They sat next to each other, and when the teacher passed out the class syllabus, Harper was both relieved and surprised to see that she’d actually read some of the texts in high school. The day was starting to take a turn for the better when Harper started feeling a weird pain in her chest.
She took a deep breath, hoping that would ease it somehow, but the pain only intensified. Her chest tightened, and nausea washed over her. Then the terror hit her. It was intense and unrelenting, and adrenaline surged through her.
Other people would’ve thought they were having a panic attack, and that was probably what a doctor would’ve diagnosed. But this was different. As soon as the fear hit her and a shooting pain stabbed through her stomach, Harper knew what it was.
“Gemma,” she whispered.
“Harper?” Liv asked, leaning in closer to her. “Are you okay? You don’t look so good.”
“No, I gotta…” She took a deep breath. “I gotta go.”
She stood up quickly, knocking her books to the floor with a loud clatter. Everyone turned to look at her, and she just mumbled an apology as she scrambled to pick up her things. The teacher asked if everything was okay, but she didn’t answer.
Harper rushed out of the classroom as fast as her legs could carry her. In the hall, she had to stop and lean against the wall for support. The terror and pain were too strong, and it almost brought her to her knees.
“Harper?” Liv asked. She’d followed her out of the classroom and went over to see if she was all right. “What’s the matter?”
“I need to get to my car,” Harper said. “I have to go home.”
“I don’t think you’re in any shape to drive,” Liv said.
“Please.” She looked up at her, imploring her. “Help me to my car. I have to get home. Now.”
“Okay.” Liv nodded, then looped her arm around Harper’s waist to help steady her.
As they walked, Harper reached into her pocket and dug out her phone. Gemma’s name was first in her contacts, and she hit call. The phone rang and rang, but Harper only got her voice mail.
They stepped outside of the building into the pouring rain. Harper had only gone to class a few minutes ago, and it hadn’t been raining then. Now it was coming down so hard she could barely see.
That didn’t deter her from dialing the phone, though. She kept calling again and again and again. But Gemma never picked up.
Daniel had made an important decision—he had to tell Harper. After days of going back and forth about it, he’d finally come to terms with the fact that Harper needed to know about the deal he’d made with Penn.
Once he came to that conclusion, he only had to figure out when would be the best time to tell her. Part of him thought it would be easier to wait until after the fact, because then it would already be done.
He knew if he told Harper before he slept with Penn, she might try to talk him out of it. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that she might succeed.
It wasn’t that he wanted to have sex with Penn—in fact, quite the contrary. When it came down to it, he wasn’t completely sure he’d be able to perform, although the other night when Penn had been kissing him had him partially convinced that it wouldn’t be an issue. No matter what his heart and mind felt, his body seemed to respond to certain things.
But Penn was guaranteeing the safety of Gemma and Harper. He couldn’t turn that down.
Of course, he knew that this wasn’t an indefinite guarantee. If he did sleep with Penn, one of two things would happen afterward. Either she would immediately lose interest in Daniel, and then probably kill him, Harper, and Gemma just for fun. Or she’d like it, and continue to blackmail Daniel into seeing her.
There was a third option, one where Daniel also enjoyed and actively pursued a relationship with Penn. While she seemed certain that was the way things would end up, he was highly dubious. He didn’t think anything in the world would feel good enough for him to want to be with her.
The best-case scenario was that Penn would keep blackmailing Daniel, promising him protection for Harper and Gemma as long as he was sleeping with her. His only hope to defend the people he cared about was to become some kind of indentured prostitute.
And that was why he had to tell Harper before he went ahead with it. He didn’t want to sneak around behind her back repeatedly cheating on her, no matter how good the reason might be. She needed to know what he was doing so she could decide for herself if she wanted to continue a relationship with him.
Daniel knew full well that he might lose her over this. Even though he was doing it for her, because he loved her, he knew it would be a hard thing to accept.
But if he had to choose between losing her forever to keep her safe and happy or being with her and watching her suffer and die, then he would gladly choose the former, no matter what the cost was to him.
Since he and Penn were set to seal the deal tomorrow, he thought he’d better have the conversation with Harper today. He didn’t want to have it over the phone, though, and he didn’t have a car.
So that led Daniel to Alex’s house, where they stood in the driveway next to Alex’s blue Cougar. The sky was dark above them, but it hadn’t begun to rain yet.
“Are you sure?” Daniel asked as he took the car keys from Alex. “I don’t want to put you out.”
“No, it’s fine.” Alex shook his head.
“Are you gonna be able to get to work okay?” Daniel asked.
“I haven’t been working lately,” Alex admitted.
Daniel eyed him. It’d been a week since he’d last seen Alex, ferrying him over from his island to mainland Capri. Alex had been rather hungover then, but even factoring that in, he seemed to be doing better.
It wasn’t until they’d been talking for a little while that it finally occurred to him. Every time he’d run into Alex during the past month, Alex had been looking at the ground or staring off at nothing. This was the first time in a long while that Alex was actually looking him in the eye.
“Oh, yeah?” Daniel asked. “Are you quitting?”
“Maybe, if I haven’t already been fired.” Alex shrugged. “I just need to do something different. Working out on the docks isn’t for me.”
“Did something happen?” Daniel asked.
“I don’t know.” He furrowed his brow. “I think I need to take some time off and figure things out. I’ve been in a weird place lately, and … I don’t know. I feel like things might be turning around.”