“What was all that about?” Alex asked.
Daniel had finished his beer, so he stood up to get another one. “It’s way too much to get into right now.”
“Are you like … with Penn or something?”
“No, no, hell no.” He shook his head. “I love Harper. And I’ll do anything for her, even if it means losing her.”
The room smelled of violet—not the flower, but the color. That didn’t make any sense, not even to Gemma, who’d come to accept oddities more readily, but there really wasn’t anyway else to describe it. It was a rich, almost velvety scent, and when she closed her eyes, all she could see was amethyst.
Since the gods and goddesses had slowly been picked off the last several centuries, Diana assumed that every supernatural being who tracked her down planned to torture and kill her, and she’d instantly pegged Gemma as something more than human.
Once Lydia had convinced Diana that none of them meant her any harm, the older woman had led them to a small sitting room at the back of the flower shop, so they could talk. Lydia had instantly gone to the shelves, excitedly but carefully admiring all of Diana’s collection.
It was filled with so many antiquities—books, statues, art, tools, musical instruments. The collection appeared to have begun with the dawn of time. Despite the number of things in such a small space, the room didn’t feel cluttered. Everything had its own spot, carefully displayed on the shelves that lined the walls.
Gemma sat on a lush velvet settee next to Harper, while Diana poured them tea. Gemma had tried to decline, but Diana insisted that she needed some. While there was plenty of room to sit next to Harper, Marcy had chosen to sit cross-legged on the floor by the window, where a fat, fluffy Siamese cat basked in the sun.
When Diana returned carrying a tea tray, Harper stood up to help her, but Diana shooed her away, insisting she had it herself, and set the tray down on an elegant coffee table in front of the settee.
Gemma would’ve offered to help, but the watersong was reaching a level of unbearable pain. It buzzed in her left ear—the side facing the East Coast—and the vision in her left eye had begun to blur.
“I see you’ve made friends with Thallo,” Diana said to Marcy as she made herself comfortable in her high-backed chair across from the settee. “She’s always been a lover. Her sister, Carpo, is much happier watching us than making friends, I’m afraid.”
A thin Siamese cat posted at the top of a bookshelf meowed at the sound of her name, and Gemma glanced back up at her.
“She’s a nice cat,” Marcy said noncommittally as she ran her hand through Thallo’s fur.
Diana had poured five cups of tea, but only she and Harper had taken theirs. Lydia was too immersed in a book she’d found, and Gemma felt too sick to even think about drinking anything.
“I’m not sure if I’m naïve for letting you in here.” Diana settled back in her chair and sipped her tea. “You have only brought three mortals with you, so I suspect that you haven’t come here to battle.”
“No, I don’t mean you any harm,” Gemma tried to reassure her again.
Before Diana had led them here, Lydia had used her extensive knowledge of paranormal elements and powers of persuasion to convince Diana that they weren’t there to hurt her. But now that Diana seemed comfortable with them, and Lydia had the distraction of ancient artifacts, she was content to let Gemma do her own talking.
“You are a siren, aren’t you?” Diana asked, eyeing her above her glasses.
“Yes. I am.” She waited a beat before asking, “Are you Demeter?”
“Demeter.” Diana smiled, as if being surprised by a forgotten memory. “I haven’t been called that in a very long time, but yes, I was once Demeter.”
“But you’re not now?” Marcy looked up from the cat. “Aren’t you still a goddess?”
Diana laughed warmly. “Goddess. You say that as if it means something.”
“Doesn’t it?” Marcy asked.
“Not what it used to.” Diana took another drink of her tea, then set the cup on a nearby end table. “All my friends, my family, anyone who really knew me, is long since gone. I am alone, with no one to worship me, and why would they? What little magic I still have I only use on my flowers and plants. I’m an old woman now.”
“But don’t you choose this form? Can’t you be young again if you wanted?” Gemma asked.
“I chose this form because it suits me. This face, this shop, this life, it’s what I am now.” She gestured to the room around her. “The goddess within me is all but extinguished.”
“Why? I’ve read the stories about you. You were so powerful,” Marcy said, as if trying to give Diana a pep talk. She’d been so set on seeing something amazing that she didn’t seem ready to let the idea go. “You helped the earth. You saved people. Why give all that up?”
“Immortality is not what you think it is. Neither is power. It’s not the answer to anything. It’s just a different way of being, a much longer way,” Diana tried to explain. “Anyway, if you’re not here to kill me, then what have you come for?”
“I want to break the curse,” Gemma said.
Diana looked down at her lap, smoothing out nonexistent wrinkles in the fabric of her dress. “Oh, well, I can’t do that.”
“You can’t?” Gemma took a deep breath and tried not to let that get her down. Maybe she’d misunderstood. “But … you’re a goddess.”
“I already told you. That doesn’t mean much anymore,” Diana reiterated.
“Didn’t you help my great-grandma, Audra?” With a book still in her hand, Lydia came over and perched on the arm of the settee next to Harper. “She came to you with a muse around fifty years ago, looking for a way to become mortal. She said you helped her.”
“That’s how you found me then,” Diana said. “Are you a soothsayer?”
Lydia smiled demurely. “No, I’m not. But I followed in Audra’s footsteps, trying to help those who need me.”
Diana appeared bemused by her answer. “And you think helping a siren is worth your time?”
“I’m not a siren.” Gemma shook her head. “Not like the others. I don’t want to be a monster. I want to end this.”
“I’m sorry, but I’ve already explained,” Diana said, though Gemma didn’t think she sounded even slightly apologetic. “I can’t help you.”