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“Next up in the show jumping,” the event announcer said, “Mermaid Aaramere.”

There was a round of polite applause as she gripped the railings with both hands and the muscles in her arms went taut.

A young man standing at the edge of the pool raised a conch shell to his mouth and blew. As the note echoed through the stadium, Jayna shot forward.

The first jump was a simple hoop, not too high. She leapt from the water, cleared it cleanly, and barely made a splash. The crowd responded with more polite applause.

The next obstacle was a combination consisting of a low broad jump, followed immediately by a high vertical bar. Jayna approached the broad jump at a measured pace. She cleared it easily and then immediately leapt over the bar, slipping gracefully into the water on the other side.

This time, the crowd cheered loudly. Emmaline leaned towards him and said, “She’s the only one who’s made that jump.”

Sid had known that Jayna was good but seeing her in action sent his admiration for her into overdrive.

The third jump was a tricky-looking triple hoop, with the middle hoop higher than the other two. Jayna approached carefully, and then shot from the water with a burst of speed, sailing cleanly through all three hoops.

The audience thundered as she circled back and prepared to jump over the sandy island. She approached quickly, keeping her head above water to focus on the obstacle. A couple of meters short of the island, she dived beneath the surface. A moment later she leaped from the water, sailing high above the sand.

As cheers echoed through the theater, Jayna swam to the edge of the tank and circled quickly, building up speed for the fifth and final jump. A single pole stretched high above the water with a bell hung at the top. Jayna sprinted towards the pole and leaped straight up into the air, stretching her hand high above her head.

The sound of the bell reverberated through the stadium, and the audience roared its approval. As Jayna fell towards the water, she tucked her tail underneath herself and landed with a loud smack that sent a spray over the edge of the pool and into the front two rows of seats.

Several seconds later, the scoreboard updated to show Jayna’s near-perfect score of 97. The applause surged again, and Sid sprang to his feet, cheering loudly.

“She really is quite impressive,” Emmaline said once Sid had returned to his seat. The smile tugging at her mouth suggested she knew how deep his feelings for Jayna had become.

“Yes, she is,” he admitted. In practically every way.

“There’s only one more jumper, and unless he gets a perfect 100, Jayna will be in first place when they start the final event.”

Sid’s whole body vibrated with excitement for Jayna’s success. But something seemed off. “Isn’t this supposed to be a pentathlon? That means five events, but I only count four.”

“It’s just like the Olympic pentathlon, where they combined the long-distance run and the pistol shooting, only for merfolk, they combine the long-distance swim and spear fishing.”

The last merman started the course, and Sid held his breath. He was good, but not as good as Jayna, and his final score of 92 was not enough to knock her out of the lead.

As the stadium erupted in cheers, the overhead display focused on Jayna as she threw her arms around Kalani’s neck and kissed him.

A knot formed in Sid’s stomach, and he stiffened. The kiss wasn’t quite on the mouth, but it wasn’t exactly on the cheek, either.

“Relax, Romeo,” Emmaline said, giving him a nudge. “There’s nothing going on between them. Trust me.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“They aren’t well matched. Besides, I asked her.”

Sid’s eyes widened in surprise. “What? When?”

“While we were shopping the other day.” Emmaline gave him a mischievous smile. “We talked about all kinds of things.”

Sid wanted to press her and find out what else they had talked about. But instead, he decided this would be the right time to tell her about his meeting with Rosalind. He removed a fabric mask from his pocket, slipped it on over his mouth, inserted the connected earpiece, and offered a second mask to Emmaline. Her eyebrows rose in surprise, but she took the mask from him without question and put it on.

After confirming that their connection was secure, he asked, “Can I trust her?”

With her mask in place, Sid couldn’t read Emmaline’s expression. “Trust her in what way?”

That was the question Sid had been grappling with ever since the two of them had nearly kissed the day before. “Is she the kind of gold-digging climber who will use me to build herself up and then throw me into the void as soon as someone better comes along?”

“She won’t find anyone better than you.” There was a certainty in Emmaline’s voice that surprised him.