Read an excerpt of “Under the Ripides”

Chapter 1

Mara entered the last grade into her laptop for the report cards that would be issued to her kindergarten students later that week, still smarting from the “needs improvement” evaluation her principal gave her.

As much as she loved her students, her heart wasn’t in teaching. In fact, it wasn’t in anything, except leaving Grand Rapids, Michigan, even if it was for only the summer. She checked her travel plans for the bazilliointh time, excitement bubbling in her veins. Her friend Kristen couldn’t believe Mara had found such a great deal on a Hawaiian timeshare for the entire summer. Granted, the condo was tiny and located in a secluded part of Kauai, known as the garden island. Even though there was not a lot of nightlife, it sounded like heaven to Mara.

She checked her cell phone and saw two missed calls from her mother. “Crap.” Taking several deep breaths, she dialed. She so hated to miss her mother’s calls. Alice suffered from fast-onset Alzheimer’s and only phoned when she had a good day and remembered who Mara was.

Hoping her mother was lucid, Mara decided to stop at the assisted living center. When she got there, her mother had lost her thread of memory.

“I’ll be gone for a while, Mom, to Hawaii.”

“You’re so pretty. What is your name?”

“It’s Mara, Mom. Gary thinks I’m nuts to go there, because I can’t swim.”

“I used to swim with someone. His name was Gary, too.”

“That was Dad, Mom, he was a doctor. And Gary is your son. He’s a doctor like dad was.”

Her mother got agitated. Mara called for the nurses and kissed her mother’s forehead, sighing.

Her father had died two years ago of a sudden heart attack and she and Gary watched over their mother.

Gary and his wife Jana urged Mara take a vacation, although they were amazed she chose Hawaii because she’d never learned to swim. They lived in Michigan, surrounded by water, and swimming terrified her. But she was determined to change from the dowdy, drab, aimless, scared twenty-five-year-old she had somehow morphed into. And something inside her was urging her to take this trip.

That night, Mara held the quartz crystal her father had given her in her palm as she stretched out in her bed and tried to relax. He gave it to her and said it was the same color as water, but it didn’t move so she didn’t have to be scared of it. Other than Kristen, her mother, and brother, Mara had no one to hold her here. Besides her chances of getting tenure at her school weren’t looking good after her “needs improvement” review. She sighed at her bleak thoughts, tightened her hold on the crystal, and closed her eyes to sleep. She had an early flight to catch.

***

Mara nearly took a header as she dragged her bags up the steps to the timeshare. It had rained an hour ago, but the ground was still a bit muddy. She slipped the flats she traveled in off and took care with her suitcases so she wouldn’t track any mud indoors.

Mara couldn’t put a name to the flower-adorned bushes surrounding the tiny cottage billed as an artist’s or writer’s retreat, but their sweet subtle fragrance filled the rooms. The bedroom was barely large enough to hold a full-sized bed and small closet. The living room had room for one white, oversized sofa and a flat-screen TV. Even the kitchen was small, but serviceable with a tiny table fit for two.

She should unpack then see about groceries, but she was exhausted. She stretched out on the bed, breathed in the salt air and flowers, clutched the quartz crystal she’d brought with her, and shut her eyes…

***

She stood in a great hall under the sea, with marble columns and crystal pillars, wearing a long, snowy white robe with a silken sash. Water flowed in channels at the edges of the room. The surrounding crystal reflected the ruby necklace encircling her throat.

He stood next to her, clasping her left hand. His sandy brown hair, streaked with gold, reached his shoulders.

They were both barefoot, facing an altar of white marble.

Others, wearing robes, watched them.

The man squeezed her hand, smiled into her eyes, and took hold of her other hand, linking them. Another man read from a scroll he held. She couldn’t understand the words until he said, “Mara and Adrian.”

The man, who must have been Adrian, stepped closer, took hold of her waist, and squeezed her left hand. She smiled into his questioning eyes and nodded. Pleasure lit his face. The crowd murmured and Adrian touched his forehead to hers.

The man by the altar continued and, when he fell silent, the crowd cheered. Many smiled at them. Some clapped. Adrian led her to a crystal pyramid as the onlookers tossed blossoms of water lilies at their feet. A bright pink bloom fell on Mara’s hair. Adrian tucked it behind her left ear and winked.

He reclaimed her waist as they glided underwater through passageways. Oddly, she wasn’t afraid of being underwater, nor did she have to hold her breath. They came to a chamber and she stepped out of the water while he kept firm hold on her.

Adrian shrugged out of his robe. Now naked save for his loincloth, he strode to a table and rearranged the large crystals decorating its top. Lean and muscled, he moved with fluid grace.

The room wavered and changed and a bed appeared. Mara moved toward it. She brushed her hand over the fabric, amazed at how soft and light it felt. Adrian watched her, a question in his eyes.

***

Mara’s eyes flew open. Her heart thumped hard in chest, as if she’d been running, not sleeping. She shook off the images of her crazy, jet-lagged dream and put on her shoes. Then she grabbed her purse and digital camera. She needed some fresh island air, sun, and sand to clear the crazy dreams out of her head. The island beckoned. She didn’t come all this way to sleep. Maybe the drive to Hanalei, where they’d shot scenes for the movie South Pacific would be a good change of scenery and an escape from the weirdness in her head. It wasn’t too far, and she could stop for groceries on her way back.

Her hand strayed to her throat. It felt bare without the ruby necklace she’d worn in her dream.

Seated in her rented Corolla, she started the engine fiddled with the radio. The Everly Brothers sang, “All I Have to do is Dream.”

“Perfect,” she said, switching it off. She pulled over into a scenic overlook and parked behind a couple of other cars. Far below, surfers were riding the waves. She looked through the camera’s viewfinder and pushed the zoom lens.

One of the surfers walked out of the shallows. His wet hair hung to his shoulders. Prickles of awareness rose on the back of Mara’s neck and her heart pounded. She zoomed closer. He looked in her direction, then stopped mid-stride, as if he could see her.

Fighting the urge to run to him, she rubbed her suddenly throbbing temples. Her heart raced. He looked just like the man in her dream. This was nuts, right? Was she losing her grip on reality? Maybe it was the jet-lag? Either way, her legs went weak and she dropped like a sopping wet towel on to a bench, dragging in deep breaths. Minutes ticked by, but she finally got her heart rate under control.

“Are you okay?”

Mara looked up into a pair of kind blue eyes. The man was about her brother’s age with short brown hair and a friendly smile.

“Jet-lag,” Mara said, standing up.

He pushed her gently back down on the bench and sat next to her. “Take a minute.”

“I need to get some groceries,” she said, stifling a yawn. “Is there someplace close?”

He nodded. “Not too far. Turn left when you pull out. I’m Mike. I write for the local newspaper.”

He took her hand and helped her to her feet. His fingers felt warm and strong.

“I’m Mara. I teach kindergarten in Michigan. At least, I did last week.”

Mike chuckled. “Your name, it means ‘the sea.’” His gaze went to the surfers.

“Thanks.” Mara forced herself to look toward the beach. Her surfer was gone. Her heart sank. “I should get going.” She began to walk to her car.

Mike fell into step beside her and smiled. “Lettuce costs a fortune,” he warned. “The tourists are always surprised.”

“Thanks again,” she said.

He handed her his business card. “Call or text if you want to know where anything else is. My cell is on there.” He smiled, again.

She smiled back, gave him a little wave, and thought, Okay, he’s interested.

He walked to his car, a Corolla, identical to her rental. “Nice to meet you.”

She laughed and tucked his business card into her purse. Fighting exhaustion, she picked up some groceries and headed home. After stashing them in the fridge, she laid down on the couch, this time hoping for dreamless, or least sane, sleep.

***

Adrian stood absolutely still. Mara stepped forward and cradled his face in an effort to soothe him. He shut his eyes and sighed, then pressed his warm mouth to her palm.

“Mara.” He said her name with tenderness, even while his gaze raked over her possessively. He put his hands on her waist and drew her closer, enveloping her in his scent of musk and rain. Unfastening her gold sash, he pressed his lips to the curve of her neck. She sighed, longing to be free of her gown. Adrian’s hands adjusted something near the small of her back and the gown fell away, to puddle at her feet, leaving her naked.

He cupped her breasts and teased her nipples into tight, pink pebbles. He smiled into her eyes and then lifted her into his arms. After gently placing her on the bed, he tugged on the necklace. Fierce possession lit his eyes with golden lights.

“Mine.” His hand brushed against her jaw, drifted over her bare shoulder, feathered down her ribs over her stomach, before moving lower still. She bucked against him.

He stared into her eyes, his lips inches from hers. “Mine, Mara.” He touched her core, and she jerked. “You must say it,” he growled.

She nodded. “Yes, yours.” She swallowed hard.

“Only mine,” he breathed into her mouth.

“Only yours,” she said.

He kissed her then.

© 2015 by Tara Eldana

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