At that thought, she returned to kissing him frantically. In the back of her mind, she knew the sirens were nearby in the house, and Alex would have to leave very soon if she wanted him to live. So if she only had a few moments with him, she had to make them count.
His hand moved down, pressing against the smooth scales of her tail, which rose up to the small of her back. Nobody had ever touched her tail before, and the warm touch of his skin sent pleasurable shivers down to her fin.
“Wow.” Alex stopped kissing her so he could look down at the iridescent scales, which shimmered in the early morning light. “So … you really are a mermaid now?”
“Yeah.” Gemma laughed and looked him in the eyes. “I kinda am.”
“So you two are done making out now?” Harper asked, and Gemma looked over Alex’s shoulder to see Harper standing behind him. She’d been so excited about Alex that she hadn’t even noticed her sister there.
Harper had gone out far enough so the water was just lapping against her feet, and Daniel was standing a bit farther back on the shore, looking uncertainly from Gemma to the stark white house on the beach behind them.
“You have to go,” Gemma said. Seeing Harper and Daniel’s unease had snapped her out of her romantic notions, and she realized how dangerous this could get.
“Alex gets a kiss, and you tell me to get out of here?” Harper raised an eyebrow. “No way. We didn’t come all this way to leave you behind.”
“I appreciate that, and I’m glad to see you—all of you,” Gemma said. She’d pulled back from Alex enough to comfortably talk to Harper, but his arms remained around her. “I truly am. But you need to get out of here.”
“We’re not leaving without you,” Harper said. “I don’t care if I have to drag you out of here kicking and screaming or stab those horrible she-devils in the eyes, you are coming with me when I leave.”
“You have to go,” Gemma insisted.
“Gemma, I’m not leaving without you,” Alex said, and she turned to look at him, staring up into his deep brown eyes. “Last time you left, I was unconscious and couldn’t stop you. But this time I’m wide awake, and I’m not letting you go.”
“You don’t understand,” Gemma told him plaintively. “They’ll kill you if they find you here.”
“Then we should really get going,” Alex replied.
“No, I can’t go with you,” Gemma said. “They’ll come after me, and then they’ll hurt you and Harper and Daniel to punish me.”
“Gemma, you’re not listening to me,” Alex said. “I am not leaving you. So if you stay, I stay.”
“Alex!” Gemma wanted to push away from him, but his arms felt too good and too strong around her. “They won’t let us be together. If they see you, they will kill you.”
“Come with us,” Alex said. “Leave with us right now, and we’ll find a way to stop them.”
“I don’t know if there is a way to stop them,” Gemma admitted sourly.
“There’s a way to stop everything. We just have to figure it out,” Alex assured her.
“You don’t know what the sirens are like,” Gemma said, but her resistance was wearing down.
“Do you want to stay here?” Alex asked. “Do you want to be a siren?”
“No,” she said emphatically.
“Then let’s get out of here.” He lowered her into the water, and stepped back away from her, toward the shore. “We’ll find a way to get you free, but the first step is leaving here.”
She bit her lip and glanced up at the house. It was dangerous to leave, that was for sure, but it was also probably the only chance she had of ever figuring out how to break the curse. Penn sure as hell was never going to tell her how.
But maybe if Gemma worked with Harper and Alex, the three of them could figure out how to change things. It was the best chance she had to escape this life.
And based on the way both Harper and Alex were looking at her, Gemma wasn’t sure if there was anything she could say or do to get them to stop looking for her. She knew Alex was dead serious when he said he wouldn’t leave without her.
If she wanted to keep him alive and rid herself of the curse, the best way to do it would be to leave. And if she was going to leave, she ought to hurry and do it before the sirens woke up.
“Let’s go,” Gemma said, and Alex smiled widely at her. He pulled her close to him again, kissing her quickly. “But we really do need to hurry.”
Alex pulled her toward the shore, but when the water got shallow enough that her tail began to tingle, she stopped him.
“You need to go ahead and turn around,” Gemma said.
“What? Why?” Alex asked, alarmed.
“Because my tail doesn’t change into bikini bottoms when it turns back into legs,” Gemma told him.
“Oh.” Alex blushed slightly when he realized what she meant and quickly turned around.
“What’s going on?” Harper asked. She was standing just far enough away that she hadn’t heard Gemma’s explanation.
“Turn around,” Alex said, walking over to where Harper and Daniel were standing. “Gemma’s naked and needs to put on bottoms.”
“Oh, crap,” Daniel said, and immediately turned around.
Harper turned away from Gemma more slowly, as if she didn’t trust Gemma not to disappear in the waves while they had their backs turned. But Gemma had no plans to do that.
She pulled herself out of the water, willing her legs to speed up. The transformation from tail to legs had never seemed so slow. Since she’d decided to leave, she wanted to get out of here as quickly as possible.
Gemma actually stood up before her legs had completely shifted back. One of her feet was still more fin than foot, and she almost tumbled in the sand, but she caught herself. She rushed over to her bikini bottoms, and by the time she’d slipped into them, her legs were normal.
“Okay,” Gemma said, and ran over to where Alex was waiting. “We need to get out of here.”
Alex took Gemma’s hand, and the four of them ran through the sand. They had to go a ways down the beach to get around the boulders. The house was sandwiched right between the rocky outcroppings, so the quickest way to the front road was through the house, but they weren’t about to take that path.
Daniel had parked in the grass about a quarter mile from the house. When they finally reached the car, Harper popped open the trunk and pulled out an old hoodie for Gemma to toss on so she wasn’t running around in a bikini.