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He let his jeans slide to his knees and shoved his briefs down on the side where the dragon’s tail snaked over his holy-fucking-perfect ass and halfway down his leg.

I told myself to close my mouth and stop panting, but my body didn’t respond.

Griffin glanced back over his shoulder. My gaze shot to his, and I snapped my mouth shut, but I’m pretty sure he saw the trail of saliva running down my chin.

“Female dragon. I’m thinking of naming her Swayze.”

I barked out a laugh. He grinned while sliding his briefs back over his ass and pulling up his jeans. He faced me again, but his jeans weren’t fastened. I told myself not to stare at his erection straining his briefs, but it wasn’t my fault God gave me twenty-twenty vision and a naturally curious mind.

Seconds or maybe a decade later, Griffin’s voice broke my trance. And his words started what became Griffin and Swayze—sex on demand. Every. Single. Day. “Tell me to fasten my jeans and put on my shirt.”

Like a shameless hussy, I let my hungry gaze take its leisurely time meeting his eyes. “Why the hell would I do that?”

He kneeled in front of me and peeled off my jeans. My legs shivered. Teeth chattered. I had never been so scared to want something so much.

“Are you going to kiss me anytime soon?”

I didn’t usually—okay, ever—get naked with a man before the first kiss.

Griffin gripped my hips, jerking me to the edge of the sofa. I sucked in a sharp breath, grabbing his biceps to steady myself. His erection pressed between my legs, shielded by two thin layers of cotton.

Our lips lingered a breath from touching. His hands slid up my back, deft fingers unhooking my bra.

I leaned in to kiss him before my heart exploded. He pulled back just enough to deny me. I tried again. And again he denied me, wearing the devil’s grin.

“Griff …” I whispered. “Kiss me.”

Keeping his sable eyes locked to my gaze, he eased my bra off my arms. My eyes fought to stay open when his hand cupped my breast.

He just looked at me with what could only be described as wonder. After years of scrutiny, someone was looking at me like they didn’t need to figure me out.

“Please …”

He nodded slowly, his gaze sweeping over every inch of my face. “I think I will.” Pearly whites flashed a second before he kissed me.

For a girl who didn’t believe in fate or anything written in the stars, I knew with one kiss that I would never want to kiss another man again.

But I did. I kissed Nate. And it didn’t feel entirely wrong, but it should have. So I have to let my grocery store guy go be someone else’s perfect man. No one will ever love him more than I love him, but maybe they’ll love him better.

I don’t try to stop the tears or even wipe them from my face. Everything is too numb. Everything except my heart. It feels like it’s gone ten rounds in the ring. Would someone please just knock me out already?

Griffin finally looks at me. He grimaces, pumping his fisted hands several times. “Who are you?”

I swallow, trying to keep the pain from suffocating me. “I don’t know.”

Sliding off the stool, he pulls in a slow breath that expands his chest, pushing back his shoulders. He’s always had this confidence I can’t imagine finding in a million lifetimes.

He steps toward me. I step toward him. His knuckles brush my tear-stained cheek. “Remember when you were mine?”

I choke on more sobs, making it impossible for him to catch all of my tears. Nothing good can come from telling Griffin that Nate kissed me. It feels cruel if I’m not leaving with him—if we’re over. But that’s not us. I tell him about my day, and he tells me about his. We share the highs and lows.

I should have shown him that picture. I should have told him how confused and curious it made me feel.

Griffin was my person. And if we carry pieces of other people with us, woven into our souls, then I will take part of him with me to my next life. And if I touched him the same way, I don’t want us to end on a lie, hidden beneath a secret.

“Nate kissed me, Daisy. His friend.”

His jaw steels, face distorts into anger. But nothing but pain shows in his eyes. “Did you kiss him back?”

“Yes.” My mind screams at me. Tell him it wasn’t you who kissed Nate back, tell him it was Daisy.

I don’t say any more. There’s no way to make this okay for him. No excuse. No begging for forgiveness or mercy. I want to always remember Griffin as the most honest, purest part of myself.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?” he says with a tight voice.

For my insecurities. For being a bad housekeeper. For shrinking your wool shirt. For putting ginger in the Alfredo sauce. For forgetting your birthday. For vomiting on you. For taking the wrong job. For kissing Nate.

“I’m sorry you got in the wrong line at the grocery store.”

“Jesus …” he whispers as pain fills his eyes.

I slip off my engagement ring. “You are unequivocally the greatest moment of my life.” Sliding the ring into his hand and closing his fingers around it, I lift onto my toes and press my lips to the angle of his jaw. “I love you, Grocery Store Guy.” Releasing his hand, I step back and smile through my tears. “Always.”

Leaving my heart at his feet, I turn and leave.

Okay, Daisy, finish this.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Griffin

I lost her.

It’s a special kind of Hell. But I can’t compete with something that took place before I took my first breath.

I’m not sure what will ease the pain. Something tells me this isn’t the answer, but for lack of a better idea, this is all I’ve got.

“Griffin …” Professor Took Something That Was Mine doesn’t even pretend to be surprised to see me waiting at the door to his office. “I have a class in fifteen minutes.”

I glance around at the hallway congested with students. “This won’t take long.”

He nods at me. It’s slow, like he knows exactly why I’m here. “I’m sure it won’t,” he mutters, opening his office door. He takes three steps inside. I shut the door behind us. The second he turns, I land one fist into his gut. As soon as he buckles over, I land another fist into his face. Stumbling back a few steps, he presses his fingers to his bloodied lip.

Not an ounce of shock on his face.

Not a bit of rage in his posture.

Not a single balled fist.

Not the breath of a word.

“You want her to be someone she’s not.” I shake out my fist and ball it again because I’m not sure if I’m done bloodying his face. “So you can kiss her. You can fuck her. You can pretend she’s your baby’s mama. But it won’t bring her back. She’s dead. You’re chasing a ghost. One day Swayze is going to wake up and realize she settled for a borrowed life. And that’s the best case scenario.” I shake my head, clenching my jaw. “If you let that shrink try to bring back memories … it will destroy her. And that’s on you.”

Thunk!

I land a final hook into his jaw. He bounces back like he’s taken more than a few jabs to the face. “Fuck you for taking my whole goddamn world.”

I turn and grab the door handle.

“She doesn’t love me,” he says.

Gripping the handle tighter while pinching my eyes shut, I let his words die behind me. “I know.”

*

Swayze

“Hey, Sweetie. What a surprise—”

The second my mom opens the door, I fall into her arms. I let every single emotion go. “I-I lost h-him.”

“Oh, Swayze …” She hugs me, stroking the back of my hair.

“Why …”

She pulls back, cupping my face that’s contorted into an ugly cry. All of my heartbreak reflects on her face. “Why what?”

“Why can’t I be normal?” I choke on another sob. “M-my whole l-life … I just wanted … to be normal.”

Kissing my forehead, she hugs me again. I used to think she could make everything better with a magical hug.

I used to think the same thing about Griffin’s embrace. But the demons inside of me are untouchable. They demand my attention. I’m a slave to their intentions.

“Sit. Let’s figure this out.”

If only …

I sit in the leather recliner, and she kneels in front of me, handing me several tissues before resting her hand on mine. When she squeezes it, it wrings out more tears.

“Sherri told me about Griffin finding the picture.”

I nod. God, I love her for not giving me the I-told-you-so look.

“He’s moving.” I sniffle, blotting my eyes.

“Sherri said he wants you to go with him.”

Another nod. “But I can’t.”

“Swayze … you can. I don’t want you to move, but after talking with Sherri, I think Griffin’s right. If it’s going to work, you need a fresh start. You need to choose a life.”

“I can’t. Doug Mann murdered me. And he’s going to do it again if I don’t do something.”

She cringes. I know talking about myself as Daisy in first person must sound crazy. But I can no longer separate the two.

“I have to let Dr. Albright try hypnosis on me. If I can remember all the details, then they can arrest him.” I shake my head. “I can’t live my life looking over my shoulder. I can’t run.”

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