Former Olympic diver Sam Lewis sometimes feels like a has-been. His celebrity status has faded and he now works as a stunt diver at Water World, a southern California aquatic theme park. Sam’s lived his entire life sheltered from most of society, and he’s guarded the secret of his sexual orientation for the sake of his celebrity reputation. But Sam yearns for love, and now that he’s not so much in the public eye, he allows himself to begin dating. When he meets a coworker named Percy in the Atlantis Kingdom museum at Water World, Sam thinks it just might be love at first sight. But the more he interacts with Percy, the more perplexed he becomes by the young man’s strange behavior. Sam soon discovers Percy’s not an ordinary gay man, and Sam’s eyes are opened to a whole new fantasy world he never imagined could actually exist. Together they must fight forces intent on separating them if they’re to have any real chance at love.
"I’m not sure this was a well-thought strategy.” Sam’s best friend Amy sat across from him with her legs crossed at the knee. They shared a tiny table not far from the dance floor at Extasy, the only gay bar that was even slightly familiar to Sam. “Bringing your girlfriend with you to the bar is not the best way to get laid.” She took a sip of her mimosa.
“You’re not my girlfriend, Ame.” Sam rolled his eyes. “You’re my girl friend. Two words. And you’re my wingman…or I mean, uh…wing woman.”
“Honey, I’m happy to go out with you. You’re cute, intelligent, and you have a swimmer’s build.”
“I wish I still had one—“
“You’re fine and you know it. What I don’t get is why you’re still single. And don’t call me your wingman. I’m your hag.”
“I thought you hated that word.”
She shrugged. Amy was anything but a hag. With her jet black hair and svelte physique, she could easily turn heads, even in a gay bar. Cripes, she probably would have had an easier chance getting laid than Sam if she didn’t already have a boyfriend, that is.
“I know how you gay boys are, and what you call your female best friends. And I know it’s my job to give you sound advice and tell you when you’re being silly. Or stubborn.”
“Stubborn? Where’d that come from?” Sam picked up his beer and took a swig.
“I told you to go introduce yourself to Blue Eyes over there. He’s still staring at you, checking you out.”
“Ame, stop! He is not.” Sam actually had no idea if the guy was looking at him or not. He hadn’t yet found the nerve to turn around to check him out.
“He is, and this is precisely why you invited me. I’m your backbone, since you obviously lost yours after that spectacular dive you did this afternoon.”
Amy worked at Water World, manager of the Water Sports Gift Shoppe. He’d first come out to her as gay one day when he was browsing and she told a seemingly inappropriate joke about watersports. Not the kind featured at Water World. Sam blurted out he wasn’t into kinky fetishes…or women. She admitted she’d suspected as much but was just testing him. And that was the beginning of a very close friendship.
She did have pretty good instincts, and her assessment of the situation was spot on. Sam couldn’t get past his insecurity. He needed liquid courage or at the very least a shove in the right direction from a trusted friend in order to muster enough bravery to approach a person of interest.
“What’s he doing now?” Sam whispered.
“He’s just sitting there, but if you don’t act fast, someone else is going to catch his eye. Or he’ll catch theirs. Get off your ass and go over there.” She waved her hand in the general direction of the blue-eyed stranger, much to Sam’s chagrin.
“Stop it! He’ll see.”
“I hope he does.”
Sam sighed and closed his eyes briefly. He took a deep breath, then grabbed hold of the table in front of him. Using his feet, he slid the chair back and pushed himself upright. “All right, all right,” he muttered. “I’ll go to the bathroom and check him out on the way. If I like him, I’ll ask him to join us.”
“If you like him, sit down and talk to him. Ask him back to your place, and I’ll head home to my PJs and bunny slippers.”
“Don’t you dare ditch me!”
“Just go! I’ll be right here.”
Sam took one more cleansing breath, not unlike he did while on the diving board, then at last spun around. He took a step away from the table and instantly spotted the man Amy said had been staring.
It was impossible. The man, blond haired and blue-eyed, looked almost exactly like…
“Excuse me,” Sam said as he stepped over to Blue Eyes’ table. “I know this is gonna sound like a really bad pick-up line, but…um…do I know you?”
The stranger rose to his feet and extended his hand. “Not yet, but I definitely know you.” His broad smile gleamed enough to light up the room. “You’re Sam Lewis, right?”
“Uh, yeah. How’d you…”
“I’m a fan, and you’re an Olympic champion. I’d think you’d be used to it by now. You must get that a lot.”
“Oh.” Sam smiled in spite of himself. He shook the admirer’s hand, impressed by the firm, warm grip. “Well, not usually when I’m, ya’ know, out in public. I’m already kind of a has been, if you know what I mean.”
“Not at Water World.”
So he was one of the groupies. That definitely explained why he’d been staring. But the eerie coincidence of his looks being so similar to the animatronic merman, Sam couldn’t explain.
“I work there, by the way,” Blue Eyes added. “I’m Percy, and I’m a designer over at AK.”
“Our abbreviation for Atlantis Kingdom.”
“Oh! Oh, really?” It was starting to all make sense now. “Now I know why you look so familiar. Did you use yourself as a model for one of the mer-creatures?”
Percy laughed and smiled. “Guilty.”
“I saw you…or I mean, I saw it, the merman you designed after yourself. Earlier today, after my show, I visited Atlantis. I sometimes like to go there after the crowds are gone and just…”
“Admire the deep sea?”
“Yeah.” Sam smiled. “Hey, would you like to join my friend and me? Amy works at the gift shop. She’s the manager there.”
Percy glanced over Sam’s shoulder toward their table, a puzzled expression on his face. “Sure, but it looks like she might have left. The table’s empty.”
Percy raised his eyebrows. “I don’t mean to pry or anything, but are you two…um, a couple? Not that it’s any of my business or anything, but I just wanna say, I’m not really into that threeway sorta stuff.”
Smiling, Sam shook his head. “No, she’s just a good friend. My best friend, and I think she’s just a little eager to see me hook-up with someone. Don’t worry, though, I’m not one to jump in the sack right away.” Though by the looks of you, I’d love to do exactly that.
Percy’s endearing smile warmed Sam’s chest. Something about the guy was just…special. “Why don’t you join me here since your friend left?”
“Okay.” Sam nodded then grabbed his beer bottle from the table behind him. He pulled back a chair and took a seat opposite his new friend. “I can’t believe how good you guys are with your special effects. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so realistic.”
“Thank you. And I thought the same exact thing when I watched your dive.”
Though Sam had pointedly decided on a night out in order to accomplish a single mission—to get hooked up—he felt a change sweep over him. Sure, he’d love nothing more than to get a hot guy like Percy naked, but just being in the man’s presence felt somehow rewarding and satisfying.
“So how do you do it? How do you make them seem so lifelike?”
“Trade secrets,” Percy said with a wink and sly smile. “Seriously, I’ll have to give you a tour of our ‘laboratory’.” He raised both hands to make air quotes. “You’d be surprised what we can accomplish with the magic of modern technology.”
“You’re right. I was surprised, and I’m more and more amazed every time I see the displays. Especially the…” He stopped himself. Did he want to admit he was most fascinated by the aquarium tank obviously designed to appeal to children? Or Disney lovers.
“You liked the mermaids?”
“Yeah.” He looked down at the table in front of him, clasping his hands together as he felt the heat rise up his neck and into his cheeks. “Silly, isn’t it?”
“Not at all. That’s my favorite as well.”
“Obviously! But…well, you have a good excuse. You’re not only the designer but one of the characters looks exactly like you.” A thought suddenly occurred to Sam. What kind of a person would design something like that, something that was a mirror image of themselves. A narcissist, perhaps?
“Please don’t think I’m vain.” It was as if Percy had read his mind. “Perseus was our first fully functional, realistic male character. I used myself as a model because…well, because I was most familiar with my own body and features.”
“I guess if I had features like that I’d use myself as a model, too.” Did Sam just say that out loud?
“I happen to think you have striking features. Perhaps I should make you into a merman.”
Sam looked up into his eyes and grinned. “I don’t think so. Water World already has one Sam Lewis, which is more than enough.”
Percy picked up his glass and nodded. “Clearly a branding concern. Wouldn’t want to violate any trademarks. Here’s to you, my new friend. Sam the diver.”
Sam picked up his beer and clinked the bottle against Percy’s glass. “And to Percy, merman maker extraordinaire.”
They ordered another round of drinks, then Percy dragged Sam onto the dance floor. It didn’t take much persuasion. Sam loved to dance, and he discovered rather quickly that his partner also knew how to mix it up on the dance floor. Percy had a natural rhythm flowing effortlessly with the beat.
When Sam found himself in Percy’s arms, his body pressing hard against the other man’s chest, his pants began to feel uncomfortably tight. The arousal, starting in his groin, traveled up his body, giving him a fluttery sensation in his gut and a warmth within his chest. He leaned in, wrapping his arms around Percy, his hands finding Percy’s lower back. Using both hands, he began to caress, forming circles as he massaged with his fingertips, all the while staring into Percy’s brilliant blue eyes.
They’d stopped dancing.
Percy leaned forward, closing the gap between them and Sam closed his eyes as he felt the softness of Percy’s lips against his own. His lips parted as Sam’s arms encircled him, pulling him into a passionate kiss. Sam allowed his tongue to wander, tasting Percy while he tilted his head slightly. He felt Percy’s hand against the back of his head, his fingers carding through Sam’s hair.
As they gradually retreated from the kiss, Sam looked into Percy’s eyes. He stared at his beautiful, flawless face. Percy smiled, then released him.
“I…uh…I have to…I’m sorry. I have to go!”
He spun around and rushed off the dance floor, leaving Sam standing there alone, dumbfounded. “Wait!”
The crowd had thickened, and before Sam could even grasp what was happening, Percy had woven himself through the throng and Sam could no longer see him. He hurried off the dance floor and tried to follow, threading himself through the bodies. After what seemed like an eternity, he made it to the exit. He turned to look back into the bar and saw no one resembling Percy, then shoved through the exit door into the lot.
He raced up and down the rows of cars. “Percy! Percy!” He was gone.
Breathless, Sam stood with hands on his hips shaking his head. “I don’t get it. Was I really that bad a kisser?”