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“It’s hard to trust someone not to break your heart. It’s hard to have blind faith in another human being. But the alternative is far worse. Walking away from love.”

Olivia Rawlings

Chapter Five

Morgan could have sworn she heard a symphony playing as Luke’s lips greeted her own in a tender, searing kiss. She clung to his shirt to ground herself, kissing him back with equal measure as the wind whipped all around them. She wasn’t hiding anymore. Not her feelings. Not her need to kiss Luke and shower him with affection. Not her belief that was growing stronger every day. The belief that she could have a happy ending with Luke.

Oh it had been so long since she’d been kissed by Luke. And now twice in one day! In the last few years she hadn’t wanted to kiss anyone else. Not even when she’d been living in the city of light, one of the most romantic places in the world. Morgan had gone out on a few dates, but they had all had a platonic vibe. Luke had never strayed far from her thoughts. Or her heart.

And now he was back in her life. He was hers again. And he was melting her heart with his sweet, tender kisses. She was flying high, soaring way above the clouds as Luke’s lips moved over hers. She didn’t want this moment to end. She’d give anything if it could go on and on.

As they finally drew apart, a sigh of contentment slipped past Morgan’s lips. If anyone had told her a few weeks ago that she would be kissing Luke on Savannah beach, she might have called them crazy. So much had changed in such a short time!

Hope floated in the air around them.

“Two kisses in one day. You’re going to spoil me if you’re not careful.” Her tone was light and airy. She felt shimmery and golden. Brighter than the sun. It was all because of Luke. And Savannah House. Everything in her life felt so much richer.

It was great to feel this way. Because there was another side of her. Quiet. Wary. Introspective. That was the Morgan who had ended things with him when all of her doubts and fears came crashing to the surface. On the inside Morgan knew she was still the little girl whose father had driven away from her and never looked back.

“That’s the type of spoiling I’ll never mind,” Luke said, drawing her out of her thoughts. “Thanks for forcing me outside in the sunshine. It makes everything feel better.”

Rachel. Although Morgan knew that sunshine couldn’t cure grief and guilt, she’d always believed that it helped ease a weary soul. “I know today can’t be easy,” she said. Something flickered in his eyes, and for a moment she glimpsed a flash of pain.

Luke heaved a tremendous sigh. “No it’s not easy at all. It still hurts. It still gnaws at me.” He clenched his teeth. A fierce expression was etched on his face.

Oh how she wished she could wrap her arms around him and absorb all of the guilt and torment and grief. Luke was the most wonderful, compassionate man in the world. If she could lift his burden. She would do so in a heartbeat.

Dear Lord, please ease Luke’s pain. If possible, let me be an instrument of healing. I would move mountains for this man. He’s given so much to me—withstood so much for me. Please give me an opportunity to help him heal.

“Why do you feel so guilty?” She blurted out the question without being able to stop herself.

Truthfully, Morgan wanted to ask Luke a dozen questions or more. There was so much she didn’t know. Rachel Duvall was not a topic that had ever been discussed amongst her peer group growing up in Savannah. She couldn’t remember kids ever discussing it, most likely because they had all been too young to even fathom such unimaginable tragedy. A few times Callie had brought it up in passing, but even Callie hadn’t known Rachel. Callie had been the child adopted in the aftermath of the Duvall family tragedy. If Morgan had to guess, she would wager Callie felt uncomfortable talking about the sibling she’d never known.

Because Morgan loved Luke so dearly, she needed to know why Rachel’s death was resting so heavily on his heart. Grief was a journey filled with valleys and hills. It was unpredictable and agonizing. Although she was no expert, Luke’s pain was tied up in something more than loss.

Luke stared back at her with glassy eyes. “We were on vacation in the Caribbean. Every year my parents took us somewhere tropical. On this trip it was St. Lucia. I remember thinking it was the perfect vacation. I was almost seven. Rachel was just five-years-old.” He let out a low chuckle and shook his head. “She was so funny and lively. You couldn’t contain her. My family stopped trying after a while because she was larger than life. Everything I did, Rachel wanted to do. She thought I hung the moon.” His voice became thick with emotion.

“Of course. You were her big brother,” Morgan whispered. She had a vague memory of Rachel running after Luke at a birthday party. With auburn hair and blue eyes, Rachel had been a sweet and beautiful little girl.

“Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “And she was just about the most annoying little sister on the planet. But when she wasn’t being annoying she was just about perfect. Smart. Sassy. Loyal. I was crazy about her.”

He stopped talking for a moment. Morgan sensed he didn’t want to go any further into his explanation of Rachel’s death. She would never force him to talk about it, but she was seeking understanding about why he felt so responsible. Information about the circumstances of his sister’s death would help her understand.

“The day before Rachel drowned we went swimming at the resort. I could swim like a fish, but Rachel struggled. My parents made her wear one of those little swimmer’s vests that kept you afloat. I teased her about it for most of the time we were in the pool. She was so mad. And because she got under my skin sometimes that was the goal. To annoy Rachel.” He let out a ragged sigh. “The next day we were eating breakfast at the resort when all of a sudden we heard screams from the pool area. One of the guests had spotted…a child in the pool face down. My parents realized Rachel had left the table and they began to frantically run toward the pool. I didn’t move. I was frozen. I knew before I heard my mother’s screams that it was Rachel. I just knew it.”

“But Luke that’s not your fault! It’s terrible and tragic, but you aren’t responsible.”

“She wasn’t wearing that vest because of me. Because she wanted to be a big girl and show us that she could swim without it.”

“You don’t know that!” she said fiercely. “You’ve created this storyline in your head and the more you repeat it, the more it becomes entrenched in your mind. Five-year-olds do silly, unpredictable things sometimes. They’re not thinking about life and death. Maybe she was bored and snuck off to cool off. Perhaps she took off the vest and then fell in. Loss is heart wrenching and confusing and tragic, but when it comes down to it, blaming yourself is way off the mark, Luke.”

Luke shook his head. “When I think about her drowning like that…all alone in that pool it guts me. Maybe she cried for help or felt scared. It just shatters me.”

“Some things stick with us, no matter how we try to forget them. Losing Rachel that way is horrific. But I hate the fact that you’re carrying this on your shoulders. It isn’t right. And there’s something called survivor’s guilt where people who have gone through a tragic loss blame themselves.”

He furrowed his brow. “I’ve read about that. It sounds like what I’m doing by holding myself responsible, doesn’t it?”

She nodded. “Yes, it does. Where does the blame game end? What about your parents? It’s a parental responsibility to watch a child that age at a resort. Would it be fair to blame them? What about the resort itself? Someone should have locked up the pool area to make sure no child could go in the pool unsupervised. Do you blame them? And where were the lifeguards? And since we’re blaming everyone why don’t we just blame God while we’re at it? How could God have allowed that to happen?”

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