A pang of jealousy hit Mer. She squashed it, annoyed at herself. Of course he’d moved on. Theirs had been a summer fling. That’s all.
As if sensing her reluctance, Fiona added, “I promise you, I’m much nicer than my brother. I’ll get another glass.” She disappeared from the balcony.
Mer’s annoyance only increased. “You have a sister?” What else didn’t she know about this man?
He nodded. “She’s visiting for a couple weeks. Come on over, I’ll introduce you proper.”
Having wine with Selkie ranked right up there with swimming through a bloom of jellyfish. She readjusted her pack. “Thank you, but it’s been a long day.”
The magnitude of the past several hours sagged her shoulders; or maybe it was the unanticipated hefting of a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound man onto a heaving boat that had taken its toll. Either way, her body ached and her mind was still spinning like one of Leroy’s straws. She didn’t even want to contemplate the implications of living next door to a former fling.
Selkie studied her face, then placed a hand on her backpack. “Let me take this.”
“I’ve got it.”
“It’s okay. I’ll give it back.” He lifted it off her shoulder and motioned her forward.
“You don’t need to do that,” she said, but the absence of weight felt wonderful.
“Let me be a gentleman.” He grinned. “Evidently, I need the practice.”
“Thank you,” she said with more feeling than she’d meant to reveal.
At the door, she turned her key and stepped inside. Selkie paused at the threshold while she fumbled for the switch.
The apartment was bigger than the berth on her last research vessel, but not by much. Her large walnut desk anchored the room, its utilitarian presence out of place among the whimsy of wicker and seashells favored by the decorator. A garage-sale aquarium acted as a room divider, screening her bed from view. Few other things marked the space as hers: a family photograph, dive gear, her computer. The important stuff.
Selkie held out her backpack. “Most people actually put fish in their tanks,” he said.
She took the bag and set it on the desk chair. “I’d planned to.”
“May I?” He pointed at the aquarium.
She thought about refusing, but apparently the roof over her head was due to his connections. “Sure.”
He crossed the space in three strides. He had a swimmer’s body: wide shoulders, narrow hips, long legs.
Mer focused on something safer and picked through the mail on her desk. The envelope from the university contained a check, but she was afraid to open it. The amount compensated her for a month on her recent research project. If she pinched, it would cover next month’s rent and some groceries, but not much more. And, thanks to funding cuts, it was her last one. She’d already interviewed for one research position and applied for another. If they fell through, well, with any luck the dive shop would have a rush of people wanting to learn to scuba before the summer ended.
Selkie tapped the tank and recaptured her attention. “Seems like a lot of rock.”
“To you, maybe. To a cephalopod, it’d offer wonderful places to hide.” Or would have if she stayed in the Keys long enough to condition the tank properly.
He whistled. “A cephalopod, huh?”
She slid the check into a drawer to deal with later. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
“Not a clue.”
“Class Cephalopoda. Octopuses.”
“Octopi,” he corrected.
Mer raised her chin. “I earned my doctorate studying them. I assure you, it’s—” She noticed his growing smile. “You’re messing with me.”
She crossed her arms. “Why?”
“You looked as if you could use a laugh.”
She couldn’t argue with that.
He retraced his steps to the door and then faced her. “You still going by Mer? Or is it Meredith now that you’re a doctor?”
“The French word for sea. Fitting, considering the ocean is the only thing you’ve ever truly loved.”
Was he baiting her?
He turned to leave.
“Do you believe in ghosts?” The question popped out before she could stop it.
“I have an affinity for spirits. My favorite is Lagavulin, a delightful single malt.”
She exhaled loudly. “Serves me right for asking. You never did take anything seriously.”
A shutter fell across Selkie’s face. “I should go before Fiona sends out a search party. If you change your mind, I hope you’ll join us. My sister really is nicer than I am.”
She reached for his arm, but stopped herself and clasped her hands. “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”
He smiled, but it didn’t erase the shadows from his eyes. “No apologies necessary.” He stepped across the threshold, then faced her. “To answer your question, yes. I believe in ghosts. Why do you ask?”
“I just—never mind.” She must be more tired than she thought. “Long story. I don’t. Believe in ghosts, that is.”
He closed his eyes for a fraction longer than a blink. “You will if you ever have to live with any.”
The next morning, the scent of coffee and neoprene greeted Mer when she walked into the Aquarius Dive Shop. Leroy must have brewed a pot while she was helping Kyle prep the boat for the morning charter.
She wiped her feet on the mat inside the door and tried not to drip on her employer’s tile. Sunny Florida appeared to be a misnomer. Rain fell in deluges lasting from mere minutes to all day and created humidity levels normally found only in the shower. The locals swore it would taper off during the winter months. On the plus side, she hadn’t worn moisturizer since she arrived. Dropping her backpack behind the sales counter, she grabbed a paper towel to blot her hair.
The shop’s telephone blinked with thirty-seven new messages since last night. News traveled fast on an island that had a history of hauntings and more bars than boats. Steeling herself, she pushed Play. Most of the messages were from reporters, but not all. One woman wanted to know if Mer could channel her Aunt Mamie, while another person asked what she’d charge to perform an exorcism. She erased them all.