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Chapter Two

Spirits heavy, James slipped from his mother’s house, through the newly budding garden and ambled toward the seashore. He clutched a bottle of Irish whiskey in his left hand and had a few bread rolls stuffed in his pocket. He’d had his belly full of pretentious mourners shuffling about, putting on a show of sadness. None of those simpering fops had come to honor the general, a celebrated hero amongst his countrymen, they’d come for gossip and the luncheon spread.

Jaw set with pent up irritation, James stumbled down a sandy embankment toward the beach. Gentle spring wind whipped up from the water, carrying salty mist over the shoreline. Silver and gold slivers of sunlight glittered from the endless expanse of the sea, and the sun bathed him in a blanket of warmth. James drew a long breath through his nose and settled into the side of a sand dune. The day was unseasonably warm and he opened the buttons of his uniform jacket, staring blankly at the ocean. Lazy waves licked the shoreline in soothing rhythm, easing a measure of his stress.

James uncorked the bottle, more than ready to drown the day’s miserable events in a healthy draught of spirits. He raised the whiskey but froze before it reached his lips. He blinked, staring down the beach.

Dear God, is that a woman or an angel?

Apparently he’d imbibed a great deal more than he’d realized before the funeral service. His arm dropped, embedding the bottle in the sand. His eyes must be playing tricks on him. Floating down the beach front, a vision dressed all in white, was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

Blonde curls whipped on the breeze, lifting up over her head and swirling about delicate shoulders. The woman wore no gown, but appeared to be garbed in a white stays and chemise. Bare feet sank into the damp sand with each step, and the waves curling along the beach stretched over the shore, reaching—begging—to kiss the pale, ivory flesh gliding by just out of reach. Wind tugged the meager garments snug against her lush curves, revealing a length of smooth legs and a tiny waist. She gazed out over the sea, expression wistful… serene... adding to the ethereal air she exuded.

Entranced, James could do naught but stare.

The woman drew closer, but rather than deter from the haunting quality of her beauty, it intensified. James’s throat dried. An angel indeed… a superstitious man might believe her an otherworldly being—a spirit—drifting between worlds.

James fully believed the girl to be flesh and blood, and stood, unable to tear his gaze from her inappropriate dress—namely the raised flesh of her bosoms  peaking over the innocent white chemise.

She did not waver from her solitary sojourn along the shoreline.

“I never would have thought to find a mermaid so far from Cornwall,” he called, compelled by a rare moment of chivalry to alert her to his presence.

The woman startled, turning to face him completely. Thick lashes framed wide, deep-set pale eyes and a heated flush bloomed in her cheeks. Hair of the most peculiar silvery blonde shade tumbled in messy ringlets around her heart shaped face, and her skin shone with ivory perfection. His gaze shifted to her mouth. Oh, her mouth… words did not exist to describe the exquisitely carved flesh. The corners swirled up into perfectly delectable dimples and rolled into luscious pouty waves all but begging to be kissed.

He clapped a hand over his heart. “Are you here to drag unsuspecting fools like myself into a watery grave with your siren’s beauty? But say the word, my lady, and I will follow you into the depths.”

She regarded him warily, obviously unsure what to make of his teasing, and swept an assessing gaze the length of his disheveled frame.

“If you wish for a watery grave, sir. Finish the contents of your bottle and swim out to yonder rock.”

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