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tidal Page 15

“I can’t,” Gemma said.

  “He’s really hurting, and I think maybe you should consider undoing it. ”

  “I can’t, Harper,” Gemma said, more firmly this time. “I don’t think it’s possible even if I wanted to, and I don’t want to. It’s dangerous for him to be involved with me. ”

  “I know how you feel,” Harper said. “But if he knows the risks, you have to let him make the choice. ”

  “Just let it go. ” Gemma shook her head and looked down at her can of soda. “I can’t talk about this right now. ”

  “Have you guys come up with alternate plans yet?” Marcy asked, changing the subject. She sat up straighter on the bed, crossing her legs underneath her.

  “What do you mean?” Harper turned back to face her.

  “The way I see it, there’s three possibilities to this scenario. ” Marcy held up three fingers, then ticked them down one by one as she listed the options. “One, Gemma finds the scroll. Two, the sirens have hidden the scroll so well that no one can find it. Three, they don’t have the scroll. ”

  “Gemma hasn’t even had a chance to really look for the scroll yet,” Harper said quickly. “We can’t rule that out. ”

  Marcy shook her head. “I’m not saying rule it out. I’m saying look into other avenues. ”

  “That’s probably a good idea,” Gemma agreed. “But Lydia seemed to think they’d have the scroll. It’s important to their existence. ”

  “But maybe they left it with somebody they trusted more than themselves,” Marcy suggested.

  “Like who?” Harper asked.

  “When I leased my apartment, the landlord didn’t trust just me, so I had to have someone else put their name on it. ” Marcy waited a beat for it to hit Gemma and Harper. “My parents. ”

  “You think the sirens’ parents are still alive?” Harper asked.

  “I don’t know. ” Gemma shook her head, thinking back to what Lexi had said. “I don’t think they are. ”

  “Aren’t their parents immortal?” Marcy asked.

  “Their dad was, but I don’t really know about their mom,” Harper said. “I was a little confused on that. ”

  “Who is their mom?” Marcy asked.

  “Um, a muse,” Gemma said, thinking. “Or two muses, actually. Thea and Penn have different mothers. I’m pretty sure the muses are immortal, too. Just not goddesses. So I think that in their regular life, pre-siren, Thea and Penn were mortal. ”

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  “But both their parents were immortal, right?” Marcy said. “Wouldn’t the kids of immortals also be immortal?”

  “No, I think in order to be born immortal, both your parents have to be gods and goddesses,” Gemma said. “Like how Hercules was mortal. And the muses were granted their immortality by Zeus as a blessing, so they couldn’t pass it on. ”

  “But their dad was a god?” Marcy asked, and Gemma nodded. “He’s definitely got to be alive, then. ”

  “Well, not definitely, but probably,” Harper agreed.

  “I really don’t think he is. ” Gemma shook her head.

  “Why not?” Harper asked. “I know some of the books implied that Hercules killed him, but they also said that the sirens were dead, so I wouldn’t really give that much credence. ”

  “I know, it’s just…” Gemma trailed off. When she’d told Lexi she’d met Penn’s dad, Lexi had laughed and said he was dead, but she didn’t want to explain that to Harper. “It’s just a feeling I have.

  “And anyway, even if he is alive, Penn really hates him,” Gemma went on. “And she didn’t have anything nice to say about her mother. After I first became a siren, Thea actually called the muses prostitutes. ”

  “So it’s unlikely that they would rely on them,” Harper said, finishing Gemma’s thought.

  “And if they did, they’re probably more powerful than the sirens. Hence, the title ‘god,’” Gemma said. “And I highly doubt they’d want to help us kill their daughters. ”

  “You never know,” Marcy said.

  The three of them sat in silence for a few minutes, thinking about what they’d been talking about. Gemma twisted the tab on her soda can and wondered if Marcy was barking up the right tree. She hadn’t had much of a chance to look for the scroll yet, but even if she had, it wouldn’t be bad to have a backup plan.

  “You know who would want to destroy them?” Harper asked finally, and Gemma lifted her head to look at her. “Demeter. ”

  “The chick that made the curse?” Marcy asked.

  “She’s not a chick,” Harper corrected her. “She’s a goddess, and she hates the sirens. ”

  “Why does she hate them again?” Marcy asked.

  “Penn, Thea, and the two other original sirens were handmaidens for Demeter’s daughter, Persephone,” Gemma explained. “They were supposed to be watching her, but instead they were screwing around, swimming, singing, and flirting with men. ”

  “So the sirens were like guards?” Marcy asked.

  “I guess. ” Gemma shrugged. “I think they said that their dad got them the job. From what I understand, their mothers stayed with whoever they were ‘inspiring,’ so the sirens were pretty much homeless from a young age. ”

  “So they get a job watching Persephone, and they bail,” Marcy said, returning the story to its main point.

  “Right,” Gemma said. “And then Persephone is kidnapped by Hades and taken down into the Underworld to be his bride. ”

  “But if what Lydia says is true, that these were just powerful humans and not deities, then Hades wouldn’t have been ruler of the Underworld,” Marcy said. “A human—even a powerful one—wouldn’t be in charge of the afterlife. So where did he take her?”

  Harper lowered her eyes when the realization hit her. “He didn’t take her anywhere. He raped and murdered her. ”

  “Yeah, if I were Demeter, I’d be pissed, too,” Gemma said.

  “Why would she make them immortal?” Marcy asked. “If she hated them so much, why give them powers and abilities?”

  “Hell is repetition,” Harper said. “She wanted to make them do the same things they loved over and over and over until the things they loved the most became the things they detested. ”

  “Do you think she would want to undo the curse she created?” Gemma asked.

  “Maybe. If we can find her,” Harper said. “She might think they’ve had a long enough run. ”

  “How would we find her?” Marcy asked. “Or their father? Or any of the muses?”

  “I can start by doing more research, but I don’t know if there’s really anything about sirens that I haven’t read at least a hundred times already,” Harper said.

  “I could ask Thea, but she might not divulge much about this,” Gemma said. “She doesn’t like talking about their past, and she really does hate their parents. ”

  “I could…” Marcy trailed off. “I don’t know. What do you guys want me to do?”

  “Maybe talk to Lydia,” Harper suggested. “She seems to have a connection with the supernatural underground. She’d probably know something about where we could find a muse or a god. ”

  “And I’ll keep looking for the scroll,” Gemma said with a heavy sigh.

  “Do you have play rehearsal tonight?” Harper asked. “You could talk to Thea then. ”

  “Yeah. ” Gemma glanced over at Harper’s alarm clock, which said it was only a quarter after three. “It starts in about an hour. I’ll be sure to talk with Thea. ”

  “Good. ” Harper nodded, as if it solidified things. “So we have some kind of plan of action. That’s a good thing. ”

  “All right, so who am I asking Lydia to look for?” Marcy reached over and grabbed a notebook and a pen off Harper’s desk. “I need to write it down to be sure I get it right. These Greek names are ridiculous. ”

  “Demeter,” Harper said, then spelled it aloud for her. “Any of the muses. I don’t know all
of their names, but Penn and Thea’s mothers were Terpsichore and Melpomene. ”

  “Okay, you need to spell those very slowly,” Marcy said.

  “And then their father,” Harper said after she’d finished spelling the names.

  “Who is that?” Marcy asked.

  “Achelous,” Harper answered.

  “Like the river?” Marcy asked.

  Harper nodded. “Yeah, he was a freshwater god, I think. ”

  “Finally one I can spell,” Marcy said.

  And then it finally hit her. The Achelous River was located about five miles north of town. It was named by the same man from Greece who’d founded Capri, so Gemma hadn’t thought anything of the name until now.

  But Lexi had said, Once you knew who her dad was, it was, like, obvious. And the river was named after Penn’s father.

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  If Lydia was right, and the sirens carried the scroll with them, then it would make sense they would hide it nearby. And a river named after their own father? Penn’s narcissism wouldn’t pass that up.

  “I have to go,” Gemma said and suddenly stood up.

  “What?” Harper asked. “Why? Where are you going?”

  “I forgot that play rehearsal starts early tonight,” Gemma lied. “But it’s good. It’ll give me a chance to talk to Thea more. ”

  “Okay,” Harper said, but she seemed confused. “Do you want me to give you a ride?”

  “No, I got it, but thanks. ” Gemma smiled at her. “I’ll see you later. ”

  She practically ran downstairs and grabbed her bike. Before she did, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and hurriedly texted Daniel so he’d cover for her if Harper asked about play rehearsal.

  At their nightly play rehearsal and through texts, Gemma had been keeping Daniel apprised of their situation, as per their deal. He’d been giving Harper little bits of info about Gemma to keep her from getting suspicious, like telling her that Gemma had dumped Kirby and was flirting with Aiden.

  But he left out all the major details—like that Thea wouldn’t help her or that the sirens had found a possible replacement. Daniel had encouraged her to tell Harper about that, but Gemma couldn’t. It was her turn to protect Harper for a change.

  Besides, there might not be any reason to tell her about this. She still might break the curse.

  Pedaling faster than she ever had before, Gemma made it down to Anthemusa Bay in record time. She ditched the bike among the cypress trees, along with her cell phone, shoes, and shorts. For once, she wasn’t wearing a bikini under her clothes, so she’d have to swim in her bra, but she didn’t care.

  Despite how quickly she swam, it seemed to take forever to reach the mouth of the river. She didn’t even enjoy the feel of the water or the current rushing against her mermaid tail. All she could focus on was getting there and finding the scroll.

  Lydia had said that the paper couldn’t be damaged by water, so Gemma thought that the sirens had probably hidden it somewhere underwater. Possibly underneath a rock or in a box or something buried in the floor of the river.

  Following her hunch, she began to swim up the Achelous River, turning over rocks and grabbing at anything on the riverbed that looked even mildly interesting. She hadn’t made it very far when the strangest thing started happening to her.

  It got harder to breathe, and the scales on her tail were shifting back into flesh, but only odd patches. At first Gemma began to panic, assuming she was dying. She hurriedly swam back toward the ocean, and the odd changes stopped. She was her usual mermaid self.

  That was when Gemma realized the river was freshwater—that had no effect on her. It was the same reason she didn’t turn into a mermaid in the pool or the shower. Only ocean water made the change happen.

  That meant that the sirens probably hadn’t gone that far up the river. So Gemma focused her search on places where she could swim, staying mostly near the mouth of the river, but as the evening progressed, Gemma swam farther and farther upstream.

  Once the moon was high in the sky, Gemma pulled herself up near a sandy beach next to the river. She stayed in deep enough so the water would cover her fins, and the waves splashed against her waist.

  The stars were twinkling above her, and she leaned back, staring up at them. Her hands were sore from digging up the riverbed and even some of the ocean floor. Her tail ached from swimming, and the hunger made her stomach rumble.

  Gemma had looked everywhere she could. The scroll wasn’t there. Either it never had been, or the sirens had moved it. It didn’t really matter which of those options it was. All this really meant was that Gemma had to come up with a different plan of attack, because this one wasn’t working.

  TWENTY-ONE

  Cursed

  “I love him,” Penn breathed as she flung herself backward into her bed. In the three months that Bastian had been staying with them in France, Thea had heard Penn utter those same words a hundred times.

  “You’re being dramatic, don’t you think?” Aggie asked. She sat perched on the edge of her sister’s bed, watching Penn sigh and coo over her newfound romance with Bastian.

  “No, I love him. ” Penn smiled so broadly it looked painful to Thea, who preferred to stay at the edge of the room to watch Penn’s daily declarations of undying love to Bastian.

  “But he doesn’t love you,” Thea pointed out, and Aggie and Gia immediately turned their heads to face Thea in shock.

  Thea was certain that her own expression of shock and horror mirrored theirs. While she’d thought that same sentiment at least a hundred times before, it was the first time she’d actually said it aloud. Her irritation had grown to be too much, and she couldn’t contain it anymore.

  “He doesn’t love me,” Penn said, her voice flat, and then she sat up with a start. “It’s the damn curse. He can’t love me. We have to get rid of it. ”

  “Get rid of it?” Gia asked. She sat on the other side of Penn, her fair skin paling further at the thought of undoing their curse. “We mustn’t do that. We don’t know the repercussions. ”

  “I’m in love, Gia,” Penn insisted, imploring her to understand. “I can’t let anything get in the way of that. ”

  “But Gia is right,” Aggie said. “If we attempt to undo the curse, we might undo ourselves. Remember what happened to the minotaurs? When they repealed their curse, they made themselves extinct. ”

  “Don’t be so simple,” Penn growled and got up. “We’ll find our father or Demeter. One of them will know how to get rid of this without killing us. ”

  “Where will we find Achelous or Demeter?” Gia asked. “They’ve been in hiding for years. ”

  “Look harder!” Penn snapped. “I am in love with Bastian, and I am going to spend the rest of my life with him!”

  “If you give up the curse, that might not be very long,” Thea said quietly. “The muses can give up their places for love, but it means they must also give up their immortality. ”

  “I won’t have to give that up,” Penn said, brushing off the idea. “Bastian is immortal, and so shall I remain. ”

  “What if you had to choose?” Thea asked. “Between living forever or true love?”

  “I won’t have to choose. ” Penn looked at her sister like she was dumb or insane. “I can have both. ”

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  “Dear sister, but you must,” Thea pressed. “The only way I know to undo the curse would be to destroy the scroll, and that would lead to our demise. ”

  “We won’t destroy the scroll,” Penn said. “We will find another way. Maybe the gods can bless me the way they have Bastian. ”

  “There are hardly any gods around,” Thea reminded her. “And none of them will undo a curse to bless you. ”

  “I am in love, my dear sister. ” Penn glared at her. “The gods always look kindly on love. We will find one, and that god will correct this mistake against us. ”

  “The
god would want something in return,” Thea persisted. “Would you be willing to sacrifice anything for love?”

  “I’m willing to sacrifice every other man on earth, and I think that’s more than enough,” Penn said with a wicked smile. “Now I must get ready to have breakfast with Bastian. The rest of you, scatter. Find a way out of this curse. ”

  Penn dismissed them to do her bidding, and Gia, always the dutiful servant, immediately ran off to do as she was told. Thea, on the other hand, lagged behind, and Aggie stayed to comfort her.

  “Oh, my dear sister, what is troubling you?” Aggie asked. She looped her arm through Thea’s as they walked down the hall toward Thea’s chambers.

  Before, the house had been crawling with servants and handmaidens, but now very few remained. Once Penn had begun her affair with Bastian, she had sent away the duke and killed his brothers. She’d also killed any staff who gossiped or attempted to interfere in her relationship.

  If she had been able to, she would’ve sent away her sisters. She wanted absolute privacy so she could begin her life with Bastian. Since she was cursed to remain with the sirens forever, she’d seemed to relegate them to staff, treating them as slaves instead of sisters.

  “She doesn’t love him,” Thea whispered. Her voice was sweet but her tone was harsh. “She doesn’t know the slightest thing about love. ”

  “Oh, let her have her folly,” Aggie said. “She’s in a better mood. That must count for something. ”

  “No, it does not,” Thea snapped. “I am sick of being at her whim. I am sick of following her demands and her vanity. ”

  “You know that she has always had a will of her own,” Aggie said. “And the best way to deal with it is to bend to it. ”

  “Why?” Thea turned to face her. “Why must I always acquiesce to my little sister?”

  “Because she is your sister,” Aggie said simply. “And those are your options. You obey her, or you defy her. And if you defy her, you’d best have plans to kill her. Would you rather have your sister’s blood on your hands or play along with her games?”

  “For once, I think I’d rather have the blood,” Thea admitted.

  Aggie’s face contorted with anguish. “Don’t say such things. You made a promise to her, to both of us, that you would care for and look after us. I know it’s been many centuries since you made that promise, but it still holds true. ”

  “Does it?” Thea asked. “Haven’t I done my duty? To both of you?”

  “We are sisters, and we always will be,” Aggie said. “I may not understand what is bothering you right now, but I know it will pass. Everything else will pass. We are the only things that will remain. Remember that. ”

  Thea wanted to talk more with her, but Aggie had had her fill. She turned and walked away, her footfalls echoing off the ceiling as she left Thea standing alone.

  Thea went into her room, closing the heavy door behind her, and then leaned against it. Bitter tears stung her eyes.

  Bastian strolled out from her bathroom. His shirt was absent, and the strings that held up his trousers were loose. He smiled broadly in the way that made his dimple pronounced, but Thea could only frown when she saw him.

  “Come, now,” Bastian said, doing his best to act concerned as he strode over to her. “What’s all this, then?” She shook her head and wiped at her eyes. “Why is there salt upon your cheeks?”