Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary romance from J.K. Pendragon. SEA LOVER is a standalone story featuring a trans fisherman in Canada who finds an injured merman on the beach by his home, and rescues him. If you’d like to read more from this author, check out JUNIOR HERO BLUES, which is a fun LGBTQ YA superhero romance.
Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $50 GC.
About the book:
Ian is happy with his life in a remote Canadian fishing town, where he has only the sea and his fishing crew for company. People say being alone is terrible, but he’s never had any problems with it.
Then his peaceful life is thrown into upheaval when he finds an injured merman washed up on the shore. With no idea what else to do, Ian takes the merman home and nurses him back to health.
But as he helps S’mika heal, a bond begins to form, and Ian starts to wonder if maybe there is more to life than being alone…
How about a little taste?
He found the merman on the beach as the sun was setting orange over the horizon and the waves were turning a deep green with foamy, silver tips. The tide was going out, and every time the waves washed over the body lying prone in the surf, they took swirls of dark blood with them.
Ian’s first thought was that it must be a seal, injured and washed up on the beach. He resolved to come back in the morning, drag the thing up to his cottage, and burn it so it didn’t rot and stink to high heaven for the next couple of weeks. But as he got closer, another wave washed in and rolled the figure up and over, so that it was lying on its back. As it rolled, Ian saw a long, spindly arm drop to the side and a mess of shiny, black hair.
He dropped the net and tackle he was carrying and ran, his heavy fishing boots sinking into the sand and catching on the rocks and seaweed as he sprinted towards the figure. He fell to his knees at the man’s side as the waves washed up over his body once more and was distracted for a moment, frantically checking vitals before he glanced over and saw the tail.
Ian sat back on his knees and gave a weak laugh. It had to be a joke. Some very realistic art project that had befallen unfortunate circumstances. But then the figure breathed and convulsed forward, coughing and spitting. Ian stared as the man, or boy—he didn’t look older than twenty—frantically pulled himself over onto his side and pressed his head to the sand, gagging. Then his face tightened, and he made a keening, painful noise, before glancing down at the thick, blubbery, black tail.
Without thinking, Ian lunged forward. “Don’t move,” he said hoarsely, and the boy looked up at him, his dark eyes showing no sign he understood what Ian was saying. His hair and skin were both dark, too, and Ian wondered briefly if the tail was some sort of cultural attire. Or maybe there was a movie filming in the area that he hadn’t heard about? Then he decided that it didn’t matter, because the boy was obviously badly injured, and he needed to get whatever it was off. He reached for his knife at his side and swore when he realised he’d left it in the bag with his tackle.
“Shit. Lie back.” He gently pushed on the boy’s shoulders so he understood. The boy complied, lying back with another whine of pain as Ian moved his hands down his torso, desperately trying to find the place where the brown skin met black pelt. He couldn’t.
“What is this?” he asked, flabbergasted. “How do I get it off?”
He glanced up in time for the boy to make a twisted face. The boy opened his mouth, obviously frustrated, and let out another high-pitched cry, followed by a noise that was halfway between a growl and a bark. Then his head whipped back, and he convulsed again, bringing the full weight of his tail up, and Ian saw the injury—a gash, deep enough to cut through the muscle and possibly tendons. It was difficult to see the depth of the injury, because blood was gushing up out of it as he thrashed.
The blood spattered Ian in the face, and he wiped at it, stunned. This was not normal. Being a fisherman meant he had to be able to handle himself in tense and stressful situations, and usually he was great at it, but this…? This was something else.
“Hey,” he said sharply as the boy writhed on the blood-soaked sand, obviously in terrible pain. “You need to stop moving. You’re only going to make it worse. Do you understand me?”
He didn’t know what he was going to do. He couldn’t possibly carry him, and trying to move him would only make things worse. He had his cell phone on him, but there was absolutely no reception out here. He should go and get help. Get his truck and drive it into town, letting emergency services know. But what would they do with something like this? Ian stared at the limp tail on the sand, blood gushing out of the warm, velvety, and obviously very real tail. His mind was in a fog, and all he could think about were news crews and scientists and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
The boy was looking up at him now, his eyes glazing over a little.
“I-I’m gonna be back,” Ian stammered, standing jerkily. “Stay here.”
He ran the rest of the way home, not bothering to pick up the net and tackle he’d left on the ground, not letting himself think about anything until he’d jumped up into the seat of the old Chevy pickup and revved the engine. He stared at his wild eyes in the review mirror for a moment, wondering if he was going crazy. Then he put the truck into gear and screeched out of the driveway.
The seal-boy wasn’t moving when he got back. Ian drove the truck up next to him on the beach, tires skidding in the soft sand, and jumped out to check on him. His eyes were shut, the silvery sand coated his face and body, and his skin was cold and clammy. But he was still breathing. Ian got up again, pulling his heavy raincoat off as he lowered the tailgate. Then he went to the boy and wrapped the raincoat around him, moving his arms into position and rolling him onto the coat and into a bundle.
He staggered a little as he lifted. He was strong, but the boy was deadweight, and the tail was ridiculously heavy. The bleeding seemed to have slowed, and Ian hoped it wasn’t because he had bled out completely. He dropped the prone body onto the tailgate and jumped up to roll him onto his back again, checking for vitals. He was still alive, breathing shallowly, but Ian didn’t know if he was going to make it. Normally, he’d apply a tourniquet to the limb, but in this case, that didn’t seem to be an option.
He swore and pulled the tailgate shut, jumping over the side of the truck bed and hurtling himself into the cab. He tried to drive carefully, but he knew it wasn’t going to matter how gentle the ride was if the boy bled out before Ian could get at him with his medical supplies.
The sun had set completely by the time he pulled up to his cottage, and the porch light flicked on as he hurriedly unlocked the door and let himself in, swatting at the mosquitoes buzzing around him. He grabbed at the old striped couch, dragging it around so it could be easily accessed from the door, and then rifled through a cupboard, pulling out the old, dusty first aid kit.
When he got back out to the truck and lowered the tailgate, the boy was awake again, staring at him with glazed, frightened eyes.
“Come on,” said Ian in what he hoped was a gentle voice. He reached out and slid the raincoat forward, hauling the whole bundle up into his arms. The boy groaned, his voice sounding more human now, and distinctly pained, and Ian carried him into the house.
He kicked the door shut behind him and deposited the boy as gently as he could onto the couch. His hands were bloody again—Ian noticed as he fumbled for the light switch, illuminating the room with dusty, orange light that definitely wasn’t bright enough. Next to the couch, there was an old end table with a lamp, and he grabbed for it, fumbling to knock the shade off and set it up next to the tail, which was drooping off the couch and oozing blood onto the hardwood floor.
“Okay,” he said as he reached for the first aid kit. “It’s been a few years since med school. How many…five? I dropped out too.” He gave a hoarse little laugh. The boy was looking down at him through groggy eyes, and Ian knew he didn’t understand a word he was saying. But talking helped. “Not that I have any idea how to patch this up anyway,” he continued, pulling on his gloves hurriedly and opening a package of sterilized wipes. “I was trained to treat humans. And I’m guessing you are not that. This is gonna hurt, by the way.” A morphine drip would be nice. So would a sterile hospital bed. But this was as good as it was going to get.
The boy hissed as Ian wiped the wound clean, and when Ian pulled out a needle and cotton thread, he lifted his arms and tried to sit up.
“No!” said Ian sharply, raising a hand, and the boy sank back down, his eyes wide in a mixture of anger and fear. Ian finished sterilizing the needle and thread and held them out to show him. “I’m going to stitch the wound shut. I need to, okay? Or it’ll keep bleeding.”
The boy didn’t look reassured.
“I’m trying to help you,” said Ian firmly, eyes locked with him. “You need to trust me.”
“Trust me,” repeated the boy, so accurately that, for a moment, Ian thought he must speak English after all. He looked like he was thinking hard, which must have been difficult, considering the amount of pain and blood loss he’d suffered. Then he glanced down at the wound and back at Ian.
Ian took that for permission and started stitching. The boy was quiet as he did it, and Ian was worried he’d fallen asleep again. It was best he stay awake, at least until Ian could get some water into him. But when he glanced up, the boy was staring at him, flinching only slightly as the needle pierced the flesh.
“I’m Ian,” said Ian, touching his hand quickly to his chest. “I-an.”
“Ian,” said the boy, emphasizing the an a little too much. His voice was clear, and surprisingly deep, considering how young he looked. “Sss…” he said, and broke off into a hiss as Ian tightened and tied off the first stitch. “S’mika.”
“Smika?” mumbled Ian, wiping away a trickle of blood and pulling another stitch through.
The boy frowned at him. “S—” He made a glottal stop. “—mika.”
“S’mika,” said Ian, and laughed a little at how ridiculous this was. “What are you, S’mika?”
S’mika rattled off something in a language that Ian was absolutely certain he’d never heard before, but S’mika’s tone suggested he’d said something like “I can’t understand you, dumbass.”
Ian shook his head and continued working, his hands thankfully steady. S’mika groaned and lay back, and Ian quickly tied off the last stitch and moved up to check on him. He was shaking, and the skin around his mouth was dry and crusted white. A hand on his forehead confirmed he was clammy and feverish.
“Damn it,” said Ian, and he stood and rushed to the sink to pour a glass of water. He brought it back to S’mika, who looked at it, confused. “Like this,” said Ian, taking a drink of the water.
After watching carefully, S’mika took the glass in shaky hands and brought it to his lips. He made a face at it, as if it wasn’t acceptable somehow, before downing the whole glass and passing it back to Ian. Ian took it, feeling like he was the one in shock, and went back to bandaging the wound. “We need to elevate your…um, legs,” he said, once he’d finished taping the gauze to the soft pelt. “It’ll help with the blood loss.”
S’mika looked annoyed that he was talking so much, so Ian shut up, and S’mika let him lift his tail gently onto the arm of the couch. He’d never been too up close and personal with a seal, but he was pretty sure this was a seal tail. It was thick and blubbery, ending in two stunted flippers with claws. “I must be high out of my fucking tree,” he muttered. “Maybe I’ll wake up in the morning and this’ll all have been a really weird dream.”
He glanced at S’mika to see that his eyes were closed again, and Ian decided to leave him like that. If he died in the night…well, Ian would deal with that if it came to it. He suddenly felt incredibly tired. He’d been up before dawn and pulled a long day, and although he’d just celebrated his twenty-ninth birthday a month ago, he was starting to feel the wear and tear of hard living in his bones.
“I’m going to bed,” he said, gesturing at the door to the bedroom. “Call me if you need me.”
S’mika just looked at him, eyes heavy, but reassuringly a little more alert. “Ian,” he said, and Ian supposed that meant “Thank you.”
Ian is a trans fisherman who is trying to figure out his life. He’d been in medical school, but with all the treatment for his transition he didn’t feel comfortable any longer. He loves the sea and has moved to a remote cottage to pause and ponder how best to move forward with his life. Ian’s coming into his own working for a boat owner, Mike, and on a crew that sometimes spends days at sea fishing. While doing some shore fishing he finds an injured body on the beach, and is shocked to discover it’s a merman. Ian rushes the merman to his home, calling upon his rusty medical training.
S’mika is unwelcome in the sea. He broke his ranks, loving another merman despite his assigned role as a fisherman for a stronger merman. There is an unique hierarchy to his life, and wanting more than his station allowed meant that he was cast out–violently, it seems. Ian is able to nurse him back to health between fishing trips, and S’mika is both a fast learner (of language and customs from the TV) and good company for lonely Ian.
This novella brought back images of the movie “Splash” from my childhood, but with a different context. S’mika’s emotional journey into adapting to life on land was interesting, as was Ian’s transition from lonely curmudeon to caring partner. S’mika is a hoot, giving Ian what-for about his limited social life, and being generally playful and engaging, coaxing out a happier side to Ian
It’s a totally interesting read with great mer-person details, and a happy ending I’d be interested to explore further.
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Good luck and keep reading my friends!
About the Author:
J.K. Pendragon is a Canadian author with a love of all things romantic and fantastical. They first came to the queer fiction community through m/m romance, but soon began to branch off into writing all kinds of queer fiction. As a bisexual and genderqueer person, J.K. is dedicated to producing diverse, entertaining fiction that showcases characters across the rainbow spectrum, and provides queer characters with the happy endings they are so often denied.
J.K. currently resides in British Columbia, Canada with a boyfriend, a cat, and a large collection of artisanal teas that they really need to get around to drinking. They are always happy to chat, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.