Yet it can’t satisfy her.
The ocean is dark and dangerous
Yet it beckons her home.
Her heart is torn in two,
yet it pulses stronger than ever.
Better take cover
A tempest is brewing …
Tempest Maguire wants nothing more than to surf the killer waves near her California home; continue her steady relationship with her boyfriend, Mark; and take care of her brothers and surfer dad. But Tempest is half mermaid, and as her seventeenth birthday approaches, she will have to decide whether to remain on land or give herself to the ocean like her mother. The pull of the water becomes as insistent as her attraction to Kona, a gorgeous surfer whose uncanny abilities hint at an otherworldly identity as well. And when Tempest does finally give in to the water’s temptation and enters a fantastical underwater world, she finds that a larger destiny awaits her—and that the entire ocean’s future hangs in the balance.
Read an Excerpt
I was ten the first time I saw her. I remember this clearly, because my mother left exactly two weeks later—on my eleventh birthday.
We were in Hawaii at a surfing competition—this was back when my father still competed professionally—and it was late, late enough that the moon hung over the sky like a huge, tempting scoop of French vanilla ice cream. Its glow was more than my pre-adolescent heart could resist and I slipped into my bathing suit and out the door the second the babysitter got busy with my younger brothers.
I suppose any reasonable explanation of that night would have to begin with the fact that I’m a water baby. I was born in water, literally, back when that was the hip new thing to do. A bunch of doctors said it reduced trauma for the baby—being born into warm water so like the womb—and it must have worked. Because, while I obviously don’t remember it, my dad says I didn’t even cry. I just slid into the water like it was home. In many ways, it still is—despite what happened to me all those years ago.
After sneaking out of the house my parents had rented on a fairly obscure stretch of Kauai, I went down to the ocean. They were at a big party celebrating yet another of my father’s wins and the three of us were too much of a handful for the fairly incompetent babysitter the service had sent over. She didn’t even know I was missing until my parents got home and asked about me. But I don’t blame her—in the end, it was no more her fault than it was mine.
Though I had spent my life in and out of the water—our house back home was less than a hundred yards from the ocean—my parents had one iron-clad rule. Under no circumstances was I to go in alone. Under no circumstances was I to even think about going in alone. The Pacific was brutal in its beauty, my dad told me again and again. Brutal and completely narcissistic.
I had always listened before that October evening, had never considered disobeying him. But that night, something called to me. Staying inside was an agony, staying dry even more so. I needed to be surrounded by the power and the passion of the water that was so much a part of me, even then.
I hadn’t planned on going deep, had hoped that wading out to my knees would silence the insidious whisper, the crazy voice in my head. But it didn’t and soon I was up to my shoulder blades. The water was relatively warm despite the fact that it was winter, but I remember being cold.
So cold that my teeth chattered.
So cold that I shivered until my bones rattled against one another.
I remember this because it was so odd. Before that night, the water had always warmed me.
But I didn’t leave, didn’t go back inside as a normal person would have. I couldn’t. At the time I didn’t know what I was waiting for. I knew only that there was a compulsion inside of me that wouldn’t let me move. A compulsion that kept me standing there, a gift-wrapped human sacrifice, as the water lapped and swirled around me.
Strangely, I wasn’t afraid or excited or any of the other emotions a ten-yea-old girl might be expected to feel in those moments. It was odd, but I felt … numb. Like there was something I knew I should be doing, but the thought of it—the safety of it—was just out of reach.
Finally—when the whisper had become a shout inside my head, when my body trembled with a surge of energy so powerful it lit me up from the inside and made me feel like I was glowing—I saw her. She was dark and oddly beautiful and swam like a mermaid—like my mother—her body cutting through the sea as a scalpel does through flesh.
She circled me as a shark would, her body sliding closer and closer to mine with each lap she took. I tried to look away, to back my way up to shallower water, but I couldn’t move. Though I could not describe the specific details of her to you now, in that moment, everything about her was hypnotic and I was spellbound.
Around me, the ocean thrashed and rolled. A wall of water built straight up in front of me—higher than the two-story house we were renting, higher even than the cliffs that surrounded our secluded little inlet. Higher than any wave I had ever seen before.
The wind picked up and the wave began to circle around me as she did, a cyclone of wind and water, power and pressure, with me directly in its eye. And then she was there with me, her voice a sibilant hiss in my ear, her fingers long, translucent talons that clutched at my suit and my soul.
“Give yourself to the water.” The words echoed inside of me. “Give yourself to me. Embrace the power.”
A part of me was still aware enough to understand that this was dangerous—that she was dangerous. But I couldn’t listen to that part, could barely acknowledge it when my entire body yearned towards what she promised me.
In those moments I could feel the power inside of me, feel it welling up until its immensity was all that I knew. All that I wanted.
The shudders subsided and in their place was a heat, a purpose so strong that it overshadowed everything else.
I was meant for this. Meant for her. Together we could accomplish unimaginable feats. I reached a hand out towards her—
“Tempest! Tempest, no!” My mother’s voice came from outside the hurricane of water, so faint that I never would have heard it if it hadn’t burrowed deep inside me.
“Tempest!” My father’s crazed shout.
“Come with me!” the water witch commanded, her long red hair flowing behind her like trails of lacey seaweed. “Come now.”
“Hold on, Tempest. I’m coming for you!” My father again. The cold came back, alleviating the strange numbness she’d brought to me, and I knew that he was getting closer.
I tried to back away but instead of meeting the wall of water, I felt a sharp tug on my ankles—an inescapable force pulling me under. “You are mine!” the voice hissed as it pulled me deeper and for the first time since I had wandered down the beach, fear overtook my curiosity.
“Dad!” I called.
“Tempest!” Strong hands grabbed my arms, yanked me towards shore, and for a moment I felt like the rope in a game of tug of war. But then the hold on my ankles gave way, sharp talons raking themselves down my calves as she tried—unsuccessfully—to hang on.
Finally I was free and on land, the storm vanishing as if it had never been, my father holding me tightly to his chest. My mother tried to tell me that the witch was my imagination, that my terror of the brewing storm had made getting trapped by seaweed seem so much worse, but even then I think I knew she was lying.
Fourteen days later my mother was gone, before I’d even begun to grasp what had happened to me. It would be years before I finally understood—even longer before I accepted that some things really were beyond mortal control.
“Hey, Tempest, you need to book it!” Mark, my on-again, off-again, presently on-again boyfriend dug into the waves, hard. “We’re going to miss the party.”
“Don’t get your panties in a wad,” I yelled back, even as I paddled faster. “We’re almost there.”
My built-in wave radar was telling me we still had a couple of minutes before the wave crested, but—like Mark—I wanted to make sure I was in the best position to catch it. It was probably going to be the last one we had time for this morning. Already the sky had lightened, the pink and lavender streaks that had ushered in the dawn changing to the usual blues and ice-grays of a February morning over the Southern California Pacific.
The waves kicked up spray—ice cold and salty sweet—as we crashed through them. A snapper hit in front of me but I ducked through it. I was angling for the bigger wave behind it, focusing on it like a shark on a blood trail. As I did, the simmering resentment I often felt toward the Pacific and its siren’s song drained away.
I was vaguely aware of Mark and some of my other friends laughing and joking as we worked our way around to catch the party wave, but then even that was gone and it was just me and my board and the vast and endless ocean.
The wave started to crest and I pushed up quickly, smiling as my board responded like it was just one more part of my body. But then, it had always been like that—from the first day my dad paddled me out to sea on his board when I was no more than four—the ocean, the board and I were one.
“Looking good,” Mark called to me and I threw my head back, laughing the way I never dared to on land. But out here it was hard to hold back, even harder to resist the pull of the water and the sheer joy of the roller coaster ride.
The wave we were jumping in on wasn’t particularly big or particularly complicated—but surfing it was enough to send exhilaration rushing through me. More than enough to make me feel powerful and capable and, for a few short minutes, in control of a life that was rapidly spinning beyond my command.
The water surged beneath my feet and I shifted a little, searching for the sweet spot I knew was just a knee bend away. Laughed, again, as I found it. Braced for the downside—
I never caught it.
Instead, my legs turned to jelly beneath me.
Throwing my arms wide, I struggled to regain my footing. Seconds passed—one heartbeat, two—long, strung-out moments of utter astonishment. And then I was falling, tumbling into the waves with no more control than a rag doll.
Shocked—I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually wiped out—I kicked hard, tried to scissor my way back to the surface.
I didn’t move—couldn’t move.
My legs had gone completely boneless, flopping helplessly in the water no matter how hard I struggled to move them.
Heart pumping like a piston at full-speed, I tried not to freak out. No big deal, I told myself, clawing at the water with curled fingers. It wasn’t the first time the ocean had tried to hold on to me. I knew what to do.
Using my hands to spin myself around, I kept my face turned towards the surface and started the long trek back up to air.
One foot, two—it was hard going but I was rising. Relief filled me. See, Tempest, I told myself. You can do this. Just another day in the—
The undertow grabbed me.
I froze for a few crucial moments, my brain and body simply shutting down despite the adrenaline slamming through me.
The rip tide swirled and danced around me.
Pulled at me with greedy fingers.
Tossed me around like I was nothing more than random driftwood.
And still I couldn’t move, couldn’t respond.
I was dragged deeper, into colder water, the ocean crushing in on me from every side while wave after wave plowed into me, over me.
And that’s when it really hit me—I was trapped.One more victim caught in the brutal grasp of the Pacific at dawn.
Panic exploded inside of me, stealing what little breath I’d managed to grab before plunging beneath the icy water. My heart beat double time and my lungs ached like I’d run a marathon—straight up the Himalayas.
As I continued to sink, her eerily beautiful face floated in front of me. Her voice was in my head, her hands on my body. I didn’t know exactly who she was, but some primal part of me recognized her. Remembered her.
It was the wake-up call my sluggish mind needed.
Focus, I told myself fiercely.
Use your arms.
But my body refused to do what I told it to. I was sinking fast and the harder I fought, the tighter the ocean’s hold on me became.
Currents battered me from every side, tumbled me head over heels—again and again—until up was the same as down and I had no idea which way to go. And still I fought, clawing my way through the water, determined to break free.
But it was too late. Things were going gray, my air running out.
For the first time in my life, I was truly afraid of the ocean.
Afraid of losing myself.
Afraid of dying out here, when I’d sworn—since I was eleven—that I would always make my way back to land.
Rage burned through me. I didn’t want to die—not here, not like this. I didn’t want to give my body to the greedy Pacific that had already taken so much from me.
I wouldn’t give in.
One more time I tried to kick.
One more time, my legs refused to respond.
Fear took over, clawing my insides like a crazed animal, stealing my concentration as surely as the ocean was stealing my life. Desperate, devastated, I began to cry—great, gulping sobs that turned the world ever-darker as I sucked water into my starving lungs.
Daddy, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to leave you like this. Not again. Not like her.
The words echoed inside of me—a prayer, a plea, a cry for absolution as I gave myself up to the water and whatever it had planned for me.
That surrender must have been what my body was waiting for—the end of the struggle between what my mind wanted and what my body knew—for as soon as I gave up control, as soon as I stopped fighting, a strange force took me over.
My legs fused together in a bond that was both terrifying and primordially familiar—blending seamlessly into one as if they had been waiting my whole life to do just that—and with a few powerful kicks that were more instinct than design, propelled me straight to the surface and into Mark’s waiting arms.
“God, Tempest, are you all right?” His brown eyes were frantic as they searched my face and the hands he ran over my body were just a little too rough, a little too shaky.
I started to tell him I was fine, but I wasn’t. No matter how hard I tried to breathe, my lungs simply wouldn’t work. The same salt water that had shocked my body into action had also filled my lungs. And it was drowning me still, though I was now above the surface.
“I’ve got her,” Mark yelled, waving wildly, before he wrapped one strong arm around me and started towing me in.
“It’s okay, babe, I’ve got you,” he repeated again and again while his powerful kicks torpedoed us closer to shore. “I’ve got you now.”
Trying to make things easier for him, I forced my body to limpness despite the terror still racing through me. Too bad I couldn’t force my water-filled lungs to accept the oxygen I so desperately needed as easily.
I was going to drown—not in the depths of the ocean, but in my boyfriend’s arms on the way back to land.
It would have been ironic if it wasn’t so damn frightening.
About halfway to the beach my messed up body finally figured out where it was and I started to cough, my paralyzed lungs unfreezing in one giant spasm that shook me from the inside out.
I heard Mark curse under his breath, his arm tightening around my middle as I jerked against him. “Come on, Tempest, we’re almost there. Stay with me just another minute. Just another—“
Then we were in the shallows and someone was pulling me from Mark’s arms, wading through the waist then knee-deep water. I struggled to open my eyes through the coughing spasms—to see who was carrying me—but trying to breathe through the pain was taking all my effort.
And then some.
A part of me was aware of being laid on the sand, of gentle hands rolling me onto my side. But deep coughs continued wrenching their way through me, the world once again going gray around the edges as I battled to pull air into my burning lungs.
A random series of inventive curses split the air—it was my best bud, Logan, who had carried me the last few feet to shore. And it was his giant hand that hit me right below the center of my back.
I tried to protest, but nothing came out.
Tried to fight the bizarre and sudden attack, but I was too weak to do anything but moan.
His hand hit my back again and again, until—finally—I started to puke. Struggling to my knees, I attempted to hide my face—I guess I was still aware enough to be embarrassed—but Logan refused to let me turn away. At least he’d stopped trying to drill a hole in my back with his palm—now the only thing wracking my body were the spasms that emptied my lungs of water.
I coughed and puked, puked and coughed for what felt like forever—I swear I must have brought up at least a gallon of water, maybe more—before I could draw my first real breath.
When I finally managed to suck in a strong lungful of air, it burned like hell itself. I tried not to freak out, reminded myself that a good salt water ravaging could do that.
The thought didn’t help much, especially as I started to remember everything that had happened when I was under.
Rolling off my knees onto my butt, I took inventory of my whacked out body. Now that I was back on land, everything felt like it was working normally. Yet those minutes in the ocean were etched into my brain—as was the reality of what, just for a moment, I had become.
Panic set in all over again and I glanced down at my legs, hoping like hell I was back to normal. I was. My two legs were perfectly defined and separate, something I was incredibly happy about. When I tried to bend them they moved easily, following the commands of my brain as if the entire episode in the water had never happened.
Relief filled me at the comforting thought—at least until Mark’s voice penetrated my stupor, sounding dark and scared and more pissed off than I had ever heard it.
“Tempest, are you all right? Tempest?”
When I didn’t immediately answer, Mark crouched down next to me, his hands biting into my arms until it was all I could do not to wince. Not that it was his fault—it wasn’t like he had a clue how sensitive my skin, and the flesh underneath it, was becoming. So sensitive that sometimes just the whip of the wind felt like a thousand leather straps flaying me and the soft cotton of my clothes chafed and burned with each shift of my body.
“Come on, Tempest, answer me.” He shook me a little, but still I didn’t answer.
What was I supposed to say—that with each day that passed I came closer to becoming what I hated?
That with each breath I took I could feel myself becoming less human and more other?
Or that I was afraid—deathly afraid—that in one week I would have webbed fingers, a scaly tale and an overwhelming urge to plumb the depths of the ocean?
Since I could barely admit the fear to myself, I settled on an “I’m fine” that was about as convincing as it was truthful. But, hey, it was better than the alternative.