“Sure you do.” He scratched the back of his neck and wouldn’t look at her. “You think I’m some kind of a slob and a loser. You have ever since we met, and I am sorry about the way we were introduced, but I think I’ve spent enough time trying to prove to you that I’m not like that. It was just a really bad first impression.”
When they’d met, Daniel had just woken up and decided to pee over the edge of the boat. Harper looked up at just the wrong time and got a full of view of his nether region.
“That was an awful first impression,” Harper said. “I will agree to that. But I’ve never … Okay, I haven’t thought you were a loser for a long time. You’ve been so great with me and Gemma and everything that’s been happening. I know that you are not a dick at all. You are kind and patient and brave and funny and so nice…”
She trailed off and stared down at her lap, because that wasn’t what she wanted to say at all. And it actually embarrassed her that she’d admitted so much.
“You did it again, you know,” Daniel said. “You just made a whole string of compliments sound terrible.”
“Well, I’m sorry!” She threw her hands up in exasperation. “I meant them, but I don’t know how else to say it.”
“I believe you meant them. But you didn’t come here today to tell me any of that.” He paused, and Harper looked at him. He appeared to be in the middle of a very serious thought. “You came here to tell me to leave you alone.”
Harper was silent for a moment, then lowered her eyes. “I wasn’t going to tell you to leave me alone.”
“So you’d say it differently. More gently, then, but the sentiment remains the same.”
She didn’t say anything to that, and Daniel sat down next to her. Not too close, but close enough, and neither of them said anything for a minute. The silence felt a little awkward, but Harper didn’t know how to fill it.
“What’s the deal with us?” Daniel asked finally.
“What do you mean?” Harper lifted her head cautiously. “There is no deal with us. There’s nothing. We’re just friends—”
“Harper,” Daniel groaned. “Stop.”
“No, Daniel, I won’t stop. There’s really dangerous stuff going on right now, and I really do need to focus on that. And I don’t want you getting hurt. That’s what’s going on. That’s the deal with us. I don’t have time to like you, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
He met her eyes evenly and simply said, “Bullshit.”
“What?” She blinked. “Those are all perfectly valid reasons. Things are crazy and—”
“Bullshit,” Daniel repeated, more emphatically.
“You can’t just keep saying that,” Harper said. “That’s not an argument.”
“You want an argument?” Daniel asked. “You want me to present a valid argument?”
“I want you to say something more than bullshit,” Harper allowed.
She actually expected him to swear again, probably just to spite her, but instead he turned and pushed her back on the bed. She was too surprised to even try to stop him. He hovered inches above her, supporting himself with an arm on either side of her.
He hadn’t pinned her back, so her arms were free, and she could push him off if she wanted to. But she didn’t.
Instead, she just stared up into his eyes, breathing harder than she would’ve liked. She licked her lips, and tried to slow the frantic beating of her heart.
“This is your argument?” Harper said quietly when he didn’t say anything.
“My argument is that if I kissed you right now, you’d kiss me back,” Daniel said, his voice low and sure.
“You don’t know that,” she argued without conviction.
“I do.” He nodded once, his eyes never leaving hers. “You’d do it because you like me, and it doesn’t matter if you have time to or not. When you care about someone, you just do, and nothing changes that.”
She swallowed hard. “If you’re so sure, then why haven’t you kissed me?”
Before he could answer, the phone in Harper’s pocket started playing Silverchair’s song “Mind Reader”—Gemma’s ringtone. For a split second Harper considered not answering. She didn’t want to spoil the moment with Daniel, because he was right, and she wanted very badly to kiss him.
But the moment was already broken, and Gemma might need her. She hadn’t left her that long ago, but if Gemma was in trouble and Harper missed the call because she was busy making out with some guy, she’d never forgive herself.
“That’s Gemma,” Harper said. “I have to get it.”
“I know,” he said, his voice heavy with regret.
He didn’t move, though. Harper reached into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out her phone, all while Daniel was above her.
“Hello?” Harper answered the phone, and that’s when Daniel finally rolled back, allowing her to sit up. “Gemma? Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine,” Gemma said. “I just woke up, and you weren’t here. Alex said you had an errand to do or something. When are you coming back?”
“Um, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Harper stood up and walked away from the bed, away from Daniel. “I’m just leaving. Did you need anything?”
“No, I just…” Gemma paused. “I wanted to make sure you were okay. I’m just feeling a bit edgy, I guess.”
“Yeah, I understand,” Harper said. “I’ll be home really quick, though, and we can talk more then. Okay?”
“Yeah, sounds good,” Gemma said, and she did sound a little relieved. “I’ll see you soon.”
Harper hung up the phone and stood with her back to Daniel for a minute, thinking. She was right at the bottom of the steps leading out of his boat. When she turned back around to face him, he was still sitting on the bed, watching her.
“If I don’t talk to you anymore, I want you to know that it’s not because I don’t like you,” Harper said carefully. “Because it’s pretty obvious that I do.”
He lowered his eyes then, probably knowing that whatever was coming next wasn’t good.
“I can’t have you as a part of my life, because I need to take care of my sister,” Harper said. “And I do like you, so I don’t want you to end up getting your heart ripped out.”