“I’ll miss you, too.” She stepped closer to him and put her hands on his chest, and this time he didn’t pull away. “But I’ll still come down for weekends. So we’ll see each other a lot.”
“I know,” he said, but there was something pained in his eyes, something more than simply missing her.
“Is there something else bothering you?” Harper asked. “I feel like you’re holding something back.”
“No,” he said. “I’m just thinking about what I’m going to do when you’re gone.”
“You’ll get more sleep, and you’ll have more time to work.” Harper tried to make a joke of it. “That’ll be good, right?”
“Yeah. It will.”
“I’ll probably call and text you so much you won’t even notice I’m gone.”
“No, I’ll definitely notice.” Daniel put his arm around her waist, his hand strong on the small of her back, and with his other hand he tucked a lock of hair back behind her ear. “You know how much you mean to me, right?”
“Yeah. Of course,” she said. “And you mean a lot to me, too.”
“And I would never do anything to hurt you.” His voice had gone low, sounding husky and thick. His hand lingered in her hair, the rough skin of his thumb caressing her cheek. “I never want to disappoint you or let you down.”
“And you don’t, Daniel,” Harper told him earnestly. “You impress me all the time, with your patience and kindness and strength. The things you do for other people, that you do for me and my family…”
“I would do anything for you, to keep you safe, to keep you happy.” His eyes were searching her face, almost studying it, and he swallowed hard.
“I love you,” Daniel said softly.
Harper stared up at him, too stunned to say anything at first. The weight of the words hit her, and there was something both warm and terrifying about them.
Then Daniel was kissing her, his mouth pressing deeply against hers, and she didn’t have to respond. It was almost as if he didn’t want her to, like he was afraid to hear what she might say. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer to her, and hoped that would be answer enough.
If he’d been holding something back before, he certainly wasn’t now. His hand stayed on her face, his fingers tangling in her hair. His arm around her waist was all but holding her up.
She’d been standing on her tiptoes, leaning up to kiss him more forcefully, but they stumbled backward. He put both his arms around her waist to steady her. Her shirt had ridden up, so his hand gripped the exposed flesh, sending heat through her.
He stepped forward, pushing her back, their mouths still pressed together, until she felt the bed hit the back of her legs and they tumbled onto it. A pile of clothes bulged underneath, forcing her to arch her back, but it was actually better that way—it pushed her closer to him.
The feverish way he kissed her, making his scruff pleasurably scrape her lips, wasn’t enough anymore. She wanted more of him, all of him, really. Her hands slid underneath his shirt, digging into the powerful muscles of his back, as she held him to her.
Under her fingertips, she felt the bumps and dips of his scarring, and realized that her fingers were on the outlines of his tattoo.
Daniel had an arm on either side of Harper, trying to hold himself up so he wouldn’t crush her. But she leaned up, pushing her body against his. She raised her legs so her thighs were pressed into his waist, and he moaned against her lips.
Brian coughed loudly, interrupting the moment so Harper’s flush of heat switched from pleasure to shame.
Daniel rolled off of Harper, and as she sat up, she readjusted her shirt. Nothing had been up or off, but things had gotten rumpled. Her dad stood in the doorway of her room, but he was staring off down the hall, probably not wanting to accidentally see something he could never unsee.
“I just wanted to let you know that I’m home from work now,” Brian said. “I’m going to go help Gemma with her car before we head out. But you two might want to come down or hose yourselves off.”
“Um, thanks, Dad,” Harper mumbled, looking down at the floor. “We’ll be down in a second.”
“That’d probably be good,” Brian said, then walked away.
Gemma knew part of the reason her dad was working on the car was out of penance. Not that Brian really had anything to atone for. He was an adult, and he had every right to terminate his marriage, especially since he had obvious reasons for it.
She shouldn’t be hurt over it, but she was anyway. Brian knew that, too, so he was doing his part to make her life a little easier. He also probably figured that she had enough trouble this summer, and he’d promised to fix her car every time it broke down.
That normally wasn’t that big a chore, but with the heat the way it had been the last few days, any amount of time spent outside wasn’t fun. The sun beat down, and the humidity smothered them.
“Do you think you can fix it, then?” Gemma asked. She leaned back against the closed garage door while her dad had his head under the hood of her car.
“Yeah.” He’d been twisting something with his right hand, but now he just leaned forward, staring at the jerry-rigged abyss. “But I’ll have to get a part for it.”
“Sorry.” An awkward silence fell between them, so she asked, “Is Harper about ready?”
“Oh, who knows?” her dad muttered.
“Didn’t you check on her?”
“Yeah.” Brian snorted. “She said she’d be down in a minute, but I came outside, so I don’t know.”
“Oh.” She didn’t know what that was about, but Brian didn’t seem to want to talk about it. “Thanks for taking a look at my car, Dad.”
“No problem.” He straightened up and wiped the grease off his hand with a rag. “Hey, what do you think of that Daniel kid?”
“Daniel? He’s a good guy.”
“He treats your sister all right?” Brian looked at Gemma, watching her.
“Yeah.” Gemma nodded. “As far as I know, he treats her really well.”
“Good.” He wiped harder at the grease. “Are they getting serious, do you think?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. I know Harper really likes him.”
“Ah, hell.” He sighed, then shoved the rag in his back pocket. “I knew eventually it would happen.”