sleeping with the fishes
Mermaid Sisters Cozy Mystery #3
eBook ISBN: 9781939197665
A deep dive into danger . . .
Ava was born to lead. The oldest of the three royal daughters from Sirenia, she’s been by Mother’s side from the moment she first learned to swim. Her inevitable legacy notwithstanding, she is resentful of the adventures her sisters Zoe and Kyra have had while she’s been in charge. But when Mother goes missing Ava’s world teeters on the brink of change. If Mother returns, Ava’s life in the shadows will continue. If Mother is gone forever, Ava’s new responsibilities may overwhelm her.
What happens when an unexpected threat disrupts your underwater village?
If you’re the next-mermaid-in-line, you might have to assume control.
Ostracized by the other mermaids, she focuses on learning the truth—even if it means confronting the lies she’s learned to believe. Was this a coup, or did mother have enemies? Ava is used to the politics of Sirenia, but what happens when those who may have taken her mother are the ones she was taught to trust? Can she become what she doesn’t know she wants in order to protect what the other mermaids need?
You’ll love swimming in the virtual world of Sirenia, because mermaid mysteries are fun in the sun . . . under water.
It was a day, just like any other day, when everything changed. The sun was shining, the bubbles were sparkling, the mermaids were frolicking amongst the kelp blades and coral, and I was just about to wrap up the last of the administrative tasks that I was laden with and join them when two mermen burst into Sirenia. One was Weid, an affable guard I’d known my whole life, and the other was Laker, a merman who’d recently taken up residency at Sirenia and made enough questionable choices to keep him from making friends with the other merfolk.
“Ava,” Laker said. “You’ve been summoned to appear before Poseidon.”
“When?” I asked.
“But it’s the middle of the day,” I protestedI looked from Laker to Weid for signs that I’d missed something. Weid watched Laker. “You didn’t say you had a message from Poseidon when we embarked on our patrol.”
“It wasn’t public knowledge,” Laker said to Weid. To me, he said, “Are you coming?”
“Why does Poseidon want me? Mother’s already there. Today was my day to stay here and oversee daily operations of the mermaid colony.”
Laker seemed conflicted by my response. He didn’t reply at first, and the waves moved his white hair around like a halo, occasionally hiding his eyes from view. With one hand, he reached up and pushed the choppy strands away from his forehead, letting me see his exasperation.
“You have to come with me,” he said. This time his voice was lower and his tone was pleading. Weid swam to the edge of the building and disappeared around the corner. When Laker realized he was alone, his tone changed. “The other guards don’t trust me. Not since the situation with Zoe and the diver. I wasn’t even supposed to get this task, but mermen patrol in teams and there was no other merman to accompany Weid. I was the only one available.”
Aside from his statement that I was needed at Poseidon’s council, nothing Laker said was a surprise. There’d been recent reports of shark sightings in the waters that defined the edge of Sirenia, and some of those reports claimed the sharks had crossed the line. If they were growing bolder and testing whether their encroaching presence would be detected, we had to have a plan. The rest of the creatures who lived in the ocean existed by a code of respect for one another, but not the sharks. They were opportunistic bullies who ran the underwater crime syndicate. They took advantage of the weaker residents by luring them in to their casinos and owning them for life based on the accumulated debts.
Sharks had already wreaked havoc on the neighboring mermaid colonies Oceania and Abalonia. Sirenia (mother’s governance and the one I’d one day inherit) had managed to go unaffected, but it felt like a matter of time.
The threat of the sharks was part of the reason I was here (at Sirenia) and Mother was there (at the mermaid council meeting). For the first time since I’d been old enough to accompany her in my role as attaché, learning the ins and outs of Mermaid Council and experiencing what my life would be like when she stepped down from her seat of power and turned it over to me, we’d been tasked with different responsibilities. It was because of that threat that I’d woken up with a radiating excitement coursing through me.
It also left me feeling a little bit sick.
Back to today—to Laker—and to the request that I leave Sirenia to see Poseidon. “Even if I wanted to leave, I can’t,” I said. “I’m in charge, and it’s too close to the end of the day to leave the colony unattended.” I considered the request. Was this a test? Was Laker here, sent from Poseidon, to see how I’d respond to such unorthodox direction?
Laker scowled. “I’m already on probation. If you don’t come with me, they’ll question my motivations and I’ll be removed from patrol duty, and there aren’t any other entry level positions for me. This is my third colony in a year, Ava. If I can’t make it work here, I don’t know where else to go.”
I didn’t know the details of Laker’s arrival to Sirena other than his involvement with my sister Zoe when she got mixed up with a human diver and a dead body by the old shipwreck, but I knew enough to recognize his attempt to manipulate me. Whether it was a conscious effort on his part or something he did without thinking, I didn’t know, but that didn’t change anything. Mermaids are inherently peaceful and have a natural dispensation toward actions designed to please others, but we were trained early on to detect language and behavior designed to bend our will. Laker was a fool if he thought I didn’t notice.
“My responsibilities require me to remain here,” I said. “If Poseidon needs to communicate with me, he’ll make the necessary arrangements. You may think I’m being difficult to impede your hopes to prove your loyalty, but I am doing what is required of me. You’d be smart to follow my lead.” I heard the bossy tone creep into my voice, and I cringed. This wasn’t the first time I played the unpopular role of telling a merperson close to my age what to do, and that position had left me with few friends and fewer supporters. But there were reasons I held this post, and they weren’t limited to birth order like everyone thought. I let the others believe what they wanted because it was easy, but deep down, I held onto a secret that informed everything I did.
Laker scowled. “You and your sisters think you’re special because your mother is royalty. You have no idea what it’s like for someone like me to move here without knowing anybody. You could do this one thing, Ava. For me. Your sister and her desire to get mixed up in something that didn’t concern her is the reason I’m an outcast.”
Behind Laker, a blue haired mermaid swam up to us. It was my sister Zoe, and from the increasing glow of her tail, rapidly turning from blue to a flaming shade of coral, she was fired up. “Leave her alone, Laker,” she said. “Ava has a job just like you and I. Nobody thinks they’re more special than anybody else. And if Poseidon needs to see a mermaid from Sirenia, then I’ll go. I’ve been approved to leave the colony after curfew, and I’m the closest you’re going to get to Ava.”
If Laker was annoyed by me not going, then he was downright angry about Zoe’s sudden appearance. The only one of my sisters yet to show was Kyra, the youngest, and the one who’d first caught Laker’s eye. Kyra was beautiful and held the attention of most of the mermen. But ever since Kyra’s tail had been damaged—possibly permanently—in her recent life-or-death fight, she had been laying low and practicing her music lessons. I knew she’d be fine, but I was overly protective of both of my sisters, and I didn’t particularly want Laker to have a chance to treat either of them poorly.
“Just forget it,” Laker said. He spun and swam out the entrance, into the deep blue ocean water, without putting up any more of a fight. Weid came back around the corner and glanced at us for a moment. I shrugged and he turned toward Laker and caught up with him with a quick pump of his tail.
Zoe watched the mermen disappear from view, and then she turned back to me. “What was that about?” she asked.
I stared at the door even though there was nothing to see. “Laker said Poseidon requested my presence at the council.”
I felt Zoe’s reaction without turning my head to look at her. “Are you sure it wasn’t a real request? What did Weid say?”
“Weid didn’t say anything. But Mother spent the day with the council. There’s no reason for Poseidon to request my presence too. When Mother and I are together, she makes the decisions. Leaving here now would leave you and Kyra and the rest of the mermaids unattended.”
“I can watch Sirenia for the short amount of time it would take for you to do what you need to do. I’m not incompetent,” Zoe said with more than a trace of annoyance.
This wasn’t the first time Zoe volunteered to help and oversee things, and I knew she was capable. But still, I couldn’t. If anything happened to her while I was gone, I couldn’t live with myself.
That thought followed me around night and day. If I could one day believe—truly believe—that the shark threat to Sirenia had been abolished, I could move on. But after Zoe had gotten involved in a murder investigation and Kyra had gotten maimed while recovering stolen art from the Nautilus Vault, I was surer than ever that evil was lurking around the waters close to us. Today was not the day to do things differently.
“Nobody said you were incompetent,” I countered. “I just—I don’t know. Something about the request felt off. If Poseidon really does want to see me, he’ll send someone else. Someone I’d be more inclined to believe than Laker.”
Lately I couldn’t shake the feeling that everybody wanted something from me. The more responsibility I’d been given, the more I felt pulled in too many directions. Council responsibilities. Family loyalty. Favors for the colony. And the growing desire to get back in touch with Triton, Poseidon’s son, who’d been the only merman to shake up my world. Until that point, I hadn’t considered that there would one day be time for a romance, though as future leader of Sirenia, it was expected of me to marry and start a brood of my own.
One more pressure point to add to the rest of them.
I turned away from the door and swam into the spare room where I worked at a makeshift desk. Mother encouraged me to sit in her office to conduct business, but even though I’d been trained for such things, sitting there made me feel too self-important. The other merfolk talked behind my back as is; they required no encouragement from me.
But as good as my intentions were, I didn’t get far. The temperature of the ocean water surrounding me turned warm and the scales on my tail stood out, making my nerve endings alert. The water felt electric. I floated a few inches above my chair but otherwise remained as still as I could. I recognized the sensation even though I’d only felt it once before.
The night Kyra had been injured.
At the time I hadn’t stopped to consider whether it was the threat to my sister that put me on high alert or something—someone—different. That night, my only concern was getting help. But when I heard Zoe’s voice behind me, I knew it hadn’t been danger that made me feel this way. It had been the presence of Triton.
And the reason I knew it now was that he was staring directly at me through a window while floating outside my house.
Triton’s appearance was unusual compare to other mermen. He had long black hair that he bound behind his head. Pieces of it came loose and floated by his forehead and cheekbones. His face was narrow and angular, and his lips were a shade of blue-red rarely seen in the ocean. Dark eyes under thick, strong eyebrows gave him an intensity that intimidated those who didn’t know him. Between the intensity and his lineage, he was feared. His reputation supported the belief that he didn’t mind the distance given to him.
“Ava,” he said.
I didn’t know if Zoe felt what I felt and I didn’t care. An invisible connection held me in place. I’d been told about this, about how it would feel when I met the merman who was supposedly my destiny. Until that first time I’d met him face to face, I’d considered the whole story to be hooey.
Tonight, not so much.
The water was charged with frequencies that I had only formerly felt when swimming past a cluster of abalone. (The shells released bubbles, and when swimming past a wall of them, I could feel the vibrations.) An unfamiliar warmth radiated from my chest, through my shoulders and down my arms, and my tail fluffed up on its own. I quickly ran my hands over my scales to hide the physical reaction, but it was no use. Whatever it was that attracted me to Triton was on display. The confidence that had been instilled in me since birth dissipated and I didn’t know what to do with my hands.
“I’ve been sent to find you,” Triton said. “It’s bad news.”
I felt both Zoe and Kyra swim up behind me, Kyra maintaining her distance from the doorway and hiding her injured tail behind the door. The presence of my sisters provided the strength I needed to act in control. “Yes? What is it? Has Laker filed a complaint against me?”
“Laker is not your concern. Your mother is. She was kidnapped on her way to the council meeting. For the foreseeable future, the leadership of Sirenia will fall to you.”