“Right,” Thea said. “And I’m sure Daniel is of no relation to him.”
“But there’s something about him.” Penn slowed to take the curves on the steep incline. “He’s … captivating.”
“I don’t find him all that captivating.”
“Yeah, well, that’s probably because you’re a lesbian,” Penn said.
“What?” Thea turned to face her, her mouth agape. “I’m not a lesbian. Where did that even come from? And even if I were, what would that matter?”
Penn shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. It’s just that Gemma is the only person you seem to ever want to spend time with. I mean, when was the last time you even kissed a guy?”
“I don’t need to go around hooking up with strangers.”
“Yeah, you kinda do. It’s the core of who we are. You’re denying your very nature.”
“You and Lexi do what you want, and I don’t condemn you for it.”
Penn scoffed loudly. “Yeah, right! All you do is sit in your ivory tower and judge us. Sorry we’re not as perfect as your new BFF.”
“You picked her, Penn. Remember that. Gemma was your choice. And if you don’t like her, that’s on you.”
“I know,” Penn agreed. “But I have good news. I think I found the solution.”
“The solution?” Thea asked tentatively.
“Yeah. You know I’ve been looking for a replacement, and I think I found one,” Penn said. “She’s in some dinky little town in Delaware called Auburnton or something like that. I don’t know. But you should come meet her. I think you’ll like her.”
“You’ve already introduced yourself to her?” Thea asked.
“Yeah, I wanted to make sure we found the right girl,” Penn said. “She doesn’t know I’m a siren yet, but she’ll be a good fit for us. Much better than Gemma, anyway.”
“That’s what you said about Aggie!” Thea shouted back. “You said Gemma would be so much better than Aggie, and now you’re ready to kill Gemma without even giving her a chance.”
Penn scoffed. “I’ve given her plenty of chances! She’s been ungrateful and horrible and just … awful since she turned.”
“She’s only sixteen, and this is all new to her,” Thea insisted. “You’ve got to give her a chance. She’s like a puppy, and she just needs some time to be housebroken.”
“I told you as soon as I found a new girl I was getting rid of Gemma,” Penn said. “I don’t know why you’re arguing with me about it now.”
“I thought it would take you longer and it would give Gemma a chance to fit in better,” Thea admitted.
They were surrounded by loblolly pines, and the air smelled of the trees and the ocean. Thea stared dejectedly at the trees as they went by.
When Thea spoke again, she’d softened, her rough voice sounding gentle. “Gemma’s not that bad.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Penn laughed. “Because of her, we’re stuck in this crappy little town.”
“Really?” Thea arched her eyebrows. “You’re trying to tell me that you’re letting the new girl boss you around? That’s your excuse for staying here?”
“No. I’m not saying that. I’m staying here because I decided that it would be easier for us until I could find a replacement for Gemma.”
Thea waited a beat before asking, “And what about Daniel?”
“What about him?”
“Once you find the replacement and Gemma’s out of the picture, we’re just going to leave?”
They’d reached their house at the top of the cliff. It was more rustic than Penn normally liked, but it was the nicest house that she could find in Capri. It was a log cabin, but the kind with high ceilings, a chandelier, and granite countertops.
Penn pulled in the driveway and turned the car off, but she stayed inside. Thea didn’t get out, either, probably because she knew better than to walk away if Penn wasn’t done with the conversation yet.
“Of course,” Penn said firmly. “Daniel has no bearing on any of my decisions. He’s simply an oddity of nature, a curiosity that’s giving me something to play with until we can get the hell out of here.”
“Say what you want, Penn, but remember that I’ve seen you in love before.”
“Like I would be in love with some dirty human like that? Gross.” Penn grimaced. “Just to prove to you that you’re wrong, when I do find a replacement and we get rid of Gemma, I’ll get rid of Daniel.”
“You’ll get rid of him?” Thea asked.
“I’ll rip out his heart and eat it in front of you. I wouldn’t be able to do that to someone I was in love with.”
“I didn’t ask you to do that.” Thea had turned away from Penn again, staring emptily out at the trees surrounding the cabin. “And you’d be surprised what you can do to the people you love.”
As soon as they got close to Bernie’s Island, an intense nostalgia washed over Harper like a wave. She’d been afraid that she’d lost the wonderful love for one of her favorite places on earth, but it was all coming back.
Daniel moving out to the island had helped her forget about the night they’d come out here and found Bernie McAllister eviscerated in the trees. She’d managed to shove that image deep down inside her, burying it beneath all the happy memories of her childhood spent out here with Bernie and her sister.
As they pulled up to the dock, which was hidden among the trees that grew out into the water, Harper breathed in deeply. The island was almost overgrown with bald cypress trees and pines towering above them.
Instead of taking The Dirty Gull into the boathouse, Daniel tied it off at the dock. He’d have to take Harper home in a few hours, and it would be easier this way.
He got off the boat, and held his hand out for Harper, helping her.
“Do you see that?” Daniel let go of her hand to point down at the dock.
“What?” Harper looked down at the warped gray boards beneath her feet. “Does it need to be replaced or something?”
“No. Well, yeah, probably, but that’s not what I meant,” Daniel said. “I mean, do you see where your feet are? You’re standing on the island now.”
“Technically I’m on the dock, and that’s not part of the island,” Harper teased.