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— Allô ?

— Salut mon chou. Quand tu dis qu’Emma et sa mère sont parties, tu veux dire…

— Je veux dire qu’on a retrouvé Rayna ligotée chez elles et que la voiture de sa mère n’est plus là.

Rachel soupire.

— Tu aurais dû me laisser installer un GPS dessus quand je voulais le faire.

— Ce n’est pas important maintenant. Peux-tu les retrouver ?

— J’arrive dans 10 minutes. Ne faites pas de bêtises.

— Comme quoi ? répond-il, mais elle a déjà raccroché.

Il se tourne vers Grom, qui tient un cadre dans ses mains. Son frère trace le contour du visage de Nalia avec son doigt.

— Comment est-ce possible ? demande-t-il doucement.

— Ça s’appelle une photographie, répond Galen. Les humains peuvent conserver n’importe quel moment de leur vie grâce à cette chose qu’ils appellent un…

Grom secoue la tête.

— Je ne parle pas de ça.

— Ah. Alors de quoi parles-tu ?

Grom tient la photo dans les airs. C’est un portrait en noir et blanc de Nalia, probablement fait par un photographe professionnel.

— C’est Nalia.

Il se passe la main dans les cheveux, une habitude que Galen et lui ont héritée de leur père.

— Comment est-il possible qu’elle soit toujours en vie et que je vienne juste de l’apprendre ?

Galen lâche un soupir. Il n’en sait rien. Et même s’il le savait, ce ne serait pas à lui de le dire à son frère. C’est à Nalia. C’est sa responsabilité.

« Et bonne chance pour lui tirer les vers du nez. »

— Je suis désolé, Grom. Elle n’a rien voulu nous dire

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« Ses lèvres effleurent les miennes une première fois, puis une deuxième. Si doucement que je ne sens presque rien. Pourtant, je sens tout. Il m’entraîne vers le fond. Un jour, lorsque Galen et moi serons accouplés, je serai une princesse. Mais je n’aurai jamais l’impression d’être une princesse autant qu’en cet instant, dans ses bras, en train de danser au fond de l’océan. »

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— Grom est mort, Emma. Galen t’a utilisée pour me retrouver.

Je balance mes jambes au bord du lit.

— Qu’est-ce que tu veux dire ?

— Je veux dire, Emma, que Galen a monté toute cette histoire d’amour avec toi pour gagner ta confiance et te retourner contre moi. Galen est membre de la famille royale de Triton, ma chérie. Il n’y a aucune chance qu’il puisse s’amouracher d’une…

— Métisse, dis-je, la rage au ventre.

Selon les normes syrénas, les métis sont des abominations. Je repense à tous les baisers, toutes les caresses et tous les frissons que j’ai partagés avec Galen, au puissant feu qui me consume aussitôt qu’il m’effleure accidentellement. Serait-il vraiment capable de jouer ainsi la comédie avec quelqu’un qui le répugne ? C’est vrai qu’il m’a déjà menti. Me mentirait-il encore ? Aurait-il simplement modifié le scénario pour que je reste accrochée ?

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« Sans compter tous les jours d’école que j’ai ratés. Il est 4 h du matin un mercredi, et je quitte la Californie pour aller Dieu sait où et revenir Dieu sait quand. Il me faudra une excuse béton pour justifier toutes ces absences auprès du conseiller principal d’éducation, surtout si je suis toujours intéressée par toutes ces bourses auxquelles j’ai postulé. J’aurais dû demander à Rachel d’écrire un mot ou quelque chose avant que nous partions. Mais connaissant Rachel, elle y a peut-être déjà pensé.

En fait, connaissant Rachel, elle pourrait tout aussi bien effacer toute trace d’absence.

« Suis-je vraiment en train de penser à l’école alors que ma mère et Galen sont dans le pétrin ? »

Oui, en effet. Parce que c’est la vie dont j’ai hérité. Mi-humaine, mi-poisson. Mi-étudiante modèle, mi-détentrice du pouvoir de Poséidon. Ouaip, j’ai toujours voulu en faire trop.

Génialissime. »

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Galen winks at me and dives to his sister.

“Wait,” I call to him. He stops. “I just wanted to say, I like your big fin. I think it’s sexy.” Which is the truth. Now it’s more than double the size of any other Syrena. I know he’s self-conscious about it; he thinks it makes him stand out more. What Galen doesn’t realize is that he already stood out. He was already special. This new fin doesn’t change anything. Well, except for making me hotter for him than I already was.

“Really?” Galen says.

I nod and blow him a kiss. By his confused expression, he has no idea what I’m doing. My Syrena human ambassador still has a lot to learn about the intimate details of the human world. And I’ll be happy to assist him with that.

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My breath catches as the chopper lowers. Dozens, no wait, hundreds of dark shadows skim the surface. I yank on Toraf’s sleeve and nod toward the water.

Eyes wide, he taps Dan’s shoulder. “We need to go a little farther out, please.”

“No can do. I told you, we need all of our fuel to get back.”

Slowly, I unstrap the belt. “Just a little lower please? I think I see some fish down there.”

“No prob.”

I’ve never skydived, bungee-jumped, or parasailed. As I remove the headset, I try to calculate the fall and can’t. Maybe my brain is protecting me from myself and what I’m about to do. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but I’ve heard hitting the water from such-and-such height feels like hitting concrete at such-and-such miles per hour. In other words, it’s a bone-shattering experience. I seriously doubt those calculations are based on the Syrena bone structure though. In fact, I’m counting on it.

“No lower, okay?” Dan says, looking out his window to the water below. “Oh, you see sharks! Wow, it looks like a feeding frenzy down there. Hey, don’t touch that!”

I grip the handle harder, but the door won’t budge. Leaning back, I get in the mule-kick position.

“Emma, don’t!” Toraf yells. “Those are sharks, Emma!”

I take a deep breath. “Wait until I have them under control before you jump.” A joint effort from two half-Syrena legs sends the door flying to a watery grave.

“They want proof?” I grumble to myself as I lean into the wind, “I’ll show them proof.” Right before I hit the water, I can still hear Toraf screaming.

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Emma stiffens at Galen’s side, and he instinctively tightens his hold on her. He’s positive he can feel the makings of a temper tantrum rumbling through her. “Oh. So what you’re saying is that you’re out of your freaking mind.”

Grom crosses his arms. This could be bad.

Emma tugs herself from Galen’s grasp and stands. Galen knows he shouldn’t have let her free, because she’s definitely got tantrum all over her face, but he’s too curious to see how Grom will react. After all, Grom fell in love with the very female who pulled a knife on Galen. He figures Grom is due for his own battle.

“Galen is not mating with my mother. My mother is not mating with Galen. So run along to your new bride, and leave us all alone.”

Galen hears Rayna whisper, “What’s a bride?” but he keeps his eyes on Grom, who takes his time standing up, squaring his shoulders. He’s seen Grom do this before. Make himself appear as big as possible by invading the space of whoever he’s trying to intimidate. A challenge. This is the part where the other person backs down.

But the other person has never been Emma. She steps toward the Triton king. “I couldn’t help but notice you’re still here,” she says.

Grom’s face softens into what could be amusement. “You and I don’t know each other, little one. But I think we both know I’m not leaving.”

“You and I seem to disagree on a lot of points,” Emma returns.

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Finally, Grom shakes his head. “She’s a Half-Breed, Galen.”

Mom’s head snaps toward him. “She’s my daughter,” she says slowly. She pulls herself from his lap and stands over him, hands on hips. Oh, he’s in serious shiznit now. And I can’t help but feel elated about it. “Are you saying my daughter’s not good enough for your brother?”

Yeah, Grom, are you? Huh, huh are you?

Grom sighs, the triviality in his expression softening into something else. “Nalia, love—”

“Don’t you ‘Nalia, love’ me.” Mom crosses her arms.

“The law hasn’t changed,” Grom says quietly.

“So that’s it?” Mom throws her hands in the air. “What about me? I’ve been living on land for the last seventy years! I’ve broken the law, too, remember? I broke it before I ever left.”

Grom stands. “How can I forget?”

Mom touches his face, all her previous haughtiness diminished into remorse. “I’m sorry. I know that’s why we … But I can’t let Emma—”

Grom covers Mom’s mouth with his giant hand. “For once in your stubborn life, will you let me talk?”

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Spoiler(cliquez pour révéler)“So you weren’t in college.”

“I wasn’t, no.” She takes another sip. “Your father was though. He was visiting for spring break. I mugged him.”

“You what?”

“You have to understand I didn’t make very much money, even with two jobs. It hardly even paid for my food. I couldn’t fish, because—”

“You didn’t want anyone to sense you in the water.” Otherwise, she could have been pretty self-sufficient.

She nods. “So one day I see this group of cocky college students, spending money left and right. Pulling wads of cash out of their pockets to pay for small purchases, like ice cream.” She rolls her eyes. “They were flashing it. They wanted people to know they were rich.”

“Doesn’t mean they wanted people to mug them,” I mutter.

Mom shrugs. “No, but they were trying to attract attention from the ladies, so I made sure to act interested. Your dad was one of them. I’d seen him before. He came to the freak show a lot and just sat there and watched me. Boy, did he make me feel uncomfortable. After a while, he got up the guts to ask me on a date, and all I could think was that a free dinner sounded fabulous. He took me to a nice restaurant and a picture show—that’s what we called movies back then. Afterward, he insisted on walking me home, but since I didn’t have a home to walk to, I made up an address and let him walk me to it. That’s when he told me he’d seen me breathing underwater, in the tank.”

The waitress interrupts then, setting Mom’s pancakes in front of her, and lowering a tower of beef and cheese and bread in front of me. “You all set, then?” Agnes says.

Mom and I nod. “Let me know if you need anything else,” Agnes continues. “Lester just pulled a strawberry pie out of the oven, and it’d be downright sinful if you didn’t try it.” With an awkward wink, she leaves.

“I want strawberry pie,” I tell Mom, shaking the ketchup bottle for my fries. “It’s the least you could do.”

Mom smiles and steals a fry from my plate. “Agreed. Maybe I’ll have a piece, too.”

I eye her pancakes doubtfully. “So anyway. What do you mean he saw you breathing underwater?”

“Well, you know we draw water into our lungs, and get oxygen from it, right?” She lowers her voice to an almost-whisper.

I nod. Dr. Milligan had told us that, after studying Galen. I wonder if Dad discovered this feature of Syrena lung function while studying Mom.

“I tried to be discreet about doing it, you know, taking small breaths, or going to the opposite side of the tank. But somehow he noticed.” She drizzles the pancakes with syrup for what seems like a decade. Then she sets to cutting them up. “Well, that officially ended our date, to say the least. But more than that, it meant I had to leave the boardwalk. I couldn’t risk him blowing my cover—though, when I think about it, I’m not sure how he would have proved it—but I didn’t have the resources to leave on my own. So I pulled a gun on him and demanded his wallet.”

The soda in my mouth becomes the soda in my nose. “You had a gun?” I cough and sputter into my napkin.

Mom’s eyes go round and she presses her finger to her lips, mouthing, “Shhh!”

“Where did you get a gun?” I hiss.

“Oliver lent it to me. He was always looking out for me. Told me to shoot first and run. He said the asking-questions-later part was for the police.” She grins at my expression. “Does that earn me cool points?”

I swirl a fry in the mound of ketchup on my plate. “You want cool points for pulling a gun on my father?” I say it with all the appropriate disdain and condescension it deserves, but deep down, we both know she gets mega cool points for it.

“Psh.” She waves her hand. “I didn’t even know whether or not it would fire. And anyway, he didn’t hand me his wallet. He propositioned me instead.”

“Okay. Ew.”

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— Mon poisson-ange, dit-il, la voix étranglée. Je suis désolé de ce qui s’est passé. Nous sommes presque arrivés à la terre. Personne ne peut plus te faire de mal maintenant. Reste avec moi Emma. S’il te plaît, reste avec moi.

Lorsqu’il couvre mon visage de baisers, je sais que tout ce qui s’est produit jusqu’ici en valait la peine. La galère pour que Toraf passe la sécurité, le saut terrifiant de l’hélicoptère, même la dispute que je sais que Galen et moi aurons plus tard au sujet de tout ceci. L’atroce douleur dans mon dos, ainsi que le moment terrifiant pendant lequel j’ai cru que j’allais mourir.

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