Title: Dark Water (Reverse Fairytales, #4)
Author: J.A. Armitage
Publication Date: June 19th, 2018
Genres: Fairy Tales, YA
A tragic accident on the eve of her eighteenth birthday leads Princess Erica to a chance encounter with a mysterious man on the beach. When he turns up at her birthday party and whisks her off her feet, she knows she has to find out everything about him, but why won’t he speak and where does he keep disappearing to?
Ari knows he’s crossed a line by mingling with the land humans, but how can he resist the beautiful princess whose life he saved? He must decide whether to stay on land and become like her, or continue to live without her in the depths of the ocean.
Trapped in a centuries long battle between his kind and hers, his decision will rock both their kingdoms.
With a sea witch that needs repaying and the small matter of Erica’s engagement to someone else, Ari knows the odds are stacked against him.
Dark Water is the fourth in the Reverse Fairytale series and the first Little Mermaid retelling by USA Today bestselling author J.A.Armitage. Take everything you think you know about fairytales and turn it on its head.
“May God bless her and all who sail on her.”
I cleared my throat, hoping I’d said it correctly, and
gripped the bottle of champagne, terrified of letting it go
too early or, worse still, missing the ship entirely.
Beyond the ship, the ocean shimmered in the midday
sun. Diamond-like sparkles of light bounced off the
calm cerulean water—water that looked so inviting, I
wanted nothing more than to jump in, to surrender to
the balmy ripples. Of course, wanting it and doing it
were two different things. First of all, I couldn’t swim,
and secondly, my mother would pitch a fit if I took
another step closer to the dock edge. She was already
a bag of nerves from today’s event.
I looked behind me, needing reassurance from my
parents. This was my first official royal engagement,
and I was terrified of messing it up. My father beamed
at me with pride while my mother gave me a thin smile.
I could see the fear in her eyes although she was doing
her best to hide it. I was amazed she’d come at all. The
ocean positively terrified her. My father’s hand was
almost white with how hard my mother was squeezing
it. Next to them, my little brother, Anthony, was picking
his nose and examining the treasure he found up there.
Not for the first time I was reminded how fortunate it
was that I was the first in line to the throne.
Beside me, my life-long best friend nudged me to let
go of the bottle. Officially, his title was Sir Hayden
Harrington-Blythe, but to me, he was just Hayden. He’d
been my first crush since our first day in kindergarten
when he’d pulled on my pigtails, and I’d stamped on his
foot. Despite our unpromising start, over the years we’d
turned into friends. My crush on him was long since
over, and his pigtail pulling days were long gone, but
somehow, our friendship had survived.
“You do know you are supposed to let go of the bottle
right?” whispered Hayden in my ear. I gave him a look I
only ever reserved for him and lifted the bottle. Letting
go, I watched it swing on a length of string, arcing
towards the majestic ship’s wooden hull. It made a
tinkling sound as it smashed against the side of the
ship, scattering glass all over the paved dock. I couldn’t
help thinking it was a waste of good champagne and
that it would be better served at the ball being held in
honor of my birthday in a couple of days’ time. Still, I
felt invigorated by the salty smell of the ocean, the
atmosphere of a thousand happy people coming out to
see the launch, and the fact that I now had a boat that
bore my name. I was feeling as excited as I could hope
to feel, second only to being allowed to actually go out
on the damn thing.
The Erica Rose’s white sails flapped in the breeze
below the official flag of Trifork as if she were eager to
be off, out onto the ocean. I couldn’t blame her. To sail
on the ocean was a lifelong dream of mine. Ever since I
could remember, I’d looked out of my bedroom window
toward the ocean and dreamed of the day that I’d be
able to disappear beyond the rolling waves toward the
It was a dream that had never, and would never, be
realized as long as my parents were in charge. For a
kingdom so well-known for its naval and merchant
vessels, my parents were ridiculously strict about letting
me go near the ocean. This was the closest I’d gotten
in the whole eighteen years of my life, and I had a full
team of palace guards surrounding me, stopping me
from taking one step closer to the water’s edge than I
had to. It was all because of my mother, of course. My
father might have been the one that ruled Trifork, but in
the palace, my mother was the one that wore the pants,
so to speak. If my mother said I couldn’t go near the
ocean, then my father wasn’t going to argue with her.
However, today was a special day, and not even my
mother could come up with a good enough reason for
us not to be here. She might have been absolutely
petrified, but she was the queen, a duty she held above
everything, even crippling panic.
Everybody clapped as the wooden ship began pulling
up its anchor, its crew readying themselves to set sail.
I took a deep breath and inhaled the salty air. Above
the excited chatter of the crowd, seagulls cawed to
each other as they flew overhead looking for an easy
snack. Oh, how I envied them and their freedom.
My father managed to extricate himself from my
mother’s vice-like grip and joined me on the dock’s
edge. My poor mother’s face turned even more ashen,
and she had to grip a nearby railing instead to save
herself from fainting. It was almost cruel, living so close
to the ocean and being so frightened of it. I saw her
eyes darting past my father and me to the ocean
behind us as though it could somehow climb above the
dock and swallow us whole. I don’t doubt it could on a
stormy day, but today the skies were blue, and the sea
“We here in Trifork have a rich sailing heritage, one of
which I am immensely proud,” began my father into the
microphone that had been set up for the occasion.
“Today is a big day for me, both as a king and a father.
As you all know, my daughter, the princess Erica Rose,
will turn eighteen in just two days’ time. Her first official
engagement was supposed to be at the ball, but she
begged me to be allowed to launch this ship. Being the
dutiful father I am, I agreed.” He paused at this point
waiting for a laugh. When he got it, he carried on. “This
is my birthday gift to you, dear Erica. I know you’ve
always had a fondness for the sea and so this ship not
only bears your name but also belongs to you.”
I blinked a couple of times, unsure if what I was
hearing was true. The ship was mine? I wasn’t allowed
to dip my toes in the shallow waves at the beach, but I
was allowed to own a ship?
I gazed up at the huge galleon. “She’s mine?” Hope
rose in my chest that I might, for the first time in my life,
be able to go out on the ocean. My parents had never
so much as let me sail in a dinghy before now, let alone
go on a ship.
“She’s all yours, sweetheart. As part of our fleet and a
working ship, she will be taken out by her captain,
Captain Jackson. But when she’s back in Trifork, you
will be able to see her whenever you want.”
“Yes,” beamed my father, oblivious to the
disappointment I was feeling. Only see her? I didn’t
want a ship to look at. I’d spent my entire life watching
the ships of Trifork sail in and out of the harbor. I
wanted to sail to foreign lands, to feel the sea breeze
upon my cheek. I wanted to know what it felt like to roll
over the gentle waves with the vastness of the ocean
the only thing in view.
My mother caught my disappointment though. She
could read me like a book. An elegant woman with a
sharp tongue and an even sharper sense of style, she
swallowed her terror and took a few steps toward me,
toward the ocean. She walked tall and calmly, but a
slight tremor in her step gave her away.
“Aren’t you happy with your new ship?”
“Yes ma’am,” I lied. What was the point of having a
ship if I wasn’t allowed on it?
She flicked her eyes past me, once again, toward the
ocean. What was it she was looking for? Her eyes
snapped back to me. “You know my feelings on you
going near the sea, Erica. It’s a dangerous place. I
nearly drowned when I was about your age.” She took
my hand and pulled me a couple of steps toward
her—away from the dock’s edge.
I’d heard the story a million times. Every time I even
hinted at wanting to go near the sea, she’d dredge up
the same story about how she nearly drowned when
she was younger. I wasn’t in the mood to hear it again.
The ship was cast off, the gangplank raised. My ship
was about to go on an adventure I could only dream of.
The wind caught the sails and the majestic vessel
began to move, her crew waving at us as she inched
away from the dockside.
My father clapped me on the back, a beaming smile
on his face. Even my mother, who usually had a face
like a prune when it came to anything to do with water,
had found her smile again. I glanced over at Hayden.
He knew I was disappointed. I talked about nothing but
the ocean with him. He loved the water as I did, but
unlike me, he could go out onto it whenever he wanted.
He even had his own boat. It was nowhere near as
grand as the Erica Rose, but at least, he was allowed
to sail in it.
He flicked his eyes almost imperceptibly towards the
ship. I arched a brow.
“Do it,” he mouthed silently and cast his eyes towards
the ship once again.
He wanted me to jump on the ship! He was actually
daring me to do it. Thoughts of all the silly childhood
pranks and adventures he’d led me into filled my mind.
Hayden was the epitome of an irresistible bad idea. I
followed his eye line to where the gangplank had been
pulled up. The gate was still open, but it wouldn’t be for
long. The ship was already a foot away from the dock
and moving swiftly towards the open sea. I had
seconds to make a decision.
My heart hammered, and adrenaline took over.
Without thinking too hard, I ran from my parents,
barged past the palace guards, and jumped as far as I
could right off the dock. The ship had moved much
faster than I’d anticipated, and I missed the gate by a
long shot, and instead of landing on the ship, I plunged
head first into the sea.
All I could hear were my mother’s screams as the
water crowded in around me.
The water that had looked so warm and inviting when
I’d been standing on the dock was actually a lot colder
than I’d imagined, and as I scrambled for air, its icy grip
took my breath away
Mouthfuls of briny water flowed into my mouth,
causing me to choke as I tried desperately to keep
above the water’s surface. In one terrifying instant, I
realized what it was that my mother had been keeping
me from for all these years. As I’d never been allowed
in water deeper than a bath, I’d never learned how to
swim. It occurred to me now that this wasn’t exactly my
The dress I’d had picked out for me, a knee length
cotton blue dress was perfect for looking smart and
launching a ship. It was utterly useless as a floatation
device. The heavy, waterlogged fabric weighed me
down, making it even harder to try to keep my head
Beside me, I heard a splash. I looked over to see a
red and white life ring bobbing close by with a rope
attached to it. On the other end of the rope, the Erica
Rose’s crew shouted at me to grab hold. After I’d
managed to pull myself through it, they heaved me up
and pulled me over the side of the boat.
A group of worried faces peered down at me. One of
the men reached a hand down to help me up. As I
righted myself, my dress dripped ocean water all over
the deck and tightened around me. I felt so
uncomfortable in the soggy outfit, but when I saw how
far from the dock we’d already moved, excitement
flooded through me. The fear I’d felt just moments
before dissolved, leaving me feeling exhilarated. I was
on a ship for the first time in my life, and we were
sailing away from the dock.
With giddy excitement, I gripped a railing. On the edge
of the dock, my parents shouted and waved for us to
come back. My heart fell as I caught the expression on
my mother’s face. Her usual stern expression had
contorted to one of absolute fear, and she wasn’t trying
to hide it anymore. Her screams pierced the air, her
usual stoic facade dropped completely as she tore at
my father who was desperately trying to pull her back
from the edge of the dock.
Her fear of falling into the ocean was obviously
smaller than losing one of her children to it.
My stomach churned as I realized the severity of my
actions. I’d only wanted to go out to sea. I didn’t want to
hurt my mother in the process. I was going to be in the
worst kind of trouble for this little stunt, and as we
floated further and further out to sea, the more I
realized that the adventure was not worth it.
Captain Jackson, a tall man with a perfectly groomed
black mustache and oiled down hair greeted me with a
salute. I’d never been saluted before. Bowed to and
curtseyed aplenty, but a salute was new to me. I raised
my hand and saluted back, unsure of the etiquette.
“I’m going to try to turn the ship back, your highness,
but it may take a little time to adjust the sails. The wind
is not optimal right now. There’s a squall coming, and
I’d hoped to get far enough away to miss it.”
I glanced out to the horizon. The seamless blue sky
was darkening, and the sea below it matched its
threatening color. Where had that come from? Only
seconds before, the weather had been as perfect as
anyone could wish for.
“Yes, please turn around.” My heart dropped as I
realized that my adventure was over before it had even
started, and I’d gotten nothing out of it except to
embarrass myself in front of thousands of onlookers
and terrify my poor mother.
I looked back over to the shoreline. My parents and all
the onlookers were barely dots on the horizon now. To
my right, I could see the public beach to which people
flocked in the summer months. Beyond that were
magnificent white cliffs that I’d heard plenty about but
never actually seen before as they were only visible
from the sea. To my left, the coast was much rockier,
and here was where the royal castle stood. Only a wide
promenade separated the rocks from the castle. It
looked so dark and imposing with its granite grey
towers; I barely recognized it from this angle.
“Why don’t you go to my cabin and get changed out
of those wet clothes. I’ll have one of my crew show you
where it is.”
Captain Jackson swiveled on his toe and left me
alone, feeling terrible. I’d not paused to consider the
crew or the captain, and now they were going to have
to abort their mission. I could chalk up a few more
people to the list of those I’d disappointed. With a sigh,
I walked to the other side of the deck to look out at the
vast ocean. In the distance, the sea turned black and
churned ominously almost as though that part of the
ocean was alive and out to get us. It was a stark
contrast to the crystal clear and calm water beneath the
ship. Above me, the crew of the Erica Rose battled to
maneuver the sails to turn us around.
“Your Royal Highness.”
I heard someone shouting at me above the wind that
was now blustering fiercely. Lightning forked, splitting
the sky in two, and the wind tugged my hair from the
clip that had been keeping it in place. Strands of long
red hair whipped around my face. I turned to see a
young man heading toward me.
“I’m Joe, Your Highness, the second in command of
the Erica Rose,” he said, giving me a quick bow. “The
captain has asked me to escort you to his cabin.”
Joe was barely older than me, with short, dirty blond
hair and a winning smile. I was surprised to see
someone so young be the second in command of such
“It’s getting a little choppy,” Joe cautioned, his cheeks
red as he took my hand. “They are going to struggle to
get the ship back to shore. The forecast mentioned a
little bit of turbulent water, but it looks to be shaping up
to be a proper storm out there.”
I followed Joe to a big wooden doorway, which he
opened for me and beckoned me inside. As I thanked
him, a boom filled the darkening sky.
“Thunder,” Joe remarked, taking my hand and leading
me down a corridor. I held on tightly to him as the ship
listed violently to one side from the sharp turn of the
wheel. He showed me to a large room with a writing
desk on one side and a bed on the other.
“There will be some clothes in the wardrobe there,” he
said, pointing to a small door. “I don’t expect the
captain has any dresses, but I’m sure you’ll find
something dry to wear.”
I watched the storm unfold through a small porthole as
Joe left me to help the captain. It seemed no one was
expecting the weather to be this bad and how could
they? Only ten minutes earlier, there hadn’t been a
cloud in the sky, and now there was barely any blue
left, only the darkness of the sea and the sky. It was
strange how quickly the storm had taken hold. I
certainly had never seen anything like it before.
Outside, the rain began to lash down, pitter-pattering
on the round window. Thunder crashed as the waves
became more intense with the roaring wind that
whipped all around us. The storm had sneaked up on
us quickly, and as far as I could see, we were getting
further and further away from the coastline. Whatever
Captain Jackson’s men were doing to turn the ship
around, it wasn’t helping.
I hated admitting it to myself after dreaming of the day
I could finally sail on the sea for so long, but I was
beginning to get scared. My mother’s screams echoed
in my head, although we had drifted too far to really
hear her. The boat creaked with the strain, and from out
of the window, I could see we were being pulled closer
and closer toward the storm. A crash from behind me
made me jump. I turned to find that some previously
neatly stacked dishes had been flung from the
cupboard and were now in hundreds of pieces on the
floor. Holding on was almost impossible, the ship was
lurching so much. I tried walking over to the wardrobe
that Joe had pointed out, but the floor beneath me was
rocking so much under the motion of the waves that I
could barely stand at all. With a shock, I saw a stream
of water pushing the remnants of the dishes across the
floor. It was coming from the doorway. We were taking
on water. I held on to the writing desk to keep myself
upright, but the motion of the ship knocked me to the
floor. Something sharp pierced my side, and when I
looked down, I saw a sliver of broken plate had cut
through my dress and into my flesh creating a bloom of
fresh blood on the wet fabric.
I looked up to grab hold of the desk to pull myself back
up and was shocked to see that the window was now
partly submerged. We were sinking, and we were
sinking fast. Pulling myself up, I ran to the door quickly.
I had to get out, or I would drown. I yanked the door as
hard as I could, and as it opened, a deluge of water
rushed in knocking me over once again. The lights
flickered out leaving me in complete darkness as the
water engulfed me, sending me flying into something
hard. Water filled my lungs as the blackness folded in
around me, my mother’s warnings of the fierceness of
the ocean echoing in my head.
About the Author
J.A lives in a total fantasy world (because reality is boring right?) When she’s not writing all the crazy fun in her head, she can be found eating cake, designing pretty pictures and hanging upside down from the tallest climbing frame in the local playground while her children look on in embarrassment. She’s travelled the world working as everything from a banana picker in Australia to a Pantomime clown, has climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and the bottom of the Grand Canyon and once gave birth to a surrogate baby for a friend of hers. She spends way too much time gossiping on Facebook and if you want to be part of her Reading Army, where you’ll get lots of freebies, exclusive sneak peeks and super secret sales, join up here.
Somehow she finds time to write.
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