Kendra stretched in bed, the sheets tangled up between her legs and twisted the length of her body. One palm to her forehead, she groaned in frustration and glanced around the dark room. She was hot, she was sweaty, she was nervous. There was a hollow pit inside of her, but she didn't what it was from.
She needed something so badly her bones ached. This had been going on for weeks, since before she rented the cottage. Outside the window, the surf rumbled as waves crashed endlessly on the pebble shore.
The ocean was calling, calling, calling, always calling. She couldn't stand to be away from it. Twice already, she had dozed off in the shallows during the long, blistering hot afternoons. Luckily both times she was protected from too much sun under the shade of the palms.
"Screw it." Sleep was not coming tonight. She stood up and threw on a tunic style cover-up and found her slippers by the door. The moon shed plenty of light, huge and painfully bright, and she tiptoed down the path to the edge of the sea.
She must be insane to go alone at night. But then that summed up her days and nights fairly well. Kendra turned round in circles in the rooms of the cottage and the pebble beach like the mad woman with the yellow wallpaper, but always alone. Her days were lonely and her years were a broken record of failed relationships.
There was an outcropping of rocks beneath the palm trees that created the shallow pool where she liked to sit and soak. She hopped from rock to rock until she reached the one furthest out and she sat down. She dipped her toes in the foam and water. It was surprisingly warm for the middle of the night.
A rounded shadow surged from the water a dozen feet away, but disappeared again immediately. A fish perhaps or large wave. She shivered in the cool air. Another shadow appeared, nearer. A prickle of fear ran through her heart. There was something in the water.
She drew back, but gentle waves hit the rocks and the sound calmed her instantly. What a scaredy-cat she could be when her imagination went on a tangent. There was nothing out here but the water and herself. And the moon above.
Getting comfortable with only her feet in the water, she closed her eyes, face to the dark sky above. The waves were a lullaby and she felt her mind and spirit drifting, closer to sleep than she had been in her bed for the last several hours. Seaweed tickled her toes and a little fish brushed her sole.
This was why she had rented the cottage. This was why she had upended her life in the city. She belonged here.
"Sweet Selkie," a woman's voice whispered. It seemed to have come from the water.
Kendra jerked upright. "Who's there?" Her heart pounded.
"Sweet Selkie, don't be afraid," another voice whispered, huskier than the first but female.
Two heads emerged from the black water, women with fine bones and long hair that blended in the swirling eddies beneath them. Kendra's heart clenched and she was ready to run. They didn't appear entirely right.
They swam languidly to the rock where she was perched. By the moonlight, their cheek bones were too high, lips and eyes too wide, ears too swept up, and their skin flashed almost blue and green. But the light was pale.
"Do you need help?" Kendra asked. Perhaps they were lost. Her instincts told her run, but she couldn't seem to move.
"The king has sent for you and you must come. What he desires we bring him. You of the Selkie blood, he has asked for you, though your kin were long trapped on the dusty ground." The woman pushed up on the rock. Water streamed from her naked body. Kendra blinked. She wasn't human. Kendra must have been dreaming because she was straight out of a fantasy with her mermaid tail.
The creature leaned forward and sniffed Kendra, inhaling deeply. Then her tongue flicked out. She gave a tiny moan as if desperate for something.
"What are you?" Kendra asked. She was mesmerized by the undulating tail, beautiful eyes, and by the way the water pearled on the woman's high breasts.
"Selkie, sweet child, we are the servants of the king, his merfolk. He makes sport of us when he chooses, but for what he wants he must have a Selkie bride. You have been chosen. Will you come?"
The other one in the water clung to the rock. "Will you come and meet your king, and give yourself entirely to his pleasure?" she asked Kendra. Seaweed tickled her feet again, until she realized it was the creature's hair.
"For your pleasure," whispered the one next to her.
Kendra shook her head, denying what she saw and heard. "This is a dream. You are speaking English. If this was real or there was even the slightest possibility of such a thing, then you wouldn't speak my language."
"We don't speak your language," whispered the one whose hair curled around Kendra's ankles.
"Silly Selkie, so soft, so sweet," whispered the other who stroked Kendra's arm and hand with her impossibly long fingers. They spoke like the waves, one starting as soon as the other stopped as though they were connected.
"You speak our language. With your Selkie blood, it is born in you, it grows in you, but it belongs to the sea."
"It belongs to the king. This language in your ear, rolling from your tongue belongs to him, as all things dwelling in the sea belong to him."
"He desires you."
"He desires you return to the sea for him."
"He needs you."
"Will you come with us?"
"Let him love you."
"Let him pleasure you."
"Let him fill you."
"Will you come?"
"Will you come?"
Kendra's eyes closed in a daze. The two mermaids whispered continuously to her. It was like holding the conch shell to her ear, but instead of hearing the ocean, she heard temptations of unworldly pleasure.