It’s been a fairly busy summer. Not in the sense of going places because I mostly sat around recuperating from the reconstruction surgery in June. Lots of running to the doctor, visiting nurses, things like that. But I’ve been feeling better in the past few weeks, and have been hard at work perfecting Riptide as best I can before delivering it to the world.
I started writing it last summer, when I wanted to write a YA story that wasn’t vampires (I wanted to try something new). I ventured into the city of Poseida on the island of New Atlantis, below which lives a race of shapeshifting mermaids and mermen. There I met Dani and Max and they wanted their story told. Who am I to say no? I tried to finish the story last November during NaNo, but that didn’t quite go the way I had planned. Ah well, it is what it is. Anyway, I finally finished the story, prettied it up and sent it off to Todd Barselow for editing (Thanks, Todd! It was a pleasure working with you.) and now, I believe it will be ready to be uploaded next week. But as always, I’m nervous. There’s something about getting ready to press “publish.”
As the release date for Riptide draws near, I’m going to be without wi-fi access for a while (great timing, right?) Since I won’t be able to press publish until next week, I thought I’d leave you with Chapter One. (If I can find access later in the week, I’ll post Chapter Two.) Enough from me. On to the first chapter of Riptide. Enjoy!
Sitting in the sand, I hang back from the crowd around the bonfire, enjoying the sound of the surf, letting it transport me anywhere but here. I should have known better than to actually expect my boyfriend to spend time with me. Not at his party. The soccer team enlisted me to get him to his surprise birthday blowout, but once here, my services were no longer needed. Of course.
I shouldn’t complain. Reese will swing by to check on me soon. He always does. And then, when everyone leaves and it’s just the two of us, we’ll walk along the shore, letting the water roll over our toes. I frown. I can dream all I want. Fact of the matter is, he’ll probably get drunk and I won’t see him until tomorrow when he’s hung over and grouchy.
Reese isn’t always the party guy. He has a sensitive side. Just not when the apes he considers friends are around. Which lately is almost all the time.
A pack of boys stumble toward me, mystery drinks sloshing over the rims of their plastic cups. “Daaan-iii,” they croon as one. If they’re going for creepy, the hive-mind chorus is dead on.
Oh no. I know what’s coming. It’s dunk-the-girlfriend time. And tonight the waves are huge and unpredictable, thanks to a hurricane brewing in the Atlantic.
Scrambling to my feet, I try to run, but trip over my flip flops instead. A pair of hands grab me around the waist and sling me over a shoulder in a fireman’s carry. “Reese! No!” I cry. My protests are ignored as he charges down to the water. “No!” I kick, but one of his buddies restrains my ankles, his hands as effective as shackles at caging my flailing legs.
We plunge into the frigid water gracelessly. I’d hoped they would have dropped me once the water hit their knees since it’s so cold compared to the usually balmy temperatures, but I couldn’t buy that kind of luck. Instead, they continue onward, hurdling baby breakers until the water reaches their hips. Reese finally stops when the water is waist deep. He barks something at his accomplice, but I can’t understand his words over the deafening roar of the waves.
His partner—I’m not sure which one of his enforcers this is—releases my ankles and Reese adjusts his hold so that I slide down his torso until my feet push through the icy water to the squishy sand. I suck in a rapid breath and suppress a shiver.
The moon isn’t quite full and it’s dark, but not so dark that I can’t see those killer cheekbones models would pay to have a Rodeo Drive plastic surgeon sculpt for them. A few inches separate our faces, his breath teasing my lips in gentle puffs. I smell alcohol, but nothing near the brewery levels I was expecting. “Hey, stranger,” he says in the deep tone he knows I like. “Miss me?”
“A little,” I reply, failing to suppress the giggle the little jolts of electricity racing along my nerves have induced. And then, his mouth covers mine, his lips soft and warm. His tongue sweeps along my lower lip. My toes curl, digging into the silt. All is forgiven. I’m such a pushover when it comes to him.
When we finally separate, he flashes the lopsided smile that only magnifies his hotness. Reese is just about six feet tall, which is considerably taller than me. His thick black hair is damp from the sea spray, but normally it falls into his face, giving him that rumpled bedhead look that he somehow makes work. Right now, he’s shirtless, so I have a great view of his magnificent chest and shoulders and the six pack that he maintains year round, not just during soccer season. How lucky am I? I weave our fingers together, smiling at him like we are the only two people on the beach tonight.
People start screaming from the shore. Hand in hand, we turn to look at them to see what they’re so excited about. At the same time, a huge wave breaks on top of our heads, followed immediately by two more slamming into us.
The force pulls me from Reese’s arms. Tumbling into the frigid water, I don’t know which way is up. My head hits the seabed. Shooting upward—I think it’s upward—I barely break the surface when another whitecap rolls and smashes down on top of me, forcing me under, a mallet wielded by unseen hands. I struggle to right myself, but it’s impossible to do so when the relentless surf continues its merciless pounding. I feel like a sneaker in a dryer, tumbling endlessly until I’m dizzy and disoriented.
My lungs burn. I can’t find the surface, I’m corkscrewing so much. My face hits the sandy floor, scraping against the tiny shells and pebbles underneath. A moment later, my foot lands on the sand, my knees straighten, and I stand on tired legs, only my neck and head poking out, gasping for air, looking for something to anchor myself to and finding nothing. Chest heaving, I try to pinpoint how far the current has transported me and find that somehow, I’ve traveled not only into deeper water, but toward the foreboding rocks of the jetty. Leaning forward, I keep my eyes fixed on the people dotting the distant shore as I trudge back toward the beach.
The undertow latches on to me and refuses to let go, dragging me back toward the unfathomable deep. I stiffen and panic grips my shoulders, figurative talons digging in. If I’m not careful, the current is going to haul me so far off shore they’ll never find the body. My arms and legs start churning in open defiance of my brain’s command to be still. My body numb, the glacial temperature doesn’t bother me anymore. In fact, I barely notice it.
My last thought as I stop thrashing: I hope the yearbook uses a good picture. My eyes drift shut as the brine embraces me. The world is peaceful again, my concerns having drifted away like the foam.
A large hand closes around my wrist, the grip firm and unyielding. My eyes fly open. I inhale salt water and immediately start choking. An arm catches me across the shoulders. My rescuer tows me toward shore, propelling us with smooth, powerful strokes. When he’s no longer able to swim because the water is too shallow, he rises, swinging me up into his arms and supporting me under the knees and around my back. I continue sputtering. My lungs can’t seem to get enough air.
Partygoers applaud. “Are you able to stand?” The voice is soft and deep.
I nod. “Reese? Where’s Reese?” My first attempt at a step results in me stumbling and falling forward. My savior catches me before I do a face-plant in the sand, easing me to my knees and helping me shift to sit. “He was there, and then he wasn’t.”
“If you mean the idiot who took you out into the storm surge, he’s fine.” Now his voice is hard. “His buddy grabbed him the first time he surfaced.”
“Of course,” I say dryly as I squint through the wet hair plastered to my face at the boy next to me. I pretty much know everyone at Poseida High, it’s that small. This guy is new. His bare chest blocks my view of the water, putting his sculpted pecs right at eye level. My curious gaze drifts down. An eight-pack greets my wandering stare.
Sucking in a breath, I push the soaking strands back and tick my gaze to his. Clouds coasting on the ever-present breeze float across the face of the moon, blotting out its silvery light. It’s too dark to discern the color of his eyes, but I bet they’re incredible. “I’m Danielle.” A ball of nerves clogs my stomach and I feel incredibly self-conscious under his unflinching, unreadable gaze. “Dani…D. I pretty much answer to anything.” An awkward sounding giggle slips out. My inner critic cringes. Smooth. I shake my head. I’m never this nervous around anyone. It’s the adrenaline, I tell myself
“Max,” he offers.
I tip my head and arch an eyebrow. A man of few words. The tremors that had been shaking my insides start to subside. “Thank you, Max. For saving me,” I add hastily, as if he doesn’t already know what he did.
“It’s what I do.” He rises and offers me a hand up.
The wind picks up, and the moonlight returns, illuminating his face. He has high cheekbones and a strong, square jaw. That’s about as much detail as the brief glimpse affords me. I think I see nice full lips, too. Wet hair hangs nearly to his shoulders.
“I’ve got to…” I gesture toward the parking lot where I expect to find Reese waiting. “Will I see you at school?”
“Count on it,” he replies with a half-smile. His hand finds the small of my back when I turn to troop up the beach. Thankfully, I can walk okay now. It would be so embarrassing to wobble like a toddler. He must sense it too because his hand disappears, taking its warmth with it.
Oddly, I’m disappointed.
I almost pass the bonfire, the flames now tall enough to rival the surrounding trees. Reese hops to his feet, discards his towel, and pulls me into a tight hug that mashes my face into his chest. His pecs seem a little soft compared to Max’s.
Bad girl! I silently scold. Reese is my boyfriend. Maybe he’s not as solid as Max, but I shouldn’t be noticing. A hand skims across my shoulders and down my spine. He touches the top of my head. “You okay?” He plants a kiss on my temple. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to let go.”
Nodding, I do my best to reassure him. “I’m fine. Laundry does that every day in washers across New Atlantis.”
He glowers and lifts my chin until our eyes meet. “Dani—” His reproachful tone turns my name into a warning. Warmth flutters through me. This is the boy I fell in love with. The one whose every emotion is evident in his moss green eyes. The ferociously protective guy, not the multi-sport star who ignores his girlfriend and gets drunk at parties.
“Really, Reese. I’m okay. Max pulled me out before the sea could do her worst.” I gesture at the silent boy standing behind me, watching Reese with an angry expression.
Reese hugs me with one arm and extends his other hand. “Thanks, man.”
Max doesn’t shake his hand, instead he wraps a towel around his broad shoulders, gripping the ends with fists. “Sure. Next time don’t take her out so far.”
Reese stiffens. Here it comes. He hates being told what to do. By anyone. “Who the hell are you?” He pauses. “Go away.” I’m relieved when he drops a possessive arm across my shoulders and steers me away from Max instead of punching him. Risking a backward glance, I try to apologize for Reese’s rudeness with my eyes.
“Who the hell does he think he is?” Reese mutters as he slips behind the wheel of his Mustang.
“Can we just go home?” I may have made light of nearly drowning, but I am so tired right now I could collapse on the asphalt and use the curb for a pillow. I don’t have the endurance or patience for one of his rants.
Furious eyes burn me from across the passenger compartment. “Did he kiss you? Try to give you mouth-to-mouth?” I smell a trace of alcohol on his breath, not enough to say he’s drunk, but I’m pretty sure he’s buzzing.
“Let it go, Reese.” I may love him with all my heart, but I can’t stand this side of him. Every time he drinks, he gets like this.
“I mean it, Dani. Did he try anything?” He stomps on the accelerator, nearly putting his foot and the pedal through the floor. Squealing tires announce our departure from the parking lot.
“He was a little busy saving my life,” I remind the hothead next to me, struggling to keep my tone just this side of sarcastic. Staring out the window at the hidden landscape, I clench my jaw to keep from saying anything more.
Reese pulls onto the shoulder, rolling forward until the car stops on the dirt adjacent to the scenic overlook. Bright beams from the lighthouse sweep over the vehicle at regular intervals, briefly illuminating Reese’s twisted features, which he quickly smoothes. He depresses the seatbelt button and reaches for me before the belt retracts, pulling me into an awkward crushing hug across the console. “I’m sorry, babe. I just, I don’t—the thought of another guy touching you makes me crazy.” Turning to look out the windshield so I can avoid his gaze, I frown. I despise it when he calls me babe. I’m not sure why. Maybe because it makes him sound like a stranger. “Dani.” His tone is softer now, almost apologetic. That’s the storm that is Reese; turbulent like a cyclone one second and then calm, without warning. “I know I was a jerk earlier. I shouldn’t have bailed on you.”
His lips press a gentle kiss to my neck and my fingers smooth the back of his dripping black hair. “It’s okay,” I say, as if reciting from a script. He always apologizes and says he’ll do better next time, but next time never comes. “I know the team is important to you. I don’t blame you for wanting to party with your friends.”
Pulling back, he grins. “You’re the best.” A large palm cups my chin gently before he brushes his lips over mine. It’s a sweet kiss, not demanding or insistent, which sometimes happens when he gets lit. Parting my lips, I invite him to deepen the kiss, reveling in the warmth and taste of him.
Rain begins pounding the car’s roof. Good thing he left the top up. “We should go.” His voice comes out husky. I agree. I don’t want to be up here if the downpour washes out the road. He lays a last peck on my cheek and straps himself in. The car rolls to the shoulder where he pauses to let a pickup pass before driving me home.
© 2013, Michelle Moklebust
Thanks for reading!