Authors: Brenda Pandos
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Text Copyright © 2012 by Brenda Pandos. All rights reserved.
Cover Images Fotolia.com
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This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination, or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locals, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond intent of the author.
No part of the book may be used or reproduced without written permission of the author.
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Also by Brenda Pandos
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The Emerald Talisman
The Sapphire Talisman
The Onyx Talisman
Everblue, book #1, Mer Tales
Everlost, book #3, Mer Tales
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More from Brenda:
About the Author
I clutched Fin’s first letter against my chest and crumpled onto my bed. He’d written yesterday’s date—Sunday, April 10
—across the top, the day he left me. Already, something inside my soul had died and this ritual became crystal clear. Daily there’d only be a few minutes of bliss as I ripped open the envelope that filled my soul with his words. A temporary reprieve lasting as long as it took to read the letter. Then I’d be left, longing for more.
Our bond, sealed the day Fin kissed me, rubbed like a piece of glass lodged within the tender folds of my heart, needling its way further inside with each labored beat. He’d vowed to write, text, and call whenever he could until I reunited with him in Florida in a few months, but would that work? I could already see we’d be attached to the phone until we were together again. Would that keep us sane?
I traced my finger over the ink, wishing his hands were touching me.
“I miss you, Fin,” I whispered, hoping God would help me deal with this in some way.
And I’d thought the countdown to college was unbearable before.
My dear sweet Ashlyn,
We’ve only left one another, and I had to write you. Your salty tears are still on my lips, and I smell you on my clothes. How will I get through this? Thank you for the pictures and the note. I’m going to wear both, reading and staring at your beautiful face all day. You’re like the sun… bright and warm. They’ll keep me rational until you are in my arms once again.
I hope this letter finds you soon. Once I finish writing, I’m forcing my dad to stop so I can mail it. I want you to have this by tomorrow. Hitting Phoenix today is the plan. I’m not looking forward to thirteen hours of traveling with my parents, but with all our stuff and towing my Jeep, we really couldn’t fly. I’m glad I could convince them to upgrade to an iPhone on the way out, though.
On the map, I found a reservoir off the freeway for us to stay at. Let’s hope it’s decent. Only traveling during the daytime will make the trip longer, but Dad can’t exactly drive with his fins. I know we’ll talk all about this later, but I can’t wait to hear your voice. It already feels like years have passed when it’s only been minutes.
The desire to run my fingers through your hair and bring your lips to mine is haunting me. I miss you more than words can say. My parents are going to be so sick of me begging to come home to you—to escape this hellhole RV. I can’t believe how long we’ll have to wait until we’re together again. Every minute is grueling. You’re not suffering alone. I keep replaying our last kiss in my mind. I hear you speaking to me, and I’m keeping your sweet words close.
I love you.
I folded up the letter and held it close to my heart as a tear escaped onto my cheek.
Mom white-knuckled the steering wheel and rattled on with her pep talk as she drove to school. Reassurance that the world wasn’t ending because Fin had moved away was her apparent goal. I could have driven myself, but I think she secretly worried I’d head down Highway 50 for Stateline and keep going to Florida. If she told me “she understood” one more time, I’d scream. This wasn’t your typical separation. The constant impending doom that I’d never see Fin again stole my very breath.
I twisted my ruby engagement ring around my right ring finger (my left had a strategically placed Band-Aid to cover my tattoo) and watched the lake out the window. Only ten days had passed since the wave toppled my boat over and changed my life. To think about it, today could have been my funeral. Instead of drowning to death, I’d awoken in the hospital with a row of stitches lining my thigh and a life-long promise of the mer on my lips.
Only after Fin’s family escaped the oppressive rule from their underwater city, Natatoria, and sealed the hidden gateway under the waters of Lake Tahoe so no other mer could return, was Fin free to find me and tell me the truth. We had three glorious days together before the evil fish-doers found another way to get to the lake. Fin and his family had to pack up and leave for the safe house in Florida before they were captured. But not before Fin proposed, unbeknownst to my parents.
Returning to school without any fanfare was my secret hope. Though I’d apparently won, I didn’t want to be queen, especially after I’d ditched the king for no reason. Maybe my absence helped the Senior Ball vote-tampering drama to die down.
Mom gave me a hug and wished me an overly exuberant “have a good day” as I exited the car. I held my breath, disappearing in the swarm of students, and walked to my locker. I’d almost snagged my English book for an easy getaway to class when Georgia’s squeal flooded the halls.
My cheeks heated as I turned to greet her. “Hey.”
She enveloped me into a hug. “I’ve missed you so much.” She squeezed tight, then gave me a quick once over. “You’re all better. Wow. ”
I smiled weakly and bent my leg a few exaggerated times. “My injury wasn’t as bad as the doctors thought. I’m good as new.”
Thanks to Fin’s magical healing blood.
Her eye caught the crimson gleam radiating off my finger. “Holy... what is that?”
I tucked the evidence behind my back, kicking myself for wearing it today. “It’s nothing. Just an early birthday gift.”
“From who?” Georgia‘s eyes grew as she fought me pulling away from her grasp. “From Callahan?”
“No.” I finally let her look at it. “Of course not.”
As Georgia admired the ring, I caught none other than Callahan himself glaring our way. I looked away as he slammed his locker door and pretended he didn’t see me.
The last time we’d been together alone was after Senior Ball where he’d been crowned king. He’d just asked me to be his girlfriend at the dance, and I couldn’t have been more elated. But after my accident the next day, my feelings flipped. Lost in a swirl of confusion, I’d ignored his phone calls. Until Fin explained everything about the mer and the power behind his kiss, I had no clue what happened to me or why my feelings changed. From Callahan’s expression, I needed to tell him something, or at least explain myself. Judging from his glare he never wanted to talk to me again.
As Georgia oohed and ahhed over the ruby, I played with the Band-Aid wrapped around my opposite finger. During my morning shower, my promising tattoo had developed into a disco ball, exploding into a party of light, and I needed to keep anyone from seeing it.
“It’s from Gran. An heirloom,” I quickly added to get her off the scent of who really gave me the ring.
Her eyebrow shot upward. “It’s gorgeous. I bet Lucy was pissed."
“Yeah, something like that.”
Actually, Lucy had no clue. After Fin proposed and left Sunday, I stayed in my room in a depressed funk until today when I was forced to go back to school.
“I have exciting news.” Georgia shoved a beat-up piece of paper from her pocket in my face.
The Florida Atlantic University insignia caught my eye. An acceptance letter. My head swayed as I met her sunny eyes.
“I’m going to FAU with you!”
My words wouldn’t form as my brain stalled.
Accepted? To FAU?
“Well, say something.”
“Wow,” I managed to squeak out.
I could see it now. She’d want to be my roommate, take every class with me, be on the swim team, stalk me. My everlasting shadow.
“I’d applied to FAU too ‘cause I knew you were going there. I didn’t think they’d accept me, but they did. And now that you’re all better and everything’s cool, we can go together.”
I couldn’t listen anymore. Her happy words painted a drastically different picture for me—one with a permanent shadow following me throughout the college campus. The words “sorority” popped me out of my panic.
“I hadn’t thought about that yet, Georgia.”
“Really? It’s instant friends, parties, fun all the time. Rush week... that’s all we need to worry about.”
My tongue felt like sandpaper in my mouth. I had no ammo for this conversation. I slammed my locker shut and headed for first period. Georgia followed, her words spewing out of her mouth in inhumanly fast speed.
“Okay.” I put up my hand. “I’m on meds, so… I can’t focus right now.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve got it all figured out.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” I pulled open the door to English.
“Just hear me out. We’ll live in the dorm first year, then we’ll pledge to a sorority and live in the house the next year. It’ll be fun.”
The thought of lots of girls sharing one bathroom, or cycling on their periods all at the same time didn’t sound fun in the slightest. After I moved to Florida, the school could burn to the ground for all I cared. I didn’t really plan on attending anyway.
“I might have other housing,” I said as I moved to my seat.
“What?” Georgia yanked on my arm to stop me mid-stride.
“I have relatives there…” I cringed at my lie.
“You’re going to live with relatives?” She released my arm as if I had a catching disease.
“It’s cheaper… I don’t know.”
“Doesn’t your scholarship pay for housing?”
Her voiced echoed. I ducked into my chair as curious eyes bored into me. Mrs. Keifer stood in the front of the room, tapping her foot, the delay hanging in the air like a stink bomb. Georgia finally took her seat with a dramatic humph.
“Nice to have you back, Ms. Lanski.”
I smiled weakly and opened my textbook, hoping Georgia would quit for now. My pocket vibrated against my hip with a text.
- Are you mental?
I timed my return text once Mrs. Keifer turned to the whiteboard.
- I haven’t looked at the stuff they’d sent me.
Georgia blew out a gust of air.
- Then look at it. We’ve got a lot of planning and shopping to do!
Shopping? Talk about the last priority on my list. Actually, since I’d received the okay from my doctor, I wasn’t sure where I stood with school. Though FAU didn’t know what had happened as far as the accident, I’m positive my grades suffered from my absence. And whether or not I could swim as fast as before was questionable. This afternoon’s practice would soon tell if I still qualified for my scholarship.
I watched Mrs. Keifer scroll words across the whiteboard and next to me, Georgia scribbled dutifully in her notebook, oblivious that she’d disrupted my world. She for once was being the studious student, but I couldn’t concentrate with the news she’d dropped. My name written across the top of on her paper caught my peripheral vision.
WHAT ASH NEEDS TO BUY OR BRING
I let out a gust of air.
Georgia mouthed, “what?”
“Nothing,” I whispered.
She opened her eyes bigger as if to say, “tell me.”
I shook my head and looked forward. There was no way I’d share my Fin time with her. Maybe it was time to finally tell her I had a boyfriend.