Fish Out of Water
Fred the Mermaid has taken the bait and chosen to date Artur, Prince of the Black Sea, over human marine biologist Thomas. And just in time. The existence of the Undersea Folk is no longer a secret, and someone needs to keep them from floundering in the media spotlight. Fred has all the right skills for that job, but has a hard time when her real father surfaces and tries to overthrow Arturís regime.
He stared, transfixed. His people were showing themselves to the world! How could the royal family—the king—go along with this? It went against centuries of tradition and ingrained behavior.
He instantly started figuring how he could turn the situation to his advantage.
“Excuse me, but are you a mermaid?”
“Why?” Fred was poking through the large, airy kitchen and trying not to show how impressed she was with the ocean view. She knew the Realtor would pick up on it like a bloodhound to sweat. “Do I get a discount? ‘Show us your fin and we’ll show you ten percent off.’ Like that?”
The Realtor colored, which, given that she had the creamy complexion natural to most redheads, gave the impression that she was about to have a stroke. Fred wondered how long it would take for the paramedics to show.
“I didn’t mean anything by it.” She coughed. “It’s just—your hair.”
“I know, don’t tell me. I fired my stylist.” Fred fussed with the ends of her green hair, which were now chin-length as opposed to tumbling halfway down her back. Much easier to take care of, though her friend Jonas had shrieked like he’d been stabbed when he’d seen it. “And I’m still getting grief about it from my friend. My stupid, irritating friend.”
“But it’s blue.”
“Technically it’s green.” She opened a cupboard to see how deep it was. “You know how the ocean looks blue but it’s really green? Same with my— Does the garbage disposal work?”
“Wha— Yes. And the house comes with all the appliances, as well as lawn maintenance. So are you?”
“I dunno. It’s pretty expensive. And what do I need four bedrooms for? You know what that’ll mean for me? Drop-in guests. ‘Say, Fred, you’ve got plenty of room, we’re staying here for a month.’ Any idea how much I hate drop-ins? I hate them like a fat kid hates Slim-Fast. Besides, I live in a Boston apartment most of the year. Mowing a lawn would actually be a treat for me.”
“No, I meant, are you a mermaid?”
“The term is Undersea Folk.”
“Yes, are you?” The Realtor was actually leaning toward Fred with the urgency of her question. Fred found she was backed up against the dishwasher, close enough to count the threads in the buttons on the Realtor’s blouse. “Because I know I’ve seen you on TV. On the news. I’m sure of it. So are you?”
“Why, are you afraid you won’t be able to track down all my references?” Fred sidled away from her and walked through the dining area.
This entire side of the house had enormous windows, all of which boasted ocean views of the Gulf side. It was 2:30 p.m. on Sanibel Island, Florida, February 11, and she was walking around inside a house that would sell painlessly for five million dollars, even with the housing market deep in the shitter as it was. The Realtor was asking five thousand a week to rent it out.
“Also, you swam in from the ocean side. Most people drive to the house.”
“Is this your not-too-subtle way of bitching about me tracking salt water all over the floors? Besides, I had to work off the brownie sundae I had for breakfast. What about the washer and dryer?”
“Right through here.” The Realtor, whose name Fred had forgotten, opened a door off the kitchen and gestured. Fred peeked around the corner and observed a full-sized washer/dryer combo in a spotlessly clean laundry room.
The entire first floor (except for the bathroom) was one gigantic room, the front hall leading to the dining area leading to the kitchen leading to the living room leading to a large porch that ran nearly the length of the house. The walls were the color of Coffee-Mate; the furniture and décor were done in Modern Millionaire. All the windows were thrown wide and a fresh breeze made the curtains billow.
Upstairs were several bedrooms and three more bathrooms, one with a Jacuzzi big enough for a soccer team. Two of the bedrooms boasted ocean views as well. The cream-colored walls made the large house appear even more spacious.
Fred stared thoughtfully out over the lawn, eyeing the outdoor Jacuzzi and swimming pool. Her boyfriend/suitor/someday-sovereign, Prince Artur, had encouraged this move. And she had to admit, it wasn’t the worst idea she’d ever heard.
Ever since Undersea Folk had started coming out of the water closet (heh), she’d been fielding interviews and handling the press and in general acting as go-between for the royal family, the Undersea Folk, and surface dwellers. As a result, the world was assuming the Undersea Folk’s primary residence was here, just off the coast of Sanibel Island.
They were wrong.
Which suited the king just fine.
But Fred craved her own space to retreat to, and never mind Artur’s argument that she could use the ocean as an escape hatch. The ocean—yech! Seaweed and barracudas and mouthy fish (mouthy telepathic fish, anyway) and silt and frankly, she vastly preferred a pool to the large, messy ocean.
Yes, she needed her own space and perhaps this zillion-dollar mansion was it. Although her stepfather was wealthy, he hadn’t flaunted it when she was a kid, and although she had a healthy trust fund, she’d always been content with her little one-bedroom apartment in Boston.
This place, though...Artur had pointed out that, as the girlfriend of the prince, she needed more than a teeny Boston apartment. How had he put it? Someplace worthy of our future queen. Amazing she even remembered what he’d said, she’d been laughing so hard.
“I dunno,” she said. “It’s really big. And—”
The front door boomed open and there stood Prince Artur, well over six feet, with shoulder-length hair the color of smashed rubies, and eyes almost the same shade. He hadn’t shaved for a couple of weeks and his beard was also a deep red. His shoulders were so broad, and he was so tall, he barely fit in the doorway. He was shirtless, and barefoot, and clad only in a pair of denim shorts.
“Ho, Little Rika! Is the cottage to your liking?” He frowned, glancing around. “It looked more fitting from the outside.”
Fred smirked at the gaping Realtor. “Now, him? He’s a mermaid. So to speak.”
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