Super sweet freebie for Sacrificed to the Sea Lord

Sweet Seconds ~ Bonus Happy Ending!

Here is the second "happy ending to the happy ending" of Sacrificed to the Sea Lord, book two in the Lords of Atlantis series: "Thanksgiving at Elyssa's House."

You should have already read Sacrificed to the Sea Lord. It's **FREE** with Kindle Unlimited. Did you get it yet? It is available here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XR2JVYZ/

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This is exclusive to newsletter subscribers, so please do not share it. Also, you should really read Sacrificed to the Sea Lord first. This story contains massive spoilers! It is a steamy, heart-warming scene of Elyssa + Kadir the night before and the day of Thanksgiving.

Epilogue for Sacrificed to the Sea Lord

"Thanksgiving at Elyssa's House"

Elyssa parked her step mom’s car in the garage and hit the door button. The familiar burr closed out the hot Florida gated community. The air-conditioned sedan filled with the small light of the garage. She rested her hands on the steering wheel, equal parts nervous and excited.

Unlike the other hundred thousand times she’d borrowed one of her parents’ cars to drive home, this was the first time she was doing it as a queen of Atlantis.

And it was the first time she’d had a huge, silver-tattooed mer warrior folded into the passenger’s side.

His large hand rested on the seatbelt release. His eyes, dark irises flecked with silver, studied her profile. “Are you waiting for a signal, my queen?”

Yes. She was waiting for the head trauma to wear off, a psychiatrist to peel back one eyelid and shine a light in her pupils, and for him to say, Uh-oh, looks like this one is deep in dreamland. It was essentially what had happened years and years ago, the last time she had discovered something really important, and then the people she loved most had turned it against her.

She grabbed Kadir’s hands in both of hers. “No. I got lost in my own thoughts. Sorry.”

He smiled slowly with the gorgeous heady intensity that made the flecks shine. “Do not apologize.”

She released him and bounced from the sedan. “I know! I’m just excited. Sorry.”

His laugh rumbled in his chest as he unfolded from the vehicle and followed her up the garage steps and into her parent’s kitchen. “Stop.”

“Sorry. I will. Sorry.”

“Elyssa….”

She stopped suddenly and smacked her hand over her mouth so her voice came out muffled. “I’ll stop right now. Sorry.”

He folded her into his long arms and pressed her against his broad chest. His deep voice seduced her tingling ear. “Do not silence yourself. I will find a more pleasurable way to cover your mouth and you will no longer want to say the word Sorry.”

She sucked in a deep breath. His promise, like his scent of vanilla mixed with sharp hickory, made her belly warm and her feminine core pulse with heat.

She dropped her hand and sought his pleasing kiss.

He pressed her against her parents’ kitchen counter. His hard length indented her thigh. After the long journey from Atlantis to Florida, his hunger could only be sated by her body. She rose on tiptoes and deepened their kiss, dipping her tongue into his mouth. He groaned with masculine need. Oh, yes—

Her elbows knocked over cans of pumpkin pie filling.

Oops.

Elyssa and Kadir broke apart and cleaned up her mess. His dark gaze traced her movements around the kitchen. She tried to hold herself back so her parents didn’t come home to find their daughter and new son-in-law stark naked amongst the potatoes.

Speaking of which, her parents should be home soon. They were excited to spend time together since her disappearance months before.

A sticky note was stuck to her parents’ fridge.

Got called away to the new job. Be home by midnight. Love you!

Aw.

Well, she had gone without seeing them for months. Elyssa could go a few more hours.

Her stepmom had started the legal paperwork on their behalf. Chastity Angel claimed that she did not spring Blake from the Mexican jail and hire him to shoot Kadir or rip apart the Life Tree. He had been hired under a false name and had “escaped” according to prison and company records.

Elyssa and Kadir had an appointment with a lawyer after this weekend to find out what options, if any, they had for suing her.

Van Cartier Cosmetics was theoretically still the “family” company. Elyssa hated to sue her step-uncles because of Chastity Angel. But the practice of trying to kill mermen to steal their cancer-curing, ultra-valuable Sea Opals had to stop. If she couldn’t stop it through legal means, then the mermen would fall back on brutal traditions. Woe to the next company agent who dipped a toe in the seawater.

Elyssa opened the refrigerator and moved the frozen turkey. “Are you hungry?”

“Very,” Kadir said, from too-near behind her.

She turned in his arms and closed the refrigerator. “What do you want?”

“Do you have any of the iced latte? Or the ice cream?”

Her heart swelled. “You mean like we had on our first date?”

He nodded, pressing her against the shiny steel. “I want to have another blind date with you.”

She nuzzled the face of the male she loved. “We know each other now so it’s not a blind date anymore.”

“I wish to know you more deeply. I wish to see a movie.”

“That’s easy.” She squeezed him and headed to the pantry. “We can even have the right popcorn. My dad loves movie butter.”

She popped two bags in the microwave and also made up plates of real food, too. Her step-mom kept everything in the same places. Elyssa was so changed since she’d last lived here that it felt sort of new, like one woman-of-the-house entering another’s domain. She felt more respectful and tidied up dishes as she went.

Kadir picked out a cartoon movie with fish on it, Finding Nemo, and got all choked up at the beginning when the fish family narrowed down to the father and one baby egg.

“This is why we live in cities.” He hugged her tight on the deep living room couch. “Why we fought the Seven Cities’ War to rid the ocean of the ferocious megalodons. And why we travel in armed groups at all times.”

The others of their armed group were spending the night with oceanographer host families arranged by Elyssa’s mentor, the first mermaid queen, Lucy. One host family was taking their merman to Disney World.

“I can put on a different movie.” She started to rise. “One with less death in the beginning.”

“No, I will watch this movie.” He resettled her. “I hope to see Nemo make his father many grand-fry.”

“Er … hmm.” She didn’t know how to say that this was a kid’s movie and Nemo didn’t age beyond a child. Kadir would have to use his imagination.

But she didn’t have to worry about it. He watched intently for the first twenty minutes, and then his head lolled. A pleasant lassitude spread over her limbs. Easing him down on the long couch, she tugged a chenille knit throw over them and curled up against his warm side. When the movie was over, she turned off the TV and closed her eyes. She’d wake up when her parents got home...

Sunlight beamed into her eyes. She blinked.

Agh, the living room blinds were still missing the bottom slats from when she’d accidentally destroyed them with a cheese plate and a labradoodle. (Long story.) The scent of coffee and bacon mixed with the sounds of kitchen dishes scraping and the beaters mixing.

She eased free of her gently snoring husband and tip-toed to the hall bathroom.

Breakfasts had been making her sort of ill lately. Hung over, kind of, even though she didn’t have anything to drink the night before. Under the sea, she’d been curing it by chewing on one of Gailen’s mint bushes. She swished her step mom’s mint mouthwash and spit it out.

“You win the mother award.” Her father’s deep voice, hushed to be quiet, rose from the breakfast nook. “Cooking your daughter breakfast on Thanksgiving of all days.”

“Well, her husband better know we feed her.”

Elyssa tripped around the corner and caught her balance on the wall. Just like a jillion times in her childhood, her dad was sitting in the nook, sipping a coffee and doing a crossword.

“Dad,” she said.

He looked up. A smile overwhelmed his face. He set down his coffee, got to his feet, and opened his arms. She raced into them. He hugged her. “Honey.”

The sound of beaters cut out. Her step mom appeared around the corner, drying her hands on a towel, anticipation lighting her features. She set the towel on the table and took her turn for a hug. “Hey now! I got home last night and you were both sound asleep on the living room couch! How do you like that?”

“We had a long journey.” She hugged her step mom so tight.

“I know, I know. It took all I had not to wake you up and hug you!”

“She did very well,” her dad said. Tears glimmered in his eyes.

“You’ll have to tell us all about it.” Her step mom let Elyssa go and squeezed her shoulders. “How about some pancakes?”

Her stomach growled. No nausea. The mint had worked. “Yes! I’m starving.”

Her parents set her up with the rainbow-colored plates of her childhood and asked about everything. She kept it to the good parts: What it was like to be a mermaid, swim underwater, and see a thousand miles in any direction just like it was daylight and all the fish were birds swimming across a wide open sky.

The bad parts still had to run past her lawyer.

At the description of the castle, her step mom had to pause her story. “Your father forgot to pick up sweet potato rolls, so we’re heading to the bakery on the other side of town.”

Her dad rolled his eyes. “I didn’t forget. You were going to make them.”

“And I told you I wouldn’t have time. We’ll be back as quick as we can. If you don’t mind, I’m preheating the oven and the turkey’s already stuffed.”

“I’ll put it in.” She watched them gather up light sweaters for the hour-long trip. “Um, it’s probably fine if we only have regular rolls. Lucy’s from Oregon and the mermen will never know.”

“But she’ll know.” Her dad jingled his car fob and patted his pockets for his phone and wallet.

“I’ll know,” her stepmom repeated and headed for the garage. “Kisses. We’ll be back.”

As the car pulled out, her lips curved in a smile. Really, if it weren’t for her parents, Elyssa would never have made it to the pageant or met Kadir.

Now, they were meeting Kadir for the first time since the dock. Lucy was joining in with her husband, warrior Torun. They were also hosting the other visiting warriors. Her step mom wanted everything to be welcoming.

Elyssa got a lot of things from her, it seemed.

The oven beeped. She manhandled the ginormous bird. It barely fit. Apparently, the thought of six warrior appetites made her mother envision a football team. Elyssa closed the oven up again and checked Kadir was still sleeping on the couch. He had rolled on his side, so, he would probably be awake soon.

She pressed a kiss to his forehead and headed up to her bedroom.

Here was her old bed, made with freshly washed sheets and neatly straightened by the maid. Again it was a little strange, almost unsettling. All her clothes were pressed and hung neatly. All her books were still on the shelves, movies were still in their cases, and her laptop was set up so all she had to do was sit down and be transported back.

Back to the day she decided to go to the bride pageant. Back to the day she decided to fund Lucy’s expedition to Mexico. Back to the day she and Aya photoshopped unicorn torsos onto fish bodies. The Unicorn Mermaid Girls.

Her parents had always liked Aya, despite the bad feelings at the end of junior high when she and Elyssa had discovered the “resonance” of Sea Opals and Chastity Angel paid her parents to say Aya had made the discovery alone. Aya had gone into accelerated classes, graduated from Harvard Business School, and catapulted to the top of Van Cartier Cosmetics while Elyssa had finished school with an average performance, graduated from a state college with a BA, and gotten stuck in the lowest level of HR.

If her parents hadn’t sold her out, would Elyssa have ended up as important as Aya? Would she have recognized her own worth and met Kadir as an equal instead of running from her feelings?

Not that Aya had turned out with the perfect life anyway. She had Chastity Angel as a mother.

Elyssa spread a cute outfit on the bed and headed into her bathroom to start the shower.

Kadir appeared at the top of the stairs, yawning and stretching. He held a piece of bacon in one hand and rested his other forearm against the upper door jam. He ducked beneath to enter. “This was your personal space?”

“My bedroom,” she confirmed.

He entered and scanned her old things.

What was his childhood bedroom like? Did he even have one? She wanted to ask. But, he’d been thrown out of his city for daring to demand women be treated as equals. He might not have much of a bedroom or a childhood left.

“The house is quiet.” He looked out the back window at the yard and adjoining yards behind the other cul-de-sac houses. He crunched his bacon.

“We’re alone for the moment. I’m taking a shower.”

She shimmied out of the shirt and jeans her step mom had left for her back at the beach. Her stepmom hadn’t known exactly when Elyssa would arrive, so she’d left her car on the Florida beach with a duffel full of clothes plus Elyssa’s purse in the back. The clothes must have shrunk though. The jeans fit tightly around her waist and her shirt stretched over more ample breasts than she remembered.

Kadir turned to her. His gaze slid over her naked body with interest.

Her heart sped up. The hunger returned. She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Want to join me?”

“Always.”

She went into her bathroom and started the shower. Thank goodness she had a private bath.

Kadir bared his wide chest marked with iridescent silver tattoos and slid the jeans down his slip hips. They pooled at his too-human feet. He turned for her, displaying the wide swathe of his back and broad shoulders. His bulging thighs tapered to chiseled calves and impossible ripped biceps melded into mouthwatering forearms. Small circular scars marked the needlefish daggers he had taken to shield her. A jagged scar marked where Blake had shot him with a tracking device.

Those imperfections only made him more a hard male. He had protected her over and over. His faith in her rightness as his queen and worthiness of ruling Atlantis beside him never wavered.

She swallowed on a dry throat and stepped back under the gentle stream. She held out her hands. “Join me.”

He strolled forward, overpowering the small space, owning all within the domain.

She lathered her hands with her old body wash. Vanilla, like his scent, but his was more natural and more male. She spread the suds across his body. He felt so great beneath her hands. She loved to touch. She spared no part of him, washing the bottoms of his feet to the top of his head and circling back to cleanse his hardened member twice.

He rested his forearms against the shower tile on either side of his head. “Now, I will honor you.”

She started to hand him the soap.

He dipped to claim her mouth.

His tongue swept her surprised lips. Finding them open, he thrust into her. She clamped on him with a hungry moan. His tongue filled her with delicious command. Yes, this was what she wanted. After all these travel days, she wanted him now, hard, riding her into an unstoppable orgasm while she clung to him and cried his name.

He stroked her slippery body, moving straight to her pleasure places. She slicked. Ready for him. He massaged her breasts and swept his hot tongue across her nipples. Sweet ecstasy raced to her center. She ached for more. Elyssa raised one leg and locked it around his thigh.

He smiled. Arrogant. He palmed her female core.

His hot touch raised the temperature. Shower needles shimmered on her with need. She thrust her hips forward. “More.”

One hand worked her folds. He coated her with her own slick juices. His other hand stroked his hardness.

She encircled his hot shaft below his grip. He twitched in welcome. “Touch me.”

She milked him while he slipped his fingers in and out of her channel. Pleasure built in her stolen panting breaths. “Kadir.”

With a low growl, he scooped her up and pressed her back against the tile. Her thighs parted to admit him. His hard member pressed against her wet, throbbing entrance. She clawed at his back.

He surged into her with a roar.

Pleasure exploded. The tingling first wave grew to an intense orgasm.

He thrust again. The second wave hit. Deliciously hot. She screamed.

He thrust hard and fast, pounding her straight over the edge and into oblivion. She tightened her legs around his pumping buttocks. This was what she craved. Total possession that left no room for doubt. Intense focus burned in his gaze as he held her over the precipice and then dropped her into a pleasure-filled abyss.

She arched her back. The orgasm shattered over her. Her channel clenched around his shaft. He roared and poured his masculine seed into her. The heat buoyed her into the pleasure zone and gravity threw her straight into a second back-arching climax. Kadir pinioned her to the shower wall. He kissed her through her third screaming climax.

Her toes started to curl, and she begged him to be let down.

He did, took the body wash, and gently cleaned her well-used body.

“That was so intense.” She clung to him. Her legs jellied. “Let’s definitely do it again.”

He smiled, pleased and proud.

They managed to make it out of the shower. She dried and styled her hair before her parents got back. She’d missed a few texts and had to scramble. Her excuse was she’d been in the shower. Her step mom was too busy to give her more than a cursory raised brow. Kadir’s tousled hair was still undeniably damp.

Lucy arrived with Torun shortly after noon. She and Elyssa shared hugs and squeals. The only person who understood Elyssa’s obsession with mermen more than Aya was Lucy, who’d had to put up with Elyssa’s endless questions and middle-of-the-night emails when they were first discovered to be real.

“Can I get you a glass of wine?” Elyssa asked the duo, taking over good hostess duties. She checked the cheese plates and olive trays and opened a package of stone ground crackers.

“Just soda for me.” Lucy smoothed her big, flowery shirt over her rounded belly. “It’s not good for the baby.”

Elyssa dropped the crackers. “Oh my god. Are you pregnant?”

Lucy’s radiant smile split her face. “Due in February.”

“Oh my god!” Elyssa raced to hug her. “I can’t believe it! Congratulations!”

They rocked back and forth, squealing and giggling.

Kadir smiled tightly at Lucy’s husband, Torun. “May your young fry swim always in calm waters.”

The Sireno warrior was equally cautious. His gold tattoos shimmered. “Someday, he will lift his trident in your honor.”

“Hey! Hey, hey.” Lucy released Elyssa and bounced to Torun. The looseness of her shirt disguised her bump but not her radiance. She poked the giant gold warrior in the chest. “You keep saying ‘he’. Our baby could totally be a girl.”

Torun smiled down at his feisty wife. “You are correct. I will modulate my words.”

“That’s right. We don’t want to give our baby a complex if it comes out the other gender.”

“Young fry are only sons,” Kadir told her.

“Why’s that?” She cocked a brow and answered before he could. “Because that’s all you wanted. You have that woo-woo resonance with the Life Tree and you told it ‘boys only’ and that’s what you got. Now, you’re looking for girls too. Woo-woo, in nine months, let’s just see what happens?”

He frowned.

She wiggled her fingers and repeated “Woo-woo” a few more times.

“Do you really believe this is possible?” Kadir asked Torun.

“The doctors performed an ultrasound scan. The results were inconclusive. We may go again.”

“There is a scan?” Kadir’s eyes widened. “To see the young fry inside the mother?”

“Yes. They also have small kits that tell at an early stage, long before they are showing, whether they are pregnant. It is quite convenient.”

“Although honestly, I was kind of dumb. I had morning sickness for a couple weeks without realizing what I had.” Lucy laughed.

She’d been feeling weird in the morning. Elyssa set down her wine glass untouched. Perhaps she’d do a little surreptitious drug store run later after everyone left.

Wow, parenthood? It made her soul tingle. She’d always wanted kids someday, and the activities she’d been doing with Kadir would speed up the process. Yum, she wanted to do those activities again.

He met her gaze across the living room as though he read her mind. He probably did. She was probably “resonating” with him. He could sense the shining of her soul, brighter when she was happy or excited or mad, and darker when she was down on herself or depressed.

And anyway, if she could figure out how to go from a klutz to a ruling queen, she could certainly figure out how to raise a baby. Exciting! She would definitely rise to the challenge.

“This leads to our next question.” Torun faced Kadir and set his feet. “Lucy is building a dating website for Sireno. Any warriors may also use it. Your experiences,” he nodded also to Elyssa, “show a need to visit families above the surface.”

“It’s kind of like being divorced,” Lucy put in. “You have to choose a family to spend the week with, and then another on weekends.”

Well, except in Elyssa’s case. For her wedding, they were going to rent out the biggest rec center and everybody would come.

“How, we thought, could you meet your family without the Van Cartier Cosmetics platform? Well.” Lucy took a deep breath. “My parents own a shipping charter business. We could ferry the friends and family. We could anchor nearby. There would be no limits. Your mermen could surface and chat up with potential brides on our dating site.”

Wow. That would be a huge change.

Kadir crossed his arms. “When Atlantis is rebuilt, it will serve this function.”

“The city doesn’t motor.” Lucy met Kadir head on. “Even when you’re able to offer the city as a surface platform, we can offer the ship-to-shore service.”

He frowned. “What are you asking for in exchange?”

Lucy looked at Torun.

He gathered her under his arm. “Honorary citizenship.”

“Which is?”

“We will not possess a seed of your Life Tree, but we will receive the privileges of it.”

Silence greeted his request. Kadir remained tense.

Torun’s stiff back and high chin showed he was well aware of what he was asking.

Kadir grew harder and frowned deeper.

“Our home remains in Sireno, although violence has closed that city to us.” Torun was technically king of Sireno but had ceded his position to former Prince Jolan. “We ask for honorary citizenship in Atlantis so our children can be taught the ways of our world. And, so Lucy can be safe in the blessing of a Life Tree to bring them into it.”

Kadir remained silent. Cities rarely received visitors. Torun was asking to be a permanent guest.

Elyssa stepped in. “You want to have your baby underwater? As a mermaid?”

“Yep.”

“Yes! Oh my god, yes.” She hurried to Lucy again and took her hands. “Are you sure? I mean, if something goes wrong, we’re really far from the nearest hospital.”

“That’s true. On the other hand, medical science hasn’t grown magical healing trees yet. I’ll take my chances.” Lucy hugged her husband. “Anyway, I heard a water birth is easier. I’ve been studying up on midwifery. Torun and I will be doing an internship and taking exams soon.”

“I’ll study too!”

“King Kadir?” Torun remained focused. “What is your feeling?”

Kadir shook himself as though his mind had wandered. “My queen has opened our city to you.”

“Lucy and I agree on many things. However, I would be honored to hear this welcome from you, too.”

“You have mine.” Kadir was still obviously thinking hard. “I must ask all the warriors.”

“And then, when they say yes, we’ll decorate a room in the castle to be the nursery!” Elyssa danced around the living room. “I just can’t wait. Hey, when Torun called your baby, ‘our children,’ are you actually pregnant with twins?”

Lucy’s eyes widened. She stared at Torun. “We agreed not to tell anyone.”

“I did not,” he insisted. “I meant ‘our children’ as in all our future young fry.”

“Oh my god. Twins!”

Lucy covered her brow. “Elyssa, you are too quick. Do not tell my parents. There is no way they’d go along with this baby-on-the-bottom-of-the-sea thing if they knew it was two. My dad’s already freaking out. He’s planning a med-evac submarine standing by.”

“Twins?” Kadir repeated. “Then, the twin seed did foretell this event.”

“It did!” She hugged him and danced. “We’ll go from no babies to two!”

Torun’s brows rose. “Your Life Tree gave forth a twin seed? That is the powerful sign of ancient legend. Your city will grow strong.”

“Our city,” Elyssa corrected, hugging all of them. “All our city!”

The doorbell rang.

She hurried to let in the other guests: her four ex-step-fathers, her surrogate Helen, and the mer warriors. Her biological mother was in Brazil working on Elyssa’s next ex-step.

Friendly Gailen, soft-spoken Faier, and wise-beyond-his-years Tial crowded into the entranceway bearing gifts from their host families. Plump, gentle Helen looked up at them and spoke from the corner of her mouth to Elyssa. “If I was ten years younger, I would be all over this.”

“They want brides to stay permanently,” she said.

Helen eyed the hard pectorals. “I’m sure we could work something out.”

“Helen!” Elyssa’s third ex-step-father arrived in style. “Good to see you, darling. Elyssa,” he gave her a cheek-kiss. He straightened his purple tie and looked up at Gailen. “Now, I understand you enjoy gardening? And you grow a new variety of wasabi? I’m a connoisseur of rare condiments myself.”

Suddenly, the house was full of mer warriors and good cheer.

The warriors greeted Torun and Lucy cautiously, but with open minds and respect. Some swallowed bitter envy when they learned Lucy was pregnant, but all changed to awe when they found out it was twins.

“Is such a thing possible? I did not know,” Faier confessed to Elyssa quietly. “Past warriors have found one to be…absorbing.”

“Two is usually known as ‘double trouble.’ It is easier the more you have support.”

He nodded sadly. He had been denied his turn to have a bride in his last city because he’d been scarred too heavily while defending the city in a war. And, just recently defending Atlantis, he had received even more scars. On land, both legs were now so injured that he had to walk with a cane. His scars were healing, but he was certain the hard ridges made him beastly.

She patted his back. Someday, his sadness would leave, and he, too, would find the happiness that lit Torun and Kadir.

They all would.

“The turkey is out of the oven!” Elyssa’s step mom announced.

Everyone filed into the dining room, sitting in chairs and knocking knees and elbows, leaning forward to pass dishes, and taking care of hot plates. The mer universally ate cold dishes. They waited until the hot ones were room temperature.

“Eat up!” Her father urged them. “Your food is getting cold.”

“They have sensitive mouths,” Lucy explained. “I nearly killed Torun when I tried to force him to drink hot cocoa.”

“That’s why I got Kadir an iced latte,” Elyssa said smugly.

“I had to figure things out from scratch.”

“Don’t we all?” Elyssa’s step mom asked, raising her brows at Elyssa’s father. “A good marriage is all about listening and communicating. Even when the other person is crazy.”

“Like The Little Mermaid,” Kadir said.

Everyone looked at him.

“What is The Little Mermaid?” Tial asked. His evergreen tattoos rimmed his neck like a holiday shirt beneath the collar.

“Elyssa told me. A prince did not listen to his bride, and she turned into sea foam.” He met Elyssa’s eyes. “I swore to listen.”

Aw. She covered a small part of his wide, silver-tattooed hand with hers.

“So she would not turn into sea foam?” Tial clarified.

Kadir nodded.

“Is that actually possible?” Elyssa’s step mom asked. She had five formerly considered mythical mermen sitting in her dining room, plus two formerly human women who were now mythical mermaids, so it was reasonable to wonder where, exactly, the limit of transformation was set.

“Not to my knowledge,” Kadir said.

“It is a strange story.” Gailen lifted his brows. His lips curved in a ready smile. “Why did she tell it to you?”

“So I would listen.”

“Hmm.”

Elyssa held up her hand. “Wait. I did not tell him to imply that I was ever in imminent danger of turning into sea foam. It’s just a mermaid story. I thought it was pretty and sad when I was a kid. We had a long trip back to Atlantis, and it just sort of came up.”

Everyone stared at her.

She appealed to Lucy. “You understand, right?”

“Oh, don’t look at me.” Lucy shook her dark head. “I prefer the Disney version times a thousand. Give me a happy ending or go home. I hate that sad stuff.”

Elyssa put her hand down and reached for her fork.

“Quit while you’re ahead, darling,” her third ex-step-father said, and the others laughed.

Her face was definitely burning, even though she knew he meant it kindly. He loved her just like all her family. She regretted Aya’s absence. Aya would have understood.

Elyssa’s father raised his wine glass, proposing a toast. “To good listening with friends, no matter how crazy.”

The humans all toasted. After some explanation of what a toast was and how to do it, the mer did as well.

Despite it all, the dinner was fun. Elyssa was glad she had proposed it, glad they had all been able to gather, and glad that Lucy and Torun could come too. The melding of the cities, like the melding of human and mer, would take time to figure out. But they would all be better and stronger for having faith.

After dinner, the guests moved into the living room again for more talking, and, at her parents’ urging, board games.

“We can play Elyssa’s favorites.” Her dad held up several banged up boxes she had saved from childhood. “Clue, Yahtzee, or her absolute favorite: Sorry!

Kadir turned to Elyssa with wide eyes. “Elyssa, even your favorite game—”

“It’s just the name!” she cried and hurried to help her step mom serve up pie in the kitchen before she could hear more about that.

Her mother sliced store-bought apple, can-prepared cherry, and her own homemade sugar-pumpkin-spice pies. Elyssa grabbed the whipped cream can and started shaking it furiously.

“Too bad Aya couldn’t come.” Her step mom’s tongue stuck in the corner of her mouth as she carefully sized up equal-sized wedges. “She would have liked this. If she ever gave herself a break from being serious.”

Elyssa did not want to tell her mom that Aya was currently lost in the ocean, possibly with or without Soren, and that no one had seen her in weeks. She sprayed the whipped cream directly into her mouth.

“I did not just see you do that, Elyssa Marie,” her stepmom said in that tone, even though she certainly didn’t see anything because Elyssa was kind of behind her.

She washed off the nozzle - she hadn’t actually made mouth-contact, but just to be safe - and then, well, okay. She put the first one in the fridge and opened a second can to make her stepmom happy. “Hey, do you ever wonder how things would have turned out differently if we hadn’t been bought off by Chastity Angel?”

Her step mom was distracted. “What do you mean?”

“You know, if things would be different between me and Aya. That day when Chastity Angel came to ask for us to cut me out of the discovery of the Sea Opal resonance. If we’d told her to take a hike.”

“That’s what we did tell her.”

Okay, her stepmom was really distracted. “I’m talking about that day when she came to our house? That one time?”

“Oh, I know the day.” Her step mom arranged the pie slices in perfect trios on the dessert plates and studied her handiwork thoughtfully. “Do you think I should have gotten one more? Banana cream just didn’t fit the theme.”

“Mom-Mom.” Elyssa forced her step mom’s focus on her. “I wish I would have told Chastity Angel not to cut me out.”

Her step mom’s eyes widened. “Well, then, call her up, because your father and I already told her ‘No’ to her face.”

The kitchen linoleum tilted under Elyssa’s sneakers. “What?”

“Right in that living room.” Her step mom jerked her pink, manicured thumb over her shoulder. “She came in and sat herself down on our chair and told us in no uncertain terms what she thought of ‘her child’ having to share credit with ‘our child.’ So your father and I told her, in equally certain terms, that she could go stuff those Sea Opals where the sun don’t shine.”

Elyssa’s father came in and grabbed another bottle of wine. His smile was bright, his cheeks red with laughter. “Talking about Cruella De Vil on a day like today?”

“Elyssa has a hole in her memory and crud filled into it.” She kissed her husband.

“You told me to leave the room,” Elyssa protested. “I was there when she said all those things, and then you told me to leave because you had to finish discussing.”

“Too bad.” Her father unpeeled the silver wine wrapping. “Your stepmom was magnificent.”

“Well, thank you. Now that I don’t work for the company, I have fewer chances to glare at her in the halls.”

“It’s probably better for your blood pressure.”

“Probably.”

Elyssa grabbed the back of the chair. They were not destroying this memory for her. She wanted it to have gone the way they said, but they couldn’t rewrite history so it sounded nice. “But then you did do what she asked!”

Her step mom washed the pie knife. “About what?”

“You cut me out.” She hugged herself. “Of everything.”

Her step mom shut off the water and turned the knife on her. “Don’t you dare even suggest—”

Her dad put a hand on her step mom’s forearm. “Honey, what makes you think that?”

“Because it’s true.”

“In what way is it true?”

“My name isn’t on anything. Aya did get all the credit.” And then they stopped talking, and Aya went into all the advanced classes, and Elyssa had been left behind with the ordinary people who never amounted to much.

“Your name is still on everything,” her dad assured her, and her stepmom nodded. At her continued disbelief, he set down the wine bottle and wiped his hands. “Do you want me to bring up the articles? It’s all here. We’ve got them all saved.”

“And printed out, and pasted into your baby book,” her stepmom said. “Although, at thirteen, you were one moody baby.”

No, she didn’t need to see the evidence. She believed that they believed what they were saying was true. But she had lived her whole life and shaped her whole identity believing the opposite.

“Everyone stopped talking to me about the discovery,” she said. “Overnight.”

“Well, news moves quickly like that. People only care about shiny gemstones for so long.”

Now they got into the hard reasons.

“Why did we suddenly have more money?” she asked.

Her step mom’s brows rose.

Once again, her dad stopped any outbursts. “Chastity Angel did have something to do with that, but not the way you’re thinking. No, what happened was, your step mom got so mad after the conversation she switched divisions to one that immediately promoted her.”

“Your country club golfing?”

“I waited for the golf membership for a year before I got a friend’s father to sponsor me.”

Then, this was her last volley. “Why did I suddenly get a pony?”

Her step mom threw the knife in the sink. “Good lord.”

Her dad’s lips twitched. “That pony was your mother’s idea of good parenting. She’d been hinting at it for months. We were afraid it would be a puppy! Ha ha.”

Her step mom smiled. “Yeah. What a disaster that was.”

Everything came clear with a sinking realization. “So, the reason I didn’t get into the same classes and didn’t go to Harvard had nothing to do with this.”

“Harvard?”

Her parents practically had to hold each other up to keep from collapsing.

“Elyssa, you got Cs in history,” her stepmom snorted. “On a good day. We felt bad forcing you into school all those hours every day. If it had been up to you, you’d have spent every minute running around a field or swimming in some pool.”

Wow. So, her whole self-conception was destroyed in one night and they hadn’t even served dessert.

“Let it just be said.” Her step mom finished spraying on the whipped cream and organizing her plates. “I would not sell you out to anyone. Not ever. And certainly not to that too-righteous piece of work who was once my boss.”

“Cruella de Vil,” her dad supplied.

“Not for a million dollars.” Her step mom balanced several plates and headed to the living room. “Not for the moon. And neither would your father.”

“Well, maybe the moon.” He twisted his cuff links. They were decorated in the shape of Saturn.

“Baron!”

“Just kidding.”

Her step mom shook her head and walked out to the living room, still smiling.

Her dad patted her shoulder. “Sweetheart, if I’d known you wanted to go to Harvard, we would have gotten you tutoring. We would have railed about your grades. I know you could have made it there if you really tried.”

Aw. She hugged him. “Thanks, Dad.”

“Your stepmom is right, though.” He rubbed her back. “You were always running around, having a good time being a kid. We thought the real world hits you soon enough with responsibilities, and you were always such a dreamer. Aya was the doer.”

Her good feelings plummeted. Even her parents thought she wasn’t going to do anything important. “Oh, well. There’s no helping how you’re born, I guess.”

“No, sweetheart, dreamers are necessary.” He stared at the ceiling as he formulated his argument. “They’re the visionaries. Like your husband. He has a bit of the dreamer in him. All the great ones do.”

Her heart lifted again. Her parents thought she could be a visionary. A great person.

She thought so herself too. It had taken a long time to get here. A long time thinking of herself the wrong way, and overcoming her mistrust of her instincts, and learning to believe in herself. Kadir had helped her push through.

How funny to think she had always had an incomplete memory. Her parents believed in her from the beginning, but she hadn’t seen it. She’d been too busy thinking wrong thoughts and closed her eyes to the truth. Now, it shined through.

She kissed her dad on the nose. “I’ll make you proud.”

“We’re already proud.” His eyes grew moist. “You’ve brought all these different people together under one roof. “I wanted to do something important with NASA. You know, discover alien life and make the first contact. You’re actually the one doing it. We’re so proud of you. We couldn’t be more proud.”

Her own throat closed. “Thank you, Dad.”

“Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “You’ll always be our little girl.”

Kadir came to the kitchen doorway. He must have felt the yo-yoing emotions even from the other room. He, like her father and stepmom, like all the others who loved and supported her, believed in her too.

She would continue to dream her impossible dreams. Together, they would change the world.

Starla Night

11923 NE Sumner St
STE 696632
Portland, Oregon, 97220, USA

starlanight.com

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