“You’ll thank me for this later,” Penn was saying in her ear, and that was the last thing Gemma heard.
“Where’s your sister?” Brian threw open Harper’s bedroom door, banging the doorknob into the plaster.
“What?” Harper rubbed her eyes and rolled over in bed to face her father. “What are you talking about? What time is it?”
“I just got up for work, and Gemma isn’t here.”
“Did you check her room?” Harper asked, slowly becoming alert.
“No, Harper, I thought I’d check your room first,” Brian snapped.
“Sorry, Dad, I just woke up.” She sat up and swung her feet over the edge of the bed. “She went out swimming last night. She probably just lost track of time.”
“Until five in the morning?” Brian asked, the worry in his voice unmistakable.
But Harper knew he’d been through this once before. When she and her mother had gotten in the car accident. They’d left for a few hours in the evening, and Brian didn’t hear anything from them until the hospital called the next morning saying his wife was in a coma.
“She’s fine,” Harper said, hoping to ease her dad’s fears. “I’m sure she just got sidetracked. You know Gemma.”
“Yes, I do, and that’s why I’m worried.”
“Don’t. Gemma’s fine.” Harper ran her hand through her sleep-disheveled hair and tried to calm Brian. “I’m sure she’s with Alex or napping on the beach or something.”
“You think telling me she’s out with Alex will make me feel better?” Brian asked, but he actually did seem to calm a little. Being out with a boy was a much more favorable alternative to being hurt or dead.
“She’s fine,” Harper repeated. “Get ready for work. I’ll go track her down.”
Brian shook his head. “Harper, I can’t go to work when my daughter is missing.”
“She’s not missing,” Harper insisted. “She just stayed out too late. It’s not a big deal.”
“I’ll drive around and look for her,” Brian said and started to leave her room.
“Dad, you can’t miss work. You already missed too much when you sliced open your arm in February. You can’t lose your job.”
“But…” Brian trailed off, knowing she was right.
“I’m sure Gemma is okay,” Harper said. “She’ll probably be home any second. You go to work. Give me a chance to look for her, and if I can’t find her in the next two hours, I’ll come get you. Okay?”
He stood indecisively in Harper’s doorway, looking pale and gaunt. Brian clearly wanted to go track down his daughter, but he knew Harper was probably right. He couldn’t risk his job and being able to support his family just because Gemma stayed out too late.
“All right.” He pursed his lips. “See if you can find her. But if you haven’t heard from her by seven, you come get me. Okay?”
“Yes, of course.” Harper nodded. “I’ll call you as soon as I find her.”
Once he turned and left her room, Harper let her own panic set in. She didn’t want Brian to worry unnecessarily, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t scared herself. It wasn’t like Gemma to stay out past curfew. Gemma liked to push the rules, but she rarely broke them.
Harper went over to her window and pulled back the curtains, looking out at Alex’s house. His car was in the driveway, so that meant he wasn’t out with Gemma. Harper grabbed her cell phone off her nightstand and dialed his number anyway.
“Hello?” Alex answered groggily after the fifth ring.
“Is Gemma with you?” Harper blurted out and paced her bedroom.
“What?” Alex asked, and his voice suddenly became clearer. “Harper? What’s going on?”
“Nothing.” She took a deep breath and stifled the urgency in her words. She didn’t need to scare him, too. “I just wanted to know if Gemma was with you.”
“No,” Alex said. Through her bedroom window, Harper saw the light turn on in his room next door. “I haven’t seen or talked to her since I dropped her off at your house last night. Is she okay?”
Harper held the phone away from her mouth and swore under her breath. Alex would never keep Gemma out all night, and she should’ve known that.
If Gemma had been with him, he would’ve insisted that she get home right on time. Not just because it was the right thing to do, but because he was afraid of incurring the wrath of Harper and Brian.
“Yeah, no, I mean, I’m sure she’s fine,” Harper replied quickly. “But I have to go, okay, Alex?”
“What? No, it’s not okay. Where’s Gemma?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I have to go. I’m going to look for her. I mean, I know she’s fine, but I have to find her.”
“I’ll go with you,” Alex offered. “I’ll put on some pants and meet you outside.”
“No, don’t.” She shook her head, even though he couldn’t see it. “You stay here in case she comes back. You can keep an eye on the house.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” Harper sighed. “Watch out for her, and if she contacts you, let me know, okay?”
“Yeah, I can do that. And you tell her to call me as soon as you find her.”
Harper hung up the phone without waiting for him to say anything more. She knew where she had to look, and it twisted her stomach in knots. Gemma had gone out to the bay last night, alone, and she hadn’t returned.
Still in her pajamas, Harper slipped on her flip-flops and ran down the stairs. She moved fast in the hope that she wouldn’t have time to think about all the horrible things that could’ve happened to Gemma. Drowning. Kidnapping. Murder. Hell, even a shark attack was possible.
“Did you find her?” Brian shouted from the bathroom. He’d heard Harper flying downstairs.
“Not yet!” Harper yelled back up to him and grabbed her car keys off the rack by the door. “I’m going out now. I’ll call you later!” She jogged out to her car.
As she sped through town, Harper looked around as much as she could. Gemma could’ve just as easily gotten hurt on the way to or from the bay. But somehow Harper knew that wasn’t what had happened. The terrified pit in her stomach insisted that it was something else, something worse.