Well, actually, it’s two problems with one mucking up the other.
The problem doing the mucking is that Callie is the daughter of a siren and a selkie but she’s inherited none of her parents’ powers to enchant either humans or Others. She can, however, briefly enchant animals with a siren song. Big whoop. And the problem being mucked up by that? She needs a date for a wedding she really, really doesn’t want to attend alone. Or with a dog…literally.
When Callie sends out one last desperate song, hoping for a miracle, her new neighbor’s cat shows up. Too bad…because what she’d really like is to enchant the cat’s gorgeous owner.
Jake Gattus has been hoping to meet his next-door neighbor since he moved in but, unfortunately, the pretty lady next door is not the bring-him-a-welcome-to-the-neighborhood-casserole type. He’s been trying to think up other excuses for meeting her and is beginning to get a little frustrated with his lack of success…until his cat gets lured over her fence. Maybe, just maybe, he’s found his in.
Serendipity…or Something Like That
You’d think the daughter of a siren and a selkie could find a date with no problem, wouldn’t you?
I mean, really, even the child of a human and an Other—be it witch, warlock, shadow dweller, fairy or whatever—generally inherits some power from their Other parent. And mixed Others nearly always inherit powers. For Neptune’s sake, the children of a sorcerer and an enchantress are bestowed with enhanced powers! So, as the daughter of two species of Others who lure and seduce the opposite sex, you’d think I could at least drum up enough magic to attract the attention of some male, human or Other.
But, no, if I’m a measuring stick for half-siren-half-selkies, then apparently a siren and a selkie cancel each other out. They’re not known for their honesty, sirens and selkies, I mean. They’re sneaky, and they usually only enchant and seduce humans. My parents were both masquerading in their human form when they met and…but that’s another story. The short version is I, and my sister, are the result of their trickery.
We’re aberrations, mutants. We don’t even have to live in the sea, only near it. There are no Others like us. Or, if there are, I’ve never met one. We don’t even have a species name. Hah, what would they call us anyway? Sirkies? Selrens? Maybe a whole new—
My stomach rumbled suddenly as the smell of grilling meat wafted over the fence on the warm autumn breeze to tempt me, reminding me that I hadn’t had dinner yet. Evidently, my new neighbor was barbequing.
I needed to get over the self-indulgent pity party soon, get my backside out of the patio lounger and figure out what I was going to have for dinner.
I sent a small siren song my mother had taught me out into to the universe.
Pointless, I know, but it never hurts to keep trying.
Truly, it’s not like me to sit around feeling sorry for myself like this. Because you have to play the hand you’re given, right? Wallowing in self-pity only makes you miserable. And who wants to hang out with someone who’s miserable? But it was only a week until—
My new neighbor’s cat sat on the fence blinking his exotic emerald eyes at me. I’d seen him around before, exploring on my side of the fence, and he’s a pretty gorgeous guy; all shiny black fur over sleek muscles, a lot like a miniature panther, in fact.
Typical. Apparently my little siren song had worked. I might not be able to call other Others or humans to me but, unlike my sister, I’m not completely without powers. Male animals love me. Cats, dogs, horses, pigs…well, you name it. If they’re anywhere in the vicinity when I send out a song, they respond. Guess I’m kind of like one of those whistles you can’t hear. Good thing the effects of my songs only last for a minute or two, or else I’d have every pet in the neighborhood showing up in no time.
Maybe my powers work on animals because my father is half seal.
Well, not half seal precisely…he can shed his skin to become human and then put it back on to return to seal form. Like I said, tricky.
The cat gracefully jumped off the fence and padded over to my lounger.
Well, it could be worse. He could be a rat. Or a snake. Don’t think it hasn’t happen. That’s why I rarely, very rarely, send out a song.
“Hello, handsome boy. Too bad you don’t stand on two legs. If you did, you could be my date.”
He hopped up on the lounger beside me and curled up next to my thigh, purring contentedly. He’d never come this close before but it was hardly surprising he would do so now. I’d called after all and he was answering.
I reached out a tentative hand and stroked his head. His fur was as silky as it looked and he returned the caress by affectionately rubbing his head along my leg.
Yup, definitely date material if he’d been Other or human.
It’s not like I haven’t tried dating the way other non-enchantment weaving Others and humans do, you know. I’ve tried hooking up in bars, flirting in grocery stores and Laundromats, and I signed up at a computerized matchmaking service. I even took a car repair course once, hoping to meet guys. Unfortunately, so did about thirty other women.
The truth is, I haven’t had much luck with dating either way, magical or non-magical. Oh, I’ve had some dates…and, boy, could I tell you horror stories about several of them! I even had a relationship about two years ago.
For all of two weeks.
Then, bam, he met my sister…and now they’re getting married in a week. On Halloween.
Which is why I need a date so desperately that I’ve sunk into this pathetic and useless “poor me” mood.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. My heart wasn’t broken or anything. John did have the decency to give me the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech and break up with me first. And Galene even asked if it would be okay with me if they dated. What could I say? She’s my sister and, until then, as feeble at love as I was. And feelings are feelings. No one, Other or human, can control attraction or love. Well, except magical Others, and they’re welcome to it.
Truth be told, most of the time I’m glad I don’t have my parents’ powers. I sure wouldn’t want to spend my life wondering if the man I loved truly loved me in return or if he loved me because I’d enchanted him. Magical enchant, I mean, not personality enchant. How long do you suppose magical enchantment lasts anyway? Forever? Or do you have to keep sending it out there?
I’ll have to ask my parents.
See what I mean though? Much too messy and confusing that way.
But…back to John and Galene. They didn’t ask me to stand up with them. Considerate. And smarter than they’d acted, considering I likely would have socked one of them. But, to be clear, I do truly, genuinely wish them happiness.
It’s just that…well…
…there’s a teeny, tiny part of me that wants to show up at their wedding with a super hunk on my arm. You know, the kind of guy that just screams “so there!” at them.
Besides, if I show up at the wedding alone, everybody will think I’m a loser who can’t get a date or, even worse, that I’m still pining for John. As if. Never mind that the first part is true.
I suppose I could hire a date. Though…where do I go to hire someone who is the clichéd tall, dark and handsome to pretend he’s crazy about me?
“Excuse me, have you seen my cat?”
Startled, I swung my head around and up to find the source of that deep, sexy voice.
Uh…yeah…someone just like that.
Talk about tall, dark and handsome! My new human neighbor, who was looking over the fence at me, fit the bill to a T.
As with his cat, I’d seen him around—oh, okay, fine, I’d more than seen him around, I’d ogled him from my upstairs windows when he’d been in his backyard. But we hadn’t officially met yet. All I knew about him was that he was a fireman, he appeared to be single—no women or kids in the yard or pool—and he was gorgeous.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
What? Oh, right, I was staring at him like some kind of star-struck teenager mooning after her current idol. He was waiting for an answer to his question. Which had been…what again?
His cat, that was it!
“Yes, sorry, I’m fine,” I said, getting to my feet. “Your cat is right here.” I looked down at the lounger, only to find the cat gone. “Well, he was right here,” I amended.
“Hakuna matata,” Mr. T, D and H said, the Swahili phrase for “there are no worries”, familiar to me from the Disney song. I specialize in teaching junior elementary children after all. At—big surprise—a marine museum. “He’ll come home when he’s ready,” he continued, sticking his hand over the fence. “It’s nice to finally meet you. I’m Jake Gattus.”
“Hi, Jake,” I said, shaking his hand. “I’m Calliste Reid. But everybody calls me Callie. Your cat is becoming a regular visitor in my yard. I guess I should know his name too.”
“His name? Oh, uh…it’s…ah…ah…Deuce.”
Well, what had been so difficult about remembering his cat’s name?
Oh, please, I begged the One, don’t let Jake be an Easter egg! You know what I mean—pretty on the outside, nothing on the inside.
“Because he’s a little wild? As in, deuce is wild in cards?” I asked.
He grinned and my heart did a little pitter-pat dance. Wow, he’d been hot enough before but when he smiled…oh, man, when he smiled, he was devastating, lethal to women everywhere. “Yeah,” Jake said, “you could say that.”
A hollow Easter egg still tastes pretty good. Who needs all the extra calories from the marshmallow center anyway?
“So, Callie…have you had dinner? Would you, uh…care to join me for a neighborly barbeque? You and…uh, your husband, of course. I could defrost another couple of steaks.”
“No significant other,” I said, hoping that covered all the bases—husband, fiancé, boyfriend. “Just me. I haven’t eaten yet, as a matter of fact. But I don’t want to put you to any trouble.”
“It’s no trouble,” he said, and then gave a little self-conscious shrug. “I burned this steak. I was about to defrost another one in the nuker.”
Well, now, there was something I could identify with; burned food. My idea of cooking is heating a sub sandwich or pizza in the oven or microwave. If I’m lucky, they don’t burn or turn into cardboard. Or rocks. I returned Jake’s smile. “Then I’d love to join you.”
“Come on around through the gate between the house and the garage. I should have the steaks defrosted by the time you get here.”
He did, indeed, have the steaks defrosted by the time I got there. And sizzling on the barbeque.
Yeah, okay, I confess, I stopped to fix my hair and my make up; I’m not supermodel material but, when I make the effort, I’m not coyote ugly either. I might not have much luck with men but I figure I can at least not deliberately scare one off by looking like something his cat had dragged home.
Jake had put on a shirt too. He hadn’t had one on when he’d reached over the fence to shake hands.
Just shoot me now.
I’ve already admitted I hadn’t exactly been a lady, gawking at him secretly and all. But, in my own defense, I’d have to be blind or dead or both not to notice Jake Gattus. Any heterosexual woman would.
And…honestly? Covering up biceps and a six-pack like Jake’s was a crying shame.
Still, it wasn’t like he’d been on a public beach or anything. I’d invaded his privacy and I felt guilty.
At least I hadn’t wolf-whistled.
Like that was any comfort.
“Have a seat,” he said, indicating the patio chairs surrounding a glass-topped table already set for two. “Would you like something to drink? I have beer, water, cola?”
“Just water, thanks.”
He grabbed a bottle out of a cooler, and even filled one of the glasses on the table for me.
Okay, if he kept being so thoughtful and gentlemanly, I would be compelled to confess what a terrible person I was.
He was a nice guy and I’d behaved like…well…like sirens and selkies do when they set their sights on some hapless victim. Not like myself at all; I don’t normally go around spying on others. Or behaving like a siren or selkie, despite my parentage.
“Tell me about yourself, Callie,” Jake said. Thankfully, stopping me from blurting out the truth, which would, no doubt, have resulted in him looking at me like some kind pervert. Which I would have deserved. “What do you do for a living?”
I told him about my job, which I love, and he told me about his. And by the time we finished eating the salad, baked potatoes and steaks—perfectly cooked, I might add— I felt better and we’d moved on to talking about other things, like what we liked to do for fun, favorite foods, movies, books, and…well, you get it, all that other get-to-know-each-other stuff people talk about on a first date.
At least, I hoped that was what we’d been doing, getting to know each other on a first date, because, whatever his problem had been earlier, Jake was no hollow Easter egg, and I really, really liked the guy.
“I hate to cut the evening short, Callie, but I have to go to work soon. I’m on nights for the rest of the week and I’ll be staying at the station. I was wondering—”
“Oh, of course. I’ll be happy to look after Deuce,” I said, positive that was what he’d been about to ask, my hopes dashed. I told you my luck with men is crappy. I don’t know why I still let myself hope. “I’ll just help you clean up and be on—”
“No, that’s okay, you’re my guest. I’ve got it. But that’s not what I was going to ask you. What I was wondering was, are you free next weekend, on Saturday night? Would you have dinner with me again? At a restaurant? Maybe dancing or a movie after?”
Yes! It had been a first date! Jake liked me!
“I would love to have dinner with y—oh, no, I’m sorry, I can’t. My sister is getting married next Saturday. I’ll be at the wedding. But…a rain check maybe?” I asked hopefully.
“Sure. Next Sunday?”
I smiled at him. No, actually, I’m pretty sure I beamed at him. “I’d like that.”
Come on, Callie, ask him.
Go big or go home, right?
“Jake, would you be interested in going to the wedding with me? Free food. Dancing with no cover charge,” I said in a rush. Oh, shoot, now he was going to think I thought he was a cheapskate. “I didn’t me that the way it sounded. Like…Like I didn’t think you’d want to pay. I…I…”
He grinned and I turned to mush again at the sight of that bone-melting smile, my words drying up on my tongue. “It’s okay, Callie. I get it, and, yes, I would l—”
“No, wait,” I said as I remembered my number one rule. “I have to tell you something first. I’m Other. Half siren, half selkie.”
Humans and Others have lived peaceably for over a hundred years now, but there are still those, both human and Other, who don’t think the two should mix. I learned that the hard way and I made it my rule after that to always be up front from the beginning. Humans can’t always tell if someone is Other. Sometimes even Others can’t recognize another Other. This way, there are no nasty surprises down the line.
“So,” Jake asked, his tone serious, though there was a smile lurking in his eyes, “have you enchanted me with your song or left your seal skin somewhere?”
“No, you’re safe. And, cross my heart, that’s not a siren or selkie lie,” I said with a laugh, relieved that he didn’t seem to care that I’m Other. “I didn’t inherit those powers. My sole power is enchanting animals and it only lasts for a few minutes.”
“Ah, that explains it.”
“Deuce, you mean? Yes, I sent out a song and he answered.”
“And it explains why I burned my steak.”
I blinked at him, confused. “It does?”
“Uh-huh, it does,” he assured me but I still didn’t get the connection. And then I saw the teasing twinkle dancing in those amazing emerald eyes.
“Okay, why does my power explain why you burned your steak?” I asked, playing along.
“Weeeell,” he said, drawing out the suspense…and enjoying it. “I’m Other too. A shape shifter. Black panther family, to be precise. And sometimes…a common house cat.”
I gaped at him, too stunned to speak at first, something that rarely happens to me, which, doubtless, surprises no one. “You…you’re Deuce!” I finally managed to say.
“Uh, huh. Deuce, as in Jake two, the number, or too as in also. And wild, as in animal. Though you really threw me when you asked. I’ve never had to name myself before,” he said with another of those heart-stopping smiles. “So there I was, minding my own business, grilling my steak, and suddenly, I felt this uncontrollable compulsion to shift and go to you.”
Wow, had other animals I’d enchanted been shape shifters too?
“Uh…well, um, I’m sorry I made you burn your steak,” I stammered, since he seemed more concerned with his steak than the fact that I’d enchanted him. But I knew I should apologize for that as well. “And that I enchanted you.” Except…I kind of wasn’t sorry because I might not have met him otherwise.
“I’m not,” Jake said. “I’ve been hoping you were unattached and trying to come up with a way to meet you since my first day here. I didn’t think you’d fall for the borrow-a cup-of-sugar thing. And, shame on you, you didn’t bring me a welcome-to-the-neighborhood casserole.”
“Oh, I guess that’s something else you should know—I can’t cook.”
“Well then, isn’t it a good thing I can…when I’m not enchanted.”
We stood there, just grinning at each other like a couple of fools.
And then Jake kissed me.
He told me much later that I had enchanted his human form…me alone, that is, not with magic.
Romantic, right? I just love that man.