He smirked and ruffled his already disheveled hair. “You know what I mean. You’re a nice kid. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you, but I don’t want you getting the wrong idea.”
“There’s no wrong idea to be had, which is nice. You’re one of, like, two guys that I can actually be myself around.” She sighed. “It’s really just you and my dad at this point that aren’t leering at me.”
“As your sister’s boyfriend, I can do double duty as brother-in … boyfriend-in-law?” He cocked his head, trying to come up with the right expression, before shrugging and moving on. “Anyway, if there’s anybody you want me to beat up for you, let me know, and I’m on it.”
“Thank you.” Gemma smiled. “I appreciate the sentiment.”
“I don’t look that strong, but I make up for it by being tall,” Daniel said, and she laughed.
She glanced over at him, and he’d sold himself short. While Daniel was indeed on the tall side, he looked strong, too. He mostly wore button flannel shirts or faded T-shirts—the standard outfits of hipsters and handymen alike—but through that, she could see his thick biceps and broad shoulders. Plus, she’d seen him without his shirt on, and she knew that he was pretty ripped.
“Penn told me she offered you ten grand to put up a fence around her house,” Gemma said.
“That she did.” He scratched on the scruff under his chin. “I turned her down, obviously.”
“Obviously?” She looked up at him. “That’s a lot of money to turn down.”
“It is, but I’m sure it’s blood money,” Daniel said, without looking to Gemma for confirmation. “And it’s probably not in my best interest to spend that much time around Penn. All the guys in her life end up dead.”
“How is it going with that?” Gemma asked.
“With Penn’s somewhat obsessive interest in me?” Daniel asked and exhaled deeply. “It’s all about walking a very fine line of not pissing her off and not leading her on.”
“And you’re not attracted to her?” Gemma asked. “At all?”
“No.” He laughed and looked appalled. “Not in the slightest. Are you attracted to her?”
“No. Why would I be attracted to her?”
“Exactly. You were implying that she was so beautiful that any logic or reason or actual desire I might have would be overridden by her physical appearance,” Daniel said. “Since we’re both immune to her song or whatever supernatural hold it is she has on people, the same would be true for you.”
“That makes sense,” she said finally. “Have you told Harper about Penn’s little crush on you?”
“I’ve downplayed it as much as I can,” Daniel admitted. “She knows some, but not the full extent. She doesn’t need to worry about it.”
“No, I get that. I haven’t told her much, either.” Gemma sighed. “It’s better that way sometimes.”
They rounded the corner of the block, leaving the businesses in the center of town for the residential neighborhoods on the edges. A small brick retaining wall ran next to the sidewalk, and Gemma climbed up, walking on it with her arms out like she was walking a tightrope.
“Since we’re being honest, can I ask you something?” Daniel asked.
“Of course,” she said, but she slowed her steps and glanced over at him.
“The question is a bit weird, and I’m not even sure you’ll know the answer.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and stared down thoughtfully at the sidewalk. “But when we found you, after you’d run away with the sirens, how did Harper know where you were?”
Gemma’s forehead pinched with confusion. “It was because of the newspaper. Weren’t you the one who showed her?”
“No, I know how we found the town,” Daniel said. “We knew the general location. But as soon as we saw that house, she knew you were there.”
“What did she tell you?” Gemma asked.
“Not a lot, actually. I asked her a couple times about it, and she’s always very vague. She won’t say anything more than that she just knew.”
“That’s how, then.” Gemma shrugged. She’d come to the end of the wall, so she jumped down and landed on the sidewalk next to Daniel.
“I didn’t understand before, but now that you put it that way, I get it,” he said dryly.
He’d stopped walking, so she did, too, and she turned to face him.
“Harper told you about the accident, right?” Gemma asked. “The one that happened when we were kids, and how my mom has a brain injury from it?”
“She has mentioned it, yes, but she doesn’t say much about it,” Daniel said.
“In her defense, there really isn’t a whole bunch to tell. Mom was driving Harper to a pizza party, and a drunk driver sideswiped her. It hit the driver’s side, so Mom got the worst of it, but Harper was hurt, too,” Gemma explained.
“Her injury basically amounted to a bad cut on her leg.” Gemma ran her hand six inches up and down her thigh to demonstrate. “She has a gnarly scar now, which is why she never wears short-shorts and hates to put on swimsuits.”
“Okay,” Daniel said, like he was trying to follow what Gemma was saying but did not understand the connection at all.
“Well, anyway, while that was happening, I was at home with my dad,” Gemma said. “We were sitting in the living room, and I was coloring, and I remember just having this overwhelming panic. I don’t even know how else to explain it. I was suddenly just terrified.”