Alice at Heart [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Deborah Smith
eBook Category: Fantasy/Family/Relationships
eBook Description: Reclusive, wary, and known locally as Odd Alice, orphaned Alice Riley has always known she was different; but it isn't until she saves a child from drowning by using her phenomenal underwater abilities and links minds with drowning salvage diver Griffin Randolf and saves him, too, that her half-sisters learn of her existence, and she discovers how special she and Griffin really are. Old secrets, revenge, and passion fuel this compelling, intricately plotted story of love, trust, and acceptance, which successfully straddles the line between romance and fantasy and should appeal to fans of both genres. Recalling Susan Krinard's werewolf romances, Smith's new work nicely sets the stage for her projected romantic fantasy series, "Water Lilies." Smith (On Bear Mountain) is a respected writer of romances and other types of fiction and lives in Dahlonega, GA.--Library Journal
eBook Publisher: BelleBooks/BelleBooks, Published: Trade Paperback, 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2009
11 Reader Ratings:
The Old Ones are all wayward women with tales behind them, you might say--luring ordinary men to mate and meander and occasionally drown. Those Old Ones give us, their Halfling descendents, a lurid reputation but also great charm, and we had best remember to use both wisely. By nature, you see, we are very hard to believe in, but very easy to love.
This morning I stood naked beside the icy waters of Lake Riley, high in the Appalachians of north Georgia, above the fall line where the tame Atlanta winters end and the freezing wild mountain winters begin. A mile away, in my dead mother's hometown, Riley, people were just breaking the ice on their gravel roads and barnyards and church lots and sidewalks, stomping the mountain bedrock before little stores with mom-and-pop names, most of which belong to heavy-footed Rileys. But there I was, alone as always, Odd Alice, the daughter of a reckless young mother and an unknown father who passed along some very strange traits. I had slipped out to the lake from my secluded cabin for my morning swim, stripping off my dowdy denim, doing the impossible.
It is February, with a high of about twenty-five degrees, and the lake has an apron of ice like the white iris on a dark eye, narrowing my peculiar view of the deep world beneath. Not that that scares me. The water is the only element in my life I never fear. I stood there in the cold dawn as usual, not even shivering.
As I stretched and filled my body with frigid air, I looked out over the icy mountain world and heard a thin trickle of sound stroking the frosty branches of tall fir trees so far around a bend in the lake my ears shouldn't be able to recognize it if I were like anyone else. The sound was a child screaming. And then I heard a splash.
I may be a freak or a monster--some unnatural quirk of nature too odd for normal people to accept or for anyone to love--but I couldn't let a child drown just to keep my secrets. So there I went, into the cold, safe water, deep into the heart of the lake, faster than anyone imagines a person can swim, fluting the currents with the iridescent webbing between my bare toes, able to go farther, deeper, quicker, and for much, much longer in that netherworld than any human being possibly can.
We are all bodies of water, guarding the mystery of our depths, but some of us have more to guard than others. I've never known quite who I am, but worse than that, I've never known quite what I am.
And after today, I won't be the only person asking that question.
* * * *
Griffin Randolph fought panic in deep water. In the vast, dark ocean off the coast of a Spanish fishing village, he touched one hand to a small tattoo on his left forearm, where a naked woman held a dolphin in her arms. Now I'll find out which one owns my soul.
As a scuba tank hissed its last minutes of oxygen into his lungs, he once again aimed a cutting torch at the shelving that had collapsed around the legs of his nervous diver, an Italian nicknamed Riz. Griffin and the diver were deep inside the cavernous hold of a sunken American cargo ship named the Excalibur. During World War II, the Excalibur had ferried ammunition to allied warships off the coast of North Africa until a German submarine torpedoed it. Alongside Griffin and the trapped diver were stacked hundreds of gunnery shells, each as thick as a man's forearm, all nearly a half-century old, threatening to tumble to the bottom of the ship's hull.
No problemo, Griffin's head diver, Enrique, had proclaimed when they first surveyed the ammunition. Old and wet. Not going to cause us any trouble. Griffin had agreed until he surveyed the dive on this last day and the storage shelving collapsed on Riz. As the crew worked methodically to free him, Griffin discreetly picked up one of the precariously balanced shells.
The old missile spoke to him, just as he feared it would.
The sensation--which he often felt in the water, but never revealed to anyone--was like hearing a silent song, or feeling a song, the vibrations of sound waves or the tingle of static electricity, only multiplied and softened. In every instance where some object spoke to him, Griffin felt an almost orgasmic shiver, the stroking of an unseen and dangerous hand. Along with that sensation always came knowledge. And this time that knowledge made Griffin's blood freeze.
This shell, or one of its brethren, would kill them all.
Riz's dazed eyes begged him to hurry. The rest of Griffin's six-man team huddled on the surface aboard the deck of the Sea She, Griffin's massive boat, whose high-tech, state-of-the-art computers and dredges and sonar and satellite tracking systems had helped locate some of the world's most famous undersea treasure wrecks. Absolutely goddamned worthless for saving a man's life, Griffin admitted.
He strained to see through the fierce light spewing from his cutting torch in the dark Mediterranean water. The torch finally burned through a thick steel cable, and he began prying the tangled shelving apart with hands too large and brutal for the bourbon-and-magnolias Southern aristocracy that had birthed him amid the wealth of coastal Georgia thirty-nine years earlier.
Riz kicked and struggled. Griffin's muscles burned as he strained to separate the shelving, his gaze always going back to the shells, hundreds of them, ready to fall. All it would take was the right one, just one. Finally, he eased Riz free. The diver's face relaxed into smiling eyes. Griffin squeezed his shoulder, tugged on the guideline attached to a harness, and instantly Riz began to fly upwards through the water, pulled by a powerful electric wench. The shelving shuddered and gave a soft, wrenching groan. A half-century after men had died inside its steel sanctuary, the Excalibur would close like a flower over what remained.
Griffin eased out of the tomblike hull, feeling the ship's sinister memories, the hum of its ghosts inside him, the hum of his own ghosts, too. The Excalibur was just waiting for him to move. No, it wasn't the ship waiting. It was the ocean. Always waiting for him to make one wrong move.
Test me, Griffin told the invisible forces. He surged upward, exiting the hull with a speed and grace that always astonished people when they saw him swim, even when he was hampered by scuba gear. He shrugged off his tank, spit out the mouthpiece, then ripped the mask from his eyes. He propelled himself toward the light, dozens of feet above him.
In the depths of the Excalibur, one shell tumbled from the shelving. It pirouetted downward through the dark water, almost beautiful in its heavy grace. It struck the hull's bottom with a muted clang, its voice the last ringing of any bell for the lost ship.
And it exploded.
The world erupted in billowing, churning chaos. Griffin felt a giant hand slap him from below, then sweep around him, squeezing him between invisible forces. The ocean, which had always been a living monster to him, pressed him in its jaws. Pain shot through his body; his eardrums ruptured. His wet suit tore and then his skin as fragments of the Excalibur's hull sliced him. The explosive concussion slammed into his brain. He went limp and floated, filling the water with his blood.
He opened his eyes, dreaming of death.
You have life inside you that you've never used. Breathe. A voice. Feminine, quiet, strong. She hummed a rhythmic song to him, a stunning vibration of emotion that made the deadly shell pale in comparison.
Griffin struggled. Can't. No one can. Can't breathe.
You can. Try.
He fed on her passion and suddenly his lungs expanded, he expelled the water from his throat, and somehow, life bloomed into blood-red oxygen inside him. The mystery, the knowledge of a miracle, increased with the darkening of his brain, softened only by the stranger's unbelievable voice.
Who are you?
She was gone. He made himself remember, as darkness surrounded him fully, that he was breathing because of an extraordinary illusion named Alice, singing to him beneath the bloody water.