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“Some things are best left alone. I learned that the hard way. My curiosity and need to discover more led to unnecessary suffering. Early scientists sacrificed their bodies and sometimes their lives to make new discoveries. I sacrificed my mind, my emotional well-being, because my desire for more took over my natural instinct for self-preservation.”

“Hypnosis is not the answer?”

“I didn’t say that. A tool can create or destroy, depending on the hand that holds it. But we’re not talking about you. We’re talking about a young girl who doesn’t suspect she’s your childhood friend. If she figures this out and wants to go deeper, that’s her choice not yours.”

“Would you hypnotize her if it were her choice? If she asked you?”

“A moot point, young man.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I think it’s unlikely she will make the connection without being hypnotized first, which means someone else would have to convince her that she should do it.”

“And if someone did?”

Hazel wrings her hands and her eyes narrow a fraction. “Enjoy what she can freely give you. I told you before, she’s not your friend—just like your daughter is not you or her mother, no matter how much she looks or acts like you.”

I nod with understanding, but I don’t know if I can accept it yet. “When I got here you thought I was going to tell you Swayze remembered who she was in my life. Am I right?”

A sad smile steals her mouth. “I knew it was unlikely, but … yes, the explorer and the scientist in me hoped for it.”

“Thank you.” I return a similar sad smile as I stand to leave.

*

Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” greets me when I open the door. A few steps more reveal Swayze’s shaking hips and flailing arms. Her back is to me, so I don’t think this greeting is meant for me—like the text I can’t get out of my head.

Just beyond her animated dance performance, there’s a sound that’s … unfamiliar, but I like it. No, I love it.

“She’s giggling.”

“Oh!” Swayze whips around with her hand over her chest. “You scared the living daylights out of me. You can’t sneak up on people like that.”

Morgan, kicking in her swing, giggles some more. Without taking my eyes off my happy baby, I wash my hands and take her out of the swing.

“Are you giggling, sweetie?” I kiss her cheek and neck. She giggles again. I can’t remember the last time my heart felt joy this pure.

Swayze shuts off the music.

“Sorry.” I grin. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

I don’t know if her flushed face is from the dancing, the startling, or embarrassment, but it looks good on her. Daisy used to race me to the treehouse or the lake on the abandoned property. I’d press my hands to her warm cheeks and kiss her before she could catch her next breath.

“I’m going to put a bell on you. For such a big guy, you possess some stealth moves.”

“I can set the security alarm to chime.” Easing to my knees, I lay Morgan on her play mat to expend some more of her energy.

“Good idea. I’d like to know when you’re home.”

“In case you’re snooping around?” With a sly grin, I glance at her over my shoulder, expecting her to return an eye roll.

Instead, her eyes widen and her lips part.

“Were you snooping?” I’m not mad, but maybe a little surprised.

“I don’t know, Inspector, was I? Did you skip your luncheon and speech to monitor the nanny cam?”

Clever girl. Was she snooping? Or is she offended that I asked?

“No.” I chuckle. “I wasn’t watching you today.”

“Besides, you told me to snoop away.”

“This is true. Did you find anything exciting? Spare change in the sofa? The code to my safe? My watch … yeah, did you find my watch? It’s a gray sports watch. I lost it about six months ago. I have no idea what happened to it.”

Swayze laughs. It’s not Morgan’s giggle, but it makes me feel close to the women I have loved and lost. Daisy laughed like laughing was her hobby. Jenna laughed all the time too—usually at me. She also asked me about my day, and in the same breath she said, “Did you make someone smile today?” It was her positivity that shined. I needed to chase that sunrise, the hope for something beyond the love that I’d lost.

“No watch. But I see you still keep nudie girl magazines under your mattress.”

I don’t.

“Your recollection of my past isn’t one hundred percent accurate. The magazines under my bed weren’t nudie girls, they were Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions.”

Morgan giggles. I love this. A smiley, giggling baby brings out the buffoon in even the manliest of men—of which I like to consider myself. I rub my nose on her belly, baby-talking, “No they weren’t. Your daddy did not have nudie girl pictures under his bed. No he did not.”

“Then why hide them under your bed?”

“I didn’t want my dad to see them.”

“But if the women weren’t naked, then why hide them?”

“So he didn’t give me grief for having them.” I give her a look, the one that says, “Do you get it?”

Her eyes narrow a fraction and widen again. “Oh … because you used them to—”

“Thanks for watching Morgan. Drive safely home.”

Laughter bubbles from her chest as she nods several times. “Yeah, let’s not go there.”

There. I’ve made Morgan and Swayze smile today. It eases the frustration that I’ve felt since leaving Dr. Albright’s office. The long list of what ifs makes me uneasy.

What if Swayze never makes the connection on her own?

What if my chance to understand Daisy’s death slips away?

What if Swayze finds a different job?

What if she moves away?

What if I can’t handle losing Daisy a second time?

What if I can’t raise Morgan on my own?

What if I tell her she’s Daisy?

That’s the biggest what if. I want to tell her. It physically hurts to keep this to myself, especially when I see Swayze struggle with her knowledge of me, wondering where it stems from.

What if telling her makes everything better?

What if it doesn’t?

“Where are you?”

I glance up at Swayze as she slips the strap of her bag onto her shoulder.

“You look distracted.”

I shake my head. “Just a long day. That’s all.”

“You should give her a bottle and put her to bed. Maybe relax by reading a book or something.”

“Books don’t relax me. They never have.”

“I know.”

Of course she does. Daisy inhaled two to three books a week. I read on a need-to basis.

“But I thought maybe the gazillion years of school you’ve had may have given you a love for reading or at least a hunger for knowledge. What’s the last book you read that didn’t have anything to do with your job?”

“The instruction manual to the hanging bike rack I assembled last weekend.”

“Really?” She cocks her head to the side.

I sense a bit of disbelief in her tone.

“Huh. Okay.”

“Don’t forget about my conference this weekend. You get her all night.”

“Wait. No.” She shakes her head. “I’m going to a motorcycle rally with Griffin. I told you this … way back.”

“Me or Rachael?”

“You. I think. I don’t know. What does it matter? I requested the time off. Can’t Rachael watch her?”

“She left for school yesterday.”

Her nose wrinkles. “Sorry … what about your parents?”

I don’t mean to sigh so heavily. I feel bad. It’s not my intention to guilt her.

“Can you skip the conference? Or take her with you?”

“I can’t skip it. I’ll figure it out. How long will you be gone?”

“A week.”

“A week?” Again, my emotions slip. “I have classes starting next week.”

“I’m sorry. But what about your parents?”

“They leave for vacation Monday.”

“There has to be someone.”

I shake my head. “There’s not.” Morgan coos. I hate the small percent of me that’s feeling the burden of being a single parent. “But it’s not your problem. I’ll figure it out.”

“Nate, I’m really sorry. But I promised Griffin and—”

“It’s fine. Not your fault.”

Her slow nod accompanies a somber expression. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Goodnight.”

“Are you mad?”

I grunt a laugh. “Not at you. It’s fine.”

“You sound upset. I feel really bad.”

“Swayze, I said it’s not your problem. Goodnight.”

“I care for Morgan, so it feels like my problem too. Maybe I could ask my mom if she could watch her.”

“I’m not having a stranger stay overnight with her, no offense to your mother. I’ll see if my parents will stay the night.”

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