Found at Sea - By Anne Marie Duquette Page 0,1

dragging undertow. I’m not going to make it. I need to breathe now. Help me.

Her request was answered. A cluster of unevenly timed waves headed toward shore and fought the backwash. The rip abruptly changed direction to push Aurora and Jordan toward the surface. Lungs bursting, Aurora fought the pain of suffocation. Her body had done what all drowning victims’ did—the throat sphincter had automatically clamped shut, keeping water out of the bronchial tube. Those who drowned suffocated to unconsciousness first; only then did the sphincter release and the lungs fill with fluid.

Aurora kicked harder than ever, the current now helping her. She saw the thin, tensile surface of water. She lifted the man in her arms as high as she could so that his lolling head broke the water first. Hers followed. She gasped for air, two, three, four breaths, while scanning the shore. She made certain the attackers were gone before swimming toward the nearest pier piling and wrapping her legs around the shell-encrusted wood to anchor herself, all the while holding Jordan.

Her hand splayed over the bruised, battered muscles of the man’s chest, feeling for a heartbeat as the cutting shells of barnacles and black clams sliced into her legs.

There was no heartbeat.

She hugged Jordan’s torso with the careful, measured strength years of ocean swimming had given her, willing his heart to beat. She compressed five times, then she cleared his breathing passage, sucking in gulps of air herself.

Rory pivoted his body sideways, using the buoyancy of the water. As she lowered her mouth to his torn, broken lips, she tasted ocean salt mingling with the saltiness of the man’s own blood. Her fingertips pressed into the already bruised skin of one wrist, feeling for a pulse.

She felt no pulse.

“Don’t you die!” she said between puffs of air. “Do you hear me? I need you alive.”

The pale, masculine lips didn’t move. Aurora shivered, but didn’t attempt to swim the rest of the pier length toward shore. She focused her whole attention on saving the man in her arms.

And hoped fervently that she wasn’t too late.

* * *

JORDAN CASTILLO CAME slowly to consciousness. Earlier there had been confusion, then pain, then blackness with nightmares and more pain. But today that pain no longer seemed as brutal.

Where was he? How long had he been here?

He was too weak to move, too weak to speak, too weak to even open his eyes, but he could feel things. From the familiar rolling beneath him, he knew he was on a ship. Jordan breathed a sigh of relief. Like his father and grandfather before him, he lived most of his life at sea. And like his father and grandfather, he, too, hoped to draw his last breath on the sea. But not yet...not today... Jordan desperately wanted to live and fought fiercely against the terrible blackness that threatened to envelop him again.

His will had been sorely tested. He’d been frightened he’d lose his battle with death, and Jordan Castillo wasn’t a man who frightened easily. As long as he could still feel pain, he knew he was alive.

He could hear what went on around him. Even now he listened for the woman’s voice. They were supposed to meet at the pier. Was the woman who’d saved him the same Aurora Collins who could salvage his family fortune?

Jordan exhaled, his broken ribs protesting. Head injuries could cause funny dreams. If his rescuing mermaid was a fantasy that existed only in his bruised, beaten skull, he’d be very disappointed indeed.

There it was again. Her voice...

Jordan’s lips curved in a small, almost involuntary smile. He relaxed, letting the sound wash over him. She wasn’t as close as he’d like, certainly not as close as he remembered during that nightmarish time when his life hung by a delicate thread—but she was close enough for him to make out her words.

“...Much better, you say, Neil?”

“Yes.” Jordan heard the male voice. His sea nymph definitely wasn’t alone. “He should be coming around soon.”

“Why he isn’t dead, I’ll never know. If you’d seen what those men did to him...”

To Jordan’s surprise, her voice broke. He hadn’t imagined her concern after all. She’d been worried about him—still was. He wanted to ease her pain as she’d eased his. He tried to open his eyes, tried to reassure her, but couldn’t. When she spoke again, her voice was harsh.

“If he wasn’t so ill, I’d be back on shore looking for those three men myself. The receptionist said they told Jordan I