Wickedly Wonderful

Wickedly Wonderful

by Deborah Blake

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Overview

Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…

Though she looks like a typical California surfer girl, Beka Yancy is in fact a powerful yet inexperienced witch who’s struggling with her duties as a Baba Yaga. Luckily she has her faithful dragon-turned-dog for moral support, especially when faced with her biggest job yet…

A mysterious toxin is driving the Selkie and Mer from their homes deep in the trenches of Monterey Bay. To investigate, Beka buys her way onto the boat of Marcus Dermott, a battle-scarred former U.S. Marine, and his ailing fisherman father.

While diving for clues, Beka drives Marcus crazy with her flaky New Age ideas and dazzling blue eyes. She thinks he’s rigid and cranky (and way too attractive). Meanwhile, a charming Selkie prince has plans that include Beka. Only by trusting her powers can Beka save the underwater races, pick the right man, and choose the path she’ll follow for the rest of her life…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425272930
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/02/2014
Series: Baba Yaga Series , #2
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 444,478
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Deborah Blake has published seven books on modern witchcraft with Llewellyn Worldwide and has an ongoing column in Witches & Pagans magazine. When not writing, Deborah runs The Artisans’ Guild, a cooperative shop she founded with a friend in 1999, and also works as a jewelry maker, tarot reader, and energy healer. She lives in a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural upstate New York with five cats who supervise all her activities, both magical and mundane. 

Her Baba Yaga series includes Wickedly Dangerous and the ebook novella, Wickedly Magical.

Read an Excerpt

Marcus was silent for a moment, and then he stunned Beka by leaning forward and kissing her with fervor. He wrapped one big hand around the curve of her shoulder and the other around the back of her head, pulling her in close as his lips pressed firmly against hers, both soft and rough at the same time. Heat blossomed between them, roaring up out of her core like a wildfire, fierce and magical and completely unexpected.

The kiss only lasted a minute or two, but it felt like an eternity of bliss. Beka felt strangely bereft without his arms around her.

“Wow,” she said, blinking rapidly.

Marcus gave her a wicked grin. “Sorry about that,” he said, clearly not sorry at all. “I just wanted to thank you for giving me a way to reconnect with my brother. I never would have thought of it like that.” He paused, and then added, his smile widening, “Not being a flaky New Age nut, and all.”

Beka rolled her eyes, pleased that her idea had gone over so well. And wondering what on earth she could suggest next to elicit the same reaction . . .

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ONE

MARCUS DERMOTT WATCHED the sunrise from the windswept deck of his father’s fishing boat and wondered if the sea had changed, or if it was him. When he was a boy, growing up on this very boat, the sight of the water being painted with light could make his heart sing, no matter how troubled the rest of his life was. But all he felt now was numb. Numb, and a little bit cranky. The ocean might be beautiful, but it was the last place he wanted to be.

He’d planned to spend his life in the Marines, far away from the restless sea and the memories that came with it. He’d sure as hell never planned to come back to this damned boat. Or to his father. Especially to his father. But as the master sergeant who’d trained him liked to say, “Life is what happens while you are making other plans.”

Turns out that twelve years in the Corps was all he had in him. Three tours in Afghanistan had sucked him as dry as the desert sands, and as much as he missed the action, and the close bond with the other men in his unit, his head just wasn’t in the game anymore. He’d been around long enough to know that if you didn’t get out when that happened, you were dangerous to yourself and to everyone around you.

So he’d finished out his time, packed his kit bag, and headed home. One of the guys who’d gotten out a year before him had invited Marcus to work with the extreme adventure vacation company he’d started, and that seemed like as good an idea as any in the post-exit blur Marcus had been in. But life had had other plans there, too, apparently.

“Are you going to stand there daydreaming all day, boy?” a low-pitched voice snarled in his ear. Even the musical Irish lilt couldn’t make his father sound like anything other than a bear with a sore paw. “We finally start catchin’ some fish after pullin’ up empty nets day after day, and you can’t bestir yourself to lend a hand? I thought you came back here to help me, not to stare at the sea like you’ve never seen it before. It’s the same ocean it always was—waves and salt and finally, dammit, some fish. So move your ass and check the lines, will ya?”

Marcus sighed. He and his father had never gotten along, and twelve years apart hadn’t helped that in the least. When he got the call telling him his father had cancer, Marcus had hoped that maybe if he went home to help out, they could move past their differences. But the past had its barbs in them too deep, and the present was as cold and gray as the ocean. He didn’t see either one of those things changing anytime soon.

*   *   *

THE RED-GOLD GLOW of the rising sun turned the sea into a fire of molten lava that belied the cold Pacific waters of Monterey Bay. Beka Yancy didn’t mind, though; her wet suit kept her reasonably warm, and it was worth braving the morning chill to have the waves mostly to herself.

Soon enough there would be plenty of people around, but for now, she reveled in her solitary enjoyment of the frothy white lace overlaying blue-green depths, accompanied only by the sound of the wind and the hooting laughter of a nearby pod of dolphins. She gave a chortling greeting in dolphin-speak as she went by.

Beka paddled her surfboard out until the pull of the ocean overruled the calm of the shore and she felt herself settle into that peaceful space she only found when there was endless water below her and infinite sky above. On land, there were human beings and all their attendant noise and commotion; here, there was only the challenge that came from pitting herself against the crushing power of the rolling waves.

The fresh scent of the sea filled her nostrils, and a light breeze tugged playfully on a strand of her long blond hair as she steered in the direction of a promising incoming swell. But before she could angle herself toward it, her board jerked underneath her as if it had suddenly come to life, and she had to grab on tightly with both hands as it accelerated through the water at impossible speeds, cutting through the whitecaps as if they weren’t even there.

What the hell? Beka held on tighter, ducking her head against the biting teeth of the icy spray that washed over her. Through squinted eyes, she could barely make out what looked like a pale green hand grasping the end of her surfboard, gossamer webbing pressed against the bright red surface of the board. A powerful tail with iridescent feathery ends undulated just beneath the water, only occasionally breaking through the surface as it stroked forcefully through the ocean.

Mermaid! Beka thought to herself. But the identification of her mysterious hijacker raised more questions than it solved. She doubted the water creature meant her any harm; they normally stayed far away from Human civilization, preferring to hide in their own territory concealed by ancient magic within a two-mile-deep underwater trench. And Beka was friendly with most of the local non-Human residents, on the rare occasions that she saw them.

Still, she was glad of the small knife she wore in a waterproof sheath strapped to her calf, carefully disguised from sight with a tiny glamour that kept the other surfers from noticing it. Not that she really expected to need it, as she had other defenses much more powerful than cold steel, but she’d discovered long ago that it paid to be prepared for the unexpected. It came with the territory, when you were a Baba Yaga.

Most people had never heard of the Baba Yagas. Those who recognized the name were usually only familiar with the legendary witch from Russian fairy tales: a curved-chin, beaky-nosed crone with iron teeth who lived in a hut that ran around the forest on giant chicken legs, flew through the air in an enchanted mortar and pestle, and ate small children when they misbehaved.

Some of that had even been true, once upon a time. Certainly, the Baba Yagas were powerful witches, gifted with the ability to manipulate the elemental forces of nature. Even the tales about the huts and the odd form of transportation had been true, back when the Babas had been found only in Russia and its Slavic neighbors. Things were done a little differently these days though.

Beka might have been the youngest and most inexperienced of the three Babas who lived in the United States, but she was still more than a match for a single Mermaid. So it was with more curiosity than trepidation that she sat up straight on her board when they finally reached their destination.

A swift glance around showed her that the Mermaid had brought her quite some distance from the shore, only barely visible as an ochre-colored smudge on the horizon behind her. Two or three miles out at least, then, a guess reinforced by the sight of a commercial fishing boat moving ponderously through the steely blue sea, dragging its gnarly mesh of nets behind it like a stout wooden bride with a too-long train. Red and blue buoys bobbed on the surface, giving the nets a festive look. Up on the bow of the boat, two men argued about something she was too far away to overhear; luckily, they were looking at each other, and not at her.

Beka jumped as the Mermaid surfaced without a sound, her auburn hair turned almost black by the wetness that slicked it back from her face, green eyes bright with fear as she started speaking almost before her lips reached the open air. The now-risen sun glittered off shimmering scales and glinted on sharply pointed teeth.

“Baba Yaga, you have to help me!” The Merwoman’s head swiveled anxiously between the boat and Beka. Beka was about to reply, something about it being good manners to ask first before dragging someone out into the middle of the ocean, when a large cerulean tear rolled down the woman’s sharp cheekbone and she added, “My baby—my baby is caught in the net!”

Damn it to Dazhdbog, Beka thought. That was bad. Not just for the poor, defenseless Merbaby, who was much too young to be able to change shape or breathe outside of its natural watery environment, but also for the water peoples—the Mer and the Selkies—who had successfully hidden their existence from Humans since the rest of the paranormal races had retreated to live in the Otherworld; this situation could be catastrophic for that closely held secret.

And since the Baba Yagas, while acting independently, ultimately reported to the powerful and volatile High Queen of the Otherworld, a failure on Beka’s part could be catastrophic to her, as well. The Queen had once turned a half a dozen handmaidens into swans during a fit of pique; Beka had no desire to discover if she looked good in feathers.

“What was your baby doing out here in the open waters?” Beka hissed, trying not to panic. It wasn’t that she wasn’t sympathetic, but she’d been trying her best to avoid any major issues since her mentor, Brenna, the Baba Yaga who’d raised and taught her, had retired to the Otherworld a few years ago and left her to handle things on her own. After years of being told by the elder Baba that she wasn’t “quite ready yet,” a tiny inner voice seemed to have taken up residence inside Beka’s head, constantly whispering the same thing.

“Why aren’t you in the trench with the rest of your people?” Beka slid into the cold water, barely noticing the chill as she tried to figure out how she was going to rescue the Merbaby without being seen by the men on—she peered up at the clean white side of the boat—the Wily Serpent.

The sea creature tightened her grip on Beka’s surfboard, gazing at the nets with terror in her wide-set eyes. “Didn’t you know?” Her head bobbed up and down with the waves as she flapped her long, elegant tail in agitation. “There is a problem with our home; all the life there is being poisoned by something our healers have been unable to detect. The plants, the fish, even some of the people have become sickened by it. All the Mer and Selkies must move to a new place closer to land to escape the contamination, and my little one got away from me in the confusion.”

She let go of the board to grasp Beka’s arm. “Please, Baba Yaga, I know I should have watched him more closely, but please don’t let him die.”

Not a chance, Beka thought grimly. Then she gritted her teeth as she realized the boat had stopped its lazy forward motion and come to a halt. The mechanical screech of a winch disturbed the quiet sea air as the nets slowly started being drawn in toward the boat’s hull. Pain accompanied the sound as the Merwoman realized what was happening and unconsciously tightened her grasp, webbed fingers turning into claws.

“Oh no,” she said, seaweed-tinted tears flowing faster now. “It’s too late.”

Beka shook her head. “Not yet, it isn’t,” she said, and set off swimming with strong, purposeful strokes toward the slowly rising mesh of ropes. “Stay here,” she ordered, tossing the words over her shoulder. Then she swam as if a life depended on it.

As she drew closer to the boat, she could see that it wasn’t as pristine as she’d thought; a blue-black crust of barnacles marred the deep green bottom half where it met the water, and the white paint on top was dull and peeling. For all that, though, the boat itself seemed solid and well constructed—as, alas, did the net that was slowly but relentlessly being pulled in toward its home.

Beka took a deep breath and dove under the water. Thankfully, since she spent so much time in the ocean, she had long ago done magical work that enabled her to keep her eyes open even without protective goggles. Through the gaps between the ropes, she could see the Merbaby clearly, swimming in desperate circles round and round the ever-shrinking space. His tiny pale green face was splotched with crying, although any sound he made was lost in the metallic grinding of the winch as it pulled the purse seine in tighter and tighter. As he spotted her, he shot over to her side of the net, making soft eeping noises like a distressed dolphin.

Beka swam up to the choppy surface to gulp another breath, then down again; the trip was noticeably shorter on the way back, and she knew she was running out of time. It was tempting to use magic to blast through the net, but she was afraid that she might accidentally hurt the child, and magic often didn’t work well underwater, so in the end, she simply pulled out her knife and sawed away frantically at the tough fibers.

Twice more she had to dart above to take a breath, but after the last time, her efforts paid off; she had cut a ragged hole not much more than two feet long, but large enough for the small Merbaby to exit. The fish within were already bolting toward freedom, brushing her with their tickling fins as they flashed past.

She gestured for the Merbaby to come closer, only to realize that while she had been fighting with the robustly woven strands, the child’s tail had become entangled in a section of net, and he was trapped, unable to get loose from the seine’s unrelenting grasp.

Cursing soundlessly, Beka raced to get one more deep lungful of air, then threw herself toward the hole and eeled her way through the impossibly small opening. Frantically, she fought the sinuously twining ropes until the little one was free and she could shove him through to the other side. Only to find herself trapped in the quickly contracting net and rapidly running out of time and oxygen.

TWO

“THERE’S SOMEONE IN the net!” Kenny yelped, screeching to a halt by Marcus’s side. “Oh my god! We caught a mermaid!”

Gripping the side of the boat with both hands, Marcus peered in the direction where Kenny pointed. Sonofabitch—there was someone in the net. Well, SHIT. The rough brown strands were being pulled inward, but most of the mesh was still underwater, where he could just make out a vaguely female form struggling to get loose.

Without thinking, he pulled off his sneakers and dove into the icy water. The shock of it almost drove the breath from his lungs, but he didn’t let that slow him down. Once in the water, he swam freestyle as fast as he could, using his military training to keep his target in sight every time he raised his head up over the waves. Once he got closer, he stopped, treading water, and assessed the situation.

Marcus couldn’t believe his eyes. Instead of the shimmering fish he’d expected, he was staring at the impossible—a gorgeous woman in a wet suit holding a knife, its sharp edges clearly responsible for the brand-new opening in the net he had so meticulously mended not three days ago. A net that had until a few minutes ago contained the only decent catch they’d made in weeks. It was a great pity, because she really was stunning, but he was going to have to kill her.

Probably by strangling her with his bare hands. As soon as he’d rescued her, of course.

He could see that she had almost managed to get loose but hadn’t been able to hold the hole open and free herself from the tangles of the net at the same time. She struggled to keep her head above water, ducking underneath the surface in between breaths to hack at the stubborn strands surrounding her. Marcus closed his eyes and dived under, grabbing the knife out of the woman’s hand and slashing by feel alone at the slit she’d made, enlarging it enough that he could reach through and grab her.

He pulled her out, dropping the knife so he could get one arm around her slim waist and use the other to propel them toward the surface as fast as possible. Even so, he was gasping for air when his face broke through the waves, and the woman had to finish coughing up seawater before she could turn to him and say, “Hey! That was my favorite knife!”

*   *   *

THE CREW HAULED Marcus, the woman, and the remains of the net up onto the deck. Before he’d even had a chance to catch his breath, he heard his father’s gruff voice say, “Marcus Henry Dermott, what the hell have you done now?”

Only his da could hold Marcus responsible for some mystery woman slicing through their net. Of course, given half a chance, the old man would blame him for everything from the weather to the lack of fish to the high price of beer in their favorite tavern.

For a brief moment, Marcus actually found himself wishing he was back in the dusty, arid deserts of Afghanistan. Yes, people had been trying to kill him there, but it was still a lot more restful than being trapped on the memory-haunted boat he grew up on with the tough, brutal old fisherman who shared his name and way too much unpleasant history.

The two men who made up his father’s regular crew looked on with wide eyes. Chico had been with his father for as long as Marcus could remember; an illegal immigrant who had come across the border thirty years ago, around the time Marcus was born, he was as tough as shark hide and about as pretty. But he was dependable and knew how to fish, and that was all Marcus Senior cared about.

Kenny, on the other hand, was a weedy kid barely out of his teens who had more enthusiasm than experience. He’d only been working the boat for about six months, after Marcus’s father had chased off yet another in a long line of crewmen who got tired of being cursed at in a strange mixture of Gaelic, Spanish, and English.

Kenny peered down at their visitor with open curiosity. “Um, are you okay, lady?” His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down like a buoy on rough waters. “You’re not a mermaid, are you?”

The woman stood up with a Valkyrie’s warrior grace despite the mangled fibers still wrapped around her bare feet. “Sorry,” she said in a voice that sounded like music. For a moment, Marcus could have sworn he smelled fresh strawberries on the salty breeze. “Not a Mermaid. Just an innocent passing surfer girl, I’m afraid.”

Marcus’s father snorted and spat on the deck. He had no time for people who used the sea for play instead of work.

“Not so innocent,” Marcus pointed out, crossing his arms over his chest and ramping up his stare to a level that used to make the men under him drop and give him twenty without even being asked. “You sabotaged our net, and we lost the better part of the first good haul we’ve had in a very long time. What are you, one of those crazy Greenpeace idiots?”

His father let loose with a truly impressive stream of profanity at this, but their unexpected passenger seemed unimpressed. Probably didn’t understand most of the words under his father’s anger-heavy Irish accent, which was just as well. Marcus was about as furious as he got, but he still didn’t believe in swearing at women.

Bright blue eyes looked from the hole in the net to him and back again as a slight flush slid over tanned cheekbones. “Look, I’m really sorry about your net, and the fish and everything. But there was a baby . . . dolphin trapped in it, and I had to get the poor thing out before you killed it.” The blue eyes widened in an attempt to look innocent, but Marcus wasn’t buying it. He’d had a kid in his unit that used to give him the same exact look, usually when he was caught doing something illegal, immoral, or both.

Marcus scanned the waters on either side of the boat. “I don’t see any dolphins. Haven’t seen any all morning, for that matter.”

The woman hummed a little under her breath and made an odd swiveling motion with her hand before turning toward the bow and pointing. “They’re right there,” she said confidently.

And damned if there weren’t a half a dozen dolphins, including a small one, right where he could have sworn the sea was empty a minute ago. Weird. He was usually more observant than that—old habits die hard, and after three tours in the Marines, all of them spent in places full of snipers and killers disguised as civilians, he still hadn’t learned to stop watching everything and everybody in the nearby vicinity.

“I don’t give a crap if there was three nuns and the Virgin Mary in them damned nets,” his father snarled, gray beard bristling. “You don’t go cuttin’ a hole in a man’s equipment. Who the hell is going to pay to get that mess mended, I ask you? And who’s going to pay for all them fish I lost?” Righteous ire painted a wash of red over his father’s too-pale face, but Marcus could see the shakiness in his bull-like stance.

“Da,” Marcus said, in a slightly softer tone, “why don’t you go up to the wheelhouse and figure out exactly how much you think we lost. Then I’ll escort this crazy tree hugger back to whatever asylum she escaped from and she can write us a check to make up for the damage.” He made a small gesture with his head, and Chico nodded behind his father’s back, then put one hand on the old man’s arm.

Marcus Senior shook it off. “I know what you’re doing, Mark-boy. No need to coddle me.” But he headed off toward the small cabin nonetheless, Chico on his heels, both of them moving slower than the slight heave of the ship required.

Marcus clapped the still gape-mouthed Kenny on the shoulder, shoving him gently toward the damaged netting. “Why don’t you collect whatever fish we did manage to get and put them on ice in the hold? We’ll be heading back in now; no chance of any more fishing today, thanks to her.” The boy went back to work reluctantly, looking back over his shoulder as he walked away and almost tripping over a coil of rope.

Forcing himself to unclench his fists, Marcus turned back to study his mystery woman. Her hair was long, almost to the middle of her back, and he thought that when it finished drying it would probably be a natural blond; she had the coloring of a true California girl. Slim and tall, she wore her wet suit like a second skin that clung to curves in all the right places. He swallowed hard, hit by a sudden burst of desire that welled up out of nowhere. He hadn’t had any interest in women since he’d gotten back from the war—figures he’d finally rediscover it in the presence of some nutcase they’d fished out of the sea.

A thought struck him. “Hey, how the hell did you get all the way out here?” He gazed around, but the ocean was empty; no boats but the Wily Serpent anywhere in sight. Not even a dinghy.

She strolled over to the rail as if she owned the place and pointed over the side. A scarlet surfboard with a black dragon painted on it bobbed tranquilly in the calm sea, occasionally rubbing up against the side of the boat like an affectionate cat.

Marcus shook his head. “Are you kidding? You got all the way out here on a surfboard? No way.” He shaded his eyes with one hand, looking for a lurking vessel full of delusional do-gooders. “You must have had friends who brought you out here. Did they just abandon you?”

A smile tugged at the corner of full lips. “No friends,” she said. “It must have been a rogue wave. I was surfing closer to land, and before I knew it, I was out here.”

Oh, for the love of Pete. She wasn’t even trying to come up with a good lie. What a flake.

“Fine,” he said. “That’s your story and you can stick to it. But don’t think that I’m going to let you get away with destroying my father’s property and ruining our fishing just because you’ve got some cockamamy idea in that pretty head of yours about saving endangered turtles or poor, defenseless sharks from the mean fishermen.”

God, he hated flakes. That type could get you killed, whether you were on the battlefield or on a boat. And the most dangerous ones were the flakes who didn’t know they were flakes. He’d be doing her a favor by teaching her that there were consequences for your actions.

“You’re going back to the shore with us,” he said. It’s not like he could leave her out here in the middle of nowhere on a surfboard anyway. Rogue wave, my ass. “And then I am going to escort you home, where you can write me out a check to cover the cost of the damage to the net and the lost fish.”

He scowled at her to make sure she got his point. “My father may be a rude, grumpy pain in the ass, but he works hard to make a living. Being a fisherman isn’t an easy life, especially when . . .” He caught himself. It was none of her business anyway. “. . . when crazy blond nutcases decide to cut holes in our net. I hope you’ve got money to pay for this, or you’re going to find yourself in jail.”

He glared at her, hands on his hips, waiting for tears to well up in those big blue eyes. Instead, she merely shrugged one neoprene-clad shoulder and said, “That’s fair. Do you mind if we pick up my surfboard first?”

Off the starboard bow, he could swear he heard a dolphin laugh.

*   *   *

BEKA FOUGHT BACK the mental image of Mr. Stick-up-his-butt hopping wetly around on deck and saying ribbit. The Baba Yaga who’d raised her had stressed the importance of never misusing her magic. But man, was it tempting. That deep voice of his would sound quite nice on a frog. Although it would be a shame to waste those broad shoulders and craggy good looks. Too bad he didn’t have a personality to go with them.

You’d think she’d purposely set out to ruin his day. Of course, she couldn’t exactly explain what she had been doing, so she’d just have to give him some money and hope that he’d let it go at that. At least the Mermaid and her son seemed to be long gone, so Beka had done something right. Too bad she’d screwed everything else up in the process. As usual. Maybe her mentor had been right, and she simply wasn’t ready to be out on her own. The old Baba probably would have figured out a way to save the little one without ever alerting the fishermen to her presence.

Still, she thought, brightening a little as her naturally cheerful disposition reasserted itself, she had actually gotten the job done. Now she had a lovely boat ride back to the shore, with the glorious ocean all around her. Sunlight glinted off the green-blue water with its dancing waves. The salt-laden breeze ran soft fingers through her hair as she sat on the prow. Warm sun caressed her skin where she’d peeled back the top of the wet suit, and her companion was quite nice to look at as long as he didn’t actually speak.

“Do you have a name?” he asked.

So much for that.

“A number of them, in fact,” she said with perfect honesty. She always tried to speak the truth if possible; there was power in words, and it didn’t do to misuse them. “You can call me Beka. Beka Yancy.”

He hesitated, and then stuck out one large, calloused hand. A tingle ran through her as she took it. “Marcus Dermott. The charming gentleman you met before is my father, Marcus Senior.”

A scowl marred his otherwise attractive visage. “I’m helping him out temporarily. This is his boat.” Something about the way he said it made her think he’d rather be anywhere but here, doing anything but this.

“He’s sick, isn’t he?” she said softly. Even without the heightened sensitivity of a Baba, she would have noticed the obvious pallor under the older man’s weathered skin, and the way his well-worn clothes hung on a frame that looked as though it had lost much of its original bulk. “What’s wrong with him?”

Marcus stared at her, then out at sea. “Advanced lung cancer. He’d been fighting it for a few months before I got home from my last tour of duty. Trying to work this boat with only two crew, one of them barely out of school.” Beka could see the muscles in his shoulders bunching up under the dark tee shirt he wore.

“I’m sorry,” she said. Babas didn’t suffer from Human illnesses much; one of the benefits of being a powerful witch. But that didn’t make it any easier to watch the people around you suffer. Her mentor used to warn her away from close friendships with Humans, said they were too fragile and short-lived for folks like them. Beka was almost thirty but still looked like she was in her early twenties. Yet another reason not to get attached—sooner or later, someone would notice. But that didn’t mean she didn’t like Humans. After all, she’d been born one.

Marcus shrugged, still not looking at her. But his shoulders hunched a little more, making a lie of his casual tone. “I told him that the cigarettes would catch up with him someday. He tells me he quit a couple of years ago, but I guess it was too late.”

Something about that rang strangely. “He told you? You didn’t know?”

“I did three hitches in the Marines,” he said. His back straightened as if just saying the word made him stronger. “Only got out a little while ago. While I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with myself, some busybody called to tell me my father was sick. So I came here to pitch in. Not that the old man wants my aid.”

He snorted. “You should have seen his face when I showed up. Cursed that doctor up, down, and sideways.” A crooked grin relaxed the grim lines set into his face and startled Beka into realizing he was actually quite handsome. If you liked your men tough and muscular and just a little scruffy around the edges. Which she didn’t, thankfully.

She turned a little so she could see his face better, enjoying the light touch of the spray on her skin. All Baba Yagas were in tune with the elements, but each tended to be drawn more strongly to one in particular. Her sister Baba, Barbara Yager, who had just relocated to New York State, was tied to the earth. Beka, on the other hand, was water all the way. Although she traveled around as Babas did, she slept the most soundly when she could hear the ocean singing a lullaby through her open windows.

“How long had it been since you’d seen him?” she asked, more because she was enjoying the deep rumble of his voice than out of any desire to know. Soon they’d be onshore; she’d pay him off and then she’d never see him again. An odd shivery melancholy ran through her at the thought, but she shrugged it away.

Marcus swiveled to face her, his visage settling back into its customary wall of stone. For a minute, she thought he wasn’t going to answer her.

“I left the day I turned eighteen,” he said. “Joined up that week, and haven’t been home since. Until now.”

“You said you did three tours.” Beka thought about what little she knew about the military. “That’s twelve years, isn’t it?” She blinked. Babas were solitary creatures, for the most part, except for the time they spent training their replacements (usually about fifteen or sixteen years, for most, although Beka’s mentor had stuck around for a lot longer, since she didn’t trust Beka to manage on her own). But Beka knew that Humans usually valued family as much as the Selkies and the Merpeople did. “You couldn’t get back here to visit in all that time? That’s so sad.”

Marcus stood up abruptly, his large shadow blocking out the sun. “Not really,” he said shortly. “We don’t get along.”

Beka opened her mouth to say something, but he stalked off toward the port side and didn’t say another word to her until the Wily Serpent glided into the harbor as smoothly as its name.

THREE

MARCUS LEFT HIS father and the guys unloading the few fish they’d managed to salvage and stowed Beka and her surfboard into his battered ancient Jeep. During the trip back into shore, Beka’s hair had dried to reveal its true color, a golden yellow the color of sunshine. In rippled down her back like silk, smelling faintly of summer memories and shining in the bright morning light. For some reason, it kept catching at his vision out of the corner of one eye, distracting him.

There was something generally sunshiny about her, in fact. She seemed to radiate a kind of cheerful glow that both attracted and annoyed him. He couldn’t pin down exactly why that was, which also attracted and annoyed him. Thank goodness he’d be rid of her soon. His life was complicated enough. And he was kind of used to the gray that colored everything in his world since he’d gotten home, as though he’d been wrapped in slightly dingy cotton wool.

He parked in a spot off Highway One, with the ocean on one side and a steep bluff on the other. There were no houses in sight, but this was where she’d instructed him to bring her. What the hell was the woman playing at now?

“I thought you said you lived near here,” he said, not trying to hide his scowl.

Beka nodded, sliding out of the Jeep and grabbing her board. She gestured to the bluff. “I live up there, at least for the moment.” She cast a wicked grin in his direction. “You can wait down here for me if you want.”

“Not a chance.” He looked at the nearly vertical path that cut into the sandy incline. “You carry your surfboard up and down that thing?”

“Just about every day,” she said, tucking it under one arm effortlessly and heading toward a path. Her wet suit hung around her hips, revealing a simple white one-piece suit and lots of toned, tanned girl. He tried not to watch her perfect butt as he followed her up the hill.

Marcus stopped at the top of the bluff to get the lay of the land. At first glance, there was nothing much there—a few windblown trees, a patch of ragged land more weeds than grass, and . . .

“Is that a school bus?” he asked. It had the right shape, but the entire thing was painted with a mural of an underwater seascape of blues shading into aqua and greens, complete with colorful fish, playful seals and dolphins, and a scantily clad mermaid wearing an enchanting smile. He walked around to look at the other side, bemused, and found a sinuous sea serpent with crimson, orange, and yellow scales curling in and around the windows. Whoever had done the painting was wasted on buses; the entire effect was so realistic, he felt like he could swim right into the world in front of him. A tiny shiver ran down his spine.

“That’s my home; at least, its current incarnation,” Beka said with another one of her sideways smiles. “A little flashy, I know, but it looked that way when I inherited it from my foster mother.” An eye roll accompanied the statement. “Some people got way too attached to the sixties.”

Marcus shook his head. Great. A flake from a long line of flakes. It figured. He was much more impressed by the improbably well-preserved Karmann Ghia with a surfboard rack on top, parked alongside a shiny black Vespa motorcycle. Nice toys for a crazy surfer girl. Maybe she has a rich father. At least then he wouldn’t have to worry about taking her food money to pay for this morning’s mess.

“I’ll go get you the money,” Beka said, echoing his thought as she headed toward the door to the bus. Marcus followed her in, more out of curiosity than distrust.

His eyes widened as he hit the top of the stairs and looked down the length of the converted school bus. Unlike the fanciful outside, the inside was as tidy as any barracks, although considerably more attractive.

Pale wood paneled all the surfaces—floor, walls, and ceilings—giving it the feel of a shipboard cabin. The many windows along the side allowed in plenty of light, lending an airy ambiance to a space that might otherwise have felt claustrophobic. There was a tiny bathroom, an efficient galley, and a living area that included a rag rug and a futon that probably doubled as a bed.

Well-crafted maple bookshelves ran along the walls, interspersed with cabinets and cupboards that kept everything not in use neatly stowed away. A cast iron stove between the living area and the kitchen stood cold and unused at the moment, thrusting its chimney through the roof of the bus.

The few decorations he could see all continued the nautical theme: strands of shells hung like wind chimes, a decorative driftwood sculpture, blown glass globes, and the kinds of odds and ends you might find beachcombing. The futon cover was some soft woven material in shades of blue and green that reminded him of the ocean.

The only jarring note was a collection of knives and a few swords that ran along the top of the walls above the windows; some of them looked brand-new, and others as if they might have been salvaged from the wrecks of ancient ships, but all of them appeared to be sharp and ready for use. Maybe she was expecting to be boarded by pirates.

“Nice place,” he said, not commenting on the cutlery. “It’s not what I expected.”

Beka snorted, wrinkling her straight nose and revealing a couple of adorable freckles he hadn’t noticed before. “You were expecting a lot of tie-dyed throw pillows, billowing incense, and some pot plants, maybe?”

Actually, he had been. The reality was a lot more cheerful and appealing than he’d anticipated (sharp-edged weapons aside), and he couldn’t quite make it mesh with the mental image he’d formed of the girl so far. So which one of them was misleading?

“Was the interior like this when you inherited it too?” he asked. Maybe the foster mother she’d mentioned had been the tidy one. Although the outside of the bus screamed hippie, and he’d never met a tidy hippie. He loved California, but the state had more flakes than a bowl of Raisin Bran.

Beka shook her head. “No way. We’ve been changing things around ever since my foster mother moved out about two years ago. It used to be a lot more cluttered.” A dimple flashed as she grinned. “And there were, in fact, tie-dyed pillows.”

We. Oh. So she didn’t live alone. Marcus wasn’t sure why that fact hit him so hard, especially since he didn’t intend to ever see her again after today.

Of course someone that gorgeous had a boyfriend. Maybe even a husband, although a glance down at her slim left hand didn’t reveal a ring. The only jewelry she wore was a tiny gold dragon necklace and matching earrings; odd accessories for a surfer, but clearly sturdy, since they’d survived her tangle with his father’s nets.

What the hell. “We?” he asked, not really wanting the explanation.

She laughed, a sound like bells. “Oh, sorry, I haven’t introduced you.” She gave a sharp whistle. “Hey, Chewie, come say hi!”

For a moment, Marcus was baffled; it wasn’t as though there was any place for someone to hide in the open space of the bus. Then a large shape lumbered up from behind the futon and shambled over to sit in front of Beka like a gigantic walking mountain of black hair and gleaming teeth.

“Jesus!” Marcus said, taking an involuntary step backward. The thing had to weigh at least two hundred pounds, maybe more, and its head was almost as high as his waist, even sitting down. “What is that?”

Beka tutted, leaning down to pat the monster on its furry head. “This is Chewie. He lives with me. Be nice, now.”

Marcus couldn’t tell if she was talking to him or to the dog, but the creature put out one massive paw to shake. Blinking a couple of times, Marcus took it, mindful of the tough claws.

“Er, hello, Chewie,” he said politely.

“Woof,” the dog said back.

“Chewie is a Newfoundland,” Beka explained. “They’re great water dogs. They swim better than we do, and even have webbed feet. They’re often used for water rescue, and the breed started out as working dogs for fishermen.”

“Uh-huh.” Marcus tried to imagine what his father would say if Marcus brought him a huge black dog to help out on the boat, and failed miserably. Instead, he commented on the dog’s unusual name. “Chewie—I guess you named him for Chewbacca in Star Wars. I can see why; they’re both gigantic and furry.”

Beka giggled. “I never thought of that. Actually, Chewie is short for Chudo-Yudo. Also, he chews on stuff a lot, so it seemed fitting.”

“Chudo what?” Marcus said. The dog made a snuffling sound that might have been canine laughter.

“Chudo-Yudo,” Beka repeated. “He’s a character out of Russian fairy tales, the dragon that guards the Water of Life and Death. You never heard of him?”

Marcus shook his head. “My father used to tell the occasional Irish folk tale when I was a kid, but I’m not familiar with Russian ones at all. Sorry.”

“Oh, don’t be,” she said cheerfully. “Most of them were pretty gory, and they hardly ever had happy endings.”

“Right.” Marcus looked at the dog, who gazed alertly back with big brown eyes, as if trying to figure out if the former Marine was edible or not. “So, you named him after a mythical dragon from a depressing Russian story. Does anyone get eaten in that story, just out of curiosity?”

Chewie sank down onto the floor with a put-upon sigh, and Beka shook her head at Marcus. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course people got eaten. But don’t worry; Chewie hasn’t taken a bite out of anyone in years. He’s very mellow for a dragon.” She patted the massive dark head fondly.

“Don’t you mean he’s very mellow for a dog?” Marcus said with a chuckle. He had to admit, the animal seemed completely laid back. Maybe the dog was a hippie too.

Beka looked startled for a second, then caught herself. “Oh, right. That’s what I meant.” The dog gave another snort, drooling a little on her foot in the process. “Could you turn around, please?”

Marcus raised one eyebrow in question. “Excuse me?”

She made a little spinning gesture with one finger. “Turn around. I’m going to get your money now, and I don’t want you to see where I hide my stash. You can just go outside if you’re afraid to turn your back on me.”

Right. Big, bad Marine is afraid to turn his back on the skinny blond surfer chick. Not likely. Even when the chick in question had a whole lot of sharp pointy objects on her walls and a ginormous hound from hell. He turned his back on her and crossed his arms. “So, do you actually have a job, then?” he asked, as she padded on bare feet across the floor toward the cupboards in the rear. He could feel the dog’s hot breath on his knees like the wind out of the desert.

Muttered words and an odd series of clicks floated up from the end of the bus. Weird. She must have some kind of safe. Somehow she didn’t seem like the type. Hell, the door to the bus hadn’t even been locked when they’d gotten here.

“I make handcrafted jewelry and take it to Renaissance fairs and farmer’s markets and places like that,” she said, suddenly right behind him again.

Marcus tried not to jump. How on earth did she move like that? The elusive scent of fresh strawberries teased his nostrils again, oddly titillating. It didn’t smell like the too-fruity fake smell of some overly perfumed shampoo—more like the first lush strawberry of the season, warm from the sun and filled with impossible sweetness. Everything about this woman confused him, and he hated to be confused. He spun around, hand out for a wad of cash, and gazed in amazement as she dropped a half a dozen gold coins into his outstretched palm.

“And I do some diving and salvage work on the side,” she added. “These came off a wreck in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m not sure what they’re worth, but they ought to more than cover the cost of mending that tiny hole in your nets, as well as a few lost fish.” She tossed long, silky strands of golden hair over her shoulder, her expression wary and defensive.

Marcus realized that she was waiting for him to argue with her again, or say something insulting about someone who makes a living selling crap—that is, crafts—at fairs, and treasure hunting. He’d been about to do just that, truth be told, but he closed his mouth with a snap.

Behind her cheery disposition and irritating in-your-face attitude, he suspected there lurked someone who was used to being criticized. Stormy depths hid behind those bright blue eyes. He’d had young guys in his unit like that; sometimes half the bluster was just a defense against being told they were lacking in some way. And hell, at least she’d paid him for the trouble she’d put them through. The coins she’d given him would more than make up for the day’s wasted trip. Assuming they were real. Although looking at the decorations on the walls, he didn’t doubt her story of being a diver, even if he thought half of everything else she’d told him was a lie.

No point in hanging around any longer, no matter how nice the scenery was (and he didn’t mean the inside of the bus either). There was no place in his life right now for women, especially not gorgeous, eccentric ones whose worlds were so far from the one he inhabited, they might as well be on two different planets. He had a responsibility to his da, no matter how much he might dislike the old man. And as soon as he’d fulfilled that obligation, he’d be long gone. If he never saw another fish, or another ditzy California environmentalist, it would be just fine with him.

He closed his fingers over the coins and nodded brusquely. “Thanks. And do us both a favor and stay away from my father’s boat. I’ve got enough to deal with without having to worry about you crazy Greenpeace people. We’re just honest fishermen trying to make an honest living. I suggest you do the same.”

He turned on his heel and stalked out the door, almost running to get away from the feeling that he didn’t truly want to leave at all.

*   *   *

“WELL. THAT WAS rude,” Beka said. That didn’t stop her from crossing to the window to watch him walk away. No harm in looking. And it wasn’t as though she was likely to have the chance again. Besides, just because she was a powerful witch didn’t mean she couldn’t appreciate a nice butt when she saw one.

“Man’s clearly got issues,” Chudo-Yudo said, padding over to stand next to her and giving her leg an affectionate nudge that almost knocked her over. “But he’s kinda cute.”

Beka rolled her eyes. “What the hell do you know about cute? You’re a dragon.” She resolutely tore her gaze away from the sight and went to flop down on the futon instead.

“I know that you hardly ever pay attention to men, even when they treat you a lot better than that guy did,” Chudo-Yudo said, opening the mini-fridge with his teeth to fetch out his latest bone. “And I also know that you hardly took your eyes off that one the whole time he was here. Hence—cute.” He crunched on the bone loudly.

Beka would have argued, but what would be the point? It was true. There was something about the man that pulled at her core . . . despite the fact that he was cranky, unpleasant, and couldn’t stand anything about her. Thank goodness she was never going to see him again.

Chudo-Yudo lifted up his head and a second later, a knock on the door made her heart skip a beat. But something told her it wasn’t a stick-up-his-butt fisherman, coming back to borrow a cup of sugar.

In fact, when she opened the door, her visitor was revealed to be a slim, dark-haired man clad only in a pair of shorts. He dripped wetly on her doorstep, smelling faintly of salt and sea and mystery. When Beka came down to meet him, he bowed low in respect, his pale form bent almost to the ground. A ragged piece of seaweed was caught behind one ear like a ribbon, tangled in his ebony curls.

“Baba Yaga,” he said, his tone formal as he handed her a roll of something that wasn’t quite parchment, but still looked ancient and weighty, for all that it, too, dripped salt water on the ground beneath. “I bring you greetings and salutations from the Queen of the Merpeople and the King of the Selkies. They hope that you will meet them this e’en at tide’s turn, down upon yon beach.” He gestured gracefully toward the ocean that waited just across the highway, its heartbeat as dependable as the waxing and waning of the moon.

Damn, Beka thought. So much for staying out of trouble.

“I see,” she said to the messenger, although clearly she didn’t. “Please tell them that I will be there.”

She’d spent the last two years avoiding anything that would call for her to draw on her powers as Baba for anything more urgent than averting the occasional tidal wave or quieting an earthquake, so she could be sure of not screwing up. Something told her she’d finally run out of time.

FOUR

A LOW MOON hung over the deserted beach, casting eerie shadows over windswept sand. A few days past full, its pallid globe danced in and out of scudding clouds, playing at hide-and-seek with a group of friendly stars. A little way offshore, a whale breached, sending a spume of water into the sky to add to the fun.

The night air held a tiny bite of cold as it crept in off the water, and elusive scraps of fog wandered to and fro as if looking for the party. At her feet, a crab edged sideways toward a safer section of sand. Beka wished she could do the same.

The moon hid its face for one long moment, and when it returned, a half a dozen figures had materialized out of the frothing surf. They walked out of the sea as if they strolled out of another world, one of mystery and magic and strange enchanting beauty. Which was more or less the truth of the matter, as it happened.

The two in front had the kind of presence that caught the eye without intending to; an upright stance, a high-held head, a regal stare that said, Look, these ones are important. Special. Do not presume to bother them.

It wasn’t anything they did or said, simply who they were. The guards who walked behind each of them were nothing; a habit, perhaps, a display of power, or merely the caution of the long-lived. But the two in front . . . it was just as well that the beach was empty at this late hour, because no one seeing them could have mistaken them for anything less than what they were: royalty out of legend, risen up upon a shore not their own.

On the left, the Queen of the Merpeople wore a gown of green and blue that swirled around her ankles, the pointed tips of the hemline dragging over her bare, slightly webbed feet as they slid effortlessly across the crusted sand. A silver belt entwined her slender waist, and a bejeweled diadem twinkled atop the crimson flame of her hair.

To her right, the King of the Selkies strode in muscular grace. His attire was more muted: brown and gray with tiny glints of light from layered scales, as though his pants and tunic had been crafted from some exotic deep-sea creature whose subtle armored shell could be formed into everyday attire. No crown sat on his straight black hair, but he carried a scepter in one hand with a large emerald at its tip.

Beka took a few steps forward and executed a sweeping bow. Strictly speaking, a Baba Yaga didn’t need to bow to anyone except the High Queen of the Otherworld, before whom all paranormal beings bowed (at least, all those with any sense of self-preservation). But as her mentor always said, it never hurt to be polite.

“Your Majesties,” she said. “You wished to speak to me?”

Queen Boudicca inclined her head slightly. “And so we did, Baba Yaga. We have need of your services, and have come to ask for your aid.” Her pale face was proud and stern in the moonlight, but worry haunted her almond-shaped green eyes. The Irish lilt in her voice bespoke the Celtic origins of both the underwater races who had migrated to the New World along with those who once believed in them.

King Gwrtheyrn growled an agreement, sounding like a bull seal warning off a rival. “We tend to our own, most times,” he said. “With no need of meddling from those who left us behind when they fled this plane of existence. But the Babas have always been a friend to our people, and I’m not ashamed to say that the Selkies are in dire want of a friend, just now.”

“And the Merpeople as well,” Boudicca said, shaking her head a little at her fellow royal. “After all, it was my woman who came and told us the tale of the Baba Yaga rescuing her child this day, which put the idea into our heads in the first place.”

The King snorted, waving one hand in that “settle down, woman” motion that was the same both above and below the sea.

“Are the mother and her baby okay?” Beka asked, trying to avert an argument. The King and Queen might share an underwater kingdom, but they (and their people) spent more time squabbling than a school of tiger sharks. Sometimes with as messy results. “I couldn’t see them from the boat once I was aboard, so I hoped that meant they’d gotten away without any further problems.”

Boudicca gave a narrow, pointy-toothed smile. “Both are doing well, thanks to you, Baba Yaga. But the same cannot be said for our people as a whole. We face a calamity the likes of which we have not experienced since our ill-considered move to these shores.”

Beka could feel her heart rate pick up. “The Merwoman I met said that something had happened to the water in the trench and you’d been forced to relocate all your subjects. Is that really true?” It wasn’t that she’d thought the Mermaid was lying, exactly; it just didn’t seem possible. And then, of course, a large, attractive fisherman had distracted her from the issue.

The King’s austere face creased with concern. “It is true, Baba Yaga. Something poisons the fish, the plants, and the more vulnerable among us. Two children have already sickened greatly, and others show signs of ill health. Our wise men and healers can find no reason for this, our mages have tried all their tricks, and yet, the problem persists.”

Boudicca sighed, head drooping as though the weight of the delicate crown she wore was suddenly too heavy to bear. “After one of the eldest of our tribe died suddenly, it was finally decided that we had no choice but to leave our homes. We found another deep trough, closer in to the shore, and we have cast all the magical protections around it that we can, in hopes of keeping the Humans away.”

“But the trench where we have always lived was never discovered by the air dwellers; it appears on no map, and no diver has ever returned from its treacherous depths.” The King’s slightly predatory smile made Beka shudder, although she made sure to hide the movement. “This new place is visited from time to time by those they call scientists. We cannot safely stay there forever.”

“And so it is we turn to you, Baba Yaga,” Gwrtheyrn said in formal tones. His voice took on the cadence of one about to invoke the Old Rites: magic and tradition that bound as tightly as any chains.

Beka glanced wildly around the beach, as though some miracle might come dashing through the fog to carry her off, out of the danger of obligations she might not be able to fulfill. But none was forthcoming.

Boudicca laid one long-fingered hand over Gwrtheyrn’s, and their heavy gazes filled with the magnitude of their request. The temperature on the beach seemed to drop, and Beka shivered.

“We ask, Baba Yaga, that you undertake the task of discovering the cause of this mysterious illness that afflicts our lands and our peoples, and if it is possible, cure it. Find a way for us to return to our homes before it is too late and the air dwellers discover us.”

The Queen’s mellifluous voice rang with the power behind her words. It was a Baba Yaga’s job to maintain the balance of the elements, if she could. In this day and age, that was nearly impossible, but if someone who knew enough to ask requested a Baba’s help, and made the correct bargains, tradition insisted the task be undertaken.

As if hearing her thoughts, the King added, “We promise you three boons, should you accomplish this difficult undertaking. A boon for you, a boon for a friend, and a boon for a stranger, should you find one such in need of our aid. These things we promise.”

Boudicca repeated after him, “These things we promise.” And then they said it together, “These things we promise. And so the bargain is made. And so shall it be done.”

A chime rang through the air, as clear as though the stars above had all rung like bells in unison. Beka felt the magic tremble down from her head to her toes, touching her essence and wrapping the invisible strands of destiny around her with a silken inevitability.

“I will do my best,” she answered them, bowing again. And was glad they could not hear the tiny voice, far down inside, that said, But will your best be good enough? Or will you fail all these people, dooming their races to death?

*   *   *

CHARLIE KELLY WATCHED from the edge of the road as his driver backed the anonymous white van oh-so-carefully down to the decrepit-looking dock. It wouldn’t do to have an accident with the current cargo aboard. Charlie wasn’t exactly holding his breath as the tires ground their methodical way down to the abandoned cannery, but he didn’t breathe deeply again until the van came to a gentle halt.

The moon overhead cast a welcome light over the Stygian darkness; no doubt the reason why his contact had insisted they meet tonight. Charlie hated all this cloak and dagger crap, but under the circumstances, he didn’t have much choice.

There were too many people depending on him, and all those damned government regulations and budget cutbacks were forcing him to take drastic measures in order to prevent mass layoffs that would compromise the safety of the plant he ran. This was really the only way to cope—people kept their jobs, he kept his year-end bonus, and nobody got hurt.

Hell, it was practically a public service, the way he saw it. And it was perfectly safe, no matter what anyone said; the containers were tightly sealed and the ocean was huge. It wasn’t as though anything one guy did could really affect it. Everything would be fine. As long as he didn’t get caught.

Which was why he and his two most trusted guys were the only ones who knew about this little cost-cutting measure. Them and the man they were here to meet, that is.

Charlie peered into the distance, finally hearing the sound he’d been waiting for. The muffled thrum of a powerful engine running at the lowest speed possible barely disturbed the silence of the empty site. A large speedboat, painted a black so deep it blended with the night, eased up next to the dock and slid to a stop so smoothly it barely caused a ripple in the water. An equally dark figure jumped lightly onto the splintered wood dock and had a rope slung loosely around a crooked post before Charlie could even take a step forward.

“You’re late,” Charlie said in a low growl. There was something about the diver he’d hired that just set his teeth on edge, although he could never put a finger on exactly what it was.

But it hadn’t been easy to find someone willing to drag a bunch of unmarked containers down into the Monterey Trench where they would be out of harm’s way and safe from discovery. In fact, the guy had actually found him, although how he’d known that Charlie was looking to hire someone, the diver had never quite gotten around to explaining.

Arrogant son of a bitch, and tight-lipped to boot. Of course, for Charlie, the latter was a quality he needed in the person he hired, and outweighed the first, so he just put up with the man.

The new arrival shrugged. “I’m here now. Shall we get these t’ings loaded before the dawn is upon us?” The diver’s good looks and charming Irish accent did nothing to conceal the steel edge under his tone. Something in his gut told Charlie that this was a dangerous man. Of course, who else would you hire for illegal dumping?

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Wickedly Wonderful"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Deborah Blake.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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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"This is paranormal romance at its best, with all the magic and mayhem tied together with very human emotions, even when the characters aren't quite human."Alex Bledsoe, author of Wisp of a Thing
 
"In Wickedly Dangerous, Deborah Blake has updated Baba Yaga for the 21st century; witchy and wild, with a kick-ass woman, witty repartee, and roots to the past. This book has everything I’m looking for." –Tanya Huff, author of The Silvered
 
"An addicting plot combined with a unique adventure and an intelligent, pragmatic heroine kept me glued to the page. I never had so much fun losing sleep!"–Maria V. Snyder, New York Times bestselling author of the Healer series

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