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About the author:
Enchanted Waters is a collaboration by USA Today bestselling, award-winning and up-and-coming authors, including Astrid V.J., Alice Ivinya, Sky Sommers, Elena Shelest, Jennifer Kropf, Lyndsey Hall and Ben Lang.
This charity anthology aims to raise money for Oceana, a non-profit organisation working to protect our oceans and marine life, a cause very close to the authors' hearts.
What inspired you to write your book?
We wanted to put a collection of stories together to raise money for charity, and once we'd decided on an ocean conservation charity, it made sense to write a series of stories featuring water magic and mythical water creatures. We're really proud to be doing our bit to save the oceans, having raised over $350 for Oceana since the book released in July 2021.
Here is a short sample from the book:
“Where are you taking me?” Delta asked, following Lorelei through the trees. Her friend’s bright red hair shone like a beacon in the dying light, guiding her. The leaves above their heads were gilded by the dusky pink and orange sky—another glorious June evening in the Ondine Kingdom.
They headed deeper into the forest that bordered Aberness, separating the Ondine Kingdom from the Celeste Kingdom in the north and following the curves of the River Aspid to the west. Delta knew that deeper still in these woods, the Ondine Palace stood, hidden from view by a great waterfall and protected from intruders by an ancient Solitary creature.
Rumour had it the beast was an Aspidochelone—the creature the river had been named for—but no one had dared venture too close to the palace in years. The Ondine Queens were private, cautious women. They rarely left the palace now, although Delta’s mother had spoken of a great celebration for the royal wedding twenty years earlier, before Delta had been born.
Delta wondered absently which sea creature had been so corrupted by the First Fair Queen’s aether magic at the creation of the Fair Realm all those centuries ago that it had become the monstrous Apidochelone. A whale? A giant sea turtle? She shuddered.
Solitary creatures were terrifying, and the waters surrounding Aberness were filled to the brim with them. Selkies, dracs, ashrays. Delta had never seen one up close herself, but her mother, Dorit, had told her many tales. Bedtime stories of men lost at sea in sudden swells that stopped as quickly as they’d started. Women seduced by a lone Solitary creature in the skin of a Fair male. Children snatched from the water’s edge by scaly, grey hands.
It was the reason she had never so much as dipped a toe in the water.
Lorelei had been vague about what they were doing tonight. The only thing Delta did know was that they’d be drinking the wine she’d pilfered from her mother’s inn—the bottles clinked merrily in her rucksack with every step.
“Just wait and see,” Lorelei said in her husky voice, squeezing Delta’s fingers and picking up the pace. Something was glowing up ahead—a faint, warm light leaked out between the tree trunks, making the rapidly falling darkness around them seem even denser.
They stepped into a large clearing that had been studded with lanterns, candle flames flickering in the evening breeze. Noelani and Rafferty were already there, sitting on either side of an inky-dark pool, their feet dangling into the water and sending ripples across the surface.
Delta’s blood chilled and goosebumps rose across the exposed skin on her arms and legs. What was this?
“It’s a natural spring,” Lorelei said, excitedly. “Hardly anyone knows it’s here, I overheard a customer telling my mother about it in the shop last week. It took me a few tries to find, it isn’t on any maps.” She looked pleased with herself, which only angered Delta further. “It’s supposed to have healing properties.”
Lorelei must have noticed Delta’s unease, because she added in a low voice, “I know you’ve never swum before, but you can just stay at the side. And we’re all here if you need any help.” Lorelei gave her friend an encouraging smile, but it did little to quell Delta’s nerves.
Delta knew how rare it was for an Ondine—a water-magic wielding member of the Fair—to be unable to swim. But that didn’t change the heavy sense of trepidation in the pit of her stomach.
They stepped closer to the pool and Delta stared into the water, the darkening sky reflected on the surface, making it look fathomless, infinite. She felt as though she was looking into the abyss, and it sent a shiver through her.
Lorelei gently took the rucksack from Delta’s shoulder and passed a bottle of honey wine to Rafferty, taking the other bottle and going to sit beside Noelani, who nodded by way of a greeting and continued to twiddle the string of opals in her hands.
Delta took a few steps towards Raff, dropping down next to him with her legs crossed and accepting the now open bottle he proffered.
“You OK? You look a bit…shell shocked.”
Delta nodded, swallowing a mouthful of the sweet white wine. “Fine, thanks.” It was a lie. She felt…betrayed, somehow. No doubt Lorelei believed she was helping, giving Delta the chance to face her fear, to swim for the first time in a secluded, safe setting. If open water could ever be called safe. But she supposed this pool was infinitely less terrifying than the River Aspid with its powerful current and murky depths, where all manner of piscine Solitary creatures lay in wait.
Lorelei passed her wine bottle to Noelani, talking animatedly about a customer that had come into her mother’s apothecary shop earlier that day, looking for a way to curse her boyfriend after discovering his cheating. Lorelei’s mother was an older but equally beautiful version of her daughter, with matching red hair and a talent for natural remedies.
Since the war between the Five Kingdoms, Celeste healers were rarely found outside of their own kingdom, so the other four kingdoms relied on those with knowledge of natural medicines and treatments, but these tended to be few and far between.
According to Lorelei, her mother had told the woman she didn’t sell anything like that, but she could try grinding up some castor beans and adding them to his morning coffee if she really wanted to punish him.
A small but wicked smile curved Noelani’s full lips as she raised the bottle to them, and Lorelei, noticing, beamed.
Delta might have been warmed by the sweet moment if her stomach hadn’t been roiling with anxiety.
“Planning on sharing that?”
She snapped her eyes to Raff, who gestured at the bottle she’d been hogging with a raised brow and a quirk of his mouth. She passed it to him and rubbed her hands over her face, taking a deep breath in and letting it out slowly.
He watched her, but didn’t say anything. She knew she could count on Rafferty for that at least—he didn’t pry. Lorelei was the one who insisted on sharing their feelings, sitting with them, and letting them go. Occasionally by screaming into the wind until they were hoarse.
The sky had darkened to midnight blue and they’d almost finished the bottles of wine when Lorelei suddenly stood, kicking her shoes to one side, and started to peel off her black, handkerchief dress. “Come on, let’s get in.”
Raff gave Delta a quick look and stood up too, pulling his t-shirt up over his head and exposing his smooth, tanned chest. He discarded his sneakers and jeans, and sat on the edge of the pool in just his boxer shorts. “You coming in?”
Delta chewed her lip, gazing into the water, the reflections of the lanterns rippling softly across the surface. The wine had warmed her skin and soothed her frayed nerves, and no creature had appeared in the hour they had been sitting around the pool, the others with their feet dangling in the water. How bad could it be?
Lorelei was already in, shoulder deep in the inky blackness, red hair piled on top of her head with a black velvet scrunchie. She was resting her elbows on the side, still chatting to Noelani who apparently wasn’t in the mood for a swim either. Lani didn’t like to get her textured, black hair wet if she could help it.
“I don’t think so,” Delta said, hugging her knees to her chest.
“You could just dip your toes in?” Lorelei suggested, leaning back now and floating on the surface.
Raff slid in and completely submerged for one heart-stopping moment. Then he broke the surface and tossed his head, spraying water droplets all over Delta. She gasped and ducked her head behind her knees.
“Sorry,” Raff said, colour rising to his cheeks. The water clinging to his hair and olive skin glistened in the lantern-light, shimmering like the glints in his clear-blue eyes.
Delta shook her head and gave a small, shaky laugh. A few drops of water weren’t going to hurt her. She was being silly.
“The water’s gorgeous,” Lorelei murmured, closing her eyes and leaning back on the pool’s edge. Lani began plucking small wildflowers from the grassy bank and tucking them into Lorelei’s vibrant hair, fashioning a sort of floral crown.
Rafferty said in a low voice, quiet enough that Delta knew the others across the pool wouldn't hear, “You could just dip a toe tonight, and then both your feet another night. And eventually, maybe you’ll be ready to try swimming. But you don’t have to do anything tonight if you don’t want to. Ignore Lorelei, she means well but she doesn’t know what it’s like when you’re not…” He struggled for the words. “Like her,” he said finally.
Delta assumed he meant confident. Brave. Completely self-assured, even in the face of all the whispers and comments. The name calling and innuendos.
Lorelei’s mother had been the subject of much gossip when she’d arrived in Aberness twenty years earlier—widowed and pregnant—and had opened up her apothecary shop. Dorit had told Delta once that the villagers hadn’t taken to Lorelei’s mother, particularly the older women, calling her a siren and avoiding her shop, and the young, new mother had struggled to feed her child and keep a roof over their heads. Dorit had always made a point of popping in and purchasing some balm or ointment on her errands, deliberately overpaying on occasion, only for the flame-haired shopkeeper to chase her down and hand her change back.
Proud. That was how Dorit described Lorelei’s mother, and she’d passed that trait on to her daughter. As Lorelei had grown into a young woman with beauty to rival her mother’s, the whispers and small-minded gossip had transferred to her, but they didn’t seem to have any effect on her.
The friends had bonded over their status as social pariahs, and daughters of spirited single mothers, becoming inseparable by the time they reached their teenage years, and gradually they had added Rafferty and Noelani to their number. It had been that way ever since, the four of them fitting together like puzzle pieces.
Delta often wondered how Lorelei let it all go, like water off a drac’s back, when Delta herself wallowed in self-pity at every cruel joke or snub aimed her way. She couldn’t remember which had come first, her fear of the water or the jibes of seal girl and freak of nature. The whispers that her skin would turn slippery and grey the moment it came into contact with the water, prompting cruel children to flick their drinks at her during lunch.
It was ridiculous, childish nonsense. She’d bathed every day for eighteen years and never seen so much as a scale or webbed-toe.
Her friend seemed to possess endless self-esteem, and Delta couldn’t help but feel the sting of jealousy as she watched Lorelei drifting on the surface of the pool, black underwear clinging to her alabaster skin, completely at ease with herself and her surroundings.
Delta bit her lip, steeling herself. She kicked off her boots and socks. Rafferty gave her a surprised look, his eyebrows disappearing into his floppy, brown hair. She felt a rush of pride at having been underestimated. It spurred her on. She didn’t stop at her socks—she unbuttoned her dress and pulled it up over her head. Cool night air kissed her bare skin and she shivered, but the wine and the burning desire to be brave like her friend warmed her from the inside.
She dropped down on the bank and shuffled forward until her feet were just inches from the water. Silence filled the clearing, her friends seemed to be holding their breath as she lowered herself closer to the pool’s surface. She hesitated for just a second, then with a sharp inhale, she touched her toes to the water.