The Mermaid’s Apprentice

Book 1 of The Pirate and the Mermaid’s Trilogy

Mabel Sinclair never planned to become a pirate.

All she wanted was to escape her dull life as a debutante and conquer the world of fashion. One fateful night at a ballroom ends when Mabel’s foolish brother is kidnapped and transformed into a toad. To save him, Mabel makes a bargain with a mermaid and travels with her to an unexpected realm of magic. Once there, Mabel must choose between being imprisoned by cruel merfolk or joining pirates.

Antonio Cortez never planned to fall in love with a pirate.

A sailor who dreams of returning to his quiet life as a tailor, Antonio’s plans are knocked off course by a chance meeting with the dashing pirate Mabel Sinclair. Antonio bonds with Mabel over their love of fashion, only to become a target for Mabel’s growing list of enemies.

Fighting for their lives and their future, Mabel and Antonio find they have only one ally to turn to: the treacherous mermaid who Mabel bargained with in the first place.

The Mermaid’s Apprentice is part of The Pippington Tales series and the first book of The Pirate and the Mermaid’s Tailor trilogy, an epic tale of pirates, mermaids, and adventures in high fashion.

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Chapter 1

Cliffshire, along the coast of Barthan

April of the Year 306 of the Barthanian Republic (B.R.)

Every woman in the room, except Mabel, was in love with Malcom Sinclair.

She knew her arrogant oaf-of-a-brother better than anyone. Sitting on a silk-padded chair at the edge of the small ballroom, she contemplated how to ruin his chances with the women in matching, lacy ball gowns. It was a rescue mission, really, to save them from the sweet-spoken lies Malcom sold with his charming smile, tall frame, and sweeping, dark red hair.

Mabel sighed and switched which hand she rested her chin on. She was always amazed her elder brother could tell the young women apart. Their hair had the same set of ironed curls pulled into a bun, and their gowns only varying by color. The cut and drape of the skirts or curve of the bodice should be sculpted to the woman, instead of how these women were crammed into their dresses. No one was apparently bold enough to tell half the women they resembled overstuffed sausages.

“Maybe I should,” Mabel whispered.

However, being so rude would just infuriate her mother further. Mabel never meant to let honest words slip out at inopportune times, but there were moments when it was necessary. Like during tea today, when no one would tell Mrs. Flemham how the pearls on her hat, hanging from behind a stuffed red cardinal, looked like bird droppings.

Once Mabel had spoken, Mrs. Sinclair covered her horror with false laughter and patted her arm. “My daughter has such a unique way of seeing things.”

Given how several respected women at the tea table eyed Mrs. Flemham’s hat and tried not to giggle, Mabel didn’t think her observation was unique.

But Mabel found it best to horrify her mother only once per day. So, she kept her silence as other young women strutted past in variations of the same gown.

At least she wore a unique dress, made in close collaboration with her father’s tailor. The narrow blue pinstripes complemented her light-blue eyes and didn’t accentuate her dark red hair. Her hair called enough attention on its own. The dress’s lines ran along her slim, seventeen-year-old frame, designed to give her a hint of curves where she had little. Though, her mother had scoffed at the lack of layers of skirts, saying, “How can you catch the eye of a young man when you look like a child?”

Surveying the room, Mabel was the only sophisticated woman there. Her friend Hazel was not as vapid as some women, but still giggled every time a handsome young man spoke to her. The rest of the women mimicked porcelain dolls in their infantile lace, powder, and paint.

Not that Mabel’s sophistication mattered much with this crowd. She’d grown up with most of the young men in their polished tuxedos, watching them laugh and joke with her brother. Knowing the exploits Malcom and his friends boasted about after parties like these, she preferred remaining forgotten in her chair.

A hush fell over the ballroom and all men seemed to turn their heads at once. Stunning was an understatement as a woman in her early twenties strode in. Her golden hair gleamed, her blue eyes sapphire-like as the candles reflected on the dark blue satin of her gown. It had a full, sweeping skirt, the fabric gathered as if the sea were forming around her. Mabel stretched up, trying to see past others along the edge of the room, seeking a better view of the finely made clothing.

This woman knew how to dress, and Mabel wanted to learn from such a master.

Malcom’s grin was bright as he broke from the crowd of women around him and strode to this newcomer’s side.

“Madame Cassandra.” He held his arm out to her. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come.”

“I made a promise.” She took his arm with one hand and unfurled a gold fan with the other. “And how could I miss this opportunity to see you again?”

Malcom’s smile broadened as he raised her hand to kiss it. As his gaze turned away, a shadow of disdain rose in Cassandra’s eyes. It was just a moment, but it sent a chill down Mabel’s spine.

At least, though, she seemed the only other person in the room who saw through Malcom.

Cassandra’s warm but thin smile returned as Malcolm led her deeper into the crowd. All men in the room forgot the females beside them as their gazes followed this statue of a goddess come to life.

As the evening wore on, men crowded around Cassandra, preening and posing, their voices growing louder as if that would charm her. The women migrated into clumps, each group taking turns glaring jealously. Mabel strolled along the room’s perimeter, observing how deftly Cassandra faked a laugh or stroked Malcom’s arm, keeping full control of him.

Mabel froze as Cassandra’s blue eyes focused on her. Staring straight back, Mabel hoped her gaze said, What game are you playing at?

Cassandra gave Mabel an appraising look before turning to laugh delightfully at Malcom’s latest attempt at being clever. Mabel narrowed her eyes. Something about this woman didn’t sit right. Though, Mabel was impressed by whatever game she was playing. All she needed to do was figure out the game.

“Isn’t it horrible?” Hazel came to Mabel’s side and took her arm. “I was just getting Stewart Bafford to notice me, and she walks in. It’s as if I don’t exist.”

“None of us exist,” Mabel said. It was eerie how the men followed Cassandra with such blind devotion. The woman was skilled at drawing attention, but the men were nearly hypnotized. “Not with her in the room.”

“Who is she, anyway? I haven’t seen her in Cliffshire before.” Hazel looked hopefully to Mabel. “Your brother seems to know her.”

“I don’t think he does.” Mabel sighed as Malcom laughed loudly at something Cassandra said. “They might have met before, but nothing more. He would have bragged for days if he knew her.”

Hazel leaned toward Mabel. “Do you think you can get her to disappear? Make one of your clever remarks, maybe? It’d be a great service to us all.”

Mabel glanced at her friend. “I’m only rude for honesty’s sake.”

Hazel gestured toward the crowd of men. “Then honestly tell her she’s ruining the evening.”

Biting back a laugh, Mabel said, “Hazel, be patient. Given Malcom’s lack of quality, I doubt she’ll return to ruin another night.”

She squeezed her friend’s arm before continuing her circuit of the room.

The men’s attention on Cassandra only worsened as the hired quartet began to play. A few other couples joined Malcom and Cassandra in waltzing across the small dance floor, but the men kept knocking into each other as their gazes tracked Cassandra.

Dancing fizzled out as women turned down their chance to make a fool of themselves. Hazel looked to Mabel with a silent plea, as if there was something she could do.

The reprieve Hazel asked for came as Malcom and Cassandra slipped out a side door. Something about the glance Cassandra took to ensure no one was watching made the hair on the back of Mabel’s neck rise. Glad to be an invisible slip of a girl, she stepped out another side door to the garden.

Her efforts would likely only bring her own embarrassment if she found Malcom and Cassandra kissing somewhere. However, something felt off as she followed the sound of giggling, along with Malcom saying, “Why do you tease me? Don’t you know all I want is to kiss you?”

“Not yet, my dear.” Cassandra’s voice was smooth as silk, and she let out a flirting laugh. “Soon, you’ll give me all I desire.”

Mabel came around a set of hedges as Malcom and Cassandra left the grounds. They crossed to the harbor and strolled along the private docks. Mabel followed, keeping to shadows.

“That is my family’s small yacht.” Cassandra pointed with her fan. “Do you want a tour?”

“Does this include a look inside the cabin?” Malcom tried to land a kiss on her cheek, but Cassandra was a step away before his lips could reach her.

Mabel tracked the pair as they walked to where the yacht was moored, the hull gleaming in the moonlight. It looked light on the water, with a single sail and small cabin.

“What a beautiful night for sailing.” Cassandra looked up at the stars. She tugged at Malcom’s arm playfully. “You’ve told me what a fine sailor you are.”

Mabel rolled her eyes as Malcom puffed up his chest. “The best in town. I even won a sailing competition last month.”

Cassandra laughed with delight and clapped her hands. “Oh, such greatness you so often speak of.”

“Would you like to see me sail?” Malcom gestured toward the harbor. “One turn around the cove?”

“Just you and me?” She playfully tapped his nose. Malcom stared at her with eyes longing for a kiss.

“As it always should be.” He kissed her hand before helping her onto the yacht. Humming to himself, he set the rigging and unlooped the rope holding the vessel to the dock. Taking his post at the helm, Malcom looked ahead and began steering the small yacht away from shore.

Mabel crouched as she hurried down the dock. Whether Cassandra or Malcom was planning something, it would be better if someone else was on board to help the victim. Or, if both were innocent, she’d jump out and scare them when Malcom finally got his kiss. He’d be furious, but it would be fun.

Pulling up her skirts, she leapt and grabbed onto the back of the yacht. She hung with her knees curled up and the hem of her dress dragging in the water. Once she climbed onto the yacht, she tucked herself under the tarp covering the dinghy.

“Do you know what beauty is?” Malcom had one arm around Cassandra as he guided the boat along the familiar curve of the harbor.

“I’ve never had anyone dare explain it to me.” Cassandra had a dryness in her voice. Mabel bit back a giggle at the quiet sarcasm. “What is beauty, my dear?”

“It is the moonlight as it caresses the curve of your neck.” Malcom leaned his lips closer.

“I’m told the moonlight often does that.”

“It is the starlight reflected in your eyes, even after dawn, when the stars have disappeared.”

“If I’ve so many little dots in my eyes, I may need to see a doctor,” Cassandra said with a laugh.

Malcom’s voice purred as he said, “It is the perfect curve of your waist.”

He began to pull her into a kiss, but Cassandra pushed him away and tapped her finger on his lips.

“Concentrate on sailing. We’ll get to such things when the time is right.”

Pulling down her hand, Malcom said, “The time is now.”

He grabbed her by the shoulders and tried to pull her against him. She brought her elbow between them and shoved him back with far greater strength than Mabel expected. Malcom laughed as he fell against the side of the ship. Mabel gripped the dinghy’s oar, ready to assist Cassandra.

“One kiss is all I ask for.” Malcom grinned as he pushed off the wall and shoved her against the cabin.

“Mr. Sinclair,” Cassandra said as she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket, “before we engage in exercising our lips, can I give something to you?”

“If I accept it, will you give me the greater gift I seek?”

“You will have more than you’d ever expect.”

Malcom held out his palm and Cassandra placed a golden bauble on it. He glanced at it with a laugh before tossing it in his hand. As the bauble flew up, Cassandra caught it in her handkerchief. Mabel’s eyes widened as her brother shrunk, transforming into a fat toad. He hovered in the air a half-second, his now bulbous eyes panicked. Cassandra caught him in her hand and walked to an unlit lantern hanging from the cabin. She patted his head with a finger.

“This form matches your character far better, Mr. Sinclair.” She set him inside the lantern and shut the door.

Mabel’s heart pounded as she stared at her brother.

Part of her wanted to laugh, considering how well he deserved it.

However, he was also now a toad. Which was far past impossible.

As a panicked ribbitting echoed from the lantern, Cassandra took the helm. “Don’t worry, Mr. Sinclair. Your kiss will come in time.”

She switched a gold lever on the helm. A gleaming light ran along the rigging as the sail drew tighter, taking full wind and pulling the yacht faster toward the open sea.

Mabel gripped the oar. It wouldn’t be long before the yacht was too far for her to swim back to shore, and who knew where Cassandra was taking them. She rolled out from behind the dinghy, oar in hand, and dropped into a crouch. Her pulse thudded as she carefully approached the golden-haired young woman and raised the oar.

Cringing, she swung as hard as she dared, which was not as hard as it needed to be.

Cassandra caught the oar, her blue eyes glaring coldly at Mabel.

“I thought I heard someone jump on the yacht.” She yanked the oar from Mabel’s grip. “You’re his younger sister. Mabel Sinclair, wasn’t it?” Gesturing with the oar, she said, “I’ve no business with you. Go on and swim to shore, if you wish.”

“Where are you taking my brother?” Mabel said, trying to have more courage than she felt.

“Your chances of swimming are becoming less, and I’d rather not lose the dinghy. I recommend you go.” Cassandra tilted her head. “Though, who designed your dress?”

She prodded Mabel’s side with the oar, motioning for her to turn around.

“I did, with my father’s tailor,” Mabel said as she complied. The shore was disappearing quickly. She was a strong swimmer, but the distance was growing swiftly. And she’d have to leave behind her dress. Another could be made, but she rather liked this one.

Also, there was the matter of her brother sitting as a toad in the lantern.

“Whose idea was the drape of the pinstripe?” Cassandra said.

“It was a collaboration.” Mabel’s brow furrowed. “My brother may be an oaf, but he doesn’t deserve to be a toad. If you give him to me, I’ll tell no one what happened tonight.”

Cassandra raised an eyebrow. “And who would believe your brother was turned into a toad?”

Mable grunted. “I’d still say you kidnapped him.”

“Me?” Cassandra blinked innocently. “The heiress all the men fawned over tonight? Kidnap anyone? Who would believe it?” She gave Mabel a clever grin. “Especially coming from a teenage girl?”

Mabel glanced at her before leaping toward the lantern on the cabin. Cassandra grabbed Mabel’s collar and yanked her back easily. Mabel’s feet kicked in the air as Cassandra pushed her onto the bench next to the helm.

“We’re too far from shore to send you back safely,” Cassandra said. “You may as well sit. If you cooperate, I’ll make sure you return home.”

“With my brother?”

“I’ve far more important uses for your brother.” Cassandra waved a dismissive hand. “Your parents are likely better off without such an odious young man.”

“He’s still my brother.”

“Did you use padding to accentuate your hips in the dress?”

Mabel glared. The questions about her dress were only a distraction. “Where are you taking him and how did you turn him into a toad?”

“Your dress is an unusual style and is far better than what other women were wearing tonight.”

“Where are you taking Malcom?”

“Where I need to.” Cassandra reached inside the cabin and pulled out a large wooden box. Opening it, she said, “Have you designed other dresses?”

Mabel folded her arms. “I am considering myself being kidnapped and will not answer any other questions.”

“Then I don’t see a need to explain where we are going.” Cassandra pulled out a set of golden wires. They unfolded to look like a weathervane as she attached it to the base of the helm. She then pulled out a pearl half the size of her head and set it in an indent.

Cassandra hummed as she ran two fingers over the pearl and yellow lines of electricity ran along the golden wires. Mabel’s eyes widened further. This could not be real.

“Where are you taking us?” she said.

“I’ll trade an answer for an answer.” Cassandra reached up and adjusted the wires. Mabel fell back against the cabin as the boat lurched forward and sped across the sea at an impossible speed.

“I have designed other dresses,” Mabel shouted, her palms flat against the wall.

“We are headed toward Marveth.”

Mabel stared at Cassandra, the name meaning nothing. “Where?”

As she sat on the bench next to Mabel’s, Cassandra pointed in the direction they were headed. “Marveth. It’s off the sea bordering Castallar.”

“Castallar is at least a week’s sailing from here,” Mabel said.

“It is, when not using magic.” Cassandra rested her hands in her lap as if they were having a nice chat. “Are you interested in designing dresses as a profession?”

She looked to Cassandra. “Will you just give me my brother and let us go home?”

“I think it’s clear we’re past the point of going back.” Cassandra pulled at Mabel’s skirt, admiring its drape. “You’ve an excellent eye for shape and a clear talent. I’d like to see other designs.”

Yanking her skirt away, Mabel said, “You kidnapped my brother and me! Why does my dress matter?”

“I did not kidnap you, Miss Sinclair. You stowed away on my vessel.” Though Cassandra’s appearance remained the same, her eyes had the weight of someone far older than twenty. “We are headed to a place where fashion is in high demand. If your talents are what I think they are, I could help you build a profitable business.”

“I just want to go home.” Mabel wasn’t sure if Cassandra’s magic or her focus on clothing design was stranger.

“As I said, that will be arranged.” Cassandra leaned toward her. “But I learned long ago to not let an opportunity pass me by.”

“I’m not going into business with someone who kidnapped my brother.”

“Do you want to bring your brother home?”

Mabel nodded. This was all too strange. Maybe she should have stayed on the dock.

“I have a business arrangement that I need to use him as payment for,” Cassandra said.

Mabel’s mouth hung open. “You’re selling my brother?”

“Which means you could buy him back. But you need the right currency to do so.” Cassandra gestured at Mabel’s dress. “I have connections and can arrange for several acquaintances to commission outfits. One or two commissions should be enough to trade for your brother’s return. A few more, and you should have passage back home.” Cassandra smiled. “Never let it be said I am without kindness.”

Mabel stared at the woman. She was definitely mad. “What are you trading my brother for?”

Cassandra looked off into the distance. “After many years of searching, I think I’ve found the secret to correcting the spell keeping me from my true love.” She pulled a locket from underneath her dress and opened it. A young man of Castallan origin stood beside Cassandra in a wedding portrait. “There is my Arturo. Isn’t he handsome?”

“You’re married?” Mabel shouted.

“Of course.” Cassandra looked at her as if this were obvious. “Why do you think I wouldn’t let your brother kiss me?”

“Because he’s an oaf!”

Cassandra laughed lightly. “I normally don’t share quite so much of my plans, but I have a feeling about you, Miss Sinclair. If you will learn to trust me, I think you could be quite helpful.”

“I’m not helping you sell my brother.”

“There are only two ways to save your brother,” Cassandra said. “You can buy him back, or you can help me steal.”

Mabel shook her head. “You truly are mad.”

“I’m sure I appear to be.” Cassandra leaned her elbow on her knee and rested her chin on her hand. “Miss Sinclair, do you think you are clever enough to steal from mermaids?”

“What?” Mabel watched the electric lines and glowing pearl orb before looking at the toad her brother had become. “Mermaids are real too?”

“Of course they are,” Cassandra said. “Because I am one myself.”

Mabel found herself staring at her captor’s legs. “You don’t look like one.”

“My legs cost me much, Miss Sinclair,” Cassandra said. “And now there are some who hope to steal them from me. If you want to save your brother, I suggest you help me.”

A numbness filled Mabel’s head as she prayed this was a dream. However, she doubted it was. Instead, the most likely answer was magic and mermaids were quite real, just like how her brother was now a toad. Grabbing him and jumping off the yacht wasn’t an option, nor was trying to overpower Cassandra. Deciding to take the only remaining choice, Mabel muttered, “How do we steal from mermaids?”

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