· Featuring Kailani

Kailani and Russell visit San Francisco for a Christmas holiday. When a sunset cruise on the Bay goes awry, the otter has to use her size-shifting powers to save the day.

Meli Kalikimaka

Arilin Thorferra

“It is a truly beautiful sunset.” Kailani leaned over the boat’s railing, the otter’s huge eyes on the Golden Gate Bridge.

It was beautiful, clouds scattered in just the right way for the sky to bloom into a thousand shades of orange and pink as the sun sank down toward Point Lobos. The magnificent bridge across the strait, the skyscrapers of San Francisco to the left and the hills of Marin to the right came together to form a magical frame. Even so, Russell couldn’t help but laugh. “Every sunset we see in Uli Hahape is beautiful.”

She entwined her webbed fingers with the cougar’s, looking back at him with a smile. “They are different. And this is where you are from. This is your home.”

“It was once. I confess I’d forgotten how cold it could get on Christmas Eve. And the waterfront doesn’t get much warmer in summer, as I recall.” He shivered, only slightly exaggerating for effect. “Are you sure you don’t want a jacket?”

The otter shook her head. “I am fine.” While the outfit she wore was—at least to his eye—fit for the princess she was, a fine hand-woven and hand-dyed red and white one piece dress, it couldn’t have provided any warmth. The temperature was barely over 50 degrees, and that wasn’t accounting for the wind whipping her long hair around. “And I know you have missed being here.”

“Hmm.” He considered that, tawny tail flicking as he looked up at the bridge, now almost directly overhead. “I’ve missed parts of being here, but I’m more than comfortable with the trade.” He grinned crookedly. “You know when I lived here I couldn’t afford to go to restaurants nearly as fancy as the one you’ve booked in Half Moon Bay.”

She laughed. “We spend so little money at home, we can afford to spend more when we travel. You do not get to feel like royalty that often.”

Their expenses on Uli Hahape, the island kingdom her family ruled, were next to nothing. Her father had also proved a surprisingly good money manager; the tribe had real estate investments in both Hawaii and California. While the revenue was still relatively modest, it left the royal family—and the tribe as a whole—with a generous amount of free income.

He gave her a light hug around the waist. “With you, I always feel like royalty.” His grin grew a touch more wry. “Especially now that you’re known abroad.”

She looked rueful. “I never expected Americans would want to see me as a giantess.”

“I didn’t expect news of your one-otter assault on Cornelius Bennett would not only make the American papers, but paint you as the heroine rather than the villain.”

Kailani huffed, drawing herself up to her full—at least, now—five-foot-seven height. “I was not the criminal.”

He held up his hands. “You know you’ll have no argument from me. And I have the distinct impression the court of public opinion is on your side.”

“Given the delay we had at the entry port, your legal courts seem more skeptical.” She snorted. “They certainly went out of their way to impress upon me that I should not change size in public.”

“Only because you can’t change your clothes with you.”

“Not many giants can!”

“I know. I confess I’d prefer not to have too many other men gawking at you, though.” He grinned. “It’s tough enough given the ‘world’s most beautiful women’ lists you seem to have graced.”

She groaned, rolling her eyes, and leaned over the railing again. “I am not at all used to…gossip columnists.”

Russell rubbed her shoulders, chuckling. “It was just one mention in Winchell’s column.”

“It was a column alongside photographs of you and I in the ‘society pages’ yesterday that they did not ask to take. ‘Savage primitive goddess,’ indeed.”

“One out of three.”

“That is not funny, Russell! He called you my ‘thrall.’”

He shrugged, glancing back toward the boat’s stern at the now receding bridge, then at the rest of the few dozen passengers on the sunset cruise. “It’s a better read, I suppose, if—”

A loud grinding noise came from the direction Russell was looking, followed by a stream of black, oily smoke. The thrum of the boat’s engine sputtered to a stop.

Kailani’s brows lifted. “Oh, my.”

A uniformed tiger hurried out on the deck with a megaphone. “Ladies and gentlemen!” he bellowed. “We apologize for the temporary engine problem. We’ll be underway again shortly.”

With the newfangled—and loud—diesel engine silenced, it was easy to hear the murmurs running through the crowd. It was a motley collection of tourists, crusty locals and debutantes. Kailani and Russell weren’t quite the best-dressed, although they likely attracted the most attention. The locals seemed prosaic about the interruption; the tourists seemed disquieted, while the debutantes just seemed impatient.

“Well.” Russell sighed. “The ship’s still making good speed even without the engine. No harm done, I suppose.”

“It may not be good at all.” Kailani’s whiskers twitched, and she darted to the port side of the ship, away from Russell, looking ahead and behind.


The otter princess zipped past again, repeating her search on the starboard side, then headed back to Russell’s side, looking straight ahead. “There are rip currents here.”

“Rip what?”

“Fast currents, heading toward the open ocean. And one very well might take us onto those rocks.” She pointed ahead at a small lighthouse, seemingly out in the Bay itself.

Russell’s ears folded back. “I…ah…I’m sure they’ll get the engine running again.”

Kailani grunted, shifting to a posture he recognized—one he could only describe as a coiled spring.

Another minute passed in relative silence, except for the increasingly nervous murmur of the crowd. Then the engine started again, to scattered clapping—which lasted all of three seconds before a wrenching pop and a burst of flame.

Russell’s ears folded down. “Oh dear.” He couldn’t tell if the boat had picked up speed, but it definitely hadn’t slowed down.

The tiger appeared again, looking more harried. “Ladies and gentlemen, please stay calm. We’re working—”

“Where are the lifeboats?” someone called.

“There’s no lifeboat on a ship this size!” someone else yelled back. “It’s a local yacht, not an ocean liner!”

“It’s not a yacht,” a third voice came. “It’s a—”

“My stars!” someone exclaimed, close by Russell. He turned to look at the speaker, an elderly wolf with a shocked look on his face—staring not back at the fire, but to the cougar’s side.

Russell whirled to see Kailani just finishing shrugging out of her dress, now standing on deck wearing nothing but a necklace. “Hold this,” she instructed, tossing the outfit at him.

“Kailani, be—”

She leapt over the edge of the boat, diving into the water.

“—careful.” His ears folded down.

The lighthouse’s beam swung overhead, disturbingly close now; its spindly structure looked not like the sturdy stone structure he’d visited years ago at Pigeon Point but like a rickety fire tower. He doubted it was even manned most of the time. If the lighthouse was that close, though, that meant the rocks were…

“Hang on!” he cried, gripping the railing tightly.

“Hang on to what?” someone yelled back, sounding indignant. Then the boat hit the shoal.

It wasn’t a sudden stop. Instead it felt like an automobile speeding along a rough road: bangs and shudders and jumps, slowing down in sharp jerks. Screams erupted from the deck, along with sounds of shattering glass, sliding furniture, and most disquietingly, splashes. Russell had chosen the starboard side of the boat to cling to for dear life, and that side had begun to tilt up, away from the water.

He expected the boat to fully run aground, but it didn’t. It slowly spun in the water, and began to drift sideways, picking up speed again. The sounds of rushing water, he realized, weren’t from the sea flowing out toward the Pacific—they were from the sea flowing into the boat below deck. While the boat had started to tilt back toward starboard, hopefully lessening the chance it would capsize, it was beginning to sink, in a part of the Bay with only rocks and vertical cliffs on the nearest side. Oh, yes, it was also still on fire.

“Abandon ship!” the elderly wolf yelled.

“No!” both Russell and the tiger sailor yelled back. Russell grabbed the wolf’s jacket to hold him in place.

“Gentlemen! Ladies!” the tiger continued. “Help will be on the way soon! Please stay with the ship!”

“Help won’t get here in time!” the wolf snapped.

The water beside the boat—between it and the ocean—fountained up as Kailani’s head and shoulders surfaced. A new round of screaming started as water streamed off the now-giant otter.

“I think help is here,” Russell responded. Even so, he couldn’t help but get wide-eyed himself. He’d seen Kailani at eighty or ninety feet tall dozens of times, yes. But she positively dwarfed the boat now, and it had to be close to a hundred feet long.

“Dear God,” the tiger yelped. “We’re—she’s—”

“My wife,” Russell said firmly, causing several heads to turn toward him. “She’s my wife.”

Kailani’s voice carried overhead easily; the melodious flow of her speech barely remained in its thunder. “Stand back from the fire.” Her cupped hands lifted over it.

Russell nearly cried out a warning, something about not using water to put out a fuel fire—but when her hands opened directly over the engine, mud from the ocean floor streamed down. Even though several guests shrieked as wet dirt splattered over them, the fire quickly hissed out.

She spoke again, as softly as she could. “I shall carry the boat to Ocean Beach.” Then she sank back under the water.

Screams subsided to frightened murmurs, then resumed in earnest as the boat began rocking, pulled quickly away from the shore, clearly guided by unseen hands. Some ten seconds later, both of those huge hands came up to either side of the vessel, webbed fingers stretched up and around it as if to crush it, and the giantess resurfaced—directly under the boat. Instead of damaging the ship, the hands steadied it.

Russell blinked rapidly, feeling his ears and cheeks starting to burn. The ship sat on Kailani’s stomach, the point of its bow almost in—no, make that in, period—her cleavage. A glance around the boat showed all the passengers staring the same way he was, most with open mouths.

Keeping one hand on the boat, she started to swim, hundreds of feet of sleek otter giantess moving through the water faster than the boat had been cruising before its accident.

“Dear God,” the tiger breathed again, looking somewhere between terrified and love-struck.

Russell gritted his teeth. “I did mention she was my wife?”

The tiger cleared his throat, looking down at the deck. “I’m sorry, sir, she’s just—just—”

“Beautiful, nude, and every direction you look,” the elderly wolf supplied.

“Exactly, sir!”

Russell covered his face. “I know. I know.”

Shortly the otter rounded the point, heading back toward the shore now that she’d taken them past the most dangerous rocks. Russell couldn’t be sure how strong the currents were, but she was breathing hard by the time she steered toward the beach. Gawkers lined the overlook along the Cliff House restaurant, high on the point—although not nearly as high over the enormous otter as it was over the ocean.

After another minute, the boat shuddered. Kailani had effectively run aground. “Hang on to whatever you can,” she rumbled. “I am going to lift the ship.”

This time, everyone listened to her. As the otter lifted the ship into the air, moving it with slow, painful care up over her head and then back down by the docks, no one screamed. Russell did hear more than a few whimpers, though.

“Please…disembark.” Her booming voice remained polite, but Russell could hear the strain in it.

Fortunately, the tiger picked up on it as well. “Everyone, climb down to the dock. Hurry along!” He started herding passengers, including Russell. The boat wasn’t perfectly lined up with the dock; it was too high, and moving back and forth slightly despite the giantess’s clear efforts to hold still. Bystanders on the pier raced over to help passengers out; Russell took his turn doing so when he’d reached relative safety.

It took nearly a minute for the boat to empty. The tiger used his megaphone to announce, “Everyone is out, ma’am.”

“Thank you,” she wheezed, rolling over and sitting up, the action causing more waves to splash against the cliffs and the pier. She set the boat down on its side on the beach, then closed her eyes, still breathing hard.

The tiger and several other crew members began briskly clapping. In short order the whole dock, passengers and watchers alike, joined in a cheer. The princess opened her eyes, looking down, and smiled, looking—all things considered—endearingly self-conscious.

Russell pushed his way toward the end of the dock, closest to the giantess. “That was incredible!”

She lowered her head so she could speak softly, even though her voice still vibrated through him like an earthquake. “I am sure anyone else would have done it, if they could.” She brushed back her sopping hair.

He smiled warmly. “I’m not.”

Kailani gave a small-for-a-giantess shrug, then glanced toward the restaurant on the cliff. “I fear we shall miss our reservation in Half Moon Bay, but perhaps we can get a table there.”

“Wasn’t that one of the restaurants we called two days ago to find they were already booked out?”

“It is.” She frowned. “You should walk up to the restaurant and inquire.”

“I can try. Ah—and if you’re not walking with me, you’ll be where?”

“I will meet you. You have kept my dress dry?”

“Not completely, but as best I could.” He lifted his brows. “All right. I’ll see you shortly, heroine.”

Even doing his best to duck questions from passersby about the shipwreck and who that otter was and was he connected with her and just where had she disappeared to, the walk up to Cliff House took nearly five minutes. The restaurant itself was abuzz with shocked talk of the giantess; he overheard a waiter describe her as a Goddess pinup model. “They wish,” he muttered under his breath.

The host stand stood just outside the restaurant under a canopy. The maitre’d, a stout tuxedoed marten, gave Russell a skeptical up-and-down glance as he approached, taking in the spatters of water and, no doubt, the woman’s dress that the cougar carried under one arm. “May I help you, sir?”

“I hope so. I was on the ship that just sailed past with the giantess.”

An eyebrow lifted fractionally. “I see.”

“She just saved a good four dozen people.”

“Most thrilling, sir.”

“Ah, yes. So it’s late, and we’ll clearly be unable to make our reservation in Half Moon Bay now, so—”

“We have no tables available tonight. We might have a seat at the bar for you, if you’d like to check.”

“No, we’d like a table. I was just hoping you could take into account our circumstances.”

“‘Our,’ sir?” He glanced at the dress again.

“Yes. My wife should be along any—”

A commotion started in the dining area: plates clattering, diners yelling. The maitre’d looked back, then snapped his head forward, staring past Russell and gasping.

Russell turned to see a huge webbed hand settling down outside, blocking the driveway with a car-rattling thump. He heard another hand thud down many yards away. Tires squealed and car horns blared.

The cougar cleared his throat. “Here she is now.”

The marten’s eyes grew as wide as oyster shells.

Russell stepped back from the canopy, looking up at the otter as she leaned across the cliff, over the entire restaurant. “He says they’re booked!” he called up.

“Ask him,” came a quiet thunder, “if he could kindly make an exception.”

“I-I-I’ll be right b-back, sir. Ma’am,” the marten squeaked, dashing into the building.

Russell gave Kailani a thumbs up.

The maitre’d returned a few moments later with a nattily attired and very nervous grey fox. “Ah, Mister…?”

“Rittenhouse.” Russell smiled blandly. “This is my wife, Princess Kailani of Uli Hahape.” He pointed up.

“Hello,” Kailani rumbled from out of sight, sounding more tired than polite.

The fox bowed stiffly. “We’ll have a table ready for you in just a few minutes. We’d be honored to offer you and giantess—ah—Princess Kailani a bottle of our best Cabernet on the house, sir.”

“As long as she doesn’t crush the house,” the maitre’d muttered under his breath. The fox gave him a quick glare.

“That’s so kind of you.” Russell smiled. “I don’t suppose I could prevail upon you for a towel, could I? The princess will need to dry off before she gets dressed again.”

A half-hour later, the two sat at a window table, Kailani radiant in her dress despite being a bit damp and disheveled. As she held her wine glass, she sighed. “This is not the Christmas Eve date that I had hoped for us.”

“It’s been an adventure.” He grinned. “But as always, you’re a gold standard example of how wonderful giants can be, and that’s what people will take away from this night.”

She smiled, slightly bashfully. “I hope so.”

He sipped his own wine. “They’ll also take away racy photos. A lot of racy photos.”

Kailani rolled her eyes and tossed a popover at him. He caught it, laughing.

“Merry Christmas, love.” He held out his glass to her.

She leaned forward, touching her glass to his. “Mele Kalikimaka.”