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…
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 . . .
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.
“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.
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.
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?
Excerpted from "Wickedly Wonderful"
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.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Wickedly Dangerous
"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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Deborah Blake continues her tales of the Russian Baba Yaga's with the second book in the series, Wickedly Wonderful. This book is part mystery and part romance, with a touch of folklore and a ton of paranormal characters. Readers who read the first book in the series, Wickedly Dangerous are treated to a change of scenery and a change in Baba Yaga's. Blake has created a world that is reminiscent of the old tales of the Baba Yaga, with a more modern spin that will take readers by surprise. A very good addition to this intriguing series! What I liked: Having read Wickedly Dangerous, I was interested to see how Blake would once again make the Baba Yaga tale, fresh and inviting. Blake's interpretation of the old Russian stories, gives readers more than one Baba Yaga to focus on. In the latest installment, Wickedly Wonderful, Beka Yancy is a young Baba Yaga just starting out, but not without considerable powers. With her affinity for water, it only seemed natural that this Baba Yaga lived on the coast and took up surfing. The change in heroine and scenery was enough to give this book and entirely different feel than the first, it had good originality and depth. Beka is very different from Barbara, the previous heroine. She is beginning her journey as a Baba Yaga and does not have the confidence that comes from experience yet. She is thrown into a situation with the Selkie King and the Mer Queen that would have been daunting for even the most mature of the Baba Yaga's. Someone is poisoning the home of these paranormal denizens of the deep and it's up to Beka to solve the mystery. Blake develops Beka's character throughout the book, building on each experience and situation, until she begins to come into her own and believe in herself and her abilities. It almost had that 'coming of age' vibe about the story that was very satisfying when Beka realizes her worth. The mystery wasn't exactly a mystery to the reader. Though Beka and her love interest Marcus go through the book trying to figure out what is happening in the ocean and why, readers are privy to the villain's plan and intentions. I think it would have been a bit more intense had the reader been trying to figure it out along side the characters, but there was a certain unique quality to seeing inside the mind of someone so full of greed. It was an interesting perspective for sure. The romance between Beka and Marcus was central to the story and I felt as a reader they were a very good match. Marcus is an ex-Marine who is a bit battle scarred and world weary. Beka's bright nature and love of life were obviously good for him and his steadfast and loyal attitude helped her to trust in him and herself. Their relationship was a slow build that readers will definitely enjoy. Bottom Line: Overall I liked this book quite a bit better than the first book. There wasn't as much background on the Baba Yaga legend, but I don't think that was necessary unless being read as a standalone. I liked the re-occurring characters of the Fairy Queen and the Riders and the change of heroine made it seem fresh and new. Chudo Yudo was a beautiful Newfoundland in this one and still as wise as anyone would expect for a dragon. The romance was tender and believable and the mystery had a totally different angle than expected. A excellent second effort!
Liked the depth of characters
I love this series so much! I was sucked right into it
This is the 2nd book in the Baba Yaga series, concerning Beka Yancy, who is in charge of the California area, including the ocean and its depths. While rescuing a young merbaby from fishing nets, she meets ex-Marine/fisherman Marcus Dermott and his crotchety father. Angry that she destroyed his fishing net, Marcus demands that she repay him for his loss. Thinking this is the last she will see of this hunky guy, her next request as Baba Yaga involves her trying to find the source of poisoning for the Selkies and Mers current home. Realizing she needs a ride out to this particular part of the ocean, she reaches out to Marcus to utilize his father's fishing boat. Can she resolve the problem or are her powers as Baba Yaga lacking? And what is to come of her attraction to this troubled guy? This is such a fun series. Beka is so very different from the Baba Yaga (Barbara) in the first book. But I enjoyed learning about her personality and her abilities, as well as watching the growing relationship with Marcus. I especially love her Newfoundland/dragon companion. I look forward to reading about the 3rd Baba Yaga in the next book.
I really love the Baba Yaga series it puts a fun twist on an old story. I love the houses how it went from being a hut on chicken legs to something different for each "witch"!
A delightfully magical, wonderfully witchy tale! I love Deborah's Baba Yagas! Legends had been written about less... WICKEDLY WONDERFUL by Deborah Blake is a brilliantly woven bewitching tale. I'm so grateful that I won this paperback in a panel contest at the Coastal Magic Convention this past February, as it started me on a magical journey of discovering the awesomeness of Deborah Blake's books! I've been holding off reading it until now as I wanted to read the series in order and, happily, I've now done that. This is the story of Beka Yancy, a relatively new, unsure, but powerful witch, and ex-marine Marcus Dermott, who has returned to Monterey Bay to be with his father as he's going through chemotherapy. The Baba Yaga series is a fractured retelling of an old Russian folk tale of an aged, sometimes-wicked/sometimes-not witch. The original stories were mostly gory and rarely had happy endings. I prefer the author's spruced-up spin! For instance, the original Baba Yaga lived in a chicken hut on legs. Beka's version has morphed into a hippie school bus painted with beautiful ocean art. For short trips, Beka drives a Karman Ghia, which brought back memories of my own first Ghia many years ago! Mine was candy apple red; Beka's is ocean blue. AND, most importantly to me, Deborah's have HEA endings! WICKEDLY WONDERFUL is the second book in this series and features my favorite cover of the series as it's purple andI'm a huge purple fan. I would recommend that this series be read in order, if possible. I can attest that each book has been fantastic! However, WICKEDLY WONDERFUL can be enjoyed as a standalone, if that is your preference, as Deborah seamlessly fills in whatever-new-readers would-need-to-know. I absolutely loved this installment in Deborah's Baba Yaga series. Beka and Marcus were both genuinely compelling characters who each captured my heart. They had chemistry galore! I kept hoping they would move on from their rocky beginning and issues. Their story was yummy sexy with a suspenseful plot that kept me eagerly turning the pages. I would be gravely remiss if I didn't mention Chewie. Each of the witches has their own Chudo-Yudo, aka dragon partner who is charged with protecting their witch and guarding their precious supply of the Water of Life and Death. Chewie, disguised as a Newfoundland, a large water dog, is Beka's. AND, don't think for a minute that he's named after Chewbacca in Star Wars. I'm not telling how he got his name. You'll have to read the book to find out. Chewie is seriously addicted to s'mores, which ignited my craving for them also. (Mmmm!) Beka's and Chewie's bantering was delightful - sometimes sweet and often laugh-out-loud funny. I was thrilled to find out that Deborah is writing a spin-off to this series featuring the strong and sexy Riders who are at the Baba Yagas' beck and call. The first book will be DANGEROUSLY CHARMING and it's scheduled to released Oct 4 2016! As with the first book, Deborah's writing is very descriptive with richly detailed imagery so your mind's eye will visualize what she has put in words. I can't wait to read the next installment, WICKEDLY POWERFUL; It's sitting on my bedside table and I'm starting it today! I would highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys delightfully magical paranormal reads! My full review is posted at Reading Between The Wines Book Club. Please check it out there! 4 1/2 out of 5 Wine Glasses!
3.75 because the next book will surely be 4 stars and keep improving from there. Loved that the tone, the entire feel of this book reflects the characters who are very different from the first book...all within the continuity of the Baba Yaga Mythos construct. Brava! Am curious for book three and to see how Blake's talent/skills progress.
different take on things
I had a fantastic time with the first book in the series and was awed just a bit from the creative Baba Yaga world. It was a no-contest decision to take up the sequel telling the story of the next Baba Yaga, Beka Yancy. This book moves things to a new territory, the beautiful central California coast, and focuses on an adventure by and in the sea since this Baba claims water as her strongest magical element. It's only fitting that her Chudo Yudo is disguised as a huge loveable Newfoundland, her hut is an eclectically decorated school bus and her preferred wheels are a surf board and a Karmann Ghia. Since this one got the reader up to speed and dove into the story, the character development and the romance with just brief reminders as to the backdrop and a lot of the magical world surrounding the Baba Yagas, I was much better pleased with this installment than the first one. This one could be read out of order or as a standalone as there is enough description to get the reader in the loop, but my advice is to get them in order. As I said, the worldbuilding is better teased out in the first one. The story opens just as Beka has been released to be on her own as a full-fledged Baba Yaga when her mentor, the previous Baba Yaga, is retired to the Otherworld. Beka feels shaky about her abilities and even harbors serious doubts that being a Baba Yaga is what she wants to do. And that's before she lands on the bad side of a cantankerous fisherman while out on a rescue and then a huge problem is dropped into her lap. Beka is approached by the Mer Queen and the Selkie King because something is poisoning their home in the deep hidden trench and their people are sick and dying. She strikes the deal to aid them even though she is convinced that this is way above her pay grade. Marcus returned from a 12-year career as a marine when he is contacted by a concerned friend that his dad is being treated for cancer. He left the crusty old Irish fisherman and that world behind with only bad memories attached to his dad's harshness and his younger brother's death, but now he's back in the middle of it all determined to help someone who makes it clear he doesn't want Marcus or his help. Marcus believes he is almost as inhuman as his old da after years spent at war and it doesn't help that he is bristly and suspicious of the gorgeous blond surfer who he suspects is up to something. He can't help, but be affected by her sunny nature and bright smiles even as he fights to resist the attraction. He has no use for flaky, hippy types or any type of woman for that matter. She got around him and hired out his dad's boat to carry her out to dive for treasure or so she claims. While Beka hunts unsuccessfully for the source of what is poisoning the sea kingdom and killing its peoples along with tentatively coming to a sort of understanding with Marcus, she meets the suave, charismatic Selkie Prince who wishes to court her for his own purposes. She is no closer to finishing her difficult tasks when the Fairy Queen adds another immediate problem to her pile that is endangering humans and magical kind alike and her former mentor has grave doubts about Beka's ability to handle it all. Beka must decide what she really wants and she must reach down inside herself to find if she has what it takes to be a Baba Yaga. When its all over, she suspects that she will lose either way because surely her cranky, magic-hating fisherman will leave her behind even though her dragon cautions her to give a chance to the unexpected. As I said, the plot on this one got going and kept going at a good pace. It was full of changing scenes and situations, character development, intrigue and yes, a nice slow developing romance. Beka is very different from the Baba in the previous story. Where Barbara was confident and edgier and in the prime of her knowledge and power, Beka is a rookie and she is as lacking in confidence as they come. Fortunately, her dragon gives her some verbal boots up the butt to get over it and get busy. There are several things going on to capture the attention from Beka's two missions, to her personal dilemma, her choice of men interested in her, Marcus' thing with his sick dad and his issues and attraction to Beka. Marcus and Beka were a good match. Marcus' stalwart strength and drive supported Beka when she needed to lean on his help and it was good for him to have someone who needed him. Beka was also good for Marcus because her light and generous kind-hearted nature was able to heal a lot of Marcus' internal wounds. They make a good romantic pair, but also worked well together when faced with trouble. And like the first book, there is blessedly no untoward drama. The book lets the organic conflicts that are already there to challenge the hero and heroine. I loved that familiar characters like the Riders and the Fairy Queen made brief appearances even while new characters were introduced. My only real niggle, and it's just a little one, was that I wished that Kesh's point of view hadn't been available- as interesting as it was- because knowing what he was doing early on took away some of the excitement and suspense. Oh, the book still had some thrilling moments, but I think there could have been more if the reader is as in the dark as Beka and Marcus with just the evidence of their eyes and impressions. In the end, it was a superb story and a fantastic sequel showing the series of books just getting stronger. From the little bits gleaned from that Epilogue, I anticipate things to build even more since there looks to be some serious trouble coming- maybe for all the Baba Yagas, their guys, and their friends. I think paranormal romance fans who like slow to build story and romance development, slightly spicy romance, engaging characters and a creative world should give these a go. My thanks to Penguin Group and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Wickedly Wonderful is the second book in an Urban Fantasy series, based on the Russian folklore of Baba Yaga, a Witch who travels around in her magically disguised home, and their Chudo- Yudo's which are Dragons disguised in the form of a dog. Beka and her two sister Baba Yaga's are in charge of the United States, Beka is approached by the King of the Selkies and the Queen of the Merpeople after they are forced from their underwater home when their people become extremely ill from unknown toxins, they ask for Beka's help in identifying the problem and it's cause and fixing it. Aiding her is Marcus a former Marine and his Father who owns a fishing boat and agree to take Beka out diving old shipwrecks unknown to them what she's really doing. From their very first meeting Beka and Marcus butt heads denying their attraction for one another, when she meets Kesh the Selkie Prince he seems to pursue Beka unbeknownst to her of his nefarious plans towards her, with her mind undecided about whether she wants to continue on being a Baba Yaga or not. With a story full of action, adventure, magic and romance this a great instalment to this series. An original concept that will keep you intrigued.