House of Royale (Secret Keepers #4)(5)

I wanted to believe him. I was almost desperate to place my trust in this gorgeous stranger. But I wasn’t that na?ve. Just because someone told you they were the good guys didn’t mean they were. I’d learned that the hard way with my parents. They’d abandoned me, which had hurt more than I expected, considering they’d always acted like I was a burden they’d been saddled with. Then, on top of that, a lot of friends had given up on me as well, mostly because I couldn’t live the surfy life anymore. I had to work. I had to be responsible.

I was a little scarred and jaded from the entire thing.

“Why should I believe you?” I asked, the back of my head pressing against the bubble. “You could be lying just to get me to go with you.”

I heard and sensed his frustration as he bit out, “Wouldn’t I have just grabbed you? I’m faster than you could ever be in the water, so if I wanted to take you by force, I would have already.”

That was a fair point.

“Who’s in the boat?” I changed the subject. Somehow I knew the boat was his. He’d just been way too unconcerned about it sitting above.

“Maya, the one you rescued, and her mate, Chase.”

My burst of excitement at knowing she was close by, an advanced human like me, was overshadowed by my confusion over the word mate. Were they like … Australian or something? We had tons of Aussie surfers over here, and they called their friends mate. Like buddy, pal, dude. But not only did this guy—Xander—not have an Australian accent, he also hadn’t said it like they did. His inference was boyfriend, but I’d never heard any person call someone’s boyfriend a mate.

“Just get in the boat. We’ll tell you the entire story and then you will understand.” He sounded a little less pissed now, more resigned. “I promise no one will touch you. You can dive over the side anytime you want.”

As tempting as it was to see Maya again and explore the connection between us, my self-preservation won out, and I regretfully said, “I can’t. Sorry. I just don’t trust you. Later, dude.”

Water started to churn around us then, and I knew I’d lingered too long.

“Don’t run…” was the last thing I heard before my head was out of his bubble and I was swimming as fast as I could. I hadn’t forgotten his statement that he was much faster than me, but I knew these waters better than anybody. Ducking and diving, I used the tunnels to my advantage. I wanted to call for the dolphins, but putting them into possible danger was a really shitty thing to do, so I refrained.

Somehow, though, they knew. Dark shadows closed in around me, and I could have cried at the familiar company of my favorite pod. I clicked in greeting, and they returned the gesture as we dashed across the sea. I had no idea if he was behind me. I wanted to look back and check, but it felt more important to keep powering forward.

We were still out very deep, and it was dark below me, so I didn’t notice the churning water until he was close. Damn. It.

He wasn’t going to leave it alone, that was very clear. The only question was: would I make it to land before he caught me? When the swirling water shot straight up, I tried to get out of the way. With a normal human I would have had no trouble, but he was too fast. It felt like steel bands wrapped around my body, holding my arms down against my sides. I kicked hard, but he was too strong.

The dolphins turned to come after us, but I sent out a last call, warning them away. I would not have them hurt because of me, and this Xander seemed desperate as he flew through the water, holding me tight against his chest. He wasn’t even using his arms and somehow still moved at rapid speed.

The boat came into view again; he aimed straight for it, shooting up out of the water just before we would have smashed into the side. I sucked air in as I flailed through the sky, before another pair of arms caught me, arms as strong but slightly-less muscled than Xander’s. My new captor had skin that was a deep, rich, stunning brown, a few shades darker than the kidnapping bastard under the water.

“Sorry about that,” a smooth, accented voice said. “Xander can be a bit of—”

“An asshole,” I spat.

I struggled in his hold, expecting to be dropped. Instead I found myself gently seated in one of the padded captain’s chairs. A familiar face pushed past the guy and stopped right in front of me. “I can’t believe we finally found you! The stone kept changing locations all morning. I thought it was faulty.”

Maya. She looked Asian, maybe half, with creamy brown skin and straight dark hair. Her eyes were blue, though, and she had a straight-up American preppy accent. I was just staring at her, not speaking. “Thank you for saving me,” she tried again. “Honestly, if you hadn’t been there, I would be dead now.”

The dude behind her made a deep rumbling sound—he must be Chase, her mate. He was clearly very upset by those words. His hand brushed across her arm and she tilted her head back to see him. I lifted my gaze to look at his face for the first time and I almost gasped. Holy sweet hotness, he was beautiful, all cheekbones and hard lines and perfect features. Together, as a couple … they were almost too pretty.

“Who the hell are you guys?”

I did briefly wonder if I’d asked the right question. Maybe it should have been “what” instead.

“I’m Maya, and this is my boyfriend, Chase,” she said, focusing on me.

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