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READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Veiled by Desire, by Candace Robinson


Veiled by Desire, by Candace Robinson—out TOMORROW!!

In Laith, when the moons are high, Tavarra is allowed to walk the land as a human for one day, losing her seahorse-like tail. But should she remain out of the water, a curse will overtake her, turning her into a beast with sharp fangs and long claws. A beast that, on some nights, takes the shape of a rampaging, uncontrollable monster.

Rhona, along with her village, are under a sinister leader’s control. Their leader has taken Rhona from the boy she loves, stripped away her abilities and, under the threat of killing everyone she loves, forces her on a dangerous task to retrieve a dark prism that will increase his already massive powers. When Tavarra and Rhona cross paths, they discover they need each other. Rhona knows how to help the cursed sea creature, while Tavarra knows where to find the dark prism. They embark on a mission that could help them break Tavarra’s spell and save Rhona’s family and village. But with an untamable beast inside Tavarra, nothing is certain...

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CHAPTER ONE

TAVARRA

SEVEN YEARS AGO

As Tavarra tried to leave the gravitational pull of the

powerful ocean waves, each one crashed and pounded

against her strong body. She swished through the

murky sea, her tail flicking at the rough current as the liquid

attempted to haul her back into its clutches.

Tonight was a chance for her to escape the haunting depths

she so desperately dreamed of leaving behind. Tavarra pushed

her head out of the sea’s liquid claws, finally finding herself

near the sandy shore. She took a deep breath through her

mouth, no longer needing the gills etched on each side of her

neck.

Holding steady, she stared through the last rays of the

waning day, searching for him. But the young man wasn’t

anywhere in her line of sight yet. Keeping on top of the liquid

swells, her gaze fixed on the caramel-colored sand. As her arms repeatedly cut through the vigorous surge, a hint of desperation filled her—she couldn’t get swallowed back up. At last, her body struck the grainy granules, swept in blackness.

She sighed in relief.

With no time to spare, Tavarra dragged her exhausted

body by her forearms across the sand. Each tiny grain rubbed against the delicate skin between her fingers and nails. She

came to a halt and rolled herself to a sitting position, letting

the edge of a cool wave caress the end of her tangerine tail.

Bony plates fused together with a fleshy covering lined the

tail’s body, and the tip came to a curled point.

A heavy breath forced its way out and tugged harshly at her

lungs. “Goodbye,” she whispered, half to herself and half to the

ocean cage that, for seventeen years, had never been a true

home. “Please let this happen.” Tavarra’s heart pounded

rapidly, and had it beaten any harder, her sternum would have

cracked.

Bringing her sandy hands to her waist, she glided them

down her moistened tawny skin until they met the vivid

exoskeleton. The silver of the twin moons shone down in

answer, as if telling her it would work. It must work.

Tavarra had recently heard a tale of when the twin moons

would rise, there would be a way for her sea dweller kind to

truly walk the land of Laith. She desired it with everything in

her. If this worked, she would never return to the watery home

—her underwater grave.

Slowly, she slid her thumb beneath the soft plates of her

tail. To her surprise, the tail pushed away from her skin, as if it

were never a part of her at all. She thought there would be

pain, but there wasn’t, only a filmy residue left behind.

Tavarra’s lips pulled up on each side, and she let out a

rumbling, giddy laugh to the moons, to the ocean, and to

herself. Tugging the tail a little more, she shimmied out from

the exoskeleton and found smooth bare legs underneath—as

she had hoped. The story had been right. If only she knew

sooner that legs rested beneath the tail—then she could have

been doing this every time the moons were at their fullest. A

continuation of delighted laughter echoed from her as it

bounced off the waves and into the darkened forest.

She kicked these new-found creations, releasing the legs in

their entirety from the confined appendage. To her it felt

natural, more than surreal.

“Tavarra?”

The deep male voice caused her to whirl around and fall to

the sand, catching her upper body with her forearms.

Darkness surrounded them as the night grew to its peak,

but he would always be visible to her eyes—whether he was

carrying a lantern or not. Brice—one of the main reasons she

wanted to stay. Satiny, black curls fell against the pale skin of his

shoulders. His features became clearer as he approached—that soft, pouty mouth she had kissed time upon time, and the delicate nose which came to a sharp point. A blue tunic accented his broad shoulders, and with each shift of his body, the muscles flexed beneath it as he drew closer. She could never return now—not when he was there, real, breathing, waiting for her.

“Yes. It’s me, Brice.” Tavarra pulled her new legs to her

chest. As his boots scuffed through the sand, she didn’t tear

her gaze away from him. The ocean sounded with musical

whispers, its way of luring her back. Instead, she focused on

the crushing of his shuffling steps.

Brice knelt directly beside Tavarra, shining his lantern

toward her tail on the sand before he examined her new limbs.

His mouth agape, his green eyes opened even wider. “I don’t

understand,” he stuttered and stared at her face with both

longing and confusion written across his own.

Lifting her hand, she ran it across his cheek, and the rough

stubble scratched her palm. “I told you I had to show you

something.” Tavarra smiled. She had wanted to tell him earlier

that morning but decided that a surprise later would be better.

She had loved Brice since the day she first laid eyes on him.

There had been sea dweller females and males she’d been cozy with, but no one ever held her interest—until Brice. Each

morning, she had swum to the same shore to let her body lay

in the sand while the waves continuously beat against her tail.

One sunrise, when she thought she’d been alone—he had

stumbled upon her. For the past year, they had shared kisses,

secret touches, and endless dreams together. It wasn’t just all

kisses, though—he had told her stories, and she confided in

him all her fears and hopes.

Brice studied Tavarra’s stiff legs for a moment, then

returned his focus to her face. “Is this temporary?”

From the story a water sprite had told her, it was only meant for one day. But she would make it permanent, regard-

less of what the tale said. The story could be wrong. A fish

could never be with a bird, just as she could not live another

day with only meeting Brice for stolen moments.

They had wasted enough time. Tavarra pulled Brice’s fore-

head to hers and stared into those bright green eyes that gazed

at her, glinting with something forbidden and exciting. He ran

his hands through the wet tangerine hair that brushed her

hips, and she molded her lips to his.

Brice slid his palms up her naked body, enfolding a hand

around her breast. He tugged his tunic over his head and

pulled her into his lap. It was not the first time she felt his

sizzling touch on her naked skin, as they had pressed their

upper bodies together time and time again. But this... This was

infinitely better, and not just because she could feel the part of

him that wanted to be against the new piece of her.

She tore her mouth away from his, long enough to make

him as bare as she was. Without any pause, she let herself

press down on him, and a moan of pleasure escaped them

both. They had waited and waited, and there could be discus-

sions tomorrow, but tonight she wanted him in the ways she

never could have had him before.

In the morning, Tavarra awoke to an empty blue tunic and

her tail, both lying beside her. Brice had whispered he

would return that evening, but she hadn’t understood why she

couldn’t come with him. She slipped on the tunic to cover

herself and waited for his return.

The day bled into night as the dark pink sky faded to

blackened whispers. Tavarra was hungry, tired, and desperate

to find Brice.

He still did not come.

“Sister?” a familiar female voice called from behind her.

Nezarra.

What is she doing here?

“Go home!” Tavarra snapped. She loved her sister more

than anything. Perhaps not anything, since, to her, staying

ashore was more important.

“No.” Her sister appeared determined, a hard frown on her

face.

Tavarra’s jaw fell open when she fastened her gaze on her

sister, walking to her and carrying a tail. Nezarra’s emerald hair

fell to her waist, and her skin practically radiated. Above them,

the night sky had flecks of blue-diamond sheen highlighted by

the moons. Her sister was moving on two legs, same as Tavarra

now could.

Nezarra wore a pair of brown trousers and a white tunic,

her feet just as bare as Tavarra’s. Her sister must have been

keeping secrets back in the hidden depths of the sea.

“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” Tavarra seethed,

realizing that her sister had always known something she

hadn’t.

“Yes, but only because I can handle it,” Nezarra said softly.

“I can come here and return back to our home without

yearning to stay and destroying myself.”

“Destroying myself?” Tavarra’s body heated with rage. She

didn’t understand why Nezarra had never told her about this.

Her sister knew how much she had wanted to live off the

shore.

Sighing, Nezarra swept her emerald hair over her shoulder.

“There’s a curse if you stay out of the water too long.”

“I can’t go back. I have Brice.” Tavarra hit the sand—

maybe her sister was lying.

Nezarra ceased moving, her eyes shifting to the side. “No,

Sister, you don’t.” Her gaze locked on Tavarra, a hint of sadness

in her dark eyes. “I know what you told me about him, and

that’s why I’ve been coming to the land, learning about him.

He isn’t yours. There are others.” She paused and took a deep

breath. “He has a wife...and a baby at home.”

Everything inside of Tavarra stiffened, and the blood

flowing through her veins halted. “You’re lying. You’re only

envious.” With each word that passed her lips, Tavarra’s heart-beat thundered in her chest, choking her, stifling her. It

couldn’t be... He wouldn’t have! But Nezarra’s conviction seeped through her relaxed body language, even as she stepped closer to her sister.

“No, Sister, I love you.” She gently lifted Tavarra’s chin,

meeting her gaze. “Now let’s go home.”

“Then prove it to me.” Tavarra ripped her chin from

Nezarra’s hand and took a step back. “Show me Brice’s wife.”

She believed her sister wouldn’t because it was all a lie, a

deceitful untruth Nezarra had concocted in hopes of sending

Tavarra home to wither away in unhappiness.

“Are you sure?”

Tavarra slowly nodded.

“Then follow me.” Her tone was somber.

After picking up her tail, in case it wound up missing,

Tavarra followed her sister away from the beach and the

murmurs of the ocean. They trampled through the darkened

forest to the new sound of fluttering wings and animals' chirp-

ing. Brice’s tunic brushed against Tavarra’s thigh, and a harsh

pain needled her feet from stepping on sharp rocks and twigs.

Dark shadows moved within the forest. Her nighttime

vision was better than most, so she could see where she was

going.

Nezarra latched onto Tavarra’s shoulder as they silently

trudged through the trees the remainder of the way. Tavarra

did not remove her sister’s hand because a nervousness had

started growing in her, despite her conviction of Brice’s

innocence.

Eventually, the trees parted, and they came to a village

filled with small wooden shelters.

“This is where Brice lives?” Tavarra asked, watching smoke

pump out of several tiny chimneys.

“It is.” Nezarra avoided looking at her sister. Stepping

forward, Nezarra pulled Tavarra in the direction of a logged

shelter with a window lit by a golden flame.

Once at the glass, Tavarra hesitated to peer inside. What if

my sister is right? What if she isn’t lying? Brice said he loved me when we were together last night. Love is...love conquers everything.

Shaking away her senseless thoughts, she pressed her fore-

head to the cool glass and peered through. Inside was a

rectangular room with a lit fireplace, flames licking up the side,

creating smoke that rose out of the chimney.

Two people sat cuddled in front of the fireplace—one, a

woman with chestnut hair pulled into a bun, the other, a man,

with his arms draped around her. Brice.

Tavarra’s body deflated, collapsing in on itself. Her eyes

angled to a small wooden cradle beside the two lovers, where a small infant cloaked in a cream-colored nightgown quietly

slept.

Nezarra reached out to comfort Tavarra, but she ripped

her arm out of her sister’s grasp, leaving Nezarra standing

there as Tavarra stumbled into the secure blanket of the forest. She held back the tears and let the bitterness eat away at any sadness, willing it dormant and hidden away. Humans are liars, and I should have known.

The rustle of Nezarra’s steps echoed behind her, and she

quickly caught up. Tavarra could tell her sister was used to

running on those legs. “I didn’t want to show you that. I

wanted you to forget about him and move on.”

Tavarra spun around and tapped at her sister’s chest. “If

you had told me this to begin with, I wouldn’t have let my

heart become so enamored with him. This is all your fault!”

Nezarra sighed in defeat. “I know.”

Tavarra’s shoulders slumped. “It isn’t your fault. It’s his. He

should have told me.” She pointed at her own chest. “I

shouldn’t have fed into his lies.”

But he was good at te!ing them.

“Are you ready to go home now?”

The truth was, she wasn’t. She wanted to stay there where

she felt unchained. But maybe she could go home for a little

while and return again as Nezarra had. “We can come back

together? Another time?”

“Of course.” Her sister smiled.

“Can we stay one more night?” Tavarra wanted to feel the

sand between her toes once more while taking in the fresh air

before she had to breathe in water.

“I don’t know.” Nezarra hesitated. “What about the curse?

It is believed that you can’t be out of the water for too long.”

“I’ve only been out of the ocean for a day, not a year. And

what does this curse say anyway?”

“The curse states for more than one day.” Nezarra rubbed

her bicep, biting her lip. “I don’t know more than that.”

“Well, I’ll get back in before it reaches two days—it will

still be one day.” The water sprite hadn’t mentioned anything

to her about a curse, only that she had to come back after a

day. Nezarra could be right, but she could also be wrong.

Nezarra paused for a few moments and then softly said,

“All right.”

After they reached the shoreline, Tavarra sat down in the

sand, sliding her tail off her shoulder and resting it beside her.

“You will be all right, Sister.” Nezarra set down her tail and

wrapped an arm around Tavarra’s shoulder, drawing her closer.

She wouldn’t cry that night—or any other night—for Brice.

“I have you and now know that you’re the most important

person in my life. I’m sorry I did not realize it before.” But the

sea is not your home, a voice whispered at the back of her mind.

She ignored it.

Nezarra smiled, letting a single tear streak down her cheek.

“You’re not the only one who has ever been in love. I have had

my heart broken, too...”

Tavarra reached out and wiped her sister’s tear away. “Tell

me the story?”

“How about tomorrow night, when we’re back home?”

As much as Tavarra wanted to hear this story, she could tell

it was still too raw for her sister. Setting aside everything she

had felt from the night before, Tavarra interlaced her fingers

with Nezarra’s, same as they did when they were little. The

sisters laid back on the sand and stared up at the twin moons,

talking in soft whispers before finally drifting to sleep.

The night that started out as beautiful dreams of walking

across all of Laith turned into nightmares about Brice. A knife

stabbing her in the heart caused Tavarra to rip open her

eyelids, reaching for her chest. She was still whole, away now

from a torturous dreamworld she never wished to visit again.

Tavarra was in Laith, with her sister. And even if she wasn’t

ready, she was going home.

With a yawn, she lifted her hand to brush the emerald hair

away from Nezarra’s forehead to wake her. Tavarra’s sister’s

eyes were open wide, staring endlessly at the cloudless blood

sky. Her hand stilled and she blinked several times, waiting for

her sister to do the same. She shut her eyes tightly for a

moment before reopening them, knowing once she did, her

sister would be fine.

But Nezarra was still lifeless, without the smallest amount

of life present.

Her gaze floated down to her sister’s chest, and Tavarra

released a high-pitch scream that could shatter all of Laith.

Red liquid saturated Nezarra’s entire body. Her sister’s tunic

had been ripped to shreds, stomach torn open, organs scat-

tered and half eaten, displayed for all to see. There was blood

everywhere.

Frantically, Tavarra stood and backed away with shaky

limbs, darting her gaze side to side, searching for any sign of

help or danger. There was nothing. Her heart pounded and

pounded uncontrollably. Then she peered down at her hands

and let out another terrified scream that hurt her own ears.

Claws. Tavarra’s fingernails were now sharpened claws

soaked in dried blood and bits of brown skin. Nezarra’s skin.

Tavarra looked down at herself, and to her horror, patches of

tangerine fur lined the back of her legs, the side of her arms,

and down the center of her shoulder blades to the middle of

her spine. The shirt she wore—Brice’s shirt—was now ripped

and torn.

She swept her tongue against her teeth and tasted it—

blood against newly sharpened teeth. It was her. She had done

it. She had killed her sister. There could be only one way back

home, and she reached for it, only to find that her tail was now

a pile of tangerine ashes.

“This is the curse, isn’t it? It does exist,” Tavarra whispered.

To roam forever on the land as a beast and never return to the

sea—locked inside her new cage. She screamed and screamed,

causing birds’ wings to flap and reverberate through the trees

as they flew to get away from the shrieks—from her.

CHAPTER TWO

RHONA

TEN YEARS AGO

Each and every day, nine-year-old Rhona woke before

the others in her small village. She knew she’d have

to come back after a few hours of the suns’ morning

lights had passed. There would have to be time left for

swordplay.

Although Rhona liked her sword and daggers, she loved to

dance more than anything: dancing in the rain, under the heat

of the suns, and under the luminescent silver light of the

moons. It was a forbidden game she liked to play alone—one

that her leader, Belen, didn’t allow. Belen was someone she

wished she didn’t fear.

Today, Rhona wanted an adventure of her own. She

planned to secretly venture out farther than allowed, and a

broad smile crossed her angelic face at the thought. Mama

always said Rhona looked like an angel with her tight blonde

curls and bright blue eyes, but there were no angels in Laith.

Only fairies. Maybe there had been hundreds of years ago,

back when the humans were on Earth, but she didn’t know

those answers. They were only stories passed down over the

years.

With quick feet, she darted around each cone-shaped tent

—some were bright in color, while others had no paint at all,

only the barest of bones. Thankfully, Belen lived secluded in

the back of the village, so she didn’t have to scurry past his

home. A hand clamped down on her shoulder right as she

passed the very last cone-shaped tent. Her small body jumped

at the touch.

Rats, I’ve been caught, she thought.

As Rhona slowly turned around, she plastered on an

expression to make her appear as if she’d only been lost. “Oh,

thank goodness, you found me. I didn’t know where I was

going.” She came face to face with her best friend, Perin. He

was a year older than her and already more than a head taller.

“It’s only you.” Rhona let out a heavy sigh in relief. Mama

would’ve been angry if she knew where Rhona planned to

truly go.

“You’re not lost, Rhona, you haven’t made it out of the

village. Yet. Where are you going?” Perin asked, frowning. He

was always frowning. She wondered if he had any other facial

expressions. Even when they were having fun together, he was

always frowning. But he was her best friend anyway, and she’d

decided a long time ago that she quite liked his frown.

“I’m going to go pick wildflowers in the north field for

Mama,” she lied, knowing Perin hated picking flowers. He’d

rather be practicing with his wooden sword, preparing for the

real one he’d soon be receiving. He spent most of his time

tinkering with objects, building things that never came out

quite the way he wanted them to. And she’d nod her head and

pretend it was the greatest thing in the world so he wouldn’t

get upset. Because there would always be that look of frustra-

tion on his face when he didn’t get something right.

“Mmm. I suppose I’ll see you at sword practice then.” He