“But today’s only Sunday,” Harper said.
Marcy shrugged and dug in her pocket for her cell phone. “My leg will probably still hurt.”
He’d taken a long, hot shower for the second time in the past twelve hours, and it finally felt like he was getting rid of the dirt and grime. Daniel hadn’t been that injured fighting Penn, but he’d gotten plenty bloody cleaning things up. Not to mention how gross he’d felt during the minimakeout session/S&M scene he’d had with Penn before Harper had arrived.
He slipped on a T-shirt and a pair of pajama pants, deciding that today called for comfort above anything else. As he walked out of the bathroom, he was still rubbing a small towel through his short hair, and when he lowered it, he saw Gemma.
“Whoa.” He put a hand to his heart since she’d scared the crap out of him. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to talk to you.”
She stood barefoot just inside his doorway, and her sundress was dripping water onto the floor. In fact, all of her was dripping wet, even the golden brown waves of hair that fell down her back.
“How’d you get here?” Daniel asked suspiciously.
“Like … mermaid swam?”
She smiled, but it didn’t look convincing. “Before all this, I used to be on the swim team, remember? I swam in the bay all the time. I can do that whether I’m mortal or not.”
“You didn’t answer my question, though. How did you swim here?”
“With my legs.” She lifted one and wiggled it, as if to demonstrate.
“Okay.” He relented and held out his towel to her. “So to what do I owe this pleasure?”
She ran the towel through her hair, squeezing out most of the excess water. When she’d finished, she handed him back the towel, and he set it aside on the kitchen counter.
“Thank you,” she said. “I mean, not just for the towel. You did so much for me.”
“I didn’t really do that much.” He shook his head. “I think it was mostly you in that fight last night.”
“No, I’m not talking about just last night. You gave so much. You were willing to give up everything to protect me, even your life. I know that it was for Harper to protect her, but that still means a lot to me.”
“It wasn’t just for Harper.” He looked fondly at her. “Yeah, part of it was, but even if she hadn’t been in the picture, I would’ve done it for you.”
“I think I knew that.” She smiled, then laughed a little. “This is gonna sound weird, but I kinda think you’re my best friend.”
“It’s not that weird. You’re probably my best friend, too,” he realized. “Outside of Harper, I think I talk to you more than anyone else. Except maybe Pearl.”
“She does have amazing clam chowder,” Gemma said, referring to the owner of the diner that served Daniel’s favorite soup.
“She does,” he admitted. “So maybe she’s my best friend, and you’re like my backup.”
Gemma smiled at his joke, then went on. “I can’t ever thank you enough for what you did, even if I had all the time in the world.”
“Can’t help but notice your use of the past tense for ‘had’ there. How much time do you have?”
“The rest of my life,” she said, and she wouldn’t look at him.
“Mmm.” He leaned back against the counter. “Your being so evasive isn’t really putting me at ease.”
“I just came out here to tell you that I don’t know how I can thank you.”
“You don’t need to thank me,” he insisted. “Your being alive and safe is thanks enough.”
“You were gonna die, Daniel!” Gemma reminded him. “That was huge. You can’t just brush that off.”
“I wasn’t gonna die. I was gonna be a siren, and I don’t know. That might not have been so bad.” He smirked. “You and me, we would’ve taken on Penn and maybe ruled the world.”
She rolled her eyes as she smiled. “Yeah, it would’ve been great. If you don’t mind dining on human flesh.”
“It’s probably one of those things that you get used to.”
All the humor in her expression disappeared, and she lowered her eyes. “I hope not.”
“Yeah, me, too.”
“And I know it sounds weird that I came out here to thank you, and now I’m going to ask you a favor.” She bit her lip and looked up at him nervously.
He arched an eyebrow. “A favor?”
“I want you to promise me that no matter what happens, you’ll be with my sister and take care of her.”
He waited a beat before shaking his head. “I can’t promise you that.”
“But you love her!” Gemma insisted.
“That’s why I can’t promise you that. What holds us together needs to be love and mutual respect and desire. I can’t be bound to her by guilt from you. That’s not what’s best for her.”
Gemma sighed. “Daniel.”
“I can promise that I will look out for her for as long as I’m alive, even if we’re not together and even if she decides she hates me one day,” he said. “But that’s the best I’ll do.”
“But why all this worry about your sister for the rest of eternity? Are you planning on not being around to protect her?” Daniel asked.
“No. I just…” She tried to play it off. “I can’t be around her all the time, and I want to know she’s safe.”
“She’s safe, but I have to be honest. It’s you I’m worried about.”
Standing in front of him, Gemma was at least a foot smaller than he, and, dripping wet as she was, she looked even smaller. In an objective way, he knew that she was beautiful, but that’s not what he saw when he looked at her.
Her golden eyes had grown harder over recent months, but they still had an innocence and optimism to them, and when she smiled, her expression still had that hint of little girl to it.
In her, he always saw a frightened child, trapped in a situation that they were fighting desperately to change. It was what he’d seen in her eyes that very first time he’d rescued her from the sirens, when she was still human, and Penn had cornered her on the dock next to his boat. And that was why he helped her then, and why he helped her still.