The cool sea closed over Kai's head, and he opened his gills to the soothing flow of water. At last he could relax. He stripped off his swim trunks, stuffed them in the pouch he wore around his waist, and kicked out, reveling in the rush of water before he allowed the complete shape-shift to flood over him. Then he gave a quick flick of his tail fin and moved twice as far as he had with his feet.
Bliss. He hadn't changed his form when he'd taken a quick swim after arriving in Cromer the day before yesterday. He couldn't remember when he'd last done it. Yes, he could. A month ago, at the compulsory change when the moon was at its height, and then only in the bath for a minute or two. He'd been too busy. How could he have allowed life to control him to that extent?
That quick shape-shift didn't compare to the freedom of the sea that he'd indulged himself with this month. The water's coolness should be a relief against the heat of the day just passed, but now that he'd shape-shifted, he was cold-blooded, so his temperature adjusted to his environment. But the sensation of water passing through his mouth and out through his gills felt natural and real. Occasionally he had to remember to breathe through his nose in his human form.
He dived deeper, seeking what the archaeologists a mile or so away were also looking for, but in his case, idle curiosity drove him rather than the controlled search for information. The underwater village. The divers usually gave up work at sundown, but sometimes a few remained, working under spotlights. If any of them saw him now, he'd fuzz so they'd see a man with scuba gear. But unless that happened, he'd flow free.
A few rocks indicated where there'd once been a house. The coast of Norfolk had changed over the centuries. For that matter, the whole of the British coastline had underwater villages. But this one was special. For some reason it had brought Geoff Wilkinson, metamorph extraordinaire, out of hiding. He was here, somewhere. And when Esti, Sorcerer extraordinaire, arrived, they'd have the bastard.
This time they had to. Wilkinson had nearly killed Crystal, now Bryn Murchison's wife. Kai had enjoyed the time when he'd provided the couple with a third. But these days he preferred to keep his distance. It wasn't enough. When he saw Bryn and Crystal so happy together, playing with them from time to time wasn't enough for Kai anymore.
Kai closed his eyes for an instant. He'd always used swimming time to think, and perhaps that explained why he'd been so tired recently. No time to think. Idiot. He should have done this weeks ago.
He squinted at the tracks in the sand at the bottom of the sea. A cottage but he couldn't see any evidence of a road or any straight lines leading away. There were no straight lines in nature. Scattered stones showed where there had been a wall, centuries ago. What could be here that would draw Geoffrey Wilkinson out of hiding? But something had, and this site was the clue. Kai had several more nights like this ahead of him, searching the scattered remnants of Shipden, which had disappeared under the sea six hundred years before.
He forced himself to concentrate on his task--finding something, an artifact, man-made, something of value. Or finding a clue. Team Crystal was around, some members in London, some local, researching the long-lost village of Shipden; there had to be something here. Other members were in New York, following a stronger lead.
Nothing remained in this building, a one-room cottage, perhaps ten feet by ten, where people would have shared living space with their animals. Or maybe a fisherman lived here and spent his afternoons mending the nets he'd take out in the early morning to catch fish to feed his family and trade or sell.
Kai spread his senses wider instead of concentrating on the little dwelling. Small fish swam past him, and one brushed across his chest, sending a frisson of pleasure through his body. They weren't afraid of him, and they knew what he was. What were mermen to them except larger fish with a rather odd upper half?
Smiling, he widened his psi sense even farther, lazily stretching it out. And met another sentient being.
He lifted his head, and his hair tie came loose and floated away. Strands of pale hair obscured his vision, drifting around his head before he caught it and pushed it back, holding it with one hand so he could see better.
In the distance, blurred by the obscuring debris floating between them, he saw a body, and by its position, floating easily in the water, a merperson. He couldn't see from this distance what sex, but he'd bet a male, just from the sheer bulk of the figure.
Kai curled his tail and flipped; the motion sent him toward the mystery man. While not all his people were on the side of good, he could look after himself, and in any case, he felt no animosity emanating from the person.
Definitely a man. This one had beautifully defined back muscles, the dark line down the center delineating his backbone, one Kai would definitely like to taste. He could imagine himself running his tongue all the way down to the area where skin turned into scale, the change of color from flesh to blue-green. Kai's lower body was more blue than green; the stranger's tail was a shimmering greenish turquoise. He'd like to taste that too, touch his tongue to the scales, rough in one direction, deliciously smooth in the other. He wore his hair jaw length, the dark strands floating around his head.
Kai prayed this person was receptive, as most merpeople were, to people of both sexes. His people had never assumed that possession of breasts or a cock denoted one's sexual preferences.
Ten feet away, he sent a message. "Hello."
Water eddied around them as the man spun around. Kai forgot to breathe. Pure beauty faced him. Muscles rippled under skin as smooth as satin, undulating with the natural strength of the male. Tiny, peaked brown nipples tempted him to touch and taste. The lips, slightly parted to take in water, could take his tongue as easily, and under the fold of scaly skin at the front, a telltale bulge made Kai long to see--proudly displayed--what lay underneath. In the past, a man would pull down the skin and show him, a cultural habit now mostly gone, but one he'd enjoyed. His own cock twitched in response, swelled, and grew. Kai wanted to play.
This man was a civilian. The way he'd spun around at Kai's gentle greeting told him that he'd been concentrating his senses elsewhere. After so long working as an agent for Department 57, Kai was almost instantly on the alert, and he spread his senses farther until he sensed someone else, about half a mile away, right over the archaeological dig. "Looking for something?"
The man glanced up, right at him, and Kai's head spun. Soft, dark brown eyes met his own in a deeply sensuous exchange that sent his cock hard and his nipples peaking. He wanted, oh he wanted, this man to take them into his mouth and tug.
But he couldn't lose it now. Wouldn't, however badly he wanted the man staring at him. He didn't smile but circled to face the same way, forcing the other man to turn his head if he wanted to look at him. "I'm Kai." He wouldn't give his full name. Kai Murdoch was well-known in certain quarters, though if certain quarters had caught up with him, it was probably too late anyway. There weren't many mermen with ass-length silver-blond hair around. But no alarm reached him, no sense of danger. Still, he wouldn't let his intention slip.
"Tyler," the other man said. His dark, sinful, American-accented voice almost felled Kai there and then. The other presence was far enough away for him to take action before he or she got here. She. He sensed female, but not a Talent. His psi sense didn't have to be at Sorcerer strength for him to know that these two were connected, and not in a business way. He sucked in a mouthful of water and let it flow over his gills, but it did nothing to cool his urgent need.
He circled Tyler, letting his tail flick against the man's upper body as he swirled around him in the ancient dance of courtship. In the old days, such a dance would inevitably lead to acceptance or refusal, done in an equally elaborate way, but Tyler entranced Kai when he remained stoically immobile, watching the swirls as Kai drew circles in the water around him. It gave Kai a chance to examine Tyler properly. A small nick at the base of his ribs at the front showed where an accident had marked him. Unusual for Talents to bear a scar. Even tattoos healed so fast it was hardly worth the pain of having them done. A couple of shape-shifts and they'd faded to almost nothing. It intrigued him, that scar, made him want to examine it closer.
He circled Tyler at a distance first, only that one flick of his tail fin against the other man's chest, a touch that sent tingles through Kai. Up and down, diving and lifting, forming figure eights around him, crossing in front, behind, each circuit driving him closer. Soon he'd be close enough to touch, then to kiss.
He could hardly wait.
Zoe checked her watch. Time to go. She'd run out of air soon. With Tyler on guard, Zoe felt safe. Nothing like a merman to guard your back at sea. She'd smile despite the regulator filling her mouth. He'd offered to do this for her, but she wanted to do it on her own, explore the area with the powerful torch, learn it so she'd be good to go the next day.
She was the boss, in charge of this underwater dig, and she had to know everything about it. And maybe, just maybe, she'd find treasure.
Not that archaeologists wanted that. Of course not. They wanted evidence and context. She hadn't met an archaeologist yet who admitted a secret wish to find real treasure to compare with the glories of Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire Hoard, but most had the treasure-hunting urge, the Indiana Jones lurking beneath the scientist. Not because of the fame and inevitable boost to their careers, but for the joy of discovery. Oh no, they didn't think about that at all. Not one bit.
Except that every time she uncovered earth or mud, she looked for the glint of gold along the sad human remains, bits of pottery, and the lines and tracks that told so much to the trained eye.
Not tonight. Tonight she had to assess the site, to keep one step ahead of her colleagues in the morning. She'd never led a dig before, so she had to get it right or she'd lose out. Her career and reputation would suffer. Archaeology was a demanding profession, and with recent budget cuts, demands had increased for teams to maximize their efforts and time. So she must produce something of real value, and that meant academic worth.
Not pots of gold, although personally she'd settle for that.
She blinked. Tyler had once offered to take her underwater with no equipment, and breathe for her, but she'd never found the nerve. One day, maybe.
Turning, she came to a halt at the sight before her.
Two mermen. Two. One curved around Tyler, his shimmering tail a counterpoint to his body, in a dance that looked so sensual she knew the dampening between her thighs wasn't a leak in her wet suit. She almost felt that slick skin against hers, the fronds of his silver hair trailing across her skin, the warmth of her body leaking out to seep into his. Worth stripping off her protection for. Sandwiched between two sexy male bodies, cool water eddying between them and then nothing but skin. Tyler moved a little, just enough to keep water flowing over his gills, but his admirer took account of that, his circuits varying to keep the same distance between him and his objective.
She felt Tyler's confusion through the telepathic link he kept open between them. All the attention of the other man lay with Tyler, curving closer with each circuit, ever decreasing circles bringing him nearer. Until he stilled and straightened, his tail fin floating down to the fishy equivalent of standing upright. The natural conclusion to his dance came when he took Tyler in his arms and kissed him.
Their lips met, and only then did Zoe realize he'd known about her all along. The new, quiet presence in her mind spoke for the first time. "Welcome. I'm Kai."
She felt the rush of the kiss along the channel between them, and she opened to Tyler. His emotions hit her like a speeding train, and she gasped.
She spent the next few minutes choking, aware that the males before her had stilled. Realization shot through her with Tyler, and he backed off, heading for her with a speed she could only envy.
Echoes of the stranger--Kai--touching Tyler's bare chest, his hand splayed so every finger touched a sensitive part of him, the memory of the kiss, so sweet, his tongue playing along Tyler's lips, rocketed through her, even more than her loss of rhythm in her breathing.
Two sets of hands grasped her, and they headed for the surface. They broke water, the men gasping as they sucked air into their lungs and closed their gills to the scarlike seams behind their ears.
Hands unbuckled her mask and pulled it free, so she could take deep draughts of salt-tainted air.
"I should know better," she gasped when she could.
"Hush, darling, let us get you to shore." Kai's voice was as seductive as his body, lighter in tone than Tyler's but just as concerned.
Bliss to feel two hands, two bodies caring for her, carrying her toward the beach. This coast had long, sloping beaches, so most professional divers used a boat so they could get far enough out without the long swim to and from the beach. Or dived from the pier, but she didn't have that luxury tonight.
One pair of hands left her when they neared the shore, then returned. She saw why when their feet found purchase on the sandy floor. One arm around her shoulders, another around her waist, but she couldn't be sure which belonged to which man until she turned her head to see the stranger, now wearing black swimming trunks. His dance had completely mesmerized her, so she hadn't noticed the pouch slung around his waist, almost the same color as his tail fin, which, of course, he didn't have any more. Instead, a pair of strongly muscled legs replaced the tail on his equally strong torso. He had his hand around her waist. "Kai?"
"Where did you come from?"