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A loud murmur of surprise filled the theater, followed by hesitant applause.

Jayna couldn’t believe what she had just heard and looked wide-eyed at Kalani for confirmation. He nodded his acknowledgment with a grin so large, it threatened to split his face.

She felt a little thrill of happiness deep in her chest. This is what she had wanted—for Realms and Kingdom to come together. And Kalani was going to be their General Manager!

But then she remembered just how much Gabrielle had disliked the idea of the two parks merging, not to mention her animosity towards Kalani. She glanced warily at her friend, but Gabrielle didn’t appear all that upset at the announcement. If anything, she seemed pleased.

“Realms and Kingdom will remain separate legal entities,” Sid continued, “with independent management teams and a shared board of directors. Kingdom of Tangaroa shareholders will retain full ownership of that park. This park will be given to you. As of midnight tonight, the Realms of Neptune will become an employee-owned company.”

After a moment of stunned silence, the aquatic theater erupted in cheers like Jayna had never heard before.

She felt light-headed. “Is he serious?”

Somehow, Kalani’s smile had grown even larger. “It’s already done. We had the legal meeting this morning and signed the papers.”

Jayna looked up at the stage where Sid sat proudly in his merman tail and merbreather, beaming at the park’s cheering employees. His eyes met hers, and her heart swelled.

Why was he doing this? Was he trying to buy his way back into her heart?

If so, was it working?

Sid motioned for silence. “I’m sure you all have questions, so as soon as I’m done, Hazel will come up here to answer them for you. After that, please make your way to the reception grotto, where we’ll celebrate the Realms of Neptune’s new owners—you!”

There was another round of applause as Sid waved his arms, launched himself into the tank, and swam towards the backstage tunnel.

Unable to contain herself any longer, Jayna hopped to her feet, leaped over Kalani, and dashed to the dressing room.

Chapter 42

When Sid emerged in the staging pool, Jayna was already at the mertender’s nook. Her arms were folded, and her lips were in a tight line, but there was an open receptiveness in her eyes that Sid found encouraging. So far, so good.

His heart raced as he swam towards her. He reached the nook, took hold of the support bar, and pulled himself up so he and Jayna were at eye level. “Hi.” He smiled, trying to hide his nerves.

“Hi.” Her voice was flat and even, not giving a hint as to what she was feeling.

They stared at each other for several long seconds before Sid turned his shoulder towards her. “Would you mind helping me out of this merbreather?”

Jayna’s expression remained flat, and she kept her arms folded firmly across her chest. “Answer two questions first.”

His doubt grew. Sid had hoped his grand gesture would be enough to show Jayna how much she meant to him, but he had always known it could all be for nothing. He had lost her trust with his accusations, and he needed to win it back. “Okay. Anything.”

“Question one: Do you really think you can buy your way back into my life by giving Realms of Neptune to the employees?”

He had anticipated this question and was prepared with an answer. “No.”

Jayna raised a questioning eyebrow.

Sid continued. “I do want to be back in your life, more than anything. I was wrong to accuse you the way I did, and the thought of not being with you is excruciating. But I’m giving you the park because it’s the right thing to do.” He hesitated before adding, “If you choose not to let me back in your life, then the less involvement I have with the park, the better it will be for us both.”

Jayna’s expression softened, and she let her arms drop. Relief flooded through him, and he leaned closer to her. But Jayna stopped him with a hand on his chest.

“Question two,” she said. “If I let you back into my life, will the Cerulean Order approve?”

This was a question Sid hadn’t been prepared for. He hesitated before saying, “It doesn’t matter what the Cerulean Order thinks. Not anymore.”

Jayna folded her arms again. “Yes, it does.” Her voice cracked. She bowed her head for a moment, took a deep breath, and when she looked up at Sid, he saw the concern in her emerald eyes. “It matters because as much as I care about you, and as much as I want you in my life, I understand why the Order is important to you. I don’t want to be the reason they keep you out. So yes, it does matter. It matters a lot.”

Sid shook his head. “You see, that’s just it—it doesn’t matter because I have formally removed my name from consideration for membership.”