Then they were kissing again, only this time her bare skin was pressed to his, and it was amazing how intimate that felt, how close she felt to him, and yet she still wanted to be closer.
The monster inside her threatened to surface, but she wouldn’t let it. She wasn’t doing this to feed her cravings or satiate her hunger, and she refused to let the siren in her have any part of this. This was about her and Alex, and how much they loved each other.
After she’d undone his pants, he rolled her over, and with surprising dexterity, he slid off her panties and shorts. For a moment, nothing more happened. The two of them lay naked together, kissing, and he took of one her hands, pressing it to the pillow above her head. His heart was pounding so hard, she could feel the rapid beat of his pulse in their entwined fingers.
Then he stopped. Her free arm was around him, holding him to her, and he stared down into her eyes.
“What?” she asked, afraid he might not want to continue.
“I just want to remember this moment,” he said softly. “I want to remember everything about being here with you now and how utterly in love with you I am.”
“I love you, too,” she said because she was afraid to say more.
Then his lips found hers again, kissing her desperately, and when he slid inside her, it hurt, but there was a strange beauty in the pain. In knowing that it was with him, that they were together in a way they’d never been with anyone else, and when he let go of her hand so he could wrap his arms around her, crushing her to him, she couldn’t imagine being able to feel this close to anyone.
Afterward, she lay in his arms. He kissed the top of her head and rubbed the bare skin of her back, sending pleasurable shivers down her spine. He lay on his side, and her head was pressed against his chest, listening to the sound of his heart, and their legs were tangled together.
For a moment, she wasn’t entirely sure where she ended, and he began, and there was something wholly perfect in that. She clung to him, savoring the moment and wishing that it would last forever.
Gemma and Brian were talking beside her at the kitchen table, and Harper heard them. She was even nodding along and saying “mmm-hmm” in all the right spots. But she wasn’t really listening. Her head and her heart were a million miles away, wondering what she was going to do about Daniel.
After he’d told her about his plans to become a siren and join Penn last night, she had spent a very long time trying to talk him out of it and debating with him. But his mind was made up, and in the end, she wasn’t sure that she actually disagreed with him.
She didn’t want him to do it because she didn’t want him getting hurt, but in all honesty, if she were in his position, she’d probably do the exact same thing. To protect the people she loved, she’d be willing to sacrifice anything.
But Harper was going to make damn sure that they’d tried every other option first. If there was a way to break the curse before Daniel got trapped into a life with Penn, then Harper was determined to find it.
As soon as she’d gotten home last night, she’d pulled out the scroll. Diana had told her the curse was in the ink, and Pine had thought that the ink might consist of blood. It had reacted to water, Red Bull, and a number of other liquids that she’d exposed it to. But according to Gemma, it reacted strongest to a combination of the same liquids that made Gemma a siren.
Gemma had told her about her failed attempt with Marcy to combine their blood and ocean water to erase the scroll. It hadn’t worked, but the scroll had a particularly strong reaction to these elements. It wasn’t until last night, when everyone was in bed, and Harper was struggling to sleep, that something occurred to her: They’d never tried just human blood on its own. It could be that simple.
She hid in the bathroom and locked the door behind her. Using a sharp knife, she sliced along her finger deep enough to bleed. It wasn’t as much as she would’ve liked, but it was enough. The symbols began to glow beneath, shining brightly through her blood in a vibrant crimson.
With her arms hugging herself tightly, she began to pray under her breath, hoping against all the odds that this might finally be it … and then the ink changed back to its usual color.
“No, no, please. That can’t be it,” she murmured in a frantic whisper. “Dammit. This has to work. Please.”
Her attempts at squeezing out more blood failed miserably, and she only succeeded in rubbing off the dried blood instead of adding more. The ink didn’t glow again or disappear. The curse hadn’t been broken. She’d failed.
In frustration, she threw it across the room. Then she sat back on the floor, leaning against the bath and sobbing quietly into her arms.
So now, as her dad and a surprisingly cheerful Gemma talked, Harper found it impossible to concentrate or follow anything they were saying. All she could think about was that she’d failed her sister, her boyfriend, and, in a few days, everything would be gone.
“Well, that all sounds fantastic then,” Brian said, responding to Gemma’s telling him about Pine’s translation of the scroll. “When you go see him, you can take the scroll with you again, and with his translations and what you know about the ink, you’ll be able to figure out what to do. Right?”
“Yeah.” Harper forced a smile and tried to sound convincing. “Right.”
“Yep,” Gemma agreed, but she stared down at the table.
“How come neither of you sound excited about this?” Brian eyed the two of them. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“No, I’m excited.” Gemma smiled at him. “I’m just tired. Going away really took a lot out of me.”
It was hard to tell exactly how much things affected Gemma. Even when she claimed to be feeling terrible, her skin never paled, her eyes always twinkled, even her smile never lost its luster. The siren kept herself constantly camouflaged behind a mask of beauty.
“What about you, Harper?” Brian asked.
“Yeah. Everything’s great.” Her voice cracked a little when she said that, and she hoped that they didn’t notice.
“It’s getting late.” Brian glanced up at the clock. “Are you girls going to visit your mom today?”
It was Saturday, which meant it was time for their weekly visit to Briar Ridge, and somehow it had completely slipped Harper’s mind. She’d been making that same trek almost every week for the past eight years Nathalie had lived out there, and this was the first time she’d completely forgotten.