Swallowing, I shake my head ever so slightly.
“Do you want to feel that love for them?”
It’s love. Can love be a bad thing? Can we ever love too many people?
“Maybe,” I say, feeling the heat from his body scorching mine.
“Do you want to feel our love again?” His hand slides along my neck until the pad of his thumb brushes the spot below my ear where he used to kiss me.
Yes. I want to feel it. I want to close my eyes and go back twenty-two years in my mind and let him kiss me there. I want that for him. I want that for me. Then I want to open my eyes and go on with my life like it never happened, bury the moment in the grave with my old body and never think of it again.
“I still feel you everywhere.” His eyes close. The hand on my leg squeezes and his thumb on my neck presses a little harder.
Control. He’s fighting for every single breath of it. If I let him kiss me, would it give him closure? The kiss goodbye that he never got. Or would it feed an insatiable hunger? Where would the kiss stop? Where would his hands stop?
More than any of that … how far would I let him go?
“Are you going to kiss me?” I whisper because I have to know before my heart explodes.
Nate opens his eyes, sharing a weightless gaze and soft smile. “No, I’m not going to kiss you.” He’s unhurried with his words as his hold on me relaxes. “You’re not mine to kiss.”
“But you think I’m yours to love.”
“Part of you.” His grin swells. “Yes.” He stands. “I’m going to leave the physical part of loving you to your real boyfriend.”
Real boyfriend …
I don’t have to remember how Daisy felt emotionally to understand why she fell for Nate Hunt. Even now, at thirty-seven, that boyish grin and mischievous glimmer in his eyes disarm me with absolutely no effort.
He purses his lips, studying me for a few seconds. “Were you going to kiss me?”
“Don’t be arrogant.” My eyes narrow at him.
“You asked me first. Does that make you arrogant?”
“You were touching me.”
“You were letting me touch you. So let me rephrase … were you going to let me kiss you?”
I stand, chin up while drawing in an angry breath. “I’m engaged to another man.”
“It was a yes or no question.”
“What do you think?” My chin inches up a little higher.
Some women go their entire life without seeing a man look at them with complete adoration. I already have two men who look at me like I’m something pretty damn special. Why? Well, who knows?
“No. You would never let me kiss you like you were mine. You would never agree to marry a man who you didn’t love with every fiber of your being.”
All fight drains from my body, shoulders relax, chin dips down, and my glare softens.
“And I know this because part of you once loved me like that.”
I don’t think. My arms fly around his neck, hugging him to me. After a few seconds, his reciprocate. “Thank you,” I whisper in his ear.
What if the purpose of my life is to make sure my best friend finds happiness?
I hug her.
She would have kissed me back had I let myself kiss her, not because she doesn’t love Griffin. Because … we’re testing time. Waiting for the right moment—the right life.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
I hug her tighter. The curtain went down on Nate and Daisy. I mourned the end. Yet, here I am getting an encore. It won’t last. Nothing lasts. But I’m not going to blink. I’m not going to breathe. With every ounce of strength I have inside of me, I’m going to stop time and live in this moment forever.
“Oh … sorry.” Dennis gives us an awkward smile as he opens the door. No throat clearing. No death glares.
Swayze steps back.
“It’s emotional being in her room,” I say as an excuse for what he just saw. “Dennis, this is Swayze.”
“Hi.” She smiles, cheeks apple red with embarrassment. A good blush always looked good on Daisy too.
“Nice to meet you.” Dennis shakes her hand and gives me his attention. “I don’t think Claudia is going to let Morgan go home with you.”
I chuckle. “I’m glad we were able to stop by today.”
We follow him downstairs.
“I’m keeping her.” Claudia hugs Morgan to her, kissing her chubby cheeks.
Dennis shakes his head. “Clearly you know who to call if you need a babysitter.”
“Yes.” Claudia perks up. “Call me absolutely anytime you need someone to watch her.”
“Thanks.” I take Morgan and fasten her into the infant carrier.
“Did being in her room make you feel closer to her?”
I look up, giving Swayze a quick glance.
Her lips curl together.
“Yes. I felt really close to her.”
“It’s hard to believe it’s been so long. I had all these things I wanted to say to her. All this advice I wanted to share with her. You’ll understand as your little girl gets older. There’s just never enough time.”
I stand, zipping my jacket. “No. There’s not.”
Claudia rests her hand on my cheek, canting her head to the side. “Don’t give up on love, Nate. Okay?”
I nod. “I’ve got more love than one man deserves right here.” I glance down at Morgan. It will be hard, maybe even impossible, to love like she means after losing Daisy and Jenna.
“It was very nice to meet you, Swayze.”
She smiles at Claudia and Dennis. “Can I ask what you say to her … when you’re upstairs talking to her? I lost my father. I’m just curious since it seems to help you.”
Dennis gives his wife a gentle smile as he grabs her hand.
She draws in a slow breath. “Well, it’s been a bit of everything. A few months after she died, I decided to just pick up from where she would have been at the time. We discussed school, driving, boys, college.” She laughs. “I think I even discussed birth control with her. And Nate …”
Claudia’s focus shifts to me for a few seconds. “I told her all about you. How much you grieved her death. I told her about you not going to prom or homecoming dances and that I knew it was because you couldn’t go with her.”
Fuck. This kind of hurts. I didn’t go. I didn’t live in many ways for years … until I met Jenna.
“I told her you decided to go to college instead of playing hockey. I had to break the news to her of your engagement.” She winks. “She was jealous, but she understood.”
Swayze laughs. I meet her gaze and smile.
“And more than anything, I’ve given her advice on navigating this world, in case she gets a second chance. Crazy right?”
“A second chance?” Swayze squints.
“Swayze, can you please grab the diaper bag?” I lift the carrier.
“What do you mean a—”
“Swayze, the diaper bag. We really should get going.”
Claudia flicks her wrist. “I’m just being silly. I know there’s probably no such thing as reincarnation, but it’s comforting to think that her soul moved on. Our little girl had a beautiful soul.”
“Funny you mention that—”
Everyone snaps their attention to me.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to raise my voice. I just remembered I have a podcast to record tonight and I’m suddenly feeling anxious that I’m not going to get it done if I don’t get Morgan home and put her to bed soon.”
“Of course.” Claudia walks us to the door. “I can’t thank you enough for bringing her by. I’m a little embarrassed we didn’t make the first effort months ago.”
“Nice to see you, Nate. And good to meet you, Swayze.”
“Thanks, Dennis. It was nice to see you again too.”
“Have a nice evening.” I shove Swayze out the door in front of me.
“What is your deal?” She swerves to stay on the sidewalk as I nudge her forward with the infant carrier.
“I had one request—don’t be creepy.”
“I wasn’t being creepy. Dude! She brought it up like she’s open to the idea. What if she knew?”
“Shh!” I jerk my head toward her door. “Get in.” I latch the infant carrier and hop into the driver’s seat before Swayze decides to run back inside yelling, “It’s me! Your baby girl.”
“If I’m creepy, then you, Professor, are a paranoid whack job. And oh my god … good job waiting this long to mention you named your daughter Morgan. Whack. Job.” She folds her arms over her chest and snaps her head into a resolute nod.
“Swayze, you can’t play dead daughter reunion when you have nothing to offer them but visions. You can’t love them like Daisy loved them. You have a new life, a new family. It’s not okay to drop the I’m-Daisy-reincarnated bomb on them and then skip off like you didn’t just blow their minds.”
“I have a little more grace and tact than that, but thanks for the vote of confidence.”
As we turn onto the main road a few minutes later, I shoot her a sidelong glance. “Okay. What were you going to say to them?”