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He softened a bit and relaxed his stance. “If you care about me the way you supposedly do, you won’t want to hurt me.”

“I don’t think you understand the way love works,” Penn sneered.

He laughed darkly. “No, I think you’re the one with the skewed ideas here.”

“I’ll be completely straight with you, okay? I’m laying it all out,” Penn said. “I have been alive for thousands of years. And I used to care very deeply about things, but after a while, your heart kinda goes numb. Everything kinda goes numb.

“I may not love you,” she went on. “I may not love anything. But you are the first thing that has held my interest in a very long time, and I will lie, murder, and devour anything to get what I want. Do you understand what I am saying to you?”

“Yes,” Daniel said softly.

“So what’s it going to be? Your girlfriend’s head on a platter, or a night with me?” She crossed her arms and waited for his answer.

He swallowed hard. “Fine. But not tonight.”


“After Harper leaves for college.”

“When is that?”

“A few days.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Her classes start this Thursday.”

“It’s Sunday,” Penn said. “So, in three days, we’ll do it.”

“Let’s make it Friday. Give me a day to … get myself together.” He paused. “But she can never find out, okay? Harper must never know. Gemma can’t know, either.”

Penn smiled. “I won’t tell if you don’t tell.”

“Penn. I’m serious.” He stared her directly in her black eyes. “I won’t lose Harper, not over you.”

“It’s a deal, then.” She smirked. “Shall we kiss on it?”

“I’ll shake, but that’s it.”

“Fine.” She held out her hand, and he took it, shaking it once.

“So I just sold my soul to the devil,” Daniel said.

“I’m really not that bad.” Penn leaned in to him, smiling up at him. “And once I’m through with you, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven.”

Daniel stepped backward, away from her, and without looking he opened the door behind him. He motioned for her to leave.

“Thanks for stopping by, please hesitate to do it again; don’t call me, and I won’t call you,” he said as she slid past him, going out into the hot night air.

Penn turned back to blow him a kiss, and he slammed the door shut.

Resting one hand on the door, he leaned with his head bowed. He had no idea if he’d done the right thing making that deal with her, but he definitely felt like throwing up.

“Fuck.” He sighed. “I need a shower.”


My Discontent

The lights were dim enough over the stage that Gemma could see clearly out into the empty audience chairs, but she wasn’t really looking at anything. Her eyes were vacant, and she absently played with the silver chain around her neck. The theater stayed cool, despite the heat outside, but an odd humidity had crept inside, making it feel damp and musty.

She had stayed up late last night, crying as her dad tried to comfort her. This morning she woke up without all the telltale signs she’d spent the whole night a sobbing mess—no red eyes, no puffy cheeks, not even a runny nose. Her siren radiance was at an all-time high, but inside she felt like total hell.

Something had broken inside her. Gemma had destroyed the guy she loved in a misplaced effort at protecting him. No matter what she did, she only made things worse. All her attempts at saving herself and the people she cared about only put them in more danger.

“A pretty peat,” Thea said, and Gemma was dimly aware that Thea was talking louder than she had been a few seconds ago. “It is best. Put finger in the eye, and she knew why.” She cleared her throat, then repeated, “And she knew why. Bianca?”

“Bianca?” Tom asked, his British accent filled with irritation. He’d been sitting in the front row to more objectively direct, but he stood up when Gemma didn’t respond. “Oh, Bianca?”

“Gemma,” Kirby said in a hushed tone, and that finally broke through, pulling Gemma from her thoughts.

“What?” She blinked and looked around the stage dazedly, trying to understand what was happening.

Thea, Kirby, and several other actors were onstage with Gemma, trying to perform the scene. They were all staring at her, waiting for her to say or do something, but for the life of her, Gemma couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do.

Just offstage, standing beside the curtain, was Aiden. His lip was swollen, one eye was blackened, and he had scratches and bruises on his cheek. Everyone had made a big deal about his injuries when he came in, but he’d insisted that he’d be fine in time for the performance in just under two weeks.

He hadn’t said anything to Gemma, but she’d caught him glaring at her a few times. Aiden was probably doing it more often than she noticed, though, since she was barely paying attention to anything that happened today.

“Glad to see you decided to join us onstage,” Tom said with an annoyed smile. “Now maybe you’d like to say a line or two while you’re here.”

“Oh, I missed my cue. I’m sorry.” She tried to look apologetic, but he didn’t seem to care if she was sorry or not.

“I just said, And she knew why,” Thea supplied for her.