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Leaning forward, I press my lips to Griff’s abs. My hands surrender the blanket to the floor as I stand slowly. Closing my eyes, I let my lips find the same path up his torso they’ve taken so many times before, following my favorite lines of muscle and ink. I don’t need to see it; I’ve felt it a million times.

“Ask me again,” I murmur over his collarbone before lifting onto my toes to kiss his neck.

His fingers dive into my hair as he releases a low groan. “Who are you?”

My lips savor the sharp angle of his jaw as my arms wrap around his neck, pressing my bare chest to his.

“Again …” I grin against his cheek.

He fists my hair with one hand while his other hand slides down my back, grabbing a handful of my ass.

I grunt from the sting of his firm grip.

He grins through gritted teeth. “Answer me.”

I bite his lower lip, tugging it hard until he grunts and flinches. “You know the answer.”

His eyes narrow. “Samantha?”

I attempt to snag his lower lip again with my teeth.

He pulls back, increasing the pressure of his grip on my ass. “Swayze?”

I shake my head. Our gazes lock and the playfulness dies. I hope he sees that I’m laying myself open for him because of who I am.

Please see me …

“Who?”

Tears fill my eyes. I need him to see it. I need him to say it. I need him to believe it. “Griff …” my lips whisper over his.

His eyes redden a bit when I glance up, keeping my lips hovering over his.

He swallows hard. “Mine …” That one syllable breaks into two. “You’re mine.”

“Yours.”

He kisses me.

It’s closure.

A promise.

An affirmation. In this lifetime, my heart—my soul belongs to Griffin.

He lowers me to the bed. “I haven’t had sex since December. I hope I remember how this works.”

His words slay me. Almost as much as that grin. I didn’t ask. It wasn’t my business. But when a man loves a woman like Griffin loves me, he leaves no room for doubt or insecurity.

He towers over me on his hands and knees. And I feel protected. Safe. And loved.

Griffins are mythical creatures—half eagle, half lion. They are believed to be loyal and protective of treasures and priceless possessions.

What were the chances of finding a grocery store guy and a Griffin?

Well done, Fate. Well done.

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

Griffin

It’s been a year to the day since I got my second chance. I didn’t fuck it up. It was on a trip back home to visit our family in Madison. My parents planned dinner on the deck, yard games, and soaking up the end of summer before Swayze started her first official year as a full-time third grade teacher.

“Don’t get sidetracked. Your mom only needs three things, and protein powder is not one of them.” Swayze gave me a playful nudge with the basket.

I narrowed my eyes at her, but my grin jumped in and ruined my scowl.

We grabbed strawberries, hamburger buns, and lemonade. I took a fake phone call as we went through checkout lane number three. She loaded the items onto the conveyor belt. I handed her some cash and said a few okays and uh-huhs to absolutely no one. When she took a step forward after the person in front of us finished paying, I winked at the cashier.

The cashier winked at someone over in customer service. While Swayze zoned into her phone, I pulled out a ring—the ring—and got down on one knee.

The person at customer service spoke over the loud speaker, reading off a sheet of paper I gave them the day before. “Attention shoppers, there is a man down on one knee in checkout three.”

Swayze’s head snapped up at the checkout number on the register light, and then her attention landed on me, holding out the ring.

The customer service person continued, “Epic proposal alert. I repeat, epic proposal alert. Griffin Calloway is about to ask Swayze Opal Samuels to marry him.”

Swayze turned fire engine red, maybe from the loud speaker, maybe from the fact that I gave away her whole name. Yes, Opal after her grandma—as if Swayze wasn’t awesome enough. Her words, not mine. Initials SOS.

“Will she say yes? Let’s wait and see …” The speaker paused.

“Will you marry me, Swayz? I want it all, and I want it with you.”

She stood there with one hand over her mouth and the other hand over her chest.

And then the thing I couldn’t plan just … happened. One of the shoppers in line behind us started chanting. “Say yes. Say yes …” and everyone else joined in.

So. Fucking. Perfect.

I don’t think she could have spoken had she wanted to, but she nodded. I slipped the ring on her finger. The crowd cheered.

The customer service person came back on the speaker. “We have a yes! This is the most epic proposal in the history of proposals. Nothing botched up about this, ladies and gentlemen. Congratulations, Griffin and Swayze.”

I stood. She threw her arms around me.

“Did I nail it this time? Will this be the proposal you tell our kids and grandkids?” I murmured in her ear.

She still couldn’t speak, so she just nodded a half dozen times.

*

Swayze

“I have something for you. It’s actually a gift from your groom,” Mom says.

I turn, smoothing my hands over the rich silky white fabric of my wedding gown. “Griffin got me a gift?” I deflate a little. I didn’t get him anything.

She adjusts my delicate diamond drop necklace. “But your makeup is perfect. We’re fifteen minutes away from you walking down the aisle. I need you to hold it together.”

“Why would I not hold it together?”

“Just …” She shoves a wad of tissues in my hand. “Do your best. I’m going to get ready to be seated.”

I laugh. “You can’t be seated until you walk me down the aisle.”

She smiles and opens the door to the room. “Someone else has been requested to give you away.”

I lean to the side to see into the hall. In walks a little two-year-old angel in a red dress with tiny white flowers around the neck.

I clench the tissues in my hand. Sorry, Mom, I’m going to need them. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen her except in photos.

“Morgan.”

She stops, clearly no longer recognizing me, and turns. Then just to bring out ALL of the tears, Nate walks around the corner. I haven’t seen or talked to him since I left the cemetery. He sends photos of Morgan. That’s it.

“I heard you needed an arm to hold to get down the aisle. I also heard you didn’t have a flower girl. That’s not right.”

I press my fisted hand to my mouth, tissues ready for me to blink. The safest bet is to simply not breathe.

Nate’s wearing a black suit and a red tie that matches Morgan’s dress. Blue eyes make a full inspection of me. And that grin … it’s perfect.

“This life looks beautiful on you.”

I laugh, but it comes out as a little sob.

Morgan lifts her hands up. Nate picks her up. She gives him that adoring look, the one I always wanted for him.

“Hi.” I find one word that I can say without crumbling.

“Hi.” He grins.

The familiar no longer haunts me. He will forever live inside my soul, next to Daisy. He will forever know how far Griffin went to give me this life.

Nate and Morgan are my family. They left their fingerprints all over my heart. I feel incredibly honored to have been touched by them.

“Tell me you’re even half as happy as you look.”

“In this lifetime…” I grin “…I’m certain no man has ever made me as happy as Griffin.”

Nate nods. I don’t see anything but true love for me—for my life.

“Thank you.” I step closer and stretch up to kiss Morgan’s cheek and then Nate’s cheek.

“For what?” he asks.

“For not letting me be yours.”

Nate’s lips pull into a tiny grin. “I knew you deserved a real boyfriend.”

A real boyfriend.

I can’t predict the future. And I don’t want to, but I’m certain those three words will tie us together for eternity.

“So we’re leaving tomorrow,” he says.

“Disney?”

He laughs. “No. The world.”

Now I laugh. “That’s a bit broad. Is that what your airline tickets say?”

“When Jenna was pregnant with Morgan, we agreed that we would pause our careers and take her around the world. Let her learn from experience. Be a citizen of the world. Cultural immersion.”

“Whoa … so you’re …”

He nods. “Taking Morgan to experience life.”

My smile feels like it could crack my face. “I’m speechless. And really proud of you for doing this without Jenna.”

“It feels right.” He kisses Morgan’s head which prompts her to hug his neck like she’s conditioned to give back every bit of love he gives her—times a hundred.

“Ready?” The wedding coordinator peeks in the room, holding a little basket full of red and white petals for Morgan in one hand and my all red flower bouquet in her other hand.

I turn and make one last inspection in the mirror, glancing up to see Nate’s reflection and his huge grin. After fixing my eye makeup and lipstick, I turn. He offers his arm.

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