Her voice plays on my body like the tide. I rise and fall to the cadence of her words while past and present eddy in my mind, muddied by shifting sands of need and desire. She asks me if I want her. The gooseflesh along my arms says yes. The wet I can feel surging between my legs says yes. I try to say yes with the intensity of my eyes, the eagerness of my hands, the curve of my lips.
“Please say yes.”
She doesn’t understand that I can’t give her the one thing she needs to release us both from the cage our passion has created.
I cannot say yes. Or no. I cannot speak.
From Chapter 11
Darkness came swiftly and with it a deepening of the chill. The country road had not yet led to civilization, though she could feel its pulse over the next set of wind-brushed hills. Her feet turned away, still seeking Erica in the rolling coastal landscape.
She had selected the left-hand route at a fork in the road several miles back. The increasing dark was not a problem—mer vision had its uses, even out of water. She was still startled, however, when her path rounded a curve and was completely blocked by a wide golden gate. It was obviously electronically locked and secure, though still decorative. The narrow bars were wide enough to peer through, but only a cat could have slipped past. She could see no house or lodgings beyond the curving drive, but Erica was there, somewhere.
The drive was gravel but marked by clumps of weeds. What she could see of the gardens was unexpectedly wild. Bushes looked as if they had once been clipped and manicured, but more recently left to grow freely.
There was no sign or street number, just a telephone box she presumed would announce her presence to the occupants of whatever remote manor lay out of sight. She could not speak so that was useless to her. She could probably entice the gates to open but humans and mer alike did not care for unwanted guests. Perhaps that was not a bad idea, she thought. If she could get arrested, she would be prevented by force from being with Erica.
There might be a time when she was desperate enough to try that, but she had to at least see Erica first. She had to know if it was possible to touch and not fall into bed.
She didn’t know what to do about the locked gate. She waited for an hour for a car to come or go, any sign of life to offer her a legal way to get inside.
Ruefully, with what was left of her humor, she acknowledged that Ariel, Seventy-Seventh Daughter to Queen Vellia, was not equipped for this situation.
The cold worsened and fog settled around her, quieting even the sound of wind moving the branches overhead. She felt the cold, too, which surprised her. Mer swam with icebergs and relished it. It had to be the infection, the unending desire, and her ordeal in the grotto. She had been drained and felt so empty except for the ache.
Erica was close and she could feel it. To walk away, even for the night, would take more strength than she had.
She was as imprisoned as she had been in the grotto, only this time the echoes were the song of her longing matching the song she could feel inside from Erica.
I need you, Ariel, want to be with you. To feel your touch again, drown in your voice.
Ariel could not help but respond with her own deep wishes. I’m here, Erica. Look for me and you will find me.
The scuff of a shoe on the drive brought her to her feet. There was a figure in the darkness, wrapped in black.
Her body knew it was Erica.
She sprang to the gate, unable to keep herself from thrusting her hands through it. So close…so close. To touch…so close.
Out of the dark, Erica said calmly, “Go away.”
Ariel wanted to call out, to beg. She did not care one whit that mer weren’t supposed to beg. She would beg, if only she could use words. She stretched her arms as far as they would go, reaching. She couldn’t bear being so close and not touching. How could Erica just stand there?
“I don’t want you here. I don’t know what you did to me, but I will have no more of it.”
Ariel turned her hands palms up and slowly slid to her knees, a supplicant, pleading. Erica’s words were firm and she meant what she said, Ariel could tell. But her face was in shadows, and Ariel still heard the inner turmoil and longing that was at odds with her order for Ariel to go away.
“I’m sick to death of you. Of thinking about you, wondering where you went, how you could leave me like this, addicted to you. So go.”
If only she had words, Ariel could explain, could at least answer the questions. She fought down a tearful moan. Open the gate and take me in your arms. We will both feel better for it. We have to, because feeling the way we do now is unbearable.
Erica took a step closer. Ariel could almost make out the strong line of her nose and jaw. “Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?”
Ariel shook her head violently.
“Then why are you here? Why can’t you just leave me be? I was better this last little while. Getting over it finally.” Erica’s voice thinned with unshed tears. “You have no idea. No mercy, do you? Leave! Or I’ll call the cops.”
Ariel slumped back on her haunches and held the bars of the gate in her hands. Every moment she could see Erica and not actually touch her seemed to double the agony. Her brain felt as if it was boiling.
Another scuff of shoe on the cement made her look up. Erica had moved closer, and her face was now visible in the dim light.
Ariel held in her gasp, but just barely. Erica’s face was etched with pain, the hair at her temples stark white. But it was her eyes that shocked Ariel most. The sharp, tantalizing green was gone. Silver for age, silver for madness, Ariel thought, now she has my eyes and I have hers. My recklessness or Laveena’s spite, what does it matter?
I should go, leave her. Let her at least believe she can overcome this. But Ariel could not make herself go.
“Why won’t you leave?” Erica took another step. “Why does it hurt so much to remember you? Why does it hurt to look at you?”