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I backtrack several steps and follow him inside. “Who’s getting books for Christmas? Your dad?”

“Yep.” He takes the lead this time like he knows exactly where he’s going.

“I love that your dad reads so much. He’s always got his nose in a book.”

Griffin weaves through the maze of books as I sip my coffee.

“History?”

He nods, thumbing the pages of a book on World War II.

“I’m going to look through the kids’ section.”

For Morgan. But I don’t say that to him. He nods without looking at me. I meander around the kids’ book aisles, politely declining help every time an employee asks if I’m looking for anything specific.

“Don’t spill your coffee. You’re terribly accident prone.”

Fear seizes my heart, making it impossible to breathe. I back away from the voice while turning, bumping into a display. Several books fall to the floor.

Doug Mann grins that fucking psycho grin as he shakes his head. “As I was saying …”

I make a quick scan for Griffin, but he’s nowhere to be found. “Get away from me.”

Doug holds up his hands. “I’m not doing anything. Just saying hi.”

I hug my coffee cup to my chest, but I should throw it in his ugly, scarred face.

Oh. My. God.

I … she cut his face. My eyes close briefly. Behind them I see a jagged piece of rusted metal clutched in a young girl’s shaky hand.

Her hand. My hand.

“You don’t have the balls, little girl,” he taunted her.

“I want to go home. Let me go and I won’t hurt you,” her voice trembles just like her hand.

Still, I don’t see her. I only see him. I see what she saw. But I don’t feel what she felt. The only thing I feel right now is my own fear.

“Griffin!” I slap my hand over my mouth as my own cry for help startles me. I don’t remember thinking I should yell for him, it just happened.

The already quiet bookstore becomes eerily silent.

Doug takes one step back, two steps back. A few people gather around with concern etched into their faces. My wide eyes shift from Doug to the brooding man stalking up behind him.

“Hey!” Doug holds up his hands in surrender as Griffin grabs the front of Doug’s jacket and backs him out of the store.

“Are you okay?” one of the employees asks me.

I nod.

I shake my head.

I nod again.

Without answering her with actual words, I take cautious steps toward the store’s entrance. Just as I grab for the door handle, it opens.

“Let’s go.” Griffin grabs my hand.

My coffee falls to the sidewalk, splattering everywhere. When I look down, I see a hunched-over Doug Mann struggling to his knees, buckled in half, grabbing his stomach. Griffin practically drags me to the truck, opens the door, lifts me inside like I can’t do it on my own, and stalks around to get in the driver’s side.

He starts the truck. “Are you okay?”

I fold my hands so tightly I can barely feel them.

Griffin pulls out of the parking lot. “Swayze, are you all right?” His voice raises a notch.

I nod. Why I nod when I don’t mean yes is a mystery. But I seem to do it a lot. My gaze darts around the truck until his reddened knuckle on his right hand snags my full attention.

He beat a man up for me. A murderer. What if Doug comes after Griffin?

“Swayze?” Griffin’s impatience snaps me out of my thoughts.

“Yes.”

“Yes, you’re fine?” He rests his hand on my leg.

I blink and tears surrender.

“Did he hurt you?”

No. Doug didn’t hurt me. I hurt him. I cut him. She cut him and I didn’t know it until tonight. These memories demand a voice. A second chance. “No,” I whisper.

“You’re crying. Don’t lie to me. Did he hurt you? Threaten you?”

Another headshake.

Griffin sighs, but it’s the heavy kind that’s from frustration, not relief.

I can’t help it. My tears are because he’s touching me, and I fear my days of feeling him touch me are numbered. Daisy’s life isn’t fading, it’s intensifying. She’s ruining my life, and I don’t know how to stop it.

When we pull in the driveway, I hop out before Griffin pulls to a complete stop.

“Swayz?”

I run into the house, making it to the toilet just in time to vomit. As I finish brushing the yuck from my mouth and rinsing with mouthwash, Griffin appears in the doorway.

“I’m sorry he got that close to you.”

I shake my head, wiping my mouth with the towel. “You can’t live by my side.”

“It won’t happen again.”

It will. It will happen again and again until Doug seizes the opportunity to get me alone or until I find a way to prove that he’s a murderer without having to die—again—in the process.

I step closer. He shifts to the side to let me past him. I don’t want past him. I just want him.

“Touch me,” I whisper, stepping closer until the hallway wall prevents him from retreating another step.

“I can’t.” Pain settles along his brow, seeping into the depths of his eyes.

“Why?” I rest my hands on his chest, making him flinch.

“Because I’m leaving soon, and I don’t think you’re coming with me. My parents are buying the house to rent out. They’ll rent it to you if you want to stay in it.”

Sometimes emotions hit with so much force it doesn’t even take a blink for the tears to pour out in relentless streams. “Don’t go.” I choke on two little words.

“Come with me.”

I curl my hands, grabbing his shirt. “Choose me … please.”

The pain on his face sinks deeper into his forehead. “You were never a choice. It’s always been you. But I asked you to marry me, so now it’s your turn … choose us.”

I drop my head to his chest, next to my clenched fists. Emotion racks my body, but he still doesn’t touch me. I see that jagged piece of metal. The shaky hand jerks out of control, slashing Doug’s face, erasing his sadistically taunting grin, replacing it with blood and rage.

I died. I died.

The bloodied dagger drops to the floor. She runs.

I run.

Out the door. Down the rotted steps. Weaving through the brush and trees.

“He killed me!” I cry.

“Her. Not you.” Griffin says with such control.

“H-he’s going … t-to do it a-again.”

“You’re safe.”

Finally … he wraps his arms around me.

Slowly.

Tentatively.

It doesn’t matter. I’m in his embrace. And maybe it’s torturing him to let this happen, but I don’t care. I just need him. It’s desperate. It’s selfish.

It’s an illusion.

Griffin has to know this too. He has to know deep down that he can’t protect me from a killer.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Beneath the sheets, Griffin gives me his embrace. I want to pretend that we can get lost in the physical, numbing the emotional. It won’t solve anything.

He knows it.

I know it.

But as I wake in the early hours of the morning, I need more. I need him to ease the pain and hide the memories under a veil of physical pleasure.

Anything.

Minutes. Seconds.

I’ll take absolutely anything right now. Anything to make the visions in my head disappear long enough to catch my breath.

My hand covers his hand resting on my abdomen, just below the bunched-up hem of my tee. He doesn’t flinch, just even breaths ghosting the back of my head. My hand guides his down beneath the front of my panties.

His body twitches, stilling again behind me. I hear him swallow hard as my lips part to let out tiny breaths, trying to keep up with the flutter of my pulse.

My middle finger presses down on his middle finger, like playing a piano key. The calloused pad of it brushes my clit. Closing my eyes, I inch apart my legs, welcoming his touch deeper between them.

He stiffens. I try not to let his apprehension seep into my conscience, my heart. With everything I have, every last thought, every last prayer, I silently beg him to roll me toward him. Cover my body with his. Bury himself inside of me. And just … be.

He doesn’t.

But he moves his hand without me guiding him anymore. Fingers spread like he’s claiming something that should already be his; he slides two fingers inside of me.

The slow build of my panting breaths is the only sound in the room. With the heel of his hand he rubs my clit.

It’s slow, but hard and so desperately demanding. He’s giving me pleasure. I’m giving him pain. I feel it with every stab of his fingers. The pleasure builds, blinding the visions in my head.

His erection presses against my back. I need him to make me whole. Tears burn my eyes. I try to turn, desperate for his mouth on mine, but he jerks my back firm to his chest as his hand rubs hard circles over my clit, fingers as deep as they can reach. I’m a prisoner to his touch, fighting to arch my back. My hands reach behind me to grab his head. He buries his face into my neck.

As I come, his teeth sink into my shoulder until I cry.

Until I fall apart.

Until I die in this moment.

“Fuck you, Daisy,” he whispers with a hauntingly raw voice.

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