This has been one of the most difficult books I've written in some time, But as I'm giving it one more read through, I feel like it's one of my best in a while, too.
The main problem was it deviated off my outline.
Took on a mind of its own.
Despite all the struggle to keep it on course, I'm pleased with how it turned out. I hope you'll enjoy My Wayfaring Billionaire, too.
My Wayfaring Billionaire will be releasing next week.
Here's the first chapter for your enjoyment. Look for an announcement coming soon and more on the characters from this story.
Priscilla Finley sat in the porch chair beside the older man who stared out across the residential garden with pinched brows. A tan baseball cap with a bass on the front sat low on his creased forehead. Snowy white hair poked from beneath the edges around his ears. His blue-plaid shirt wasn’t buttoned up right, but when Cilla tried to fix it, he’d slapped her hands away.
This wasn’t one of Daddy’s better days. But at least he had on clean jeans today. That meant at some point in the morning, he’d allowed his nursing assistant to shower and dress him.
Maybe Cilla should have come earlier, but her swim classes ran longer than anticipated and the ride to the mainland took over an hour.
Cilla’s mind raced with possible topics she could try talking to Daddy about. He didn’t understand her mermaid business. When she did try to talk about the new girls she was training, he’d gruffly spout that there was no such thing as merfolk and she should take her foolishness somewhere else.
Some days Daddy remembered that he used to run a scuba business on the Naiads Isle where she currently lived in his old bungalow. She’d taken over his business which paid her bills, and performed as a mermaid at the hotel for extra cash. Since she had nothing new to say about that, she remained quiet and settled to simply be grateful that she could sit beside him this beautiful afternoon.
An older woman pushing a walker ambled past. “Good morning, Teddy,” she greeted with a wave of her scarf clutched in her hand. “It’s a beautiful day, don’t you think?”
Daddy watched her for a long moment, then offered a slight nod. “Would be if people’d leave me be for a change. They’re always jabbering at me or trying to steal my blood, and other things.” He gave an ominous nod and glanced around nervously. “Keep me locked up here like I’ve done some kind of crime. I don’t…understand.”
Cilla was about to tell him that he wasn’t locked up but knew better than to argue. She reached over and patted his arm. “I can push you around the garden—”
He jerked his arm away and growled for her to not touch him.
Cilla smoothed her skirt over her legs, trying to remind herself to not take offense. His actions weren’t about her. Honestly, she was sure that he didn’t even know it was his only daughter sitting beside him.
She turned her attention to the elderly woman who was shaking her head in sympathy. “You look lovely today, Mrs. Olivia. I love that peach blouse on you. It’s your perfect color.”
Mrs. Olivia smiled. She’d forgotten to put in her uppers today. It happened from time to time. Cilla had grown used to the oddities she saw each time she visited her father’s retirement home.
“Thank you, dear. I love those shells in your hair. Don’t see that kind of adornment often.”
“Oh, yeah, I didn’t have time to change after work.” Cilla’s hand quickly went to the netting she’d woven into her hair that morning. She’d had a small class today, but was determined to always stay in character when she taught her mermaid pupils swim lessons.
Soon as the class was over, she’d set sail for the mainland. Her new custom-made mere-tail had arrived today and she picked it up from her friend’s apartment where she still had her packages sent. Cilla checked her watch. She’d need to leave soon if she hoped to make it back to the island before nightfall.
Mrs. Olivia had moved on in search of someone who might actually respond to her greetings. There were fewer and fewer in this ward. At least Mrs. Olivia still had more good days than bad. Daddy, unfortunately, had started to go downhill rather quickly. He suffered from frequent infections, and they had a difficult time keeping his diabetes under control.
One of his attendants said Mr. Finley was always stealing extra desserts from those who didn’t have the wherewithal to stop him.
“Daddy, I should be heading back home. The ocean was a little rough coming in and I don’t want to have to cross back too late in the afternoon.” She stood and draped her sweater over her shoulder. She’d brought him some dried apples and bananas, hoping he’d snack on them instead of the stolen desserts, but feared he’d toss them in the trash. “How about I wheel you to the dining room?”
He didn’t respond, so she took the grips of his chair and turned him around anyway. As they entered the automatic double doors, he said, “I once had a fine boat. It could cut through the water like hot butter on toast.”
The boat he remembered. Go figure. “You still have that boat, Daddy. I’m taking good care of it for you.” Why she wasn’t sure. It wasn’t as if he’d ever ride in it again. She could have traded it in some time ago for a better boat but didn’t have the heart to part with the Flippin’ Fin.
A hot lump of searing pain lodged in her chest, right at the base of her throat. And no matter how hard she tried to swallow it away, the pain only intensified. The only reason she stayed on the island was because of him. She lived in his old bungalow and rode around the islands in his old scuba boat. His pride and joy, he used to call the Flippin’ Fin. One of the reasons she started her mermaid business was because of his delightful stories about creatures of the sea. Both real and mythical. He had a tale for every occasion.
Daddy used to lead scuba diving excursions for guests of the island resort. She’d taken over the business when he became too old to handle going underwater. Then his mind began to slip and after several late-night rescue searches and two boat thefts, she’d finally agreed it was time to put him in a home.
“Boat’s gone,” Daddy grumbled. “Home is gone. I’m in prison. Amelia wouldn’t approve.”
Amelia was her mother who’d died over eight years ago in a boating accident. He seemed to remember his wife clearly, too. Cilla wiped away the errant tears escaping her eyes. It was the sickness that stole his memories of her. Daddy hadn’t forgotten her completely. Sometimes when she visited, he knew her. Those were the best days and the ones she cherished the most.
They’d reached the dining room where a few residents had already gathered. She stopped at the entrance. There seemed to be some unwritten rules about where people sat and it was bad, bad, bad to take a claimed seat. She’d learned the hard way after setting off a woman into a screaming fit that took the attendants a half hour to calm down.
Never again. Matter-of-fact, Cilla usually let one of the workers push her father to his table.
“This is where I leave you, Daddy.” She turned him so he faced her and bent to kiss his whiskered, wrinkled cheek.
“Oh, you are here,” he said grabbing her wrist. “I’ve been wondering where you got off to, precious.”
Praise the Lord! Tears flooded Cilla’s eyes. “That’s right, I’m right—”
“Amelia, now listen to me,” His tone grew serious. Cilla’s heart fell from her chest and rolled across the floor. “I don’t like it here. You need to break me free, Darlin’. We’ll take that trip I always promised you. Forget work. You’re right, I spend too many…”
“There you are Mr. Finley, just in time.” A young man wearing blue scrubs took the grips of Daddy’s chair. The name on the badge said, Matt. “We’ve moved him to a new table.”
Matt gave her a pointed look. “Fewer people and less temptation for him to sneak extra sweets.” He winked and smiled.
Cilla nodded, unable to return his smile.
Before her father could start kicking up a fuss, Cilla patted his hand as she pulled out of his tight grasp. “I love you, Daddy. I’ll be back, I promise, and we’ll talk about this then. You don’t want to miss your dinner. It’s meatloaf night.”
His brows furrowed again and the look of confusion returned. “But—?”
She kissed his forehead then quickly turned and walked-jogged toward the exit. She could barely see where she was going and almost ran into a group of seniors riding along on their power scooters. This bunch wasn’t in the special ward where they kept her father. The women and one man laughed at something, but then stopped to glare at her as she quickly made her apologies and darted around them.
That’s all she needed was to knock some poor old unfortunate off their scooter.
Her sandals slapped over the hot concrete as she made her way toward the docks. The sun was arching down toward the west. Soon she’d be back to her tropical paradise. There were no concrete roads on the island. Everyone traveled around on bikes, mopeds, or golf-carts. It took three or four hours on foot to cross the island from the eastern tip to the western shore.
Of course, that required a bit of climbing and even swimming in a few spots. She did love the little island but dreamed of traveling to new places. There were other professional mermaids. Some she kept in contact with on the internet. One had invited her to Australia to visit and swim with the whales. She’d even promised to help her get her ocean awareness project off the ground.
Wouldn’t that be a grand adventure?
But not now. Daddy needed her, whether he realized it or not.
Once she was in her boat, she headed back toward home. Except, she had no desire to return to the bungalow and mope away the rest of the evening. She glanced down at the cardboard box containing the new tail she’d ordered. A very extravagant expense, but one she’d well earned. Cilla had saved up a whole year for the custom-made fin. She’d planned to try it out in the pool tomorrow but wanted to visit her secret spot at the lagoon. Her secluded piece of heaven. Not many people knew about it so it was safe for her to swim without worry of a run in with boats. Only a couple of fishermen came from time to time, along with residents who enjoyed swimming like her.
Yes, that’s what she’d do. She turned for the far side of the island, past the main docks. A new yacht had come into port. More richies who seemed to enjoy flaunting their wealth with their outlandish boats and extravagant demands.
She’d heard that the island’s owner was due to make an appearance. The management of the resort seemed nervous the last time she’d attended one of the staff meetings. She couldn’t even remember the name of the family who’d bought the island years ago when her parents first came to work here.
Whoever they were, they seldom visited anymore and the island suffered for it. Fewer and fewer visitors came each year as there wasn’t much for them do. There had been no new growth and the hotel needed some updates before it lost its four-star status.
Cilla oversaw the aquatic shows her trainees put on at the hotel where there was a floor to ceiling circular aquarium. The guests loved their shows and Cilla used the opportunity to teach people about respecting the ocean’s wildlife.
Cilla also offered private mermaid swimming classes to the rich kids along with her father’s scuba business. She didn’t make a lot of money, but she was a miser with what she did earn, saving up for that trip of a lifetime that someday she’d take. Maybe if she left her little island, she’d eventually meet the guy of her dreams.
The guy of her dreams was handsome and as adventurous as she was. He’d have to love the sea, as well. And have a heart for taking care of the ocean life. Cilla sighed, wondering if there was such a man alive? Dreams were lofty and seldom matched reality.
Still, it was fun to dream.
Daddy was the only thing keeping her anchored to this little island. Much as she hated the idea of his passing on, she knew that day grew closer with each setback he suffered. She’d stay as long as he needed her, but once he was gone, she’d pack her tails and few belongings and explore the world.
That was the one dream that kept her going. It spurred her on and kept her from falling into a dismal depression. That, and her hope that someday she’d find someone to love as much as Daddy and Momma loved each other. A love that transcended death, and Alzheimer's, and time.
“This place should do,” Colton turned off the rental boat’s engine and told Addison to drop the anchor. “Since it’s getting late, let’s use the poles today. Next time, I promise, we’ll come out earlier and go underwater fishing.”
Avery, his whimsical girl who loved pretending to be a mermaid on the hunt when they went diving, nodded and began untangling the poles.
The girls were almost twelve years old now and acted like they were about to turn twenty-five. Addison was the practical one who didn’t care too much for her sister’s nonsense and stories. Both were the delight of his life and his reason for living. They were both golden-haired like him with the Grimwood blue eyes. One of the easiest ways he could tell them apart was that Avery had more freckles, which she’d inherited from her mother. Hopefully, that’s all she’d inherited, he thought darkly.
“Aren’t you going to fish with us, Daddy?” Avery asked, handing her sister the purple pole. That was another way he told them apart. Addison loved the color purple and Avery loved blue, but not any blue. She loved the greenish blue of the ocean. And if it was glittery, all the better.
“Yes, in a minute.” He dug a pair of binoculars from the bag of snacks they’d brought along. “I’m going to enjoy the quiet for a moment. I forgot how pretty this island could be. We used to come to swim in this lagoon when we were kids.”
Addison sat on the bench beside him and rested her head against his arm while she waited for her sister to sort the bait. Avery loved to have everything in order and had insisted they bring several choices of bait for the fishes. Whatever was left would be dumped overboard when they were finished. Avery hated the idea of eating what they caught and would somehow manage to let her fish escape every time.
“Daddy,” Addison asked, “Don’t you have a house here? Your family didn’t stay on a boat when they came, did they?”
Colton looked through the binoculars. Through the palms, he could see the red-tiled shingles of the family cabin. “Yes, but it’s not ready for us.” He’d not asked that it be prepared for them yet, either.
“Why can’t we stay at the hotel, then?” Addison asked.
“I’d like to stay on the boat for a while longer, you won’t mind, will you girls?”
They gave each other a disgruntled frown, but then slowly shook their heads. He knew they were being kind. They got tired of being on the ship for long stretches of time and were always thrilled when he set port somewhere where they could stay in one of his hotels.
The hotels had come from Ally’s family. He’d taken them over when she passed away from that flu. It had all happened so suddenly.
Colton shook his head, not wanting to travel down that direction. He set aside the binoculars and focused his attention on baiting Addison’s hook, not that he had much hope of them catching anything here.
“Listen, girls, there’s something else I want to talk to you about.”
First Avery, then Addison cast their lines and found a place under the canopy to sit and wait. Both looked at him expectantly.
“I don’t wish to let anyone know I’m here. Not yet. So, if you hear me introducing us as the Woods, would you please go along with it?”
“But Daddy,” Avery said, her blues rounding. “That’s—”
Addison interrupted, “It’s not the first time he’s asked us to hide our name. Don’t be so shocked.” She glanced up at him. “Why do we need to lie this time?”
Colton cringed behind his sunglasses. He hated the notoriety that came with the Grimwood name and often went under an alias. Sometimes he wished that he’d been born in a normal family. Except that he did like his yacht and the freedom to do as he pleased when he pleased.
“Let’s not call it a lie. Just an omission.”
Addison rolled her eyes and turned back to her pole.
“Okay, you’re right,” he conceded. “The thing is that I don’t wish for the managers to know I’m here. I want a chance to look around first before I make a decision on what I want to do with this island.” Colton didn’t want to encourage his girls to lie, but this was important. He needed to figure out the state of the island before meeting the management. The last thing he needed was to be swayed by their take on the situation.
No, he didn’t want to hear their ideas to improve this place. He didn’t care. All he wanted was to sell it for as much as he could possibly get. Maybe he’d get lucky and earn enough to meet the trust fund’s demands.
Avery asked, “Why can’t we keep it, Daddy? I love it here.”
Addison narrowed her gaze on her sister and stated, “We’ve only been here one day, ninny. You can’t—”
Colton turned to her leveled his annoyed father expression over the top of his shades. “What have I said about name calling? I need three nice things from you, young lady.” He turned the driver's seat to face the girls.
Addison huffed in irritation, then said, “I’m glad to see you brushed your teeth today, that’s always nice. And your hair isn’t all tangled in knots like usual and for once you picked an outfit that matches.”
“Addison Marie!” Colton chastised, “That’s not—” A scuba boat sailed by, catching his attention. “Oh wow, do you see that? I haven’t seen one of those in ages!”
Avery folded her arms over her chest, still glaring at her sister. “Daddy, those weren’t nice at all. And besides, you don’t need another boat.”
“Need? No. But I can admire, can’t I?” He’d totally forgotten what he was upset with Addison about. “It would be fun to take that out fishing and diving. I bet it cuts through the water—”
“Daddy,” Avery said, her voice sounding so much like her mother’s that his breath caught. “Are you going to let Addy get away with that?”
Colton broke his trance on the aluminum boat and sent his daughter that warning look that said he was losing his patience. She quickly found three more sincere nice things to say, which satisfied Avery who went to look over the edge of the boat. “Wish I could see what’s going on down below.”
“Next time, sweetheart. We’ll go scuba diving soon, I promise.” Maybe the person who owned that boat offered scuba excursions. Someone on the island did, he was sure.
He had so much work to do, but his girls were his first priority. Heather, their nanny, and tutor helped a lot. It was so hard to find tutors who understood his girls’ precociousness.
Except, he hated the way Heather had been acting around him lately. The times she stood too close to him, or casually ran her hand down his arm, and the way she called him by his first name. He’d considered finding a replacement tutor, but if he was able to find a buyer for this island, he seriously wanted to return to his family home. Then he could enroll the girls in a nice private school, allow them to finally develop friendships and spend more time with their aunt and uncles.
They all grew quiet for a while. Colton checked his phone, figuring he could run through a few emails. The girls chatted quietly together, guessing what kind of fish might be swimming below them. “Maybe a shark?” Avery whispered in awe.
He hoped not.
“I’d love to swim with dolphins,” Addison stated. It seemed they’d forgotten their previous tiff.
For the most part, they were easy-going and good to each other. He was sure his mysterious declaration had them baffled, and when Addison didn’t understand something, she got snippy about it. He had his reasons for keeping his identity concealed. The biggest reason was he wasn’t sure who remembered him from before his wife passed away. And the last thing he wanted was for the girls to know the truth about what their mother had done.
“Is that…Addy, what am I seeing?” Avery exclaimed, quickly standing and causing the boat to rock. She pointed toward the other boat. “Look. It’s a…mermaid?”
“No way,” Addison scoffed, but then stopped herself. “Daddy? Do you see what we are seeing?”
Colton looked up from his phone, his eyes growing wider. He grabbed the binoculars and took another look.
Sure enough, a woman with a fishtail sat at the dive platform of the boat. She flipped her greenish-blue tail a few times, then pulled her long, reddish hair into a ponytail. Colton blinked. He was not seeing Ariel the mermaid. He was not.
But then the mermaid pushed off the platform and dove into the water. The three of them scrambled to the back of their own boat where they had a similar platform. The boat wobbled, so Colton moved back onto the deck.
The diver-boat was parked maybe thirty feet away from them in the shallows.
“Why,” Addison gasped, “She didn’t have an air-tank or goggles on. Did you see that?” She looked up at him quizzically.
Colton nodded, his mouth still gaping open. He searched his memories, not recalling there being any mermaid shows on the island before. Perhaps she was part of the entertainment? He remembered when the hotel had installed a floor to ceiling aquarium that displayed all sorts of fish one could find in the area. It had been a big hit in the beginning.
Surely, she’d surface any moment now. He checked his watch, finding that a couple of minutes had already passed.
“How long do you think she’ll stay under?” Avery asked. “Maybe she’s a real mermaid and can breathe underwater?”
“Don’t be da— I mean, don’t be silly, Ave,” Addison hastily corrected. “She’s a human wearing some kind of…fin, I suppose. Maybe we can coax her over here? When she surfaces?”
Avery also checked her watch. “She’s been down there a long time. Five minutes now going on…six.”
Colton’s heart raced. What if she’d fallen into trouble? There were a lot of rocks under the water and who knew what kind of sea life lurked below. The girls talking about sharks had him a little nervous. He hated sharks.
“Nine now,” Avery said, searching the water surface. “I don’t see her anywhere.”
Colton dropped his phone on the seat, then kicked off his loafers and pulled off his shirt. “Get the preserver ready. And both of you stay right here. You know how to call the Coast Guard, Addison. Get ready if I give you the signal.”
“Daddy?” She asked, her eyes widening. “What are you—?”
He didn’t wait to answer but climbed up on the seat and dove in. The cold water was an instant shock, like a thousand knives piercing his bare skin. The salt water burned his eyes. He couldn’t see anything but shadows.
A sleek figure darted past him. It had a fin on its back! Shark? He jerked away, banging his head on the bottom of the boat.
His gasp brought in a mouthful of water. Panic set in.
Jackie Castle is an author, artist and dreamer. She lives in Texas with her husband, two grown children and her dog, Banjo. She looks for the extraordinary in the ordinary in everything she experiences.
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