House of Royale (Secret Keepers #4)(6)

“Boyfriend? Or mate?” I asked, because I couldn’t help myself.

Her eyes got really wide then. “You already know about us? How? Did your parents tell you? Where are they?”

She shot each question off rapidly, and before I got a chance to answer, the boat rocked. At first I thought it was wake from another vessel, but it was the Poseidon-looking asshole. As he pulled himself gracefully onto the fancy boat, I found myself lurching to my feet.

The water fell away from his lower half to reveal normal, well-muscled legs to match the rest of him. A very naked rest of him. Maya must have known, because she’d turned away as soon as he stood up. I, on the other hand, did not.

Well … he was definitely a normal male. Actually, normal didn’t quite fit. I’d seen my share of naked guys—you couldn’t surf or swim in Hawaii without seeing more than a few male goodies—but there had been none like Xander.

It was a real shame he was a fucking douche.

“You threw me into the boat,” I snarled, taking a step forward while he pulled on a pair of board shorts. Do not be distracted. Do not be distracted.

“You didn’t listen to me,” he shot back. “I told you we weren’t going to hurt you. I told you that you were in danger, and you still took off like an idiot ready to die.”

Excuse me? Was he actually for real right now?

“Well, I guess since you told me, I should be apologizing right now for doubting you, a complete stranger who can create air bubbles to talk under the water.” I shook my head while pasting on a broad, fake smile. Then I flipped him off.

Maya made a small squealing noise. “Air bubbles? I want to see that.”

Xander shot her a smile and his face softened slightly. “They’re called exprendo channels. They form a link, almost like an underwater cell phone.”

While they were distracted, I eyed the side of the boat. I was pretty sure I could dive over the edge from here.

“Don’t even think about it, human.” Xander’s warning slammed into me with force. “There is no way you can outswim me, even with a head start. I’ll just keep bringing you back, so you might as well hear us out.”

I spluttered. “Human? What in … did you just call me human? Like you’re not….” I trailed off as the implication of what I was about to say registered. Why would he call me human like that unless he was something other than a human?

“I’m human,” Maya jumped in, her voice higher than it had been before. I pulled my attention from the guys and turned it to her. “I’m exactly like you.”

I swallowed hard. “And these two?” I tilted my head toward the unnaturally beautiful and unnaturally tall and unnaturally perfect guys. They aren’t human. Somehow I knew they weren’t, but I needed to hear her say the words.

“They’re Daelighters.” She didn’t hesitate, but her voice was very soft, like she was trying not to spook me.

“Daelighters … what does that mean? Are they fish people?”

It was the only thing that made sense to me. Like mermaids. But I didn’t want to call them that in case it was offensive. No doubt movies had badly represented them.

“No.” Maya shook her head. “Only Xander is of the water. Chase is a forest guy. Trees are his thing.”

My head felt a little fuzzy, which might just be adrenaline, or it might be because I was trying to figure out how trees were his “thing.” What did that mean?

“You’re confusing her.” Xander’s deep voice sent a shiver down my spine. I wanted to say it was disgust, and part of it was, but another part went deeper than that. Something I was determined to ignore. “You need to explain from the beginning, so that she—” He cut off, eyes drilling into mine. “What is your name? I don’t want to keep calling you she and her.”

“Avalon,” I replied, without thought. “Ava.” I should have said Mind your own business, fish face, but I really didn’t want to insult the fish. They were amazing. “Ava Shortlin. Although, since my parents all but abandoned me, I guess I don’t really have much of a family to go with the family name.”

Maya gasped before reaching out to touch my arm. She was the only one I’d let get close enough to do that, but I still flinched back before she could make contact. “Sorry,” she said, retracting her arm. “I just hate that I’m the only one of the four who managed to make it to this point with parents intact.”

“The four?”

Did I really want to know what that was? Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.

“We’ll tell you everything,” Maya assured me. “But we need to move back toward land. Is that okay?”

“Because I’m in danger?” I asked, dubious.

Chase nodded. “You and Maya both. The Daelighter and humans who attacked you yesterday are actively searching, and we don’t want to just sit around and wait for them to find us.”

Half of me was screaming no, but the part wanting to learn more about these people was slightly stronger. “I will stick around,” I decided. “As long as you don’t try anything weird.”

“We promise,” Chase and Maya said together. Xander didn’t answer, and since I was choosing not to look at him any more than was necessary, I was cool with that.

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