Read this Syrena Legacy short story and the first chapter of Of Neptune, the final book in New York Times-bestselling author Anna Banks' trilogy!
Emma, who is half human and half Syrena, has a day apart from her Syrena love, Galen. Emma doesn't plan to spend the day with Galen's opinionated and bossy sister, Rayna, but she can't quite get out of it, either. And Galen will appreciate her attempt to bond with Rayna, right? But when Rayna's unpredictable antics put them in danger, can they rely on each other to get themselves out of it?
About the Author
Anna Banks grew up in a small town called Niceville (yes, really). She now lives in Crestview, Florida, with her husband and their daughter. She is the author of The Syrena Legacy series: Of Poseidon, Of Triton, and Of Neptune.
Read an Excerpt
Girls Day Out
My first attempt at making sushi for Galen sucks. The rice won't stick to the seaweed in some places, which looks like bald patches. The body of it looks chunky here, skinny there, because I didn't cut the cucumber thinly enough and the avocado is too mushy to stay in place.
So my California roll resembles a balding snake that swallowed a toy train. And now I have to slice it up into recognizable little wheels and hope Galen believes it's the same thing that Rachel used to fix him.
I raise the knife, ready to massacre my masterpiece, when I hear the sliding glass door in the living room open behind me. It could be anyone except Galen; he's in Saturday detention for fighting in school. In his defense, he tried not to brawl. He really did. He bumped into the guy on accident, and the guy took all kinds of offense. I was so proud of how patient Galen was about the whole thing. He didn't even throw the first punch. But the guy was bent on fighting. And while Galen didn't start it, he did finish it. With finesse, I might add. Which is why he has not one Saturday detention, but two. So until four thirty this afternoon, I have to entertain myself.
Rayna pulls up a barstool beside me at the counter, wrapped in one of our many beach towels and dripping salt water on the counter where she reaches for my leftover crab meat. She eyes my creation warily. "It smells right," she says. "But it looks funny."
"But you'd still eat it?"
She sniffs. "Is that the fake crab meat?"
"You tell me."
She pops a piece into her mouth and chews slowly. "It's fake."
"Nope. It's real."
"Then something's wrong with it. It's not fresh."
By fresh, she means that I didn't catch it, murder it, and mutilate it myself in the last half hour. I set the knife down, too unsettled to cut into the roll just yet. "It is fresh. I got it from the grocery store."
"Galen likes fresh. Real fresh."
"Galen is going to eat this, I promise you." There's a trick I learned while babysitting Chloe's younger brother. When he didn't want to take his medicine, I spooned it into his mouth, then blew in his face, which causes a person to reflexively swallow.
I'm quite certain this tactic works on Triton princes as well.
She raises a doubtful eyebrow.
"What are you doing here anyway? Where's Toraf?"
She shrugs. "We're fighting. And I need to use your computer thing."
I nod toward the couch where my laptop is snuggled into the throw blanket. I'd been doing some online shopping. My favorite new thing is to dress Galen. And he doesn't even put up much of a fight about it. "What do you need it for?"
Rayna seats herself and opens the laptop while I wrap the roll in foil. I'll slash it up later. I don't want to do it in front of know-it-all Rayna, and I've lost my confidence right now anyway. Maybe when I open it again, it will miraculously be the sterling example of what a California roll should be. I put it in the fridge and walk over to the couch, plopping down beside her.
"What are you doing?"
She's all concentration. "I'm looking at the sail dates for the cruise lines."
Of course. Because fish princesses love to go on cruises. "Okey-dokey, then."
Rayna turns to me. "You never know what those stupid humans are going to throw overboard."
"Mostly trash, I'm guessing."
"Sometimes. But sometimes, it's treasure. Stuff you wouldn't believe."
To Rayna, a plastic comb could be treasure. "Try me."
She's getting excited, I can tell. These are the only times Rayna looks truly innocent, when she's talking about her human treasures. "A lot of times they toss in those gold dollar things. Rachel told me they do that for good luck. Idiots. I have like a million of those or something." She pecks at the keyboard with one finger, leaning in to scan the screen. "One time someone tossed a ring overboard, a real diamond ring. I showed it to Rachel and she just couldn't believe someone would do that. She thought maybe they didn't mean to, but I told her I saw them do it. It was a man and a woman, and they took it off her finger, threw it into the ocean, and laughed when it hit the water."
"Celebrating a divorce, probably."
She turns to me. "A what?"
"A divorce. It's when humans who are married decide they don't want to be married anymore."
"An unsealing then."
She nods, referring back to the computer screen. "So that man must have been her new mate, you think? Oh, here's one that sailed yesterday from Charleston, going to the Bahamas. We should hit that one."
"We? Are you inviting me to come along?"
She ignores my question, and points to the screen which now displays a map of the Atlantic Ocean. "According to their itinerary, they should be about ... here. We could get there within a few hours if we catch the current."
I'm already texting Galen, telling him I'll be home late tonight.
He texts back: Should I be worried?
Probably, but admitting that would just complicate things, so I just explain: Going to hunt down cruise ships with Rayna.
Galen isn't happy: Toraf is going, right?
Me: Ummmm ...
Galen: Give me the odds.
This is the short way we use to end a potential argument. He simply asks me what the odds are that I can be swayed to not do whatever it is we're talking about, and if I give him too high a figure, he'll usually drop it.
I try not to be too pushy, but I don't see the harm in this outing. I mean, Rayna does this a lot and she always comes back in one piece. Why can't I just follow along for fun? And everyone knows Galen is just a tad overprotective, which is probably all this is right now.
He doesn't really not want me to go, he would just rather I went with him. Which isn't an option, because this is the week he chose to bust some guy's lip open at school.
Me: I really would like to go.
Just when I think we might have to actually argue, he gets back to me: Have fun, angelfish. Be careful.
Sweet. "What should I bring?" I say, struggling to pull myself up from the butt-gobbling seat cushion. We've needed a new couch for a while.
"I've been taking a pillow case."
"I'll get one from the spare bedroom." Mom's not going to love that, but I'll put it back after. If all goes well.
* * *
Rayna swims over to me looking like a U.S. Marine with a fin. Seriously, the only thing she's missing is heat-seeking missiles and camouflage war paint. She's got a rope-o'-goodies slung over her shoulder. The first thing I notice is that two homemade spears are secured to it with complicated-looking knots. I wonder if she dipped the tips in lionfish venom like Mom showed her. If so, how does she expect to give me a piggyback ride with lethal weapons dangling everywhere? Um, no. Also, what the crap would we even need those for?
Plus, she's brought along snorkeling gear. Two sets, complete with masks, snorkels, and flippers all hitched together with rope laced through them. A mermaid. With a snorkel set.
Finally, there's a freaking dead fish flapping behind her, tied through the tail, staring at me with frozen horror and shock, all mouth open and unblinking eyes and loosely swaying body. Obviously a snack, but for real? A dead fish is going to be slapping my arms every five seconds while we travel? This is where I draw the line. "Eat the fish now or lose it forever."
"I'm the one swimming for two here. What if I get hungry?"
"I assume that's what the spears are for."
She shakes her head. "What if we come across sharks? Boats always throw their chum overboard. It attracts all sorts of predators."
"Hi. I'm Emma. I have the Gift of Poseidon. Possibly you've heard of it?"
Rayna crosses her arms. "Sure, you could just order the sharks away. But wouldn't you rather spear one?"
"And if I want to?"
"Hope you can hit a moving target, because I'll be making sure it swims away. Like, fast."
Rayna's whole face puckers into a pout. "This promises to suck."
I've never heard her use the word "suck" before; I wonder if she's testing it out on me. But I'm not about to teach a chic-fish grammatically correct human slang. Especially not this one. Her screwups are bound to be entertaining if she continues to be all proper with it.
I wait for her to remove the spears and poke them into the sand. Then she sets the dead fish to sea so it can be someone else's snack. She eyes the snorkel gear. I shake my head. "What's it for?"
"So we can act undercover. Like we're snorkeling instead of treasure hunting."
"We're in swimsuits. Swimming around. And besides, it's not illegal to be treasure hunting."
"This could have been a fun day," she mutters, removing the rope altogether. "But nooooo. Princess Poseidon is allergic to fun."
"And Princess Triton is allergic to traveling lightly." Okay, that was stupid, but I had to say something. "You told me all we needed were pillow cases."
She turns and shows me her back. I know she wants me to grab her shoulders so we can go, but the way she's turned away from me is meant as an insult. Like a shunning or something. I latch onto each of her muscular shoulders and squeeze, hoping to at least get a reaction from her. But my hands are too weak, her skin is too thick, and her stubbornness is too strong to solicit any kind of acknowledgement from her.
So we travel in silence, gliding through the water, staying close to the surface. We pass fishing boats and ocean liners, but so far we haven't come across our cruise ship, The Enchantment (Rayna swears she knows the difference between the bottom of a cruise ship and the belly of a freight ship, especially this particular line of boats). Not that we're expecting ours anytime soon; Rayna says we're more than halfway to it, and no other cruising vessels should be in the vicinity. So it should be easy to spot and easy to follow.
This is the first time I've realized that treasure hunting might be boring. I mean, we're not looking for buried chests of gold or scavenging through underwater archaeological tombs. All we're doing is chasing The Enchantment, a cruise line's version of a floating casino/resort, hoping someone drops something more significant than a flicked cigarette over a balcony railing.
And I told Galen I would be home late for this? I'm missing out on Galen time — for this?
What made me think this could be fun? Fan-flipping-tastic.
"There it is," she says after a while.
I squint into the distance and catch a glimpse of a black object slicing through the surface. "That's too small," I say.
I can practically hear her roll her eyes. "It's still far away from us. But that's it. See how it's getting bigger the closer we get?"
"Bigger" is an understatement. The Enchantment is ginormous. The specs online said it holds over three thousand passengers. Surely one of them wants to throw something overboard in the next few hours. I try to dismiss the swirl of excitement in my stomach, telling myself that it will most likely be a quarter or a penny or something. They'll use the Atlantic Ocean for a giant wishing well. "Have you ever thrown anything back?"
Rayna stops and my chin slams into one of her shoulder blades. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, when they throw something overboard, have you ever thought of throwing it back just to freak them out?"
This elicits an evil grin from her. "I can't believe I've never thought of that. You're going to be useful after all."
Rayna is the queen of underhanded compliments.
We skirt the belly of the ship, changing sides often. "It's slowing down now," Rayna says. "We're probably coming close to port."
"Port? The Bahamas?" How long have we been gone? Does riding the current really give you that much more speed? I'm used to traveling faster with Galen, of course — sometimes his speed forces me to close my eyes against the momentum — but Rayna is no turtle either, apparently.
She doesn't answer me, but slows her pace. We fall slightly behind the ship. "Sometimes people toss things off the back —" And that's when something hits the surface. At first, it whirpools in place, tossed about by the ship's wake. Then it floats at the top, pale and listless. When it absorbs more of the ocean and it starts to sink, that's when I figure out what it is.
A rag doll. When we get closer to it, we discover fire-red yarn hair, big brown embroidered eyes, and a yellow floral dress complete with a little ruffled white apron.
"Wow," Rayna breathes. "No one's ever tossed one of these." She snatches it out of its churning descent to the bottom. She turns it over and over in her hands as if she's never seen a doll before. As if her bed at Galen's house isn't lined with dolls just like this one. Prettier ones, though.
"Can I see it?" I say, grabbing it from her. She fully intends on keeping it, I can tell. But we can't. "This wasn't thrown overboard on purpose," I tell her. "I'm betting this was dropped accidentally."
She shrugs, snatching it back. "Finders keepers."
I snatch it back, and quickly pull up the dress. There is a hand-sewn inscription on it. "See?" I say. "It says 'To Caroline, From Mommy.'" "Mommy?"
"That's what some human children call their mothers."
Rayna is irate. "So her mother gave this to her? And she lost it?"
"If she's carrying a doll like this around, she's probably very young. She probably didn't know better. She was probably showing her doll the waves or something."
"Dolls aren't alive."
"I'm sure she was playing pretend, you know?" I can see that she doesn't know. Rayna understands what's real and tangible, not what's imaginary and whimsical. She doesn't even play with her own dolls; she simply views them as things to be collected. She was never told fairy tales growing up. She was taught the laws and the ways of the Syrena, and any stories that were told to her were true ones passed down through the faithful memory of the Archives. Of all the things she has as a Royal, an imagination isn't among them.
"She was pretending that it could see, I'm sure, and she dropped it overboard. On accident."
Rayna looks really disgusted with Caroline right now. At least, that's what it looks like, until she says, "We have to give it back to her."
"Um. Huh?" Say what?
She nods. "We have to find her and give it back to her. You shouldn't lose things your mother gives you. What if her mother — what if she doesn't have her mother anymore? We have to give it back to her."
Understanding pulls on my heartstrings. Rayna's mother died when she was younger. Galen told me Rayna used to go to the Cave of Memories where her mother is entombed every day for a long time after she died. He says she sometimes still cries about it when it's just him and her alone.
I swallow the lump in my throat. "How do you propose we do that?"
"We'll wait until they port, then sneak on."
"You have to have a passport to board the ship."
"A what? Did you hear me? I said we'll sneak."
Oh, geez. I think I agree with Rayna: This promises to suck. But how can I say no?
* * *
So we come ashore with the freaking doll and make our way barefoot to the long dock where The Enchantment is anchored. The passengers are just now disembarking, so our first shot at finding Caroline is a stab in the dark with a proverbial spork.
"Excuse me, are you Caroline?" I say, pulling a family aside and showing them the doll. They shake their heads and look at me like I'm cray-cray. I try to ignore the concerned glances of passersby as Rayna yanks on someone's arm and says, "You Caroline?" I smile apologetically at the assaulted elderly passengers and steer Rayna away from them. "Humans say things like 'Excuse me' and 'Please' and 'Thank you.' And why are you stopping old people? Remember, Caroline is probably a little girl."
"I was just trying to get everyone I could." I see by her expression Rayna is sincerely trying to help, not aggravate.
"Look, try to find little girls. But don't be all creepy about it. Approach the adult with the group, not the kid. People don't like strangers getting chit-chatty with their kids."
"Chit-chatty?" Her eyes light up, which means she likes the sound of that phrase. We don't have time to practice new phrases though.
"Here comes a family with a little girl. Go see if that's Caroline."
After about an hour, the dock is sparse and the few people left are the ones giving us the stink eye. I mean, in their defense, we are in our swimsuits carrying around a soaking-wet rag doll who has seen better days, like, yesterday. And so far we have no Caroline.
"We'll have to board the ship," Rayna says, as if she's talking about eating a sandwich or taking a walk on the beach.
"We can't just board the ship. Like I said, we need passports."
"I've been thinking about it and I have a plan. We'll wait until everyone comes back from their excursions, then we'll just get lost in the crowd."
"I've been on a cruise before. They put you in a single-file line and check everyone's passport before you can come back on the ship."
"We'll walk backwards then. They'll think we're going instead of coming."
"Ohmysweetgoodness." Is she for freaking real?
She laughs at my exasperation. "I'm only kidding. We'll just have to climb up the anchor."
I'm sure my eyes are nearly popping out of their sockets. "Be serious."
She grabs my elbow and turns me to face the ship. "Look," she whispers. "The line to the anchor goes halfway up the ship. See that rope with the float thingies on it? We'll use that to climb the rest of the way onboard."
Excerpted from "Girls Day Out"
Copyright © 2018 Anna Banks.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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