“So…there’s going to be fireworks later…want to watch them with me?” I was trying my hardest to lighten the mood. But his charming smile had long disappeared. “I won’t be hanging around here much longer. Sorry.” I shrugged it off. “Would you at least like to dance with me then?” I asked. “I would. But I have two left feet.” He muttered. Maybe it was hormones, but I completely lost my cool. “Why do I get the feeling that you’re trying to get rid of me, Kolt?” I hissed at him. “I’m nearly seven months pregnant and you’ve been off hiding in the woods the whole time! And now that you’re back in the real world, you STILL won’t even acknowledge that I’m carrying your child. If you don’t want to be with me, just say it. Don’t be a coward.” I was growing angrier by the second. “Shannon…you just don’t know.” He shook his head. “It’s killing me. Eating my heart from the inside out. I feel as if I’ve tainted my soul. You need to keep that child as far away from me as you can.” He met my gaze evenly. “I’m a murderer.” I scoffed and rolled my eyes. “You can’t be serious, Kolt! It was self defense!” He slammed his fist down on the bar. “Was it, Shannon? Was it really? You weren’t there!” He rasped in anguish. “I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. All I can do is think about how he struggled as I held him under. It’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life.” I opened my mouth to object but stopped when he pulled an envelope out of his pocket and laid it on the table in front of me. “Open it.” He urged. Inside was the deed to Kolt’s house. “A family should live there. Yours.” He motioned at my stomach. Tears welled up into my eyes. “But what about you? You can’t just leave. Not again.” I managed to say through my tears. He put his hand over mine tenderly. “I’m too old. Too tired. Between the drink, the job, and the nightmares, I probably only have a few years left.” His voice trembled. “You’re better off without me, darling.” I snatched my hand away and wiped my cheeks. He sighed and stood up. He looked as defeated as I felt. “Take care, Shannon. I wish you the best. Both of you.” It took all of my self control not to chase after him as he walked away…but I knew I had to let him go.
White sands, warm beaches, salty breezes! It was island paradise! We were staying in a small but cozy cabin right on the water and we even rented a boat. Jonah took that boat out the first evening we were there and when he finally came back…he was a little shook up. “Is everything okay, Jonah?” I asked him when he waddled back to the shoreline. He shook his head. “I heard a woman out there…she was singing. I tried to follow the voice but I almost crashed into some rocks. It was the weirdest thing.” I patted his shoulder and kissed him on the cheek. “At least you came back to me in one piece.” I teased him then splashed water into his face. “Nothing could keep me away from you.” He grinned and splashed me back. Then he picked me up and carried me to the porch where we snuggled into a lawn chair together to watch the sunset. We talked about how we were going to move to Hylewood after we got back home from our honeymoon. And eventually we would reopen his family’s motel. We would live there all year around and raise our child there amongst the pine trees and autumn leaves. Then we discussed baby names…Elaine, after my mother, if it was a girl and Elliott if it was a boy. I felt warm and safe nestled in his arms and eventually I fell asleep. It was the perfect day.
“Finding Madison was personal to me and probably the toughest case I’ll ever have. And in instances like this, you’re only as good as your team. Without my partners, Kolton and Thomas Gallagher, I wouldn’t be standing here right now…and neither would Madison. They are the bravest souls I’ve ever met” I motioned towards the two men flanking my right side. “And it’s been an honor to be able to work with them.” My voice echoed into the microphone. I made eye contact with Maddie in the crowd and she lifted her hand to give me a thumbs up. It was six months after Brad’s death and I was giving a speech in front of our chief and the mayor. We were being awarded for our heroism while solving the “Creekside Strangler” case. The auditorium erupted into applause and the mayor stood to shake my hand. “It’s lovely to meet you, Ms. Casey. And I humbly thank you for everything you’ve done for our town.” He grinned broadly at me. “It’s been a pleasure, sir.” We were given our medals then the crowd dispersed into the dining hall. After I got done eating, I noticed Kolt sitting at a table by himself. I hadn’t seen him since the day he’d disappeared from the hospital. He’d been really hard to get in touch with and I’d finally learned from Tommy that he’d gone to his cabin in the mountains to recuperate. “Mind if I sit here?” I asked, sliding out the chair next to him. “Not one bit.” He beamed up at me. “Congratulations by the way.” He said gazing at my stomach as I sat down. “Uh…yeah. Thanks. I feel like I’m going to pop at any moment.” I laughed awkwardly. He didn’t respond. I could feel his eyes on me as I stared down at my hands. Finally he cleared his throat. “So…big day tomorrow, huh?” He queried. “Yeah, the wedding.” I said excitedly. “You’ll be there, right?” He nodded and tipped his hat as he stood to leave. “Wouldn’t miss it for anything, darling.”
Kolt was sent into the OR for surgery as soon as we arrived at the hospital…and after several excruciatingly long hours, he was finally resting comfortably in bed. He was going to be sore and would need someone to keep an eye on him but in the long run, he was going to be okay. I stayed overnight while everyone else went home…I wanted to be there when he woke up. My dad, Madison, and Tommy showed back up the next morning. “I wish you’d came home with your sister last night. But I’m so happy you’re alright.” Dad told me, wrapping me into a tight hug. I nodded and kissed him on the cheek. “It’s good to see you, too.” Tommy waved at me and took a seat in the waiting room. “How are you doing today?” Madison asked me. “I’m exhausted. But I don’t want to leave in case he wakes up. Why hasn’t he woke up yet?” I mumbled and wiped my eyes. “Maybe he needs his beauty sleep.” Madison teased, making me smile. “The doctor will call if anything changes with Kolt. But he’s going to be fine, Shannon. Sitting here isn’t going to change anything…so why don’t you go home and get cleaned up. Then we’ll grab some lunch. You’ll feel so much better afterwards, I promise.” Madison suggested, rubbing my shoulders. “I suppose you’re right.” I agreed. But when I came back after a long soak in the tub and a full belly, I found an empty bed instead of Kolt. “Where is he?” I interrogated the closest nurse. “He discharged himself even though it was against our advise. We could not force him to stay. I’m sorry, mam.” I apologized for being snappy and headed out to the parking lot. I pulled out my cell and called him over and over but it kept going straight to voicemail. “Where are you, Kolt?”