Gemma loved the way it felt when he kissed her, and his mouth was hungry and eager on hers. He didn’t appear that strong—though when he crushed her to him like this, she could feel the firm tone of his muscles under the thin fabric of his shirt—so it was as if his passion made him stronger.
It wasn’t that Kirby was a particularly great kisser. Gemma had made a decision to stop comparing everyone to Alex or the way he kissed, because they would all come up short. But even without Alex in the mix, Kirby wasn’t the top contender.
Still, there was a reason that she’d gone out with him a few times, and that all their dates ended up in the backseat of his old Toyota. They hadn’t done much more than kiss, and Gemma wouldn’t take it any further.
What kept her coming back to Kirby wasn’t love or his kisses. Her heart still longed for Alex, and only Alex. But she couldn’t be with him, and she couldn’t sulk around the house anymore. Or at least that was what Harper and her dad kept telling her.
That was how she ended up here with Kirby, giving in to the physical moments with him that somehow felt both wrong and completely right.
Even if she were still just human, Gemma would’ve found this fun. Kirby was sexy and sweet, and he made her laugh. But the siren part of her craved this, almost demanding the physical contact.
The truth was that she was getting restless. Thea told her that would happen if she didn’t eat. Technically, she only needed to eat once before a solstice or equinox, but the longer she went without feeding, the more agitated and irritable she would become.
There were a few tricks to staving off the hunger. One of them was frequent swimming, which Gemma did as often as she could. Another was singing, but Gemma was too afraid to try that. She didn’t want to accidentally enchant anyone.
The third wasn’t so much about denying the hunger as giving in to it. And that was what she was doing with Kirby. Kissing him to keep from biting him.
When he kissed her deeply, pushing her back against the seat of the car, something stirred inside her. A warm heat in her belly spread over her, making her skin flutter, like when her legs transformed into a tail.
The siren wanted to come out, and there was something strangely wonderful about holding it back. Gemma was in control, not the monster, and as Kirby kissed her neck, she stayed firmly on the line between siren and human.
It wasn’t until his hand began sliding up her skirt, running along the smooth skin of her thigh, that Gemma silenced the siren lust within her. Her skin stopped fluttering, the heat inside her went cold, and Gemma sat up, gently pushing Kirby off her.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Kirby said, still breathing heavy, and moved back from her. “Did I go too far?”
“You know the rules.” She gave him a small shrug and straightened out her skirt. “I won’t go any further than that.”
“Sorry.” He grimaced and brushed his dark hair off his forehead. “I got a little carried away. It won’t happen again.”
She smiled at him. “It’s fine. I know you’ll stick to the rules better next time.”
“So there will be a next time?” Kirby asked.
He was kneeling on the seat, his blue eyes sparkling. Kirby was handsome in the way models were—smooth, lean, chiseled—but he had a real kindness about him.
The way he treated her probably had more to do with her siren appeal than how he actually felt about her. She hadn’t used her song on him, so he wasn’t a love slave. But her appearance had its own power, one that was hard for guys to ignore.
Kirby was a few years older than her, but she’d seen him around school. Even though he was attractive and popular, he never bullied other kids. In the short time they’d been kinda dating each other, he never said a mean word about anybody, and it never occurred to him to challenge her.
That was what kept Gemma coming back to him. He was safe.
She liked him, but not too much. Whatever magical spark it was that made her fall in love with Alex was completely missing with Kirby. When she was with him, she was completely in control—of her emotions, of the monster, even of him. She would never hurt him, and he could never hurt her.
“Yeah, there will be a next time,” Gemma told him, and he broke out in a wide grin.
“Great. I don’t think I could ever forgive myself if I blew it with you.”
“You’d be surprised by the things a person can forgive themselves for,” Gemma said under her breath.
“What?” Kirby asked.
“Nothing.” She shook her head and forced a smile. “How do I look?”
“Gorgeous, just like always.”
Gemma laughed. “No, I meant, is my makeup messed up? Does it look like I’ve been making out in the backseat of a car?”
Kirby leaned in, inspecting her hair and makeup, then kissed her quickly on the lips. “Nope. You look perfect.”
“Thanks.” Gemma combed a hand through her dark waves of hair, the streetlight shining through the windows and hitting the golden highlights that coursed through it.
“So we’re still sneaking around, then?” Kirby asked, leaning back in the seat and watching her smooth out her skirt and straighten her top.
“We’re almost done,” she said. “Tomorrow I am officially ungrounded.”
“That’s kind of a bummer,” Kirby said, and she shot him a look. “There’s something kinda hot about sneaking around, worrying about getting caught.”
Gemma laughed, and Kirby closed his eyes as if relishing the sound. She was careful that she never sang around him—she didn’t want to put a spell on him. But her voice and even her laughter had an effect on him.
“Look at you, pretending to be a bad boy,” she teased.
“Hey, I’m pretty tough.”
He flexed his muscles, and she leaned over and kissed him. He put his arms around her, trying to pull her in for a longer kiss, but she broke away from him.
“Sorry, Kirby, but I really gotta go,” Gemma said. “My dad’s probably waiting up for me as it is.”
“Lame.” Kirby sighed, but he let her go. “I’ll see you at rehearsal tomorrow?”
“Of course.” Gemma opened the car door and slid out. “See ya.”
She shut the door behind her and jogged down the block toward her house. When Kirby dropped her off, she always made him park around the corner so her dad couldn’t peek out the front window and catch them making out.
As she went past Alex’s house, she kept her eyes fixed on the sidewalk, refusing to look up at it. It didn’t do any good to see if his car was in the driveway or if his bedroom light was on. He didn’t want to see her anymore, and that was the way it had to be.
Her own house looked dark, which she took as a good sign. Brian had to work early in the morning, so hopefully he’d already gone to bed. When Gemma opened the front door, she tried to be as quiet as possible.
But as soon as she closed the front door, a table lamp clicked on, and Gemma nearly screamed.
“Oh, my gosh, Harper.” Gemma put her hand to her chest and leaned back against the door. “What the heck was that?”
“I wanted to talk to you,” Harper said.
She’d turned their dad’s chair so it faced the doorway, and Harper sat in it with her arms crossed over her chest. Her long dark hair was up in a messy bun, and she wore her old ratty pink pajama pants, which really ruined her imposing look.
“You didn’t need to hide out in the dark like a maniac.” Gemma gestured to the lamp sitting on the table next to Harper. “You scared the crap out of me.”
“Good?” Gemma rolled her eyes and groaned. “Seriously? It’s gonna be one of those talks?”
“What do you mean, ‘those talks’?” Harper asked.
“The kind where you lecture me on everything I’m doing wrong.”
“I’m not lecturing you,” Harper said defensively. “It’s just…” She took a deep breath and tried to start over. “It’s after ten o’clock at night, and play rehearsal was supposed to end two hours ago. You’re lucky that Dad is trusting you again, but I know that rehearsal doesn’t run that late.”
“Because Daniel is narcing on me,” Gemma muttered and stared down at the worn rug on the floor.
“Daniel is not ‘narcing’ on you.” Harper bristled at the accusation. “I know because I drove past the theater, and nobody’s cars were there. And based on the amount of eyeliner you’re wearing and the ridiculously short length of your skirt—”
“It’s not ridiculous,” Gemma said, but she pulled down her skirt.
“—I can only assume that you’re running around with some boy,” Harper said. “Do you know how dangerous that is for you? Of course you do. The sirens kill boys—you’ve seen it.”
Gemma stared at the floor. She still hadn’t told her sister about how she’d killed a guy before. He’d been assaulting her at the time, and that had incited Gemma’s transformation into the monster. But the real reason she’d killed him was because she had to. In order to survive as a siren, she had to feed.
Over the past four weeks, since Gemma had returned home and they’d struck a deal with Penn Harper had come to suspect that murdering boys was how the sirens ate. She’d never asked Gemma directly if she’d killed anyone, so Gemma had never told her. But Harper must’ve known that if Gemma hadn’t killed anyone already, she’d have to soon.
“It’s not like that.” Gemma sighed. “He’s just a guy that I’m working with in the play, and we’ve been hanging out. It’s no big deal.”
“Some guy?” Harper raised an eyebrow.
“It’s Kirby Logan,” she said.
“He’s nice.” Harper seemed to relax a bit, probably remembering him from high school. “But that doesn’t mean you should be hanging out with him. He’s too old for you—”
“Seriously, Harper?” Gemma scoffed. “I’m a mythical monster, and your issue is a three-year age difference?”
“No, it’s actually—” She stared up at Gemma. “There a million reasons why you shouldn’t be sneaking around with Kirby, and one of them is his age, another is that you just had a major breakup with Alex, but none of those really matter. The only one that counts is that you know you shouldn’t.”
“This is such bullshit.” Gemma hit her head back against the door. “You and Dad are the ones that have been saying I need to get out of the house and do something and stop sulking. So I finally decide to do something. I joined the play last week, and I’m making friends, and now you’re telling me it’s wrong?”
“No, Gemma, that’s not what I’m saying.” Harper was doing her best to keep her voice even so it wouldn’t wake their dad. “You were just sitting around the house in your pajamas. You weren’t getting up until two or three in the afternoon. You weren’t showering or eating. I wanted you to do something.”
“And I am, but you have to cut me some slack,” Gemma said. “I can’t swim in meets anymore because I’m now supernaturally, freakishly fast, so it’s not fair to everyone else. It’s not even fair to me. I worked hard to be as good as I was, and now it doesn’t matter what I do.”
“Of course it matters what you do,” Harper said quickly, her tone softened now.
“I meant with swimming,” Gemma said. “I gave up swimming, I had to give up Alex, and I might have to give up you and Dad—”
“We’ll find a way to fight this,” Harper said for the millionth time this summer.
She’d cut her off, but Gemma was glad she didn’t let her finish her thought. Gemma had been about to say that she might have to give up her life, but she hadn’t really talked to Harper about it yet.
The sirens were running out of patience, and although they hadn’t specifically told Gemma, she suspected that they were looking for a replacement for her. It was only a matter of time before they found one and then got rid of Gemma.
“I don’t know who I am anymore,” Gemma finally said, barely holding back the tears in her eyes. “I gave up everything I loved. So I need you to let me figure it out, okay?”
Harper let out a long breath. “Okay. But please be careful.”
“I always am,” Gemma lied and turned around to hurry up the stairs so she wouldn’t have to talk anymore.
Once she was safely in her room, she put her hand over her mouth and let herself cry softly.
The past month, while Gemma had been sinking deeper into her depression, Harper thought it was mostly over Alex, and that was partially true. Giving up her dreams of being an Olympic swimmer, coming to terms with the fact that she was a murderer, and letting go of all the plans and hopes for her entire life was the rest of it.
Over and over again, Gemma had been asking herself, What would you do if you only had a matter of weeks to live? Because weeks sounded right to her. She didn’t think the sirens would tolerate her or Capri for much longer than that.
The problem was that Gemma still hadn’t been able to come up with an answer. What she really wanted to do—spend time with her parents, Harper, and Alex, on the beach, swimming all day and night—was impossible.
Now she had to come up with a second choice. So far the only thing she had was kissing Kirby and pretending like everything was going to be okay.