She shrugged, still smiling. “It’s an evil-villain trick.”
“Evil villain?” Daniel arched an eyebrow, surprised that she was self-aware enough to realize that’s what she was.
“What?” Penn smirked and started walking to the side, circling him, but he stayed where he was, with his eyes facing forward. “You thought I didn’t know that you’d cast me as the villain in your little soap opera?”
“I’d never really thought of my life as a ‘soap opera.’”
She’d made her way back around and stopped right in front of him, but she was closer this time, nearly touching him. “You didn’t answer my question. It’s your birthday next week?”
“Yeah, on Wednesday.” He nodded. “I’ll be twenty-one.”
A bald cypress had broken in half during the storm last week, so the trunk was leaning down at an angle, almost blocking the trail to the boathouse. Daniel had been meaning to clear it up, but he’d been so busy with everything else that he hadn’t had a chance to.
“You’re still such a baby,” Penn remarked, and she walked back to the fallen tree. She leaned against the rough bark, making it move slightly and the branches groan. “I’m really robbing the cradle with this one.”
“You could try dating a shark,” Daniel suggested. “They live a long time, and they’re the closest thing to your species.”
Penn did not look amused. “Charming.”
“Thanks, and I hate to cut and run like this, but I really have to be going,” he said, and stepped to the side, meaning to make his escape.
She was up in a flash, blocking his path before he even had a chance to react. “Not so fast, Birthday Boy.”
“Listen, Penn, I’m sure you came out here so I could render payment on our little agreement, but I really can’t right now,” he insisted. “We’re having one of the last rehearsals for the play, and I need to be there for last-minute tweaks and touch-ups.”
“I don’t think you’re in a position to tell me what I can and can’t do,” Penn assured him with such cool certainty that it terrified him. “You’re already mine. It’s just a matter of collecting what I’m owed.”
Daniel didn’t even see her move. One second he was standing directly in front of Penn, the next he was on his back. He knew he’d fallen to the ground because he felt twigs cracking under his back and the wind being pushed from his lungs, but, otherwise, he didn’t know how exactly Penn had gotten him there.
He only had a split second to ponder it before Penn was on top of him, straddling him between her legs, and he felt the cold water from her dress seeping in through his jeans.
“Trust me, Daniel.” She smiled down at him as she slid her hands underneath his T-shirt. “You’ll thank me for this later.”
“I seriously doubt that,” he muttered. She leaned forward, pushing up his shirt as she did, and she stared down at his exposed chest and abdomen. He craned his neck up, trying to see what she was getting at. “What are you doing?”
“Checking you out,” Penn replied simply.
Her fingers were cold when she touched him, and he inhaled sharply. He laid his head back down, not wanting to watch her hands slide all over his torso, her tanned fingers moving over the purple-and-gray bruise that covered most of his right side.
“Yeah, I can see that, but—” He winced as she pushed painfully on his ribs.
“It’s still sore?” Penn asked, and she moved her hands away, alleviating the pain.
“Yeah. Lexi wasn’t messing around.”
Daniel had put up as much of a fight as he could against the giant bird-monster, but Lexi had thrown him around plenty. The worst of it had been when she’d thrown him through the window, causing the massive bruise and possible cracked rib on his right side. He refused to go to the doctor, so he couldn’t be certain how bad the damage was, but he could get around okay, so he knew he could recover.
The rest of his injuries were mostly scratches and bruises from broken glass and Lexi’s talons. He did have one particularly nasty cut on his chest, and all the tiny holes in his right arm from Lexi’s teeth when she’d bitten him. Most of the scratches were healing up fairly well, except for the bite wound, which seemed like it was going to take its sweet time to get better.
“I’m sorry I didn’t rescue you sooner.” Penn touched his bruise, almost tenderly, and she leaned down, first delicately kissing his ribs, then kissing the claw mark on his chest, right above his heart. “I can’t believe that wench hurt you like that.”
It almost sounded like there was actual concern and empathy mixed with the normally hollow velvet of Penn’s voice. He’d never seen Penn show any amount of compassion before, and he had no idea how to respond.
“I am grateful that you saved my life, and I did mean it when I thanked you before,” Daniel said finally, once she straightened back up. “Are you okay with it?”
“What do you mean?” She’d stopped staring morosely at his chest, and she tilted her head quizzically and narrowed her eyes.
“I’m probably a jerk for asking, and I should just let it go, but…” He pushed ahead anyway. “You killed your sister. You don’t regret it at all?”
Penn relaxed and shrugged. “She wasn’t really my sister.”
“Penn…” He sighed.
“What’s to regret, Daniel?” Penn asked, and any of the earlier warmth she’d had in her voice was replaced by venom. “She was obnoxious and mean, and I hated her. I’ve spent almost three hundred years with her.”
“Would you have killed her? If she hadn’t been about to eat me?”
“Not then, no. But soon, probably. Maybe not.” She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. I made a choice.”
“And what choice was that?” Daniel asked.
“That I wanted you, and I would do anything to have you.” She smiled. “She was in our way.”
“Yeah.” She laughed a little. “Our way to be together.”
She leaned down, her hands still on his chest, and pressed her lips to his. His heart raced in his chest, and he didn’t try to slow it. Penn might mistake his unease and agitation for excitement, and that would be better.
He tried not to think of Harper, and he had to restrain himself to keep from pushing Penn off. Nothing she did felt bad, but everything about it was wrong. All her touches, her kisses, they were all pleasure mixed with equal parts revulsion, and if he thought of Harper, it would be impossible for him to handle.