Taking place a week after the events of The Deepest Ocean, Secret Water tells the story of how Yerena finally earns permission from Seawatch to get married (“As if any guild should have so much say over your private life.” — Darok). She must find out what’s behind some strange occurrences in a remote fishing village.
She’ll have her great white shark with her, of course. And she’ll have her fiancé. (“Of course.” — Darok). But what waits for them just offshore is more than a match for any shark, and can strike on land at a curious Seawatch operative too…
To get permission to marry Darok Juell, the man she loves, Yerena Fin Caller undertakes a final assignment for the guild Seawatch. She must investigate two strange occurrences in a fishing village—the people’s refusal to offer food to outsiders, and the disappearance of a scientist who retired there.
She travels to the village with Darok, who’s inclined to treat their time there as an early honeymoon. But the villagers avoid the sea, warning Yerena not to eat anything she doesn’t find herself. A scrawled word on the wall of the scientist’s ruined house leads her to his hidden laboratory, and she discovers something escaped from the laboratory. Something that now waits in the water offshore. Something which nearly defeats her great white shark in their first encounter. With Darok standing between her and the people who want to kill them both, Yerena must enter the ocean—at night—to destroy what holds the village in its power.
When the carriage came to a halt, Yerena Fin Caller took a deep breath and swung the door open. She wasn’t ordinarily nervous, but she was meeting the man she loved after a week of separation, and she had no idea what would happen in the next few minutes.
She stepped out into the road, leaving her pack in the carriage. Looking down at herself, she smoothed a crease out of her lavender skirt. One of her friends in Whetstone had lent her that, but she had sewn a white blouse, and embroidered it with violets during the long journey to a house in the city of Fossilver.
She felt most comfortable in her plain grey dresses, but Darok liked to see her in colors, so maybe that at least would soften the news she had to deliver. Squaring her shoulders, she started up the short flight of steps to the front door, but it opened before she could reach it.
Darok stood in the doorway, his face lit with a smile that was both happy and relieved, and despite her misgivings, Yerena couldn’t have stopped herself from smiling back if she had wanted to. She held out her hands to him, and he took them in a warm strong grasp, though he didn’t kiss her. Just looked at her as if he hadn’t quite expected to see her again.
“They let you go,” he said as he drew her inside and shut the door.
“I told you they would.” Her superiors in Seawatch, the guild she worked for, couldn’t legally restrain her in their stronghold of Whetstone even if she wanted to marry a man who held them in deep disdain. But they didn’t need to, not when they had a dozen other ways of dealing with such matters, and getting their money’s worth out of their operatives.
“Thank the Unity, now we can get married.” He looked her over with such approval her heart sank; he obviously took the clothes as a sign of celebration. “I know this is short notice, but would you need more than a week? If we can be ready by then, we could get passage on Allegiance, heading for the—”
“Um. Not quite yet.” Yerena had been taught never to interrupt, because deportment was very important in Seawatch, but she knew from experience that she couldn’t simply keep silent and hope to get anywhere with Darok. Especially when he made plans at the rate of about five a minute.
“What do you mean?”
This was the part he wouldn’t like. “I need to complete a mission first.”
“Before we can get married.”
Yerena nodded, watching him closely. She was suddenly aware that the man who stood before her was now Captain Darok Juell of the warship Wildtide, and the smile had been replaced by a cool assessment that told her he didn’t like Seawatch coming close to overstepping its authority.
And he liked it even less when anything came between the two of them.
“How long might this mission take?” he asked.
“It shouldn’t last longer than four weeks, and after that I’m free to do as I please.”
If she had hoped that would soften the look in the dark brown eyes, it didn’t. “Where are they sending you?”
“To Copper Cove.” This was a little like being interrogated, but since her superiors in Whetstone questioned her the same way, it didn’t bother her. Not much.
“Your shark will be there.”
A little of the wariness left his expression, because he’d seen for himself just how deep was the bond between her and her great white shark. “Are you allowed to have company during that time?”
Yerena blinked. “You want to join me?
“If Seawatch wouldn’t mind.” There was an edge of sarcasm in his voice, but she was still too startled to feel annoyed. “I don’t plan on going anywhere without you, Yerena. Besides, look at it this way. The shark can protect you in the water and I can take care of you outside it.”
Seawatch had said nothing about the mission being something she had to complete alone, but Yerena still hesitated. She was used to working with the shark, and only with the shark. Having another person beside her—a friend, lover, companion, bodyguard—was new.
But that’s what being married will be like. Might as well get used to it, and that would certainly be better than disappointing him. Besides, if she reported success on her mission, that would prove Darok’s presence in no way compromised her effectiveness as an operative. No one in Whetstone could object to her marrying him then.
“All right,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Good.” His brisk tone suggested he’d already started planning in a different direction, and unlike her, he needed hardly any time to get ready for the trip. He introduced her to his family, who seemed to be used to his impulsive decisions, because they didn’t seem at all surprised when he told them where he was going.
Left with his parents and sisters, Yerena struggled through a conversation mercifully ended when Darok reappeared with a bundle of clothes under one arm and a fishing rod under the other. She had never been good at small talk, so she tended to be reserved around everyone except Darok and other Seawatch operatives. And the shark, of course.
Though when he stowed his bait-box in the carriage, she began to wonder just how much fishing he hoped he could do in Copper Cove. Darok saw her look at the box.
“You can borrow that, if you like,” he said. “And I’ll teach you how to fish.”
Yerena murmured thanks, hoping he wouldn’t see the assignment as mainly a chance for the two of them to enjoy themselves during his shore leave. Still, along the way to Copper Cove she could subtly impress on him how important it was that she not fail.
Gathering her skirt in one hand, she climbed into the carriage, and once Darok was inside as well, he closed the door. With the matter of disclosing her mission taken care of, she felt much better, and she simply liked being with him. No longer in his uniform, he wore a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and trousers that looked soft as well-worn doeskin.
She made herself look away, only to catch his dark amused gaze. Of course he’d noticed her enjoying him with her eyes, now that they were in the privacy of the carriage.
As the driver flicked his whip and the horses trotted away, Darok took her hand again, his fingers intertwining with hers. A warm tingling eagerness shivered through her skin at the touch, and her heart thudded faster. If he pulled her into his arms, against his chest, and kissed her, she would forget they were in a carriage, forget her duty, forget everything but how much she wanted him.
Swallowing, she made herself withdraw her fingers from his grasp, telling herself her rather disproportionate reaction was only because she hadn’t seen him in a week. “Do you want to hear about why I’m—why we’re going to Copper Cove?”
Darok stretched his arms along the back of the seat—which at once made the carriage seem smaller—and settled back comfortably. “Suppose so.”
In Whetstone, Yerena had made detailed notes after her mentor had briefed her. She opened her pack to take the notes out, which also gave her something to focus on besides Darok.
“What do you know about Copper Cove?” she asked.
His shoulders twitched in a shrug. “A fishing village perhaps eight miles north of Pearlport. I sailed past it once but didn’t drop anchor.”
Yerena looked over her notes. “A Seawatch operative stopped there three months ago and noticed none of the fishing boats left harbor. When he inquired into that, the villagers claimed it was a holy day sacred to the Unity. The next day, the weather was apparently too overcast for them to head out to sea. The day after, someone died, so they remained in the village to pay their respects.”
Darok’s brows came together. “And after that?”
“The Seawatch operative finished testing all the children, so he moved on.” But he’d reported anything unusual he’d seen or heard on his journey. Seawatch didn’t just monitor the oceans.
The frown cleared, and Darok seemed to be making an effort not to appear bored. “Probably some superstition keeping them away from the water.”
“Maybe. But the operative also reported they gave him very little food.”
“So? He would have taken their children, if any of them showed the same talent you have and could be shark-bonded. I can’t imagine my parents serving up a big meal along with Alyster or Maggie or Feona as the main course. Me, they might not have minded so much.”
Yerena suppressed a smile. “Well, another unusual thing happened there. A naturalist called Rees Korwick lived in Copper Cove after he retired from active work. At least, he used to live there. He was apparently killed seven months ago.”
“Murdered?” Darok said with more interest.
“According to word from the village, his boat capsized in a storm.”
“You don’t think that’s true?”
“I’m not sure. There’s nothing to go on, even in the archives. All I know is that Korwick once traveled into the Turean Archipelago, then returned and resigned his post at the College of Investigative Sciences. He retired to Copper Cove and—vanished.”
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