Author: Madeline Apple
A wild bachelorette party brings lonely Nadine and her friends to Neptune’s Palace, one of the hottest nightclubs in Miami. Catering to the most esoteric of tastes, the club specializes in “professional mer-people” who seem just a little too real to Nadine. Among them is Caspian, the most beautiful merman of all. But exploring the mystery behind the club, and her own watery passions, might just open up a world of deadly secrets that will leave Nadine forever changed.
“Nadine, you really need to loosen up,” my best friend Lauren said as she jostled me for space in front of her grand, Hollywood-style makeup mirror hanging over her dressing table. “You act like you’re going off to your execution.” She hip-bumped me and I bumped her back as we carefully fixed our hair before Lauren’s big night out—her last one as a single woman.
“This place sounds like a dive,” I said as I sprayed flat my long, frizzy locks—or tried to, anyway. “Neptune’s Palace? I mean, really? Could the place sound any cornier?”
In the mirror, Lauren shrugged a thin, sculpted shoulder. “Hey, Patti found the place. She says it’s one of the hottest nightclubs in Miami.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I sighed, looking at us side-by-side, Lauren all tall and leggy and blonde, with a perpetual Baywatch-style tan, and me…well, short and pale and way too curvy for my own good, with carroty hair, a snub nose and loads of freckles that made me look younger than my twenty-one years. Lauren’s mini was short and white and sparkly, whereas mine was more conservative, more like a purple sari that I hoped would hide, rather than hug, my curves. I had never been a big fan of my body, my wide hips and heavy breasts. “Wasn’t she the one behind that beer kegger we wound up at in high school with all those college boys? My mom just about killed me!”
“Your mom did not kill you!” Lauren grinned. “We blamed Patti, remember?”
“Oh yeah,” I said with a grin, though the memory made me sad. Those days of us being wild, giggly high school girls and letting Patti get us in trouble seemed so long ago. And my mom had died just over a year ago, I reminded myself. I would never get in trouble with her again. The idea made me want to snort back the tears in my nose.
I owed Lauren so much. She was there for me when my mom got sick, sat up with me all night long the night she died, and even helped me with the funeral arrangements. In fact, were it not for Lauren, and to a smaller extent, Patti, I would have been the lonely high school geek with her nose always in a book. Lauren and I even went to the prom as a couple when our respective boyfriends dumped us only days before the big dance, and we would up dancing together and giggling and drinking way too much in the parking lot—again, thanks to Patti. The whole school thought we were crazy.
Now here we were.
Lauren, my best friend, was getting married tomorrow and then taking a week-long Caribbean cruise with her new husband Miguel, a man so rich he’d bought them a massive, beach-front neo-Colonial home in Boca Raton, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Florida. I was Lauren’s Maid of Honor and I’d agreed to housesit for them while they were on their honeymoon. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now the thought just depressed the hell out of me, like window-shopping when you couldn’t buy.
One day soon, Lauren was coming home, and she was going to have this huge, palatial home, and a husband, and a life, and probably kids one day. I’d be back at the library where I’d been working since I graduated high school, eating cold pizza for breakfast, and looking forward to the next Neil Gaiman novel, the highlight of my week. I’d been voted the smartest girl in school, the one most likely to succeed, and yet I felt like the world’s biggest loser.
Outside the house, I could hear Patti pulling up the drive in her sexy, vintage Mustang, laying on the horn big time.
Lauren put her hand on my shoulder. “Let’s go out and make some big memories and big trouble tonight, Nadine!” she grinned. “It’s our last night!”
Our last night together, I thought. Our last night as two girls gone wild. I forced a smile and said, “Absolutely! Neptune’s Palace, here we come!”
We giggled together like we were teenagers again and then rushed for the door.