the sky. Her hair wrapped around her bodice and created ringlets around her face. These sunrise swims were exhilarating, exciting. There was always so much to learn from this home, from the sea. There was always so much to take back, if only in one’s memory. A beautiful world, with brilliant color, filled with an array of astonishing life forms. There were scenes many would have difficulty imagining if left to their own imaginations. Here were things to see that one might feel they would find only in the mind of a child or the pages of a fantasy book. Though it was not make-believe, this was the undersea world.
As the waves formed their suds, they appeared as refreshing as the cool, tapped beverage at the end of a hard day. Shimmy made a clicking sound and suddenly did a tail smack. Larina noticed what she believed to be a flash of light coming from shore. She focused on where her dog, Sunmoon, was patiently waiting her return. He was a beautiful black Schipperke, so black that he had a hint of blue in his coat, as if he had stepped off the pages of a comic strip. His face held the shape of a fox’s. While fully grown, he was still quite small. Early on he had shown that he lived up to his breed’s reputation for the love of water. He knew, though, when she went deep, he needed to stay on land and be her lookout.
Larina gently paddled her way back to shore, as just a precaution. This time of year there were no tourists, no locals either, and no real reason to hide, but it was best to be safe anyway.
As she approached more shallow water, she motioned to Sunmoon. With one thought, her fin transformed to legs and feet, sending a tingling feeling through her body. She loved that feeling. As she walked onto shore, she wiped the water from her eyes. She reached for her towel that lay on the sand. She dried her arms before wrapping the towel around her torso then lifted her face toward the rising sun and imagined the warmth it would soon bring. She’d needed this swim to ease her worries. The anonymous letter she'd received after her last swim weighed heavy on her mind
Who sent it? Who could possibly know my secret? Who would dare threaten me?
She reached down and tousled Sunmoon’s fur. “Oh wow, that was great! Did you see Shimmy? She was in rare form. Thanks for keeping watch, my little captain.”
The tide flowed across her foot, and for a split second, she felt a sharp pain, as if the water was actually glass, but she had only stepped on the spike of a sea urchin. The quick pain sent a reminder of who she really was, part woman, part fish. She removed the spike from her foot. She suddenly jolted to her right, having seen a flash of light once again in her peripheral vision. She continued to glance about the shore.
Her body felt limp, a weakness that intensified with each quickened thought. She began to feel slightly clammy to the touch and could feel her heart racing. She felt as if she was being contained, held down and suffocated. She felt as if she was… Yes, that was it. Caught in a fisherman’s net.
Are they here now? Who is following me? Who from town wants to hurt me?
Someone is wishing to expose me, show me as a freak of nature.
She adjusted her towel and then tousled her hair, which created wet waves that she felt as they fell against her skin and framed her face. She and Sunmoon quickly ran up the private path to her father’s house.
The home was located in Siren Rock, beautifully situated on a private, secluded beach. It was a modest home in relation to others close to the area; however, its location, with plenty of land, provided the solitary privacy her father desired and needed for his family, for him and Larina.
Upon reaching the house, Larina quickly threw open the patio door of her private suite and, just as quickly, closed and locked it once they had entered. Drawing the shades over the desk, she glanced at the envelope that bore her hometown’s postmark. Inside was the letter she had received while in the Keys. The letter her father had her bring. The very reason they now looked over their shoulders. Larina opened it and read the note again.
I know your secret. I know your tale, or should I say your tail? You cannot hide. I will expose you. I will expose all of you.
She became startled when she heard a bell. It was only her phone, and it began to vibrate on the desk. She threw the note down as she answered.
“Hello, Daddy, is anything wrong?”
She sat on the desk and ran her hands through her bangs in an effort to dry them.
“Hello, dear. No, though I have a favor to ask of you,” Grant said.
“Sure, what is it?”
“It’s Case. He needs you to tend to his horse.”
“Oh no, Daddy. I don’t know that I can see him. I have managed to stay away and plan to keep it that way.”
“His horse is in a bad way, Larina. He needs your help.”
“Okay, of course. But don’t you think it’s odd that I just got back and he needs—”
“He wouldn’t bother you if it wasn’t necessary.”
“You’re right. If he’s there now, I’ll grab my bag and go right away.”
“He’s at the ranch. He just called.”
“Okay, I’m on my way then. I’ll see you tonight. Goodbye, Daddy.”
“Thank you, dear. I know it’ll mean the world to him. Goodbye.”
It had been nearly five years since Larina had met and fallen in love with Case Wade. Though he had lived in the next county, they had not met until the day he put a call in for an emergency vet. Larina answered that call to care for his horse. The very horse she was called to care for today.
Larina often thought of Case and all he stood for. He was of the Earth, a man of solid ground. She missed her cowboy, loved him actually, which is why she could never keep a secret from him. She couldn’t tell him, for her secret was not hers alone to tell. Her secret belonged to her family. That is why it was best to move on. So that is what she had done.
Larina had spent the past four years in the Florida Keys, where she focused on her veterinary practice. Leaving her hometown, leaving Case, was her way of trying to forget the preposterous idea of a normal life. That was until she had received the letter. The letter she had needed to inform her father of. The one that threatened their very existence. She had to make this trip home to ensure that her father, along with their secret, was still safe.
Still, while the circumstance that had led her back were not pleasant, it was nice to be home again. Back home to a place that seemed like paradise, and to see her father again.
Larina hung up the phone and stared at it. She threw her head back and exhaled loudly. She felt a sudden surge of motion in her stomach.
“Sunmoon, we’re going on a little road trip.”
He perked up and tagged along beside her as she walked to the bedroom. She reached under the bed and pulled out a large medical bag. She grabbed her purse from the desk, picked up the note, and shoved it in a drawer. After filling a thermos, she threw the bags over her shoulder, and they walked through the main house and left, locking the door behind them.
They walked over to her new white Volkswagen convertible. She tossed the bag in the trunk and then strapped Sunmoon in his seat. She then strapped herself in and drove off. As she did, she waved goodbye to anyone or anything that might be watching.
As they drove along the coast with the top down, Larina felt the coolness of the air, the spirit of the wind, as it passed through her hair. The early sun warmed only her shoulders and at times, the bridge of her nose. Her hair frequently brushed her cheeks, which made her feel alive and free. She was driving at a good clip; the road was all theirs.
They drove past rows and rows of gorgeous palms that lined the road as lines of pelicans flew overhead. A seagull came upon the car and appeared as if it was almost riding along with them. She felt a sudden sense of security, as she viewed seagulls as her own personal good omen.
The beach road laid way to a relaxing and inspiring scenic drive. She could see off to the side that the waves competed to be seen, the sea grass was singing, and the many gulls danced in flight to their melody.
She wasn’t running from prying eyes or fear of exposure. She had a call to make. Hard as she’d tried to stay away from the Wade Ranch, the need to answer the call to care for Robust, Case’s beloved horse, put some of her apprehension to rest. This one time, she would gather the strength she needed to set eyes on Case again. She would will herself, as needed, to hold herself in check.
Having driven as far as they could on the beach road, they came to the turn-off. They still had another forty miles of a drive inland. As Larina grew closer to the ranch, she became anxious. Sunmoon whined slightly as if he had picked up on her vibe. She slowly pulled over to tend to him, and herself. They got out of the car and walked up and down the country road. She dug the toe of her shoe into the dirt as she dawdled along. Returning to their parked car, they sat beneath a tree and drank from the thermos.
A soft rumble sounded in the distance. It got closer and sounded like large rocks being crushed under a tremendous weight. She tried to see around her car, but she couldn’t. The sound stopped. She heard a thump, and she bit her lip as she bowed her head down in an attempt to avoid being seen. Sunmoon barked until she told him it would be all right. But would it? She felt her palms moisten and her lips go dry. There was the crunching of gravel, which only got louder.
“Larina.” He called out in the warmest of tones
In hearing his voice, Larina felt warm inside, the warmth one feels after having just been served hot cocoa on a cold winter day. He wore an unbuttoned sleeveless blue plaid flannel shirt over a sleeveless black t-shirt. His jeans hugged his body just right. His dark brown hair, brushed back off his face, only accentuated his high cheekbones, and his strong, chiseled jaw. There was that tiny scar above his left lip, which took him from cardigan to leather in an instant. He stood in front of her, the perfect blend of nice guy with an edge. His eyes sparkled like chocolate diamonds with a hint of sunlight. Then already fighting the urge she feared, he had to go and grin, revealing the dimple on his left cheek.
Larina stammered a bit.
“Case, hi, I was just on my way to see you.”
He squatted down beside her.
“How you’ve been? I’ve missed you in these parts.” He held out his hand to Sunmoon. “Good boy, I’ve missed you too.”
Larina briefly imagined Case’s hand touching her.
“I’ve been good, busy. I’ve only been back a day. I’ve spent a good bit of time down in the Keys.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “I’m visiting my dad. I hope to take care of a few things while I’m here.”
“I’m sorry I pulled you away.” He tilted his head. “Okay, not really. But I need the best, and that would be you. I’m glad you got your father’s message and agreed to help.”
Larina shook her head. “No problem.”
He touched her shoulder. “I’m glad you’re back. I’m really happy to see you.”
Larina stood abruptly, and she wiped imaginary dirt off the backside of her jeans.
“Well, here I am. What do you say you take me to Robust?”
Case braced his hands on his knees as he lifted himself up. “Not as agile as I like to think I am anymore. Guess that’s why I quit rodeo, that and…” Case bit his lip. “Anyway ,maybe you can fix me, too, while you’re here?”
Larina shook her head, causing the soft waves of her hair to brush against her shoulders. “You’re trouble, Case Wade. I don’t need any trouble.”
Case chuckled as his eyes gazed at her shoulder. “Trouble, when have I ever given you trouble?”
Larina motioned for Sunmoon to come back to the car and lifted him inside. She began to secure his harness to the seatbelt.
She said, “Well, maybe not directly, but I never got a warm and fuzzy feeling from Annette.”
Case leaned against the car and gazed at her. “Trust me; no one gets that from her, least of all me. We’re not together, never have been. Well, you know, not since that one time…” He gave her a crooked lip.