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It feels like two against one, so I shake my head. “No,” I murmur, turn, and go back inside the house.

“Hold it together.” I give myself another pep talk as I plop down on the sofa, sucking in a shaky breath. I want to cry and kill something at the same time. Stupid runaway mind. I hate that my brain allowed Nate into it in such an intimate way, but I don’t want in his bed, no matter what crazy things worm their way into my head.

Can Griffin say the same thing about Apple? Does he see her and think of me as this huge mistake? I hate that my list for wanting to be with him goes on to infinity, but I can’t imagine that his list would require more than an index card. Where did I lose my self-esteem? Did I ever really have it?

Confident women are attractive. Griffin’s confident and I find it incredibly sexy. What must he think of this person I’ve become … fumbling around for my sense of true self? I can’t find my footing in this life.

Knock. Knock.

Before I can get to the back door, Apple opens it, peeking her head inside.

“Hey, Griff said there’s beer in the fridge. He only has water in the one in the garage.”

“Oh …” I give her a tight smile as I open the fridge door and grab a bottle from the back that we keep for his parents when they come by. “Here.” I hand her the bottle.

She gives me a cringe kind of smile. “One for Griff too.”

“He doesn’t usually drink.”

She shrugs, biting her plump lower lip. “I asked if he wanted one too, and he said ‘sure.’”

I swallow my anger and open the fridge door again, but the anger won’t go down. It sits in my throat, choking me. “You know what …” I slam the door shut. “Tell Griff if he wants a beer he can come inside and get it himself.”

Apple’s pencil-thin brows draw up to peaks. “O—K.” She backs out, easing the door shut behind her.

He won’t come inside. They’ll probably share the bottle I gave Apple. I’m never kissing him again. I will not touch his mouth after he’s wrapped his lips around the same bottle that she’s had hers.

I rub my temples for a few seconds before uncorking a bottle of red wine and pouring a generous glass.

“To Apple.” I raise my glass toward the door. “The woman I will never be.” Moving my glass to the bottle of wine, I clink it. “And to you, my bitter Merlot, the first bottle of wine I will drink in its entirety out of sheer jealousy.”

I gulp down half the glass, expediting the alcohol to my bloodstream, desperate to slow the circus in my brain and numb the pain in my heart.

An hour or two—who knows—later, I no longer see anything red, except the last few drops of wine in my glass. I didn’t quite drink the whole bottle, but I feel … well, I feel nothing. Maybe a little sad that my fiancé is probably sharing a beer in the garage with his ex-lover named Apple. Unless the beer is gone, then they’re probably sharing other things.

“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” I mumble, standing while the room spins a couple of times. I amble outside to the garage, easing the door open just enough to see them before they notice me. He’s putting away his tools while she leans against his workbench just inches from him, resting her hands on it so her chest is shoved out.

Stupid big tits.

“You should come out to California with me sometime. Creed and Kessler would love to see you. One last hurrah before you get hitched to the beer police. What do you say?”

He closes the top drawer to his tool chest. “Don’t call her that.”

Apple smirks. “You know I’m kidding. She’s just not at all what I imagined you settling for.”

“Who said I’m settling?” He grabs a towel and works at the grease on his hands.

I hold my breath.

“Is she pregnant?”

“Fuck you.” He shakes his head, eyes still focused on his hands.

“Again … kidding. You used to like my humor … and other things.”

I could core that fucking Apple. I don’t know what I mean by that, but damn … it just popped into my head. I blame it on the Merlot.

“Just think about making the trip sometime. Okay?”

He doesn’t say anything, but his head bobs into a slight nod.

Yes? He’s going to think about it?

I swallow back the bile that works its way up my throat.

Apple presses two fingers to her lips and then presses those fingers to Griffin’s cheek. “Thanks for fixing my girl.”

“Be careful on your trip.” He looks up.

She smiles.

A slight smile curls his lips.

My heart breaks.

The knot in my stomach tightens, intensifying my nausea.

Before I can close the door, he turns. I let it click shut and run into the house. He saw me. I know he did. Eavesdropping, insecure, crazy Swayze.

I don’t stop until I get to the bathroom, bending over the toilet. Nothing comes up. Damn! I can’t even succeed at a good vomit tonight. After a few seconds, I wash my face with cold water and scrub my teeth quickly. Shooting across the hall, I strip down and slip on a nightshirt before hitting the light switch and hopping into bed.

Pulling the covers up to hide my face, I pinch my eyes shut and let my buzz take over the rest. But I can’t stop thinking about what I heard and what I saw. I can’t stop replaying her touching her kissed fingers to his cheek and him nodding to her invitation.

We were perfect. We were us. What happened? When did the jealousy and resentment build this wall between us? And why do I feel like it keeps getting bigger instead of smaller?

The back door closes. I freeze and hold my breath. His footsteps get closer and the bathroom door clicks shut. A few seconds later the shower sounds. I release my breath, focusing on controlling it, calming it before he comes out.

I stay really still again when the shower shuts off. A minute or two later the door opens. His bare feet pad along the wood floor to the other side of the bed. It dips as he sits on the edge. There’s the tap of him setting his phone on the nightstand, followed by more shaking of the bed and rustling of the covers.

I will not cry. The closer he is to me, the more this hurts.

I don’t blink.

I don’t swallow.

I don’t breathe.

My body stiffens when his arm hooks my waist, pulling me across the bed and into his embrace.

I blink. Fuck the stupid tears. Here they come.

You suck, Swayze.

I swallow and choke on a sob.

But I still can’t breathe because I feel like a fool in love with this guy, who is my opposite in so many ways. Tonight has been another reminder of how I don’t fit into his world. Sometimes it feels like more than that … it’s this awful feeling I’ve had my whole life that I don’t fit in anywhere.

I’m different. Not good different. Not necessarily bad different. Just … different. Puzzle piece 1001 in a 1000-piece puzzle.

“Tell me about your day, Swayz,” he whispers in my ear.

I laugh past the sob that wants to escape. If I wanted a guy who got down on his knees—hands folded at his chest—to apologize, I wouldn’t be engaged to Griffin Calloway. This is his apology. It’s slow and easy, but I have no doubt that he will own every piece of me again by the time he’s done.

“Shitty. This guy I love … he’s been ignoring me. And tonight he kinda broke my heart. He let another woman sit on my bucket. And he let her touch him.”

His grip on me tightens as he kisses the back of my head. There he goes, gathering up the pieces of me and tucking them away next to his heart. I let him because that’s where they belong.

“I should take him out back and beat him a breath from his life for hurting you.”

“No. I love him too much. Even if he’s falling out of love with me.” The last few words break as they fall from my lips.

“Swayz …” He turns me in his arms.

CHAPTER NINE

Griffin

I wasn’t looking for someone who shared my love of motorcycles, NASCAR, tattoos, or working out. Honestly, I wasn’t looking for anyone at all. My life was good.

Good job.

Good family.

Good friends.

I worked hard and purchased a house just after my twenty-third birthday. It’s not huge, but I don’t need much.

Then one day I got behind this blonde in line at the grocery store. Her hair was tangled in a pile on top of her head, falling out of her hairband in all directions. She riffled through her beach-sized handbag in a frantic search for her wallet as the lady at the register frowned in annoyance.

She was a chaotic mess to my diligent organization. I know she struggles with her averageness, but I think of her as not too anything; Swayze is my just right. My own tale of Goldilocks.

I didn’t find her. She didn’t find me. We found each other. It was effortless. It was perfect.

It still is.

The good. The bad. The sea of ugly in between—as long as it’s us, it will always be perfect.

“I’m sorry for breaking you today.” I hug her to me as silent sobs rack her body, hands covering her face. I embrace her vulnerability because she doesn’t show it to everyone. She trusts me to protect her, yet I let her down. Tonight I should have guarded her heart.

Her bucket. I let someone sit on her bucket and that mattered to her. I hate that I hurt her, but there’s an odd pride that it gives me to know that something as simplistic as an overturned bucket in my garage means so much to her.

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