“Bastian. This is serious,” Thea said.
“I’m always serious.” He attempted to look grave and put his arms around Thea. She rested her hand on his bare chest, the smooth muscles warm beneath her hands, and she stared up at him.
“What if I don’t want to sneak around anymore? What if I want to have you all to myself?” Thea asked him.
“I would tell you that now is not the time,” Bastian said. “Your sister is the ruler of this place, and her vengeance isn’t something I want to cross. At least not now.”
“Then when?” Thea asked.
“When it is the right time.”
“Your tongue is as good at dancing around the truth as it is at singing,” Thea said.
He laughed warmly. “That’s not the only thing my tongue is good for.”
He tried to kiss her then, but she pushed him back and pulled free from his arms, taking several steps away from him again.
“She means to break the curse,” Thea said.
“Why ever would she want to do that?” Bastian stood with his hands on his hips, baffled by the prospect. “I thought she loved the power and the magic and torturing mere mortals.”
“She does,” Thea agreed. “But she also claims to love you, and she says that you can’t love her because of the curse.”
Bastian shook his head. “It’s not the curse that prevents me from loving her.”
“What is it, then?” Thea took a step closer to him, unable to hide the hopefulness in her voice.
“It’s that she’s horrible. She’s a monster, and a murderer, and detests everything.”
“Then why are you carrying on with her?” Thea asked. “If you know what a beast she truly is.”
“I needed a place to stay,” he replied simply. “I hadn’t planned on being here this long. Or getting involved with you. I just wanted a warm bed for a few nights.”
“So you are staying for me?” Thea asked, as he stepped close to her.
“You are one of the reasons I am staying,” he admitted, smiling again.
He wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her easily from the floor. With one smooth move, he tossed her lightly on the bed. Then he climbed onto it. With an arm on either side of her, he held himself up, then leaned down to kiss her passionately on the mouth.
Thea allowed him to kiss her for a moment, causing heat to burn all the way through her, then she put her hand on his chest and pushed him back.
“Do you love me?”
His smile faltered. “‘Love’ is not a word that I will easily throw around.”
“Bastian. Please.” She stared up at him, searching his blue eyes. “Every time I lay with you, I am risking my life. She will certainly kill us both if she finds us together.”
“So I am risking my life the same as you. If that’s not a show of affection, I don’t know what is.”
“Will you not say it? Will you not declare your love to me?”
“No.” Bastian’s voice was heavy with regret. “I cannot.”
“Why?” Thea swallowed back her tears, trying not to let him see how badly that hurt her. “You said you were capable.”
“You are sweeter, fairer, and in all ways more delectable than your sister.” He brushed the red hair back from her forehead. “But you share equally in her bloodlust.”
“Because I am a monster, that I must feed? You refuse to love me?” Thea asked.
“Come, Thea. We only have a short time until we both must be ready for the day. Can’t we put these matters to bed?”
She wanted to argue more, and maybe she should have. But around Bastian, her will was weak. Within moments he was kissing her again, and all her worries were lost in his embrace.
The car ride to Briar Ridge had never felt so long. The air-conditioning was out in Brian’s F-150, and even though the windows were open, that only seemed to succeed in blowing more hot air into the truck. Gemma sat in the middle, wedged between her dad and Harper, and none of them said anything.
The only sound was the classic rock station, and Brian unironically sang along with “I’m on Fire” by Springsteen. But that was all.
Harper had told Gemma earlier in the week that Brian wanted to come along on their usual Saturday visit, but neither of them completely understood why. On one hand, Gemma knew she should be excited. She’d been all but begging her dad to see Nathalie since Christmas two years ago. That was the last time Brian had had any contact with their mom, not that he’d had that much before then.
When Harper learned how to drive and could make the trip to visit Nathalie on her own, that was when Brian had officially checked out. But in the years leading up to that, he’d had minimal interaction with her. It was little more than a Hello, how are you? when he picked up the girls or dropped them off to visit.
So it had Gemma a little freaked out that he actually wanted to do something with Nathalie, especially without any prodding from Gemma or Harper.
Brian pulled into the driveway of Nathalie’s group home, and all her worries about surviving the sirens’ curse were changed to simply surviving this afternoon.
“Did you call and let them know I was coming with you today?” Brian asked as he turned off the truck.
“No,” Harper said. She leaned forward, her gray eyes worried. “Should I have?”
Brian sat for a minute. “No, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”