“I know, but what if something happens and I’m a half hour away?” Harper asked.
“Then I’ll be two minutes away, and Marcy will be a second away, and Thea will probably be right with Gemma,” Daniel said. “I’m sure Alex would help if Gemma was in trouble, and we could even enlist your dad. Gemma’s not in this alone, and neither are you. You aren’t taking care of her by yourself.”
“I know.” She licked her lips, and finally Harper made her decision. “Okay. Then I’m going.” She gave Daniel a hard look. “But you have to promise you’ll watch out for Gemma.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.
“I know that’s kind of a big thing to ask you, since you’re my boyfriend, and we haven’t been together that long, and it’s not your responsibility,” Harper said, speaking rapidly. “It’s not even really my responsibility, but I just need to know that she’s safe, and I trust you.”
“Harper,” Daniel said with a smile, stopping her mid-ramble. “I know. It’s okay. And I would never let anything bad happen to you or Gemma.”
“Thank you.” Harper leaned in, meaning to kiss him, but before she had the chance, Daniel stood up and took a step away from the bed.
“Did something happen? Did I do something?” she asked him.
“No.” He scratched the back of his head and avoided eye contact with her. “Why would you say that?”
“It seems like you don’t want to kiss me.”
Daniel laughed, but it sounded flat. “Why wouldn’t I want to kiss you?”
“I don’t know.” She stared up at him, fearing the worst might be true. “That’s why I’m asking you.”
“I just…” He shrugged and paced the room slowly, walking the length of her bed in front of her. “You know, you’re leaving … It’s an emotional time, and I don’t want to make you do things.”
“What are you talking about?” Harper asked.
“There’s just a lot going on.” He motioned with his hand, making a big circle to represent the “a lot” that was going on.
Her heart dropped. “Are you breaking up with me?”
“What?” His eyes shot up, looking startled, and he shook his head. “No, no, God, no. I…”
She waited a few moments for him to finish his thought, but when he didn’t, she stood up and pressed, “What is it, then?”
Daniel lowered his eyes. “It’s nothing.”
“If something’s happening…” Harper tilted her head, trying to meet his gaze.
“No. I’m just…” He sighed, and finally he lifted his hazel eyes to meet hers. “I’m going to miss you.”
“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.