“I overreacted with my birthday.”
Rubbing my forehead, I chuckle. “Because I was excited about asking you to move in with me. Because you caught me completely off guard. Because I was having a moment.” I hold my hands out. “I don’t know, Swayz, because I’m fucking human. You put me on this pedestal, and I’m never going to live up to what’s in your head. Sometimes I’m going to be short-tempered and unreasonable. But I’m not going to carry around some fucking picture of another girl!”
Again, I’m showing her my imperfections. I’m showing her my love disguised as jealousy and my pain disguised as anger.
She rubs her lips together, focusing on the floor between us. “I’m sorry.”
I know she is. But it’s not what I need to hear.
“Do you want to know the places Jett can find me a new job?”
Her head shakes, but she doesn’t look at me. Grabbing the bucket of cleaning supplies, she keeps her gaze on her feet all the way to the bathroom.
The door clicks.
“Fuck you, Morgan Daisy Gallagher,” I whisper.
“You’re still here.” I rub my eyes and yawn as I pour a cup of coffee that my non-coffee drinker fiancé made for me.
I don’t deserve him. But I want him.
“It’s snowing pretty good out today. I’ll drive you to work and pick you up.” He rinses out his smoothie glass in the sink.
I don’t deserve him. But I want him.
“Thank you.” I take a sip of coffee, eyeing him over the steam. I missed those arms around me last night. As much as we want to believe that beneath the sheets our physical connection can right all wrongs in the world, it can’t.
My heart waited half the night in my throat, desperate for his touch. It didn’t have to be sex. A kiss. A brush of his hand against mine. Anything to give me the tiniest bit of reassurance that we would be okay.
Griffin turns, catching me gazing at him longingly. I take one more sip of coffee and set it on the counter. “I’ll grab my socks so we can go. I don’t want you to be late to work.”
His lips pull into a smile. A barely-detectable one. It’s the kind of smile a stranger on the street might give me if we happened to make brief eye contact.
Is that what we are now? Strangers?
Does Griffin look at me and wonder who I am? The girl he met in the grocery store would follow him absolutely anywhere. That girl would never carry a photo of some other guy in her pocket.
I don’t deserve him. But I want him.
He glances at his watch.
I take the hint and hustle to grab my socks. Griff looks like all kinds of sexy waiting for me at the door with his jacket on and a black beanie on his head.
“Okay.” I sling my bag over my shoulder.
He takes my hand and it nearly stops my heart. “I shoveled the drive, but it’s still slick.”
We step outside and I squeeze his hand, not because it’s slick. I squeeze it because I don’t want to let go. Because I’m dying inside. Because it’s how my heart feels.
There’s nothing I can do to make this pain go away—to make her go away. So I watch the snow fall as cars creep along the white streets and listen to the radio, filling the awkward space between us. He pulls into Nate’s driveway that’s been cleared as well.
I unfasten my seatbelt. “Thanks for the ride.”
He doesn’t say anything. Instead, he gets out, comes around, and opens my door. And I fall in love with him even more than I thought was possible. Griffin doesn’t send me a dozen roses on my birthday. He hands me a single petal every day. Sometimes it’s a look. Sometimes it’s a whisper. And sometimes it’s opening my door, helping me out, and holding my hand all the way to the top of the steps.
“Five?” Griffin releases my hand and slips his hands in the pockets of his coat.
“Five.” I lift my shoulders to my ears to block the wind.
He nods, turns, and walks down the steps.
I drop my bag by the front door, make my way down the four steps, and throw my arms around his neck. “You’re my favorite person in the whole world. My love … my friend … my grocery store guy.” I bury my face into the warmth of his neck. “Know that. Always know that.”
He doesn’t hug me back. And that’s okay. He’s dropping me off on the doorstep of the man whose picture he found in my pocket. This is on me. All of it. He’s mine to love or mine to lose.
Without meeting his gaze—because I know it would break me—I pull away and run up the stairs, grabbing my bag before disappearing behind the front door. Leaning my back against it, I try to calm my breath, holding back the tears.
“I’m glad to see you got a ride,” Nate calls from the kitchen.
I slip off my coat and boots.
“Good morning. How were the roads?” he asks.
I smile at little Miss Morgan working the sloth crawl. “Typical early winter snow. Slick. And riddled with drivers sliding into each other. It’s Wisconsin, not Texas. How do people forget their winter driving skills so easily?”
Nate hands me a cup of coffee. “Eight more inches expected later today. It’s going to make for a fun commute home.”
“Thanks.” I take a sip. “Good thing I have a driver today.”
I chuckle, shaking my head. “I don’t think you’d say that if you knew what the last twelve hours have been like for me.”
“Yeah.” Setting the mug on the counter, I turn my attention to Morgan. She grins when I get down on the floor with her, tempting her with a toy. When I start to speak, my voice cracks. It’s raw. Very raw. Clearing my throat, I start again like I’m reporting the news instead of sharing my anguish. “Griffin wants me to quit and move away with him.”
After a few seconds of silence, I look over my shoulder. Maybe Nate didn’t hear me. His brows are drawn so tightly they look like one instead of two.
He heard me.
Nate nods once. “So are you giving me your notice?”
I turn back to Morgan, pivoting her the other way so she doesn’t get frustrated with her head hitting the sofa since her crawl doesn’t involve a reverse mode yet. “I don’t know. I don’t want to move. But …”
“Is it his job?”
“He doesn’t want me to pursue anymore with Dr. Albright. The hypnosis.”
“So don’t. But why does that mean you have to move?”
“Don’t? I have this person inside of me, and I don’t know her. She’s the key to putting a murderer behind bars.” I stand, picking up Morgan and bouncing her as she starts to fuss. “This isn’t like returning something to the store. Moving isn’t going to erase Daisy from my head.”
“Is that truly what he thinks?”
Glancing out the window, I blow out a slow breath. “He found the picture of you in the pocket of my jeans.” When I return my gaze to Nate, his eyebrows shoot up his forehead.
“I shouldn’t have taken it. I shouldn’t have carried it around in my pocket. A million different I shouldn’t haves, but I can’t change what’s happened. It’s just not fair of him to ask me to quit my job and leave my family because he doesn’t …” I bite back my words, with a wrinkle of pain on my face.
“He doesn’t want you near me.” Nate rubs his lips together, nodding slowly.
“I know. It’s ridiculous. And—”
“It’s not.” Sadness crinkles the corners of his eyes as they narrow a bit.
“What do you mean?”
He scoffs. “Swayze, you had a picture of another man in your pocket. Not a ninety-nine cent baseball card of your favorite player. How did you expect him to react?”
“So you think this ultimatum he’s giving me is justified?”
“Ultimatum?” He hands me Morgan’s bottle as she starts to fuss some more.
I sit in the chair and give it to her. “Yes. He didn’t suggest I quit and we move. He told me he’s leaving with or without me the first of the year.”
My jaw unhinges. “W-what are you talking about? What about Morgan? What about Doug Mann? Daisy? My mom? His family?”
“What about you?” He hikes his bag onto his shoulder. “Do you love him? Is he the one?”
Tears prick my eyes. I blink them away. “You’re defending him.”
Nate frowns, walking toward the chair. He kisses Morgan on the head. And then he kisses me on the head. I hate that I want him to do it. I hate that it feels so natural and expected. “Maybe I am.” He stands straight.
With a soft chuckle, he scratches the stubble on his chin and jaw. “If I were Griffin’s age … never mind his age. Hell, at my age, if I had a fiancée and I found a photo of another guy in her pocket, I’d hunt him down and knock his head straight off his body.”