“I think it sounds wonderful, and I appreciate the thought you put into making it. It’s very sweet.”
“Sweet enough to earn me a make-out session after supper?” Daniel asked with an arched eyebrow.
She pretended to think it over. “Depends on how full I am.”
“We could always skip the soup,” he suggested, causing Harper to laugh. “The salad might be filling enough.”
Harper dug in, eating a mouthful of salad, and nodded. “This is really good.”
“Thank you,” he said, sounding a little relieved. “The vegetables are fresh from the garden out back. It was a bit overgrown when I moved in, but I think I’ve got it under control now. The dressing is really simple, and it’s one of three things I actually do know how to make.”
“Your gramma taught you how to make it?” Harper asked between bites.
“She did, yeah.” He nodded. “She passed away a while ago. I was really close to my grandparents. They basically raised me and my brother.”
“What about your parents?” She watched him for his response.
“What about them?” Daniel asked and didn’t look up from his food.
“You never really talk about them.”
“Oh.” He poked emptily at his food for a few seconds before going on. “There’s not a lot to tell. My dad was a drunk, and he wasn’t the nicest guy. He used to beat up on my mom and stuff. He finally left when I was ten. I thought things would get better after that, but they didn’t.”
Harper had been about to take a bite, but she stopped. Daniel hardly ever talked about his family life or his childhood, and she hadn’t any idea that he’d grown up in an abusive home.
“Why not?” Harper asked finally.
He shook his head. “I don’t know. It was weird because my mom was so miserable when he was around, but it was like, after he left, she didn’t know what to do when somebody wasn’t telling her what to do or putting her down.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said and took another bite, mostly so Daniel wouldn’t think that she didn’t like his meal.
“It’s okay. Eventually she found someone to fill that void, and they got married. My brother died, then my grandparents died and left her some money. She didn’t see any reason to stick around here anymore, so she and the new husband moved out to Vegas.”
“And you stayed here?” Harper asked.
“Well, I wasn’t exactly invited to join them, but I don’t think I would’ve gone anyway. My boat’s here, and that’s about the only thing I really owned. And I grew up here, so…” His voice trailed off.
“I’m glad you stayed.”
He looked up at her finally and smiled. “Me, too.”
They finished their salads, and moved on to dinner and dessert. Harper tried to wash the dishes, but he wouldn’t let her. He insisted that it was a romantic evening, and the cleaning could wait until tomorrow.
Daniel let her pick the movie from his rather modest collection, and she chose Edward Scissorhands. It wasn’t her favorite, but given a choice between that and Jaws, Mad Max, or The Godfather, she thought it seemed like the most romantic.
They started out sitting on the couch next to each other, but it wasn’t long before Daniel was lying on his back and Harper was curled up with him. Her head was on his chest, and he had one arm wrapped around her.
Normally, Harper would lie awake in bed for hours before she could fall asleep. Her mind would race through all her concerns, almost all of them involving Gemma, sirens, or college, and when she was really in a mood, she could stay up all night worrying about her mom, her dad, Alex, Marcy, really anything and everything.
But something about being with Daniel like this, feeling safe and secure as he held her to him, the sound of his heart beating slowly under her ear, was putting her to sleep.
For his part, Daniel had been working incredibly hard over the last few weeks. When he wasn’t at the theater trying to get the set together or doing odd jobs, he was fixing up the house.
So within minutes both of them were sleeping soundly on the couch.
She woke up first, and she knew she should’ve felt some panic at waking up in a strange place, but she couldn’t muster the anxiety. Lying with Daniel felt too good. Besides, the clock on his wall said it was only a quarter after eleven, so Gemma probably wasn’t even home yet.
He was still asleep, but he must’ve woken up at some point because the television was off. The only light was the moon pouring in through the open windows. It wasn’t full yet, but it was bright enough that Harper watched him sleep for a minute.
If he woke up and caught her, she’d be incredibly embarrassed, but he looked so peaceful and handsome as he slept. His unshaven scruff made him ruggedly sexy, and she had a feeling that if he shaved it completely, he might look too pretty. His skin was smooth, and his mouth had a sexy, sinful quality to it.
The urge to kiss him overtook her, and she decided that she’d better wake him first. They hadn’t had their after-dinner make-out session yet, and to set the mood, she wanted to wake him in the right way.
“Daniel?” she whispered in his ear, doing her best to sound sultry and seductive. “Daniel?”
He didn’t stir at all. Not even slightly, and she was speaking right into his ear. She instantly began to panic, and she couldn’t tell if he was breathing or not. When she’d fallen asleep she’d heard his heartbeat, but had she heard it a few minutes ago when she awoke?
“Daniel?” Harper asked again, and by now she was certain that he’d died while she was asleep. “Daniel?”
He moved his head. “Hmm?” He turned to look at her, opening his eyes slowly, and she let out a deep breath. “What?”
“You didn’t hear that?” she asked. She sat up a bit, and he moved his hand to her back.
Daniel still appeared groggy and didn’t seem to completely understand the situation. It must’ve been apparent that she was upset, because he rubbed her back to comfort her.
“What?” Daniel asked, becoming more alert.
“I was saying your name. I was whispering right in your ear.”
He furrowed his brow. “Why were you whispering in my ear?”
“I was trying to wake you up all romantic-like.”
“Aw.” He smiled. “That’s very sweet of you.”
He tried to pull her down, either to kiss her or so she’d lie with him again, but she resisted. She was still confused and anxious.