He put his hand on her head, stroking her hair for a moment and letting her hug him. Then, abruptly, he pushed her away.
“I gotta go,” he said thickly. Daniel turned and got on his boat, without looking back at her.
The clock above the fireplace said it was after eleven o’clock, but Harper assumed that Daniel had gone out with his friends. After all, he was twenty-one, so hitting a few bars would seem logical, especially since he had no idea that she was coming down to surprise him.
Several times throughout the evening, as she’d been waiting for him, she had considered texting or calling to find out where he was or when he might be home. But that would ruin the surprise.
It had already been weeks in the planning. When she arrived at college, she’d gone down to the campus clinic and gotten herself birth control. At the time, she didn’t know it was for tonight, but she knew that things were getting serious, so she thought it wouldn’t hurt to be on it.
The little blue number she was wearing, that was for tonight. In between trying to break ancient curses and cramming for school, Harper had snuck off to a small lingerie boutique in Sundham. She’d gotten the cute matching bra and lace panties for a birthday surprise.
She hadn’t decided for sure that tonight would be the night until Sunday, when they’d gotten close to taking their relationship farther. Daniel said he’d wanted to wait until the moment was perfect, but Harper had realized that she didn’t know when there ever would be a “perfect” moment.
All the troubles with Gemma and the sirens might never end. More and more, she feared that might be the case, and even when or if it ever did end, it might not be for a very long time.
And right now, Harper knew that she loved Daniel more than she’d ever loved anyone, and she wanted to be with him. Not just for today but for the rest of her life. She’d thought about it, she’d talked about it with him, and she was ready.
It would’ve been nice if Daniel had come home sooner, but she’d actually needed the time. After the visit with her mom earlier today, Harper needed a break to decompress. She parked her car away from the docks so Daniel wouldn’t see it, and she took Bernie’s old speedboat out to the island in hopes of getting there first to surprise him.
But now she’d had plenty of time to get ready, reapply her makeup, and change her pose on the couch fifty times. She didn’t want Daniel to know she was here, so she’d only left one lamp on in the corner, leaving her in near darkness.
To make the house seem less creepy, she’d hooked her iPod up to the stereo and put it on shuffle, so her music played softly in the room.
When she finally heard the door handle, her stomach flipped. Harper hurriedly paused the music, so he’d see her before he heard anything, and then posed in the most seductive way possible. She didn’t really know what that meant, so she ended up kind of leaning back, with her long, dark hair falling around her.
Daniel came inside the house, but he didn’t notice her until after he’d turned on the kitchen light. Then he froze and stared at her with a look that could only be described as abject horror.
That was the first chance for Harper to get a really good look at him, and he looked like hell. Droplets of blood were on his chest, and he had dried blood on his hands and smeared across his forehead. His flannel shirt appeared to have been torn since it hung open haphazardly. He had his usual facial scruff, but his face appeared even more ragged. And his hazel eyes had a bleak emptiness in them, something Harper had never seen there before.
“Daniel. Oh, my god.” She got up and hurried over to him. “What happened to you?”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” he said flatly. “This is one of the worst days of my entire life, and now this.”
“Now this?” Harper took a step back, but she tried to smile and play it off as a joke. “I’m sorry I didn’t realize seeing me would make your day worse.”
“No, it doesn’t. Not normally, but…” He trailed off and lowered his eyes.
“Daniel. What’s going on?” She reached out, touching his arm gently. “You’re scaring me.”
He rubbed his temple. “I just want to take a shower, but this can’t wait, can it?”
“What can’t? We can do whatever you want to do.”
“Just give me one second.”
Without looking at her, he slid by and went to the bathroom. As she listened to the sound of running water, Harper rubbed her hands on her bare arms and sat down on the couch. In an attempt to ease her anxiety, she turned the music back on, and “Landfill” by Daughter came softly out of the speakers.
A few minutes later, Daniel came back out. He was shirtless, and with all the blood washed off, she couldn’t see any obvious wounds. Other than the scars from his previous battles with the sirens and the black branches of his tattoo stretching down his shoulder.
He had a different flannel shirt in his hand, and he held it out to Harper. “Here. Put this on. It’s clean.”
Her cheeks flushed as she slid the shirt on, but she left it unbuttoned. “I’m sorry if I did something wrong coming here tonight. I just wanted to surprise you.”
“No, you didn’t do anything wrong.” He went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. “Do you want a beer or anything?”
“No. I just want you to tell me what’s going on,” she said. Daniel opened his beer, flipping the top in the sink, and he lingered in the kitchen as he took several long drinks. “Come here. Talk to me.”
He exhaled heavily and trudged into the living room. The coffee table was right across from Harper, and he pulled it closer to her and sat on the edge of it. With a beer still in his hand, he bowed his head and let his elbows rest on his knees.
His head rested against Harper’s chest, so she leaned forward and put her arms around him. She kissed the back of his head and rubbed his back, feeling the bumps of his scars under her hand.
“Daniel,” she said softly, almost speaking into his hair. “What happened?”
Finally, he lifted his head and looked at her. He just stared at her for a moment, a sad smile on his lips.
“You do look really beautiful tonight.”
“Thank you,” Harper said, but her heart hadn’t stopped racing since he’d gotten home, and she didn’t want compliments. “Why were you covered in blood? Were you hurt?”
He lowered his eyes again and stared down at the bottle in his hand. “No. I wasn’t hurt. That wasn’t my blood. It was Aiden Crawford’s.”