“Just say it.” He flinches, trying to sit up.
“My head hurts too much to rest. Distract me.”
Daisy was murdered is not the right distraction. “Come here.” I straighten my legs and lay one of the pillows on them.
Nate’s gaze shifts between mine and the pillow.
“Head on the pillow, Professor.” I grin.
He eases his head onto the pillow.
“Black.” I run my fingers through his beautiful hair, smiling when it curls around my fingers. This is just one of the many things I’ve wanted to feel with Nate. And just as I imagined, it’s so familiar.
“Black?” He closes his eyes and releases a soft sigh as I stroke his hair.
“I want black bridesmaids’ dresses. I want everything to be simple and elegant. Black dresses and all white flowers, except for my bouquet which will be all red. Sunset wedding. Soft candlelight. Nothing too big, just intimate and … perfect.” I close my eyes for a minute, seeing every single detail with complete clarity.
I don’t know how I can love the comfort and familiarity of Nate’s hair tangled around my fingers but see Griffin standing at the altar with the biggest smile on his face like he can’t wait to spend the rest of his life asking about my days.
“Hmm …” He hums with his face relaxing from the painful grimace that he had just minutes ago. “What else?”
My fingernails tease his scalp before gently working through the tangled locks. “I don’t know. What else will distract you from the pain?”
“Tell me how it feels.”
I chuckle. “Your pain?”
“To be Swayze, but to have these memories of a life before you were ever born.”
I let my fingers slide from his bangs to his eyebrows, brushing the pads of my fingers over the slightly curved line, admiring his long eyelashes resting on his cheeks.
It’s intimate, but not sexual.
It’s familiar, but new.
It’s food to my soul—her soul.
“It’s confusing and painful. Most days it feels like a curse because I can’t make total sense of it. I don’t know how it fits into my life.” I tuck a wayward curl behind his ear. “But other times it feels like something so much bigger than I can imagine. Like I’ve been gifted this memory and I need to use it somehow.”
I grin to myself. He’s so relaxed I’m not sure he’s still awake.
“It’s just too far beyond any kind of odds that I apply for the job as a nanny to your daughter who you named after …” I trail off, losing my nerve to say the words.
Nate opens his eyes. “Finish,” he whispers.
“Me … from that life.” I ghost my hand over his stubble-covered jaw.
He covers my hand with his, closing his eyes again. “Thank you.”
He leans into my hand. “For finding me.”
I stop by my favorite grocery store on the way home; it always makes me smile. What were the chances of finding my husband in the checkout lane? Probably just slightly higher than remembering another life.
“The yellow onions are thirty cents cheaper.”
My stomach tightens, sending a rush of cold panic to my brain.
Don’t pass out. Don’t pass out. Don’t pass out.
I glance over my shoulder, following the gaze of the cashier.
“Swayze is it?” Doug Mann grins like something is funny.
My hands fist. I want to physically hurt him—knock out his fake-capped teeth, kick him in the ribs until they break, and then shove a knife into his heart so slowly he howls in pain until he chokes to death on his own blood.
“Thirty-four ninety-eight,” the cashier murmurs.
I shove my credit card into the reader, missing it the first three times because of my shaky hands.
“Debit or credit?”
“D-debit.” I swallow hard and fist my hand to chase away the nerves that make it hard to type in my PIN.
The cashier hands me my receipt, and I grab my bags.
“See ya around, Swayze.”
Swayze. He said my name, but my mind heard Daisy. I sprint to my car. When I shift the bags to put them all in one hand so I can open the door, one of them breaks, sending an onion and four oranges rolling in all directions.
“Dammit!” I fumble with the rest of the groceries while trying to pick up my runaway produce.
“I always ask them to double bag my stuff.” Doug bends down to pick up an orange.
Screw the oranges. I reach for my keys … my keys … where are my keys?
“Looking for these? You always manage to drop your keys when you’re around me. Why is this?” He dangles them in front of me like he did outside of my apartment.
I reach for them, and he pulls them away at the last second. My knees wobble as I gulp down each breath.
“I’m just messing with you.” A psychotic grin slithers up his scarred face, and he holds out my keys again. “We should go out sometime. Have a drink and toast to our lost friend, Erica.”
You killed her screams in my head, but I’m so fucking paralyzed with fear, I’m not sure I could find enough voice to yell if he tried to do anything to me. Before he can taunt me anymore, I snatch the keys and get in my car, locking the doors as he stands next to my window like a clown in a horror movie.
Shove it in reverse.
Step on the gas.
My racing heart explodes and I nearly wet my pants. I hit a car. Oh my god! I grimace, glancing in my rearview mirror. When my gaze flicks back to Doug, he waves and walks in the opposite direction.
An hour later, I arrive home with a smashed up rear end, tear-stained cheeks, and a copy of the accident report. I told the other driver that a man threatened me, and I was just trying to get away. When I told the officer the same thing, he asked me what the man did to threaten me.
I couldn’t explain it.
I had nothing except the ramblings of a crazy woman, or at least that’s what it felt like when the officer gave me a less than sympathetic look. I wasn’t trying to get out of paying for the damage, I just wanted them to understand.
That’s been the reoccurring theme of my life—misunderstood.
“Hey, where have you been? I needed the onion an hour ago. I ran to my mom’s to borrow one,” Griffin says with his back to me as he shuts off the stove and slides a pot off the burner.
“Sorry.” I drop my purse and the other bag of groceries on the floor.
The thunk gets his full attention. He squints at the bag on the floor before glancing up at me. I don’t know where we stand after last night. Do I have the right to fall into his arms? Will he comfort me or will the mere mention of Doug’s name make him think about my messed-up memories?
“What’s wrong?” He moves toward me.
I need his arms so badly right now, but I can’t even move. Every inch of me, including my emotions, feel drained and numb.
Griffin picks up the bag of groceries, inspecting its contents before looking at me again. “You forgot the onion anyway—” He stops, more confusion distorts his face. “Have you been crying?”
“The bag broke,” I say in a monotone voice, unblinking. “And I saw Doug Mann. Then I backed into a lady’s car.”
“Jesus …” He sets the bag on the table and pulls me into the place I need to be more than anywhere else in the whole world. “Are you okay? Are you hurt? Did he do anything to you?”
I’m safe. In the arms of this man, I’m always safe. He is my lover, my protector, my place in this world where I can lose myself and find myself.
“Swayz?” He puts me at arm’s length. “Are. You. Okay?”
I blink several times, nodding, but not meaning yes. I’m not okay. I don’t think I’ll be okay as long as Doug Mann is free.
“What if I get close to him? What if we catch him before he kills again?”
Griffin shakes his head. “What are you talking about? Get close to him? Are you fucking kidding me?”
“I can’t live like this.” I take a step back, shaking my head. “I know you can’t completely understand, so I’m asking you to trust me. He’s a murderer, Griff. He’ll do it again. And he has his eyes on me because he knows I know. Living my life looking over my shoulder is no way to live.”
Griffin releases a heavy sigh while scratching the back of his neck. “Let’s move.”
“What? No. Are you crazy?”
“I can look for an opening at another dealership. We can go somewhere where there’s more job openings for you. We’re young, Swayz. We can go anywhere and do anything we want.”
“I’m not running away.” My voice escalates. “He could follow us. He’s a murderer. A dangerous man. We can’t just walk away. What if he takes another life? I can’t have that on my conscience. We need to—”
“Swayze!” He laces his hands behind his head while looking up at the ceiling, baring his corded neck. “I’ll go over to his apartment right now and end his life, but I will not let you put yourself in harm’s way. Just …” He shakes his head with another frustrated sigh. “What did he say to you?”
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