Chapter Twenty

The screech of a seagull woke him. It was such a normal sound, a sound he heard every day of his life. He had almost drifted back to sleep when the gull screeched again.

"Make it go away," CC mumbled, and snuggled more securely against his chest.

Dylan's eyes shot open, and he was instantly awake. His heart pounded painfully in his chest until his mind registered that the room was still cast in the darkness of predawn. He forced his panic to subside.

The gull screeched again.

CC's eyes cracked open. The bird was perched on the window ledge.

"What is it doing?" she grumbled. Then she kissed Dylan's chest and nuzzled him.

"I believe it is a messenger from your mother, reminding me that my time is limited."

"Do you have to go?" she asked sleepily.

Dylan kissed the top of her head. "If I do not, I will not live," he said simply.

"What?" CC's eyes sprang open. She read the truth on her lover's face. "You should have told me!" She lunged out of bed, pulling him after her. "When do you have to return?"

"Before light touches the land."

CC ran to the window. Dylan moved behind her, looking over her shoulder. Predawn was already beginning to gray the night-darkened ocean. His stomach contracted.

"You can't take the time to leave through the monastery." Her eyes darted to his masculine body, gauging his size. "I think you can fit if you squeeze."

He lifted his brows in a question.

"Through the window," she said, pointing. "The cliffside is right outside there. Hurry!"

Dylan nodded and bent to kiss her quickly. Then he hoisted his naked body up to the windowsill. It was a tight fit, and rock scraped his skin painfully, but it took him only a moment to pop through like a cork to the surface of a pool of water. On her toes, CC peered out the window. His smile flashed in the darkness.

"I have enjoyed being a man, Christine." His grin was endearingly male.

Even through her worry, CC smiled. "Hurry, silly."

"I will wait for you tonight," Dylan said. "And for all of eternity."

Then he turned and sprinted towards the cliff. CC's mouth opened in a soundless scream when she saw his naked muscles bunch powerfully. Before she could shout a warning, he reached the edge of the cliff and leapt from its impossibly steep side. His body arched in a spectacular dive, and in the moment before the sun touched the land CC saw the flash of fire that signaled his change from human to merman. She stood at the window for a very long time, struggling against the painful desire to follow him.

Dawn had shifted from gray to mauve when she finally turned from the window. All sight of Dylan was gone. Slowly, with movements that might have belonged to a woman Isabel's age, she pulled on her robe and belted it. Rolling up the sleeves she pushed open the door, almost causing the monk who knelt outside in the hall to fall over.

"Good morning, I didn't mean to startle you," CC said.

The monk stood. CC noticed that his face was flushed and he looked woozy, like he had just awakened from a delicious, goddess-induced dream.

"The abbot asked that I bring you to him upon your waking." The monk's voice cracked with sleep.

CC shook her head. Dylan's absence was a raw wound, and it left her in no mood to deal with Abbot William's sly questioning. "Please tell the abbot that I am honored by his invitation, but that I must get to work immediately on my restoration of the Holy Mother."

The monk's mouth opened and closed compulsively. CC thought it made him look like a bizarre species of land flounder.

"I'm sure the abbot will understand. He, of all people, knows the importance of honoring the Holy Mother. Have a blessed day, Brother, and thank you for watching over me last night."

CC hurried down the hall. When she glanced over her shoulder at the monk, he was still standing in front of her door. And his mouth was still open.

The way through the dining room which led to the servant's entrance to the kitchen felt like a familiar friend, and CC's leather slippers made soft little padding noises as she circumvented the courtyard and the silently watching well. Peeking into the dining room she let out a relieved breath. It was empty except for Isabel, who was clearing the last of the dishes from one of the tables.

"Good morning," CC said.

"That stubborn look tells me that no matter how weary you are, you will still be about the Virgin's business," Isabel stated with frustrated concern.

"Stubborn? I'm not stubborn."

Isabel's answer was a rude noise in the back of her throat, which almost made CC laugh.

They both headed into the kitchen, which was a wonderful mixture of busy women and delicious smells. Each woman greeted CC with a smile and a warm hello.

"Already had your bucket and such taken to the chapel," Lynelle said in her gruff voice.

"Thank you, but you didn't need to go to any trouble for me. You already have enough to do," CC said.

"We did not do it," Gwenyth said. "We asked some of the Brothers to gather and carry the things."

CC blinked in surprise.

"There are those among the Brothers who are pleased that the Holy Mother is being restored," Isabel explained.

"And a little water fetching does not take them long from tending their precious sheep and gardens," Lynelle grumbled.

"I made this for you," Bronwyn slurred softly, handing CC a mug of warm tea.

"Eat this on the way to the chapel. You must not allow yourself to weaken. The Holy Mother needs you strong and healthy." Gwenyth gave her a hard roll with a hunk of cheese and meat inside of it.

"You have no idea how much this means to me this morning," CC said, suddenly feeling near tears. "Thank you. I appreciate all of you."

The four women made scoffing noises, waving off her thanks, but CC could see the pleasure that flushed their wizened faces.

"Go on with you," Isabel said. "Today we will make certain that you eat."

On impulse, CC leaned down and kissed the old woman's cheek before hurrying out the door.

It must have rained sometime during the night, because the gardens were still wet and sparkling. CC breathed deeply, enjoying the damp smells of grass and flower as they mixed with the ever-present salt tang of the nearby ocean. Chewing the last of the breakfast roll, she strolled slowly through the twisting paths, taking the long way to the chapel. She passed several monks already busy pruning and weeding and was pleasantly surprised when two of them met her gaze and nodded shy good mornings.

The chapel was dim and still filled with an oppressive layer of incense from dawn mass, but as CC made her way to the Virgin's statue, she felt her spirit lighten. The Blessed Mother was lit by dozens of white candles, and the statue glowed like a golden beacon of hope. Yesterday, CC had left six candles burning around the base of the statue.

Someone, perhaps even several someones, had already begun visiting the Virgin.

Placed in a neat row to one side of the niche that held the statue were three buckets of clean water, a hunk of soap, a pile of clean rags and a large straw broom.

"Time to get to work," she told Gaea's serene face.

"Ugh!" CC scooped up another pile of rancid-smelling mess while she muttered to herself. "I have no way of being certain, but I think that this is poo from a giant squirrel."

"Actually, it is from a raccoon, but a giant squirrel is an excellent guess." Gaea had materialized in front of the statue, her blue and gold silk wrap mirroring the soft colors in the Virgin's robes.

"I should have known that even a giant squirrel wouldn't be giant enough to make this nasty mess." CC smiled at the goddess. "Good morning, it's nice to see a clean face."

"Good afternoon to you, daughter. You have worked the morning away." Gaea returned her smile and clicked her fingers. In a shower of silver sparks a wet towel appeared in one hand and a goblet appeared in the other. She gestured for CC to join her.

"Come, sit and refresh yourself. I have news."

CC sat next to the goddess and gratefully accepted the damp towel, wiping the dirt from her face and hands with a sigh of pleasure. When she was at least semiclean, Gaea handed her the goblet. It was filled with a thick, honey-colored liquid. CC sipped.

"Yum! This is delicious. What is it?"

With a gentle wave of her wrist Gaea produced her own goblet.

"It is Viking mead. I thought it the appropriate drink since you have been mistaken for a Norse sorceress."

"Very appropriate," she agreed. "I want to thank you for the gift you gave Dylan and me last night." She felt heat spring to her cheeks as Gaea's sparkling eyes smiled knowingly at her.

"He did make a spectacular man," the goddess said wistfully.

"As usual, you are correct. Last night was…" She sighed dreamily. "… exactly what I needed. Thank you, Mother."

Gaea nodded graciously and sipped her mead. She would not share with her daughter the cost of last night's passion. It had been Dylan's choice, and he had made it willingly. She would not taint his sacrifice by telling Christine news that would surely cause her guilt and pain. And, if fate was kind, the price Dylan would have to pay would be no more than a few wrinkles or an attractive graying of his ebony-colored hair.

Gaea cleared her throat. Without preamble she said, "Lir is preoccupied. I called to him from our private cove, and he sent a selkie as his messenger." The goddess flipped back her thick hair and crossed her legs, obviously annoyed. "There is some problem with Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess. Mano is causing some mischief with her local priestesses, and Pele has threatened to erupt an underwater volcano in retribution. Mano has appealed to Lir. And, of course, Lir has never minded interceding when the passion of a goddess is involved."

"Who is Mano?"

'The Hawaiian shark god—and a rather nasty fellow." Gaea shook her head in disgust. "Island immortals are all so petty. Too little land to ground them and to provide them the depth they need for real wisdom."

"So you didn't get to talk to Lir at all?"

"No, his message said he would come to me as soon as he has resolved the Hawaiian problem."

"And he didn't say when that would be."

"No, but I will not allow him to put me off for long. I am a goddess and I will not be trifled with." Gaea's eyes flashed with suppressed power.

"Speaking of being trifled with, Sarpedon has become more annoying," CC said. "Yesterday he possessed Andras again. Your amulet reminded him that wasn't a smart move, but while he was possessed Andras made some comments about knowing that I'm not pure."

Gaea's eyes narrowed. "The merman is troublesome, but now that he has found you it seems that he is focusing his attention on the monastery. I know from your dolphin friends that he has been distinctly absent from the waters near Caldei." Gaea's expression lightened and she smiled playfully at CC. "That is especially fortunate because the dolphins report news of another merman, who is spending all of his time in the waters surrounding this island."


"Of course it is Dylan. Who else?"

CC smiled sheepishly. "I know it's silly, but I just wanted to hear you say it."

"This silliness, as you call it, is part of the magic of love. And remember love is the strongest magic in the world. It even has the ability to tame a goddess."

"I want to be with him, Mother. Always."

Gaea smoothed back CC's hair. "I know, Daughter, and tonight you shall be with your lover again. Feign exhaustion and retire early to your bed. I will summon storm clouds to obscure the sun so that you need not wait for full dark to go to Dylan." Gaea's look turned sly. "It is my turn to use Sarpedon's connection with the young knight. I will whisper dreams to Andras in which you figure predominately. Sarpedon will be kept very busy tonight trying to decide what is real, and what is fantasy. He will be much too busy chasing the ghosts of dreams to haunt the waters looking for you."

CC hugged Gaea in gratitude, and the goddess's laughter filled the chapel.

"All will be well, Daughter. With just a little more patience, all will be well. Do not forget, you must return to the monastery when the bell tolls for morning mass."

"I won't forget. Will you be at the shore tonight?" CC asked.

"Tonight I will leave you to your lover. You see, I, too, will be concentrating on calling a lover. Lir will not long be able to resist."

CC wondered how Lir could resist the goddess at all. Even in the dimness of the chapel, Gaea's beauty was awe-inspiring, and when she mentioned her lover the light that always shone within her intensified until CC almost felt the need to avert her eyes.

CC grinned at Gaea. "Lir's a goner, and he doesn't even know it—yet."

"Oh, he knows, Daughter. He knows."

The cheery yellow glow of the candles that surrounded Mary's statue blinked and quivered in response to the women's laughter, filling CC with a sense of well-being. How could anything go wrong as long as Gaea was beside her?

Suddenly, the expression on Gaea's face sobered and before CC could speak the goddess's body dissipated into hundreds of tiny golden lights, which pulsed once and then faded. Her disappearance was followed by the sound of a deep, male voice.

"Good afternoon, Undine," Andras said.

CC looked warily at the knight, half expecting his eyes to begin to glow, but there was no sign of anything unusual in his appearance.

"Hello, Andras." She took a breath and decided there was no way she could avoid the subject. "You look like you feel better today. Did you and the abbot figure out what happened yesterday in the courtyard?"

The knight's welcoming expression flattened. "Abbot William is diligently praying about the event. He remains confident that an answer will be found."

"Well, I'm just glad to see that you've recovered. I'm sure the abbot's prayers will be helpful." She kept her voice light.

Instead of meeting her eyes, the knight's gaze slid away and lit on the statue. "You have done an excellent job here. It is good to see that you are taking such an interest in religion. A woman needs to be grounded in the structure of the church so that she can know her proper place as wife and mother."

His face had relaxed and his smile was genuine, even if he words were patronizing.

"I'm not restoring the Holy Mother's statue out of religious zealousness or piety; I'm restoring it out of love," she said, reminding herself that it wasn't his fault that he was a medieval man. He probably thought he had just paid her an enormous compliment.

"Exactly." Andras sounded pleased. "Love of the church."

"No," she automatically corrected him. "Love of the Mother."

Confusion spread over his face. "Is there a difference?"

"I think so. I think there is a world of difference between devotion to man and devotion to the divine."

"Do you not believe that man can be divine?" Andras's chuckle said that he found it amusing that he was discussing theology with a woman.

"Truthfully, I haven't found much evidence of it."

Andras squinted his eyes at her, as if he wasn't sure he'd heard her correctly. Then he smiled indulgently. "Undine, I find your sense of humor refreshing, but the reason I need to speak with you requires us to be serious. My squires have relayed to me several reports of an unusual nature."

"Unusual reports?" she prompted when he just stared at her and didn't continue speaking.

"Creatures have been seen in the waters off the coast."

She forced her expression to be one of mild curiosity.

"Creatures? You mean like whales and dolphins? That doesn't seem very unusual to me. You and I saw a dolphin very close to shore just a couple of days ago."

"I do not mean creatures that were fashioned by God. The fishermen talk of abnormal beings, half man and half fish, that have been seen inhabiting the waters surrounding this island."

"And you believed the fantasies of those poor people? That surprises me, Andras. They are, after all, peasants." She hoped that she was using the right buzz words. Andras was a knight, which meant he was a part of the nobility. Hadn't he been raised to look down on the working classes? At that moment she fervently hoped so.

"You are correct. They are peasants. I simply find their sightings interesting, especially because they seem to coincide with your appearance on our shores."

CC laughed. "Are you saying that you think that I am half fish?"

"Of course not."

"Then what are you saying?" she asked. At the mention of the sea, the longing within her sprang painfully alive, wearing away at her ability to be cordial to the overbearing knight.

"I know of your love for the sea. I am saying that you should be content with observing it from afar, and save excursions to the shoreline for quieter times."

CC squeezed a tight smile on her lips. "As always, I appreciate the concern you show for my welfare, but I'm sure it is nothing but foolish superstitions worrying the fishermen. After all, I was blown ashore by a storm. It's only logical that other sea creatures were blown off course, too."

"Other sea creatures?" Andras pounced. "You sound like you are a saying you are a creature of the sea, too."

"Do I look like a creature of the sea?" she asked with a teasing smile.

"I ask that you give me your word that you will not walk by the shoreline alone again."

Andras's voice had an unmistakably hard edge to it, and CC's ability to be polite was rapidly unraveling when Isabel's grainy voice quivered across the chapel.

"It is well after midday and you have forgotten to eat again, Undine." The old woman limped toward them. She paused when she neared the statue of Mary, crossed herself and curtseyed reverently. Then she nodded respectfully to the knight.

'Thank you for reminding me, Isabel. Now that I think of it, I am very hungry."

"The mutton stew that will be served for this evening's meal is ready. Just this morning I harvested a fresh crop of mint," Isabel croaked happily.

"I promised to meet with the abbot and share with him the news I received from my men, but if you can wait I would be pleased to have an early evening meal with you, Undine," Andras said.

"I wish I could wait, but I think I should hurry and eat so that I can get back to work before the chapel is needed for vespers. I wouldn't want to create an inconvenience for the abbot."

Before he could argue Isabel chimed in. "Princess, I think it wise that you eat immediately." She shared a con-spirators' look with Andras. "We must be certain the princess takes care with her health."

"Of course I would not put the princess's health in jeopardy. Perhaps we can take in the air this evening, Undine?"

Andras reached for her hand to kiss. Laughing nervously CC pulled it out of his reach.

"Oh, you don't want to do that. My hand is filthy." She made a big show of wiping her hands on her dirty robe. "A walk would be nice, if I'm not too tired."

"I will come to your chamber this evening after vespers, where I will pray that you are not too tired." His look was intense.

CC felt her face flush. Could he not just leave her alone? Thankfully, Isabel spoke up.

"Sir Andras, you need not trouble yourself. I know how you enjoy your chess games with the abbot. If the princess is not too fatigued, I will come with word from her." She looked quickly at CC. "If that is agreeable to the princess."

CC hurried over to Isabel. "Yes! There's no need for you to interrupt your time with Abbot William if I'm asleep on my feet. Thank you, Isabel. That was a wonderfully considerate idea." She linked her arm through the servant's and began walking with her toward the door. "I hope you have a good evening, Andras, and if I don't see you tonight I'm sure we'll be able to spend some time together tomorrow."

Andras stood silently in the shadowy church, watching the women disappear into the gardens. His expression was introspective and his full lips were turned down in irritation. Had she begun to avoid him, or was it only maidenly shyness coupled with her newly discovered devotion to the Holy Mother that seemed to be keeping her from him? The knight felt a stirring of anger as he pondered the question. His anger coupled with something else, something that whispered hypnotically deep within his mind. Andras's hands trembled, and he balled them into fists. Images flashed through his mind. Undine naked and slick with sweat… Undine on her knees before him… Undine crying his name aloud as his seed exploded within her…

Overwhelmed by the visions, Andras felt himself harden. His breath was ragged. He raked a hand through his hair. What was happening to him? He had never before experienced anything like his growing obsession with the princess. Perhaps the abbot was correct. His eyes narrowed so that the silver glow that stained them was almost unde-tectable. Sorceress or not, she was only a woman. When she belonged to him, he would purge the pagan taint from her soul, then he would satisfy his desire for her. She had no choice.

"Thank you," CC whispered as soon as tltey were out of range of Andras's hearing. "He doesn't seem to be able to take no for an answer."

"You are most welcome, but you must realize that few women would tell Sir Andras no," Isabel whispered back. "Are you quite certain that is your desire?"

"Absolutely. I don't want a husband who has to rule over and control me."

"So you have said before, but I still believe that there are few men of any other kind." Isabel looked closely at her. "At least not in this world."

"If there's not, I won't have any husband at all. I'm a human being, not a piece of property."

"So young and headstrong," Isabel clucked.

"Where I'm from we call it having good sense and a backbone."

Isabel's look was clearly disbelieving.

They were halfway across the voluminous gardens before CC noticed how murky the day had become.

"Is it really that late? It looks like the sun is setting already."

"It is late for your midday meal, but the sun is not yet setting. There is a storm coming." Isabel squinted up at the rolling clouds. "It is odd, normally my leg warns me of a Storm long before I see clouds. Today it did not. It is almost as if the change of weather was suddenly conjured."

Not wanting to travel down that line of thinking, CC asked, "What happened to your leg?"

Isabel looked surprised at the question, but she answered without hesitation. "I was born with a twisted limb. My fa-ther wanted to dispose of me on the hillside, but I was the only girl child my mother had born, and she was quite old. She would not part with me."

CC was shocked at the matter-of-fact way Isabel spoke of something so horrifying.

"That's awful."

"A girl child with a twisted limb is of no use. My father knew no man would marry me." Isabel shrugged. "It is a blessing that I have a certain skill with cooking. When my youngest brother's beautiful wife gave birth to their fifth healthy child, she said there was no room for a crippled sister in their home. My other brothers felt the same. It was fortuitous that the monastery needed a cook. They took me in. I have been here since."

"Do you ever see your family?"

Isabel shook her head. "My mother and father are long dead, and my brothers do not visit. My family is here."

"The monks?" CC asked.

Isabel cackled and patted her hand. "Goodness no! The other women. We are all each other's only family now."

"I don't really have any family here, either," CC said.

Isabel paused on the threshold to the kitchen, where homey smells and sounds enveloped them. She turned to CC and smiled warmly at the younger woman.

"You do now, Princess."

Cc paced and paced and paced. She had already pulled the dresser under the window. For what felt like the zillionth time she hitched up her chemise and climbed on top of it. She studied the fading evening. Gaea's clouds were rolling in from the west, directly over the tumultuous ocean. They were low-hanging and reminded CC of a giant gray comforter being pulled over the sky. The setting sun was certainly obscured, but was it dark enough yet? She didn't think so. She could still see most of the way down the side of the cliff, which meant if anyone happened to be looking seaward, they would be able to see her if she was making her way down the side of that cliff. And she couldn't be sure that Andras wouldn't be looking seaward after the fishermen had aroused suspicion in him.

CC sighed and rubbed her temples. It seemed her heart pounded there in time with the distant crashing of the surf. Her body was a throbbing shell of need; she ached for the waters and for her lover. Dylan. Just thinking his name sent a shiver of anticipation low in her stomach.

Patience, she told herself firmly. Just a few more minutes and it'll be dark enough. She turned and sat on top of the dresser, resting her head against the windowsill. She'd lasted this long, she could certainly wait a little longer.

At first the day had felt like it would never end, so CC had been shocked when the Brothers began filling the chapel for vespers, and she realized that it must be late evening. Quietly, she had piled her cleaning supplies in a shadowed corner, wiped her hands on her very grimy robes and slipped out the side entrance before Abbot William or Andras could accost her.

She had stopped at the kitchen long enough to grab another bowl of Isabel's excellent stew and a goblet of wine. The ladies were at their busiest, cleaning up the evening meal and beginning preparations for the next day. It took some doing, but she persuaded Isabel that she really didn't need any help bathing and undressing. The old woman obviously didn't like it, but when CC promised that she really just wanted to get out of her dirty clothes and crawl into bed, Isabel acquiesced, assuring CC that she would make her excuses to Andras.

CC knew that the circles under her eyes had darkened to bruises; the need inside her was making her feel weak and nauseous. But after she had washed the filth from her body, she forced herself to eat all of the stew and drink the entire goblet of wine. The wrenching ache was still there, but a full stomach made her feel less nauseous and dizzy.

A sound turned her attention back to the view outside the window. CC smiled. "Thank you, Gaea," she said.

Rain was falling in the comforting patter of a gentle mist, swallowing the last of the evening light. Quickly, CC sat on the windowsill, found her toehold, and dropped quietly to the soft grass below the window. Gaea's rain was a cool caress against her feverish skin, and for a moment she stood on the edge of the cliff with her arms held straight out and her head thrown back, letting the water of the goddess soothe her body and soul. Keeping the image of Dylan's dive from the side of the cliff in her mind, she balled up her chemise with one hand so that her long legs were free to run, then she moved with unerring certainty down the winding sheep path.

Dylan! She used all of her mental strength to call to him. I'm coming! Please be there!

Rocky ground gave way to sand and she ran to her familiar log, pulling off her shift with shaking hands. She kicked off her slippers and hurried to the shoreline. When her feet touched the water she paused, suddenly unsure.

"Do not make me wait, my love." Dylan's voice carried over the waves, surreal and disembodied.

"I can't see you." At the sound of his voice, CC's breath caught and her stomach tightened.

"But I can see you. You are a white goddess of beauty, fashioned of long, curving lines and softness. Come to me, my goddess," Dylan said.

With two quick steps CC ran and leapt, diving into the surf. Before her outstretched hands touched the water she felt the exquisite burning begin at her waist and shoot down through her legs. A rush of power followed the burning as the inhuman strength of her tail propelled her forward and then up. She broke the surface laughing.

The merman materialized out of the mist in front of her. Tonight his long, dark hair was free, and it fell in a thick, damp wave around his shoulders. Dylan's exotic beauty and the erotic sense of maleness that surrounded him struck her, and she felt a thrill of excitement at his nearness. He drifted close.

"I have missed you, Christine."

"You were just with me last night," she teased.

"I have discovered that the more I am near you, the more I want you. You belong at my side, and I at yours." His voice reminded her of dark chocolate—rich and sensual.

She reached up and wound her arms around his neck, loving the way his boyish smile made his lips curve when he took her in his arms.

"I don't think I could have stayed away from you another second," she said as his face tilted down to hers.

Their lips touched in a gentle kiss as they became reac-quainted with the taste and touch of one another.

"Not a moment went by today when I did not wish that you were here beside me," Dylan said as he rested his forehead against hers while his hands caressed the long, smooth line of her back.

"I tried not to think about you. I was afraid if I thought about you too much, I would throw myself off the side of the cliff and into the ocean like you did." She snuggled against him, wanting to get as close as possible.

CC could feel the tremor of emotion that ran down his body. Then the merman tightened his grip on her and she opened her mouth to him. Their tongues met and teased. CC couldn't stop the hum of desire that escaped from the back of her throat. She felt Dylan's muscles quiver in response and the kiss deepened. CC ran her hands down his shoulders, skimming over his firmly muscled arms and chest. He was slick and warm, soft skin and hard muscle all wrapped enticingly together.

CC pressed her body against his and jerked back in surprise when she felt their tails entwine.

Dylan looked down at her questioningly.

"I…" CC hesitated, feeling a little foolish. She cleared her throat. "I've never…" She trailed off, pointing down at the part of their bodies that was submerged under the water.

Understanding cleared Dylan's questioning look. He touched her face. "Remember last night? I was afraid, too."

"You were afraid?" she asked, incredulous. "It certainly didn't seem like it."

His smile was gentle. "Making love to you as a human man was an experience I will remember always."

CC pressed her face into his palm. "I want you now as badly as I did in my human body. I'm just nervous." She took a breath and met his eyes. "The truth is, even though I

said that we fit together perfectly in any form, I'm really not sure what to do."

He smiled at her and brushed her lips lightly with his. "Will you trust me tonight, as I trusted you last night, Christine?"

Without hesitation she nodded.

"Then let me teach you."

This time she was able to smile at him. "Well, I already know you're an excellent teacher."

He took her hand in his. "Then let me teach you how mer-folk make love."

CC nodded again, this time breathlessly.

Dylan pulled her under the waves and they swam side by side into deeper water. Before they surfaced, the merman stopped and turned to her, but, instead of taking her in his arms, he held her out, almost half an arm's length away from his body. First, he kissed the palm of her hand. Then he touched her cheek, letting his hand slide down her long neck to her shoulder, then on down to gently cup her breast. Teasingly, he ran his palm over her nipple, which puckered under his caress. But his hand didn't stay at her breast, instead it moved down over her rib cage to the curve of her waist. When his hand met her mer-flesh, his caress changed. Instead of his palm, he used his fingertips to touch her with featherlike strokes, which swirled enticingly down and around her hips.

His fingers were fire. Dylan's touch was like nothing she had ever experienced—it was so incredibly different from having her legs caressed by a man. When he stroked that soft, glowing skin, his touch was magnified. It carried through every part of her mer-body, like his fingertips were superconductors for erotic sensation, and she was his conduit. As the newness of unexplored sensations surged the length of her body, CC felt weak and powerful at the same time. She closed her eyes, overwhelmed by the intensity of the feeling.

No, Christine. Dylan's voice came gently into her mind. Do not close your eyes. Watch me touching you. Look how incredibly beautiful you are.

CC opened her eyes. Dylan kissed her gently again, then he let his body drift down, so that his hands and his mouth could explore the rest of her. His mouth traveled from her breasts to the softness of her belly. When the warm heat of his mouth slid to her mer-flesh she had to hold tightly to his shoulders to steady herself.

Amazed, she felt herself open to him as his tongue moved down her body, coaxing and teasing alive sensations that she hadn't even imagined possible. She watched him love her and the last of her trepidation died under the heat of his touch. She gazed at her body and at the astonishing creature who held her so intimately, and she realized that it truly didn't matter what form their bodies reflected—it was love that anchored her to him, not a body or a time or place.

Dylan's mouth and hands continued to work their magic, and CC's ability for rational thought splintered. All she could do was to hold tightly to Dylan and experience the sensations that surged through her body. His touch merged with the soft pressure of the water that surrounded them until it seemed to CC that even the ocean was making love to her. Suddenly, her mind fragmented as an orgasmic rush of electricity rippled through her body.

Dylan cradled her within his arms and pulled her to the surface. He kissed her deeply. CC felt so liquid that she almost believed that her body could dissipate and become a part of the seas, and only Dylan's touch kept her connected to the physical world. They drifted in the ocean, hidden by the loving caress of the goddess's rain.

"Did that please you, my love?" he whispered against her lips.

"You please me, Dylan, more than I could ever tell you. It was a good thing that we were underwater; I think if air had touched me I might have combusted."

Dylan laughed. "Your nervousness must be gone."

"Forever." She grinned, then playfully took his bottom lip between her teeth and pulled gently. His moan of response brought to her a rush of new pleasure. "Now I want to please you," CC said.

She reached between them and took his already hard flesh in her hand. Stroking his shaft, she felt him throb and pulse with need. His breathing deepened sharply and his eyes closed.

"No," she said, her voice thick with the power of seduction. "Don't close your eyes. I want you to watch me touch you, too."

Dylan's gaze was hot as he watched her hand slide up and down his length. She kissed him again, then let her body drift down under the water until she took his golden flesh in her mouth. She felt him quiver as she let her tongue and lips work together. When she took him deeply into her mouth, his gasp of pleasure sent a thrill of desire through her. She loved the taste of him. He was salt and sea and the musky tang of an aroused man. And he was beautiful.

Abruptly, she felt him tug at her shoulders and she allowed him to pull her up. She found his mouth, and heat exploded within her at the ragged intensity of their kiss. She felt his hardness against her. Instinctively, she reached down to guide him within her, but Dylan stopped her.

"Wait, love. There is more," he said between broken breaths as she kissed the firm line of his jaw and slid her tongue teasingly down his neck.

"How could there be more than this?" She pressed against him.

"Watch," he said, his eyes dark with passion and promise.

Dylan unwound one hand from where it had been buried in her hair. Raising his arm he drew a circle in the air above them. CC's eyes widened in surprise as the ocean around them started to swirl in response.

"I command a bed in which to love our princess!"

Dylan's voice was filled with power, and it echoed against the misty night. As he spoke the seething water changed. It bubbled and frothed and somehow hardened until the two mer-creatures were buoyed up on a bed of aqua sea foam where they lay in each other's arms. It was as if they were resting inside a crested wave where Dylan had somehow halted time and the elements.

"You have magic," CC gasped.

"My magic is you, Christine."

Dylan kissed her, letting his hands move down her body to cup her breasts and then stroke her glowing flesh until CC moaned in response.

"Now, please," she panted. "Don't make me wait anymore."

Dylan shifted his weight until he lay over her, holding himself up on his forearms. When she reached down to guide him into her, he was powerless to resist.

"Christine!" he gasped her name as her heat tightened slickly around him.

They moved together easily, finding a rhythm that was at first slow and gentle. CC marveled at how well they fit. His body pressed against hers, and everywhere they touched sparks of sensation tingled through her skin. She ran her hands over the taut muscles of his arms, amazed at his power and how he trembled under her touch. Then their rhythm quickened, and CC strained upward to meet his thrusts. Her hands found the hard ridges of his back, and she let her fingernails tease, before she locked her arms around him, pressing him more firmly against her.

"I cannot wait," Dylan moaned.

"Then don't. Please, Dylan!" she urged.

With a last, powerful thrust CC felt Dylan begin to throb within her, and when he shouted her name she felt her own body explode in response. As her sense of reality fragmented into the realm of sensation she held tightly to Dylan, trusting him to bring her safely back to earth.

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