“Gemma,” Daniel said, keeping his voice calm but firm. “Gemma, you need to get under control.”
“Daniel,” she said, mostly because she just wanted to say his name. She wanted to make him a real person who she knew and cared about and not a meal she’d have for supper.
The sound of the door opening at the front of the theater echoed, and she cocked her head, listening for the sound of a new heartbeat. Maybe this would be someone she could eat.
“Shit. Gemma. Somebody’s coming.” He held his hands up to her and tried to push her back behind the curtain but without really touching her. “Get back.”
“Daniel…” She moaned but moved back, hiding behind the velvet curtain.
“Hello, Daniel,” the director, Tom, said in his lilting British accent. “I thought you’d be gone by now.”
The thought of devouring Tom or Daniel, or maybe both, was consuming her. The way their blood would taste warm and sweet down her throat. It took all her strength to keep herself hidden behind the curtain.
Tom sounded especially delectable. Her emotional attachment to Daniel helped keep some of her hunger at bay, but she didn’t feel anywhere near as strong about Tom. He might not even be a nice guy. She’d seen him yell at Kirby before.
When she’d killed Jason, it had been in a blackout, and she thought she’d forgotten everything about it. But now, a lingering memory surfaced—the way his heart had tasted, and how warm and sweet his blood felt going down her throat.
And then she didn’t even need to justify killing Tom. Reason was leaving her entirely, and all she wanted to do was eat.
“No, yeah, the set’s just about down,” Daniel said in a nervous rush. “What are you doing here? Do you need help? What’s going on?”
“I just left something in the office,” Tom said. “I’ll be gone in a jiffy.”
Instead of rushing out to rip him open, Gemma clung to the last scrap of reason still remaining and put her long arms over her head. She crouched, trying to make herself as small as possible, and wished she could disappear into the floor. The hunger and monster were still fighting to dominate her.
She heard his footsteps retreating, then she realized she couldn’t hear anything anymore. Not his heartbeat or even Daniel’s. The flutter of her skin had stopped, and for a horrible moment, she thought she’d given in to the monster and blacked out like she did the last time. She fully expected to open her eyes and find herself covered in blood.
But then she realized the hunger was still there. Not as strong as it had been a moment ago, but much stronger than it had been before she’d started shifting into the monster.
“Gemma?” Daniel asked. “Are you okay?”
She lifted her head to see him standing over her. She glanced down, and her hands were back to normal. When she ran her tongue along her teeth, they felt flat and ordinary.
Her tank top had ripped when her torso had stretched out, so her purple bra was showing, and Gemma quickly crossed her arms over her chest and stood up.
“Yeah, I’m back to normal,” she said, hoping her voice sounded even and not as tremulous as it felt. “I ripped my shirt.”
“Here.” Daniel took off his flannel shirt, revealing a T-shirt, and Gemma pulled it on, covering herself up.
“So that wasn’t such a good idea,” Gemma said.
“No, you did good,” he said, but he didn’t sound that convincing. “I mean, the first time you transformed, you completely lost control. This time, you almost did, but you stayed true to yourself. Nobody got hurt. You just need to practice more.”
“Maybe I should stick with safer things, like learning to control my wings for now,” Gemma said.
“Maybe,” he agreed with some reluctance. “But I think if you want to beat this curse, and you want to keep the people you care about safe, you’ll have to harness who you are. You’ll have to learn to fight.”
“I know.” She sighed. “And thanks for being so cool about everything.”
“Did I seem cool? Good. Because you’re a really hideous monster, like so gross.”
She smirked. “Thanks, Daniel.”
Daniel went back to work taking down the set, and she continued to help him, but she didn’t let on how unnerved she really was. The hunger was even stronger now than it had been before, and Gemma realized dismally that her body would insist on eating even sooner.
With September rapidly approaching, Gemma had only a couple more weeks until her cravings were completely out of control. And that was assuming, of course, that Penn didn’t kill her first.
Daniel hadn’t commented on her overstuffed book bag, not when she got on the boat or when she carried it into his house on the island. But then again, he probably thought it was homework.
That was the kind of hot date Harper was, and yet Daniel tolerated it with such ease and patience that she was often overwhelmed by how grateful she was to have a guy like him in her life.
“So…” She slipped her heavy book bag off her shoulders and dropped it on the kitchen table with a thud. “Mind if I spend the night tonight?”
“I…” Daniel glanced down at the bag, then at her, and seemed to be at a loss for words. “I thought you were going back to Sundham tonight.”
“That’s what I told Gemma and my dad because I didn’t want to explain anything to them,” Harper said. “But I don’t have class until ten tomorrow morning, and I haven’t been able to spend much time with you lately. So I thought maybe I could spend the night, unless—”
“No. I mean, no unless. Yeah, you can spend the night here. You can always spend the night here. You’re always welcome. Mi casa, su casa.” He laughed.
“It would just be sleeping,” Harper said. “You know … Not any … you know. I haven’t changed my position on anything. I still want to wait until…”
“Yeah, no, that’s cool, I get it,” he said. “Anything you want.”
She covered her face in her hands and groaned. “Ugh. I’m being totally weird and awkward, and I don’t know why. You know that I care about you, and I don’t want to send you mixed signals, but I’m not ready, and I should probably just go.”
“No, Harper.” Daniel walked over to her and took her hands in his, gently pulling them away from her face. “I care about you, and I hope there will come a time when we have sex. And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it, about how much the both of us would enjoy it.” He raised her hand to his lips, brushing a gentle kiss across her knuckles.