Sixteen-year-old Nixie sucks at being the daughter of a cult-leader. Forbidden to leave the beached boat where her father, his three wives, and their twenty followers pretend to have created Utopia, Nixie stares at the distant shoreline with a hunger deeper than the ocean itself. A hunger for a normal life—high school, college, and beyond.
When Crew nearly drowns during a party on their beach, Nixie plunges into the ocean—and fierce rebellion against her father—to save him. As the two explore the strangeness of each other’s worlds in stolen moments on dry land, they’re caught up in a whirlwind of intensifying feelings.
Rebellion’s easy when you focus on what you hope to gain. It’s a million times harder when you realize what you stand to lose.
14+ due to adult situations and sexuality
A voice crackled over a megaphone. “All hail, Crew, the king of Mystic High.”
Crew. The boy in the boat. The king of high school, whatever that meant. What a perfect name for someone like him. I tested the word out on my lips over and over. If I said it slowly enough it was like a kiss.
“Yeah, yeah…” He waved at the speedboat, then the beach, like his arm weighed a ton. Everyone cheered and clapped. Maybe he was some kind of king. They seemed so amused by something so simple.
“Is it dark enough yet?” a voice near the bonfire yelled.
“I believe so,” Crew answered. “Let the celebration begin.”
The beach went quiet, even the waves stilled, while my heart hammered in my chest. I was going to get to see a celebration.
A ribbon of screaming light whistled up from the beach. It corkscrewed higher and higher into the night air then burst into a glittering shower of crimson. A firework. Of course I’d seen them before, they went off every Fourth of July without fail, but never so close.
Then another went up, and another. They raced to the sky and burst open in the most beautiful display of magic I’d ever seen. Reds, greens, purples, and golds. They had the kind that crackled in the air like Pop Rocks and even the kind that fanned out like palm trees. Guilt tugged at my chest. I should’ve told the others, or at least Juliana, but I couldn’t rip my eyes from the sky.
The night swirled around like a dream—the lights, the smoke, the voices. I existed in another place and time where anything was possible and everything was beautiful. Did the people on the beach even know how lucky they were to be experiencing such a night? Probably not.
“Shit. Fuck. Shit,” someone yelled from the beach.
“Run,” someone else screamed.
The whistling went off in rapid, screeching succession. Trails of light burst out of the bonfire like spider’s legs in every direction. Screams erupted from the beach as everyone turned into blurs of movement in the flashing light. One firework hit Atlantica with a loud ping, some plunged into the water, hissing all the way down, while others shot into the sky. I swayed as I held the railing, the noise and flashing light tilting all my senses into a funnel and mixing them up.
The sulfur smell grew stronger and twisted my stomach as a firework raced right for me. I threw myself to the deck and pressed my face to the floor. It lost steam as it approached, arching right for Crew. With a shriek and a pop the firework torpedoed his rowboat.
I pressed up from the deck and hung over the railing like if I stretched far enough I could reach him. Crew coughed and sputtered.
My fingers tapped out SOS on the railing. /…/---/…/
“Bran,” he yelled between coughs. “Bran, I need a fire extinguisher.”
No one answered to identify himself as Bran, but I sent him a silent plea to help. Crew’s boat was almost completely engulfed in flames. He’d moved to the bow and unbuttoned his shirt, whipping it off, trying to vanquish the fire.
“Not the boat,” he howled. “Come on.”
Flames licked up the side of the boat, it was a goner. He would be too if he didn’t jump ship and swim to shore. There was a pocket of silence from the blasts, an eerie calm for a few fleeting seconds, but still no one seemed to notice Crew. He flung his shirt over the flames in a vain attempt to put them out but the smoke formed around him like a seal. Just when I was sure his skin would melt off in globs, he plunged into the water. I let out a breath as I craned my neck waiting for him to surface in the firelight.
I scanned the water like a predator looking for prey but Crew never surfaced. The waves crested, the fire blazed, and Crew stayed under. My chest burned with flames and fear and my fingers dug into the railing. I couldn’t lose him. I scaled the rail, raised my arms above my head, and dove into the pitch-black night sea. The water enclosed around me, but instead of weighing me down and dragging me under it formed a protective barrier.
I found him in no time, an intrinsic link pulling me to him in the murky water. I hooked my arms under his armpits just like Papa taught me and kicked with all my might until we broke through the surface. Adrenaline coursed through me, pumping my heart and legs, keeping us afloat.
When I inhaled, the heavy smoke coated my throat, and my eyes burned from the salt and fumes. I coughed and coughed as I pulled Crew to the beach and when he started coughing too, my sense of dread washed away like our drag marks in the sand.
He was going to be okay.
“Are you a mermaid?” he asked. His breath on my ear warmed my entire body.
“No.” I laughed.
Crew helped push himself up out of the water. The wet sand formed around us, pushing us closer together, filling in all the available space. Crew on his back, me on my side, his arm still wrapped around my waist like I was his personal life preserver. I supposed I was. My arms stuck under his back, his heartbeat thrumming into my own veins. His chest glistened with saltwater and sweat. With dark hair plastered to his forehead he kept his eyes closed.
“Am I okay?” he asked.
“I think so. You’re breathing, talking.”
“Are you okay, Mermaid?”