“You’re trying to,” Daniel said. “If I choose to be in danger, that’s my choice. If I want to be with you, even knowing how dangerous it’s going to be, I can do that.”
“But Daniel—” She started to protest, but he put his hands on her shoulders to reassure her, startling her into silence.
“So the only question that really matters is, do you like me?” Daniel asked.
“You know the answer to that.”
“You’re right.” Daniel smirked. “I think I do know the answer, but I want to hear you say it anyway.”
“Yes,” Harper said, almost as if it pained her to do so. “I like you.”
She lowered her eyes and opened her mouth to argue with him, so Daniel slid his hands from her shoulders to her waist.
He gently pulled her closer to him, and she looked up. His arms were loose around her waist, so he wasn’t forcing her to stay in place, but she didn’t move away. She put her hands on his chest and stared up into his eyes.
“I like you,” Daniel said softly. “And I don’t need you to protect me. I can take care of myself. And I can take care of you, too.”
“You don’t need to.”
“I know,” he said, brushing her hair back from her forehead. “But I want to.”
His hand was warm on her face, and Harper could’ve sworn she felt his heart hammering through his chest. His palm pressed harder on the small of her back, pulling her against him, and she slid her arms up around his neck. She stretched up, standing on her tiptoes … and then her dad said her name.
“Harper.” Brian almost barked her name as he appeared in the living room. Harper jumped away from Daniel.
“Hi, Dad, sorry.” Harper flushed and looked everywhere around the room except at her father or at Daniel. “We were just talking. We weren’t doing anything. How’s supper going? Do you need help with supper? I can help you. Do you want me to go in the kitchen?”
“No, supper is fine,” Brian said. His voice was gruff, but it softened a bit. “It’s cooking, and it won’t be that long. Gemma was just setting the table, and so I thought I would ask if your boyfriend would be staying to eat with us.”
“Oh, um, he’s not my—” Harper tried to stammer out but Daniel interjected.
“That would be fantastic, Mr. Fisher,” he said. “I would love to join you. I don’t get a lot of home-cooked meals.”
“So you’re still living out on that boat, then?” Brian asked, crossing his arms over his chest. Harper stood off to the side, her eyes bouncing nervously between the two of them.
“For now.” Daniel nodded.
“Why are you staying out there?” Brian asked. “Aren’t you working?”
“Yeah, I’m working,” Daniel said. “I mostly do odd jobs, but it keeps me busy.”
“You make any money doing that?” Brian asked.
“I make enough to support myself,” Daniel said. “But it’s hard to save up enough to get my own place. I’m working on it, though.”
“The boat must get pretty cold in the winter?” Brian asked.
“It can get cold,” Daniel admitted. “But I make do.”
“Yeah, I bet.” Brian scratched his temple and shifted his weight. “You know about the island, don’t you? You helped Harper clean it up last weekend?”
“You mean Bernie’s Island?” Daniel asked. “Yeah, I was out there helping Harper.”
“I don’t have any use for it,” Brian said. “If you wanted to stay out there, rent the place, that’d be fine by me. It wouldn’t be free, of course, but I wouldn’t charge you too much.”
“Really?” Daniel asked, sounding surprised.
“Yeah, seriously?” Harper chimed in.
“If you’re going to be seeing my daughter, I can’t have you living on a boat,” Brian attempted to explain. “So … it’s there if you want it. Think about it, and … you can decide later.”
“Supper’s ready, guys!” Gemma called from the other room.
Harper let Daniel go into the kitchen first, so she could smile up at her dad. She mouthed the words Thank you at him, but he just brushed it off and ushered her into the next room.
Supper started off slightly awkward, but thanks to Gemma’s almost unnatural cheer, the tension eased quickly. The four of them were soon talking and laughing, and it had been a very long time since Harper remembered a family dinner when they’d been happier.
Harper had been missing so much work lately that she picked up a Saturday at the library. That meant she wasn’t able to take Gemma for their usual visit out to Briar Ridge to see their mom. Harper had told Gemma how it had gone last week, so Gemma knew she couldn’t miss this week, lest Nathalie have some kind of breakdown. Besides that, she wanted to see her mom.
After much discussion, Brian finally relented and agreed to let Alex take Gemma. Her car still wasn’t working, and Brian thought Gemma would be less likely to run off again if she had a chaperone.
Ordinarily, Gemma would’ve been mad that Brian was still avoiding Nathalie. It’d been years since he’d last seen her, and that drove Gemma nuts. But today she was happy to be able to spend some time alone with Alex.
Since she’d been back in Capri, she’d hardly been able to see him, except for when Harper let him come over. Brian had her on lockdown, and while she understood his reasons, it was still driving her crazy not to be able to see Alex.
On the car ride to Nathalie’s group home, Alex and Gemma hardly spoke, but she was content just to hold his hand and be with him. Sometimes he’d just look at her and smile, and that was enough.
When they pulled in the driveway, Alex had barely turned off the car before Nathalie came running out of the house, waving her arms like a madwoman.
“Gemma?” Nathalie was yelling, and Gemma got out of the car as quickly as she could.
“Mom?” Gemma said. “Is everything okay?”
As soon as Nathalie saw Gemma, she froze. She put her hands to her face and let out a loud sob. Then she ran to her daughter and nearly knocked Gemma down when she threw her arms around her.
“I missed you so much,” Nathalie said, crushing Gemma to her. “I was so worried about you.”
“I’m okay, Mom,” Gemma said, her voice coming out in small grunts since Nathalie was hugging her so forcefully. “I missed you, too.”