Read about Surrendering to the Sea Lord here: https://www.starlanight.com/books/surrendering-to-the-sea-lord/
Milly balanced at the top of the dramatic beach-side cliff and trained her antique spyglass on the lockbox a quarter mile away.
She’d gotten permission from the Azores equivalent of the Parks & Rec Department to install the silver box in the long sea grass above the red volcanic sand. It was the size and shape of a US mailbox.
And like a US mailbox, someone had been driving by and bashing it.
The first time, the cell phone inside had survived. The second time, vandals used a cherry bomb. A ragged chunk of wood post remained.
She had to stop it.
The mermen were counting on her.
Black flies and fuzzy honeybees buzzed across her bare shoulders in the overcast summer heat. Milly waved them toward the clumps of blue wildflowers cushioning her hiding spot.
She switched the heavy brass spyglass to her other eye.
Her elbows ached on the folded fleece jacket she used as a cushion. Her contacts stuck to her eyeballs; she’d had her eyes open too long. Her throat was scratchy and her tongue was a dry lump in her mouth.
How did detectives endure stakeouts? Cross that occupation off her “possible future” list.
Milly trained her spyglass on the lockbox again.
As she well knew, a couple thousand years ago humans and mer had lived in harmony. Atlantis had been the mer-human ancient metropolis. A great catastrophe had sunk Atlantis and driven the mer into hiding on the ocean bottom. Humans forgot they existed except in legends.
Two years ago, mermen were rediscovered.
Blame the GoPro.
Secretive, tattooed, heavily muscled mer warriors could shift between normal feet and scuba-like fins at will. Females had died out after the catastrophe and so they were now all male. They surfaced only to woo “sacred brides” on isolated islands sworn to secrecy. They carried their sacred brides to the bottom of the ocean, their brides produced a child — always male — and then the brides were returned to the surface to live out their lives as if the oceanic interlude had never happened.
A generation ago, the sacred islands had emptied. Modernized. Climate change had swept them away. Or the lure of TV, washing machines, and fast food had.
The mer population had crashed. They risked dying out.
Rebel warriors wanted to woo modern brides. Traditionalists enforced their ancient, secret covenant.
Then, the GoPro incident forced the issue.
Two years ago, a rebel mer warlord had pursued and married a modern treasure hunter named Lucy. Their courtship — and the ensuing mer battles — were recorded on her cell phone and posted to Facebook.
The warlord was exiled. Traditionalists would kill him on sight.
But Lucy discovered oceanic super powers after transforming. Powers thought to belong only to the mer “queens” of legend. Together, she and her husband survived all assassination attempts and escaped to the new rebel city “Atlantis” reborn in the shadow of the old mecca. It was a beacon for mer who wished to flee their traditionalist rulers — and, someday, meet a modern woman bride.
Few rebels made it to the surface. Traditionalists still ruled the oceans and enforced their covenant of secrecy.
Milly knew all this in great detail because her older sister, Zara, had been one of the last sacred brides. She’d lived in a mer city known as Dragao Azul in a deep trench below the Azores Islands. During the height of the controversy — and just before the mer were exposed to humans — Zara gave birth.
She and her husband, Elan, had sided with the rebels.
Zara was forced to the surface. She nearly died. Her husband and child were held hostage within the city. All hope for being a family faded.
A year later, rebellion engulfed Dragao Azul and the ruling All-Council laid siege. Zara learned about her queen powers. She braved her old captors to rescue her husband and child. While doing so, she drove off the army and saved the city.
The new rulers had begged her to stay.
Now she was their queen.
Talk about a dream job!
Zara didn’t see it that way. She was less interested in ruling and more interested in seeking other “lost brides,” women like her torn from their mer families and forced to the surface. Her mission was to bring justice — reunions or restitution — to these women.
But the lost brides weren’t coming forward, so Zara was going to them. Seeking them out, taking statements, offering counseling. Right now she was in California.
Her absence left the city vulnerable to more All-Council attacks.
So, when the emergency came, a warrior would surface and call Zara. She would fly back to the Azores, dive beneath the waves, and once more save them.
Milly had to protect the emergency cell phone in that lockbox.
She trailed her spyglass across the few visitors on this isolated beach.
Elderly historians argued over the jagged cliffs of the former caldera. A family of young naturalists collected red volcanic rocks, seashells, and drift wood in buckets. Tourists moseyed away from the parking lot and down the beach.
All showed no interest in her lockbox.
Milly had rigged a trap.
Any vandal who dared to plant another bomb right now would get a major surprise.
The only problem would be if a warrior surfaced instead.
But that wasn’t likely. After Zara had broken the siege and dispersed the All-Council army, large-scale violence had abated for the last year. No other cities had rebelled. Atlantis and Dragao Azul had been left alone.
What were the odds of an enemy army appearing right now?
Milly dropped the heavy spyglass and rubbed her aching elbows. She should have borrowed binoculars.
But if she’d insisted on binoculars, her Vaw Vaw’s overbearing relatives would have forced her to explain why. Then they would have stolen her stakeout, pushed her out, and made her sit uselessly at home.
She picked up the spyglass again.
A new tourist emerged from the ocean. Barefoot. Tanned. Muscular.
Ooh. He was a yummy one.
She cataloged his broad shoulders, taut pectorals, and all-too-lickable abs. A treasure trail disappeared beneath the band of tight orange swim shorts. His thighs bulged.
Long-distance runner? Body builder? Whatever. Her body reacted to his primal strength. She couldn’t look away.
Dark hair plastered his head. He left it dripping, concealing his face. He traversed the beach with single-minded determination. His fists swung at his sides. Ready for action.
A spicy thrill shivered up her spine.
He was dangerous.
It was the tattoos. Barely visible at this distance. As her mystery man approached the parking lot — and, a hundred feet up, her vantage point — she traced the complex designs.
The tattoos covered his whole body.
Wow. They must have taken forever. Her secret tattoo had taken way too long in the painful, yet cathartic, artist’s chair.
Where had her mystery man come from? Was he a Portuguese local? Or—
Wait a minute.
Tattoos? Heavily muscled?
She focused on his fists.
Did it hold the lockbox key?
Milly stumbled to her feet and waved both arms. “Hey! Wait! Stop! It’s a trap!”
He didn’t hear her. Or know she was screaming at him. Or understand English.
She dropped her arms.
Of all the times for an emergency!
Milly grabbed her jacket and spyglass. She ran across the rounded headland, weaving between masses of blue hydrangeas, and raced to the windy cliff road. Her trusty, middle-aged, maroon sedan parked on the shoulder. No other cars dotted this isolated stretch of Faial Island.
She jumped in, fastened her seatbelt, and started the engine.
Her heart thudded in her throat.
What if the warrior got hurt?
Zara would kill her.
Milly pulled onto the road and wound down the cliffs to the beach. She obeyed all traffic laws. There, the parking lot. She pulled in and parked.
The warrior crossed the beach a few yards from her car.
She killed the engine, unbuckled her seatbelt, and scrambled out of her sedan. “Stop!”
The merman didn’t stop.
She shut her car door. “Don’t step on the grass!”
His head whipped to her direction.
In person, his skin appeared a dark olive tinted with actual green. The tattoos she’d identified were a shimmery, iridescent purple. Strange and beautiful.
How did they create their incredible colors and intricate designs? No one knew.
Between the long, wet tendrils of black hair, his mesmerizing green eyes pierced hers.
She stumbled on the even parking lot cement.
He jerked his gaze away and waded into the long sea grass.
She ran. Her tennis shoes crunched the volcanic gravel. “Watch your step! We set a—!”
Her air horn deafened the beach.
She slammed her hands over her ears.
The warrior stumbled back. His toes lifted off her artfully-concealed, grass-covered pressure plate. The air horn stopped.
Her ears rang.
She dropped her hands. Silence stuffed her ears like cotton.
Everyone on the beach stared.
So much for secrecy.
The merman was stunned.
“I’m sorry!” She hurried to him. “Sorry. I can explain.”
The warrior pressed his fists to his chest.
Had she given him a heart attack?
He staggered. The lockbox key dropped from his lax fingers.
She ran. “Hey! Are you okay?”
He fell to one knee.
The warrior collapsed.
Had she just killed the merman she was supposed to protect?