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I pull her hands away from her face, exposing her tear-stained cheeks and quivering chin. “You’re it for me. Do you know this? There’s no one else. I asked one girl to marry me, and I will never ask another. I want to marry you. I want to hold you. I want to have a family with you. I want your hands to fondle my old gray balls.”

She chokes out a laugh.

I frame her face, waiting for the perfect shade of blue to look at me. And when those eyes meet mine, I grin. “I want every smile. Every giggle. All the tears. I want to fight with you just to make up with you.”

Her mouth pulls into a smile. I take it because I want every single one.

“Did you wash your left cheek really good?”

I chuckle. “Yes. I’m pretty sure I removed at least three layers of skin.”

“You’re not riding with Apple or any other fruity-named girl to California as long as I’m still alive.”

I fight my impending grin and nod.

“And if you ever let another woman sit on my bucket—”

I kiss her until her body relaxes, surrendering to me. “Yeah, yeah…” I mumble over her lips “…such a tough girl. I’m sure we’re not done duking it out. You’re going to piss me off and I’m going to piss you off.” I grab the hem of her nightshirt and pull it up her body and over her head.

And for a few seconds I let her take my breath away. Every day I think this could be the day Swayze doesn’t render me speechless, but every day she does. I’m not even sure how she does it. She just … does.

“But at the end of the good days and the bad days, let’s promise to meet back here, under the covers, in the dark, to lick each other’s battle wounds. Deal?”

Her lips press to my chest. “Can it be that simple? Can we come back to our cocoon—inside these four walls—and shut out the pain? The anger? New psychiatrists? Stolen buckets? Forgotten birthdays?”

I want the answer to be yes. Reality is a buzzkill.

“We can try.” I slide my leg between hers.

She ghosts her fingers along my naked ass and up my back. Looks like today isn’t the day that her touch stops driving me insane with need. Maybe tomorrow. But I doubt it.

“Why do we keep hurting each other?” she whispers.

“Because we’re fucking terrified of losing this.” I slip my hand down the back of her panties.

When her lips find mine, I squeeze her sexy ass a little harder until she moans into my mouth.

She nips at my lower lip while rubbing herself against my leg that’s threaded between hers. “I wanted to kill her.” Her playful nips turn into bites like a dog that’s no longer playing.

My head jerks back before she draws blood, narrowing my eyes.

“Thanks for loaning me your guy.” Her mocking tone rings with very little sarcasm.

She’s jealous.

And pissed off.

I may have underestimated the situation.

“And that gum-sharing, toe-nudging, eyelash-batting bullshit made me want to pull her perfect black hair out of her head and rip off your testicles for letting her sit on my bucket!”

I one hundred percent underestimated the situation.

“Your bucket …” I say with the ease of coaxing her away from the ledge.

“My bucket.” She pushes my chest.

I roll to my back, letting her have control, in spite of my testicles questioning what could happen next.

Swayze straddles me like a queen perched on her throne. “My guy.” Her hair brushes my face as she leans forward, jaw locked, hands pressed to the pillow on either side of my head. Who is this woman? And where the hell has she been?

“Yours.” I grin.

“Mine.”

I chuckle. “So what are you going to do with me?”

Her lips part and something dark passes over her face, a cloud forming over my view of the sun. And in a blink, all her feistiness and anger vanishes, leaving behind the expressionless face of a ghost.

CHAPTER TEN

Swayze

“So what are you going to do with me?” Nate’s voice. Nate’s boyish grin.

Long blond hair from above tickling his face as excitement flashes in his blue eyes.

“Swayz?”

“So what are you going to do with me?” That grin … Like he’s always on the verge of snickering about something or like whatever he’s looking at makes him happier than anything else in the world.

“Swayz, are you okay?”

I blink.

It’s not Nate. Not his face. Not his voice.

The eyes are whisky and the lips are turned down into a frown.

Griffin sits up, taking me with him. He grabs my head and furrows his brow. “Where’d you go?”

I blink again. “No…” I shake my head “…nowhere.”

The concern on his face hardens into something not so soft, not so nice. “We’re in our house, our bed, sharing something pretty fucking personal and you’re a million miles away. Dare I say a lifetime away?”

The thin material of my panties is the only thing between his naked body and mine. He’s right. I should be here and only here. And if he didn’t look so angry right now, I think I’d feel more shame.

“Did you fuck Apple?” Fight or flight. I couldn’t keep those words in if I tried.

His jaw slides side to side several times, eyes black as night in this dark room. “You weren’t thinking about me fucking anyone. You weren’t thinking about me at all.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Right back at ya, Swayz.” He lifts me off his lap and gets out of bed, tugging on sweats and a tee.

I stand on my knees, pulling my nightshirt back over my head as rage knocks on my chest, sending fire up my neck until my ears burn. “I don’t care if she was some … fuck buddy of yours. I care that she asked you to go to California with her sometime and you didn’t say no. I care that you’ve been blowing me off for days over something I can’t control.”

He grabs his pillow and storms out of the bedroom without a word. I chase him into the living room.

“Control? Really? You want to use that excuse? Try this …” He whips the pillow down on the sofa and rests his hands on his hips. “Quit your fucking job. Plan a wedding. Get out and make new friends. Clean up after yourself. Take a cooking class. Send out your resume to every school in the area. Take on more design clients. Hell …” His shoulders shoot up into an exaggerated shrug. “Spend more time worrying about who’s sitting on your bucket. Do absofuckinglutely anything to keep your mind away from this self-destructive obsession of yours.”

I take an uneasy step backwards. The truth hurts more than a thousand lies. Lies can be forgiven, but the truth holds no debts.

My truth—I’m losing Griffin to a past I can’t change and a future I can’t control.

He scrubs a hand over his face on a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry. I—”

“If I quit …” I start to say with nothing left but defeat in my voice and a dull ache in my chest.

He meets my gaze with regret eating up his face, sinking deep into his eyes.

“If I quit my job, if I find a teaching position, if I make friends in a cooking class, if I take on as many extra design jobs as I can fit into my day … if I do all of that and still have these memories…” I swallow the pain in my throat and draw in a breath to chase away the sting in my eyes “…will there be a wedding?”

“Swayz—”

“Just answer me.”

“I asked you to marry me. I’m not taking it back. Set a date. I’ll be at the altar. Will Swayze be there?”

“Swayze is just a name.” I hold my arms out to the side. “This is just a body. I will be at the altar.”

“And who are you?”

After a few long seconds of silence, I stare at my feet and shrug before turning back to the bedroom. “I thought I was the woman you love,” I murmur, retreating with my tattered white flag dragging behind me.

The bed creaks as I crawl into my spot, so does the floor at the end of the bed. Griffin removes his clothes, slides under the covers, and pulls them up over our heads.

No words.

No smiles.

Just two tortured souls scared of losing everything.

“But at the end of the good days and the bad days, let’s promise to meet back here, under the covers, in the dark, to lick each other’s battle wounds. Deal?”

He slides off my panties as I shrug off my nightshirt. His mouth covers mine, slow but demanding—eyes wide open as if so much as a blink will pop this temporary bubble.

He kisses me until my lungs burn for a breath.

My neck.

My breasts.

The curve of one hip and then the other.

My hands guide his head between my legs, but I don’t close my eyes. Not for one second. I love him. I don’t want to share this moment with anyone else. Even if I can’t see his eyes, the moment his tongue slides inside of me, I know that soulful gaze is looking up at me with lust and adoration.

I know, as he slides two fingers into me and I moan, that those same eyes start to leaden with pleasure. The bed shifts slightly from his pelvis grinding into the mattress as he lets all these emotions fade away.

We pause life.

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