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Fairy Tale Colors: Blue

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Chapter One

Nerissa Manning was seated in a chair at the posh restaurant where she had been invited to discuss a job offer. As the rare commodity that she was, a female deep sea diver skilled enough to be coveted by even chauvinistic men like this one, she was used to meeting in many different settings, but she would be the first to say she'd never met somewhere quite as posh as this place.

"My employer is one of the richest men in the world," the man told her in lofty tones. "Normally, of course, he would never consider using a woman for such a dangerous task, but the ship he has found has but one small opening to get inside. None of the men he has found have been small enough to accomplish the task, so he has been forced to seek—other options."

"I should take offense at that, sir," she said somewhat haughtily as she crossed her arms. It felt odd doing so here, wearing her fancy clothes and with her arms just over top the fancy silverware and napkin settings on the table. The cloth alone probably cost more than two digits, she thought with disgust. However, she did uncross her arms and put them back into her lap in a more ladylike pose. "Women are every bit as capable as men at diving. This is the twentieth century, you know."

"In this treacherous place, with such strong undercurrents, there is a definite need for a strong diver, Miss Manning," he said in a placating tone, his nasally French accent more pronounced than ever. "Even some of the men found it quite difficult. But, because the ship is down in a trench, and it is surrounded by seaweed and coral, it is impossible to use a lifeline so the diver will not be swept away. There was an incident concerning this—one of the divers was actually lost in this way."

"Monsieur Duprey, if I had wanted a safe job, do you really think this is the profession I would have chosen?" she asked with one brow raised delicately above the other.

"Forgive me, but it is hard for me to match the skills described to so delicate a person as yourself," he admitted with a slight blush. "You are a beautiful woman—made for places such as this—and yet, you have done such fetes of daring as no other woman would think to try. Whatever made you want to do so?"

"My name, I suppose," she said with a wry grin. "It means daughter of the sea. I always fancied it must be so wonderful to be a mermaid, that I decided to become one. But in my travels I have also learned a few things about marine biology and such, all the things that might be useful for a diver to know while they're down in the drink having a look around. What I lack in size I more than make up for in tenacity, sir. Your employer will not be disappointed if he hires me."

"Monsieur Robert has authorized me to make the choice," said the man with a slow smile. "For me, I can see no other choice but to hire you, my dear, else how would I get to see you again?"

"You flatter me, sir," she said with a blush. "I will take the job, if for no other reason than to appease my curiosity. I do so love to venture forth to exotic places to take a little dip. Tell Monsieur Robert I will be ready to go tomorrow, as previously discussed. Now, I'll be taking my leave—I have some packing to do. Thank you for a most excellent lunch."

"You're quite welcome, Mademoiselle Manning," he said. "I will see you tomorrow morning."

Chapter Two

The next morning was the typical windy day in Chicago as Nerissa stepped out of her front door and into the limousine that had been sent to take her to Robert Porter's private airport. She would be taking a private jet all the way to a small island in the Galapagos chain. There she would take a live-aboard dive boat out to the location of the sunken pirate's ship her new employer wished to explore. It was uncertain how many days they would spend on board the vessel, but she imagined that it would be several weeks before it returned to shore.

As of yet, she had not met the man who was so interested in the deep-sea treasure she would be obtaining. As far as she could tell, she might never meet him at all. She had heard that Mr. Porter was a young, adventurous man who often went on dives of his own, but she had no idea if the man himself would be on site at this particular dive, or at one of dozen others he currently had financed.

It would have been nice to have some more gossip about the great man himself, but she did not know anyone on the ship, and the only female aboard spoke a language with which she was not familiar, but she could tell it was something Indonesian. She probably had come from one of the islands that her employer had been frequenting during his exhaustive searching for sunken treasures.

So little was known about the pirates and trade ships that had traveled to the west of Chile, but since that area had predominantly been occupied by Asian concerns, she could imagine what sort of cargo was likely to be found.

In addition to spices which probably had been ruined by their time under the briny deep, fabrics, spice jars, and furniture, as well as household furnishings and rare trinkets, would have been on board. Also, it was likely that gold and jewels might have also made their way on board, especially if the pirates in question might have also made their way to other oceans in their travels as well.

Nerissa smiled at the younger woman as she sat shyly down next to her and offered her some of her bread. She broke a piece off of the unusual looking loaf and bit into it, discovering that the bread was quite sweet and seemed to be filled with tiny bits of what seemed to be dates or figs. She nodded politely, but refused any more of it. She had never been one for a lot of sugary foods.

"Is that pineapple?" she asked as the woman brought out some of the fruit to share. She watched her cut it up and helped her eat the whole thing. By the time they had finished, both of them were giggling and sticky with juices.

"Well, isn't this a fine sight," said Castaban as he stepped into the back of the cabin with them. The tall, friendly Italian had joined them at the airport when they'd left Duprey behind, much to that man's disappointment. But, as Castaban pointed out at the time, he was the recruiter, and Castaban was a supervisor of sorts, and so she was now in his care. "You're going to be shark bait if we don't clean you up a bit before we head out. Lucky for you we'll be stopping in San Cristobal for a night or two, so you'll have plenty of opportunity."

Nerissa raised an eyebrow. "Just where exactly is this ship, anyway?"

"Some eighty miles south of the Galapagos archipelago, my dear," he told her with a small smile. "The dive-boat we'll be using is moored in Puerto Baquerizo, though, so we're going to have to sail it to our destination. But not to worry, that won't take more than a couple of days, and then you can dive right in and get to work."

"I can hardly wait," Nerissa said truthfully, and then leaned back for a nap until it was time to land.

Chapter Three

Nerissa looked out at the open sea over the rail of the dive boat as it sped along southward toward Easter Island, though they would be far from that island when their destination was reached. There were five divers aboard this vessel at the moment, but most of them were headed for different sites than the one which Nerissa would be dropped at. Apparently Porter was running three different diving expeditions in this region alone.

This was her second day aboard the Spotter Main, one of three vessels the rich treasure hunter used to transport both his people and his finds to and from the Galapagos, where he made his home. She knew little more about the man than his impressive portfolio, but she had heard he was one of the most accomplished divers in the world, and he had apparently learned everything he knew during his childhood in Australia.

"It's beautiful out here," Nerissa commented to Castaban when he came to join her. "I can see why our employer might prefer to explore these seas—though the sea around Australia is beautiful in its own right."

"He goes there quite a few times a year," the man answered as he breathed in the salty air deeply. "I believe he plans another trip once you have gotten into this ship, if I'm not mistaken."

"I've never been," Nerissa told him. "Always wanted to go, though. Hey, is that one of our boats?"

"You have a good eye, my dear," Castaban told her. "That is The Mermaid—the boat you'll be boarding shortly."

"It's a very nice boat," she said as she looked it over. "A bit larger than I expected, out here."

"The Mermaid is Porter's personal vessel, though I had not heard that he had returned to it," Castaban explained. "Perhaps his plans have changed, now that no one could get inside his most prized find. Maybe he wants to be there when you enter."

"When will we be diving?" she asked him. "The sky is looking a little too cloudy for my taste."

"A storm is coming into the area, but we don't expect it to have any real impact on this dive," he said. "Still, I think we ought to get you into the water as soon as possible. I heard on the radio just now that your diving partner is already in the water."

"Oh?" she asked. "What's he doing in there?"

"Waiting, I imagine," Castaban said with a laugh. "Our employer is not always the most patient of men, my dear."

"Neither am I," she said. "Perhaps I should just dive in from here, and join him."

"An excellent idea," Castaban agreed. "I will radio ahead and let them know of your intentions. You'll find Mr. Porter somewhere along that ridge right there. Do you see that yellow marker? That is where the ship itself is. He may very well be there already."

Nerissa was already pulling on her gear and checking the gauges on a welding tank as he spoke. He helped her strap it on and check the gauges again, making certain she was getting the right amount of airflow. As soon as she was ready to go, Nerissa turned around so her back was to the water and somer-saulted right in. Castaban shook his head at her skill and lack of fear.

She pulled out her mouthpiece for a moment as she came back up to the surface. "Make sure to set the clock for three hours. I don't want to run out of air."

"But of course, my dear," he agreed. "You have nothing to worry about."

Nerissa nodded, and went about her task without another moment of hesitation.

Chapter Four

Nerissa found her partner about the same time she spotted the huge vessel off in the distance. It was entrenched at the edge of the reef so that only the bow stuck up above the rocky shelf. Seeing her, Porter pointed to the deeper section, and Nerissa gave him a thumbs up as the two began to swim. A school of fish swam between them momentarily, and then the way was clear.

The water seemed darker than Nerissa had expected, and she had to turn on her light as they submerged into the murky depths beyond the shelf. She could see the small opening in the side of the sunken ship now, and she indicated by pointing her thumb in its direction that she intended to try to get inside. Her companion nodded as he stopped just outside.

Nerissa fit smoothly through the opening, and then held out her hand for the cutting tool Robert Porter had brought along with him. From inside, she began to saw away at the chunk of wood that was preventing the larger man from following her in.

When the large chunk broke free, the ship suddenly shifted its weight, sliding downward and on top of Porter as he tried to swim away. Alarmed, Nerissa shot out the hole as fast as she could and grabbed hold of her boss, pulling him free.

The valve on one of his welding tanks flew off right into Nerissa's throat, and a very alarmed Porter dropped the tank immediately and latched onto the girl's arm. He could not tell if she was breathing, but he knew that she would need immediate attention if she were to survive. He tugged several times on his rope, but no winch began to pull them up. He would have to swim her to the surface immediately and hope for the best.

He should have known better, he chastised himself as he used his other tank to propel them upwards. He knew that they should have made sure the ship would remain stable before just arbitrarily cutting the beam. This accident was all his fault.

When they broke the surface the storm that had been on its way was raging full force. Both the diving boat and The Mermaid were nowhere in sight. They must have headed for a harbor when the storm grew worse. Knowing his people as he did, Robert looked around for the telltale yellow buoy that would be tied to a life raft for them. When he saw it, he dragged Nerissa Manning's still lifeless body with him and got them both into it, then lay there for a few moments to catch his breath.

Robert had never seen his new employee's face before this, and he was not pleased by what he saw now. The purple tint of her skin alarmed him for a moment until he realized it was not tinged from a lack of air, but rather from the worst bruise he had ever laid eyes on. Her whole throat, her chin, and her cheeks were all swollen and discolored, but at least now that she was lying on her back in the raft, her eyes finally fluttered open.

Nerissa was in so much pain she groaned, but the sound was completely alien in her injured throat. She tried to reach up and feel it, but a pair of gentle hands stopped hers.

"Lie still, mate," he said in his Australian accent. "We've got to stop that swelling before your throat closes all the way shut. I'm going to take us to one of the nearby islands. Don't look at me like that, yes, I know there aren't any inhabited islands, but I happen to know there's a rather small chunk of rock we could reach from here, and it has a nice cave. We could get in out of this weather, if nothing else. I don't expect the boats to return until this storm blows over at any rate. Hush, don't try to talk. Your wound is quite bad. Just rest, I'll take care of everything.

Chapter Five

Nerissa could tell that someone had been in this cave before, not because she was able to explore, but because Mr. Porter went right to a bunch of gear that was already there and pulled out a medical kit. She winced when she saw the handsome Australian filling a needle, but she knew that she was in too much pain to refuse whatever drug he was about to administer, and so she tried to relax and just let him do it.

It could have been several hours or several days later when her eyes opened again. She was no longer in her wetsuit, or even the clothes she had been wearing, but instead she wore a warm jumpsuit and a pair of house slippers. She began to wonder if her employer slept in this cave often. Her eyes trailed along the cave walls and noticed paintings. Out in the middle of the ocean? Impossible.

She wanted to ask about them, and tried to make the sound come out of her throat but got nothing but a raspy squeak, so she subsided. Her companion came back over to check on her, and the smile in his green eyes turned to horror when met with her face. She knew by his expression just how horrible she must look. The small smile she tried to form was far too painful, so she had to give up on it as well.

"You must be thirsty," he said gently as his eyes looked into hers. He brought some water to her lips, but most of it spilled out onto her face and neck. The slightly cool liquid actually felt good on her hot, sensitive skin. She sucked in her breath and let it out with a tiny shiver. "You like that?"

Nerissa's nod was barely perceptible, but he understood clearly enough. Bringing the canteen over top of her, Robert slowly poured water all over her bruises as she sighed in relief. His smile lit up his whole face as he got a wicked look and brought the canteen lower, wetting the front of her shirt as well. Nerissa cast him a narrow-eyed glance full of amused accusation.

"Good thing you can't yell at me," he teased her, just narrowly avoiding the slap she aimed his way. "I'll just go over here now, and ogle you from afar."

She watched as he went over to the fire he had lit in a small hearth and warmed up some broth he'd found in the supplies. When it was ready, he brought it over to her. This time he helped her sit up slightly so they could get the liquid into her better. It hurt a lot, and when she was finished he could tell she needed another shot. This time, after he gave it to her, he lingered at her side, absently rubbing the arm where the needle had gone in much longer than necessary.

Nerissa's eyes were beginning to glaze, and still he remained where he was. He caught her speculative glance, and he blushed slightly. "So, I'm thinking there's an awfully pretty sheila somewhere under all that blue bruise," he told her as he brushed a few wisps of her blonde hair out of her eyes. She drifted into slumber with a smile on her face that never faded.

Chapter Six

The storm was over when Nerissa awoke again. She needed to go to the bathroom, but had no way to tell Mr. Porter so. Anticipating her need, he helped her to sit up and brought her over to a portable toilet situated in one corner of the cave. He made sure that she was able to hold herself in a sitting position before politely turning away to wait.

Nerissa tried to say thank you, but her throat would not work. It was so frustrating that tears stung her eyes as he helped her back to her feet and brought her back over to the sleeping bag he had laid her on. Wordlessly he curled up on it with her and covered them both over with a blanket. After a while he sighed.

"It's strange, you know, I feel like I have known you forever," he told her as he stroked her hair. "You always hear people say that, but I never believed it before. But think about it, Nerissa, we are so much the same. We both love the sea, and both of us love our diving. It's not just a career, not for me, and surely not for a woman who is so skilled. For us, it is a way of life. What would we be without our pirate ships and our marine life and our buried treasures? I can't begin to imagine such a dull, dreary life."

Nerissa couldn't turn her head, but her eyes looked over at him appreciatively. One small hand slid down and grasped his larger one and squeezed, letting him know she agreed. His smile was brilliant when she did that, and he leaned over to kiss her forehead. Her inviting look told him she would welcome something more, but he did not touch her further, just leaned above her and gazed into her eyes.

"You need more pain killer," he finally said, and went to get it for her.

Nerissa sighed. She didn't want to go to sleep. She wanted to listen to Robert talk, and she truly wanted to be able to talk back. A sudden fear struck her like a knife plunging into her back; what if she never could talk to him? What if her throat never healed? She tried more desperately than ever to say something.

"Thuuu," she got out, and he put a finger on her lips.

"You don't need to thank me right now, Nerissa," he told her. "Give your throat some time to heal, and I promise you we'll have a nice, long chat when you're ready." Nerissa rolled her eyes impatiently, and he chuckled. "There's the fire I thought I'd find," he said appreciatively.

The wry look on Nerissa's face was too tempting, and this time he did kiss her. But this made her realize how much her face hurt and she winced in pain.

"Sorry, love," he whispered. "Bet your whole face could use an ice pack. But, not to worry, the ship should return in the morning, and I'm sure this is the first place they'll look." Nerissa nodded slightly in understanding, and brought a finger to her lips before she pressed it to his. "Now, go to sleep, everything will be all right in the morning."

Nerissa pushed him down and curled against him, using his chest for a pillow, and soon drifted off into a deep sleep.

Chapter Seven

"Here they are," said Castaban as he stepped into the cave and found the pair curled up on the sleeping bag dozing. "Wake up, sleepy-heads—good God, what happened?"

"We had a bit of an accident," Robert said as he reluctantly let Nerissa go. Castaban helped her to her feet and took her to the raft he had arrived in.

"Our own will do," said Robert, almost jealously. Castaban put her into the other raft with his employer and then got back into his own along with the two other men who had come with him to search. "We need to get her straight to a hospital, Castaban. We'll head back for the archipelago right away."

"Perhaps we might bring her over to Peru from here?" the man suggested.

"No, I want her nearby," Robert said. "I don't want to have to go all the way over to Peru to see how she's doing."

"You're the boss," he agreed. They had to hoist her up into the dive-boat using a cargo lift, and then Nerissa found herself lying on a sleeping bag out on the deck. Robert gave her more pain killer and then held her hand until she drifted off to sleep again.

The next thing she knew, Nerissa woke up in a hospital bed. She touched her throat and felt bandages, and then she turned her head a little and saw that Robert slept in a nearby chair.

"He hasn't left your side for two days," Castaban told her from her other side. "You had to have surgery on your neck. Your trachea was nearly crushed. The good news is, you should be able to learn to talk again, though it may not be easy at first. They'll be sending in a speech therapist to work with you this afternoon. The sooner you start, the better results you'll be likely to achieve. Of course, you know, you won't be allowed to dive for a while, until you get the doctor's all clear."

Nerissa tried to say "great" but only got out "Gaa!"

The sound of her voice certainly had an effect on Robert, however, as soon as he'd heard it he was wide awake, staring at her with relief. "You okay?"

Nerissa nodded, and said, "Yaaaah."

"Say, I was thinking," he said as he leaned forward to kiss her gently on the lips. "I want you to come to Australia with me. Will you come? We'll bring a speech therapist along for the trip, and you can learn to talk again with me." Nerissa nodded, and her smile could have lit up the room. "So you'll go?" he said happily, his smile just as big as hers.

"Yeeeees," she managed to say, and the kiss she earned in reward was well worth the effort it had taken.

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