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“Not as much as you think.” Grom smiles down at her. “For instance, we both agree that Galen mating with your mother is the worst possible outcome imaginable.”

“Is there a ‘but’ to this statement?”

“But, before this gets out of hand, I think we should attempt to fix things the right way.”

“Which is?”

“Which is trying to get my mating with Paca unsealed, to start.”

Emma frowns. “Trying? What’s to try? You’re the king. Call it off.”

Galen stands and puts a hand on Emma’s shoulder. “It’s not that simple. The king can overturn mating bonds for others, but not his own. For that, he has to appeal to the body of Archives. It resembles the checks-and-balance system of some human governments we learned about in school.”

“But this isn’t a problem,” Nalia calls from her seat. “The Archives never go against the wishes of the throne.”

“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Grom says.

“We’re the firstborn heirs,” Nalia counters. “There is nothing complicated about that. The law is very plain regarding that particular issue. Even you and I couldn’t find a way out of it all those years ago, if you’ll recall.” Her smile is full of meaning and Galen is almost curious enough to ask. He’d always been told Grom and Nalia loved each other since the first time they met. Apparently, that was not the case, if they were looking for a way out of mating with each other.

Grom scowls. “Paca has proven she has the Gift of Poseidon, love. I’m not sure the Archives would unseal me from one who has the Gift. An argument could be made that it goes against the principle of the law, since the law is in place to produce the Gift.”

“And if anyone will make that argument, it will be Jagen,” Galen says. “I’m certain he’s been planning this union for a very long time. That’s why he sent Paca to land to learn the hand signals to control the dolphins. He is a patient enemy.”

Rayna laughs, but it sounds more like the bark of a seal. “Yes, hand signals! Paca does not have the Gift of Poseidon. Emma has the Gift of Poseidon. She can show you what it’s supposed to look like.”

“What?” Grom and Nalia say in unison.

Galen and Emma exchange a look; apparently they’d both forgotten to mention this tiny detail to Grom and Nalia. How could they have overlooked this? Possibly because we were busy convincing each one the other was alive. “That’s how I found Emma,” Galen explains. “Dr. Milligan saw her and recognized what she was and called me. That’s why Rayna and I were so confident that Paca was a fraud. We’d already seen the true Gift.”

“All those years ago in Grandma’s pond,” Nalia whispers at Emma. “Those catfish. You must have been calling for help. They must have understood.”

When Emma was just four years old, she almost drowned in the pond behind her grandmother’s house—except that the fish in the pond noticed her distress and apparently pushed her to the surface. Emma tried to explain this to her parents, but her mother never believed her. Until today. Of course Nalia knows what the Gift of Poseidon is. And by the look on her face, she needs no further proof that Emma has it.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you,” Nalia says. “It never occurred to me that—”

Emma shrugs. “It’s over now. We have bigger things to worry about.”

“Why didn’t you tell me in the diner, when we were spilling our guts about everything?”

“I didn’t think you’d believe me. You were so convinced that Galen was lying and just trying to trick us, that I thought mentioning the Gift wouldn’t matter to you. That you’d think it was part of the ruse.”

Nalia nods. “I’ll believe you from now on. No matter what. I promise. I’m so sorry, sweetie.”

This time a juicy tear does manage to spill down Emma’s cheek, but she quickly wipes it away. Galen fights the urge to pull her to him. “Let’s just get on with this.”

He knows she doesn’t feel as nonchalant as she’s letting on. She’s been harboring some resentment about the whole thing since she was a small child—for her to let it go this easily seems unlikely. When she gives him a tight-lipped smile, he’s certain they’ll discuss her true feelings later. He winks at her.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Grom says. “How is it possible that Emma has the Gift of Poseidon? Her father was human. The Gift can only be produced when—”

“The law is wrong,” Nalia says. It seems as if even the walls of the room stiffen with her accusation. “The Gift is genetic.”

Galen is suddenly glad that Nalia has been a nurse to humans all these years. She would know how to explain all of Dr. Milligan’s logic in a way that Grom would understand. It’s not that the principle of genetics is foreign to the Syrena, it’s just that humans have taken their study of the subject a bit further—and he’s not sure his brother will grasp it.

“Genetic?” Grom says.

“It means that traits from parents are passed down to their fingerlings,” Nalia says. “Traits like the shape of their noses, the way they swim, things like that. We already know fingerlings inherit these traits from their parents. But obviously the Gifts of the Generals are also passed down through genetics. Emma is proof of that.”

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