Chapter 1 – The Stray

When Don Lino swam into the bar that night with two of his goons, he turned heads. Male and female sharks alike moved out of the way of the big bull and his two flankers. Giuseppe and another Great White moved in synch with their boss as they moved closer to the bar. Lino mood was not the best today. It was around six months since he and his son had made up and Lenny now ran the mob alongside his father. But today, something weighed heavy on mind. He had tried everything today to get his mind to clear, a whale wash, a wrestling mash, even proving again why he was the Don and everyone else was below him. His unlucky victim nursing an almost broken spine and several lacerations down their dorsal fin and back. But still he could not shake the heaviness in him. He sighed as he rested at the bar, about to order and swim away when Giuseppe nudged him and motioned towards the stage with a nod of his head. The Hammerhead then went to the reserved table with Linos' other flanker whilst the Don ordered the food and then joined them.

Lino pushed away from the bar and half heartedly looked to the performing stage where Giuseppe had motioned before. He did a double take at the performer. A Great White female, moving smoother than the water in which she performed. She looked mildly different from the other Great Whites. Her darker upper body was a deep slate blue, and she had a dorsal striper from her forehead down to the base of her tail and just touching the top of her caudal fin. Her dorsal fin was fully encased in that darker blue. Her eyes were a brighter ice blue than Linos' stormy blue ones.

Her voice was soulful, with a slight husk to it, very slight. Why Don Lino noticed it, was something he would have to work out himself. He studied her for a few moments, her eye catching his before she swirled away and continued her performance. Lino snapped his head away and cruised towards Giuseppe and his other guard, Alphonso, and sat on Giuseppe's side, near the outside of the curved seating.

The food arrived but Lino didn't feel like eating but ate anyway. Roasted Swordfish with live shrimp on the side. Nice. He devoured the shrimps before Giuseppe or Alphonso even got a look in. They didn't complain, Lino had been temperamental today. They wanted to keep their fins.

Don finished his dish a few minutes before the others, and in that time, he kept his eyes fixed on the female shark, watching her closely, but not too closely. They called her The Stray, eh? She didn't look like a stray. In fact she looked like a streamlined Great White. A very streamlined Great White. Dons' eyes flickered to her sides as she twirled and somersaulted, the muscle was more than visible. She couldn't be a pure Great White. No Great White could have form like that. Giuseppe caught him staring and nudged him gently.

"Hey boss, whassup?" he asked calmly. He forced himself to stay put and not shrink back when Lino half turn and his one eye settle on him briefly.

"That performer, she pure Great White?" he asked in a low growl.

"As far as we know, Boss. Why?" replied the Hammerhead. Lino huffed and floated upwards little, leaving the table. He hovered above them for a moment, his tail swaying slowly from side to side, minute movements in his pectoral fins to keep him in the same place. The movements were purely instinctive and his pectoral fin movements were so minute they were unnoticed. His position was predatory and ever so slightly aggressive. He sighed and angled himself to move up to the VIP area and flicked his tail and powered up one level. Giuseppe and Alphonso took that as their cue to leave and did so briskly, going to socialise with their brethren.

Lino on the other hand cruised into the darkest corner of the area and gazed out to the bar beneath, his eyes wandering, more than once to the singer on stage. He let out a stream of bubbles from his nose and settled down in the plush cushions and watched in peace. No-one dare come up here. The word had spread that he was here and also in a foul mood. That was probably down to Alphonso, no doubt. Lino smirked briefly at that thought. His mind was suddenly drawn back to "The Stray" as she finished her song to a round of wolf-whistles and cheers. He surged upwards in the shadows and watched a few sharks crowd round her as she left the stage. He growled as one young male looked at her in a way he objected too.

Lino narrowed his eyes as The Stray opened her mouth and bared her teeth at him.

The male shark was about to snap back at the female who had dared reject him when a shadow made him look up. His eyes grew wide with fear as the God father himself plunged into their midst. One of the sharks he had been jostling with earlier shot to The Dons' side.

Lino arched his back and with one flick of his tail had made his presence known. He had the other shark backed up against the bar. He had no sound coming from his throat and the youngster was babbling nervously, definitely fearful for his life. Lino was not one to mess around and he was starting to see red.

"D-D-D-Don L-Lino, s-s-sir! I-I-I'm sorry!" he yelped in a high pitched voice, the pup inside coming out. But then again, who wouldn't be frightened, inches away from a pair or jaws that could slice through metal, crush skulls and end your life as quickly or so slowly is the owner decided. The youngster was shaking like a leaf and froze in fear.

"You pathetic, snivelling piece of kelp! Get out of here. My boys will be paying you a little visit later." Lino's accent changed near the end of his sentence, showing how annoying and irritated he truly was. His voice never rose above a normal pitch or volume and it was one of the properties that made him so feared and respected: his cool head in all situations. He had rarely been heard to shout. The only time he had screamed was in pure rage and pain when another shark had latched its teeth into his side. That shark had lost its' dorsal fin, eye and a chunk from its tail.

The male shark, dwarfed in Linos shadow skittered from the bar and Lino backed off, turning slowly to watch his retreating foe. He felt something bump his tail fin and glanced round, looking into the mildly shocked, mildly amused eyes of The Stray.

So, this was the mighty Don Lino? The Stray, had ducked under his immense tail fin as he had swung round, but hadn't missed it completely and had been caught just behind the gills. Even though he was moving slowly, she felt the weight behind that tail and was glad she wasn't on the receiving end of it. But it caught his attention and she found herself staring into the stormy depths of his gaze. She gulped and smiled apologetically and made to move past him but he held out a fin, the muscles in his shoulder rippled smoothly, barely seen, to stop her. Stray stopped short and looked at him with confusion. He motioned with his head to follow him, his lip curled slightly. She had no choice but to follow as her was closed upon and flanked by two others.

Lino motioned with his head for her to follow, curling his lip a little and moving back up to the VIP area. Alphonso and Giuseppe flanked the new shark and ascended with him.

Once back up in the VIP area, life started to return to the bar, slowly but surely. Now that Lino was around, sharks watched their actions a tad more carefully. They knew he was in a bad mood but now, they knew his mood was thunderous.

Lino had both his lads stand guard as he went back to his previous area and reclined on the pillows. On his side, relaxed, he motioned for his guest to take a seat opposite him. That whole area had been adorned in pillows with a tiny bare space in between them. Lino watched the female settle on the pillows, on her belly, not as relaxed as he. He looked up briefly as a waiter swam up and placed a small bowl of still live shrimps and prawns in front of them and swam off again.

Lino regarded her coolly, snapping up one of the shrimps as it tried to swim off, before returning to his previous position. He proceeded to question her.

"So then, you're new here and I take it you know this area of the reef belongs to me." He stated firmly, looking her dead in the eye. Lino was not one to faff around when introducing himself. He treated everyone equally. If they couldn't take it, they didn't deserve to be on his reef. Her reply was adequate.

"Yes sir. I am fully aware of that. Sorry if I caused you any inconvenience. There was an opportunity here so I took it."

Lino rolled his shoulder briefly and downed another shrimp.

"Not a problem. Now we've got that straight; what do they call you?" he asked softly. The authority in his voice would never leave, not ever it was how he got around. Lino expected a little bit of dodging around this subject so he kept his tone level.

"They call me 'The Stray', sir. I'm surprised you haven't heard..." She responded with lowered eyes. Lino had predicted this. He sighed.

"I know that, but you must have a birthname." He replied.

"It's not worth mentioning. I move from place to place far too often to have my name spread around the waters." Replied the female, her voice hinting at great sadness and pain. Lino closed his eyes momentarily and then reached across and lifted her chin gently with his fin and looked straight into her eyes.

"If I can guarantee that you will not need to leave this reef unless it's under your own will, will you tell me your name?"

Her eyes flashed to his. They radiated a mixture of surprise, caution but most of all, hope. Her voice wavered slightly.

"I-I-I can stay? Y-You'll allow me to stay here?" she almost whispered.

"Of course." He replied in almost the same tone, but with the bass rumble that only a bull could make. He felt the shudder pass through her.

"Then in that case, Aria. My name is Aria."