“Thanks.” She smiled when she looked over at him, but something about the look in his eyes made her smile fall away.
His arm had moved, so she could feel his hand on her shoulder. It felt strong and rough on her skin, and he was holding her, moving her closer to him as his hazel eyes stared into hers. She leaned in to him, and just when she thought he was about to kiss her, he spoke.
“We should probably get going before it gets dark,” he said.
“We should,” Harper agreed when she found her voice.
He turned away from her and rather abruptly got up and walked away, leaving Harper dismayed on the couch.
“I’m going to start carrying the garbage out to my boat.” Daniel walked away and didn’t look back.
“Yeah, um, I’ll help you.” Harper jumped to her feet and hurried after him, but he’d already grabbed all the bags by the time she reached him.
When they got on his boat, he barely spoke a word to her.
Gemma spent the whole morning in the ocean, swimming with Thea, Penn, and Lexi. Penn told Sawyer to stay behind, because she wanted to swim out farther and faster than he could go. And though she hated to admit it, Gemma was glad for that.
Penn led her out farther than she’d ventured on her own before. Gemma had set limits, afraid of enjoying herself too much, but with her new vow to heed Penn’s advice, Gemma let herself enjoy the exploration.
The four of them swam together, flitting between one another like they were performing an underwater ballet. Penn swam quickly, driving them forward, and now they had to be miles from shore. Not only that, but they went deeper down than Gemma had gone before.
The sunlight barely broke through the water, and it was so dark Gemma could hardly see. Fortunately, the iridescent scales of the sirens’ tails managed to shimmer in what little light made it down here, so Gemma could keep track of them.
When they finally surfaced after darting around the ocean, chasing each other and whatever sea life crossed their path, Gemma was relieved. The deeper they went, the colder the water got, until Gemma was nearly shivering. Now the sun warmed her skin as she stared out at the waves around her.
“I told you it was a great day for a swim,” Lexi said, grinning broadly as she floated next to Gemma.
“Everything’s so much easier when you play along,” Penn said, her voice an odd mixture of silk and contempt. “Isn’t it, Gemma?”
“It is,” she admitted, and wiped the salt water from her eyes. “But I think I’m going to head back to shore.”
“You’re such a party pooper.” Lexi pretended to pout, but Gemma couldn’t imagine that she actually cared all that much if Gemma stayed or not.
“Sorry, guys. I’ve had enough swimming for today.”
Penn narrowed her eyes at her, as if trying to decipher something. “You aren’t getting tired, are you?”
“No.” Gemma forced a smile at her. “I’m just getting a little cold. I think I want to go lie out on the beach.”
Penn didn’t seem convinced, but she shrugged noncommittally. “Suit yourself. Thea, head back with her.”
Thea sighed and didn’t argue with Penn, but Gemma thought she looked disappointed. Thea had seemed to be enjoying herself. She’d chased a sea turtle for a while, and Gemma didn’t want to make Thea leave if she was still having fun.
“No, that’s okay,” Gemma said. “Thea can stay with you guys. I know my way back to the shore.”
Thea and Gemma both turned to Penn, waiting for her response, and at length Penn nodded.
“Fine,” Penn said. “We’ll see you when we get back.”
Gemma turned and headed back toward the beach house, a little surprised that Penn had let her go. Apparently Gemma had proven herself enough that Penn had begun to trust her. That was probably a good thing.
She stayed close to the surface of the water as she swam, letting the sun warm her back as she headed toward the land.
When she’d said she was getting cold it hadn’t been a lie, but that wasn’t the only reason she’d wanted to go back. She was getting tired. It was hard for her to keep up with the other sirens, and she had a feeling that it had to do with the awful gnawing hunger in the pit of her stomach.
Her fins were slow to transform back to legs when she reached the sand, and her stomach lurched. Thea had told her that the daily swims would only hold off her need to feed for so long, but Gemma was determined to put it off as long as she could.
She swallowed hard and forced herself to her feet, though her legs felt wobbly underneath her. When she pulled on the bikini bottoms she’d left on the beach, she nearly fell over. She waited a minute, steadying herself, before slipping on her sundress over her head.
By the time she made it to the house, she felt a bit better. Her strength seemed to be returning, and the hunger pains in her stomach had abated. The transformation had just been unusually grueling today. That was all.
Gemma planned on heading upstairs to her room to lie down for a while, but Sawyer caught her just as she reached the steps.
“Hey, Gemma.” He smiled at her in a way that had only seemed mildly dazzling a couple days ago. But since yesterday, she’d been unable to completely shake this strange new attraction to him.
To make matters worse, he was shirtless and walking over to her.
“Hi, Sawyer,” Gemma mumbled, and looked away from him.
“The other girls are still out swimming?” Sawyer asked.
She nodded. “Yep. They’re out there. And I was just gonna head up to my room.”
“Oh, cool.” He moved toward her, like he meant to walk up the stairs with her. “I was just heading that way, too.”
“Why?” Gemma blurted out.
Sawyer stood on the bottom step next to her, and it was impossible not to look at him. Or to ignore the proximity. His eyes were so unbelievably blue, and his arms looked so strong. She breathed in deeply. He even smelled like the sea.
“I was going up to my room.” Sawyer cocked his head, maybe noticing the change taking over Gemma. “Did you want to join me?”
“No!” She hadn’t meant to sound so forceful, but he didn’t seem to notice. He seemed just as entranced by her as she was by him.
It wasn’t lust and it wasn’t hunger, but some dangerous combination of the two. She craved him in a way she hadn’t known it was possible to crave a human being. Her mind was filled with the same thoughts as yesterday, of all the things she wanted to do to Sawyer, but then it all turned into a blurry haze. She couldn’t think, and all she could feel was a blazing heat that threatened to consume her.