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“I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too, Swayze.”

I start to shut the door.

“Swayze?”

“Yeah?”

Tears fill her eyes. “You’ve exceeded my expectations.” She bats the tears away and swallows hard. “I’m so proud of you. And if your father were still alive, he’d say the same thing too.”

Well shit. I thought I was going to squeak by without actual goodbye tears. I guess not.

“Thank you.”

*

I pull out onto the street and think about all the goodbyes. They still suck. Every time. But that doesn’t deter me from making one last stop before I leave town.

“Swayze!” Sherri lights up with surprise.

“Hi.” I step inside.

She hugs me. “How have you been? We’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too. I’m actually just on my way out of town. I wanted to say goodbye.”

“Your mom said you were leaving. She didn’t tell me where you’re going.” Sherri frowns. “But that’s fair.”

Griffin. She’s talking about him and his secrecy.

“There’s nothing to tell.” I shrug. “I’m just following the road until I find a place to land. I don’t have a job lined up yet. No house. Nothing. Just me and the road … and endless possibilities.”

“Oh … well, you be careful.”

“I will.”

“Hey, look who’s here.” Scott comes down the stairs and pulls me in for a hug.

“Girls, Swayze is here. Come say hello,” Sherri yells out back.

The girls rush into the house, practically bowling me over with big hugs. “Where have you been?” Sophie asks.

“Been busy. That’s all. I’ve missed you.”

“Swayze came by to say goodbye. She’s moving,” Sherri says.

“Where are you moving to?” Chloe asks.

“I don’t know. I’m just taking the journey wherever it leads me.”

“I’m so jealous.” Hayley gives Scott and Sherri this look. They roll their eyes.

“Griffin’s coming tomorrow. You’re going to miss him.”

Everyone frowns at Sophie revealing this to me.

I smile. “It’s fine. Tell him hi from me.”

A day. I’m missing him by one day. I could stay. But … I’m not going to.

Fate … I have to believe in it for once. I have to believe it’s got something really great in store for me.

“We will.” Sherri gives me a sad smile.

“Great. So…” I jab my thumb toward the door “…I’d better get on the road.”

We share final hugs and lots of goodbyes. I fight every inclination to cry. I want to be strong for them. I want to be strong for me. But more than anything, I want them to be able to tell Griffin that I’m fine.

I am. I am fine.

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

It’s been two weeks since I set out on this epic journey of self-discovery. I still have no clue who I am, but I’ve enjoyed traveling without a destination and living without expectations.

I’ve managed to get a few design jobs done from hotel rooms along the way. Until I find a teaching job, I need to keep some steady income to support my wanderings.

“What brings you to Salt Lake City?” the apartment manager asks me as I walk around the studio apartment with the best view.

“The mountains.” I laugh. “I don’t know if I’ll stay, but since you’re offering a six-month lease … I think it’s worth a try.”

“You won’t leave.” She winks. “It’s yours if you want it.”

I turn away from the window. “I want it.”

*

I sleep on a cot the first night since I put my furniture in storage until I found a permanent dwelling. The next morning, I call my mom to give her an update. She’s pretty excited about coming to visit me soon.

After calling the moving company, I head out on this gloriously sunny morning to grab some essentials. I’m just happy to not be hopping from one hotel to the next.

Six months.

Salt Lake City has six months to make me fall in love with it.

“I’m already there,” I say to myself, giving the mountain range off in the distance a big smile. Yeah, I love this city. It’s new. It’s big. It’s exciting. And it’s mine.

I’m seriously thinking of changing my name to make this new start a truly fresh one.

Abigail, Abby.

Elizabeth, Beth, or Lizzy.

Jennifer, Jenn.

A good three or more syllable name that has an easy nickname. Maybe I’ll keep Swayze as a middle name out of respect for my parents.

“Samantha, Sam. Ha! Samantha Swayze Samuels.” I snort, as I get out of the car.

I grab a small cart at the entrance. Let’s face it, I’m not going to cook at home that much, but a few staples are a must, like coffee, maybe some wine, chocolate … oh, chips too.

I meander down every aisle, finding more than I had on my staple list. Then I head to the checkout with my overflowing small cart. I should have chosen a big one.

“I need to change my tape,” the cashier says to me before I start unloading my groceries. “Tanya can help you on aisle three.”

I nod, backing my cart out and pushing it two aisles over.

“Shit …” It’s a deep, frustrated grumble.

I freeze. That voice. I’m afraid to look up, but I do it anyway.

The gentleman in front of me in Tanya’s line, aisle three, is giving himself a pat down. “Dammit … I think I left my wallet at home. How the hell did I do that?” With his chin tipped down, he rubs a frustrated hand over his face.

It takes me a few delayed seconds to realize this is not a dream. I fish my credit card out of my wallet and hand it to the cashier. “Here. It’s on me.”

The gentleman eases his head up like any sudden movement could trigger an explosion.

I know the feeling.

He’s handsome. And familiar. The hair is longer but still buzzed short. I notice a new tattoo on his left arm. It looks like a green leaf. Marijuana? No. I actually think it’s kale.

I grin, flicking my gaze up to meet his.

“I have over a hundred dollars in groceries,” he says, wearing the biggest damn smile I’ve ever seen.

“I see that.” I hold up my bag of potato chips. “Two for five. A lot cheaper than that fresh produce and raw nut crap in your bags.”

“How do you know what’s in my bags?”

I lift a single shoulder. “Just a hunch.”

“I’ll need a signature,” Tanya says.

I give him a playful nudge so that he moves out of my way. He’s blocking the credit card reader. My whole body has a whoa-what-the-hell moment when it feels the two seconds of familiar heat from his arm touching mine.

I don’t give him a second glance. He’ll see that heat settling in my cheeks, so I slip my card into my pocket and start loading my groceries onto the conveyor belt.

“Thank you,” he says.

“Mm-hm.” I nod, keeping my back to him.

He leaves the store, and I can breathe again.

“You’re blushing,” Tanya says. “That’s okay.” She pats her face. “I am too. He was hawt! And that was crazy nice of you to buy a stranger’s groceries.”

“No biggie. He would have done the same.”

“You sure about that?”

“Pretty sure.” I smile at her.

Tanya shakes her head. “I’m not so sure. Most guys that look like that are too self-absorbed to do something as selfless as pay it forward.”

“I don’t know.” I swipe my card again to pay for my groceries. “Maybe. But I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

When the entrance doors slide open, I spot the recipient of my generosity leaning against the back of my car with his arms crossed over his chest. Yes, looking hawt!

He pushes off the back of it as I get closer with my cart. I press the button and the trunk pops open.

“You have a lot of groceries here for someone just passing through town.” He loads my sacks into the trunk for me.

“Ya think?” I grin as he shuts the trunk.

He pulls out his long receipt. “You have a pen?”

I nod.

“Write your name and number on the back of this, so I can repay you.”

I trap my bottom lip between my teeth, controlling my grin. He does the same. There’s an explosive energy between us that hasn’t faded one bit in all these months.

I dig through my purse, internally giggling at fate. After I find a pen, I take the receipt from him and rest it on the car to write my name and number. It’s barely legible, my hand is shaking so much.

He reads it when I hand it back to him, a small grin playing with his mouth. “Samantha, huh?”

I nod, biting back my grin.

“You like your name?”

I nod again, several times quickly.

“Huh.” He shrugs, folding the receipt and sliding it into his front pocket. “Kind of a boring name for a girl like you. Don’t you think?”

“I like boring. Nothing wrong with boring.”

He gives me a thoughtful nod and a furrowed eyebrow, but he plays the game. I love him for playing the game.

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