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Gemma loved the way it felt when he kissed her, and his mouth was hungry and eager on hers. He didn’t appear that strong—though when he crushed her to him like this, she could feel the firm tone of his muscles under the thin fabric of his shirt—so it was as if his passion made him stronger.

It wasn’t that Kirby was a particularly great kisser. Gemma had made a decision to stop comparing everyone to Alex or the way he kissed, because they would all come up short. But even without Alex in the mix, Kirby wasn’t the top contender.

Still, there was a reason that she’d gone out with him a few times, and that all their dates ended up in the backseat of his old Toyota. They hadn’t done much more than kiss, and Gemma wouldn’t take it any further.

What kept her coming back to Kirby wasn’t love or his kisses. Her heart still longed for Alex, and only Alex. But she couldn’t be with him, and she couldn’t sulk around the house anymore. Or at least that was what Harper and her dad kept telling her.

That was how she’d ended up here with Kirby, giving in to the physical moments with him that somehow felt both wrong and completely right.

Even if she were still just human, Gemma would’ve found this fun. Kirby was sexy and sweet, and he made her laugh. But the siren part of her craved this, almost demanding the physical contact.

The truth was that she was getting restless. Thea told her that would happen if she didn’t eat. Technically, she only needed to eat once before a solstice or equinox, but the longer she went without feeding, the more agitated and irritable she would become.

There were a few tricks to staving off the hunger. One of them was frequent swimming, which Gemma did as often as she could. Another was singing, but Gemma was too afraid to try that. She didn’t want to accidentally enchant anyone.

The third wasn’t so much about denying the hunger as giving in to it. And that was what she was doing with Kirby. Kissing him to keep from biting him.

When he kissed her deeply, pushing her back against the seat of the car, something stirred inside her. A warm heat in her belly spread over her, making her skin flutter, like when her legs transformed into a tail.

The siren wanted to come out, and there was something strangely wonderful about holding it back. Gemma was in control, not the monster, and as Kirby kissed her neck, she stayed firmly on the line between siren and human.

It wasn’t until his hand began sliding up her skirt, running along the smooth skin of her thigh, that Gemma silenced the siren lust within her. Her skin stopped fluttering, the heat inside her went cold, and Gemma sat up, gently pushing Kirby off her.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Kirby said, still breathing heavy, and moved back from her. “Did I go too far?”

“You know the rules.” She gave him a small shrug and straightened out her skirt. “I won’t go any further than that.”

“Sorry.” He grimaced and brushed his dark hair off his forehead. “I got a little carried away. It won’t happen again.”

She smiled at him. “It’s fine. I know you’ll stick to the rules better next time.”

“So there will be a next time?” Kirby asked.

He was kneeling on the seat, his blue eyes sparkling. Kirby was handsome in the way models were—smooth, lean, chiseled—but he had a real kindness about him.

The way he treated her probably had more to do with her siren appeal than how he actually felt about her. She hadn’t used her song on him, so he wasn’t a love slave. But her appearance had its own power, one that was hard for guys to ignore.

Kirby was a few years older than she was, but she’d seen him around school. Even though he was attractive and popular, he never bullied other kids. In the short time they’d been kinda dating each other, he’d never said a mean word about anybody, and it never occurred to him to challenge her.

That was what kept Gemma coming back to him. He was safe.

She liked him, but not too much. Whatever magical spark it was that made her fall in love with Alex was completely missing with Kirby. When she was with him, she was completely in control—of her emotions, of the monster, even of him. She would never hurt him, and he could never hurt her.

“Yeah, there will be a next time,” Gemma told him, and he broke out in a wide grin.

“Great. I don’t think I could ever forgive myself if I blew it with you.”

“You’d be surprised by the things a person can forgive themselves for,” Gemma said under her breath.

“What?” Kirby asked.

“Nothing.” She shook her head and forced a smile. “How do I look?”

“Gorgeous, just like always.”

Gemma laughed. “No, I meant, is my makeup messed up? Does it look like I’ve been making out in the backseat of a car?”

Kirby leaned in, inspecting her hair and makeup, then kissed her quickly on the lips. “Nope. You look perfect.”

“Thanks.” Gemma combed a hand through her dark waves of hair, the streetlight shining through the windows and hitting the golden highlights that coursed through it.

“So we’re still sneaking around, then?” Kirby asked, leaning back in the seat and watching her smooth out her skirt and straighten her top.

“We’re almost done,” she said. “Tomorrow I am officially ungrounded.”

“That’s kind of a bummer,” Kirby said, and she shot him a look. “There’s something kinda hot about sneaking around, worrying about getting caught.”