Of Poseidon Page 35

“Rayna tries that all time,” Toraf chimes in. “Sometimes when her aim is good, it works, but most of the time kissing her is my reward for the pain.”

“You’re trying to kiss Emma?” Rayna says, incredulous. “But you haven’t even sifted yet, Galen.”

“Sifted?” Emma asks.

Toraf laughs. “Princess, why don’t we go for a swim? You know that storm probably dredged up all sorts of things for your collection.” Galen nods a silent thank you to Toraf as he ushers his sister into the living room. For once, he’s thankful for Rayna’s hoard of human relics. He almost had to drag her to shore by her fin to get past all the old shipwrecks along this coast.

“We’ll split up, cover more ground,” Rayna’s saying as they leave.

Galen feels Emma looking at him, but he doesn’t acknowledge her. Instead, he watches the beach as Toraf and Rayna disappear in the waves, hand in hand. Galen shakes his head. No one should feel sorry for Toraf. He knows just exactly what he’s doing. Something Galen wishes he could say of himself.

Emma puts a hand on his arm—she won’t be ignored. “What is that? Sifted?”

Finally he turns, meets her gaze. “It’s like dating to humans. Only, it goes a lot faster. And it has more of a purpose than humans sometimes do when they date.”

“What purpose?”

“Sifting is our way of choosing a life mate. When a male turns eighteen, he usually starts sifting to find himself a companion. For a female whose company he will enjoy and who will be suitable for producing offspring.”

“Oh,” she says, thoughtful. “And … you haven’t sifted yet?”

He shakes his head, painfully aware of her hand still on his arm. She must realize it at the same time, because she snatches it away. “Why not?” she says, clearing her throat. “Are you not old enough to sift?”

“I’m old enough,” he says softly.

“How old are you, exactly?”

“Twenty.” He doesn’t mean to lean closer to her—or does he?

“Is that normal? That you haven’t sifted yet?”

He shakes his head. “It’s pretty much standard for males to be mated by the time they turn nineteen. But my responsibilities as ambassador would take me away from my mate too much. It wouldn’t be fair to her.”

“Oh, right. Keeping a watch on the humans,” she says quickly. “You’re right. That wouldn’t be fair, would it?”

He expects another debate. For her to point out, as she did last night, that if there were more ambassadors, he wouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibility alone—and she would be right. But she doesn’t debate. In fact, she drops the subject altogether.

Backing away from him, she seems intent on widening the space he’d closed between them. She fixes her expression into nonchalance. “Well, are you ready to help me turn into a fish?” she says, as if they’d been talking about this the whole time.

He blinks. “That’s it?”

“What?”

“No more questions about sifting? No lectures about appointing more ambassadors?”

“It’s not my business,” she says with an indifferent shrug. “Why should I care whether or not you mate? And it’s not like I’ll be sifting—or sifted. After you teach me to sprout a fin, we’ll be going our separate ways. Besides, you wouldn’t care if I dated any humans, right?” With that, she leaves him there staring after her, mouth hanging open. At the door, she calls over her shoulder, “I’ll meet you on the beach in fifteen minutes. I just have to call my mom and check in and change back into my swimsuit.” She flips her hair to the side before disappearing up the stairs.

He turns to Rachel, who’s hand-drying a pan to death, eyebrows reaching for her hairline. He shrugs to her in askance, mouth still ajar. She sighs. “Sweet pea, what did you expect?”

“Something other than that.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have. We human girls are a bit feistier than your Syrena females—Rayna being the exception of course.”

“But Emma’s not human.”

Rachel shakes her head at him as if he’s a child. “She’s been human all her life. It’s all she knows. The good news is, she can’t date anyone right now.”

“Why’s that?” Because to him, it sounded like maybe Emma thought she could.

“Because she’s supposed to be dating you. And if I were you, I’d mark my territory as soon as I got back to school—if you know what I mean.”

He scowls. He hadn’t planned on staying in school after Emma learned the truth—the whole purpose for going was to eventually get Emma to the beach. He didn’t anticipate having to teach her how to become Syrena. And he didn’t anticipate that up until yesterday she actually thought she was human. In fact, there’s a list the length of his fin of things he didn’t anticipate.

Like how thick the school books are. Rachel had taught him to read and write over their years together, but he doesn’t have a need for math or gym. Human geography is virtually useless to him. What does he care where the humans draw their invisible land boundaries? Still, science could be interesting. And if Emma likes history, it wouldn’t hurt to look into that either.

Galen isn’t above admitting that learning more about humans could be advantageous to him—but not in the way Emma hopes. The idea of revealing his kind to them, of negotiating terms of peace, is laughable. Humans can’t even be peaceable with their own kind. And he’s seen how much they care about the masses living below sea level—devastating entire communities of life with a single careless accident. Or ruthlessly hunting some species into nonexistence. Even in the days of Triton and Poseidon, when humans and Syrena coexisted in friendship, some humans still showed a disregard for their dependence on the oceans surrounding them—which led the two generals to pass the Law of Gifts. Their foresight proved to be invaluable over the centuries as the humans developed technology enabling them to cross the oceans in their big ships and, eventually, to invade the depths with their death machines.

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