What really worked was licking the blood off her hands. Siren blood tasted sweeter and was far more powerful than mortal hearts. In a few minutes her voice would be more enchanting and she’d be even more radiant.
Lexi sat up slowly, and out of the corner of her eye Penn could see that her face was smashed up. Within the hour, Lexi’s broken face would be back to its normal beauty. Until then, she’d be in pain, and that made Penn smile.
“Now, then,” Penn said as she pulled back out on the road. “I think we’ll both agree that I will kill who I want, when I want.”
“Yes,” Lexi mumbled, her words slurred because both of her lips were busted open.
“Now clean yourself up,” Penn continued in the same cheerful, calm voice. “You want to make a good impression on the new girl, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Lexi repeated, probably afraid that if she didn’t say anything, Penn would attack her again. This was a fair guess, because Penn had tasted the siren blood, and she was eager to have more.
By the time they reached Auburnton, Lexi had begun to heal, but she wasn’t completely cleaned. She wiped the dried blood from her face while Penn hummed along with the radio, when it finally found a station.
“There she is,” Penn said as she pulled over on the side of the road beneath a maple tree.
“Where?” Lexi asked, and Penn pointed to a girl sitting at an outside café across the street.
Penn had told her they would meet her there, and the girl kept looking around, presumably checking for Penn. Her wavy blond hair was kept shoulder-length, and she chewed her lip as she waited. She couldn’t be more than eighteen, and there was something wide-eyed and innocent about her.
“Shall we go meet her?” Penn asked, and without waiting for Lexi to answer, she got out of the car.
“Wait.” Lexi rushed around the car and caught up to Penn as she walked across the street. “Why her? Why do you like her?”
“I chose Gemma because I thought she had siren traits—her beauty, her love of water, her strength—and I thought we could work with her stubbornness,” Penn said. “Gemma didn’t like us from the start, but I thought we could overcome that once she saw the gift we’d given her.”
They were still half a block down from the café, but the girl had spotted them. She stood up and waved her arm wildly in the air. Penn gave her a small polite wave back.
“Now I realize my mistake,” Penn said, lowering her voice. “I realize that what will make a good siren is a good follower. This girl’s plain, but she’ll become beautiful. She can’t swim, but she’ll learn. But she’s the kind of girl that will do anything to fit in.”
Penn smiled at Lexi. “She’ll do whatever I say.”
The girl walked over to meet them at the edge of the café, nearly knocking over a table as she did, and her cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
“Sorry.” The girl smiled widely at them both. “I wasn’t sure if this was the right café, and I’ve been so worried I’ve been waiting at the wrong one. I’ve been here for a half hour, but now you’re here, so I’m glad that it is the right one.
“And now I’m rambling. Sorry,” the girl continued without taking a breath, and then she turned her attention to Lexi. “Oh, my gosh, you are so pretty! I can’t believe how beautiful you both are. Sorry. That’s probably weird for me to say, and I’m sure you get that all the time, but you really are just so pretty.”
“Thanks,” Lexi said, then leaned toward Penn and whispered, “I think you may have gone a little heavy on the siren song this time. She’s even more submissive than Sawyer was.”
“I haven’t even used the song on her,” Penn told her. “She’s just naturally this infatuated.”
“Wow.” Lexi stared at the girl. “She’s perfect.”
“I know,” Penn agreed. “Lexi, meet Olivia Olsen.”
“Liv,” the girl said as she extended her hand. “My friends call me Liv, and I’m hoping that we’ll all be good friends.”
“Oh, I’m certain we will be,” Lexi said with a wide smile.
Gemma had snuck behind the dark velvet curtains to inspect Daniel’s work on the sets backstage. She thought it might help take her mind off of her growing hunger.
Planks of wood were stacked, and a skeleton of two-by-fours was the only part really put together. Daniel obviously tried to keep his work space somewhat orderly, but not all of his equipment seemed to fit in the oversized toolbox, so some tools were lying about.
His blueprints were stacked together on top of a table. Gemma bent over them and tried to get an idea of the set. It had to be easily turned, so it could serve double duty as two sets. He also planned to create walls that could slide in to create the illusion of more private quarters, like bedrooms.
“Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented,” Aiden said, his voice low as he recited his lines, “that you shall be my wife, your dowry ’greed on, and you will…” He trailed off and muttered the beginnings of his speech over again.
Practice had finished up about ten minutes ago, with everyone dispersing, but Aiden had lingered behind to go over his lines again. He’d wandered backstage, his brow creased in thought, and continued to mumble to himself.
It was dimly lit backstage, so apparently he hadn’t seen Gemma yet. She stayed where she was, leaning on the table, and watched him struggle. The concern in his brown eyes, as if he worried he’d never be able to learn his part, endeared him a bit more to Gemma.
So far, all she’d really seen of Aiden had been overly confident attempts at flirting with an uninterested Thea, or blundering through a scene and completely butchering his lines. It had never occurred to Gemma that he actually cared about the part or that he was even trying.
She’d assumed that he’d skated through life on his good looks and his father’s name. He’d graduated from college last year, and the town had all but hailed it as the return of the Golden Boy and given him a key to the city.
But seeing him rub his temple with his battered script rolled up in his hand humanized him. For the first time, Aiden actually looked attractive to Gemma. Her stomach seemed to growl in agreement, and she swallowed back her hunger.
“Need some help?” Gemma asked, and he jumped a bit, startled by her presence. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”