“Can you feel him watching you?”
Unease slithered up Morgan’s spine as she leaned against the low, metal railing of the Tempest, and gazed out at the green-blue water of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Shouldn’t you be playing captain or something?” she said, focusing on the small waves cresting just a few feet away. She’d hoped to catch a glimpse of the creature rumored to prowl this stretch of water, five miles off the North Carolina shore.
Aeron, friend and fellow marine biologist, appeared next to her, back pressed against the railing, a wicked smile stretched across his flawless face. At six two, he was handsome with wavy black hair that curled around his ears, giving him a wild, devilish look. He wore his usual black swim trunks and grey tank top, which was what she loved best about him; always ready to dive into the water at a moment’s notice.
“He’s out there,” Aeron continued, ignoring her words. “Watching. Just waiting for some helpless woman to fall into the water.”
Morgan turned and punched him in the shoulder. “I should never have told you. You’re lucky you’re the only one I know with a boat.”
“My parent’s boat,” he corrected, drawing her into his arms.
“Don’t get any ideas.” Morgan pulled away from him and glanced down at her simple, no-nonsense sailing attire. Bright orange life vest over a black bikini and board shorts. No makeup. Hair a windswept mess. Not exactly the type of woman Aeron usually went for, but then, it was the thrill of the hunt he craved, never the woman herself. And Morgan had already been down that road with him once. About a year ago, they’d had a short, intense affair that had faded into a steady, purely platonic friendship. Her choice, not his. There was only so much sex one woman could take without the promise of something more. They were better as friends – no mess, no complications, and she preferred it that way.
Aeron rolled his head back on his shoulders and let out a frustrated breath. “Oh, come on, Morgan. We’ve been out here collecting samples forever.” He tugged his shirt over his head, revealing an impressive six-pack. “Let’s at least take a dip before we go.”
“No, thanks.” Morgan stripped off her lifejacket and dug out a tube of sunscreen from the bottom of her black backpack. Popping the cap open, she slathered the thick coconut-scented cream over her arms, loving the coolness against her hot, sun-kissed skin. “Just a little longer, and we’ll head back. I promise.”
“If you’re going to become a marine biologist, you’re going to have to give up these ridiculous fantasies. Sirens are a myth, Morgan. Marine biologists rely on facts, not sketchy ‘news’ reports.”
Morgan glanced at Aeron, but kept her mouth shut. Over the last few months, more and more women had come forward, claiming to have been approached by a gorgeous man who claimed to live deep beneath the surface of the water. The mysterious creature was drawing national attention, and come summer, these waters would be swarming with sightseers—trampling delicate coral beds and polluting the water in an attempt to glimpse an illusion.
“You think I don’t know that it’s just a story invented to lure tourists? Let’s just collect our samples so we can get back to the lab.”
As usual, Aeron ignored her completely. “Wait. I think I can hear him now. He’s calling you.” He flashed her a mocking smile. “Mooooorgan.”
A cool breeze curled up from the water, gliding over her skin, causing goose bumps on her arms. Pin pricks spread along the back of her neck.
Before she could analyze the feeling, Aeron swept her into his arms, causing the tube of sunscreen to go skidding across the tiny deck. “Maybe we should bait him,” he said.
She let out a sharp scream as he dangled her over the railing. She squirmed and clawed at his muscled arm, but he was too strong. Deep laughter whipped around her like a gust of wind. He thought this was funny. The bastard actually thought this was funny.
“Put me down, Aeron, or I swear I’ll–”
He released her and she plunged into the freezing water. A rush of cold water swept past her ears, the taste of saltwater filling her mouth. Seaweed slithered past her leg, and tendrils of her red hair floated around her like ribbons, obscuring her view. Angry, she pushed the hair out of her face, and was instantly hit with an array of bright, vivid colors. Multicolored fish mingled with green kelp and vibrant coral beds.
God, Aeron was going to die. A slow and very painful death.
Kicking toward the surface, she caught a flicker of something white in her peripheral. She paused and squinted, trying to focus on the object. Something that looked remarkably human glided through the water, two arms and two powerful legs propelling it forward.
Impossible, she thought, staring at the creature in disbelief, eyes stinging. They were miles offshore and she hadn’t seen any boats on the horizon for hours. Could be a seal or manatee. It was remarkable how similar different species could look from underwater distances. But within seconds, the unmistakable figure of a man drew nearer. And from what little she could see, he was virtually naked. Worse, he’d brought friends. Several men, five or six at least, flanked either side of him, their movements smooth as they propelled through the water toward Morgan.
Disbelief, curiosity, and panic all rolled through her at once, but it was panic that took the lead. Her heart went into overdrive. She broke the surface of the water and sucked in a gulp of air.
“Aeron!” she panted, scrambling up the side of the boat, “There’s something in the water.” And she didn’t want to know what it was until she was safely back in the boat.
Aeron’s laughter faded and turned to alarm. He held out his hand, but it was too late.
Something curled around her ankle, yanking her out of Aeron’s reach, pulling her beneath the surface of the water. Before she went under, she caught a glimpse of Aeron jumping into the water after her. Precious air whooshed from her lungs and she inhaled in a lungful of water.
Kicking and clawing with everything she had, she struggled to break free. But as she struggled, the creature pulled her deeper beneath the surface.
Fear tore through her. She was going to die like this. Already her lungs were starving for air. Another minute without oxygen and she’d pass out and drown.
Just when she thought her lungs would explode, the creature’s strong arm twisted her around, and a pair of soft lips pressed against hers. She clutched his shoulders and opened her mouth to him, sucking in gulps of the air he offered, filling her starved lungs.
He tasted like brine mixed with pure male and Morgan had the sudden, dizzying sense that she’d never get enough that intoxicating flavor. It slithered through her veins, heady and erotic. As she pulled back, her eyes collided with his, and what she saw made her heart skip a beat–moss-green eyes that shimmered with a fierce, primal determination. Glancing down, she glimpsed the hard length of a man’s nude body.
Siren. The word fluttered across her mind, but before she could grasp it, he tightened his hold, pinning her against his chest.
With new air in her lungs, the fog that clouded her head began to fade. She felt stronger, but when she looked up, there was nothing but a faint steak of green-blue light. They were too far from the surface for her to make it on her own. She needed more air and she’d have to rely on him if she had any chance of surviving. Eventually, he’d need to break the surface for air, and when he did, she’d be ready to fight.
Willing herself to relax, she sagged in his arms. The struggle had cost her all her strength, and what little air she had, she needed to preserve.
Water glided across her skin as he propelled them forward. He seemed undaunted by the depth and the darkness. It wasn’t until the pressure became unbearable, until her limbs felt as heavy as led, that she realized he wasn’t lifting her up toward the light and fresh air. He was pulling her down…deeper into the ocean’s black, fathomless depths.