“I can assure you,” Lauren continued, “that it will be quick. I love Tristan like my own son, so it’ll be a merciful death. I won’t let him suffer.”
“You are absolutely insane,” Bryce said through gritted teeth. “You’d stoop to this level to have me, even though I’d never want you?”
“You’ll learn to. Just like I learned to deal with an abusive husband before you came along.”
Domestic abuse. No wonder Lauren was screwed in the head.
“Lauren, you don’t want to do this,” Kenzie tried to console. “If you really loved Tristan, you wouldn’t threaten him at all.”
“What would you know, Miss Snoop? And where do you get off, barging in here with your two dogs, and some other chick?”
Sage growled. Or was it Hayden? Maybe it was both. Kenzie felt like growling herself. This woman was beyond psychotic. She thanked her lucky stars she’d called the police and left her phone on so they could track it.
But Hayden wasn’t in the mood to wait for the police. He wasn’t as fast as a vampire, but he had better hunting instincts. One minute, he was calmly standing next to Kenzie, and the next, he was hurling himself toward Lauren.
The action caught her completely off-guard, forcing her to collide with the kitchen cabinets, allowing Tristan time to escape to the adjacent living room.
Unfortunately, the gun Lauren was holding hadn’t accidentally gone off in the scuffle with Hayden, firing a bullet into the ceiling, frightening the boy even more.
“Stop it!” Bryce roared. Paige waved her wand and a flurry of sparkles shot toward Lauren, causing her to drop the gun. Tristan took this opportunity to run toward his father, who embraced him with more compassion than Kenzie had ever seen Bryce express. Mariah crawled over to join her husband and son.
Hayden and Paige managed to keep Lauren subdued, and at last the police arrived. Lauren was quickly put in handcuffs and whisked away.
“How did this happen?” Mariah sobbed as she held her son. “What did she say to you?”
“Did she hurt you?” Bryce asked as well.
Tristan shook his head as he started to cry. He told his parents everything, and Kenzie and an officer took notes. It turned out that Lauren had broken the fence at the park herself in order to gain entry, and had been there the day she’d found Kenzie because she was going to fix it. She knew that Bryce and Mariah would be taking their child to the new amusement park. She’d spotted him on the spinning teacup ride, and when the ride had ended, she’d waved him over to the duck pond when she noticed that Bryce and Mariah were conversing with each other and not watching the ride. Tristan said that Lauren had stated he could come visit her at her house because she’d already talked to his parents about it, and of course he believed her because he’d known her as their friend. A simple story, easily believed by an innocent, gullible child. All it took was the right opportunity.
The only good news was that Lauren had treated Tristan great, as she’d viewed him as her own son, up until she pulled a gun. She’d given him a warm bed to sleep in, allowed him to play and watch TV and the like, and had kept him fed. As for him going to school, she either didn’t think that part through or figured Bryce would give in before the weekend was over.
Seeing the Cooper family together made Kenzie remember that she had two dear friends in Appaloosa Plains who were expecting a little bundle of joy of their own. Her mind was already spinning with what was coming, such as a baby shower, and part of her even began to wonder what it would be like to have one of her own.
She looked at Hayden and could easily see him being a father. And she’d always told herself that she wanted kids someday.
But then there was her job. Such a career wasn’t recommended for someone who desired to have a family. Their safety would always be at stake. And there would be the inevitable risk of one life taking precedence over the other – the family life and the career life.
What was more important? What did Kenzie want? She wished she knew.
After Kenzie, Hayden, and Paige gave their statements to the police, they all three went back to the cabin. Paige shacked up in Hayden’s childhood bedroom in one of the bunk beds and would leave the next day, after she got some rest. It was already four in the morning now, and everyone was tired.
Hayden, still in his wolf form until morning, fell asleep instantly, and Kenzie thought that she would too. She was beyond exhausted. But instead, her mind was reeling with the events of the past few days. She and Hayden were in love; that was official. And that was one thing she was more sure of than anything.
But what she wasn’t sure of was the state of her career. She trusted Paige and was happy that she was available to help, but it made that nagging feeling she’d been fighting off for quite some time now emerge once again.
What she’d seen with Lauren and Tristan, how she held a gun to his back and threatened to kill him if Bryce didn’t leave his wife for her…it was physically and emotionally nauseating. She’d also seen the pain and agony that Bryce and Mariah had gone through, not knowing the fate of their only child.
But more than that, Kenzie, for the umpteenth time, felt completely helpless. Yes, she’d uncovered some clues, but she’d needed Paige’s magic to perform a locator spell to find Tristan. And then her magic, plus Hayden’s strength and keen senses, had kept Lauren at bay so that Tristan could be saved.
Kenzie had always been intrigued by supernatural creatures. But perhaps the intrigue had been the possibility of their existence, not the reality. Now that they’d revealed themselves, they were mingling with humans in all areas, even occupations. Several supernatural creatures were now detectives like she had been, but they had special abilities to rely on.
Kenzie shifted positions slightly, which jarred Hayden awake.
“You okay?” he asked her.
“What’s wrong? Can’t sleep?”
“I guess I have a lot on my mind.”
“No doubt. I don’t know how I was able to sack out so easy. Tonight was crazy.”
“Yeah. How could anyone do that to a kid?”
“How could anyone think a threesome is good marriage counseling?”
“Takes all kinds to make a world, I guess.”
Kenzie buried her face into Hayden’s strong chest, and he held her tightly. He knew something else was on Kenzie’s mind, but he also knew better than to push the issue. But he did promise that tomorrow, their last day in Aurora Skies, would have one more surprise for her.
That surprise turned out to be another high flying adventure – but this time, it wasn’t on a roller coaster. It was on a romantic hot air balloon ride, which he’d mentioned upon her arrival.
“You have to be kidding me,” Kenzie whimpered. “Didn’t the roller coaster traumatize me enough?”
“This is a lot safer, and I don’t remember you being that traumatized after you got past the loops. Besides, I wanted to celebrate this weekend.”
“What’s there to celebrate?”
“Well, for one, we’re in love.”
Kenzie smiled. “Of course.”
Hayden didn’t skip out on the romance with this hot air balloon ride. He pulled out practically all the stops. When she was sitting there, still suffering from her acrophobia, Hayden held her and comforted her. Plus, when he kissed her, it helped take her mind off things. And it made her feel like she was flying higher than the balloon was taking her.
“So that’s one thing to celebrate,” Hayden said. “The second is that you closed a major case. I mean, come on, a kidnapped five-year-old? Not everyone could keep a level head in that situation. You did, and you caught the kidnapper. And I’m very proud of you for that. In fact, both of those facts, us being in love and you solving a case, deserve a drink.”
Hayden helped Kenzie up and then withdrew a bottle of bubbly champagne she hadn’t noticed in the balloon basket before. He filled two glasses with the liquid and clinked his glass with hers.
“To us,” he said.
“To us,” Kenzie replied as she returned the clink and took a sip of the sweet nectar. She wasn’t normally much of a drinker, but she was in a very celebratory mood despite the nagging sensation in her mind.
“And third,” Hayden continued, “I got my story written on the amusement park, and now I have another one to write. Which means you’ll get more coverage, hence more clients. I know you’ve been worried about business lately.”
That was an understatement. Kenzie had been considering this all night. She still hadn’t gotten that much sleep, even after Hayden’s comforting words. And as she thought about the Cooper family, not to mention Austin and Cheyenne, she realized that some things in life were more important than others.
It had been on her mind for a long time, but now she knew without a doubt that she’d reached her limit.
Everyone has a breaking point, and Kenzie feared that she’d finally reached hers. She realized that her heart didn’t seem to be into her career anymore, and it hadn’t for a while.
Regardless of how hard she’d worked, how far she’d come, and how much she desperately wanted to keep at it, sometimes she felt like she just couldn’t do it anymore. Seeing Savannah, the youngest sister of her best friend, go through such turmoil, and her being unable to help, had given her a lot of clarity. And then there was this case, where she’d had to ask her supernatural friend for help because she couldn’t do her own damn job otherwise.
The fact that business was down and prices were up didn’t help matters, either. Plus, if one read the news, a lot of obvious criminals who were arrested got off on probation or a slap on the wrist, making the hard work of the detectives who caught them meaningless.
Kenzie had wanted to become a detective long before she knew supernatural creatures existed. Now that they were out and about, people were more willing to hire them due to their keen senses and perceptions. She didn’t hold a grudge against them; she just wished that sometimes she could be as dependable as she once was, before they revealed themselves.
Kenzie took a good long look at her life (and at Aurora Skies through the site-seeing binoculars as she plagued her brain over this subject) and realized that she was trying to create balance in an unbalanced world. She was trying to be normal in an abnormal world. But still, the thought of abandoning all that she’d worked for was as depressing as feeling helpless.
“Don’t,” she told Hayden. “Don’t write that story to get more publicity for me.”
“Well, that wouldn’t be the main point obviously; the main point is to report on what happened.”
“No, Hayden. It’s not that. It’s just...”
“I don’t know about this anymore. I feel like I’m at my breaking point, like I can’t do this job anymore. Like my heart isn’t in it anymore.”
“Why is that?”
As the hot air balloon continued to navigate above the town, Kenzie sighed. She didn’t know how else to put it except to bluntly spit it out.
“These past few cases, with Savannah and now an innocent five-year-old, it’s made me realize that I’m not sure if I’m capable of handling it anymore. Last night, you and Paige took down Lauren and all I could do was stand around and watch. Sage was the one that sniffed out Lauren’s broken fence. You and she both heard the ruckus going on last night before we went inside. Paige found Tristan and blew the gun out of Lauren’s hand. What did I do? I called the cops, which seems to be all I’ve been doing lately, when before I’d handled situations myself. I keep telling myself that things will get better, that they’ll be okay, but it feels like they won’t. It seems there’s only one solution that might help me.”
“And what would that be?”
“I can hardly get any business because supernatural creatures are being hired, what with their keen senses of sight, smell, sound, and the like. If I were a supernatural creature, like, for instance, a werewolf…”
“No. Don’t even think that, Kenzie.” Hayden’s voice was uncharacteristically sharp.
“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. You don’t want this. You have no control over your own body during the full moon, you get hair everywhere, and I don’t want to turn you into a…”
“Monster? Hayden, you’re not a monster, for the millionth time.”
“You know what I mean.”
“How does someone even become a werewolf, just out of curiosity? Like, do you have to be bitten during a full moon? With vampires, you have to be bitten three times and drink vampire blood within twenty-four hours.”
“Yes, it does have to be during a full moon, and all it takes is a bite. The person will transform during the next full moon.”
“So…you get bitten on the night of a full moon, and a month later, you turn into a werewolf. You could have bitten me that night.”
“But I don’t want to, and I won’t.”
“Why? Are you afraid I’ll look like you do when you’re transformed?”
“No…I’m worried you’ll regret the decision. Much like you’re going to regret giving up your dream if you actually quit. I mean, come on. You’ve worked so hard for this, wanted it for so long, and you’re thinking of just throwing it away because you’re a human?”
He had a good point. How could she give up her dream altogether? She did want to help people. She remembered the speech she’d given at Lucky Palms University, how she’d told the students there why she’d gone into criminology. And how in her mind she’d thought of the creep supplying drugs to college students, and creeps like that, and Lauren, were the reason she had to stick with her job. Victims needed justice, and she wanted to supply it.
But then there was the supernatural aspect. If she had some sort of special abilities, anything at all, her job would be a lot easier and she’d get more business. Plus she’d be more fearsome.
But still. Being a detective was a way of life for her. And she truly didn’t want to throw it away. But she was going to have to do something on the side to make ends meet since business was down.
Hayden hugged her reassuringly. “I have a solution for that too,” he said when she told him this.
“Well, there’s something else I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while anyway.”
Kenzie’s heart skipped a beat. Surely he didn’t mean…
“Kenzie, I love you, and you love me too, as you said. I want to be able to protect you and take care of you. And I fear that I can’t do that when you’re in Riverview, no matter how safe you think the town is. Since I have a job located in only one place, and your job sends you all over, well, I think there’s only one solution here.”
“Kenzie, will you move in with me?”
He asked this as the balloon bumped back down to earth. Kenzie lost her balance and nearly toppled over the side, but Hayden caught her before she plunged downward.
“What did you say?” she managed to squeak as they walked off the platform.
“You heard me. I want you to live with me, Kenzie. This long-distance thing…I can handle it, but it’s so hard having to say goodbye. And wolves don’t say goodbye to their mates once they’ve found them. I know, it’s a wolf analogy and I’m not all wolf, but you get the gist of what I’m saying.”
Kenzie was shocked. She really had no idea what to say. She thought her life was complicated before. But this…she loved Hayden. She did. But moving in with him was a big step, and they hadn’t even been dating for a year yet.
Maybe she just wasn’t used to someone liking her enough to want to live with her. Or maybe she was just afraid because the last time there was talk of living together with a man, the man in question had cheated on her.
But Hayden wasn’t like that. She knew that in her heart. But she still didn’t have an answer for him. Not yet. She’d already made one life-altering decision in keeping her career but doing something else at the same time rather than quitting. She couldn’t possibly make another in five minutes.
“I promise I’ll think about it,” she said at last.
“Fair enough. I won’t force you. But just know that the offer is always there for you. And whatever you decide, with anything, I’ll support you.”
Kenzie allowed Hayden to embrace her as she tried to fight back tears. She still had to endure the drive home to Riverview, and leaving Hayden behind to return to Moonlight Falls was crushing her. She missed him as much as he missed her. The long-distance relationship was hard on her as well. She’d managed fine with Logan, until he’d revealed his true colors.
But that was in the past. And so was Bryce. Hayden had proven that he was truly Kenzie’s soul mate. Never before had she known true love. Now she did, and she had no doubts. Hayden had lived up to his promise of making their first Love Day very memorable in so many ways.
All she had to do now was consider his offer, which could be one of the biggest decisions she’d ever make in her life. But she knew that when the time came, when she was ready, she’d know it. And she was prepared for it.