18 August 2009

Selkie Island now on sale

Today my novella, Selkie Island, goes on sale. It manages to combine my love of a maritime setting with my love shapeshifters. I’m excited to see it at My Bookstore and More!

Here’s the blurb:

Gone without a trace…now danger tracks them to their one safe harbor.

A hundred years ago, her mother’s plea gave Morag a second chance at life—but not as she knew it. Now she lives a mostly solitary life as a selkie, seal in winter, human in summer, barely aging while her family and friends pass away. As the lonely years become almost too heavy to bear, she clings to the memory of one intense summer affair with a young man who left her, as humans always do.

Nine years have passed since Clay hitchhiked to the Maritimes, where he embarked on a memorable if short-lived affair with a mysterious woman. Their enchanted time together called him back a few months later—but she had disappeared. Now, wounded and desperate, Selkie Island is the only safe harbor he can dredge from his feverish haze of pain.

When a strange boat plows onto the beach, Morag is curious—and shocked to discover her long-lost lover, unconscious and hurt. Nursing him back to health is the first thing on her mind…right after she convinces him she’s real.

As real as the danger following in his wake…

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Here's the opening of the book:

She heard the boat first, its vibrations traveling down through the water. This arrival was a rare occurrence, and she felt driven to investigate the intruder. Leaving the ocean floor—she wasn’t far from the island—she angled her body, undulating upwards at top speed. She hit the surface and caught sight of the boat headed towards her and her island.

As it came closer she saw that it was surprisingly small. These days only larger boats seemed to venture this far out from the mainland. Most people gave her island wide berth—it had certainly wrecked many boats in its time—but this one was aiming for Selkie Island, and she didn’t know what to make of that.

Curiosity was her first and strongest emotion so she waited, just below the surface. The occasional seal hunter or angry fisherman existed, so she kept her profile low as the boat passed by, then followed in its wake, swimming along behind it. It struggled in the rough water, making its way through the large waves.

Her vision through air wasn’t terribly clear, but a single man appeared to be slumped over the steering wheel. How odd. Intruders—visitors, she corrected herself, deciding to be positive—generally did not come alone, and they usually arrived in warmer, gentler weather than that of a gray, wet, windy spring day.

It was hard to describe the excitement growing in her, though she knew she should feel more cautious given the terror engendered by the last set of strangers who’d landed on her island. But loneliness was a powerful force in her life, and as of now, it swamped her fear.

He rounded the point, rather clumsily, and she heard the boat scrape a rock, harsh enough to cause damage. She cringed, not wanting the man to sink the boat. Never before had she rescued anyone from drowning, and the logistics would be challenging. Seals didn’t have limbs useful for lifting humans, and her human shape would very quickly become lethally chilled in the spring ocean.

Thankfully, the boat was not immediately harmed. It kept going, rather grimly she imagined, towards the little beach that she considered hers. A mild sense of territoriality rose within her. Still, human conversation was something she sorely missed, and it had been a couple of years since she’d last spoken to anyone.

Maybe. Her sense of time was deteriorating. She knew it. And at some point she might lose it forever and forget what was human in her.

But not today, it seemed. She braced herself, for this wasn’t the time of year she changed. Usually she waited for summer and heat and sun. Her seal body was never cold, only sleek, thick, furred and comfortable. On the other hand, her human body did not like the cold and over the years, that body seemed to become a little thinner, a little weaker and less able to withstand the elements. As if it was fading from disuse.

Rain began to fall. The gray sky had darkened since the intruder’s arrival. Morag dragged herself onto the rock, and like the rock, she lay half in and half out of the salt water. Her focus turned inward.

She was never sure of the passage of time when she shifted forms though it felt instantaneous and perhaps it was. Certainly the first transformation, or what she remembered of it, had not taken any amount of time. It couldn’t have, she’d just died and the magic had needed to work quickly.

She allowed the energy to engulf her—it was always her choice—and the seal was gone, only its shadow-light living within her. In the seal body’s place, she’d become a wet, sodden human, shivering in reaction to the shock of change though she wasn’t yet cold.

Pulling herself out of the water, she crouched in this new body, already growing familiar, becoming hers. Then she crawled up the short cliff onto the bank. Rising, she remembered her height and enjoyed being on two legs and lifting her arms to the wind. She ran for shelter, a little astonished that it was so easy to embrace the human body after this length of time being seal. She came to the old house from the other side of the island than the intruder, wanting to reach home first before he could catch sight of her. If she was clothed when they met, he’d be less likely to think of having sex with her. At least, that had been her experience over the years.

The door opened, and she breathed a sigh of relief at gaining shelter from the wind and rain. Human skin was not much of a barrier against the elements.

Her shack remained hers, she saw with satisfaction. The lighthouse-maintenance workers continued to ignore her home, and her relation left it unlocked after doing his yearly drop of supplies. Her family had not yet forgotten her, even if some years the supplies went untouched when she couldn’t face the human solitude of living on the island by herself.

However, one day, her sister’s descendants would forget. Not only had she outlived her first family, at some point in the future she would outlive their memory of her and she would, finally, be lost.

That was her future, but now her curiosity about this lone boat in spring, before the fishing season, had drawn her out, drawn her home. If only the clothes were still in the chest… Yes, she saw as she lifted the cedar lid. Whenever she returned after a period of time away, she feared someone had decided to clean out the house, taking her clothes with them.

Her older relations used to visit with her during the summer, but the newer ones made her shy. They didn’t believe in her and had no patience to wait for her to summon up courage to appear before them. They jumped on and off the island, anxious to get the drop over and done with. She’d overheard more than once that they only visited to placate their elderly mother and her crazy ideas.

Morag’s niece was now an old woman.

Before dressing she wrung out her hair as best she could and tied it in a knot. She wanted to cut it off, but not when she was rushed like this. Growing nostalgic, she pulled on pants, sweater and jacket, all of which had been given to her by the one who’d loved her. Clay had been the most patient of everyone, waiting days for her to appear before him. Once he’d landed on Selkie Island, he’d acted like he’d had all the time in the world.

She hugged his clothing to her, a frail echo of the embraces she had given him and he her not all that long ago. When she was seal, she didn’t miss him as keenly. But she was human again and it felt as if he’d left yesterday.

He was the only one she’d ever laughed with since her immediate family died.

Enough. Humans, she had to admit wryly, were too nostalgic. The pragmatism of the seal fell away when she shifted from that body. Here, now, she had to focus on the intruder and ignore her memories. She set off from the house.

Morag didn’t take the direct path to the beach where the boat had landed. Instead she circled around to it, silent on her bare feet, stopping before she might come into his view.

But as she peered past the point he wasn’t there, though the boat had been pulled up from the shore. Not far enough for this time of year when the tides could be high, but she’d think about that later. First she needed to locate the boat’s owner while keeping her advantage—she knew he was here, but he didn’t know she existed, and for now it should stay that way.

She walked carefully by the boat, listening for movement and hearing none, though it was windy. Cautiously she started up the small bank, and froze at the sight.

The man was there, lying on the ground of all things. She’d expected him to be moving, at least standing. It was an odd place to rest, if that’s what he was doing. He still hadn’t seen her. His back remained to her.

Was it a trap? She waited, silent, then stepped closer to get a better look.

Recognition slammed into her, stealing her breath. She took another step, shaking now, wondering if she was mistaken, wondering if she was no longer able to distinguish among the different humans. Was her memory shot and she thought every man was her lover, Clay?

He was sleeping and that made her uneasy. He shouldn’t be sleeping in the rain, curled into himself. She breathed in and smelled the slight metallic tang of blood. Her heart, which had stopped beating during her shock, started up again.

“Hello,” she whispered and got no response. That made her scared for him. Something was terribly wrong. “Clay?”

He didn’t stir and her uneasiness grew. She drew closer.

He was older, which surprised her. Because she’d barely aged, he shouldn’t have either. But he did not live by her rules, and it was him. He smelled of Clay, that distinctive musk, perhaps a bit stronger with age. She’d liked his smell though he’d been embarrassed by the statement when she’d made it that summer, so she’d only said it the once.

“Clay,” she repeated. He had a scar on his chin now and more wrinkles where before the skin had been smooth in his youth. His forehead was creased in pain. And still he didn’t stir.

She placed a hand on his arm, and for a moment he didn’t react to that either. Then he pulled air into his lungs, a sound of alarm rising with that inhale, and his eyes flew open. He rose, grabbed her wrist hard and yanked her to the ground as he rolled to lie on top of her. A stone dug into her back, his weight made it difficult to think, and bloodshot, unseeing eyes stared down into hers.

“Clay?” she said for a third time. Her voice sounded weak, unused. “It’s me, Morag.”

His gaze seemed to sharpen despite the dullness in his eyes. Shock gave way to recognition and disbelief. His mouth opened slightly and she thought he might speak. Instead his eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped on top of her.

Well. At least his bruising grip relaxed. She rolled them back over, not sure if she wanted him to wake up again or not, though that hadn’t been an attack so much as a shocked awakening. The pressure of being lain on might have panicked her, but it was Clay who’d loved her at one time. All of her emotions were overlain by confusion, yet she felt a strange, aching relief.

Because she’d never thought to see him again. He was from far away, he’d only been a visitor, and still he’d come back to her.

Mind you, she’d rather he were conscious and happy to see her. Remembering his hot hand encircling her wrist, she touched his cheek. He was burning up. She’d thought it had been windburn giving his dark face a ruddy complexion, but it was a high temperature. She sat back on her haunches, bracing herself to try to wake him again, hoping he wouldn’t try to initiate another wrestling match. Despite her efforts, he couldn’t be roused by her shaking or her pleading. Which probably wasn’t a good sign.

It took her a few minutes to slide her body under his and rise, balancing him on her back. It wasn’t so much his height, though he was taller, it was his muscular, solid frame and her human weakness. Still they didn’t have far to go and she half-carried, half-dragged him up the path towards the lighthouse and home.

She laid him down on the ground in order to go open the door and set something up for him inside. There were old blankets in the chest and she used that as a bed, placing them on the wooden floor before returning to drag him in and lay him on them. He was muttering now but not really aware, and again, she touched his face, alarmed by the force of the heat. Her hand was cold so she pressed her cheek against his forehead, and her heart started to beat fast with fear.

Sarah had caught a fever one summer, almost died of it, and Morag’s mother believed that only by keeping her cool had she saved her younger daughter’s life. Morag bit her lip. “I’ll be right back, Clay.” On impulse she kissed his cheek. Then she picked up a pail and ran for the ocean, her easy source of cold water.

She had her work cut out for her. As little as she knew about humans, she recognized that. But she would apply herself to saving Clay. Later she’d try to figure out what his reappearance on Selkie Island actually signified. For him. For her.

It meant a lot to her, his return. Because no one but her mother and sister had ever come back for her.

Jorrie Spencer
www.jorriespencer.com
Puma in print
Selkie Island in ebook
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