Fallen angel Lara Rho is eager to prove herself as a Seeker--one called to rescue other children of air before they are hunted down by the children of fire. Drawn to rootless, restless sailor Justin Miller, she is determined to save him. But Justin is no angel...
A lost life...
Charming drifter Justin is reluctant to get tangled up in port with conscientious Lara. A child of the sea, Justin remembers nothing of his life before the day he was plucked from a shipwreck seven years ago. But one impulsive act lands him literally on the side of the angels and on the run for his life. Lara and Justin must work together to uncover his identity--before what they don't know kills them both.
A passionate journey of discovery...
Pursued by Lara's colleagues and hunted by demons, the two set out on a journey into their darkest fears and deepest desires. Together they have powers neither imagined. But when Justin discovers his merfolk past, will he turn his back on his true nature...or his newfound love?
The man on the boat stripped half naked, exposing a lean golden chest and muscled arms.
In the parking lot across the street from the dock, Lara Rho sucked in her breath. Held it as he dropped his shirt to the deck and began to climb.
The top of the mast swayed, stark against the bold blue sky. Her stomach fluttered. Nerves? she wondered. Recognition? Or simple female appreciation?
The sun beat down, forging the water of the bay to a sheet of hammered gold. The air inside the car heated like an oven.
Beside her in the driver's seat, Gideon stirred, chafing in the heat. His corn silk hair was pulled into a ponytail, his blue eyes narrowed against the glare. "Is he the one?"
Lara leaned forward to peer through the windshield of their nondescript gray car, testing the pull of the internal compass that had woken her at dawn. They'd driven all morning from the rolling hills of Pennsylvania through the flat Virginia tidewater, wasting precious minutes in the traffic around Norfolk before they found this place. This man.
Are you the one?
She exhaled slowly, willing herself to focus on the climber. He certainly looked like an angel, hanging in the rigging against the bold blue sky, his bronze hair tipped with gold like a halo.
"I think so." She bit her lip. She should know."Yes."
"He's too old," Gideon said.
Lara swallowed her own misgivings. She was the designated Seeker on this mission. Gideon was along merely to support and defend. She wanted her instincts to be right, wanted to justify their masters' faith in her. "Late twenties," she said. "Not much older than you."
"He should have been found before this."
"Maybe he wasn't meant to be found before." Her heartbeat quickened. Maybe she was the one meant to find him.
"Then he should be dead," Gideon said.
The brutal truth made her shiver despite the heat. Survival depended on banding together under the Rule. She was only nine when they brought her to Rockhaven, but she remembered being alone. Hunted. If Simon Axton had not found her . . .
She pushed the memories away to study her subject. He must be forty feet above the gleaming white deck. Snagging a rope at the top of the mast, he fed it to the two men waiting below, one old, one young, both wearing faded navy polo shirts. Some kind of uniform?
"He's been at sea," she murmured. "The water could have protected him."
It could do that, couldn't it? Protect against fire. Even if the water wasn't blessed.
"I don't like it," Gideon said bluntly. "You're sure he's one of us?"
She had felt him more with every mile, a tug on her attention, a prickle in her fingertips. Now that she could actually see him, the hum in her blood had become a buzz. But it was all vibration, like listening to a vacuum cleaner in the dark, without shape or color. Not only human, not wholly elemental . . .
"What else could he be?" she asked.
"He could be possessed."
She would know, she would feel that. She was attracted, not repelled, by his energy. And yet . . . Uncertainty ate at her. She had not been a Seeker very long. The gift was rough and raw inside her, despite Miriam's careful teaching. What if she was wrong? What if he wasn't one of them? At best she and Gideon would have a wasted trip and she'd look like a fool. At worst, she could betray them to their enemy.
She watched the man begin his descent, his long limbs fluid in the sun, sheened with sweat and sunlight.
And if she was right, his life depended on her.
She shook her head in frustration. "We're too far away. If I could touch him . . ."
"What are you going to do?" Gideon asked dryly. "Walk up and ask to feel his muscles?"
There was an idea. She gave a small, decisive nod. "If I have to."
She opened her door. Gideon opened his.
"No," she said again. She needed to assert herself. Gideon was five years older, in the cohort ahead of hers, but she was technically in charge. "I can get closer if you're not standing next to me."
A frown formed between his straight blond brows. "It could be dangerous."
She had chosen their watch post. They both had scanned the area. It was safe. For now. "There's no taint."
"That's not the kind of danger I'm talking about," Gideon muttered.
She disregarded him. For thirteen years, she had trained to handle herself. She could handle this.
She swung out of the car, lowering her sunglasses onto her nose like a knight adjusting his helm, considering her strategy. Her usual approach was unlikely to work here. This subject was no confused and frightened child or even a dazed, distrustful adolescent.
After a moment's thought, she undid another button on her blouse. Ignoring Gideon's scowl--after all, he was not the one responsible for the success of their mission--she crossed the street to the marina.
It was a long, uneven walk along sun-bleached boards to the end of the dock.
The man descending the mast had stopped halfway down, balanced on some sort of narrow crossbeam, staring out at the open sea on the other side of the boat.
She tipped back her head. Her nerves jittered. Surely he wasn't going to . . .
He jumped. Dived, rather, a blinding arc of grace and danger, sending up a plume of white water and a shout from the younger man on deck.
She must have cried out, too. The two men on the boat turned to look at her, the young one with a nudge and the old one with a nod.
The one in the water surfaced with an explosion of breath, tossing his wet hair back from his face.
Cooling off? Or showing off? It didn't matter.
He stroked cleanly through the water, making for the swimming platform at the back of the boat.
Show time, she thought.
Pasting a smile on her face, she walked to the edge of the dock. "Eight point six."
He angled his head, meeting her gaze. She felt the jolt clear to her stomach, threatening her detachment. His eyes were the same hammered gold as the water, with shadows beneath the surface.
She pushed her sunglasses up on her head. "I deducted a point for recklessness. You shouldn't dive this close to the dock."
He grinned and grabbed the ladder. "I wasn't talking about my dive."
Heat rose in her cheeks. No one under the Rule would speak to her that way. But that was what she wanted, wasn't it? For him to respond to her while she figured out what to do with him.
"I'm flattered." This close, she could feel his energy pulsing inside him like a second heart. She tried again to identify it, but her probing thought slid off him like a finger on wet glass. He was remarkably well shielded. Well, he would have to be, to survive this long on his own.
She cast about for a subject. "Nice boat."
He shot her a measuring glance; hauled himself out of the sea, water streaming from his arms and chest. "Yeah, she is."
She tried not to goggle at the way his wet shorts drooped on his hips, clung to his thighs. "How long have you had her?"
"She's not mine. Four of us crewed her up from the Caribbean for her owners."
"So you're staying here? In town."
He shook his head. "As soon as she's serviced, I'm on to the next one."
Apprehension gripped her. She arched her brows. "You're still referring to the boat, I hope."
He flashed another grin, quick and crooked as lightning. "Just making it clear. Once I line up another berth, another job, I'm gone."
"Then we don't have much time," she said with more truth than he knew.
He stood there, shirtless, dripping, regarding her with glinting golden eyes. "How much time do you need?"
Her heart beat in her throat. Her mouth was dry. He thought her interest was sexual. Of course he did. That's what she had led him to think.
"Why don't we start with coffee," she suggested, "and see what happens."
He glanced at his companions, bundling sails on deck. "Drinks, and you've got yourself a date."
Lara swallowed. She had hoped to be back in Rockhaven by nightfall. But a few hours wouldn't make that much difference to their safety. She wanted desperately to succeed in their mission, to prove herself to the school council. She rubbed her tingling fingertips together. If only she could touch him . . . But they were separated by more than four feet of water. "Five o'clock?"
She scrambled to cull a name from their frustrating foray along the waterfront earlier in the day. Someplace close, she thought. Someplace dark. "The Galaxy?"
His eyes narrowed before he nodded. "I'll be there."
Relief rushed through her. "I'll be waiting."
Justin watched her walk away, slim legs, trim waist, snug skirt, nice ass, a shining fall of dark hair to the middle of her back. Definitely a ten.
"Hot." Rick Scott, the captain, offered his opinion.
"Very," Justin agreed.
Her face was as glossy and perfect as a picture in a magazine, her eyes large and gray beneath dark winged brows, her nose straight, her mouth full-lipped. Unsmiling.
Why a woman like that would choose a dive like the Galaxy was beyond him. Unless she was slumming. He picked his way through the collapsed sails and coiled ropes on deck. Which explained her interest in him even after she'd learned he wasn't a rich yacht owner.
The stink of mineral spirits competed with the scent of brine and the smells of the bay, fish and fuel and mudflats.
"The hot chicks always go for Justin," Ted said. "Lucky bastard."
Rick spat with precision over the side. He was tidy that way, an ex-military man with close-cropped graying hair and squinting blue eyes. "Next time you send the halyard up the mast, you can climb after it. Maybe some girl will hit on you."
A red stain crept under the younger crewman's tan. "It was an accident."
Justin felt a flash of sympathy. He remembered--didn't he?--when he was that young. That dumb. That eager to please. "Could have happened to anybody."
He'd made enough mistakes himself his first few months and years at sea. Worse mistakes than tugging on an unsecured line.
He wondered if the girl would be another one.
Dredging the disassembled winch out of the bucket of mineral spirits, he laid out the gears to dry. He was working his way north again like a migrating seabird, following the coast and an instinct he did not try to understand. The last thing he needed was to get tangled up on shore.
"I'll be waiting," she'd said in that smooth, low voice.
He reached for the can of marine grease. Maybe she could slake the ache inside him, provide a few hours of distraction, a few minutes of release.
Mistake or not, he would be there.