I know the feeling because I know where this is going. The reality feels like my own lungs are nothing more than two sandbags bearing down on my chest.
I avert my gaze to Morgan. I can’t even look at Swayze. Not when she’s putting it all together.
“Oh my god … How could I be so blind? All the unanswered questions. That night when I grilled you about Doug’s death, when I really pushed you … you kissed my neck, the one place you knew would render me speechless. The ultimate distraction. It wasn’t your physical desire for me. It was all mental. You manipulated me.”
“Swayze …” I glance up at her.
“No …” She shakes her head, eyes narrowed at me. “Doug Mann, the master at staging murders to look like accidents or suicides, committed suicide himself. It never sat well with me, but I let the relief distract me. But that’s not what happened, is it?”
“Doug was murdered. Someone did to him exactly what he did to Daisy, and Erica, and who knows how many other women.”
Her hand covers her mouth. “Oh my god … you killed him.”
I shake my head, returning my attention to Morgan. Yes, I know I look as guilty as a man caught on camera pulling the trigger, but I don’t know what to do. My job is to watch her and protect her. How do I protect her from the truth?
“That’s how you knew I was safe. That’s why you didn’t ask about my progress with Dr. Albright. That’s why you didn’t act surprised when I said he was dead. You didn’t even blink. That’s why you said what you did. You’re safe because those who claim to love you actually do love you.”
She runs her hands through her hair. “Of course … who better to know how to kill someone and make it look like suicide than an anatomy professor?”
Her hand clenches at her chest as she kneels on the floor beside my feet, demanding my attention. “Why would you do that? You have a child. Why risk everything for me?”
After a few seconds of nothing but Morgan’s little squeals and giggles, I turn my gaze to hers. “I should have saved you over two decades ago. I didn’t. Someone had to save you this time. Someone had to ensure your safety. Someone had to give you a chance at a long life filled with happiness.”
Her mouth falls open, and she shakes her head slowly. “Nate …” She presses her hand to my cheek.
“You killed for me. You risked everything for me. Your love for me knows no boundaries. You’re my someone.”
Swayze kisses me. I jerk back so fast it startles her. The pain and embarrassment on her face slashes my heart. God … I want to kiss her. I want to be her hero, her everything, but …
“I’m not your someone.”
She flinches like I just slapped her in the face. “Why are you being this way? Why kill a man for me and then reject me? Don’t you want me? Is there something wrong with me?” Tears fill her eyes. “Am I not enough like her? Am I not pretty enough? Smart enough? Tell me, because right now I feel like I’m losing my mind. Like that kiss meant nothing.”
I scrub my hands over my face, shaking my head. “That’s not it.”
I stand, blowing out a frustrated breath while resting my hands on my hips. Morgan drops back down to her bottom and chews on a toy. It must be nice to be disconnected from the heartbreak of the world.
“Swayze, you’re everything. The stars and the earth. The sun of a million lifetimes. You’re the girl I fell in love with. You’re the woman I want to love. You’re Morgan’s every smile. You’re my peace of mind. My salvation. You’re beautiful beyond words. Smart. Sexy. Just … everything. Except … mine.”
She eases to standing, hands fisted, jaw clenched. “Stop talking about him.” Anger laces her words.
“Swayze.” I go to cup her face with my hand.
She jerks away. “Don’t Swayze me. And don’t touch me unless you’re going to touch all of me. Unless you’re going to kiss me like you did before. Unless you’re going to help me forget him.”
She laughs, but it’s a crazy kind of painful laugh. “You killed a man for me. You have to be my someone. If that’s not fate, then what is? I just … I just …” Tears fill her eyes as she hugs herself. “Love me—” Her words crack or maybe she cracks.
I grab her face and kiss her cheeks, her nose, her jaw … I kiss her everywhere, teetering on the edge of control, but I don’t kiss her mouth. And it’s killing me.
Her hands cover mine, clawing at my skin as her lips chase mine, desperate for what I won’t—what I can’t—give her.
“Love me …” she says in an anguished, strangled sob.
“I do.” My grip on her tightens while my heart slams into my chest, pushing all the raw emotions into the pit of my stomach where they will stay.
“Kiss me … please.”
My forehead presses to hers, rocking back and forth as I pinch my eyes shut. “No.”
“Yes.” She moves her hands to my face, trying to hold me still so her mouth can find mine.
“No!” I grab her hands, stilling them.
“W-why?” she cries, crumbling into a fit of sobs. Her body collapses into mine.
I hug her to me. “Because I’m not. Your. Someone. Do you get that?” I refrain from kissing the top of her head. It’s so instinctual by this point. “But I would have been. I would have risked it all for you. For over two decades, I’ve felt this gnawing guilt that I didn’t save you.”
I hold her at arm’s length. She hiccups on her emotions.
“I didn’t kill Doug Mann. But …”
Her face contorts into something even more painful or confused. “But what?”
This wasn’t supposed to happen. She wasn’t supposed to know—ever.
“But someone killed him to save you—to protect you.”
She blinks out more tears as her lips part, eyes unfocused. “Don’t,” she whispers, frozen in place as if my words shot into her like a tranquilizer. Her head inches side to side. “I need to hate him. Don’t … don’t do this.”
As long as Griffin Calloway is alive, she will never be mine. I knew it the first time I met him—the way he looked at her. It was the way I looked at Daisy. It’s how I look at Morgan now—like they’re your whole world.
Griffin didn’t have to tell me he killed Doug, but he did. He walked to the edge of the world and jumped off the fucking cliff just to make sure no one would ever hurt her.
She’s not mine. And she never will be.
He asked me to keep an eye on her, to make sure that she finds happiness, because that’s what people do when they love someone to the depths of their soul.
She’s not mine. And she never will be—not in this life.
So I did my part. I asked Dr. Albright to betray Swayze’s trust, to trick her. I risked my future as well as Griffin’s future by confessing the murder. But deep down, I knew Dr. Albright would understand. And she did. The only way to save Swayze from self-destruction was to betray her. Both Dr. Albright and I will take that secret to our graves, knowing that a young woman has a chance at happiness because of that lie.
But … I am not her chance at happiness because she is not mine.
Morgan works her way to my feet and tries to climb up my legs. I pick her up.
“I lost him,” Swayze whispers.
I take Morgan’s hand and rub it over one of Swayze’s cheeks to dry her tears. Swayze forces a heartbreaking smile.
“Possibly.” I bop Morgan’s pointer finger on Swayze’s nose. Griffin didn’t kill Doug to get Swayze back. He did it to protect her, and he did it to let her go.
“But you’ll find a man who loves Swayze Samuels. And you won’t have to feel bad that he risked everything for you. And he won’t have to feel bad that he didn’t. Because he never has to know that at one point in your past, you needed someone to take the life of another human to save yours.
“Bury the past. Find a teaching job. And let happiness just … happen.”
Swayze is right. Some things just flat-out suck. And this is one. She needs to let Daisy go. I need to let Daisy go. The only way to really do this is to let each other go.
“Nate, why are you doing this?”
She’s breaking me, one tear at a time. But I don’t tell her that.
“Because I’m your friend.”
She shakes her head. “You could try to be a real boyfriend.”
I grin. “I could, but we both know that’s never been my gift.”
“This hurts. You’re hurting me.”
“No …” I press my palm to her cheek, tilting my head to the side. I adore this young woman. All of her. “I’m giving you an out.”
She sniffles. “An out for what?”
“To be Swayze.”
“Are you firing me?”
Yes. No. I bite my lips together. And then I do the right thing. “Yes. When school is out, I will let you go. Set you free.”
Her gaze wanders to the window. She blinks several times and swallows hard while giving me a slight nod. “I need to …” Her jaw shifts side to side. “I need to go.”