The Princess of Isca

Michelle Hoppe

Prologue

Breathe, Katherine, breathe.

Katherine felt a tingle start in her toes and travel at warp speed up her spine.

Oh my stars in heaven, is he real?

She glanced at her sleeping husband Edward to assure herself he still slept, before shifting the laptop on the pillow and glancing back at the picture of a perfect male body.

A flush heated Katherine, slipping up her neck and settling on her cheeks.

Stop. Get back to the business at hand.

Katherine reluctantly scrolled past the picture of whitetail47 to concentrate on the printed words further down the home page of the online dating site and started reading quietly to herself.

Welcome to Paranormal Match, where finding the love of your life is supernatural, super easy.

Right. She’d already found the love of her life. Besides, all this late-night research wasn’t for her. Katherine continued to read.

Tired of squeamish humans passing you over because blood is your beverage of choice?

Do you long to indulge in intimate moonlit jaunts with a potential Pet Smart Companion? Are your fins fed up with the goldfish bowl of dating?

Katherine smiled. Goldfish bowl is exactly what Valerie thought she was stuck in. If only I could get her to at least look at these pictures, she thought. But no, her daughter was strong willed. An I don’t need your help finding a mate type of girl. Well, too damned bad. Katherine truly believed it was a mother’s right to intervene if her children were making the wrong life choices.

After glancing again to assure herself Edward still slept, Katherine returned to reading the information on the home page of www.ParanormalMatch.com.

Did the devil make you give up on ever finding your soul mate? Long to soar to the heavens with the match of your dreams?

Katherine smiled.

Fill out our in-depth entry form. Browse thousands of profiles from paranormals just like you! Make new friends—find the immortal man or woman of your dreams with just one easy click.

This last line of text was followed by more pictures to tempt those not yet convinced by the clever writing. Katherine scanned them quickly, and then looked again. Interesting. Using her touch pad, Katherine scrolled back up the page and confirmed her observation. All the pictures on the home page of www.ParanormalMatch.com were of males.

Vampires, werewolves, mermen, and more. All neat little thumbnails with a username printed below. Eye candy, for sure. Katherine wondered why only pictures of men were displayed. Not that it mattered. As a woman, she was more than happy to look at the flesh laid out before her.

Scrolling back down to her place in the advertising, Katherine resumed reading.

Let us help you find the paranormal match of a lifetime at www.ParanormalMatch.com—where meeting the perfect match can be out of this world! Don’t wait—join with our special offer for a free trial basis now. Choose the membership that best suits your search for the perfect paranormal mate!

A loud snore, followed by gasping, startled Katherine. She quickly lowered the laptop lid, weakening the glow of light from the screen.

“Katherine,” Edward croaked out, “why are you still awake?”

“I’m reading about this dating site.”

Edward twisted his body so he faced her hip. His eyes were still closed and his voice sounded hoarse from snoring. “You looking to replace me, dear?”

“Of course not.” Katherine laid a hand on his shoulder. “I’m getting a membership for Valerie.”

Pushing his head deeper into his pillow, Edward seemed to have drifted back to sleep. Katherine opened the cover on the laptop to continue, when his voice once again startled her. “That’s nice, dear.”

Katherine stopped thinking about Edward. He won’t even remember this conversation in the morning, she assured herself. Finding her place, she clicked on the Join navigation icon and was quickly whisked to another page on the site.

Thumbnails of half-dressed male bodies waited to be ogled. Katherine was in a hurry now to get Valerie a membership so she could access some of these pictures and read profiles.

Scrolling past more pictures, she finally came to the options for joining the site.

The Heavenly Membership looked interesting. Katherine read quietly to herself, trying to keep her voice barely audible so she didn’t disturb Edward.

Allows you unlimited on-site e-mails to and from your own personal e-mail account.

Send and receive as many e-mails as you’d like to find and communicate with the paranormal partner of your dreams! Upload as many as four pictures to the site—a premium mate-seeking tool! Our Heavenly membership also brings with it full access to all of the Paranormal Match member profiles and additional features such as “vibes”—the ultimate way to express your interest!—and Instant Messaging. Purchase a three or six-month Heavenly membership package. The three-month package is loaded with features and available for only $29.95 per month or get crazy and take our value package for six months for just $22.95 per month!

So basically, thirty dollars a month for three months. Surely, I can find Valerie a mate in three months. Katherine clicked the correct icon to start the application process. Once her credit card information was accepted, she received her username and password confirmation, via email.

Not bad for a night’s work. With sleep heavy in her eyes, Katherine saved all the necessary information to a file, added ParanormalMatch.com to her favorites list and logged off the computer.

With a last look at her sleeping husband, she closed the laptop lid, set it on the nightstand, and soon drifted into peaceful slumber.

Chapter 1

Tracee,” Valerie shouted over the pounding music. “We can’t go yet.”

The dance floor vibrated from the deep bass of drums, sending rattling tingles up her legs with each tha-thump of the drummer’s sticks. The voice of the singer was indistinguishable from the off-key tones of the dancers surrounding her.

Valerie had a slight headache, but she didn’t want to go home. Tracee, her best friend, was usually up for a wild Friday night on the tourist side of the island.

“Come on, Val,” Tracee whined, “I’m tired. It’s two a.m. and I need some sleep.”

The look on Tracee’s face didn’t leave a lot of room for Valerie to argue.

“Half an hour more,” Valerie pleaded.

“Okay. But that’s it.” Tracee turned, yelling a parting shot over her shoulder.

“I’m leaving in thirty minutes with or without you.”

Valerie watched Tracee walk away.

Shaking herself mentally, Valerie turned around to find her dance partner still waiting. Smiling up at him, she started to move in time to the music, her hips swaying in natural harmony with the mournful cry of guitar strings.

Dylan joined her and they continued to dance, the music ebbing and flowing around their bodies as the crowd on the dance floor did the same.

Valerie’s eyes fixed on her partner, drinking in his well-toned body, the cargo shorts and open front shirt doing little to hide his physique. Dylan was over six feet tall, with nice, broad shoulders, curly blond hair and the skin on his body deeply tanned from lying in the golden sun of St. Kitts’ beaches. His blue eyes were always dancing with delight. The last two weeks spent in his company had been the best of her life.

She’d met Dylan one day on the beach. Tracee had convinced her to join a volleyball game and she’d ended up on Dylan’s team. He was so athletic and looked damn good in swim trunks.

Later in the day, after winning three games, Dylan invited her to join him in the bar for drinks. They’d talked into the night, discussing the history of St. Kitts and the finer points of beach volleyball.

Dylan delighted her with his wit and charm and when he’d asked her to join him the following day to explore the island, she’d agreed.

They’d done the island, so to speak. Explored white sandy beaches, hiked into the deep tropical foothills of St. Kitts’ dormant volcano, and spent endless hours snorkeling.

Valerie realized there was something different about this man. Something she’d not experienced with other men she’d dated. Dylan was self-assured, intelligent, and very romantic.

More than once, Valerie found herself daydreaming about having sex with him.

She knew from his kisses he would be great in bed and by the end of the first week she wanted to volunteer to be his sex toy.

Every day, Dylan’s kisses became more ardent, his hands bolder, and Valerie found her resistance faltering.

She knew he was leaving in the morning and sensed Dylan expected her to join him for what remained of the night. All day he’d been hinting his desire to take her to his hotel room and make her scream with pleasure. He’d reminded her several times it was their last chance to make love.

Make love, Valerie thought. Why do men always call it that? Do they really think adding the word love makes a difference?

“What’s the matter?” Dylan’s shouted question interrupted her train of thought.

Shaking her head Valerie leaned in close to his ear and spoke loudly to be heard over the music. “Nothing.”

Dylan reached for her hand and pulled her toward the open doorway at the back of the club. Valerie followed him without pause, her head pounding a little harder as the headache settled behind her eyes.

The air outside was clean and crisp, unlike the warm, stale air of the club. Valerie allowed herself to be gently pulled in the direction of a dark, secluded corner of the garden. Walking around empty tables, her hand held in his strong grip, she followed Dylan into the shadows. He didn’t speak, simply stopped and with a quick movement of his arm, pulled her close to his body.

“Dylan,” Valerie started to say. His lips locking on her mouth effectively stopped any protest she might be ready to make. His fingers explored the sides of her face, gently cupping her cheeks as he tilted her head slightly. Valerie could feel the edges of his fingernails resting against her ears. His tongue pushed past her lips, diving over her teeth to circle her cheeks.

Valerie allowed her body to meld with his, her hands gently fingering the top of his shoulders before tentatively sliding up his neck, tracing along his flesh. Pressing her breasts tightly into his chest, Valerie returned his kiss. Her tongue mingled with his, pushing it back into his mouth so hers could follow to trace the moist flesh of his inner cheek. A moan escaped Dylan’s throat and echoed around them as his hands moved to her lower back. She felt his fingers working up inside her blouse, finding the clasp on her bra, and with a deftness born of long practice, undoing it to free her breasts from their tight constraints.

Dylan’s mouth released hers as he pushed slightly back, his fingers working their way around her body, lingering on hot skin as he stroked his way to her breasts. The soft touch of his skin on her nipples sent a shock wave through Valerie’s body and she couldn’t suppress the moan of pleasure escaping from deep inside her lungs. Dylan’s hands massaged her breasts while his lips planted soft, wet kisses along her neck.

Valerie was aware of his hands moving lower, gliding along the waistband on her skirt before stopping at the side to work the button and zipper he found there. Her hands moved to his chest, applying soft pressure as if to signal her desire for him to stop. A silent war raged inside her. She knew he had to stop. Yet her body wanted to allow him more access. She wanted this. Wanted to find comfort and release in his arms.

Pushing harder, she pulled away from him just as the zipper on her skirt gave way to his efforts and the lightweight material floated to the ground at her feet. “I can’t” were the only words she could push past her lips.

“I want you,” Dylan purred.

“I know.”

“And you want me.” It wasn’t a question. Somehow, he just knew.

“Yes.”

Dylan’s eyes scanned down her body and Valerie felt her muscles contract as she stood almost naked before his gaze. Yes, damn it. I want you to touch me. Kiss me. Make love to me.

Valerie wanted him to take control. Not allow her a choice. Make love to me, she whispered over and over in her head.

Dylan took a step forward, bringing her body back in contact with his. “Your lips say no, but your body says yes, Valerie.” One finger slowly stroked down her breast.

Valerie couldn’t speak. The pulsating need in her pussy demanded release.

“Do you really want me to stop?” Dylan’s finger floated lightly over her stomach.

“Yes,” her lips said as her body sought contact with his.

The touch of his finger on her clit sent a shockwave rolling from deep inside.

“Yes, you want me to stop?” Dylan’s voice seemed to float in front of her.

“No,” Valerie moaned. “I… mean… yes.”

She could feel the moisture gush as his finger slipped inside her pussy.

“Then I’ll stop.” Dylan withdrew his finger.

“No,” Valerie pleaded. “Don’t. Please.”

Dylan took her in his arms, his lips kissing her face, her neck, and along her jaw line. His hands moved freely over her body, his leg pressed between hers, spreading them to allow him more access to her exposed skin. The thong she wore did nothing to prevent his easy entry.

Valerie felt his fingers slip past her clit and slide easily into her pussy, driving up hard against the front of her vagina. The pressure of his fingertips, rubbing circles around the nub of her G-spot sent shivers down her spine, making it impossible to stand without his support. White-hot flames leapt in front of her eyes as a rush of desire swept over her body.

“So wet for me,” Dylan purred, his fingers continuing to tease her pleasure point, his lips drank in the taste of her skin and Valerie felt herself slipping into the throes of passion. Her nipples hardened, pressing against the soft cotton fabric of her blouse as she clung to his neck with her hands. Her head fell back, exposing her throat to his teeth and Dylan was quick to take advantage, nibbling along the soft flesh below her ear.

“I’m going to make you come, babe. I want to feel your body tremble in my arms.”

Intense heat surged through Valerie’s veins, her stomach muscles clenching in an effort to restrain the flood of desire beating down her body. Valerie opened her mouth to scream as the orgasm exploded from deep inside, coating Dylan’s fingers with come.

He continued to massage the inside of her pussy, pushing deeper, before pulling out to circle her clit, only to plunge back inside again.

“Yes, love. Let go. Ride the waves of pleasure.”

Valerie’s muscles contracted against his fingers, trying to hold them in place, but with each outward pull of his digits, her muscles lost the battle. Her body quivered as he again thrust. This time more fingers entered her pussy, stretching it as they sought to spread against her walls. Soft cries of pleasure rose from somewhere inside her and her hips pumped against his hand without effort or command from her brain. The veil of need took control of her body and Valerie felt herself slipping into a secret place, where every fiber of her being was awake and singing.

“Again, babe. Come for me again.”

The shock of his mouth closing over her nipple through the material of her blouse was Valerie’s undoing. The orgasm rocked through her body like a high voltage current through a power line. Sweat covered her skin, and animal sounds poured from her lips. Dylan’s mouth still sucked her breast. His fingers were buried deep in her pussy, locked in place by muscles now tightly coiled around them.

Valerie hung there, suspended as if weightless on his hand, unable to control all the sensations crisscrossing along her spine. Part of her wanted to fall to the soft grass beneath her feet, but that would cause his lips and hands to lose contact with her skin.

Something she wasn’t ready to accept.

Dylan must have sensed her need and, without effort, lowered her body to the ground, kneeling on the grass between her legs. He didn’t allow time for her body to feel its loss as he pushed the fabric of her shirt up to allow his lips access to her nipples without a barrier. His mouth was hot and wet as he sucked her nipple past his teeth.

Valerie once again felt his fingers enter her pussy and lifted her hips to drive them deep. Pumping against his hand, she forced his fingers in and out faster and faster. Her head arched back. Her mouth opened, a cry pouring from deep within. “Yes, Dylan. Yes.”

Planting her feet flat, Valerie lifted her hips higher, slamming against the quick slide of his fingers, filling her pussy as deep as they would go.

“Oh, God,” she screamed as the muscles of her calves began to shake. Dylan’s teeth bit into the soft flesh of her areola. Another scream shattered the black of the night and Valerie soared over the edge of pleasure. Her climax crashed like the incoming waves on the beach only yards away from where she lay writhing with orgasm.

The pressure of his teeth on her breast drove her wild with pleasure. The bliss of release gave wings to her thoughts. Lost in a space Valerie had never experienced before, she slipped into a void, floating above her body, watching as Dylan slowed his movements and released his hold on her nipple.

*

Her climax rolled on, Dylan’s fingers held in place by the tightly gripping muscles of her pussy. He nibbled down her chest, knowing the small bites would increase the intensity of her release. Her body quivered under him and his fingers swam in come.

Dylan kissed his way down her belly. Valerie’s breath came in short gasps. Small moans of pleasure still escaped her lips. Pulling his fingers from her pussy, Dylan tugged on the fragile lace of her thong, ripping the flimsy material from between her legs. Dylan shifted his body, stretching flat on his stomach, his mouth close to her mons, his fingers pressed against her lower thigh to keep her legs up and spread. “I’m not done, baby.”

“Please.”

That was all she said. Please. “I want to taste you, babe.”

“No,” she rasped, “I can’t take…” Her words trailed off as another spasm rolled along her flesh.

“I’ve only begun.”

He could smell the musk of her come. See glistening pearl drops on her shaved skin. With a flick of his tongue Dylan licked her clit.

Valerie bucked her hips, driving his mouth against her opening. Dylan plunged his tongue past her pussy lips, licking as far as he could reach. His hands pushed hard against her thighs, lifting her ass off the ground slightly.

Sucking her clit into his mouth, Dylan slowly pulled it in and out, his tongue licking the tip.

Valerie let out a muffled scream. Her fingers dug into the earth at her side, tearing grass from its roots.

Dylan continued rapid flicks of his tongue on her clit, swirling around and over the tight little nub, dipping into her pussy and pulling back out. Again, and again he danced with his tongue.

“Dylan,” Valerie screamed. “I’m coming.”

Her clit throbbed against his lips, pulsing with need. He continued to suck it in and out, his hands holding her legs in place as she tried to stretch them straight to relieve the pressure building in her body.

Dylan felt her orgasm start. Her body shook against his mouth. Her ass lifted off the ground and words were torn from her throat. “It’s coming. Oh God, it’s coming.”

Her come hit his tongue and Dylan licked at the inside of her pussy, taking it into his mouth.

“You taste so sweet, babe.”

Valerie rolled her body to the side, trying to free her legs from his hold.

Dylan lowered her thighs, letting her legs come together as pearls of perspiration beaded on her skin. He moved to cover her body with his. “You’re so beautiful, Valerie. I could make love to you all night.”

Valerie kissed his lips but didn’t speak.

Dylan held her close, cherishing the gift she’d given him.

* * * *

“Valerie?” Tracee hissed as her body spun away from the couple laid out in the grass, bodies entangled together. “What the fuck is going on?” She’d seen enough to know her friend was doing more than heavy petting.

Groans of surprise sounded behind her, bodies quickly standing up, clothes being adjusted, and gentle coughing. Tracee knew Dylan and Valerie were again two separate bodies. She felt a hand on her shoulder, fingers biting into her flesh. “Ouch.”

“Why’d you…” Valerie started to whisper.

Spinning around on her friend, Tracee let loose. “Damn it, Val, what the hell did you expect me to do? It’s been an hour and you were nowhere to be found. Of course, I came to look for you.”

“I’m fine.” Valerie again kept her voice at a whisper.

Tracee glanced at Dylan before continuing. Damn it, Val’s parents would have a royal fit if they ever found out about this. “Don’t do that fine thing with me, Val. You’re walking a dangerous line here and…” Tracee lost patience. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“Having the best damned orgasm of my life,” Valerie yelled.

“Great, tell the entire fucking club, why don’t you?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

Dylan seemed to regain the use of his muscles. He quickly closed the gap between himself and Valerie. “She’s not a child, Tracee. This isn’t your concern.”

“Like bloody hell it’s not my concern, Dylan. You’re leaving in the morning and,” Tracee sputtered, “and you’re using her.” Tracee felt hot anger surge through her veins.

“Actually, I’m not leaving,” Dylan announced calmly.

Tracee watched a look of surprise flash across Val’s face. “Say what?” she demanded.

“You heard me. I’ve decided to stay on St. Kitts a few more weeks.”

Valerie looked up into Dylan’s eyes. “Why?” The words came out with a soft gasp.

“You,” Dylan responded. Just one word and Valerie melted against him.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Val, get a grip.” Tracee spat the words, staring into the unblinking eyes of Dylan. “We’re going home. Now.”

Tracee didn’t wait for Valerie to respond. She simply took her wrist and yanked her away from Dylan’s body. Pulling Valerie behind her, Tracee headed toward a gate leading from the club’s garden to the beach. Without effort, Tracee pushed Valerie through the opening before rounding on Dylan one last time. “Go home, Dylan. Val isn’t your plaything.”

Tracee didn’t wait for an answer, nor did she give Dylan time to formulate one.

Taking Valerie by the hand, she ran down the beach, pulling her friend along behind her. Once they were out of sight of the club, the night dark around them, Tracee turned toward the incoming waves.

As the warm water licked her toes, Tracee stopped to look at Valerie. “We’re going home.”

“I don’t want to go home.”

“I don’t give a shit what you want, Val. I can’t believe you let him—”

Valerie’s eyes flashed. “What’s wrong with finding a little pleasure before my parents marry me off to some old, wrinkled, rich—”

“Oh, stop it. You know damned well your parents won’t do that.”

“You haven’t seen some of our recent dinner guests,” Valerie yelled, tears forming at the corners of her eyes.

Tracee felt the pressure of the water against her lower calf, and started to remove her clothes, placing them in a small net bag she’d pulled from her pocket. The tide was coming in and soon the sun would be peeking over the top of Mt. Liamuiga. “Okay, so you’ve got a reason to be upset. Right now we need to get out of here. Get undressed. We’ll go to my house.”

Valerie’s smile was weak, but she shook her head in acceptance. After stripping naked, both girls turned toward the open ocean and without further words, dove headfirst into the oncoming waves.

Tracee tingled as the water closed over her, the tug of the outgoing wave pulling her further from shore. With a mighty kick of her legs, she propelled herself forward.

The air in her lungs pushed against her chest and her eyes stung from the salt water.

Without thought, Tracee continued to swim, her head never breaking the surface of the water. Further and further from shore she swam. Soon, her body shook from a lack of oxygen, the pounding in her lungs increasing. Just when she felt herself slipping into a black void, she opened her mouth and took in great gulps of water. It slid past her tongue, salty, flowing down her throat and out the gills that opened on the side of her neck. The next kick of her leg muscles propelled her forward with greater speed as a tail fluke now encased them.

The salt water no longer stung her eyes. A fine membrane slid into place to shield them. Tracee’s metamorphosis to Mer was complete. She became a part of the ocean world.

Her ability to use human language also disappeared with the transformation.

Instead she issued a series of clicks, whistle sounding squeaks, and haunting musical tones to communicate in her underwater world.

“Valerie,” Tracee called her friend, swimming close beside her.

“I’m here.” Valerie still sounded upset.

“Do you want to go to Isca or Colesca?”

“Colesca.”

Tracee surfaced to scan the shoreline and confirm their position. Diving once again, she adjusted their course slightly away from the coast and with strong strokes, set off for the underwater world of the Mer people, Colesca, a safe haven, where Mer people enjoyed life under the sea. A large coral forest hid the opening to this underground cave system, making it impossible for any human to find.

The girls continued on in silence. Tracee tried not to think about what she’d witnessed in the garden. Soon enough she would face the difficult challenge of trying to talk some sense into her best friend.

* * * *

Dylan watched as Tracee dragged Valerie from the garden and ran for the beach beyond the gate. The darkness closed around them before they reached the water’s edge.

He didn’t follow.

“She’s a free spirit for sure,” Dylan said aloud as he took a seat at one of the empty tables scattered about the dark garden.

“Yes, well, next time you might want to find someplace a little more discreet.”

“Megan.” Dylan spun his head in the direction of her voice. “How long have you been here?”

“Long enough to see your free spirit whisked away by her friend. What were you thinking, having sex with her in such a public place?” Megan’s voice held a note of disgust.

Dylan dropped his voice to a barely audible whisper. “I really hadn’t planned to take things so far this evening. It just happened.”

Megan joined Dylan on the bench. “I still don’t understand why you are playing this game with her.”

“It’s not a game, Megan. I plan to make Valerie my wife.”

Megan scrunched her nose up. “You’ve just met this girl and you’ve decided to marry her? What’s wrong with you, Dylan?”

“Nothing is wrong, Megan.”

“Come on, big brother. I’m not a child anymore.”

Dylan looked into Megan’s eyes. “I know you’re not a child, sister of mine, but I’m not sure I can explain this to you.”

Megan squared her shoulders. “Try.”

Dylan laughed at her demand. “I think not, Megan. Just enjoy the extended vacation and let me worry about Valerie and my plans to marry her.”

“So why not just ask the girl? Do we really need to spend more time baking on St. Kitts?”

“According to everything I’ve learned about her, she’s turned down every suitor her parents have presented.”

“Why?”

“You expect me to understand a woman’s mind?”

Megan shook her head from side to side. “So we continue playing tourist?”

“Yes.” Dylan smiled. “My darling sister, we’ll continue to play tourist. At least for a little while longer.”

Megan stood and reached for Dylan’s hand.

Taking her fingers in his, Dylan lifted his body off the bench and with Megan clinging to his arm, made his way back to their hotel a few blocks from the club.

I’m going to enjoy being married to Valerie Richardson, he told himself, remembering the wild passion she’d shown at the touch of his fingers on her skin.

He found himself wanting to spend every minute with her. He wanted to hear her laugh, watch her dance, and feel her body quiver at his touch.

Dylan hadn’t felt this way about a woman in a long time and after tonight he knew she was the woman he wanted to take home as his wife.

Once at the hotel, Dylan escorted his sister to her room, gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and waited while she locked her door.

Alone in his adjoining room, Dylan poured himself a whisky, opened the door leading out to the patio and dropped into a wicker chair. Stars still twinkled in the pre-dawn sky, casting a silvery glow on the wave caps gently washing up the beach just feet away from the patio on which he reclined.

Dylan closed his eyes and thought of Valerie. Her face flashed inside his closed eyelids. The flaming red hair which hung down her back. Deep brown eyes with flecks of gold you could only see in the sunlight. Dylan loved the way she dressed and her boundless energy.

He took a deep breath and caught the scent of her perfume from his clothes. Yes, Valerie was the woman he wanted to marry.

Raising the glass to his lips, Dylan downed the remainder of his drink. He stifled a yawn behind his hand. With a last glance at the increasing light of dawn, Dylan pulled himself out of the chair, walked back into his room and dropped onto the bed to sleep.

Chapter 2

Valerie returned to the Mer city of Isca before dawn the next day. She knew her parents would be worried if she stayed away too long, but she’d wanted to sort out her feelings about Dylan before facing them.

As she walked along the beach toward her parents’ island plantation, Valerie could see lights shining in many homes on the sloping hillsides at the base of Mt. Liamuiga.

Isca was a beautiful city, isolated from other areas of St. Kitts by great plantations, owned by Mer people. The land-based city allowed the two worlds, human and Mer, to mingle without fear of discovery.

Valerie loved living in Isca as it allowed her to explore a more human lifestyle. A lifestyle she craved more with each passing day spent in Dylan’s company.

Arriving at her home, Valerie buried thoughts of Dylan deep inside and walked into the dining room. Her mother and father were already seated at the long oak table.

“Please hurry, Val,” her mother’s musical voice called.

“Yes, Mother.”

Valerie walked past her father’s chair, bending to give him a quick peck on the cheek before taking her seat at the table.

“So, you’ve been at Tracee’s?” her mother, Katherine, asked.

“It was late. We decided to crash at her place in Colesca.”

Valerie’s father, Edward, looked up from his paper at this statement. “I hope you girls got in before dark. You know it’s dangerous to swim in these waters late at night.”

Valerie smiled. Her father still thought of her and Tracee as little girls. “We’re fine, Dad.”

“Don’t brush your father’s concerns aside, Val. Why just last week…”

“Mom,” Valerie interrupted, “I know all about the shark attack last week and trust me, Tracee and I are very careful.”

“Still, I don’t like you being out too late, unless you plan on staying here in Isca.”

Her father broke into the conversation again.

“Can we have a different subject? Please.”

Katherine smiled slightly and adjusted herself in the chair. “Well, since I really wanted to speak to you about Paranormal Match, sure.”

“May the saints protect me,” Valerie uttered under her breath. “Please don’t start with this again, Mom.”

“What? What’s this about a mate?” Edward looked a little lost. He’d been deep into reading the morning paper and appeared to be catching only about a third of their conversation.

“Nothing, dear,” Katherine assured him. “Finish your paper.”

“Mom, I’ve already told you I won’t join some online dating site for losers.”

“Paranormals, darling. Not losers.”

“Vampires, werewolves, warlocks, and Neptune only knows what else. All with one thing in common. They’re unable to find a mate without resorting to some pathetic online dating site. If they aren’t losers, what are they?”

“Now, now, my darling daughter, some people just need a little extra help getting started,” Edward injected. Apparently, he found their conversation interesting after all.

“Besides,” Katherine started again, “you don’t need to join. I did it for you, a few weeks ago.”

“What?” Valerie sputtered. A wave of dizziness overtook her. “How could you?”

“It was easy,” Katherine stated, as if she were reading the grocery list, instead of stepping over the line by interfering with Valerie’s love life. “I simply completed the online application and posted a picture of you.”

“Christ’s sake, Mother. Please tell me you’re joking.” Valerie felt her nails biting into the flesh of her hands as she struggled to remain calm. This can’t be happening. Her mother couldn’t possibly think this was normal behavior, even for someone as overbearing and pushy as Katherine.

Edward looked at his wife with a shocked expression. “Really, Katherine. Maybe you should’ve told Val about this before signing her up.”

“Why? So she could tell me no?” Katherine’s voice had that I know it all attitude again. The same voice she used when everyone else was wrong and she was right, whether she was right or not.

“Well…” Edward didn’t get to finish his statement.

“It’s done,” Katherine declared. “And I’ve found the perfect mate.”

Valerie listened in disbelief as her parents discussed their interference in her life.

“Well, you can just un-find him. I’m not interested.”

“It’s too late for that, Val.”

“Mother.” Valerie’s heart sank. Please, dear Lord, tell me she didn’t.

“Actually, I’ve already sent him a vibe…”

“Vibe? What the hell is a vibe?” Edward demanded.

“It’s what they call an ‘I’m interested’ message at the site.”

“Oh.” Edward seemed fine with her mother sending vibes to strangers. As long as she was pretending to be Valerie.

“Un-vibe him.” Valerie felt the heat of anger taking control. “I’ll find my own mate, damn it.”

“When?” Katherine shot back.

“When I’m damned good and ready.” Valerie pushed her chair back with a loud scraping noise and started to stand.

“Sit down, Val.” Edward’s voice didn’t brook any argument.

Returning her ass to the chair, Valerie stared at her mother.

Katherine returned her hard look, passing several sheets of paper toward her as she continued to explain the site to Edward.

Valerie read the profile of Wolffish. Fuck, what kind of idiot calls himself Wolffish?

Continuing to scan the page, Valerie stifled her giggles as she read what the arrogant bastard had written.

Merman seeking sophisticated mermaid to share my life. Six-foot-four, light blue scales. Athletic, romantic, well-traveled. If you like moonlit swims in warm aqua waters, dancing until dawn, sushi, and mountain climbing, you may be the woman of my dreams. I am looking for a long-term relationship with marriage and children in mind. Are you tired of swimming in circles? Send me a vibe and let’s get acquainted.

Family lineage, sexual competence report, and sperm count will be provided to serious aspirants only.

“Now I know you’re joking, Mother. Sperm count, for Christ’s sake. Tell me this isn’t real.”

Katherine’s hard-set glare stabbed at her. “This isn’t a joke, Val. Family lineage and sperm count are important for us. You know this.”

“What about love?” Valerie whined.

“Darling. Do you really believe I want you to be unhappy?” Katherine consoled.

“Yes. Damn it. Why else would you be pushing these boring stuffy mermen at me?”

“All the men I’ve sent vibes to have been of royal descent, Val.”

Valerie gasped in disbelief. “Just how many vibes have you sent, Mother?”

“If you will continue looking through the profiles I’ve given you, you will see there are six. As I said, they’re all of royal descent and their families are well thought of.”

Valerie quickly scanned the little black letters on the paper in her hand. At the top of one was a date, time and check mark in her mother’s handwriting. “What is this?”

“What?” Katherine inquired.

“This profile.” Valerie flipped the page at her mother, so Katherine could read what she’d written at the top.

“Oh, that’s Playfulseal’s profile.”

“Yes, Mother. But why is today’s date written on the top of his profile?”

“Because he is coming to dinner toni—”

“What?” Valerie’s voice rose. “You invited this guy here?”

“Now, Val.”

“Don’t now Val me, Mother.” Valerie’s voice continued to shake. “This is unspeakable.”

“He’s a very nice man. I’ve been corresponding with him for over a month and he wants to meet you.”

“No, Mother. He doesn’t know me. He wants to meet you,” Valerie shrieked.

“Is that true, Katherine?” Edward seemed to be taking an interest again.

“Is what true, Edward?”

“Does this young man want to meet you?”

“Of course not. He’s coming here to meet Valerie. They have a lot in common and he thinks they may be well suited.”

“Then you marry him.” Valerie didn’t wait for her parents to speak again. With the profiles clutched in her hand, she pushed away from the table and ran from the room. Without a backwards glance she threw open the French doors in the family room and continued outside.

It was only a short jog from the porch to the open water of the Caribbean and Valerie crossed the distance quickly. Turning up the beach, she headed in the direction of Tracee’s house.

* * * *

“Damn it, Tracee, stop laughing,” Valerie demanded.

Tracee grabbed her side and folded at the waist. Laughter continued to roll from her throat. Valerie could only wait for her to get control before continuing.

“I really don’t see anything funny in this, my friend.” Valerie tried again a few minutes later.

“I’m sor-rr-y,” Tracee hiccupped. “I just can’t imagine your mother doing something like this.”

“Well, she did,” Valerie hissed. “And one of her chosen men is coming for dinner tonight. He’s supposed to sweep me off my feet and carry me away to make babies, for Christ’s sake.”

Tracee started laughing again.

“Good Lord. Will you get hold of yourself?”

“Okay.” Tracee giggled under her breath. “Okay. I’m fine now. Do you think I can come? I want to meet this guy.”

“Trust me, you don’t.”

“So, do you know anything about Mr. Right?”

“Yes, I’ve got his profile.”

“How’d you get that?”

“Mom gave it to me so I’d get all excited about meeting the lame brain.”

“Well, damn, you have my attention.” Tracee straightened her back and looked expectantly at Valerie.

Valerie opened the piece of paper she’d been holding and spread it out on the table in front of her. “His username is Playfulseal.”

“Oh my Lord. He’s a seal?”

“No, stupid. He’s a merman. Playfulseal is his user identification name.”

“Hey, don’t call me stupid. I’ve never joined one of these sites.”

“Well, neither have I,” Valerie snarled. “My mother did, using my name and information.”

Tracee stifled another giggle.

“Stop. Let me read this to you.”

“I’m all ears.”

“Tired of stuffed crab? Send me a vibe. Want to date a merman with a taste for pasta? Send me a vibe. Do you want the lover in your life to be playful? Send me a vibe.”

Tracee giggled again. “Your mother liked this guy?”

“Apparently enough to invite him to dinner.”

“Well…”

“There’s more.”

“Hopefully it gets better.”

Valerie couldn’t help but smile. She continued to read Playfulseal’s profile.

“I’m looking for a young, strong, playful mermaid to share life with. What I lack in looks I make up for with a fun, easygoing personality. Send me a vibe. Don’t wait, I won’t be single for long.”

Tracee looked a little disappointed. “That’s all?”

“Yep. This confirms it. My mother has lost her mind.”

“What about the other profiles? Are they all this bad?”

Valerie flipped through the papers. “Here’s another seal,” she giggled.

“Really?”

“Greyseal. What is it with these guys calling themselves seals?”

“I don’t know but read his profile.”

“Six foot three inches of pure female delight, black cropped hair, and gray eyes looking for a long term relationship. Would consider children with the right applicant.”

“Hey, that’s a plus.” Tracee smiled.

Valerie ignored the interruption and continued to read from the paper in front of her.

“A love of the sea is a necessity as I like to swim every day. Must like cool climates as I live in a beautiful part of the world, but it can get cold. No time wasters please, only someone interested in a serious relationship need apply.”

Valerie finished reading and glanced up to get Tracee’s reaction.

“Sounds dreamy to me,” Tracee crooned.

“Will you be serious?” Valerie seethed. “First of all, if it’s cold where he lives, you can bet he’s not from around here.”

“True.”

“So, not only is my mother trying to marry me off, if she finds a mate in another part of the world she could be sending me to some Godforsaken place where it’s cold.”

“Before we get you married to someone from a cold place, don’t you think you should meet the guy who’s coming to dinner?”

“Like I’ve got a choice. Mom’s already exchanged information with him, pretending to be me, and poof, he’s here tonight for dinner.”

“Maybe it’ll be all right,” Tracee offered.

“And maybe I’ll turn into a vampire at the full moon,” Valerie snarled.

Tracee gave Valerie one of those looks. They’d been friends all their lives and Valerie loved her like a sister.

“So what time do you need to be back?”

“I’m not going back.”

“Oh, that’s not a good idea, my friend. Your mother will have you skinned alive.”

“Let her.” Valerie had already decided she was going to the other side of the island tonight. All she needed to do was convince Tracee to come with her.

“Well, you can’t hide from her, Val. You know it’s too easy for your parents to find you either here or in Colesca.”

“Yes. That’s why we’re going to the cottage.”

“We?” Tracee looked at her like she’d lost her mind.

“Yes. You and I,” Valerie assured her.

“I don’t think so, Val.” Tracee was shaking her head no and at the same time smiling from ear to ear.

Valerie knew from her smile Tracee would join her.

Jumping to her feet, Valerie started to run for the incoming waves, stripping out of her clothes as she went, the warm aqua water surrounding St. Kitts calling to the free spirit of her nature.

“Hey, wait for me,” Tracee yelled from behind her.

Turning to look back at her best friend trying to catch her, Valerie ran faster. Her toes hit the warm Caribbean water and she dove headfirst into the waves. When she surfaced a few moments later, Valerie watched as Tracee reached the water’s edge and plunged into the foam of a breaking wave.

Within seconds, Tracee was swimming side-by-side with her.