Griffin studies me for a few seconds. “Okay.”
“Yeah. Okay. But I want you to go see a doctor.”
“No. A doctor who will make sure you’re …” He clears his throat and takes a hard swallow while rubbing his hand over his mouth and looking at the floor between us.
It’s heartbreaking to see him struggle to say what he wants to say.
Big brown eyes look up at me. “I want … I need to know that you’re okay. Physically.”
“I’ve had a physical.”
“Jett’s wife died of a brain tumor two years ago.”
My perpetual frown returns. A tumor has crossed my mind, but I don’t see how a brain tumor could explain this. “Sorry, I didn’t realize your boss had a wife that died.”
“I’m not sure how a brain tumor could do this. I’ve had scans before—when I was younger and too smart for my own good. They came out clear.”
“Jesus, Swayze! Can you just do this for me?” He bolts to standing.
I freeze. This is not Griffin. He’s calculated … controlled.
Caging me in with his hands resting on the railing, his brooding eyes trap me in his gaze. “Please,” he whispers while lowering his brow to mine.
The gravity of the pain on his face elicits chills along my skin and sends my heart into my throat—thick and pulsing. “I love you so fucking much.” His voice breaks as he brushes his lips over mine. “And I’m scared too.”
The following week I start my full-time position as Morgan’s nanny. Nate asks me to bring her to the university so some of his colleagues can meet her. I never saw that request coming, but I don’t hesitate to pack her up so Nate can show her off.
Nate’s entire world in the backseat.
Heavy noon-hour traffic.
My heart doesn’t beat until I’m parked in the lot outside of Nate’s building. “We made it, baby girl.” I unlatch her seat from the base and hook it onto the stroller. “Are you going to sleep all afternoon?”
As if she feels the need to answer me, she wrinkles her nose and fists at her squinted eyes and mouth before relaxing back into lullaby land. I slide down the seat’s visor to protect her from the sun shining brightly in a cloudless sky. It’s perfect today. After a long stretch of stifling heat and humidity, there’s a nice breeze delivering low eighty-degree temperatures.
“Knock knock.” I wait for Nate to glance up from his computer.
He smiles so big it steals my next breath because I’ve seen that smile a million times before in some unknown way. It’s familiar, comforting, and unforgettable. Those wavy ginger locks, mesmerizing blue eyes, and strong jaw framing his perfect smile is nothing short of gorgeous. There’s no way his female students aren’t gaga over the handsome Professor Hunt.
“Come in. How was the drive?”
I hold up my hands. “My knuckles are still white.”
He makes his way around his desk and takes Morgan out of her seat. “You don’t like to drive?”
“I’m fine driving my car with no one’s life in my hands.”
“I trust you.”
The cutest rolls have filled out on her arms and legs, but in Mr. Hockey Player’s arms, she still looks tiny.
“What?” he asks, holding her with the confidence of a seasoned dad. She nestles into his neck like it’s her favorite place in the world.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“But you have a funny grin on your face.” He eases into his desk chair and rocks her.
Trapping my lips between my teeth, I shrug.
“Tell me.” Nate eyes me playfully. Who is this guy? It’s like every day he’s a little more of the Nate I remember.
He nods, a pleasant smile still holding his lips as he gives me his full attention.
“You won’t freak out?”
“You’re a great dad, just like your dad. I know he couldn’t give you the world in a tangible way, but …” I’ve gone too far. My heart won’t stop racing like something bad is about to happen.
“But?” Nate’s head cants to the side.
Taking a slow, deep breath, I let my mouth narrate the pictures in my head. “He tried. When you were thirteen he sold a watch his father gave him so he could send you to that hockey camp in Minneapolis.”
Nate’s smile fades and his eyes divert to something on his desk—or maybe the past, the camp, the watch. “Are you sure?”
I nod several times, walking the parameter of his office lined with bookshelves and a wall of diplomas and other certificates. His gaze returns to mine when I make a quick glance back over my shoulder.
“I didn’t know that.”
Pressing his lips to the top of Morgan’s head, he mumbles, “I don’t need to.”
“Because you think I’m making it up?” I slide my purse off my shoulder and onto the floor by the stroller and sit in one of the two chairs opposite his desk.
“I believe you.”
“You do?” Those two words shoot from my mouth like confetti.
He chuckles. “I cheated on that Spanish test. The answers were written on my leg, just above the large hole in the knee of my jeans. I never did learn Spanish and the risks of getting caught were too high, so I switched to French.”
“Funny. I didn’t know that.”
His expression goes slack, and he blinks quickly a few times as he looks around the room like he’s avoiding my comment.
“So … can you be home by two this Friday? I have a doctor’s appointment.”
Nate returns his attention to me as Morgan squirms and fusses. I fish her bottle out of the diaper bag, it’s still warm from heating it up just before we left. I knew she’d want to eat soon. Like we’ve been doing it forever, I hand him the bottle as soon as he shifts her into a cradled position, and I drape a burp cloth over his shoulder.
“Is everything okay? Just routine stuff, I hope.” His eyes narrow.
“Not routine. But I don’t think they’ll find anything.” I sit back down in the chair. “Griffin asked me to get my brain checked out.” I laugh.
“His boss’s wife died of a brain tumor. He’s just worried that my special ability to see into your past and those of random other people might be caused by some brain issue. I’m doing it for him.” I shrug. “That’s what you do for the people you love.”
“I’m sure you’re fine.”
“Thanks, Dr. Hunt.” I smirk and he does too.
“Oh my gosh!”
My head whips around toward the high-pitched voice. A brunette, maybe in her fifties, holds her hands over her mouth, hiding part of her gasping expression.
“She’s here.” Her voice could crack the windows.
Without a single glance in my direction, she breezes past me toward Nate and Morgan. “Nathaniel, she’s the most precious thing I have ever seen.”
“Thanks, Donna. I won’t tell your four kids that you said that.” Nate winks at her. He’s always been such a flirt.
For the love of God, I think. Again, I just know this about him.
“Can I steal her for a bit? Thea, Madeline, and Grace are down the hall. They’ll want to see her too.”
I love that he doesn’t instantly pass her off. A flash of conflict ghosts across his face as he stares at his daughter. So protective.
“We’re all moms, Nathaniel. She’ll be in good hands. I’ll guard her with my life.”
“I can take her to see them.”
“No, no. You have a student waiting for you.” She finally gives me a quick glance and polite smile.
Nate’s gaze shifts to me. The introduction, the correction to her incorrect assumption, never comes. After a pregnant pause, he looks up at Donna. “Don’t touch her hands unless you wash yours. Don’t let her suck in air from her bottle. And if Marietta shows up, don’t let her hold Morgan because I don’t want my daughter smelling like cigarette smoke.”
Before he gets the last few words out, Donna nabs Morgan, the bottle, and the burp cloth from his shoulder. “Don’t fret, Nathaniel. I’ll take good care of little Miss Morgan,” she says in a baby-talking voice while walking out of his office.
I want to chase after her and make sure they do in fact wash their hands before touching Morgan’s hands, and tip her bottle at the right angle so she doesn’t suck in air, and guard her from chain-smoking Marietta. It’s scary how much I love that little girl who isn’t mine. I have lots of experience watching children, but I’ve never felt so attached to one as fast as I have with Morgan.
“She’ll be fine.” I smile at Nate.
The wrinkles lining his forehead ease a bit.
“So, Professor Hunt, maybe you should teach your student something.” My fingers drum on the arms of the chair.
His shoulders relax as the last bit of worry drains from his posture and his mouth forms that handsome smile.
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