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With only one hand for steering, Jayna seemed to have difficulty making the first turn. On the second turn Sid tried to help, and the turn went more smoothly. By the time they had completed a loop of the pool, they swam like they had been attached to each other for hours.

“Again!” Andrea’s synthetic voice called out, and they started another loop.

On their third turn around the pool, the light of sunset turned the entire grotto a brilliant pink. As they returned to their starting place, Sid realized his hand had somehow clasped Jayna’s. Reluctantly, he unlaced his fingers from hers to grab the edge of the pool.

“I’m impressed,” Jayna said softly while Andrea was unloaded from the chariot. Sid turned towards her, and the nearness of her face sent a surge of longing through him.

“Thank you,” he said softly. He fought desperately to keep his voice even despite the pounding in his chest. “The feeling is mutual.”

Their eyes locked for several heartbeats. Jayna’s gaze moved to his mouth. She bit her lower lip, and Sid realized she wanted to kiss him as much as he wanted to kiss her. And this time, he couldn’t pass it off as her acting the part in a lover’s song.

They were so close, and the connection that had been growing between them was undeniable. Sid moved to erase the distance between them, and Jayna responded by closing her eyes and parting her lips ever so slightly.

There was a loud rap on the side of the chariot, and they quickly pulled apart. “All clear,” Kalani said as he swam alongside them. “Good job, you two.”

In less than a minute, they were disconnected from the chariot and each other. The side that had been pressed against Jayna felt cold.

“Marevitrum and I will take care of the rest of this,” Kalani said. He pointed a finger at Jayna. “You get cleaned up and then go get some rest. You have a big day tomorrow.”

“Yes, coach,” Jayna said with a tired smile. Then she paused and turned towards Sid. Their eyes met, and longing surged through him. She smiled shyly and, in Dr. Tierney’s lilting Irish brogue, said, “It’s been a pleasure, good sir.”

With that, she turned towards the waterfall and swam away.

Sid watched her tail disappear beneath the surface and sighed in defeat. He’d probably end up dashed on the rocks, but there was no point trying to resist her siren’s song anymore. Lad, if ye must do this, then ye’d best do it right.

Doing it right meant a meeting with Rosalind.

Chapter 19

Sid’s willingness to meet in-person with Rosalind Aria was proof of how hard he had fallen for Jayna. He couldn’t stand the woman, and some of her experimental work was questionable at best.

But her data aggregators were second to none, and her security and compatibility reports were certified ethical and legal. And she could usually be trusted to remain discreet.

Unfortunately, Rosalind’s flight into Manutai was late, which delayed their meeting and caused him to miss a big chunk of the Merathlon.

Sid was a bundle of nervous energy as he hurried towards the premiere seats at the Kingdom of Tangaroa’s new aquatic stadium. At least Kingdom had enough sense to put their VIP seats well beyond the splash zone.

He cast a quick glance at the leaderboard and was happy to see Jayna in third place overall, though he couldn’t figure out if she had already taken her turn in the show jumping.

Out in the water, a golden-haired mermaid with a red tail swam through the hoops and bars that made up the course, and the packed stadium applauded politely with every jump.

Sid scanned the crowd and quickly located Emmaline’s bright green hair, which she had colored to match Jayna’s tail.

As he slid into the empty seat next to her, she gave him a concerned look. “Is everything okay?”

I’ll know soon enough, he thought. He forced a smile and nodded. “Everything’s great. How’s she doing?”

“Not bad. She did well in the sprints, and got fourth in the jousting, which was impressive considering the size of some of those mermen.”

Sid’s gut tightened at the memory of Jayna facing off against Merman Pala, and he realized maybe it was a good thing he had missed that part of the Merathlon.

Out in the show pool, the jumping mermaid finished the course, and the crowd applauded.

“Jayna hasn’t done the jumping yet, has she?” Sid asked.

“No. She’s next.” Emmaline pointed to the starting gate where Jayna waited her turn. She wore her sleek emerald-green athletic tail, and Sid’s heart raced at the sight of her.

Jayna began swimming slowly through the course, examining the hoops, bars, and small, sand-covered island, which had been decorated with a palm tree and sandcastle. When she reached the end, she returned to take her position behind the starting gate and raised her hand.