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Chapter Two

Grimsby promptly fainted dead on his feet, a dull thud echoing as his body made contact with the wood of the ship's floor. A couple of men showed some interest for a few precious seconds before turning back to the main event.

Ariel appeared to be faring not much better. Her face was pale and looked like she wanted to dart away in escape if the situation presented itself.

"You will marry me? Won't you, Ariel?" Eric beseeched her, his eyes pleading. She could even feel the slight tremble of his hands, and the increasing moisture from his nervousness.

Squaring her shoulders, and worrying her lower lip, Ariel exhaled and smiled shakily.

"If that is what would make you happy…"

Ariel had scarcely said the words when a loud, raucous cry of celebration rang out throughout all of the crowd as they surrounded the prince and lifted him up in the air. Shouts of congratulations saturated the air and Eric was lost to all the attention, so much so that he didn't notice his new fiancé slip away…

ASAS

He had watched the entire thing.

The humans were hustling and bustling about busier than a school of tuna. Jim was about to abandon the ordeal when she emerged from the hull. The sea prince's eyes had widened in wonder and an inadvertent gasp had escaped his lips. It was her! It was Ariel! It had to be!

Jim's fingers clenched on the side of the wooden opening. She was the splitting image of her younger self, except with some key differences. Time had only seemed to enhance the Atlantican princess's beauty. Her fiery red tresses were long and vibrant. Jim fought a private blush as he appreciated the fact that while still petite, certain feminine curves had emerged. However, the most glaringly obvious change was that his Ariel had possessed the tail of a mermaid and this girl was standing on a pair of legs.

What is going on?

And then that human male had addressed her by her name…Ariel.

Jim was sure of it then. There could be no mistaking it. He didn't know how, but that human girl was his Ariel. He was so stunned by the realization that he almost missed the proposal…almost.

Possessive instincts that were alarming and new rose to the forefront of his mind when the human male placed his hands on Ariel. Jim took a deep breath in order to calm himself. Intellectually, he knew that adult mermen were known to have possessive instincts when it pertained to females of physical interest. Personally, he had never experienced any of these instincts …until now.

Great. Good to know I'm a big boy now, he mused sarcastically as he watched Eric stumble through the proposal. In his entire life, Jim had only had feelings resembling that nature towards one girl and now he was positive that she was standing only a few feet away from him.

"If…if…you would marry me."

It was all he could do to keep silent and stay hidden there on his ledge, watching from the opening of the ship's rail. Instinctively, he had the insane notion to call out his obvious objections.

Jim growled in frustration. What could he do? His hand slipped down to the trident which was currently in its pendent necklace form. Immediately, the trident pulsed with magic, letting the young ruler know that it was ready should it be needed. Jim's fist and jaw clenched. Sure, he could sink this ship easily with one blast of the weapon, but he couldn't risk Ariel getting hurt. For now, he was helpless to watch in nervous anticipation as Ariel gave her answer.

He had watched as Ariel became pale and then worried her lip in anxiety and softly offered her reply. Jim's heart soared and clenched in that moment. This was Ariel. This was his Ariel. Her voice and her mannerisms clearly identified her. How many times had he seen her behave the exact same way when faced with a task she didn't like but was too nice to offend the inquirer. And that answer of hers…

"She never said yes… She never said yes," Jim whispered. But why then imply that she was affirming the male's proposal.

The teenage merman didn't have time to ponder the notion long, as the girl in question slipped away from the bustling crowd and was walking straight toward him. Jim abruptly jerked away from the opening in the railing and pressed his body as close as he could against the side of the ship.

The urge to jump back into the sea was nearly overwhelming, but Jim fought against it. He had come too far and had actually found the girl of his dreams after years of searching. He couldn't give up now. He heard the soft muffled sound of someone leaning on the railing directly above him. Jim looked up to see that it was Ariel. Her head was in her hands, and he could hear the stifled noise of crying.

Jim's heart started to pound with adrenaline. She was so close! From this vantage point, all Ariel would have to do would be to look down and to the left and she would see him! Part of him desperately wanted her to see him. He wanted to just reach out and touch her., see if her skin actually felt as soft as it appeared. But should he?

Jim spared a glance downward to his cerulean tail. Would she remember him, or would she be frightened of him now that she was in human form? It had been years since they had seen each other. For now, he would bide his time and wait for some kind of sign.

ASAS

"You didn't have to do that, you know." A deep masculine, Irish accented voice sounded beside Ariel.

Silver had strolled nonchalantly up to his young, female charge. The petite, redhead's emotions appeared as turbulent as the approaching weather. Ominous clouds were forming on the horizon and seemed to be moving in their direction. If they weren't so close to home, the weather might pose a serious safety concern.

"Silver, what choice did I have?" Ariel lifted her face from her folded arms to reveal that tears were already staining her rosy cheeks. Silver's large hands took care to gently wipe a stray sliding tear.

"Lass, you always have a choice, and forgive me for saying so, but you didn't exactly tell the lad, 'yes.' He's just too daft to realize it."

A wry smile curved Ariel's ruby lips before she shrugged in exasperation. "What was I supposed to say? He 's the prince of Spain!"

Silver chuckled. "Usually, my dear, a woman accepts a marriage proposal if she's in love. Do you love Prince Eric? 'Cus it looked like you'd rather walk the plank."

Ariel sighed and gazed out at the ocean. The storm clouds were closer now, she realized, so close they were nearly overtaking the ship.

"Eric is kind and he's generous. For the last four years, besides you, he has been my closest friend…He would be a good husband but…no…I don't love him. …" A crestfallen expression overtook her features.

"I always did want to marry for love. For me to love him and to have him love me for who I am."

A sudden realization struck her as she processed her own words. Visible panic was starting to arise like bile in her throat.

"Oh Silver, what am I gonna do? Sooner or later, he's going to find out about me…he'll discover my secret and…"

Ariel's eyes had flashed open in her fright and she leaned over the ship's railing to catch her breath, only to lock gazes with a familiar set of blue eyes.

Ariel's eyes widened impossibly. There on a ledge of the ship was…was a merman! And…and…Ariel's brows furrowed in concentration before whispering, "Jim?" The redhead watched in baited silence as the merman's shocked features now mirrored hers.

The miraculous moment was short lived as the ship was enshrouded by an earsplitting crack and a flash of light. Lightning had struck the middle of the ship, and in so doing, had set the ship ablaze. Everywhere you looked, flames of varying hues danced and consumed everything they touched. Panicked screams of the crew members competed with thick smoke for which would saturate the night air…

ASAS

The unexpected force of the blast from the lightning had been devastating. Jim had been struck dumb just moments before…he had been watching her, studying her…listening in open relief that she did not in fact love the land prince. But what was the secret she was referring to? A brief flash of her face and then…it was like his heart's cry had manifested itself into some kind of cosmic pull. As if in slow motion, his dream girl's face had turned, and bright blue eyes were suddenly locking with his.

He was instantly petrified. She could see him…all of him. He watched her eyes widen as wide as saucers, her lips slightly parted in wonder. Her voice in reality had been a muted whisper, but to Jim, her breathless exclamation may as well have been an all-encompassing shout. She had said his name. She had…recognized him! Shock had frozen him to the spot. It was her! It was Ariel! It was!

All rational thought had been decimated with the unforeseen strike of lightning. The destructive force of nature had been the herald for a seemingly spontaneous comprehensive storm. Gale force winds berated the suddenly tiny vessel, sending sprays of rain and seawater everywhere, and yet they did nothing to quell the traveling flames.

The force of the initial strike had been so jarring that it had flung Jim from his perch on the ledge. He had felt the icy winds bite at his skin before crashing into the inky waves.

The sea prince was able to shake his head and was able to re-orient himself all in less than seconds. Ariel! His heart cried. He had lost her once. He wasn't going to do it again. Determination set, he used his powerful cerulean tail to torpedo himself underneath the waves and back to the side of the burning ship.

When Jim resurfaced, it was all he could do to stay above the waterline. As it was, crew members were falling overboard due to the winds, waves and flames. Posts had been abandoned. It was every man for himself. The ship as a whole had been condemned to it fate as the remaining crew members tried to secure and lower the life boats down into the water.

Blue eyes that matched the sea on a calm day frantically searched for the petite redhead. Instead, about 10-20 yards away, he recognized the prince's old advisor flailing about, gasping for help. This was short lived of course, as the large man known as Silver grabbed the old human by the scruff of his neck collar and yanked him clear out of the water and into the life boat, he was currently in.

The human prince also happened to be in this particular life boat along with two other crew members. Jim recognized the prince's calls of, "Hang on Grim!"

But none of that mattered. Frantically, the teenage merman's eyes scanned the slowly sinking vessel and the amassing wreckage for any sign of Ariel. No matter where he looked, he could find no trace of her.

It was the sound of a dog barking that caught everyone's attention. Jim recognized the beast as some sort of pet that belonged to the prince. Then his heart tightened and lurched as he identified her voice among the booms and crashes. It was Ariel! She was still on deck amongst the dancing flames.

"Come on Max! You have to jump!"

From down below in the waves, Jim could make out that the furry beast was perched haphazardly on the ship's rail. The dog was whimpering pathetically clearly too petrified to jump into the prince's outstretched awaiting arms down in the life boat.

What is she doing? She's going to get herself killed! The sea prince felt helpless as he watched Ariel urge the animal to leap to safety. As infuriating as it was, that is who Ariel was. She put the needs and wants of others above her own. But Ariel had also been a mermaid made of gumption and initiative, as evidenced by the fact that she was now using all her strength to hoist the squirming dog up into her arms.

"It's going to be okay Max," she consoled before dropping the prince's beloved dog as she certainly didn't have the strength to throw him. That and the fact that she was running out of time, she thought looking back to a corner of the ship. The flames were licking mere inches away from the stored gunpowder that no one had managed to secure in all the chaos. Mentally, she knew she had only precious seconds before the upcoming explosion.

Sure enough, with a grateful yelp of a bark, Max landed safely in the arms of his master. Gathering her skirt, and the help of a tattered shroud, Ariel climbed up onto the railing, ready to jump.

Cries of "Ariel!" and "Lass jump!" permeated the air, and in fact she had just leapt into the smoke-filled night when time ran out, and the entire deck of the ship combusted into a huge flash of light and heat.

The force of the explosion had been so intense that it had caused those in the lifeboats to cover their faces or risk potential harm. They did not see how the blast had propelled the young heroine even farther outward into the air only to fall helplessly into the churning ocean waters and floating debris.

Jim did. Out of pure instinct, he dove in and out of the water around the area he had seen her impact. Swimming at shoulder level with the surface, Jim searched desperately among the wreckage. Floating barrels, rope and broken pieces of the ship all littered the area.

Where is she! Pure adrenaline was pumping, his own racing pulse pounding in his ears. He had to find her. As a human, Ariel would drown. No! Ariel, you are not going to die!

Turning to his right: nothing. Turning to his left: nothing. And then something was caught in his peripheral vision. Jerking around, the merman's eyes widened at the sight of an unconscious Ariel propped precariously on a stray floating board. But…but she was slipping with the constantly turbulent waters. Leaping up and into the water, Jim dove after her.

Clothing made humans heavy and the former mermaid was sinking fast. Straining sky-blue fins forward, the sea prince was at her side in seconds. Not wasting time to ponder why she did not have her own tail in the water, Jim wrapped strong arms around her and immediately began pumping his tail furiously back up toward the surface. Humans required air to breathe, and unbelievable or not, Ariel was now one of them.

Breaking the surface, he propped the still unconscious beauty against his chest, his arm like a vice around her and he was careful to swim slowly, keeping her head above water.

He would need to get her to land. As she was now, she would not be able to survive out in open water. He watched and listened as the crew in their lifeboats continued to search futilely for the woman now in his arms.

His gaze narrowed, and his jaw clenched as his hold on her tightened. And they would continue to search. Ariel didn't belong with them. They had taken her from him once.

They would not do so again.

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