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Caitlin Miller has an extraordinary adventure ahead of her. Fate drops her child self in a world of magic where she meets Asher, a young boy with a big heart. She's torn away at the height of terror, but returns a decade later where she's reunited with the handsome Asher. Sparks and magic fly as together they try to make sense of life, and love.
I smelled the stench of fish. Fish and stale salt water.
My eight year-old self tried to make sense of what I smelled. The last thing I remembered was cowering beneath the covers of my bed. Another roar of thunder rattled the thin windows. I gave a yelp and tried to bury myself into the mattress.
The bedroom door opened and a sliver of light stretched across the floor and to my bed. I peeked out from beneath the covers and saw a dark figure standing in the doorway. Another flash of lightning lit up the sky outside my window and with a scream I ducked back under the sheets.
A laugh broke the tension and footsteps padded across the floor. Someone grabbed the sheet and lifted one corner to peek at me. “Kit Cat, what are you doing?”
My eyes widened. “Mom!” I lunged at her and wrapped my arms around her waist.
She was still laughing when she pulled me away and sat down beside me. “What’s wrong, Kit Cat?”
I wiped a few loose tears and sniffled. “The storm is scaring me.”
She tapped my nose with her finger. “You’re not going to let a few flashes of light keep you from having sweet dreams, are you?”
I hung my head and fidgeted with my fingers. “But it’s scary. . .”
My mom smiled and wrapped her warm arms around me. She lifted me up and put me at the head of the bed where she drew the blankets over my shoulders. “My silly little girl. You can be as afraid as you want, but-” She sat beside me and brushed her hands through my hair. “-what’s important is you don’t let it control you.”
“But how do I do that?” I asked her through the deep drowsiness that her hands instilled within me.
“That’s something you have to learn, my little Kit Cat,” she whispered.
I couldn’t keep my eyes open. The thunderous booms outside faded into the background as the world slipped away. The last I remember was my mother’s voice whispering from the darkness.
“Be brave, Caitlin. Nothing can stop the bold.”
Those words echoed in my mind as I drifted into sleep. I floated on a warm cloud of comfort left by my mother’s warm arms, but the sensation slowly faded away. I waited for the dreams to come to me, but this time I went to the dream, and the first thing I noticed were those horrible smells of the sea.
“Don’t swing that thing everywhere, Porky!” a young boy hissed. “You’ll catch the sheets on fire!”
My heart quickened. I didn’t recognize that voice. A rough canvas sheet rubbed against my cheek. I forced my eyes open and beheld a soft light that was blocked by a thick sheet. The stench came from the canvas. A rough surface lay beneath me. Puddles of stinky water soaked my pajamas.
The cold chill of the water frightened me more than anything. No dream I’d ever had had felt so real.
“I’m not trying to!” a sullen voice answered.
Thunder echoed across the sky hidden by the canvas. My first thought was to panic and scream.
Be brave, Caitlin.
Mom. Wherever I was I needed to get out of here and back to my warm room. I swallowed my scream and wiggled to the end of the sheet where I peeked out. The dark clouds obscured the night sky, but a faint glow from an oil lamp illuminated four figures who huddled around the light. They sat on the long seats of a small boat while I lay concealed at the bow. Their ruddy, smooth faces told me they were all young men in their younger teens.
Two of the young boys were seated in the center seat and each held an oar that cut through the choppy waters. Our destination was obscured by a soft fog, though a few strikes of lightning danced across the sky some distance from where we rowed.
“It wasn’t easy taking this thing from my uncle. . .” the pudgiest of the four whined as he cast a harsh look at one of his companions who manned one of the two oars. “It would have been easier if Asher had helped me get under the fence.”
Asher turned out to be the smallest and youngest of the bunch. He had dirty-blond hair that fell to his shoulders in uneven cuts and his face was cleaner than those of his companion, though he wore the same rags as the others. He shrank beneath the unwanted attention. “I was busy.”
“Busy with what?” one of the boys, the tallest and handsomest of the bunch who manned the other oar, snapped at him. He had soft blond hair and striking blue eyes. “We waited an hour for you to come.”
“He’s been busy playing doctor,” the fourth lad, the palest of the bunch, spoke up. He had a head of shocking red hair that contrasted sharply with his white skin.
The blond-haired boy sat up and frowned at Asher. “Didn’t we tell you that it might give you a dragon’s paw? Or maybe some of its blood? You could use that to cure a hundred people!”
Asher nodded. “Yeah, but Doc needed help. A guy came in with a broken arm and I had to-”
“You’re too soft, Asher,” the pudgy fellow scolded him. “Doc’s always running you over.”
The tallest boy grinned and paused in his rowing long enough to poke his pudgy’s friend’s stomach. “It’d have to be a big carriage to run you over, Porky.”
Porky scooted out of reach and glared at his companion. “I told you not to do that, Leon!”
“Don’t be such a dead rat,” Leon returned as he rowed a little harder. “Maybe this magic will give you that fit body you always wanted.”
The thin, pale boy let out a shaky cough that rattled his whole thin frame. He covered his mouth and I saw specks of thick, yellowish spittle fly into his palm. After a few moments he managed to get a hold of himself long enough to look over his hand at Leon. “How long until we get there?”
“Not too long, Davy,” Leon promised.
Davy coughed a couple more times and dropped his hand to his side as though he’d lost the strength to keep it up. He turned to Asher. “You got any of that medicine from Doc?”
Asher scooted close to him and reached into his thin jacket. He drew out a thin vial with pale liquid. “Here it is.”
Davy took the vial and downed the whole contents. He wrinkled his nose as he handed the empty vial back to Asher. “That’s nasty. Can’t he make it taste sweeter?”
“He said it wouldn’t work so well if he did,” Asher told him as he pocketed the glass. A worried expression crossed his face as he studied Davy’s pale features. “You don’t look like the last stuff I gave you worked.”
Davy shook his head. “Not as good as it did before.”
“That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?” Leon spoke up as he nodded at a dark outline on the black horizon. “To get Davy cured and get the rest of us what we want.”
“And I want to be in shape,” Porky added.
Leon grinned at Asher. “Maybe your wanting to fix people up will help Davy.”
“What about you, Leon?” Davy asked him. “What’d you want again?”
Leon shrugged. “Maybe some adventures. The ones that’ll get the attention of all the girls.”
One of my legs had fallen asleep under me. I shifted, and the movement didn’t go unnoticed.
“Holy shit!” Davy yelped as he leapt to the center of the boat and spun around to face my hiding spot. He pointed a quivering finger at me. “It moved!”
I dared not even breath as the boys stiffened. Asher and Leon had stopped rowing, and Asher eased himself onto his feet. He crawled across the narrow floor of the small boat and reached out a trembling hand. In one quick movement he threw off the canvas.
At the same moment a crack of lightning lit up the sky followed quickly by a clap of thunder. The boys gave off four high-pitched screams that would have made a concert soprano jealous. I took one look at their terrified faces and burst out into laughter.
My mirth subdued their fright, and Porky, hidden behind the others, dared peek around the others and glare at me. “Who the hell are you and what are you doing here, pipsqueak?”
Even a young child of eight had her pride. I stood up and put my hands on my hips as I scowled right back at him. “I’m Caitlin Athalea Miller and I am not a pipsqueak.”
“Then don’t look so small,” Leon teased as he leaned over the oar in his lap. His bemused eyes held a hint of curiosity, and more than a little suspicion. “But how’d you get on without us seeing you? I checked this whole boat before we set off.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I was in bed and then I was here.”
Asher knelt in front of me and gave me a soft smile. Despite the darkness, his beautiful blue eyes glistened in the weak light of the lamp and made a tiny butterfly flutter in my small chest. “Maybe you sleep-walked onto the boat?”
“I said I checked the boat before we pushed off,” Leon reminded him as he studied me with a sharp, suspicious look. “She shouldn’t be here.”
“Well, she’s here now,” Asher quipped as he drew off his patched coat and draped it over my shoulders. “And we should go back.”
Leon frowned. “Why?”
“What if it’s dangerous?” Asher pointed out as he nodded at some invisible place ahead of us.
Leon leaned over his oar and grinned at me. “You’re not afraid, are you, little girl?”
I shook my head. “No. Mom says that I need to be brave because nothing can stop the bold.”
Leon laughed before he gestured to me. “See? She’s fine with looking for the buried treasure.”
“But nobody else has found it after all these years,” Asher argued.
Leon reached into his ragged jacket and drew out a weathered piece of folded paper. “That’s because they didn’t have this map I found in those old crab traps. Without this they couldn’t have found a rock on Fortuna Island.”
“But it’s all rocks,” Porky spoke up.
Leon rolled his eyes as he tucked the paper back into his coat. “I know that. I’m just saying they couldn’t have found the right rock to look under.”
“And what if we get trapped under this rock?” Asher countered.
Leon frowned at him. “Are you getting cold feet now? I thought you wanted to be the greatest doctor in the world.”
“I do, but-”
“But nothing,” Leon snapped as he positioned his oar to continue rowing. “If we go back we’re leaving both of you on shore. So are you coming or going?”
For a moment Asher looked between my shivering little form and his three stern-faced friends. His shoulders fell and he nodded. “All right, but we need to be more careful now.”
Leon grinned. “What could happen to us on a deserted island?”
It turned out to be quite a lot, and not so deserted.