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Desirée M. Niccoli | Exclusive Excerpt: SONG OF LORELEI


Song Of Lorelei
Desirée M. Niccoli

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January 2023
On Sale: January 17, 2023
Featuring: Captain Killian Quinn; Lorelei Roth
287 pages
ISBN: 1648982816
EAN: 9781648982811
Kindle: B0BPBCY31Y
Paperback / e-Book
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Also by Desirée M. Niccoli:
Song Of Lorelei, January 2023
Called to the Deep, September 2022

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Chapter 1

Science quantified the mystical, boiled it down to logic, data, and biological processes. But there was a kind of magic to new discoveries, and the discovery that murderous sirens lurked in ocean’s deep captivated the world and brought the New England fishing industry where they’d been found to its knees.

Myth had become universal truth, and modern fishermen wanted no part of it.

The sirens should have scared away Dawn Chaser’s crew, but stubbornness outweighed fear, and they did not flee the Gulf of Maine like most of their offshore competition.

Idle chatter and laughter rang out across the decks as the crew prepared the nets, and Captain Killian Quinn listened to them from the pilothouse, their muffled voices drifting to where he stood at the helm. He couldn’t make out the words, but their cheer was unmistakable, and the corners of his mouth lifted.

This could have been just another day at sea.

Strong morale was good for crew retention, and these days, that’s what kept him in business. But more than that, his crew was like a family to him, more so than his own flesh and blood, and he liked hearing them in high spirits.

A sharp ping from the boat’s navigation system jolted Killian from his thoughts. Glancing down at the charts, the sectioned off area he programmed into the computer flashed up at him, and the small smile he wore died.

He slammed the throttle forward.

Dawn Chaser’s engines rumbled loudly as it crossed into siren territory. The louder the better to repel any uninvited visitors.

Killian waved over the helmsman. “Take over for me and maintain speed.” Crossing the pilothouse to look out the back window, he lifted his personal radio to his mouth. “Noise cancellation headsets on now.”

A hush fell over the crew, prey animals alerted to lurking danger.

Every man reached for the black headsets hooked to their utility belts, and fitted them over their ears, their movements almost in complete unison with one another. Given the threat they faced, deadly siren song, it was an ironic display of puppetry, and Killian the puppeteer. But instead of supernatural manipulation, they were compelled by trust.

He hoped that trust was not misplaced.

The crew yanked off the tarps covering crates of canned meat, their tribute to the seafolk. They shuffled about the task in silence, casting wary glances over the side for movement in the waves below—the telltale flash of bright, colorful scales just beneath the dark surface.

How oblivious he and his crew had once been to the vicious sirens of the deep—as dangerous as they were beautiful with their wicked claws, razor-sharp teeth, and dark hunger for human flesh. Though the sailors of old must have gotten drunk on grog during their long, cold months at sea, the superstitious tales they told about seafolk were true.

Killian clenched his jaw. He wasn’t one for grog, but he could use a shot of whiskey right about now.

It had almost been a year since news broke across the world about the sirens’ existence. Many fishermen and sailors reconsidered their professions, but not even a school of bloodthirsty merfolk stopped Killian’s crew from coming to the pier before sunrise each day. A seafaring life was all they’d ever known. They didn’t want or know how to do anything else. For them, that was reason enough to stay on.

Not that there were a lot of job alternatives in rural, coastal Maine. The logging industry wasn’t what it used to be, and while increased tourism was a boon for commercial real estate development, construction jobs were hard to come by with the influx of ex-fishermen looking for new careers. But with their competition thinning out, the pay Killian could now offer was quite compelling.

While money couldn’t buy bravery, it certainly helped.

The noise cancellation headsets Killian gave to his crew had a built-in radio communication system that allowed them to talk with one another without succumbing to the sirens’ seductive crooning. They were designed by an acoustics physicist hired by Dr. Lila Branson, the marine biologist credited with discovering the siren species, and Killian’s good friend. She had one in captivity and brought in a physicist to study the frequency of her call. With three loved ones in the fishing industry—a husband, a father, and a close friend—Lila had spared no expense pushing the project along.

After donning his own headset, more for show than safety, Killian jogged down the pilot house steps and joined his crew. He didn’t need to wear it, but he couldn’t explain to them how he was immune to most siren song.

He wore the ear-coverings slightly off-kilter, allowing in outside sound. He would adjust them soon, but he needed to hear those roaring engines just a bit longer for his own peace of mind. If they ran strong, the hearing-sensitive sirens would not come anywhere near his boat.

One by one, his crew members nodded to him as he passed. Even as the sun pierced through the clouds overhead, hot and bright, their sun-tanned faces paled. They squinted at him through the light, waiting. This part of their offshore runs never got any easier. The anticipation. The fear that this time something might go wrong. But they always toughed it out for the bountiful promise of a good haul. When they fished just beyond siren territory, skirting its edges, they never went home empty-handed.

Killian took stock of his crew.

Despite the summer’s heat, they shivered in their boots. No, not shivered. Quaked. Only Walter “Walt” Walsh, a former fishing captain, and Will Branson, Killian’s lead deckhand and best friend, stood steady. Walt held a wide stance, dark brown thumbs casually hooked through his front belt loops, and Will crossed his arms, heavily freckled, “tan” for his ruddy white skin, both men a picture of cool and collected, but their lips were pinched tight. They understood better than anyone else on the crew exactly what they faced out here on the open water.

Killian unclipped a knife from his pocket and unfolded the blade. He crouched before the crates of canned pork and slashed open the tethers holding them in place, hoping the quick motion hid his trembling hands. With a barked command from Branson, the crew sprung to life, hefting crates away from the stack. Killian’s own fear wasn’t forgotten but working with his hands helped. Idleness only allowed fear to dig its ugly claws in deeper.

All around him his crew wedged crowbars beneath the lids, the wood creaking as it splintered and was pried apart. Waves splashed against the hull, and the boat’s engine continued to roar. There was also a weird ringing in his ears, but likely had to do with the headset sitting half on, half off.

And yet, despite all the noise, his crew’s silence was the loudest of all.

He adjusted his headset, fitting it snugly over his ears. The engines, the waves, the ringing, everything disappeared, save for the low staticky hum of an open radio channel. The crew tore off the rest of the lids and prepped the crates for dumping overboard.

While everyone threw themselves into work, the youngest crew member, Ian, stared blankly ahead at the water, frozen to the spot. The sandy-haired kid didn’t even blink when another crew member bumped into him. Or squint at the sun, for that matter, even though he’d taken off his sunglasses, the skin directly around his eyes shone a lily white where the rest of his face was deeply tanned.

The glare off the water should’ve been blinding. Kid was probably damaging his eyes staring like that.

Killian clasped the young man’s shoulder and found it damp to the touch. “You okay?” His voice crackled across the comms.

Ian blinked twice and looked up at him. The hairs at the back of the young man’s neck rose above prickled gooseflesh, and although his eyes were glassy and unfocused, he nodded. The movement was slight, barely a dip of the chin.

Killian squeezed his shoulder. “It’ll be all right.” The kid didn’t usually get this worked up, but some days the fear of what lurked below just gripped tighter. “Why don’t you give Walt a hand with that crate? Helps to stay busy.”

“Okay,” Ian mumbled.

Killian left him to grab a broom. With his crew handling all the heavy lifting, the least he could do was sweep up wood shards and tether cuttings. Just because he was captain didn’t mean he was above the work.

As he went to open the deck box, a round, black object, with its center cut out like a donut, caught his eye against the steel deck. He crouched down and picked it up, squishing it between his fingers. Wrinkled foam. Like the cushioning in their headsets, which not only provided comfort, it also created the sound-blocking seal.

One side was slightly tacky, like glue, and there were puncture marks all throughout like someone’s dog had used it for a chew toy.

“Ian! Where d’you think you’re going, son?” Walt called out, his voice loud and clear over the radio. Killian glanced over to where the young man had last stood but the spot was empty. “Ian?” Walt repeated, his voice dropping low in volume. The seasoned fisherman took a hesitant step forward, his brow furrowed, a strong gust of wind whipping back his mane of tight, curly white hair.

The kid didn’t respond.

Killian rocked back on his heels for momentum and leapt to his feet. He followed Walt’s gaze to the pilot house steps, where Ian steadily climbed up. There was no hard rule saying he couldn’t be there, but there wasn’t a reason for him or other members of the crew to be. Their place, their work was on deck.

Although Ian was no model for good posture, his shoulders were slumped more than usual, the movement of his lanky limbs slowed as if filled with wet sand. When the kid paused on the steps to tilt his head and shake, Killian half expected seawater to trickle out.

And that’s when he saw it.

Shit.

Ian’s noise cancellation headset sat off kilter on top of his head…because he was missing the ear-padding on one side.

He dashed after the kid.

How had he not seen it before? He should have been paying better attention. While the tech was effective, it wasn’t foolproof. Unless the earpieces sat snuggly over top the ears, creating a seal that blocked out sound, the headsets lost all their protective qualities.

Ian continued to the door. “It’s so loud,” he whined, reaching for the handle.

The memory of a mermaid named Undine thrashing on deck, clawed hands covering her ears from the sound of the boat’s engines, spurred Killian up the stairs. When they caught Undine in their nets, she hummed until Branson shut off the engine, and she almost successfully compelled Lila to set her free.

“McAdams! Don’t let him shut the engines off!” Killian shouted to his helmsman.

“Wha—oh, shit. Ian, what the hell are you doing?”

The comms crackled with the sounds of a scuffle.

As Killian bounded up the steps, two at a time, he felt the vibrations from another set of feet pounding up the stairs behind him.

“Right behind you, Cap,” Branson’s voice assured.

A loud thunk, followed by a sharp cry over the radio, chilled Killian’s blood. He lurched forward, bracing himself against the pilot house door. Not because they sped up, but because the boat had abruptly stopped, its engine cut.

“Open those crates and then get yourselves below deck,” he ordered the others, wrenching the door open.

Inside, McAdams lay unconscious on the floor.

Armed with a paper weight, Ian stood guard over the navigation console, trembling. Killian stopped short and raised his hands. Ian may not have been a sturdy kid, but he was scrappy.

“Whoa, easy there, Ian. You can put that down. I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Captain, we gotta keep these engines off,” Ian pleaded. “They’re too loud.”

“Okay, no problem. I just need you to look at me, listen to the sound of my voice, and set the weight down. Can you do that for me, Ian?”

The kid’s eyes remained glassy, but he lowered his arm.

Killian licked his lips nervously. He needed to get to the console asap, but he didn’t want to hurt the kid to get to it, if he didn’t have to. “That’s it. Good. Now can you take a step toward me?” He gestured the kid forward.

Ian planted his feet and shook his head.

Somewhere behind Killian, Branson grumbled under his breath and brushed past him. Ian swung the paperweight at the lead deckhand’s head as he approached, but Branson blocked his wrist and socked the kid right in the face. The paperweight clattered to the floor, and Ian followed, knocked out cold. Stepping over him, Branson reached for the controls, blood trickling from his busted knuckles.

“Did he—?” Branson swore, slamming his palm on top of the console. “He broke the key in the ignition.”

Cries of panic erupted over the comms. “Cap! They’re swimming for the boat!”

“Get below now,” Killian barked, dashing outside. He silently cursed the siren’s supernatural swim speeds.

In just a matter of seconds, they were scaling the side of his boat.

“Hurry, man! Hurry!” a crew member yelled.

The whole lot of them were bottlenecked at the stairs. Walt took up the back of the line with a crowbar in his hands, his face a mask of fierce resignation. He would defend the crew until his last breath, if need be, but the old man wouldn’t stand a chance. None of them would.

Pulling a gun from his hip holster, which he’d bought for emergencies exactly like this, Killian fired a warning shot into the air.

The sirens hunkered down and shrieked. If it weren’t for the headset he wore, his own ears would be ringing right now.

Please let that be enough to scare them away.

The sirens shook their heads, flinging water from strands of sea-soaked hair. When the shaking stopped, seven pairs of eyes locked on the last of his crew, funneling through the door.

They kept climbing.

Oh, hell no.

Killian fired another shot and trained his gun on the nearest one—a dark-haired creature with amber eyes and silvery scales streaked with orange.

Pressing her ear to her shoulder, she glared at him and hissed. But her gaze didn’t stray to the rest of the crew. Message received…he hoped. While he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot, doing so probably wouldn’t bode well for future fishing expeditions. And what would Lorelei think? All her peacemaking efforts swallowed whole.

He swiped his brow with the back of his arm to keep the sweat from burning his eyes.

One by one, seven sirens slinked over the side, one scaled leg after the other. Their claws clicked against the metal as they walked on all fours across the deck toward the abandoned crates. They tore into the canned pork, ripping apart the aluminum tins and cramming the meat into their mouths, canning juices running down their chins.

Bile rose at the back of Killian’s throat. He looked away before he spewed his lunch all over the deck.

At least it wasn’t his crew they feasted on.

A door slammed shut beneath Killian, the vibration from the door’s swing coursing through his boots. Every siren on board jumped, hackles raised. He prayed they didn’t rush the door and try to batter their way in, but they returned to their meal with little more than a few dirty looks cast in his direction.

“We’re all in,” Walt radioed. “Get yourself back into the pilot house and bar the door.”

Killian exhaled. “We’re good. They’re just chowing down on deck. I’m gonna stick around and make sure they leave.”

The radio fell silent, long enough that Killian didn’t think he would respond, but the old fisherman replied in a soft voice, “Be careful, son.”

He would wait until they had their fill before attempting to shoo them away. Best not get between them and one of their favorite meals. He wasn’t about to present himself as dessert.

The sirens wore arm and neck pieces fashioned from metal taken from past offerings of canned meat, unaware how ridiculous wearing the canned pork brand appeared to their two-legged prey. If he wasn’t so freaked out about having people-eating sirens crawling around on his boat, he would have laughed.

When they were all safely back on shore, he would have to tell Lorelei, and maybe then he could laugh with his feet planted on solid ground, and the only siren in sight more likely to kiss him than eat him.

The sirens just kept eating and eating, their bellies bulging from their gorging.

What about the rest of the pod? Shouldn’t they be leaving enough for them? And where was Undine? He didn’t think the leader of the sirens would approve of this. As he understood it, their regular potted meat tribute was meant to be shared, and it was supposed to keep the sirens away from his boat, not hosting a family dinner on deck.

Leave. Just take it all and go.

Why draw it out? It didn’t make any sense. Sirens disliked being above water.

Maybe this was a rogue group, or maybe Undine sanctioned this breach of their agreement to demonstrate her power, to show the humans who really held all the cards out in the open ocean.

A dull ache formed behind Killian’s eyes.

He waited until the seven sirens onboard slowed their eating. They sat back, lounging on deck, and patted their rounded bellies, making themselves at home. His temper flared. Switching off his mouthpiece, so he didn’t blow out the eardrums of his crew, he yelled, “All right, you’ve had enough. Get the fuck off my boat!”

They looked up in unison. He made a shooing motion to emphasize his point.

The amber-eyed one cocked her head to the side and smirked.

The nerve…he shot the crate next to the siren, sending splintered wood flying. They all jumped back, covering their ears and snarling.

“GET. OFF. MY. BOAT,” he repeated, pointing out at the water. If this provoked an attack, he had another magazine in his pocket. He didn’t want to have to use it, but he would.

Beneath his boots, the whole boat vibrated, the engines roaring to life. Branson must have found a way to pry the broken key out and used the spare. The sirens shrieked and hurtled themselves over the side. He watched their brightly colored bodies streak away before they dove down into the deep.

Why did the engines send them away and not the gunshots? Was it one loud noise too many? Or was it the continuous drone that bothered them? He sat heavily on the steps, Dawn Chaser chugging along at full speed. He didn’t get it, but whatever it was, he was grateful they were gone.

He switched his mouthpiece back on. “They’re gone. You can come out now.”

One by one his crew filed out onto the deck. He didn’t have to say anything. They just began hurling the remaining crates of canned pork over the side and cleaned up wood shards, empty cans, and splattered meat. In all their years together at sea, Dawn Chaser’s fishing crew had never seen anything that would make any of them even think the word “siren” or “mermaid.” But his dealings with Undine last year opened a door he could not close. And despite his best efforts to keep the siren’s hunger for human flesh in check, it only seemed to embolden them further.

Killian swiped a hand over his face. He failed his crew today and could lose them. Not that he’d blame them. Vicious mermaid attacks weren’t what they signed up for.

The sirens must have planned this. That they happened to be singing while Ian was wearing a faulty headset couldn’t be a coincidence. It made him suspect that they might always sing when his boat entered their waters, lying in wait for the moment he and his crew showed weakness, hoping for exactly what happened here today.

But then why hadn’t he heard their song when his own headset was askew? There was that weird ringing, but it hadn’t felt compulsory. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he was attuned to only one siren’s song—the love of his life, his wife-to-be.

Lorelei.

He’d pulled her from these very waters almost a year ago, when the ship she was on sank, its entire crew devoured by her murderous kin. But as a Midwest transplant, who at the time had never been to sea, Lorelei hadn’t known what she was. The maritime tragedy awakened that dormant part of her, and with her transformation, came cravings for human flesh.

If it weren’t for Lila’s help, Lorelei might’ve been lost to him, irrevocably called to the deep, and unable to resist the carnivorous drive that turned loved ones into prey. She could have been one of the sirens scaling the side of his boat today.

Arms draped across his knees, he stared out over the water, wondering if they were still nearby, lurking, following, waiting for another mistake. This wasn’t the first time he’d had an unfriendly siren on his boat, but every day for almost a year, he’d hoped and prayed it would be the last.

A series of events led Killian, Lorelei, and a small knit group of their closest friends and family to live capture a mermaid—Undine—the siren’s leader. And they made a deal. Potted meat in exchange for safe passage. A “cure” in exchange for a siren to study.

Because the siren hunger for human flesh wasn’t innate. It was viral.

Every time, fisherman.

Undine’s last words haunted him. She’d said it with a wink that was a disturbing mix of flirtation and warning. No skipped meals. No tribute could mean retaliation. He’d been diligent, but maybe she was behind this, but whatever the case might be, he would be a fool if he thought this incident was just a fluke, and the last of their troubles with the sirens.

The prey animal that he was felt it down to the marrow with chilling certainty.

Dawn Chaser was marked. And so was he.

 

Copyright @ 2023 by Desirée M. Niccoli

SONG OF LORELEI by Desirée M. Niccoli

Song Of Lorelei

Even after brokering a deal with the vicious merfolk who stalk his offshore fishing lanes, Captain Killian Quinn has had one too many onboard his boat for comfort. His livelihood, and life, as well as that of his crew’s, depends on his ability to maintain peace. One wrong move and the Dawn Chaser could become a floating charcuterie board, and he’d never see again the one mermaid he wouldn’t mind take a little nibble out of him.

A sinister craving for human flesh leaves Lorelei Roth with no other choice. She must aid the study of one of her own to find a more permanent solution to protect the ones she loves. As enthralled by all her sharp edges and seductive siren song as her fiancé may be, the threat of becoming the wrong kind of snack is never far enough away.

While they’re close to a breakthrough treatment, doubt gnaws at Lorelei as she watches a fellow mermaid languish in a tank, enduring endless rounds of tests and denied the healing touch of the sea. Is one mermaid’s declining health and happiness too steep a price for freedom? And if so, what sacrifices is Lorelei willing to make to set it right?

 

Romance Paranormal [City Owl Press, On Sale: January 17, 2023, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781648982811 / eISBN: 9781648982828]

Buy SONG OF LORELEIAmazon.com | Kindle | BN.com | Apple Books | Kobo | Google Play | Powell's Books | Books-A-Million | Indie BookShops | Ripped Bodice | Love's Sweet Arrow | Walmart.com | Book Depository | Target.com | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Amazon FR

About Desirée M. Niccoli

Desirée M. Niccoli

By night, Desirée M. Niccoli writes adult romance featuring vicious monsters, villains, and the supernatural, often served with a side of eco-horror and paired with (mostly) emotionally intelligent characters and heart. By day, she is a public relations professional living the nomadic military life with her husband and two cats Pawdry Hepburn and Puma Thurman. Although born and raised in Pittsburgh, Desirée has since lived in coastal Maine (where her spooky heart truly lies) and Maryland.

Desirée is the author of Called to the Deep, the first book in a paranormal romance duology starring a flesh-craving mermaid and an offshore sea captain.

WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

 

 

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