“Yeah.” Gemma nodded. “It was Aiden Crawford.”
“Aiden? Holy shit.”
Daniel wheeled around just in time to dry heave into the bushes. It sounded more like he was coughing than actually throwing up, but the reality of it had obviously hit him hard. When he’d finished, he wiped his mouth on the back of his arm and mumbled an apology.
“It’s a lot of blood to take in,” Gemma said when he turned back around.
“I didn’t know there was that much blood in one human body,” he admitted. “That looks like it should be five or six people. At least.”
“I think Liv was making a point of splattering him around.” Gemma kept her voice low, so the sirens would be less likely to notice her, but they were so busy arguing among themselves that she could shout their names, and they wouldn’t look.
Daniel exhaled sharply. “Dammit. He was a dick, but … He was my older brother’s best friend for years before John died. Aiden wasn’t a good guy, but he deserved better than this.”
No, Aiden probably didn’t deserve this, but it hadn’t been that long ago that she’d been about ready to do the same to him when he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Saying he wasn’t a good guy was a massive understatement.
“I know,” Gemma said anyway. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.”
Gemma tilted her head. “Maybe it is. I brought the sirens back to Capri. The reason they’re here is—”
“Don’t do that.” Daniel was quick to cut her off, and since he obviously wasn’t in the mood to argue, she didn’t push it.
“On the subject of why people are here…” Gemma began after a pregnant pause. “Why are you here?”
He stared straight ahead, his eyes fixed on the ground, and she could see the muscles in his jaw tense. “Don’t ask me about that. Please.”
Daniel had arrived late at night with Penn, and the buttons were ripped off the front of his shirt. There was only one conclusion Gemma could draw, especially after seeing Penn fawning over him so much.
She knew why he would do it, the only reason Daniel would do something like this was to protect Harper or her. That made her heart ache, like it was being torn in two, and her stomach twist in knots. Knowing that Daniel would resort to prostituting himself because of her, and how much it would kill Harper when she found out.
“Daniel. You have to tell Harper.”
He sighed and just kept staring at the ground. “We all do what we need to do.”
“No, Daniel,” Gemma said firmly, hating that she had to do this. “If you don’t tell her, I will.”
“Fine!” Penn threw her hands up in the air, and turned her attention back toward Gemma and Daniel. “We’ll wrap him up, then Daniel can dump his body off his boat.”
“What? Why can’t you guys take him out there?” Daniel asked.
“Because they’ll be busy cleaning up this bloodbath.” Penn pointed to Thea and Liv. “And it will look less suspicious if you take a tarp on a boat than if a girl drags a tarp into the ocean.”
“Fine.” Daniel shrugged, like he really didn’t care what he got dragged into anymore. “I’ll do it. As long as I don’t have to touch the body.”
“Great.” Penn smiled at him. “You all can wrap up the body, then Daniel takes it out to sea, and Thea and Liv clean up all this blood.”
“No, Penn. I’m not kidding. I’m not doing this.” Thea smacked her hands together and rubbed them, gesturing that she was washing her hands of all this. “This is your problem now.”
Penn rolled her eyes, then looked to Daniel. “See? I told you she’s bossy and obnoxious.”
“But Thea’s not the reason you’re in this mess,” he said reasonably, then nodded to Liv. “She is.”
Liv smiled at him, and in her sweetest, silkiest voice, she said, “One day, Penn is gonna get tired of you. And when she does, she’s gonna tear you apart, and I’ll be there to watch.”
“I’m out of here,” Thea said, and started heading back toward the trees to make her escape. “Sorry, guys. Best of luck.”
With Penn overseeing, Gemma and Liv broke up Aiden’s body so it would be easier to transfer. Daniel had edged closer to the side of the band shell, keeping a lookout, but it also kept him from having to witness their dismembering a guy he’d known most of his life.
When they were finished, the tarps containing Aiden’s body fit neatly inside the duffel bag. It would still be too heavy for Daniel to carry comfortably, so Gemma offered to carry it down to his boat for him.
Penn wanted to take that job for herself, but Gemma had no idea how to get the blood out of the trees. She wiped the blood off herself as best she could, using one of the towels that Thea had tucked in the duffel bag, then she and Daniel headed down to the trail to his boat.
“I got it from here,” Daniel said when they’d stopped on the docks in front of The Dirty Gull.
“You sure? I can help you get rid of it,” Gemma offered.
“No. I got it.” He took the bag from her and gave it a swing so he could throw it up over the railing and onto his boat. “I just wanna take a nice, long boat ride out past the island, then go home and take the longest shower of my life.”
Some blood had gotten on his hands and arms, and he even had a few droplets on his bare chest, which had probably dripped down from the branches. But by the way he avoided looking Gemma in the eyes, she had a feeling that wasn’t the only reason he felt so dirty.
“What happened between you and Penn—” Gemma began carefully, but Daniel held up his hand, stopping her.
“I know that you mean well, and I know that you think you understand, but…” He trailed off. “I can’t talk about this with you.” He swallowed. “And Harper will know what she needs to know soon enough.”
“I know that whatever you’ve done or will do, you’ve done it to protect Harper and me.”
He chewed the inside of his cheek and stared out at the ocean. Impulsively, Gemma threw her arms around Daniel and hugged him tightly, pressing her face against his chest. Tears stung her eyes, and she barely held them back.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” she said, her words muffled against his chest. “For everything you’ve done and everything you’ve given up.”