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She’s being a friend, someone who knows my journey so well. A true friend’s hand is always outstretched. Knowing I can take that hand whenever I need it is a comfort all of its own.

This Monday morning, I might need that hand. My knees wobble with each step I take toward Nate’s front door. The kiss on the neck Friday night left me dazed and confused. Nervous and giddy. That kiss on the neck gave me sound sleep. I didn’t wake up once reaching for Griffin. I didn’t shed a single tear over his absence, and I didn’t hate him in the morning.

Loving Griffin hurts too much. Hating him might be extreme, but when I think of him abandoning me and cutting all ties, all means of communication, the hate is just easier. But for two nights, I felt like myself again. Not the girl who lost the guy.

“You’re late,” Nate calls from the nursery.

I peek around the corner. “Two minutes.” And it’s only because it took me so long to get the nerve to open his front door.

Nate snaps Morgan’s outfit and picks her up, depositing a big smooch on her chipmunk cheek before handing her to me. “Now I’m two minutes late.” He kisses me … on the head. I don’t know what to think of these head kisses.

“So fire me, Professor.”

“I’m thinking about it, Miss Samuels.” He grabs his coat and bag while Morgan and I shadow him. “Have a good day, ladies.”

I step as close as I can to him when he gives Morgan one last kiss.

“Where’s mine.” I grin.

He lifts an eyebrow for a second before kissing me again, on the head.

“I have lips that work well for that too, ya know. Maybe you should give them a try again.”

It’s crazy to deny it any longer. Nate is my destiny, even if my heart isn’t entirely convinced. Griffin made quite the mark on it, so it could take a while to get it completely on board. But my mind makes total sense of it. We fell in love in another life. I came back into his life when he needed me. Morgan needs me. We fit.

“I think I’ve said this before, and if I haven’t actually said it, I’ve thought it a lot.”

“What’s that?”

A sad smile forms on his face. “You’re not mine to kiss. Not like that.”

I laugh. “Uh … okay. Then whose am I?”

“You know that answer.” He continues to the back door.

“No. Actually, I don’t. Last I checked, I was a single woman making my own decisions.”

After opening the door, he turns. “He left, but he loves you.”

“Loved. He loved me. And you’re right, he left me. But what he didn’t leave was any way for me to contact him—ever. I don’t know where he lives. He got a different phone number and he told his family to not give me any of that information. It wasn’t a goodbye, it was…” I glance at Morgan then back to Nate, mouthing “…a fuck off.”

Nate has these looks. Some of them make me feel like a child. Some make me feel like I’m a guilty pleasure. Some of them—specifically this one—makes me feel like I break his heart.

“Can you do me a favor? Since you didn’t listen to me when I told you to stay away from the abandoned property …”

This. When he sees me as Daisy, he gives me the heartbreaking look.

“What’s the favor?”

“Chase happiness. Never settle. Fight for what you want, not what you think you deserve. Dream big … enough for two lifetimes.”

I love him. I know Daisy loves him. But I’m certain Swayze fell for him along the way as well.

“What if you and Morgan are my dream?”

Another heartbreaking look. “I’ll see you two later.”

When later comes, I talk him into ordering Thai. We both prefer ordering in. I add it to the list of things we have in common. We play with Morgan. I stand outside of the nursery room door, listening to him read her a book. I watch TV while he grades papers on the sofa. He walks me to my car and kisses me on the head.

This happens day after day. I feel his eyes on me all the time. I know he’s trying to figure out what we’re doing. I tell myself I’m chasing happiness, still fighting with my reluctant heart.

Damn you, Griffin Calloway!

I’m not sure what Nate’s doing, but I’ve got all the time in the world to wait for him to open his eyes to the second chance right in front of him.

*

Nathaniel

By spring break, after months of avoiding Swayze’s advances toward me and months of trying to forget how my heart hammered in my chest with need and desire the day I kissed her against the wall, she starts to get a little edgy about everything.

The chaste kisses on her head.

The way I playfully warn her to keep her distance when she tries to snuggle up to me on the sofa. The way she longingly stares at me when I give her the I-could-bite-you line, like she wants me to bite her.

I want her like a friend wants his sidekick. But I also want her like a man dying to lose himself in a woman—but not in Daisy. She’s inside of Swayze. My desire is all for the physical woman that is right in front of me, the parts of her I’ve touched, the parts of her I’ve seen, and the parts of her I’ve fantasized about too many damn times.

Somewhere along the way, the man inside of me developed a strong physical attraction to this young woman.

The inappropriate thoughts.

The heated looks.

The innocent touches that make me instantly hard.

It’s all killing me because she isn’t mine.

“What should we do next week?” Swayze asks as I pull off my tie for the start of my week off. I’ve officially learned to tie a Half Windsor knot—in Swayze’s words—like a big boy. She’s so proud of me and of herself for teaching me.

“Actually, I talked with Brad, Jenna’s brother. Rachael is flying out to D.C. to spend the next week with him. Brad asked if I’d bring Morgan and hang out with them too. So I managed to get us a flight out on Sunday afternoon.”

“Three tickets?” she asks.

“Two.”

“You suck.”

“I’ll give you the week paid.” I toss my tie over the back of the chair and smile at Morgan as I unbutton the top two buttons of my shirt.

“You’re going to miss me. You’re going to wish you had Morgan’s unicorn nanny with you.”

She has no fucking idea how much I’m going to miss her.

“She needs a Swayze detox. Maybe by the end of spring break she’ll smile at me like she smiles at you.”

Like I smile at you.

“You suck.” She frowns.

Yeah, I’m going to miss this woman every day for the rest of this life.

“You said that. Get some new material.”

“You really suck. Where’s my winter bonus. I’ve never been to D.C. Would it kill you to bring the world’s best nanny with you?”

“How am I going to explain why I need the nanny with me to go visit Morgan’s aunt and uncle?”

She crosses her arms over her chest as I sit on the sofa, playing with Morgan, who’s cruising around the furniture like a champ.

“We could drop the nanny label. I could be your friend. You know, we used to be friends.”

If only …

Yeah, I want to be her friend. I want to be her everything. But it’s not our time.

“My dead friend, Daisy, or my twenty-two-year-old friend, Swayze? To their ears, both scenarios will be equally cringe-worthy.”

“So you’re never going to tell your family or Jenna’s family about us?”

“Us?” I give her a questioning brow raise. “Again, are we talking about my dead friend?”

“No. We’re talking about me, Swayze. You know, the girl you kissed. The girl you imagined giving you head after I sent you the wrong text.”

“I didn’t imagine—”

“Bull! Don’t even try that with me. Griffin told me there’s no way you weren’t thinking inappropriate thoughts. And that’s fine. Because I had inappropriate dreams about us. I looked at the picture and wondered what it would feel like to kiss those lips, run my hands through those wavy locks. And now I know because you kissed me. And I want you to do it again. But not on my head like you’d kiss the family dog. I want you to kiss me like you did against that wall over there. But this time I don’t want you to stop kissing me.”

Fuck me …

I want to just say screw it, put Morgan to bed, and take everything Swayze’s offering me. She makes me want to be selfish and indulgent. But I can’t …

“You’re not mine to kiss.”

“Stop saying that!”

I shoot her a disapproving glare as Morgan startles from the outburst like she might cry. But as soon as she sees Swayze’s small, apologetic smile, she matches it and continues on with her cruising.

“Griffin doesn’t deserve my kisses. He doesn’t want my kisses. He left me alone in the same city as the man who wanted to kill me. Why do you defend him? To ease your own guilt of not watching out for me?”

“Nothing happened to you.”

“But it could have! Stop taking credit for luck, as if you somehow knew—” Her face turns ashen, like the blood in her veins just turned to ice. A whoosh of air sweeps past her lips, and her brow tenses as if she can’t find her next breath.

***

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