Thursday, 28 October 2010

Excerpt Day - Changing Tides © Sandra Sookoo


Chapter One

Neadra Hydral yawned and stretched her arms above her head. She’d spent the day organizing the travel section of the library where she worked and now her limbs ached from crouching, crawling and bending.


A quick glance at the nondescript clock on the gray-painted wall behind her desk showed it was well past nine in the evening. The Strange Hollow Library had officially closed an hour ago, but Neadra felt compelled to finish the section. Of course, becoming distracted a handful of times throughout the day reading about places she could never go, didn’t help.


With a sigh, she glided around tables and shelves, turning lights off as she went, until she reached the cozy lobby of the brownstone building. She loved the library, mainly because the founder, Jacinda, had constructed the edifice around a huge oak tree. Not having the heart to cut the oak down, they’d simply designed the place with the tree in mind. Now, the majestic branches became like support beams for the three floors above, and its massive trunk had become a bulletin board and meeting place.


Her handful of co-workers had already left for the evening, so Neadra cheerfully locked the glass door behind her and breathed in the spring air.


Late May in Strange Hollow put her in mind of magical happenings. The atmosphere tingled with life and growth and a person couldn’t help but believe in the possibilities that could happen in their own lives. Except for the extraordinary amount of rain this season, Neadra thought the small town nestled at the base of Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina was the best thing that had ever happened to her.


For once, a clear evening beckoned, and even the near full moon had come out to play, illuminating the damp streets. She deeply inhaled again, letting the breath ease out between her lips. Indeed, with such new beginnings fairly dancing through the air, why shouldn’t she try to conquer her own fears and start over?


Tremors of apprehension skittered through her stomach at the thought--feelings she hadn’t had since leaving her family and striking out on her own. Neadra snorted at the incongruity of the statement as she walked north along Avenue A. The library, located at the corner of Avenue A and 102nd Street, didn’t have much around it in the way of commerce, but that was fine by her. Personal contact didn’t interest her much, except for those times when her very skin cried out for another’s touch.


This was one of those times.


She had fallen into the habit of thinking of her life as pre and post Strange Hollow. Six months ago, Neadra had been unceremoniously kicked out of her home in one of the many jetties off the coastline of the Pacific Northwest. Her family had given her an ultimatum to either start swimming and behaving like the Undine she was born to be, or leave. Since she possessed an unhealthy fear of water, having the heritage of an elemental water sprite didn’t mesh.


Two days later, she left Oregon’s coast and headed east, making her way steadily deeper into the United States by Greyhound bus, and when her small cash reserves dried up, she hitched the rest of the way. A few commented on her blue hair, the faint blue-green tinge to her skin or her slightly webbed fingers, and many cast looks at her ranging from fear to rude curiosity. The inevitable jeering and hurtful remarks followed until tears became her constant companion and she began doubting her decision to leave.


By a stroke of luck, she’d come across a group of nuns at a rest stop at the North Carolina border. They gave her a business card with Jacinda’s name and a two-word destination--Strange Hollow--assuring her that everyone different would be accepted, no questions asked.


That evening Neadra stumbled into town, and before she’d gotten ten feet from the Town Hall, Jacinda herself had intercepted her, found her a small apartment and she had secured a job with the library. Neadra hadn’t had time to blink, it had happened that quickly.


Whether the whole meeting came about by magic or design, she didn’t know. The only thing she contemplated now was how her life in Strange Hollow had improved her outlook and attitude. Here, she was accepted and liked for who she was--not for what she couldn’t do. She refused to look back.


This returned her wandering mind to the problem at hand. Yes, she was afraid of water. So much so that her one-bedroom apartment had been built into the very side of Mt. Mitchell, three stories up from the ground in case there was ever a flood. The water wouldn’t reach her there. The likelihood of such an event occurring was slim. However, where being wet by the rain didn’t bother her because she could hide behind rain gear, not being able to swim in the summer months or water ski on Shady Lake with the rest of the townsfolk--so she’d heard from rumors--started to jar on her nerves and embarrassment set in. It seemed all the Strange Hollow gatherings, at least the ones she’d witnessed since her arrival last October, centered along the lakeshore, and the thought of being so close to a large body of water almost froze her with terror.


Something must be done and that something was conquering the unreasonable fear. Not to mention, what kind of man would want a woman like her?


Neadra frowned. Keeping herself away from the residents of Strange Hollow had one disadvantage. She couldn’t find a date by hiding--even if dating were possible.


Shoving the thought out of her mind, she considered her location. Twenty-five blocks lay between the library and her apartment. The distance was necessary to maintain her self-imposed exile from the water-loving fun. Eighteen blocks separated the library from the edge of Shady Lake.


What to do?


Subconsciously, she’d been walking north toward the lake so she might as well continue on that path. The need to either master the water or come to grips with her shortcomings compelled her forward. Tonight, she’d either embrace her Undine heritage or she’d hide herself away, knowing she’d be what essentially amounted to a fish out of water.


Shouldering her recycled book bag, she strode along the sidewalk, staring straight ahead. If she failed tonight, at least she could move forward in her life and not worry about it anymore.


* * * *


Neadra sighed and dipped her feet a bit deeper into the chilly water. She perched at the very edge of Shady Lake, alone with only the moon and the lake for company. The romance of the area wasn’t lost on her.


A thick wood line shrouded the far side of the lake, serving as a barrier between the business end of Strange Hollow and the small network of farms and homes of the flatlands. She’d heard that any resident wishing to buy property in the outlying areas must be prepared to defend said real estate against interlopers who didn’t hold true with the laws of the town. Every homeowner outside the downtown area received two acres of land along with their house with specific instructions not to sub-let the acreage.


It seemed the founder of Strange Hollow didn’t want the beauty of the town marred by endless subdivisions, fast food joints and strip malls. Working alongside nature. As it should be.


Slowly wriggling her toes, she stared at the dark stretch of water. So much potential. So much fear. She pulled her long skirt up her legs and slid forward until the water lapped over her calves.


I can’t do this.

Ignoring the task at hand, Neadra let her mind ponder her state of singleness. Since she’d been a very little girl it had been drilled into her that water sprites only mated within their species. What happened to a woman who, by necessity, had to live away from her community and family? Because of her fear, she’d been forced to make her home in a tool shed near the sea, much to the derision of her family.


It also meant she appeared damaged and broken in the eyes of potential mate material. Not to mention, she lacked the gills inherent to her species, making living on land essential. She was decidedly too odd to fit into the aquatic community.


She blew out a shaky breath. Time marched on while her biological clock ticked down the years, bringing panic with it. In two months, she’d pass her thirty-first birthday, not young anymore and nearing the danger zone on the reproductive scale.


My life is so messed up.

Watching the moon’s reflection on the lake surface, two glowing blue objects caught her attention. Neadra narrowed her eyes, straining forward. It was too early in the season for amphibian life and the orbs were too large to belong to a snake or fish. In the space of a heartbeat, they vanished. Relief swept through her body. She didn’t want to encounter some of the more fierce wildlife rumored to live around the mountain.


As suddenly as they disappeared, the blue objects came back into view, almost staring at her with weird, electric light. She shivered and pulled her feet beneath her, out of the water. Were they eyes? How was it possible? If an Undine didn’t want to be seen, no one except another water sprite could see them--unless she failed at the camouflage aspect of her culture as well. She’d never had an opportunity to test the theory.


The eyes came closer, confirming the fact the objects belonged to something. Her pulse steadily increased until it drummed out a frantic rhythm. Too fascinated to move, she watched as it closed the distance, only ten feet from the shore and her.


Threads of nameless anticipation slid over her skin, invoking goose bumps, but she felt no fear. Five feet of dark water separated her from whatever lurked beneath the surface. Her throat went dry as she wondered what kind of being it was.


With the smooth movements of someone accustomed to spending time in and around water, the placid scene shimmered. The top of a male head appeared, bobbed for an instant, his gaze never breaking eye contact with her, and he swam forward. The closer he got, the more of his body was revealed until he stood, dripping, on the shore near her.


For a few seconds, Neadra forgot how to breathe as she stared at the naked form of the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. She gasped and realized beautiful was not nearly an appropriate way to describe this particular male. He was at least six feet tall, and she had to tip her head back in order to properly take him all in. Black, coarse hair sprinkled his winter-pale skin, and as he lifted his hands to slick his thick, black hair from his face, the muscles in his broad chest rippled.


Unable to breathe without sounding like a dog in heat, Neadra licked her lips as her gaze moved from his clean-shaven, square jaw, over wide shoulders, thick from daily gym visits or hard labor, and down along his torso, following the sensual black ribbon of hair past washboard abs to his partially erect penis.


“Wow.” She’d barely forced the word out when her sex contracted with a strong aching need and she had to squeeze her thighs together to stave off the sensations. Quickly snapping her gaze to his face, she sought to distract herself from his body--except his brilliant eyes caused havoc with her insides. She felt an insane desire to trace the strong lines of his face, run her fingers over his jaw, and feel his lips against hers. “Wow.”


The man smiled. The ordinary action lit his face into a softer version, twinkling his eyes and causing gentle creases to appear at the sides of his mouth and across his forehead, as if he indulged in grinning often. “It’s not often I get such a reaction from the ladies, especially not one as pretty as you. I’m Caelan Burke.”


Neadra melted a tiny bit further at the slight Irish accent in his baritone voice. “Hi.” At a disadvantage from her position on the ground, not to mention the tempting distraction of his naughty bits at eye level, she struggled to her feet. The small pebbles that made up the shore cut into the soles, but she barely noticed as she held out her hand. “My name is Neadra.”


When she moved forward to shake the hand he offered, her toes tangled into the hem of her long skirt and she stumbled, taking a few unsteady steps backward and teetering into the lake with a resounding splash.


©  Sandra Sookoo

Changing Tides

Author: Sandra Sookoo

Publisher: Liquid Silver Publishing


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Born of water.
Neadra is an Undine, a water sprite, yet the thought of being in any body of water besides her bathtub, terrifies her. In Strange Hollow, she lives on the side of the mountain, content and out of harm’s way, even as she yearns to be understood for her fears and loved in spite of them.

Drawn to water.
Caelan, a water dragon from the wilds of Ireland, has been shunned by his clan for his inability to shift and terrorize. Lonely for too long, he meets Neadra one moonlit night and becomes enchanted by her kindness and her unique beauty, but how could anyone love him if he has no heroic ability whatsoever?

Threatened by water.
When late spring rains, coupled with warm temperatures, melt much of the snow pack on Mt. Mitchell, a flood sweeps through the outskirts of Strange Hollow, putting Neadra’s life in danger. Caelan fights his way to get to her, pulling out the hero he never thought he could be, while she, in turn, works through her fears to find him. Only through acceptance of the world around them and of each other will they find the life they’ve always wanted.

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