Our honeymoon took us to Granite Falls where we spent our days enjoying all of what the great outdoors had to offer. We were taking a walk near the lake one evening when Kolt noticed how quiet I was being. I was the happiest I’d ever been in my life but still my thoughts wandered. “What’s on your mind, darling?” He brushed his shoulder against mine. “It’s nothing.” I smiled at him. “You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” He prodded. “Okay. If there was anything you could change about your life, what would it be?” I asked him. He gave me a skeptical look. “Don’t I need to be lying down on a couch for talks like these?” I chuckled and shook my head. “Just answer.” He grunted and watched Quinn play in the sand for a few minutes before finally speaking. “I’d save all of those innocent girls Brad murdered. And your mother. And Mary.” I nodded and cautiously stuck my toes in the lake. “That’s what I thought you’d say. But if that were the case, we wouldn’t be together.” He cocked his head to the side. “But we are. We can’t let the “what ifs” and “what should’ve beens” define us, darling. We have to live in the “here and now.” I’d like to think that wherever Mary is, she’s happy for us. But I don’t know. There is so much we just don’t know…so much that we will never know. But one thing I do know is…I found my happy ending.” He grinned. “It’s here.” He bent down and hugged Quinn tightly. “And here.” He stood to kiss me tenderly on the lips. “I think my life is pretty damn perfect. I have the love of an amazing woman and the most beautiful daughter. I’m getting along great with my boy and he has a baby on the way. What more could I ever want?” I sighed contently and gazed into his warm brown eyes. “Kolt, you always know the right thing to say.”
So maybe I had it all wrong…maybe fairytales do exist afterall. And maybe there are heroes out there to protect us from all of the monsters that inhabit our world. And just maybe those heroes don’t always ride off into the sunset alone…
We make our own path.
At long last, Kolt and I finally made it to the altar. I couldn’t stop smiling as I exchanged vows with the man I loved with all my heart. He slid the ring onto my finger and held both of my hands in his. Then we sealed our promises to each other with a kiss. My eyes teared up as I turned to greet our wedding guests. We were surrounded by all of our loved ones. Quinn and my sister, Madison. Tommy and my father. My dear friend, Ginger and her granny. Chief James and Lieutenant Moss. Then I met the eyes of someone I hadn’t expected to see and I dug my nails into Kolt’s hand as I gripped it tighter. “Everything alright, darling?” He whispered into my ear. I couldn’t stop staring at the woman in gray. Her lips twisted up into a smirk and she nodded in my direction. “Mom?” The words almost left my mouth but I stopped myself just in time.
It was my mother’s older sister, Sandra. Her son, Luke, was standing right next to her. It’d been nearly a decade since I’d seen either of them. Sandra had an icy gaze and a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes…she looked every bit like the powerful politician that she was. But in ways, she still reminded me so much of my mother. I hugged them both and thanked them for coming. “Have you been keeping your nose clean lately, cousin?” I teased Luke. He shrugged nonchalantly and wiped his hair out of his face. “Trying.” He mumbled. His mother grunted her disagreement. Luke had a bit of a troubled past and had ended up behind bars on more than one occasion…much to his mother’s dismay. But that’s another story for another time.
Madison brought Quinn over to me and she kissed me on the cheek. “You looked so gorgeous standing up there in your dress…just absolutely stunning! The two of you make an amazing couple! And I’m just so happy for you both!” She gushed, then she began to frantically wipe her eyes. “Don’t mind me. I’m so emotional today.” She apologized. I handed her a tissue and situated Quinn onto my hip. “Aww, Maddie! Don’t cry. And speak for yourself! You’re practically glowing today! Is there something you need to tell me?” She bit her lip and nodded her head. “I was going to wait until you came back from your honeymoon to tell you…but what the hell. We’re expecting!” I hugged my sister and congratulated her while Kolt clapped Tommy on the back. “Good job, son.” Tommy grinned sheepishly at the rest of us. “Hasn’t it been the most wonderful day?” I smiled up at Kolt. He beamed back at me and said, “It truly has. I believe you’ve made me the happiest man alive…Mrs. Gallagher.”
“You’re early!” I opened the door to let Kolt in. And just like I’d demanded earlier…he was holding several suitcases. “I’m underdressed too. You look good, darling.” He gazed at me so intently that I blushed a deep scarlet. “I’ve got to get back to the stove.” I motioned toward the kitchen. “It smells good, whatever it is.” He grinned. “It’s your favorite…taco casserole.” His grin grew even wider. I sent him outside to play with Quinn while I rushed to finish cooking.
As we sat around the table and began to eat, I watched Kolt help Quinn with her food. I couldn’t help but smile. After all these years…we were finally a family. I felt like I was bursting with happiness but yet something still nagged at me. “I hate to bring this up right now but I have to know.” Kolt looked up from his plate and raised an eyebrow. I took a breath and continued. “Brad mentioned a secret about you and Mary. It concerned Tommy…and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. What was he talking about?” He put his fork down on his plate and sighed. “Tommy is my nephew. Mary’s younger sister, Ruth, was still a teenager when she got pregnant. She was going to put the boy up for adoption and Mary wouldn’t hear of it. We took him in and raised him as our own.” I leaned back in my chair and let it all sink in. “Oh wow. Does he know?” I asked. “He does. I suppose it could be why our relationship is so strained.” He admitted. “So my sister married your nephew…and Quinn is his cousin but she’ll be raised to love him as her brother.” I shook my head, pondering it over. “That makes us one big dysfunctional family, darling.” Kolt chuckled. “All the best ones are.” I agreed and leaned over to kiss his cheek.
After dinner, Kolt cleaned the kitchen while I put Quinn to bed. I came up behind him while he was finishing the dishes. “I could get used to this.” I teased as I put my arms around him. He turned the sink off and twisted around to kiss me gently on the lips. “I’ve missed you so much.” He whispered into my mouth. “Not as much as I’ve missed you.” I buried my face into his chest and squeezed him tight. He picked me up and carried me into the bedroom. Before he could lay me down, I stopped him. “Promise me something, Kolt.” I trailed my fingers down the length of his arm. “Anything, darling.” He rasped. “Whatever obstacles we may have to face in the future…we’ll do it together. Promise me you’ll never leave again…no matter what your reasons are.” He cupped my face tenderly and stared into my eyes. “I promise.” He kissed me on the forehead. “Darling…I’ll be by your side until I take my last breath.”
Kolt: I watched from the front door as Shannon crossed the street safely with Quinn. Her eyes met mine and she waved for me to join them. But I shook my head and motioned for her to call for help. Then I held my hand over my heart and mouthed, “I love you. Both.” She nodded with tears streaming down her cheeks as she placed her hands over her own heart. It was difficult but I tore my eyes from her face and closed the door. Then I walked through the house quietly and checked all the bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets. There was no sign of Brad. He wouldn’t have just left. Not without confronting me first. It seemed too unlikely. Too easy. And I was right…
I eventually found him on the back patio trying to wiggle the latch to the gate open. “Should’ve just jumped over the fence. Then you might have gotten away.” I called out to him. He slowly turned to face me. “How careless of me. I’d ask you if you missed me, brother…but you don’t seem all that surprised to see me.” He grinned cheekily. “Not really. We never found your body. I was hoping that the tide took you far out into the ocean…a burial at sea. But I’ve always had this gut feeling that I’d see you again.” I took a step closer to him. “I really hate that I was right.” I scowled as his grin grew bigger. Then I glanced over his shoulder and laughed while shaking my head. “This is déjà vu all over again. You really are a special kind of stupid, Brad.” My lips twisted into a cold smile. His eyes followed mine to the pool behind him and then his smile vanished when he understood my intent. “You’re really going to try to drown me again, brother? You saw how well that worked out last time.” He guffawed. “And I’m beginning to think that you’re more like me than either of us would’ve guessed. Maybe it’s in our genes. Sure hope that little girl of yours-” I shoved him into the pool before he could finish. His fingers dug into my leg as I held him down with my boot. “Just die already!” I grunted pushing him down harder. “For real this time!” I added as he thrashed wildly underneath me. Several long minutes passed and finally he was still. I lifted my head when I heard sirens in the distance…backup was coming but they were still pretty far out. I let Brad go and his body drifted to the surface. But he didn’t move. Not this time. I sat at the edge of the pool and dangled my legs in the water. I’d wait as long as it took. If he was going to come back to life again for some insane reason…I’d be ready for him.
Quinn took to Kolt right away. They were adorable together. As I listened to him read her a bedtime story, I daydreamed about the life we could’ve had. We both kissed her goodnight and parted ways. I couldn’t sleep though, my body was restless. And it was driving me crazy knowing that he was so close…yet so far. I badly wanted to go to him and just throw myself into his arms. But I was too proud. Not too long later, I heard my bedroom door creak open. Heavy footsteps made their way to across the floor and the bed sunk as someone laid down next to me. “You shouldn’t be in here.” When he didn’t respond, I moved closer to him and entangled my legs with his. He was so warm. I sighed contently. I didn’t want him to leave. “You can stay. But only to sleep.” At this he chuckled loudly. “That’s going to be tough. Because I really want to do bad things to you.” I opened my eyes and looked at him. The light from the lamp shone across his face and enhanced his features. His face didn’t look that narrow earlier. And his beard wasn’t that thick. I blinked rapidly, trying to focus. Then he smiled, showing broken and jagged teeth. “Brad?” I gasped. It was a living nightmare.
I flailed wildly to get away from him but I was all tangled up in the blankets. Seconds later, I landed on the floor with a loud thud. He jumped up and put his hand over my mouth. “Don’t scream. You’ll just make it worse.” A terrified moan escaped my lips as he wrapped one of my scarves around my neck. “I was planning to only kill Tommy because I figured it’d hurt Kolt the worst…but then I found out about his and Mary’s little secret.” He shook his head and sighed dramatically. “The lies that surround this family. Tsk-tsk. And then I started following you around. Didn’t take long to figure out that Quinn is his daughter. Now I’m going to kill you both…right under his nose.” He threatened. I bit down on his hand as hard as I could, causing him to release me from his grasp. Then I clawed at the scarf around my neck and threw it to the ground. “Now we’ll have to start all over again.” He laughed, stepping towards me. “You’re insane!” I screamed at him. “You’re just stating the obvious…darling.” He mimicked Kolt’s drawl. I bolted for the door and called for Kolt as I ran down the hall and through the kitchen. I could hear Brad’s footsteps behind me. Kolt jerked upright from the couch, wiping sleep from his eyes. “I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you! You were right! He’s here!” I sobbed to him before running to Quinn’s room and carefully tucking her into my arms. “Come on, darling. The two of you need to get outside where it’s safe.” Kolt whispered from behind me as he ushered us out the door. “What about you?” I asked tearfully. “I’ll meet you out there as soon as I can.” He promised. “There’s something I have to take care of first.”
“What are you doing here, Kolt?” I asked sharply. He turned to face me and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. He was still as handsome as ever. The years had been kind to him. “She came right to me.” He drawled, looking at Quinn proudly. “Almost as if she knew who I was.” I scoffed irritably. “Well she doesn’t. Maddie, can you please take Quinn outside to play while we talk?” I smiled at Quinn to let her know everything was okay. “Absolutely.” She chirped and held her hands out to Kolt. “She sure is beautiful.” He gushed as he handed her to Madison. As soon as the door shut behind them, I laid into him. “Ever heard of a cell phone? Email? Or you could’ve written a letter at the very least. Any form of contact would’ve been better than nothing. Instead you send checks I don’t need. I never wanted your money, you stupid man! I wanted you!” I cried angrily. Guilt twisted his features. “I’m so sorry, darling.” He said softly, putting his hand on my shoulder. I jerked away from him and took a step back. “You left me to raise our child alone. I’ll NEVER forgive you for that. Where the hell were you?” He looked away, ashamed. “It was better for you not to know. Do you really think I wanted to leave, Shannon? I did it to protect you. And Quinn.” He retorted. “You could have protected us by being here!” I countered as he sat down heavily on the sofa.
“I still see him everywhere I go, Shannon. I’ve done a horrible job coping with happened, I know. But I’m here because someone has been following me. And maybe they’ve been following you too.” There was a haunted look to his eyes. I sighed and stared at him. “Look, I’m not being paranoid. And this isn’t some ploy to weasel my way back into your life. I’m going to earn that.” He promised. “I truly have a bad feeling. We’re both cops…you know the feeling I’m talking about. And I just feel like I need to be here, in this house with you, right now.” I shook my head but didn’t respond. “If you really want me to leave, you’ll have to pick me up and carry me out.” I felt the corners of my mouth lift into a small smile. I sighed. “Fine, you can stay. But only for tonight. In the morning, you need to go check into a motel or something. And you’re sleeping on the couch.” He smirked up at me. “I can live with that.”