“We’ve seen you swimming out there a lot,” Penn said.
Gemma had heard her speak once before, and it still surprised her how Penn sounded. Her voice was that sexy baby-talk that usually drove Gemma nuts, but something silky underneath it made Penn’s words strangely beautiful and enticing.
In fact, just hearing Penn talk washed away some of the negative feelings Gemma had about the three girls. They still freaked her out, but her fear had lessened.
“I’m sorry.” Penn smiled at her, revealing bright white teeth that seemed abnormally sharp. “You probably have no idea who we are. I’m Penn, and these are my friends, Lexi and Thea.”
“Hi.” Lexi wagged her fingers at Gemma. Her blond hair glinted like gold in the sunlight, and her eyes were the same aqua shade as the ocean.
“Hey,” Thea said. Even though she smiled, she seemed annoyed even to be talking to Gemma. She stared off at the ocean and ran her hand through her red waves of hair.
“And you’re Gemma, right?” Penn asked when Gemma didn’t say anything.
“Yep, I am.” Gemma nodded.
“We’ve seen you around, and we like your style,” Penn went on.
“Thanks?” Gemma questioned, uncertain what to make of that.
She wrapped her arms around herself, feeling naked around the three girls. Gemma knew she was pretty, and sometimes when she was dolled up she thought she was downright hot. But standing next to Penn, Lexi, and Thea, she felt clumsy and unattractive.
Water dripped off her body and onto the wooden planks beneath her feet, and all she could think about was getting to her clothes and putting them on.
“We love going swimming out in the ocean at night,” Penn said. “There’s something truly exhilarating about it.”
“It’s amazing,” Lexi chimed in, sounding a little too enthusiastic about it. Penn shot Lexi a look, and Lexi lowered her eyes.
“Um … yeah.” Even though Gemma agreed with them, she was afraid to admit it. It felt like Penn was setting some sort of trap she didn’t understand.
“We’d love it if you joined us for a swim,” Penn said, smiling wider.
“I … I don’t think so. Sorry.” Gemma couldn’t really think of an excuse to give them, but there was no way she would accept an invitation to join them doing anything.
“How about an afternoon swim, then?” Penn asked. “We were thinking of taking a dive right now. Weren’t we?”
“I’ve got my bikini under my dress,” Lexi said and gestured to the slinky sundress she wore.
“Well, I just got out,” Gemma said. “And I’m about to get dressed.”
She pointed to her bike, and then, seeing her chance to escape, walked over to it. Gemma had expected them to give up once she’d turned them down, but apparently that was wishful thinking. Penn followed her down the dock.
“I know you to love swim, and I’d really love it if you joined us,” Penn said. “If today doesn’t work, then let me know when you can.”
“I don’t know.” Gemma fumbled with her bike lock. Penn stood behind her, casting a shadow over her as Gemma crouched next to the bike. “I’ve got a lot of training to do.”
“You can’t train all the time,” Penn said. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
“I play,” Gemma insisted.
Finally managing to unlock her bag, she grabbed it and stood up. Her urge to get dressed had gone away, though. All she wanted to do was throw the bag over her shoulder, hop on the bike, and ride far away from Penn and her hungry smile.
“You really need to go swimming with us.” Penn’s voice was like silk, but it was clearly a command. Her dark eyes locked on Gemma’s, burning with an intensity that took her breath away.
A splash from behind them momentarily broke Penn’s concentration, but the distraction was long enough for Gemma to catch her breath and look away.
Daniel stood on the dock a little way down from them, water dripping down his bare chest and long swim trunks. Gemma knew him from when she visited her father on the docks, but she hadn’t found a reason to resent him the way Harper had.
“Is there something wrong?” Daniel asked, wiping the water from his face. Without waiting for them to answer, he started walking to where Penn, Lexi, and Thea had Gemma surrounded.
“Everything’s just fine,” Lexi said brightly and smiled at him. “You can go about your business.”
“I don’t think so.” Daniel kept walking, ignoring Lexi. When he got close enough, he shouldered Lexi out of the way and looked down at Gemma. “Are you okay?”
“We said she was fine,” Penn said icily.
“I didn’t ask you.” Daniel cast her a glare before he turned back to Gemma and softened his gaze. Gemma stood dripping wet, clutching her bag to her chest. “Come on. Why don’t you come on my boat and dry off?”
“Go about your business,” Lexi said again, but she sounded more confused than angry. Like she didn’t understand how he could ignore her.
Daniel gestured for Gemma to come with him. As Gemma hurried over to him, she couldn’t shake the feeling that Penn wanted to rip Daniel’s head off, in a very literal sense. Once they slipped away from the girls, Daniel put his arm around her. Not a romantic gesture, but like he meant to protect her.
As they walked over to his boat, Gemma felt Penn’s eyes burning into her back. Lexi called after her, saying that they’d see her again, and something about her voice felt like a song.
Gemma almost turned around to go back to them after she heard Lexi, but Daniel’s arm around her kept her from it.
Once they got to the boat, Daniel helped Gemma onto it. Since Penn, Lexi, and Thea were still standing on the dock watching them, he suggested they go down into the cabin. Gemma didn’t normally get onto boats with older guys she barely knew, but given the circumstances, she felt like he was the safer bet.
His boat was rather small, so the living quarters were pretty cramped. A twin bed across from a small table with cushioned benches on either side. A kitchenette with a mini-fridge and tiny sink. A bathroom and some storage nooks at the other end, and that was about it.
The bed was unmade, and clothes were strewn over it. Dirty dishes were in the sink, and a few empty soda cans and beer bottles were sitting on the counter and table. A stack of books and magazines rested next to the bed.
“Have a seat.” Daniel gestured to the bed, since the benches next to the table were mostly covered in clothes and books.