My skin grew warm, and I knew it was not from the setting sun. “What? I can feel you smiling back there.”
“Just enjoying the view,” Sani replied simply.
I turned to look at him, swimming backwards as easily as I glided forward through the sea. “And what do you enjoy about it?”
“The golden rays reflecting off the vivid blue ocean with a goddess swimming in front of me. What’s there not to enjoy?”
The blush I felt earlier deepened as it crept down my neck. “The sea is beautiful, definitely.” I stopped swimming and watched as Sani drifted towards me.
“As are you.”
“You really know how to flatter a girl.” Sani replied with a smile and a wink. I leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on his lips. “You always know how to cheer me up.”
Sani cupped my face in his hand and turned my head slightly. “Funny, I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Really?” I turned around slowly and swam toward the Tide.
“Mhm.” Sani swam behind me and grabbed me in his arms before I reached the ladder. It caught me by surprise, and I gasped a little. He nuzzled his nose into my neck, almost purring as he spoke. “Don’t be so jumpy, just me.”
I could not help but shiver in his arms. “I thought maybe when you told me of this shaman…” My voice trailed off into a whisper, almost afraid of what Sani may say.
His response was immediate and sexual. “Thought what?” Sani placed his chin on my shoulder and nibbled my ear lobe.
An entirely different shiver coursed through my body, and I leaned into him, closing my eyes slightly. “That whatever this is between us would be over. If it is, if it needs to, I understand. I have been nothing but honest with you.”
“I have nothing with the shaman. I don’t even know if she would call me her friend.” Despite the warmth of his breath on my neck, Sani’s words were as cold as the water below us.
“You will tell me if it progresses?” I asked quickly, turning in his arms to look at him.
Sani smiled. “Of course. But regardless of what happens between her and me, I wa— need you in my life.”
I leaned into him, kissing him deeply. “Good, me too. Especially if I have to do more of this demon’s bidding.”
That sent a ripple over Sani’s skin. “Yeah, we’re going to get to the bottom of that.”
I shrugged and shimmied a little closer to him. “I am not worried, not as much as I should be.”
Sani’s arms tightened protectively around me. “That’s your animal side coming out. I’m proud, but oh so worried.”
“Because demons have their ways. And I don’t like it. I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with them. They never just give and forget.”
That gave me pause. “Hmm, well… I can deal with it when it comes around again.”
Sani kissed my cheek softly and rested his face on mine. “Shall we eat?”
“Absolutely. At least the boat is right here.”
“Good, I’m starving. That fish did little.”
“No, especially for a turtle.” I chuckled and began the climb up to the deck.
Sani swam behind me. “I’ve missed our adventures, Val.”
“I have as well, Sani. I am sorry that I have been so distant recently. Work has had me swamped.” I grabbed my towel and began drying off when I reached the back deck.
I heard Sani’s feet contact the deck and watched him slide into his clothing out of the corner of my eye. “Not much either of us could have done over the last several weeks.”
“No, I suppose not. Still, I am sorry, Sani.” I found my sarong and wrapped it around my waist before heading down into the galley.
His footsteps followed me, hurried as if he was afraid of losing sight of me. Did he worry that much about the demon claiming me in the brief span I may be out of sight? “You don’t have to apologize to me, Val. We both have busy lives.”
“You also do not need to chase after me. I am not going anywhere, not yet anyway.”
“That’s my fear. You can’t predict when they’ll call.”
“They? Oh, the demon.” I opened the fridge and pulled out some gator, then I moved over to the freezer and grabbed the Jose Cuervo.
Sani sniffed the air audibly. “Jose and alligator? Sounds like my kind of dinner.”
I chuckled softly. “Yes, I have been saving it for you.” I turned the stove on and dropped some oil into a pan.
Sani walked over to the counter and stood beside me. He leaned against it and eyed me as hungrily as he did the meat. “Is that so?”
I nodded before dropping the gator steaks onto the hot pan. “Yep. Do me a favor and pour us two shots?” I pointed at the cupboard with the shot glasses.
Sani pulled out four shot glasses and poured them, sliding two my way. “You meant two each, right?” The cocky bastard winked, and I could not help but laugh.
“Yes, that is exactly what I meant.” Sani held up one of his shot glasses, and I held mine up in salute before knocking it back expertly. Sani smiled and watched me carefully as he drank his slower. “I would say that was weak, but it hits your tongue less when you drain it quickly.”
“I love the burn. You should know that.” He chuckled.
I snorted and drank the second shot slowly, rising to his challenge. “I know you do.”
Sani took the second shot and shivered. “That one may have been rougher.”
I cracked a flirtatious smile in his direction and could not help but tease him. “Think you could handle going toe to toe with me?” I commented softly as I flipped the steaks and butter-basted them.
“Only one way to find out,” Sani replied with a coy wink.
I pulled the meat off the stove and let it rest in the butter before pouring us each two more shots. “You know I used to do this for tips… right?”
“Do you think I didn’t?”
I laughed and raised my glass. “Hmm, this may be interesting then.”
My drinking partner nodded and raised his glass to mine. “Down the hatch.”
“Bottoms up!” I drained it quickly and shivered a little, the burn affecting me more than I was used to when I worked at Aces originally.
“Ahhh, to drink like this again. It’s been weeks since I’ve been out of my bed.” Sani let out a relaxed sigh.
“That is depressing. But understandable.” I poured more and smiled. “I was in here for months before I could get out on the back deck, after it…” A small hiccup escaped my lips.
Sani poured even more for us and slid mine over with a smile. “After it, what?”
I drained the shot, then grabbed the bottle. It was still rough, still raw. Why did I not just sell the Tide when I had the chance? “After Ceci,” I whispered, turning away from Sani slightly.
He dropped his head. “I had a dream about the moment I decided to be truly dark.”
That caught my attention. I turned back to him and took his hand. “Oh… Sani. Did you want to talk about it?”
“I… I think I should.”
I squeezed his hand and slid closer to him. “So, what happened?”
“I…” Sani choked back a tear, “I killed my own son.”
I froze, not because I was scared, but because of the enormous amount of emotion that Sani still had swirling in his voice, his heart. “Oh, Sani. I am so sorry.”
“It was a son who I didn’t find out about until it was too late. A son that Aki gave me and I took from her.”
“Oh.” I shivered again and looked at him. “How do you even come back from that?”
“You don’t, I guess.”
“But you want to?” I looked at him carefully. “This is what that monster has over you. How it clings to you.”
“It’s what reminds me of who I am. This… darkness played its last hand, its last resort, by pinning me down and making me relive fifteen years of pain and misery and animalistic instinct.” He replied, sorrow, understanding, and fear all wrapped up in his tone.
“I understand now. It is not something you will ever forget, but it is something you need to heal from. Maybe that is why this shaman came into your life now? Could she…” I paused, unsure just how much of the Native American information I had was correct.
“Could she, what?” There was a slight hitch in Sani’s voice that almost made me back away, almost.
I took a deep breath and prepared myself for what I was about to suggest. “Is there a way for Aki’s spirit to pass down through her line… to this shaman?” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I looked away. “I know little about your culture, but that is a possibility with some of the oldest weresharks. At least that was what my father told me.”
Sani stroked his chin. How in the deep blue sea could he ever make that look sexy? I will never know. “I suppose it’s possible.”
“I just…” I paused and whispered, “I worry about you, Sani.”
He just sighed. “Perhaps this darkness is who I’m meant to be. Trying to turn good, well, it seems like everything is stopping me.”
And that made me feel even worse. “I am sorry. All I have done is make it worse.”
Sani took my other hand gently. “You’ve made it better. Don’t get that twisted.”
“How so? All I have done is ask you to help me embrace my darkness, not help you out of yours.”
“By being the light I need at the end of this dark, dark tunnel. You’ve helped me find what little light was in me and tap into it.”
“Then you really should not be hunting a demon for me.”
“Is that not what a good person would do? Hunt down a demon for their only friend in the world besides his dead brother?” Damn, he was right.
“I… yes, it is.”
Sani turned around and glared at someone I could not see, but I supposed it was his brother. “Don’t let it go to your head, Alo!” I burst out laughing and squeezed his hands tightly. Sani turned back to me and said, “Then let me help you.”
“I do not wish you to get hurt. Please promise me you will stay safe,” I said forcefully.
“I am always safe,” he replied quickly.
“No, you are not! You are reckless and dangerous!”
“Am I alive?”
My mouth fell open at his question. “Barely at times,” I whispered.
“But I’m always alive.”
I rolled my eyes and sighed at him. This was not an argument I was going to win. “I suppose so.”
Sani dropped my hands after a moment and walked to a porthole to look outside. “I forget how calming the ocean is. I never spent much time around it.”
I looked at him curiously. “She is fickle, the sea. But yes. There are few places I feel calmer than out here or under the waves.”
“Perhaps I need to spend more time on the waves with you.” Sani turned and smiled softly at me. There it was again, the little butterflies, the skip of my heartbeat whenever he smiled.
I simply blushed and leaned back against the counter. “You are always welcome out here, Sani.”
The skinwalker laughed heartily. “You may say that now.”
I rolled my eyes and walked over to him, grabbing the bottle once more. “Have you ever known me to lie?”
“Nope. But minds can change when they see my true colors. The darkness within.” He was being coy, trying to get me to say something. I just did not know what.
“I know your darkness. I am not running,” I replied. Sani wrapped his arms around my waist and kissed my head. “You should probably head back. It is getting late.” I closed my eyes, breathing in his scent, the warmth of his skin. Even though he could shift into any creature he chose, he was so much warmer than I. It was a pleasant contrast to how my own skin felt.
“I thought I would stay for a while if that is okay with you?” He stared at me.
I had forgotten we had made that arrangement earlier. “Oh, yes… we agreed to that. Then what would you like to do for the rest of the evening?”
The skinwalker only grinned, white teeth flashing behind dark lips. “I could think of a few things.”