Still reeling from the blinding sensation, I can’t register what he’s doing until I’m alone in bed. The toilet flushes. The water turns on. The bathroom door opens.
In a blink, the pain returns. The visions come back to life.
And I’m alone.
Because he’s right.
Fuck you, Daisy.
I wake just as lonely as I fell asleep. There’s no hazelnut coffee aroma. No Griffin.
On the sofa there’s a pillow atop a neatly folded blanket. I don’t stare at it or the pictures of us on the fireplace mantel or his running shoes by the door.
In fact, I can’t get out of the house fast enough.
“Hello?” I call, removing my coat and boots inside Nate’s entry.
“Shh …” Nate’s hushing sounds from his office.
I peek inside the door. “Lazy morning for little Miss Morgan?”
“Yes.” Nate keeps his focus on his computer screen, fingers pecking at the keyboard with the grace of a bull racing down the streets of Pamplona. “A nice gift this morning since I had a few things to finish up.”
“I won’t distract you, then. I’ll just grab some coffee and keep an ear out for her.”
He shakes his head. “You’re fine.” Slapping down the lid to his computer, he grins and unfolds his tall body from the desk chair. “I’m done.” After slipping it into his messenger bag, he struts toward me. “Good morning. How are you?”
I can’t deny him a small smile, even if it doesn’t fit my mood today. “I’m good.”
With his thumb and middle finger, he pinches my cheeks together like a duck’s. “You need to work on selling it better. What’s up?” He continues toward the kitchen.
Everything is up. Or upside down. Or just plain old fucked-up.
“I’m considering giving you my two weeks’ notice.”
He stops, back to me. I wrinkle my nose, waiting for a response.
And I wait some more …
“Okay.” He resumes his steps without giving me a backwards glance. “But I’m going to need something more concrete than you’re considering it. I can’t maybe look for a new nanny.”
“That’s it? Okay? Not, why? Not, please reconsider? You paid me five thousand dollars to be here when school started. But now it’s no big deal?”
“Don’t do this.” He turns. It’s the same pathetic pained look Griffin gave me. I’m the injured animal on the side of the road while everyone passes by waiting for someone or something to come along and put me out of my misery.
Nate sighs, leaning back against the fridge. “I asked for a week. This is bigger. This is your future. I’m not going to ask you to stay. If you don’t want to go, then—”
“What? I want to be with Griffin. I just can’t get rid of the past. Every day I feel like I remember more. And Doug …” I grab the back of my neck with both hands and shake my head, the fear still raw and nauseating. “He cornered me in the book store last night.”
“What?” Nate pushes off the fridge.
“I saw it. Her … me. She was holding a jagged piece of metal. The scar on his face … she cut him and then she ran. Every time I see him, more comes back to me.”
“What did he say to you? Why were you alone last night?”
I continue to shake my head. “No … Griffin was there, just a few aisles over. And he didn’t say much. It’s the way he taunts me. He knows I know about Daisy and Erica. I’m next, Nate.” My voice trembles along with every muscle in my body.
He wraps me in his arms. “I won’t let that happen.”
Something inside of me snaps. I push him away. “You can’t say that. Griffin can’t say that. Nobody can say that unless you’re going to be by my side twenty-four hours a day. Griffin was literally ten yards away, yet Doug got to me. Was it a coincidence? Did he just happen to be there? Or was he following me? Is he trying to prove that he can get to me no matter who’s supposedly watching over me? Is he toying with me?” I run my hands through my hair, tugging it with frustration.
“I’ll see if there’s something I can do.”
I laugh. “Great idea. In the meantime, I’ll just be … dead.” My laugh grows into something borderline hysterical. “I’m going to die twice at the hands of the same man. But that’s okay. Maybe I’ll figure it out the next time around.” My body buckles over in laughter. I’d give absolutely anything to be the average “normal” woman I was six months ago. My poor soul really sucks at this thing called life.
Nate grabs my shoulders and shoves me upright and straight into the wall. My laughter stops like a bullet to my temple.
“Stop.” He grits his teeth. “You don’t get to do this. You going to the lake by yourself when I told you to stay the fuck away, was not okay. You walking away from me because I had a moment with my stupid ego was not okay.”
Angry tears fill his eyes. “You dying on me was not okay.”
I can’t breathe. Or blink. Or move any part of my body.
“You coming back to life when I need you more than anything, only to tell me you’re in love with another man is not okay. You stealing my daughter’s heart is not okay. Your fucking two weeks’ notice is not okay. And you laughing about this man who killed you is NOT…” he rams his flat hand into the wall right next to my head “…OKAY!” Another bang on the wall.
He doesn’t let any tears escape, but I feel every single one in my soul.
Morgan cries more.
The ridged muscles of his arms start to relax. He has me caged against the wall. He’s let twenty-two years of emotions slash into my heart, but now he has to let me go soothe his crying daughter.
I start to peel my back off the wall, and he grabs my head and kisses me.
Oh. My. Fucking. Hell.
My brain and my heart explode at the same time. This isn’t a chaste kiss on the head. This is the kiss that reiterates every single gut-wrenching word he just said to me. This is an explosion of two lifetimes. This is the ruination of my life as Swayze Samuels. This is the kiss that sends souls to Hell.
I don’t know when my hands made it to his hair, but they’re there. And it’s familiar.
I don’t know when my lips began to move, but they’re moving against his. And it’s familiar.
I don’t know when my tongue decided to taste his, but they’re dueling like they can’t get enough. And it’s familiar.
Every inch of his body pressed to mine, every touch, every moan … it’s all too fucking familiar.
And then … it’s over.
He disappears down the hall to Morgan’s room. With one hand, I trace my bruised lips and with the other hand I ghost my fingers along my neck, just below my ear. That’s where I needed his lips. One kiss.
The way he first kissed me.
Nate wasn’t supposed to obliterate my world. He wasn’t supposed to break the fragile thread holding me to Griffin.
But he did.
I lock my knees to keep from falling over as he carries Morgan to me, wiping the tears from her eyes. She grins the moment she sees me.
This little girl loves me, even if she can’t define love yet. I love her too. And if I’m honest with myself, I love her daddy too. Much like her, I don’t know how to define my love for Nate.
When our eyes meet, I fight to hold back the toxic emotions. Regret falls off every inch of his body in relentless waves. He doesn’t have to say anything.
“I …” He shakes his head with this look like he just ran over the family dog. “I’m …”
“It’s …” My head shakes, mirroring his. It’s what? Fine? No. It’s the opposite of fine. It’s the definition of insanity. It’s the worst thing I have ever done. Yes. He kissed me. But I kissed him back. And I didn’t stop him. I’m not sure how long I would have let him kiss me had he not stopped when he did. My mom’s words echo in my conscience. Where does it stop?
“Yeah,” I whisper.
He kissed her because he remembers everything. But that doesn’t explain why I kissed him. A million excuses plead their case in my head. Valid, reasonable, believable excuses.
“I should not have kissed you,” he says.
“Can you see if your parents can watch her today? I need to …” I swallow the pain, the thick, suffocating guilt. “I need to do something.”
He nods. “I’ll see if they can be here within the hour.”
“K.” I take her from him. “Let’s get you changed and fed.” Brushing past him, I take her back to the nursery.
A few seconds later, the back door shuts, and I break down, hugging Morgan to my body because … I lost my grocery store guy.
“To what do we owe this honor?” Jett winks at me as I stomp the snow off my boots inside the front door of the dealership.
“I was hoping to catch Griffin on a break.”
“Griff never breaks, but I can probably see if he’ll make an exception for you.”