Kellen and Derek are both members of a mythical race of sea creatures known as merrows. Friends earlier in life, Kellen had loved Derek from childhood, but a wanderlust filled Derek's heart, leading him to seek life on the shore among humans. Tad was the reason he'd left the ocean behind, and Kellen has never managed to move beyond that rejection.
Back in Derek's life again, Kellen offers him an "indecent proposal" -- a night of passion between the merrows for the return of his lover. But complications arise, among them the fact that without his talisman, an item linking his blood with the sea, Derek is unable to return to the ocean and rescue Tad.
His talisman was given to his lover on their tenth anniversary as a symbol of his love; in exchange, Tad gave him a gold ring. The metal holds mystical properties for those with merrish blood, and Derek hopes that the power of love that resides in the band might be enough to help him rescue his lover ... without having to succumb to Kellen's sordid desires in the process.
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"By Mananan," Derek said, "you're the last person I expected to find waiting for me here. So you're the one who was calling me? Why didn't you just say so?"
A faint smile toyed around the edges of Kellen's lips. "Would you have shown up if I had?"
The smallest hesitation contradicted Derek's reply. "Of course," he said, sipping again at the drink in his hand to avoid meeting Kellen's steady gaze. "We're old friends, Kell."
Reaching for him across the table, Kellen's long, thin forefinger stroked the back of Derek's hand. The touch was ticklish but Derek didn't pull away. He watched, mesmerized, as Kellen traced runic patterns onto his skin, and remembered those fingers elsewhere, smoothing along his chest, curving between his legs. In a distant voice, Kellen whispered, "We were more than friends, once. If you remember."
Derek jerked his hand from under Kellen's, then ran it through his close-cropped hair to play off the gesture. "We were just kids then."
"There is nothing childish about the way I feel for you," Kellen replied.
Is, feel. As in time had not yet dulled the edge of Kellen's affection for him. This was why Derek would have never agreed to meet the man. He had never returned Kellen's feelings, not to the extent his friend hoped for, and for that, Derek was sorry. But his heart belonged to Tad; the moment he met the man, the rest of his old life -- his old friends -- had fallen away.
When Kellen's hand stretched out for him again, Derek moved his hand into his lap, beneath the table, out of reach. "No, I ..." He sighed, suddenly so damn tired. "Kellen, I can't. I'm --"
With someone, he almost said, but he stopped himself before the words were free.
There was a sadness in Kellen's voice when he asked softly, "How long has it been?"
"Four months," Derek choked. He ran a shaky hand down his face as if he could wipe away the pain that tore him up inside. "Not a day goes by I don't miss him. You just don't know --"
"Don't be so sure."
Derek glanced up and for a brief moment, saw his own pain mirrored in Kellen's eyes. Then his old friend cleared his throat, sat back, and the light in his eyes turned cold, calculating. Down to business. Taking a deep breath to pull himself together, Derek asked, "So what's this about finding what I lost? I don't ..."
With a rush of clarity, it hit him. I've found ... "My God," he whispered, eyes widening. "Tad. That's it, isn't it? That's why you called. You know where he is."
Kellen stared at him, the ghost of a smile on his face. Derek struggled to rein in his thoughts -- he wanted to vault across the table, throttle the man opposite him, demand answers ... but that slight grin said it all. Almost dreading the reply he might get, Derek asked, "Is he ...?"
"Alive, yes," Kellen conceded. "The question is, what are you willing to do to get him back?"