Chapter 1 - Hayley
Hayley pushed through the water using her tail to propel her faster. Orion was behind, but he was closing the gap, and the smirk he wore assured her it would only be a minute before he caught her. She had been foolish to poke the bear and force him to give chase. Even with the head start she had taken, she knew he’d win. It was the serious expression on his face that had forced her to challenge him. He was intense these days, and she wished to see him happy.
Orion was the Prince of the ocean. His father ruled it along with all it’s creatures, and Orion was next in line. It wouldn’t be long until he had too many duties to make time for her. Even now he was caught up in princely things and she rarely saw him. So when she did, she made sure to put a smile on his face.
Hayley and Orion were the best of friends, and she couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t by her side. They grew up together, his coral cave being close to hers, meant they saw each other every day. Even now, he was busy, but he spent time with her every chance he could.
Unlike her, Orion was born a merman. He was large, handsome and strong. Even when she was little, he’d take her breath away. His hair was a light brown, cut close on the sides and spiked on the top. It had natural silver highlights that caught the sun when he swam near the surface. His skin was tanned, and he was full of muscle. Orion had a small moustache, and a goatee that moved into a low beard covering the bottom of his chin. It was small and trimmed close, and if possible made him even more handsome. But it was the blue and silver scales that wrapped around his right eye and ear she adored. She loved to touch them, and she was sure Orion was sick of her always doing it. He never complained though, and he leaned closer each time he noticed her admiring them.
Orion shot up beside her, and she squealed in surprise. Then he twisted and wrapped his powerful arms around her waist, trapping her against his broad chest. Immediately she relaxed knowing he’d swim for the next ten minutes with her held tight in his arms. She loved this side of him and prayed they still had this when he became King.
Ten minutes later he slowed and his arms loosened. She leaned up to kiss his cheek, then attempted to squirm away. He laughed as he let her go, but grabbed the crown off her head as he did, and placed it on his own. She frowned at him in mock annoyance and he threw back his head and laughed.
“What is the fascination with my crown little one?” Orion questioned on a smile.
“Absolutely nothing, although it is pretty,” Hayley admitted. His crown was small and made of silver tipped seashells dotted with iridescent pearls. It was beautiful, but she knew calling it pretty would annoy him. The glare he sent her way confirmed it.
“My crown isn’t pretty, it’s manly,” Orion countered. “If you want one so badly, consider becoming my princess, then you can have one of your own.”
Hayley froze at his words. The two were close, and they cared for each other deeply, but she hadn’t expected him to say anything like that. He’d given her no indication he felt that way for her. Stunned, and not knowing what to say, she remained silent.
Orion studied her a minute then frowned. “I take it the idea of being with me that way hasn’t occurred to you?”
“Of course it has,” Hayley replied. And she was completely truthful, she had considered it, especially when she was younger. She’d been infatuated with him. He was handsome and kind. He’d helped her through her transition and he’d sat with her for hours when she’d been afraid of changing.
“I used to dream of being with you. You’re my closest friend and the only one I’d even consider being with,” Hayley conceded.
He tilted his head and raised his brow. “But?” Orion questioned softly.
“But,” Hayley repeated, “something holds me back. I want to say yes, but something just won’t let me.” She sighed and made sure she had his eyes before she continued. “I love you Orion, you’re my everything.”
“As you are mine,” Orion returned. He swam closer and framed her cheeks with his large hands. “We’ll just have to figure out what that something is and overcome it.”
She smiled up at him. “You think we can figure it out?”
“Together we can figure anything out,” Orion promised. Then he kissed her forehead and moved away. “We should head back though, Andrina will be looking for you.”
Hayley nodded, knowing it was true. Andrina was extremely protective, most likely because Hayley wasn’t a true mermaid. Hayley had to learn things on her own, as she didn’t have the gift of knowing everything with birth. For mermaids and mermen things were instinctive, but for Hayley it was a learning experience. She was twenty one now, and her caregiver needed to let her figure things out on her own. Most had their own coral caves at her age, but Andrina wanted her close.
“Do you think Andrina will ever let me live my own life?” Hayley sighed. Orion gave her a small smile, and she knew he was concerned too.
“Andrina was charged with your care. She takes that seriously and just wants you safe. She has more concerns because you were transitioned. You should be happy she took to you and treats you as her own, some transitioned are shunned by the true born,” Orion cautioned.
Hayley knew that, and even she was subjected to the shunning by a few. She’d seen others that were transitioned like her, who were never accepted. Some stayed and made the best of it, while others disappeared, never to be mentioned again. She wondered what happened to them, but she was too afraid to question it.
“I suspect you have a lot to do with me not being shunned?” Hayley grinned, causing Orion to chuckle.
“No one would dare think to go against me. I’m to be King little one, and no one wants to be on the King’s bad side.”
She nodded and said no more. She appreciated his acceptance of her and his help in the matter, without him, her life would be different. Another thought occurred to her, and she had to bring it up.
“Can you be with a transitioned?” Hayley questioned. “I’d assume a Prince would be required to wed a true born.”
“It has never been done,” Orion admitted with a frown. “But I don’t know if there is a written law about that anywhere. No one has ever considered taking a transitioned as a bride before.”
“Well I need to think about things before you push for something that may not happen,” Hayley reminded him.
His sharp nod let her know he would give her that, but he wasn’t happy about it.
“Climb on my back and I’ll give you a ride home. If not, it will take us forever to get there,” Orion ordered.
“You were the one to take us this far out,” Hayley accused. “And you know I can get back on my own.”
“I do,” Orion agreed. “But then I risk the wrath of Andrina. She’d have my head, Prince or not, if I came back without you.”
Hayley nodded once more, knowing he spoke the truth, then moved to his back. As soon as she got close he pulled her in and flipped her to his back. She wrapped her arms around his neck and held on tight. Then he took off, and with his size and strength they were cutting through the water with a speed she could only dream of reaching. She sighed as she relaxed her body so it moved with his. Then she turned her head and rested her cheek against his back. He stiffened for only a minute, revealing the affect she had on him.
Hayley grinned when a narwhal came up beside them. Tentatively she reached out and stroked its silky back. Narwhals were one of her favourite creatures. She could just barely remember her real mother reading her a story about unicorns. These sea creatures were the closest thing to them and held a special place in her heart. The creature allowed her stroking for only a minute before pulling away and heading in the opposite direction.
Orion knew how she felt about them, and she had her suspicions he called to them when he was with her. He was the only one who knew she still remembered her mother and father, she hadn’t even told Andrina. They would shun her for sure if others found out she remembered them. After the transition most lost their memories, but Hayley held on to hers. It was another thing that Orion was trying to help her figure out.
Soon they were close to the coral caves, and Orion slowed. The huge coral reef held dozens of dwellings, and the sight always took her breath away. The coral was home to a variety of colourful plants and fish, and it made the entire thing as bright as a rainbow.
Reluctantly, she pushed off his back and turned toward her own home. She didn’t want to leave him, but she understood he had duties.
“I have work to do,” Orion unnecessarily called to her retreating back. “But I’ll be back to see you later this evening.”
Hayley raised her hand and flicked it in his direction. “I’ll be waiting,” she yelled back as she headed inside her cave.
But she needed time to think about what he had brought up. Time that didn’t include him. It would be hard to make a decision if he was close, and she had no idea what her heart would choose.