Jul/Aug 2017  •   Fiction

The Shark Dancer

by Karly Lake McCullough

Image courtesy of the British Library Photostream

For as long as she could remember, Nia had dreamed about sea monsters. Sometimes they were hideous, misshapen fish crawling out of the lake in her parents' back yard, a lake suddenly deeper and wilder, storm-tossed and flooding its banks, bringing the fish into her bedroom in a rising seep of water. Sometimes the creatures were beautiful, sleek plesiosaurs whose size made them visible as she watched from a mountaintop, arching and gliding beneath distant clear waters. But most often the sea monsters were completely unseen. She had dreams of swimming at ease, never struggling, though she knew the water was endless and impossibly deep, and sensing something coming towards her, something massive, something that made the whole ocean tingle with its electrical charge.

She understood the word awe from an early age as the feeling in those dreams. It didn't mean rosy lights in church and the angels singing. It meant confronting something outside her reality, outside her very element of breathable air, and facing it beyond fear. People accused her of being an adrenalin junkie: they didn't understand half of it.

The water was cold, but the sun above was August-hot, shimmering through the sea in an illusion of warmth. It created a beautiful scene, illuminating the crystal depths, which were half of Isla Guadalupe's fame. The other half was present also, circling slowly around Nia where she hovered just above the silty floor of the inlet. There were two of them at the moment, one mid-sized, about four meters long, the other a big sister at six meters. They were calm, just as Nia was calm.

There was no faking it with white sharks. They could sense the rate of a person's heart and respiration, they could smell sweat and adrenalin. But this particular inlet was far away from the seal colonies and the commercial cage-diving operations pouring cow blood into the water, and Nia felt like she held both her visitors in her own semi-meditative state.

She used a rebreather, the only way to swim with whites. The bubbles of scuba equipment were either distracting or downright enticing, reminding them of an animal in distress. She chose relatively shallow locations, 20 or so meters deep, and she stayed near the bottom, the position of power in relation to a hunter who attacked from below. Holding out her hand, she invited the small shark to come closer, stroking a gloved hand along her pectoral fin. The larger white was somewhere behind, and Nia turned, not surprised to find her closer than expected, and gently pushed her snout away, the deceptive comical grin passing within inches of Nia's face.

As the white swam past, Nia caught the upper ridge of the animal's tail, letting herself be pulled behind. The shark didn't mind; she was a gracious lady, and Nia's 43 kilos hardly slowed her down. They swam like that for a while, no longer antagonists but simply observing the ocean together. Nia let go the shark's tail and, on another turn about, caught her dorsal fin.

Somewhere overhead Rodrigo hung in his steel cage, filming. Nia caught a glimpse of him as the shark rose through the water and pirouetted gracefully. Rodrigo always wanted her to get away from the bottom, giving him a background of blue water instead of silt, so she rode along for a few more moments, then let go and let herself drift, the boat's shadow overhead, giving the shark time to lose interest and go about her business. One swim was enough, a few minutes of connection to that immense force. It was never appropriate to demand the shark's attention.

The lady was preparing to make her departure, Nia could tell by the returning laziness in her body language. The smaller sister had already left. Then suddenly, the shark's demeanor changed, becoming almost a territorial display, diving lower in the water, flicking her tail stiffly.

Nia suppressed her own unease, swimming downward away from the boat, not wanting to get trapped with nowhere to go but up. Usually she felt quite safe with the big ones; they were at the top of the food chain and nothing disturbed them.

Except the rare bigger fish. A charcoal shadow took shape out of the haze, seven meters at least, swimming in like it meant business, focused on the boat and the steel cage. Rodrigo was oblivious, still filming the retreating lady, and Nia watched as the newcomer rammed the cage with enough force to knock it sideways against the boat hull, a screech that carried through the water and set the boat's anchor-chain swaying. Rodrigo was thrown against the bars closest to the shark, thoroughly rattled, arms flailing, trying to propel himself away and not stick a hand or a foot through the bars. The shark spun back, twisting its body in a lithe knot belaying its size, and hit the cage from below, biting into a corner and shaking the metal viciously before letting go.

She'd never seen a white act like that when there wasn't bait in the water. She was glad she'd gotten away from the boat. She wondered if this was evidence of over-commercialization of cage diving; the shark had learned to equate the cage with food. Except there was no smell of blood or fish in the water, nothing to precipitate such an attack.

She put Rodrigo out of her mind—he knew how to handle himself. She had absolutely no intention of leaving the safety of the bottom. She wished she had a video camera of her own; sharks attacking cages were nothing new, but she would have liked to document the lack of chum and lack of other frenzied sharks.

Also the animal's size. The swinging cage and the boat hull provided ideal perspective, showing how truly massive he was. The consensus was males did not grow into the seven-meter range. Nia was fascinated despite her predicament.

She stayed alert for the sister's return. Sharks did unexpected things and appeared from unexpected vectors. But her main attention was focused upward, where the white had apparently made his point to Rodrigo and the cage, and now circled the boat itself, occasionally bumping it with his snout. After a moment he paused, and Nia wondered if he would leave, perhaps following the female.

Instead he turned in a smooth arc and dove, following the line of the anchor chain as if it was a beam of light pointing straight at Nia. She'd seen sharks scoop seals off the bottom, though it wasn't their usual hunting tactic. She watched him come, following the electrical twitches of her heartbeat, straight toward her like he had approached the cage. She was ready, drifting in that timeless space of her dreams, knowing her only choice was to try or not to try, so she waited until he was right on top of her and she ducked to the side and punched his eye and shoved her elbow into his gills.

The shark recoiled, thrashing his tail, more surprised than hurt. Her fist had hit solidly, but white sharks hunted squid and they had a nictating membrane to protect their eyes. He would be more cautious now. She stayed still and waited for him to come back around, and this time his momentum was less and she was able to punch him on the tip of the nose. That was the locus of his specialized sensory receptors, and he tossed his body to the side, scraping against the rocky bottom, his bulk hindering his maneuverability.

She got a glimpse straight into his eye as he rolled, a surprising shock of awareness beyond the dark mirrored surface. When he swam away with a massive flick of the tail, stirring up clouds of silt, it was not because he had to but because he had decided to.

Nia waited on the bottom as long as her filters would allow. After nearly 30 minutes, she saw the smaller fish return, and then a few large jacks, and she swam up to the boat, imagining shapes in the blue haze behind her.


She watched Rodrigo's footage obsessively as evening darkened the rocky massif of Isla Guadalupe. He had never stopped filming, even when the shark was busy putting some noteworthy dents in the steel cage, and his footage afterwards—of the animal diving down, circling Nia, and being driven off—was in some ways more unsettling than her own memories.

Hal Leonard was not going to lend her the boat again. He'd made that clear. He and his crew were here to tag white sharks, not swim with them, and he would allow no more extracurricular use of his skiff. The ruined shark cage would come out of Nia's paycheck.

Finally she forced herself away from the laptop and left her cabin. The big ship was called Nueva Luna, and it took up half the harbor at Campo Oeste. Campo was the right word for the place; it was not a town. Home to 213 souls, fishermen and their families, it demonstrated the marginal nature of life above water on the island. She was looking at the few lit windows across the harbor when Hal came up on deck, his southern drawl unmistakable, a beer bottle in his hand.

There was a stranger with him, a broad-shouldered, big-chested man who moved like a professional athlete. There was something strange about his face, a narrow face for such a muscular build, with a prominent nose and slightly receding jaw line. His razor-short hair did nothing to soften his features. Nia didn't like him. She didn't know where Hal had found him, but she hoped he would go back there soon.

"Eight thousand dollars a piece," Hal was saying, talking about his GPS tags. "They don't just ping locational data, they measure depth and water temperature. The only thing better would be a video cam. We're working with some people in California. Maybe next season. We'll turn the sharks into stars in their own movie."

"Should attach something like that to Angelina Jolie," the man said, a soft low voice that caught Nia's attention with its sarcasm.

Hal didn't seem to understand. He laughed and said, "Wouldn't we all want to see into her bedroom?"

"How would that help science?"

"Ha," Hal said, "Well, the more we know about the sharks' habits, the better we can protect them."

"Will having a camera on Angelina Jolie day and night protect her? Or will it just give everyone a front-row seat when some crazy person harasses her? You want to protect the sharks, enforce the treaties already existing on climate change, long-line fishing, by-catch, gill-nets."

Nia realized that, while she might not like the strange man, Hal must like him even less.

"Ah," Hal said. "Here's Nia Gallegos. She's our own personal shark-whisperer, as well as the prettiest girl on the crew. The only girl on the crew. Nia, this is Seth Fisher, he's building a house here on the island. What did you say you do for a living, Seth?"

"I dive for pearls," the man said. His voice hid a smile, Nia thought. She could hear it in the way he pronounced vowels. She still didn't like his face. He looked at her, something remote but appraising in his expression, and did not offer his hand.

"Here?" Nia asked in spite of herself. "Not this time of year though."

The smile touched his lips. "You think you're the only one who gets in the water?"

Hal laughed again, with a brittle edge. "She doesn't get in the water. Where'd you hear that? But, hey, you must have some shark stories of your own. We'll have to reminisce over another beer sometime. We'll be here all week. You know where to find us."

"Hum," Seth Fisher said, his smile growing. He shook hands with Hal and stepped over to the rail, brushing past Nia on the way. He leaned close for the briefest of moments, ducking his head. She heard the inhale of his breath, like he was smelling her hair. "I do," he murmured. "Tough girl."

Then he was gone, swinging a long leg over the rail and half-sliding down the metal ladder with practiced ease. She watched him cross the wharf and climb into an old pickup truck. "Met him at that tiny, poor excuse for a bar," Hal said. "Who would've thought, an American building a house on this damn island? Pearl diving, my ass."

"He has a diver's lungs," Nia said. "And a diver's haircut."

"Or a gangster's. You dive, and you don't shave your hair. For which I'm grateful, by the way, pretty girl."

She'd rather be tough than pretty. She shivered all over, remembering the way he'd smelled her and said he knew where to find her. Probably drugs and gangs after all. Who knew what he might be on?


The pole-mounted camera, aimed down beneath the skiff's hull, showed nothing but blue. The ocean here was deep, the bottom completely lost to sight, and all perspective gone amid the vastness. There was no way to tell if the faint smudge was a fish or a seal or a moat of dust, until it resolved into a shape of gray and white and pink gaping mouth, and then it was too late. The last image from the camera was the teeth and the throat.

"Fucker," Rodrigo shouted, as the skiff rocked and the metal pole crashed out of its clip and went over the side.

"Keep him close," Hall was yelling to the intern whose job it was to trail the rubber seal decoy alongside the skiff, luring sharks close enough to tag. "I'm almost on him..."

Hal lunged with the tagging gaff, just as the water boiled and broke and the intern let go of the cable attached to the dummy before it could peel his hands raw.

Nia watched from the video monitor in the cabin, which was her station since she'd been demoted from more active work. Hal was still mad at her over the shark cage, though he was gaining a first-hand understanding of how truly attitudinal Nia's shark was.

That was what the crew were calling him: Nia's shark. They had long since identified him by the two scars just above his right pectoral fin, and now they could watch him on video after video, sometimes just cruising past, sometimes attacking boat, decoy, or camera with the same ire he had directed at the shark cage. Nia was waiting for Hal to admit the cage hadn't been Nia's fault any more than the lost cameras were his, but he did not spare the words.

"Put on gloves," he barked at the intern. "Throw out another decoy, I'm sure he's still around. We'll get him."

But the big male had vanished. That was his habit. He often put in an appearance, but he never lingered. The afternoon was darkening early, clouds moving in from the west, flashing with lightning.

"It's not going to rain," Hal muttered. "It never rains during the dry season on Isla Guadalupe."

But Rodrigo was in a bad mood after the loss of his camera, and the wind was picking up, smelling of rain despite the weather forecast, and eventually Hal relented and ordered an early return to harbor.

The rain caught them on the way, the miracle of fresh water, and Nia did not let Hal's disapproval or Rodrigo's temper handicap her enjoyment. She privately thought her days on the crew might be numbered. Finish this trip, then look for a different berth. Somewhere away from Isla Guadalupe. South Africa, maybe.

She'd taken to spending her evenings at Donna Encarnacion's tiny shack of a bar, not because she wanted to drink, but because she enjoyed the Spanish and the soccer on the tiny TV and the chance to get away from Hal, who now called her Shark Whisperer in front of the crew. Some evenings it was only her and Encarnacion, sometimes a crowd of three or five fishermen. Twice she'd seen Seth Fisher, though he never stayed long. He had some business going with Encarnacion's husband, something about his house or his boat or his drug deals, Nia didn't pay attention.

The rain was heavy but brief, a summer squall blowing through on a stiff west wind. But it left the air clean and the decks washed of salt, and it made the island seem beautiful as they came into harbor under the lowering sun.


Encarnacion's place was more full than she had ever seen it. Gone was the miasma of drought and dust and the sad, half-heard radio. Tonight the music was loud and brassy, and everyone inside was dancing. Nia watched, marveling at this culture that embraced sensuality in all its forms, all its shapes and sizes and ages. Fat Donatella, she of the full-cheeked scowl, was not scowling tonight, but danced like the most beautiful woman in the world. Gabriella the baker twisted her wrists above her head in a flamenco move without reservation or censorship, another goddess of the evening. And the toothless old fishermen watched, delighted, clapping in time with the music, while their younger counterparts danced through the throng of women, confident of their machismo and appeal.

She sipped tequila and watched the sunset through the open door, endless ocean to the west, unbroken between here and Fiji. Seth Fisher blocked the sun right at the moment when she might have seen the green flash, slipping in his quiet liquid way past the old men at the door and through the room of dancers like they weren't there. No one bumped him, no one spilled their cerveza on his shoes. Magdalena tried to dance with him, swaying her hips and tilting her chin, and he dipped his head to smell her hair but kept going.

He gestured with two fingers at the bar, and Encarnacion filled a salty glass and added a slice of lime, and he turned and leaned against the bar, sipping the drink, not looking at Nia.

She didn't look at him either. She knew what she'd see. To think a week ago she hadn't liked his face. Ha. She didn't want to look at him; she wanted to feel him, that subtle hair-raising draw getting closer.

"Care to dance?" he asked after a few minutes.

If the fishermen's wives could channel Aphrodite for the evening, she could, too. She said, "Yes," and reached forward when he held out his hand.

But instead of joining the crowd, he led her behind him back through the door and into the breezy dusk and across the harbor road to his pickup.

She had maybe 30 seconds to change her mind. She wasn't reluctant so much as shocked. She'd expected a bit more awkwardness and back-and-forth. But, she thought as the moment passed and she perched beside him on the bench seat, it was trademark Seth. He did not do the expected thing, but he did it with such confidence, a person almost failed to notice.

He turned off whatever music he'd had playing in the old truck, and they drove around the edge of the island in silence, down the steep drive to his house, where the lights were on and the stereo was playing as if he'd left in the middle of a thought. Down in the sheltered cove, the palmetto fronds and hibiscus danced against the wall, and water bubbled from a small fountain by his front door.

It was entrancing. Nia didn't know what she'd been expecting. Maybe a modular trailer with beer cans thrown out the front door. But the little house was hand built, the windows with their storm-shutters letting an inviting glow out into the night. The music was entrancing also: "The Girl from Ipanema."

He was dancing before they were even inside, turning towards her and holding out both hands, and it was more intoxicating than ten shots of tequila. She looked at him now, looked at his face, the sharp plane of his nose and his dark eyes and his expressive mouth, which at the moment was playing with a speculative smile. His hands were warm and calloused, enfolding hers and drawing her close. But not touching. Their hands remained the only point of contact; he moved just beyond the field of her body, turning and swaying and pulling her farther into the house, leaning forward to smell her neck and her hair as he had the first day they met, but never touching anything but her hands.

They danced that way for the length of several songs, old-time calypso and reggae, and Nia took in glimpses of the house. It was one room, with an alcove for the small kitchen and a jog in the wall concealing the bed. The walls were wood-paneled, bare, the many windows letting in the breeze and the restless ever-present sound of the ocean. After a while she stopped looking at the house and went back to looking at his face, half-shadowed in the dim kerosene light.

She found her back pressed against the wall, his hands entwined with hers, raising her arms above her head. He leaned forward and kissed her, gently, tentative small kisses that left her standing on her toes and craning her neck for more. When he pulled away, he was breathing fast and shallow, his pupils dilated, his lips parted in an expression of such longing, Nia felt it in her own gut like a fist.

This was serious, she realized. This was no casual tryst for him. He was holding nothing back, at least right at this moment. She didn't know what would happen if she failed to reciprocate, or if she demanded something different than what he was offering. She had to be careful, she thought, because that expression was vulnerable and open and hungry and she held his need in her hand like a living thing. It was in her power to either nurture or abuse it, and she felt as wondering and protective as if she held a perfect, glistening shell drawn up from the tide pool.

She freed her hands and traced her fingers up the back of his neck, cupping the stubbly round of his head and drawing him down once more and kissing him, teasing his mouth open with her tongue, feeling the strong ridges of his teeth, biting his lip gently. He leaned with his forearms against the wall, holding himself slightly away from her. She ran her hands down his chest and torso, feeling the tautness of his body beneath his shirt, and he followed her movements with his head, burying his face in her hair, nuzzling her neck as she pulled the hem of his shirt free and traced the muscles of his abdomen.

"I'll take care of you," she heard herself whispering, the first words either of them had spoken since leaving the bar. She didn't know if she could, but she wanted to more than she'd wanted anything in a long time.

His response was a sigh that stirred the hair on the nape of her neck, and he raised up his arms so she could pull off his shirt. His chest was broad and full, encasing the powerful lungs and heart of a professional diver, and he had a strange tattoo on his right bicep, two slashing parallel lines. Her mouth was at a level with his nipple, and she traced it with her tongue while unfastening his belt. The skin of his waist was warm and smooth under her fingers. Hard and smooth farther down, she discovered, sliding her hand into his boxers and earning another sigh.

He stayed completely still while she knelt to pull off his shoes and socks, strong broad tanned feet underneath. Still kneeling, she worked off his jeans and boxers and finally reached up to cup and stroke him, feeling again that power and the necessity of using it wisely.

His skin was salty in her mouth, the wild bitter salt of the ocean, and she closed her eyes and listened to the waves outside, the tide rising and crashing on steep sandstone cliffs. There was nothing but this, reaching up with one hand between his legs to cup his buttock and pull him even deeper into her throat, her forehead pressed against his abdomen.

She'd never touched a man this way before, so confident what he wanted was what she wanted. Her own excitement made her tremble, made her feel like she was floating or swimming, like in her underwater dreams where she was surrounded by strangeness but unafraid. And he was the dark body she always sensed just out of sight, the sense of awe and danger accompanying the weightlessness and the powerful strokes of her arms and legs as she sped through the water.

His hand was on the back of her neck, tangling through her hair, pulling her away. "Nia," he said, the first time he'd ever spoken her name, and he knelt down in front of her and pulled her into his arms and kissed her deeply, his tongue in her mouth, tasting his own sweat.

After a moment he stood up and pulled her up with him and lead her around the dividing wall to his bed. Her clothes went much faster than his, kicked off, and she laid down and let him look at her, his head turned slightly aside and an artery pulsing along his neck. She held out her hands, inviting, and he came to her and buried himself within her. She lost herself to his rhythm and that of the waves outside, aware dimly of one person crying out—that was her—and another person moaning deeply and scoring her shoulder with his teeth.

His fingers kneaded and gripped and held her even as he thrust, his face buried against her shoulder, his body trembling beneath her hands. She came back from the ocean in a moment of sharp clarity, not drifting anymore but solidly present for a few breaths before the room went dark and her body went rigid and then, spasming, released in breaking waves.

He was there with her, even with her vision black and her ears ringing, riding waves of his own and then coming down hard, his full weight on her, anchoring her, pressing her back into her own body. She held him tightly, her shoulder damp with tears or sweat, she couldn't tell which, feeling his heart rate return to normal against her chest.

After a while he got up and went around the house turning off the kerosene lanterns. He brought her a glass of water and settled back into bed, wrapping the blankets up around her shoulders against the cool nighttime wind.

"Good night, little shark dancer," he murmured into her hair.


She didn't dream. The night passed deeply, and it was gray when she woke up, the waves loud in the predawn hush. Seth was leaning against the dividing wall watching her, in jeans but shirtless, holding a cup of fragrant coffee.

She smiled. She couldn't help it; she was happy. And embarrassed, remembering the night before. She felt a blush warming her face.

He smiled, too, and gave her his cup of coffee, going back to the kitchen for a replacement. "Still and flat this morning," he said over his shoulder. "Satellite shows us right in the middle of a high pressure ridge."

"Hal's going to want to go out," Nia said, tasting the smooth bitterness. "Now that the storm's past."

"What if you didn't go with him?"

"That would be the last straw, I think. There's a never-ending line of marine biology graduates looking for summer work."

Seth came back from the kitchen with more coffee and a cold tortilla, which he ate standing up, in two bites. "Is that all he thinks you are?"

She looked at him, looking into his eyes, unreadable in the dim light. "That is all I am," she said.

He snorted and shrugged and said, "Hurry then. We have to book it if we're going to get you back to the marina by sunrise."

That wasn't cold, Nia told herself. It was realistic. And he'd given her his coffee. That had to betoken some sort of emotional involvement. She got out of bed and was gathering up her strewn clothes when she stopped and threw them back to the floor. Naked, she went into the main part of the house, but Seth had vanished. She went out the front door, barefoot on the sandy driveway, and found him teasing the old pickup to life.

"What if I didn't go with him?" she yelled, raising her voice over the spluttering ignition.

He turned and looked at her, his smile threatening to become a real honest grin. Leaving the truck, he scooped her up and carried her back inside. "Well," he said, "We could go for a swim."


They watched the sun rise over the Baja Peninsula, invisible over the horizon to the east. The ocean was calm and windless. Seth's little boat rocked gently, sheltered by steep basalt cliffs on three sides. This place was clear around the edge of Isla Guadalupe, some tiny unnamed cove. No plants, no seals, just the rock and the water and the peach-colored first rays of the sun.

They had a real breakfast, a jack Seth caught effortlessly and cooked in olive oil over a tiny burner in the cabin.

"I barely know you, and I'm losing my job because of you," Nia said, sitting cross-legged on the deck, the sizzling pan of fish between her and Seth, who was leaning against the hull with his legs stretched out.

"Is that really what you want to talk about?"

"What do you want to talk about?"

He paused, apparently thinking. Or maybe he just wouldn't answer. He didn't seem to be much of a talker on any subject. Finally he said, "All this science Hal does. How important is it to you?"

"It's a way to earn a living doing what I love."

"But the science isn't what you love? The crew and the gear and—tagging the sharks?" He spat out the last words like they left a bad taste in his mouth.

"What I love is swimming with the sharks."

"And if no one saw you? If you didn't have your pet cameraman to put you on Discovery Channel?"

"Are you asking me to live with you?" She listened to him laugh quietly. He refused to look up from the skillet of fish bones. "You are," Nia said after a moment. "Why?"

"You have no idea how unique you are. You didn't answer my question."

"I don't care if anyone films me. I don't want to be on TV."

He took the oily pan to the cabin, and when he came back he was carrying an old can of chewing tobacco. Wordlessly, he handed it to her. Inside were 20 or so large pearls. Some were shimmering gray, some white, some faintly rosy, and four were pitch black. They were perfect in their imperfections and subtle unconformity, worth a small fortune. Nia looked at them in silence, and when she tried to give the tin back, Seth waved her hand away.

"Those," he said, "are your getaway plan. If you decide in an hour or a day or a week that you want to go back to the mainland."

"I thought you ran drugs," Nia confessed, earning another soft burst of laughter.

He pulled her to her feet and pulled her into his arms, against his chest, listening to his strong heartbeat. "Little Nia," he murmured. "Would you believe me if I said I'd take care of you?"

She didn't know what he was asking, but she knew it was important, vitally important to him. "I trust you," she said.

"Then let's go for that swim."

"I don't have my wetsuit."

"Sun's hot. You'll warm back up." With that he stripped out of his jeans and dove smoothly over the side, leaving the boat rocking.

"Fuck," Nia breathed, looking down, the water inky with the low sun angle. She waited for him to come back up, realizing it might be a while. He could probably hold his breath for a good four minutes. In the meantime she pulled off her clothes, piece by piece, steeling herself for the cold and the dark.

The boat rocked again, something bumping against the port side. She crossed the deck and looked down in time to see a massive black shadow glide beneath the hull. Running to the opposite rail, she saw it emerge, lose itself in the early-morning reflections, then turn, roiling the surface of the water ever so slightly, and come back around. This time she saw its head, its pectoral fins, the two characteristic scars on its shoulder.

Something about the crystal morning made her believe more was possible today than yesterday or ever before. She climbed onto the boat's rail, swinging her legs over the side, and lowered herself into the water.

She was half-expecting the blunt slam shark attack survivors describe. But it didn't come. Instead she felt the water swirl by her feet, the ripple of something huge passing, and that was all. She forced herself to breathe deeply, filling her lungs, and she let the water close over her head, opening her eyes to teal shadows dancing down from the ripples, the water not black after all but lit subtly in hues of jade and emerald. The shark was there, swimming slowly, coming close but never touching.

He didn't need to. They'd been touching for hours already. Her whole body was alive in his senses, and he was larger-than-life in hers, making her skin tingle and her vision sharpen despite the stinging salt. It was, she thought, a dream come true.