Marina Wake has spent her life trying to heal manatees. Her small recovery centre works to patch up the beasts damaged by human machines. The problem is facilities need money.
Irdan wants to meet the woman that the seers and her father have told him about. When he gets her agreement to the Crossroads, they rush into the balancing and have to deal with the aftermath.
Marina trades herself for financing the rescue centre for a decade, and when she has been balanced with Irdan, her evolution into a partial fey takes a weird turn that neither of them expected.
She took a deep breath, pasted a smile on her face and opened the door to the education centre, holding that smile in place by force when she saw that her father had made an appearance.
“Ah, Herman. You are here.”
He turned to her, and his peculiarly good looks struck her as they always did. “Marina, I was just telling these men about your good work here.”
“So nice of you to be here for this today.” Marina walked up to him and kissed his cheek.
She squeezed his hands hard, and he winced as he murmured, “I wouldn’t have missed it.”
Marina turned toward her guests. “Hello, I am Dr. Wake. Please, call me Marina.”
The two gentlemen smiled, and the brunette stepped forward with his hand extended. “I am Maweel Nafore; that is my cousin, Irdan.”
She blinked when she saw his hand out, and she said, “I am sorry, I was just handling fish and weeds. I am afraid my hand isn’t in great shape.”
He smiled. “I don’t mind.”
She winced and extended her hand, gripping his skin as the wild spark ran up her arm, and she could see he was getting the same reaction.
He let go and stepped back, and his companion came forward. He spoke in a low drawl. “Forgive my idiot cousin; he has not seen such a beautiful woman in a long time.”
She winced when he took her hand and the shockwave was far stronger, but he lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. “The pink of your cheeks goes well with your silver eyes.”
Her skin got hotter.
She licked her lips, and his pupils dilated, showing a startling change to something that wasn’t human and wasn’t fey.
Her pulse pounded in her veins, and she slowly withdrew her hand from his grasp. “Thank you?”
He grinned. “So, you have a facility that you are interested in funding?”
With that one phrase, he snapped her back to why he was there.
“Of course. Welcome to the Wake Manatee Rescue. We are here to rehabilitate and release wounded, injured and maimed manatee back into the wild. Our goal isn’t to keep them in tanks; it is to get them back into open water.”
She turned to the wall and activated the screen that showed the damage done by the propellers, jet skis and other human vehicles. “Human incursion into manatee waters needs to be mitigated, controlled, and when they break the law, there needs to be a consequence.”
She paused, “But that is a matter for legislation. Now, we are simply seeking funding to support and expand our existing facility. Would you like to see the patients?”
Maweel smiled, “We would love to see the animals.”
She frowned. “This is not a zoo. They are not here for display. This tour is to expand understanding.”
Irdan smiled. “We understand.”
She looked at her father and then ignored him as she led their small group out of the education centre and out toward the pens.
“You don’t have a dedicated medical centre?” Irdan drawled.
“No, we have to create med tents when we need them. That is one of the items that is on my wish list. To get a manatee out of the water takes some special lifts, and we don’t currently have them.”
They walked down the gravelled path toward the recovery tanks.
“We keep the patients in their normal water type until they are set for movement again. Over here are my favourite visitors. These are pregnant females who were struck by boats, and one of them is nearly ready to return to her original no-wake zone.”
Irdan drawled, “How did she get injured?”
Marina made a face. “Speedboat, as far as we are able to tell. Folks want to insist on their right to kill native and endangered species at will. That is why we are pushing for larger penalties.”
She led them through the concrete paths and opened the gate that led into the deep, shadowed tanks.
Maweel looked at the cages surrounding the tanks. “Are you afraid of the manatees getting out?”
She smiled. “No. While in captivity, they are in even more danger than nature normally provides. Folks regularly come by and try to slaughter them for their bones, their hide, their use in magic, if you believe in that sort of thing.”
Irdan looked solemn. “What do they think they will gain?”
“Power and patience. The feeling of enjoying each moment as it comes. A few of those caught say it is the best drug they have experienced. Complete calm.”
“What do they do with the hide?”
“They turn it into belts. Apparently, it turns nervous business men into zen tycoons.” She grimaced.
The shadows shifted, and a curious and wide-eyed face bobbed upward.
Maweel knelt and extended his hand. “She looks friendly.”
“Oh, she is. Is that suit washable?”
He frowned, and when the snuffling upper lip gripped his