Tantalizing Thursday presents the action-packed, incredibly romantic novel, Impact Zone by Dakota Skye. WOW, is all I can say. This is a paranormal/supernatural erotic romance suspense that keeps you on the edge of your seat. We're featuring the first chapter here today...enjoy.
"We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea-whether to watch or sail-we go to from whence we came."—JFK
Josie Wells pulled up the zipper of her wetsuit as she contemplated the empty beach surrounded by cliffs. Dawn had yet to break and the marine layer hung low over the sea like an ethereal blanket. Seals barked from beneath the Santa Cruz Wharf to the south, its length wrapped in fog.
She loved the beach before daybreak when she could pretend to be somewhere more remote with only her surfboard, the sea life, and the ocean as companions. With her board tucked beneath her arm, she walked toward the waves stroking the shore.
A look over her shoulder confirmed that the dawn patrol had arrived, four surfers total, including her, first to hit the beach each day as if it were their religion. The ocean undulated in front of them as their place of worship—the whitecaps their choir and the steady hum of the sea their hymn.
She stopped when she saw him, the swimmer who joined her every morning in silence. Nico Triton, the reclusive billionaire, stood waist deep in the water, his well-muscled back tapering to a narrow waist, and shoulder length black hair moving with the breeze. Although they had only spoken briefly in the past regarding business, she felt a bond with her silent companion who braved the cold water without a wetsuit. He stretched his arms over his head, mist swirling around his body, before he dove into an approaching wave and disappeared from sight.
The bite of the early morning breeze snipped at her face as she strode into the water, almost to the exact spot where he had been. She scanned the rolling waves for any sign of him. Even though they never acknowledged the other's presence, she derived a strange comfort from seeing him here each morning. Maybe he didn't surf, but he'd become as much of the dawn patrol as the lifelong friends who silently entered the water behind her.
Grinning at the sight of Triton surfacing about twenty feet ahead, she gripped her board and slammed into the surf. Maybe it was his unattainability that intrigued her or the way he tackled the ocean as if he owned it. Whatever the reason, she'd indulged in countless fantasies about him from the first time she'd seen him dive into a wave, had acted like a moron the two times they'd met for business related conversations, and liked knowing he shared the same stretch of beach she did every morning.
Maybe she needed to get laid. Fantasies and toys were no replacement for the true feel of a man between her thighs.
Board securely in her grasp, she dove beneath an oncoming wave and focused on clearing her mind. Thoughts of fucking a fantasy swimmer drifted to the back of her mind as she battled her way toward the surface.
Once settled at the line up, the point beyond the breaking waves, Josie straddled her board, shoved long strands of blonde hair from her eyes, and blinked toward the sky that glowed with the approaching sun. Other members of the dawn patrol joined her at a distance and remained silent while they bobbed along the rolling water waiting for their set.
She licked salt from her lips. Anticipation of the ride bubbled through her veins. Two-time world champion, competition had consumed most of her life; but now she spent most of her time in a corporate office.
Instinct propelled her forward, the energy of the wave compelling her to paddle before she could see it. She smiled at the surge of adrenaline. When the wave broke, she popped up, her feet quickly finding position as the board sliced into the wave's face. With a shake of her head to toss stray curls from her eyes, she rode the water as if it would be her last time.
Dark figures on the beach broke her focus. From her vantage point, she watched them struggle. The whoosh of the ocean and the barking of seals competed with the distant shouts. Fog wrapped the two in a blanket of disguise for a moment and, when it moved, only one figure remained face down on the sand while the other had disappeared.
She stood straighter on the board while her gaze searched for the man who'd run away. A sea lion she'd nicknamed Ralf bodysurfed next to her, his cheerful face peering up from the water with innocent bliss as it twisted onto its back to get her attention.
Josie spun her board out of the curl and leapt into the water. Her strokes were long and sure as she swam the short distance remaining to shore with her board trailing behind her by the leash strapped to her ankle.
"Are you okay?" she yelled at the person who remained face down in the sand.
Grabbing her board, she jogged across damp sand and knelt next to the body. Josie turned the woman over and winced at the amount of blood oozing from the victim's forehead. Quick to act, she felt for a pulse before noticing the limpness of the woman's neck.
Dead. Broken neck. Blunt force to the head.
Although dressed in a wetsuit, the murdered woman hadn't been part of the local surfing community. Josie knew everyone, at least by face.
She disconnected the board from her ankle, abandoned it in the sand, and ran toward her car where she'd left her cell phone. As an afterthought, she looked over the expanse of beach again for the unknown assailant. Tufts of fog swirled over the sand as it lifted to make room for day. Further down the beach, hotel lights flickered against the dawn.
As her sandy fingers fumbled with the phone, she felt the hair stand up at the back of her neck. Turning, she noticed the shape of a man walking toward her through the fog. Not taking her gaze from him, she informed the police of what she'd found and promised to wait.
Nico Triton stepped toward her, frowning as he shoved long fingers through his wet hair. Dressed in a pair of wet green swim trunks that hugged his hips and outlined what looked like a significant package, Josie had a hard time knowing where to look. The term 'six-pack' failed to describe the rippling muscles of his chest and abdomen. Black hair grazed the top of his shoulders and stuck to his neck. When he came close enough for her to see his eyes, she forgot how to breathe—the color mirrored the bluest ocean.
He looked at her with curiosity when she wouldn't stop staring at him. "Is there something wrong?"
"There's been an attack on the beach, a murder. Did you see anything?" She tossed her phone inside her convertible and waited for him to answer while she battled to calm her out-of-control heartbeat.
Fuck it. I finally get a chance to talk to him and the subject is murder. I cannot catch a break in the romance department.
"Do you need help?" Standing at least a foot taller than her own 5'5, he loomed above her.
Even though she had met him only twice before, she couldn't shake the feeling that she had a connection with him from somewhere long ago. An overwhelming sense of deja vu overtook her whenever they stood close to one another, as if things had been left unsaid and unresolved. Crazy, she realized, completely ludicrous.
"I saw a man fighting with her, but he vanished in the fog." She stepped backward until her hips collided with the passenger door of her car.
"Are you certain it was a man? You were far out and the haze was thick." He combed his fingers through his wet hair and narrowed his gaze toward Rex who ran toward the dead woman. "I only see the usual group here, no strangers."
"I was a little distracted, yes, and it wasn't clear, that's true, but—"
"The assailant simply vanished?" He frowned, hands now on his hips. "Could he or she have swum out?"
Edgy, she gestured wide with her hands. "I don't know. I suppose. I didn't consider that."
"Not everyone surfs, some simply enjoy swimming." He smiled before sliding his gaze over her. "Would you like me to stay with you until the police arrive?"
She frowned, rattled from witnessing a murder and from the strange effect he had on her. "You swim with me every day, but I just saw you out by the break point, how...I surfed in...how did you...?" She motioned with her arms from the ocean to the parking lot, feeling ridiculously incoherent.
"I bodysurfed in and came onto shore further down the beach." He looked amused at her observation. "Are you okay? Do you need to sit down? You look unsteady."
"I'm not good with blood, it's always made me quesy. Seeing so much of it on my beach just now—the same place where I stood a half an hour ago, where you stood—it's freaking me out a little." She twisted her head around to look at the nearly vacant parking lot. She couldn't shake the feeling of being watched by someone unseen.
Ripples of apprehension rolled through her. She'd witnessed a fight from a distance, two people, one of whom lay dead twenty feet away. But where was the other one? What if it had been Nico Triton? What did she really know about the man other than the facts of his billion dollar business and drop dead gorgeous looks? He'd gotten to shore too quickly in her mind, appeared out of the shadows from down the beach that happened to be the same direction the assailant must have run. How could he have not seen anything?
He narrowed his eyes. "Do you think I murdered the woman?"
She skimmed her gaze over his face before shaking her head 'no.' Instinct told her to trust him and she'd always been one to act on gut feelings. "Someone did and he couldn't have gotten far if you didn't see him running your way. He could still be here."
Standing eye-level with the center of his chest, she couldn't help but take another long look at the tanned muscles inches from her face. Sand and sea salt clung to his skin in the most tempting of places. She bit her lip, clenched her hands at her sides, and fought the urge to touch him.
"Yeah, I get that feeling, too." He looked behind him to where a steep staircase led to his home on the cliff. "I live up there—"
"I know," she blurted out before thinking twice about it. Everyone in Santa Cruz knew the reclusive billionaire lived in the massive house overlooking the city and beach.
Here I go again, making an idiot of myself around this guy. She shoved her hands through her hair and tried not to think of all the blood she'd seen oozing from the stranger's head or of the murderer who could be watching them as they spoke.
"You said the man ran off?" His gaze still trained on the steps leading to his home, he took a step toward them, but she grabbed his arm to stop him.
Waves of intense need washed over her like a tsunami at the contact. Once again deja vu lit her heart whispering to her that she knew him from a long time ago.
He looked down at her hand before sliding his gaze to hers. "He could be up there, I should check."
"Wait for the police." She dropped her hand from his skin and swallowed hard. "Listen, Triton, I—"
"My brother's up there." He flashed a smile. "I know you know Damien. Do you think he's up for battling a killer?"
She relaxed at the mention of his brother, her main contact with Triton Industries that she'd done business with in the past. "He could charm his way out of anything."
"So could you, Josie Wells." He winked before turning his attention to the scene unfolding on the beach.
"Well, now I know you're a liar." She cleared her throat at her lame attempt at humor and started walking back toward the sand. Rex and Erica, the other surfers of the dawn patrol, had gathered around the dead woman.
She stopped at the sound of what could only be described as the clicking of a camera. She spun on her heel and looked at the still foggy and empty beach.
"There's someone out there. Did you hear that?" She backed up and collided with him.
Nico dropped his hand on her shoulder. "I'll stay with you until the police get here."
"But did you hear that?" Eyes wide, she pressed further against him. Every instinct she had screamed 'Danger.'
"I only hear the surf. Maybe you should come up to my house and wait for the police."
"You said the killer could be at your house." She stepped away from him, hating this feeling of uncertainty and unease.
"I'm not exactly harmless and I have security up there, an entire house full of people ready to rip someone to shreds if I say so."
"I'm sure you do," she said with a slow nod, the reality of who he was and the oddity of their current situation sinking in. "I'm not a damsel in distress, Triton."
"Call me Nico." He pulled her closer to his side and smiled. "It's okay. I'll stay with you."
The contact coupled with his words took her breath away. She'd heard him say that before, but in a dream. Those exact words, "It's okay. I'll stay with you." His touch sent a strange electrical current through her that she couldn't explain and looking into his eyes transported her into a space between reality and dreams.
Memories twisted with fantasy until she didn't know which way was up. She could see the scene as clearly as she could see him now...Her wiping out, twisting beneath a wave as one after the other crashed down upon her...her head striking the reef...blood in her eyes...and Nico Triton being there, pulling her free, kissing life back into her when she'd certainly drowned...swimming with her deep in the ocean, those blue eyes peering at her through the chaos...his body undulating against hers...a merman.
"What did you just call me?" He broke physical contact and stepped away from her, putting at least two feet between them.
She rubbed her hands across her face and wished the earth would crack open to swallow her whole. Now. Sooner the better. Saying nothing, she strode toward her friends and hoped to put as much distance between her and Nico as possible. Between witnessing a murder and calling the lust of her life a merman, she'd rather chalk this day up to a total loss than speak to him again.
Damn, the man had a way about him that made her melt inside her wetsuit. When she reached her friends, she yanked down the back zipper and breathed a sigh of relief at being away from him.
The sand had turned black with blood beneath the woman's head. Nico stood over the body, hands on his hips and a frown on his face.
"Do you know her?" Rex asked as he stood, brown shaggy curls sticking out from his head at wild angles. "Does anyone recognize this person?"
"Could be tourist," Erica said.
"What about you, Triton?" Rex asked.
Josie ripped her gaze from the blood and reluctantly looked at Nico's face. Where once there had been heat against her skin, a cold shiver stirred. She had the distinct impression that he did indeed know the victim.
"Do you know her?" she asked despite her resolve to never speak to him again.
He lifted his head and looked past her toward the cliffs above them. "I have no idea who she is."
Earlier her instinct had insisted on his innocence. Now that same intuition told her that he lied.
* * *
He shouldn't have touched her, he knew that. He'd spent eighteen months avoiding close contact with Josie, knowing that her memories of his true identity could never surface. Yet he'd been unable to resist swimming with her every day, keeping watch, protecting her from afar.
He stood at the foot of his stairs and watched the body being lifted from the scene and carried away.
"This is trouble for us, you know that, don't you?" His head of security, Jarrod, stood next to him. "Police are searching our property."
"I'm fully aware." He rubbed his chin and turned his gaze toward Josie who walked with her board tucked under her arm toward her car. Head bent toward the sand, she nodded at whatever her friend Rex said to her.
"You brought this trouble here," Jarrod said. "That's what the council is saying anyway. They've called an emergency meeting. You should go."
"I should do a lot of things, doesn't mean I will." He folded his arms across his chest and watched Josie walk away. When she turned and looked at him over her shoulder, he grinned.
"Nico, you need to forget about that woman."
"When I want your opinion, Jarrod, I'll ask for it."
"You never ask."
"I don't, do I?" His smile faded as he watched the body being loaded into the back of a silent ambulance.
Knowing Matilda Leslie—the murder victim—as he had, he knew damn well the woman had been here to hunt him. She'd been following him for years from one place to the next, but hadn't been seen in months. No matter where he moved on earth, Matilda Leslie had eventually found him with her cameras and theories.
Founder of Triton Industries, he had homes all over the world and a team of people to protect his privacy. Matilda Leslie had circumvented all of that with perseverance and luck.
Today her luck had run out. Damn her to hell.
But for her to end up dead at the foot of his stairs...that equaled one hell of a mess.
Josie dropped her board into the backseat of her convertible before making a surprise change in direction.
"Go. I'll be up in a few minutes." He left Jarrod to meet her half way in the sand. "Police interrogate you enough?"
"Too much." She pushed a stray curl behind her ear, sighed, and looked him square in the eye. "I was rattled earlier...when I said that thing...believe it or not, I can form coherent sentences. I wanted you to know I don't actually think you're a merman."
"Good to know." He laughed at the fierce gleam in her eye. "Anything else?"
"Yeah, actually." She swallowed visibly but didn't look away. "I don't bite, you know. You can talk to me when you see me in the mornings. It would be nice for you to say hello."
"And vice versa."
"True." She smiled while nodding slowly. "Good point. I probably can't screw up the word 'hello.' I'll try it out tomorrow."
She pulled her gaze from his and watched Jarrod ascend the stairs. "No sign of the murder suspect yet? The police have searched your place?"
"Are you going to be okay for the rest of the day?" He motioned to where the news crews had gathered at the perimeter of the parking lot. A local celebrity and prime witness, Josie Wells would be hounded mercilessly for a comment.
She sighed without looking at them. "I'll be at work. I can handle it. I'm simply a surfer."
"I don't think there's anything simple about you."
She caught her lower lip between her teeth and let her gaze wander over his chest.
He wanted to touch her again, but based on her earlier reaction, knew that would be dangerous. Perhaps it would be best for them both if he followed his council's advice and disappeared without a trace.
"I surf at night, too, but further south. I like to catch the sunset. There's a great beach bar there—all surfers or divers—very low key. I'll be there after I get off work."
He looked out at the waves and sighed. He knew she wanted him to say something about meeting her there or swimming with her, but he also knew the stakes had just been raised.
After a long silence filled with unsaid wishes, she stepped away from him. "I had better go. The fray awaits."
"Don't let them get to you," he said, unable to look at her.
"I never do." She turned on a heel and jogged back to her car where her friend Rex waited.
For everything, there was a price to pay. He'd paid dearly for saving her life on that reef, but he didn't regret it. He smiled as he watched her drive out of the parking lot, followed by her friend's truck.
He walked up the stairs to his home, mind reeling with possibilities as to who had murdered Matilda. It hadn't been him, but it must have been one of his council. Inside his house, he took his time pulling on a shirt and noticing the police leaving his driveway before walking down the hall to where his council waited.
Nico looked at them and used his powers of observation to detect the truth. Miranda flicked her long auburn hair over her shoulder and arched an eyebrow at his perusal. Jarrod looked at him, eyes devoid of expression. Stephen paced at the back of the room. Damien, his brother, lounged in the chair in front of his desk, concern shadowing his eyes. Boreas stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, arms crossed, and shook his head with disapproval.
"One of us is a murderer," Nico said, taking his place behind his desk.
"You're wrong." Miranda reached for Damien's hand. "The problem lies outside of our tribe. It had to be someone in Matilda's group."
"She got too close to you," Boreas said, narrow faced scrunched with distaste. "You were out there, she could have seen you, maybe she did. How do we know you didn't do it? Your temper—"
"Is about to be witnessed if you don't say anything constructive." Nico shut his eyes and forced himself to stay in control of his raging emotions.
"Where there's one, there is another. They are like cockroaches." Damien tee-peed his fingers and pressed them against his chin. "Are you certain you didn't see anything?"
"Do you honestly think I'd murder her? After all this time? If I'd wanted her dead, she would have been gone a long time ago." Nico shrugged at his brother, shocked that Damien would suggest that. "Where were you this morning?"
"In bed with me," Miranda said.
"We can have the yacht ready to go by noon, Nico." Stephen stopped his pacing and faced him. "It's best for all of us if you become inaccessible."
"You're only here because of Josie Wells, but you can't have her and know it. I've known you your entire life and I've never seen you act so blind." Boreas strode forward, looking like a barracuda with his steely black eyes and creepy grin. "It's time for you to act like a leader and less like a fool."
He slammed his fist on the desk, fracturing it into two pieces. The entire room shook. The men in his presence stepped back. Son of Poseidon, Triton's fury could cause natural disasters if not kept in check. A demigod, he did as he pleased when he pleased.
"Who did this? Which one of you killed her? If not you, Miranda, then who? We have other ways, peaceful alternatives to violence. Tell me now." He looked long and hard into each one's face.
"It wasn't one of us. Maybe it was one of the others being overly ambitious, but it was no one on the council." Damien stood and met his gaze without flinching. "Nico, you must calm down."
"How did she find us this time? We have gone to great lengths to conceal ourselves from her."
"Not lately," Boreas corrected. "Your daily swims with the surfer have been too predictable. I warned you of this."
He gritted his teeth, the need to feel the wind on his face to calm him down rattled through his bones.
"Find the rest of the MythQuest group, make sure they leave. I don't care what you need to do to persuade them, use your powers of persuasion." His lip curled at the word, tired of repressing part of himself out of concern of being captured and turned into a lab rat. "Make sure that there is no connection to any of us. We need to take the offense here; we've played defense for too long. If they want to know who they're hunting, let's leave no doubt about what we can do." He pushed away from the desk and looked each of them in the eye. "I trust I won't need to hear about this again until we have answers?"
"No, sir, you won't be bothered with the details. We will do what needs to be done." Jarrod, his head of security, held a corner of the cracked desk to keep it the computer from crashing to the floor. "We'll replace the desk by the end of the day as well."
"I still say you need to leave the country. That surfer is going to bring you down, Triton." Exasperation animated Boreas' normally neutral expression.
"I am not leaving, not yet."
"I don't understand. That human is—"
"Is what?" He stared at Boreas until the other man looked away. Satisfied that he'd made his intentions clear, he took a minute to look at each council member one-by-one. "Does anyone else doubt me?"
"No, Nico." Damien caught the lamp as it fell from the imploding desk. "We have everything under control."
He left them to deal with the mess he'd made. He pushed through the wide doors leading to the balcony, rested heavily against the railing, observed the seals playing in the surf below, and inhaled the rich salt-filled air. With the whispers of the sea breeze cautioning him about an increasing threat, he bowed his head and looked at his folded hands. Heartbeat hammered heavily inside his chest. Closing his eyes, he allowed the scents and sounds of the ocean to restore his being with peace despite the sense of doom creeping along the coastline.
Keep reading Impact Zone, the paranormal erotic romance suspense novel by Dakota Skye