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by Brenda Pandos
Mer Tales, Book Four
The underwater world of Natatoria is enjoying a long awaited period of peace — and with it, the merpeople’s very first chance to visit human civilization. Ash and Fin’s wedding marks the perfect opportunity for the mers to celebrate their newfound freedom. But when they return home to Tahoe to prepare, Ash’s absence from the human world has raised more than a few questions about where she’s been. When blaming fingers point to Ash and Fin as the culprits who burned down Fin’s home, even his mind-jacking mojo hasn’t stopped the authorities from issuing the happy couple an early wedding gift—a matching pair of arrest warrants.
Instead of bringing their families together, Ash and Fin’s upcoming wedding drives a wedge between the very cultures they’re trying to bridge. And when their reality takes an unexpected twist, Ash realizes her dual existence comes with a hefty price. Neither her human nor her mer family understand the sacrifices they’re asking of her, and as much as she wants to please both her mer and human mothers, she knows she’s one misstep away from breaking two maternal hearts.
But while everyone is distracted in preparations for the big day, there are those who are intent on elevating their own bloodline, even to the point they’d risk exposing the mer secret. Ash and Fin must scramble to save their families, their societies . . . and their love. The only thing they know for sure is that when it comes to Natatorians, old habits die hard.
And a royal should never get too comfortable.
My heart pounded with thoughts of why they’d come. Did something happen to Dad? Gran? My mother? Once I entered the house, the taller of the two cops stopped talking.
“Ash?” My mother blinked at me, eyes red and swollen. Then she jumped up and attacked me with a hug.
My arms circled around her, squeezing tight. I didn’t understand why the happy reunion since I’d only been gone for a few weeks. Tears wet my cheeks anyway. I’d wanted this, for her to miss me. Gran hugged me next, followed amazingly by my sister, Lucy. Then they all stared at me like my head might pop.
“What’s going on? Why are they here?” I gestured to the cops.
Mom eyed me up and down “What are you wearing, and why are you all wet?”
I looked down at the puddle under my feet from my pink beaded gown, realizing my mistake. Luckily, Fin walked in behind me. He quickly sang, using his mer mojo to get them to ignore my attire.
“I’m sorry to interrupt the reunion,” the shorter cop turned to me, “but you’re under arrest, Ashlyn, for arson.”
“Arrest?” I leaped backward.
Mom stood between us. “I told you. She didn’t do this. I don’t care what evidence you have!”
Fin started to sing, “Ash is innocent, and it’s time for you both to leave.”
The cops’ eyes glazed over.
“Sorry for the confusion.” The taller of the two looked at the shorter one, then nodded and they left. “We’ll be going.”
I swallowed hard, my heart thundering.
Then my mother’s gaze turned cold. “Where have you been?”
I flicked a glance at Fin. She’d been mojoed. How could she have forgotten? “I was on a mission trip in Africa.”
She chuckled. “Really? And where are your plane tickets? Your visa? Your passport?”
Fin opened his mouth to sing, but I grabbed onto his hand to stop him.
“No. Let me handle this.” They deserved answers, not some fishy mind-jacking makeover. I turned to my mother. “You’re right. I wasn’t in Africa.”
Mom’s jaw tightened. “Then where were you?”
“I was with Fin and his family.”
I gritted my teeth. What could I say that didn’t sound totally lame? “Just traveling.”
“Traveling?” Mom barked out a laugh. “Are you kidding me? Oooh! Jack and Maggie are going to get an earful!”
“Karen,” Gran said. “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation.”
“Let me handle this, Mother!” Mom snapped.
“Please,” Fin whispered to me.
I held up my hand for him to wait, but I had no excuse to give her that wasn’t a lie. How was that any better than just singing them a story? “Mom, just trust me—”
“Trust you? You disappear without a word, and I’m just supposed to look the other way?” She stretched the small space between us and slapped me. “This is unforgivable, and your life will be over as you know it, Ashlyn Francis Lanski. You can leave now, Fin.”
“Karen!” Gran scolded. “That’s uncalled for.”
I turned away, gasping while I held onto the stinging flesh. My mother and I may have had a strained relationship, but she’d never hit me before.
Gran begged for Mom to calm down, while Lucy let out a rude cackle. Fin sang for everyone to sit and be quiet. Tears trickled down over my hot face, and my stomach turned over, making me want to vomit. I knew coming home wouldn’t be blissful, but this? The wedding most definitely wasn’t happening now.
Fin walked over to me. “Let’s just smooth this over and find out what’s happened.”
I wanted to, but with the cops ready to arrest me, I knew whatever had happened was irreparable.
Author Brenda Pandos lives in California with her husband, two energetic boys, eight chickens and a grumpy orange cat. She writes fast-paced stories about kissing, hot mermen, bad boy vampires, and occasionally zombies–not all in the same stories. When she’s not writing, or wrangling her kids, she’s failing at her latest Pinterest replication or delivering a really bad pun. More than anything she loves to hear from readers. Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org or write on her Facebook wall.