Just the man who killed her. Me … did he kill me?
Nate starts to pull away, but my fingers curl into his shirt and my arms tighten around his body.
Warm lips press to the top of my head. Strong hands embrace me, scooting me closer until I’m on his lap—straddling him, hugging him, and clinging to a past I still don’t understand.
He wants answers I can’t give. He needs recognition, but it’s lost in the depths of my mind that may never see the light of this life.
“I see Daisy, but you weren’t there. I’ve never seen her in my head before. She wasn’t me … she was just … her. Scared.”
Scared. Scared like me. Desperate to feel safe and protected.
“Why was she scared?”
Because she knew she was going to die.
I blink and more tears break free. This isn’t closure for Nate, this is torture. She hit her head, passed out, and drowned. Maybe she never woke up—never suffered. He must tell himself that every day to make each breath he takes without her feel tolerable.
He blames himself for her death. What’s in my head will destroy him. I won’t break him again. Morgan needs her father, and Nate deserves a life filled with happiness. Not regret.
I pull back, resting my hands flat on his chest. He catches my tears with his thumbs.
This isn’t right. I can’t bring myself to tell him, so I back my way out.
“She looked scared.” I shake my head. “I-I think I must have thought she was scared of someone, but it could have been the darkness, being alone, knowing she wasn’t supposed to be there by herself.”
Confusion mars his face. “How do you know Doug Mann’s name?”
“I …” I shake my head. “I … looked it up. Who um … owned the house.” I slide off his lap and stand, wiping my eyes and running my hands through my hair. “I have to go. I’m sorry about the mess. I’ll clean it up first thing in the morning.”
I bolt down the hall, grab my bag, and jog toward the door.
“Goodnight.” I shut the door behind me and sprint to my car, fumbling with my key to get it started.
From the front door, Nate studies me, dragging a frustrated hand through his wavy hair.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, shoving my car into reverse.
I can’t stop shaking. This nightmare won’t end, even with my eyes wide open. I need to be Swayze. I need to forget the images in my mind. I need … my grocery store guy.
“Hey, Swayz. How was your day?” Griffin looks up from the motorcycle. I think it belongs to our new neighbor, but I don’t know for sure, and I don’t care.
My hands ball into fists to stop the shaking, but it doesn’t help. It feels like my entire existence wants to unravel. With every breath, my lungs wage war against the pounding of my heart.
“Swayz?” Griffin’s gaze tracks me as I brush past him.
I hit the down button on the garage door.
Griffin wipes his hands on a grease-stained towel as he climbs to his feet. “Baby, what’s going on?”
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Forget. Let go. Be Swayze.
This life. This is my life. This has to be my life. I can’t live without this life.
I flip off the lights, leaving only a dim splash of illumination from the streetlight filtering in from the high window off to my right.
“Swayz … what’s going—”
I crash into him, kissing him like I need his breath to fill my lungs. My hands fist his shirt.
He tries to pull away. “What’s going on?”
I lift onto my toes to kiss him again.
He grabs my shoulders to stop me. “Swayze, what’s wrong?”
I suck in a shaky breath, but it doesn’t stop the tears. “I need you … if you love me … you’ll give me this without question.”
His brow knits tightly. “I’m a mess.” He is. He’s covered in sweat and grease.
My words fight past the pain, coming out as a strangled whisper. “So am I …”
“Swayz …” He shakes his head slowly.
Even if he can’t understand, he can feel. And right now I know he feels my pain.
My hand slides along his stubble-covered jaw and over a black smudge until my fingers curl around his bandana, pulling it off to reveal his newly-shaven head. “Make me forget that anything exists beyond these four walls.”
I let his gaze wash over me, like a savior baptizing me, cleansing my sins and restoring my faith. His love is my religion.
Griffin releases my shoulders and clutches the hem of my shirt, peeling it over my head. I do the same to him. I remove my bra, and he palms my head, taking my mouth with hunger. This man kisses me like the ocean claims the shore, knocking me back until I surrender, pulling me into blinding depths, swallowing me whole. And just like that … the world disappears.
We lose all that doesn’t matter—our clothes, yesterday’s memories, tomorrow’s plans. On a dirty drop cloth, over a cold floor, surrounded by musky sweat and grease … We embrace each other and these stolen minutes. The last two people on Earth.
His lips move down my body as I arch my back, closing my eyes.
Our fingers thread together, clenching, claiming, holding on to this moment.
He sits up, pulling me onto him, nose to nose as he whispers, “I’m never letting you go.”
Four walls and this man—nothing else matters.
My hips rock into his, feeling him deep inside of me. “I love you now …” I close my eyes and move with his body. Kissing my way up his neck, I stop at his ear, “I will love you always.” My eyes squeeze shut, forcing out a few residual tears. “Please don’t ever forget it.”
We cling to each other. Maybe if we’re strong enough, we can make it through the storm without being ripped apart, stranded—completely alone.
God … I hope we’re strong enough.
“Good morning.” Griffin hands me a cup of coffee as I drop my tired ass onto the kitchen chair.
I smile—the shy kind that’s afraid to confront what happened over the past ten hours. Last night rivaled the make-up sex we had after Griffin’s birthday. He didn’t want to talk then. He wanted to take. Looking back, I think he wanted to prove that nothing mattered outside of us.
Last night I begged for silence and the physical reassurance that I’m still that woman he fell in love with. I’m still that woman enraptured in all things Griffin Calloway. Last night I needed to lose myself in us, overwhelmed with the need to shut out everything beyond our four walls.
Today I will return to Nate’s house with its haunting memories of me clinging to him, the familiarity of his embrace, and the most haunting part of all … I think Nate may be right.
Griffin inspects me in silence as he sips his green protein drink.
My lungs reach for a breath of courage. I owe him an explanation. He gave me everything last night, without question. “If I walk away from this job…” I slowly trace the pad of my finger over the rim of my coffee mug “…it won’t change the memories I have of the past.”
His expression hardens ever so slightly. Silent and stoic.
“I don’t want you to get mad at me. But I don’t want to lie to you either. This walking-on-eggshells thing won’t work forever. You ask me about my day, and…” I shake my head, shake off the pain that’s suffocating me “…I know it’s not small talk. You really want to know about my day—about me.”
I reach across the table, resting my hand on his. He stares at our hands with a blank look.
“And I love you so much for that. But this other person in my head keeps stealing minutes from my day, making it her day. So when you ask me that question, I feel like the truth will pull us apart, but so will a lie. So …” I shrug. “It hurts—” Tears burn my eyes, but I don’t give them life. “The thought of losing you is unbearable.”
His gaze crawls along the table between us, making its way to meet mine. I see my whole world in his eyes, but when I close mine, I see many worlds. Immutable images. I feel deep love and loss. And I hear voices that won’t be silenced.
“Right now … who are you?” he asks.
I ease out of my chair and slide my leg over his lap, putting us face to face. “I’m Swayze.”
And I am. Right now. With him. I’m Swayze Samuels. Daughter to Krista. Fiancée to Griffin. Nanny to Morgan. And employee to Professor Nathaniel Hunt.
The line is there. I can see it. But I fear that time will blur it.
“I love you.” He brushes his lips over mine.
Swayze. He loves the girl he saved in the grocery store. That’s who he wants to marry. I want to be her. She has the perfect man. A future filled with promise. A loving family. Health. Youth. Endless possibilities.
“She loves you too.” I softly kiss his top lip and then his bottom lip.
Griffin shakes his head, fingers curling into my hips. “Don’t say that. Don’t talk in some fucking third person like a schizophrenic.”
I frame his face to stop his head shaking. “I love you. I’m going to marry you.” These words are for him, but they’re also for me.
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