“Thank you,” he said.
“Were we in love?” Nathalie asked when she dropped her hand.
“Yes.” Brian let out a shaky breath. “We were very much in love.” He pursed his lips. “And I’m sorry I let you down.”
“How did you let me down?”
“I should’ve visited you more. I should’ve been here for you.”
“If I loved you the way you say I did, I’d want you to be happy,” Nathalie said. “And if seeing me makes you sad, then maybe it’s better that you didn’t.”
She’d been playing with his hand, but he turned it so he was holding her hand. Tears were standing in his eyes, and he tried to sniff them back.
“I miss you, Nat.”
“I wish I could say I missed you, too,” Nathalie admitted. “But I don’t. I don’t remember you.”
“I love you. I will always love you,” Brian said. “But I can’t do this anymore.”
As he stood up, he bent down and kissed Nathalie on the forehead. He lingered there for a moment, breathing her in, and then he turned and walked out of the room.
“Dad?” Harper got up and went after him.
“Did I do something wrong?” Nathalie asked and looked back at Gemma.
“No, Mom, you didn’t do anything wrong.” She got up and went around the table, sitting in her dad’s spot so she could be closer to Nathalie. “You did really good today.”
“I’ve upset him, though.” She stared at Gemma. “I’ve upset you, too.”
“No, I’m not upset.” Gemma wiped at her own eyes. She wasn’t crying, but she could feel the tears forming. “It’s not your fault.”
“Gemma.” Nathalie brushed a hair back from Gemma’s face and tucked it behind her ear. “You look really pretty today.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Gemma laughed and sniffled at the same time. “I wish you were here again.”
“What do you mean?” Nathalie asked. “I am here.”
“No, really here. I know you’re still in there, buried somewhere down…” Gemma trailed off as she realized something.
She glanced around, making sure that she and Nathalie were completely alone. Then she took her mom’s hand in hers and leaned in close to her, keeping her voice low.
“I want to try something, Mom,” Gemma said. “I’m going to sing to you, and I want you to … just react however feels natural, okay?”
“Okay.” Nathalie had lowered her voice because Gemma had, and she nodded quickly.
“Mom, I know you’re in there,” Gemma sang softly, barely above a whisper. Her voice came out in a clear perfect melody, and Nathalie’s expression began to relax. “I want you to remember all the things you forgot. Everything about Harper and Dad and me. I want you to come back.”
“I…” Nathalie’s brow furrowed. “I…” She grimaced and touched her forehead.
“Mom, are you okay?” Gemma reached out, touching her arm. “What’s going on? Do you remember anything?”
“It hurts!” She put her hands on the side of her head, and her nose began to bleed.
“Oh, no, Mom, I’m so sorry,” Gemma said. “Look at me, Mom. Please. Just look up.”
“It hurts,” Nathalie repeated, but she finally looked at Gemma with tears welling in her eyes.
“Forget my song,” Gemma sang. “Forget what I said.”
“I can’t,” Nathalie said, almost pleading with her. “I can’t remember what you want me to. I can’t be who you want me to be. I’m sorry.” Then she cried out, hugging her head. “Make it stop! Make the pain stop!”
“Your head doesn’t hurt anymore,” Gemma sang hurriedly before the staff came running in. “You’ll never feel a headache again.”
And just like that, it stopped. Nathalie looked up at her with red-rimmed eyes and wiped at her nose with the back of her hand.
“What happened?” Nathalie asked.
“Nothing, Mom,” Gemma said. “You just had a headache.”
When Nathalie’s staff came in to make sure she was all right, Gemma got up and went outside. If only she’d been able to do one good thing to help the people she loved, then being a siren would be worth it. But all she’d done—all she’d ever be able to do—was make things even worse.
Daniel didn’t want to fill the Paramount with sawdust, so he was cutting the large planks of wood out back with his circular saw. He had the board spread out across the sawhorses, and he double-checked the measurements.
The sun beat down on his back, and it threatened to be a scorcher today. He’d taken off his shirt an hour ago, and he’d resorted to wrapping a bandanna around his forehead to keep the sweat from dripping down his brow.
“They’re making you work on a Saturday?” Penn asked in her sultry voice. Her words couldn’t enchant him, but he could still hear how luxurious her voice sounded. “That’s like slave labor.”
“It’s my choice to work on Saturdays,” Daniel said, without looking back at her. He stayed focused on the task at hand, using a pencil to mark the wood. “It’s less disruptive to play rehearsal and the businesses around here.”
“I don’t know.” Penn walked closer to him so he could see her in his peripheral vision. “I’d find you working without your shirt pretty disruptive.”
“Good thing you don’t work at the law offices next door.” He straightened up and finally looked over at Penn. “What can I do for you today?”
Her dress was so short, the hem didn’t even reach the middle of her thigh. Her legs appeared insanely long, bronzed and taut. She wore her long black hair down, and the breeze blew it back from her face. The spectacle of her cleavage was pushed out of her low-cut top. Her full lips were turned into a small, seductive smile, and her dark eyes looked like they could unlock all the tantric mysteries of the world.
Conceptually, Daniel knew she was gorgeous. In fact, he’d venture so far as to say that she was the embodiment of sexual perfection—that no woman had ever been so beautiful or sensual in the history of the world.
And yet, as he knew that, he couldn’t find himself attracted to her. Something about her flawlessness was off-putting to him, but it was more than that. Even subtracting the fact that she was evil, and counting only on physical appearance, he still found something lacking.