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Unlocking Shadows (Keys to Love, Book Four), page 1

 

Unlocking Shadows (Keys to Love, Book Four)
 


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Unlocking Shadows (Keys to Love, Book Four)


  UNLOCKING SHADOWS

  Keys to Love, Book Four

  Kennedy Layne

  UNLOCKING SHADOWS

  Copyright © 2018 by Kennedy Layne

  Kindle Edition

  eBook ISBN: 978-1-943420-45-2

  Print ISBN: 978-1-943420-46-9

  Cover Designer: Sweet ’N Spicy Designs

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

  All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

  Dedication

  Jeffrey—There are no shadows with you…only light. I love you.

  Cole—You’ve started the next journey in your life, and we are so very proud of you!

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  About Unlocking Darkness

  Books by Kennedy Layne

  About the Author

  Chapter One

  Twelve years ago…

  Hope.

  How could an individual still have such an impractical yearning after facing such a malicious, unrelenting evil?

  Emma Irwin still desperately grasped at the prospect that she’d be with her family soon. She’d tell them all about the things that people took for granted, such as how much she loved them. She’d apologize to her older sister for acting so childish and to her mother for not doing the dishes like she’d promised this morning. The simplest acts of kindness weren’t hard to perform, yet she’d never realized how selfish she’d been until just this moment.

  Until she’d found herself in a situation that was her father’s worst nightmare.

  Emma bit back another sob as the old wooden dock underneath her back jostled her from side to side in time with the storm. The gusting winds from the gale had churned up the lake, and the choppy waves were slamming into the weathered planks. Cold rain was descending from the black sky overhead, washing away her tears as if they never existed.

  When a crack of thunder overhead was followed a second later by a streak of lightning, it was a harsh reminder that she was still alive.

  Emma shifted so that her bound hands didn’t dig into the small of her back quite as badly. She struggled to free herself from the thick white zip tie secured tightly around her wrists, refusing to accept that she would die at the hands of someone she’d once trusted.

  How could he do this to her?

  The hard, half-inch wide plastic cut into her skin, a cruel reminder that she was at his mercy.

  His muttered curses were drowned out by the torrential downpour, which served her well. He wouldn’t be able to hear what she was doing behind him.

  The wooden deck jarred abruptly, providing her the momentum to roll forward. Her cheek scraped against the wet, rough plank as she leveraged herself to her knees. The cold rain had numbed her skin long ago, but that could easily have been from the terror that had flooded her system when she realized that a man she’d known her entire life was a monster.

  “I’ll give you a family of your own.”

  Emma screamed as he suddenly appeared before her.

  “Please,” Emma choked out, having strained her voice after he’d all but thrown her into the bed of his truck. “Please don’t do this. You know me. You know my family. I have a family.”

  “You were unhappy.”

  “I wasn’t,” Emma denied emphatically with a shake of her head, swallowing back the sob that rose in her throat. “I wasn’t unhappy. I love my family. I do. I always have.”

  Emma could have continued pleading, but her frantic claims would have fallen on deaf ears. She began crying uncontrollably. He wasn’t hearing anything she said, and he’d even turned away to throw what looked like a pile of chains into a boat that wasn’t even his.

  Her mind registered his horrific intentions, and she instinctively managed to scramble to her feet.

  She ran as fast as she could despite of her wrists being bound, ignoring the rain pelting her face and the wind attempting to knock her off the deck and into the lake. She’d just learned to swim this past summer, but she’d done so with the use of her hands. She’d most likely drown immediately without being able to move her arms.

  Adrenaline kept her moving forward, though she blinked furiously to clear her vision so that she could make it to land.

  There!

  Up ahead.

  Headlights pulled into one of the cabins that Birdie rented out to fishermen or families on vacation. She instinctively began screaming, but the rumbling thunder overhead drowned out her cries for hope.

  That didn’t stop her from trying again.

  Unfortunately, it was too late.

  “No, no, no, no.” He’d grabbed ahold of her wet strands of hair, yanking her back against him with such force that it knocked the air right out of her lungs. She couldn’t scream, and she couldn’t even cry. “I’m taking you home.”

  Emma didn’t need to be told that she would die if he got her into that boat. She fought his constricting grip around her upper body, kicking and twisting in an attempt to free herself at all costs.

  It was of no use. He was too strong, and the lights she’d seen were no longer there.

  The hope she’d been holding onto had been doused by the rain and swallowed by the darkness of his soul.

  “I’m taking you home where you belong, Emma.”

  Chapter Two

  Present day…

  A bright orange leaf fell slowly from a branch overhead, twirling and dancing in the light breeze until it landed softly on the cold ground. Added to the swirl of autumn colors were vibrant reds and subdued yellows that brought back memories of swinging on a large tire that Dad had strung to an upper limb with a single length of thick, heavy hemp rope.

  Gwen Kendall and her brothers couldn’t wait until the pile was high enough before they would all jump into the mountain of leaves that had taken all day to rake together. It was as if she could still hear the delightful laughter from the past as she fondly remembered the childhood shenanigans being well worth the trouble of raking the leaves all over again.

  “I thought I might find you out here.”

  “Look at you, solving the most difficult puzzles and winning amazing prizes,” Gwen said, tossing a smile over her shoulder from her seat in the tire swing that her father never managed to take down. She wasn’t surprised to find her older brother walking toward her with two cups of steaming coffee. “No wonder the town made you sheriff. You always could find every one of us when we played hide and seek in the woods.”

  “It wasn’t that hard when none of you could keep quiet for more than ten seconds at a time.” Mitch handed off one of the mugs before he lowered himself to the ground at the foot of the tree. He then leaned
against the trunk of the large maple, crossing his legs at the ankles. He made himself comfortable, not worrying about getting dirt on his faded denim jeans. “Besides, the sheriff’s position is a temporary assignment until the town elects someone they believe is qualified for the office.”

  “You keep telling yourself that. You’re as good as elected already,” Gwen murmured innocently before taking a sip of the rich java that had gotten her through some of the toughest deployments during her ten years in the Navy. Those care packages her parents had sent filled to the brim with her favorite ground coffee beans had most likely saved her life. “Hmmm. This hits the spot. I forgot how cool the evenings could be this time of year.”

  “The sheriff’s position is temporary.” Leave it to Mitch to address her witty comment, all the while ignoring the second half of the conversation. He was the most solemn Kendall sibling out of the five, but that wasn’t surprising given that he was the oldest. He took his position in the family ranks seriously. “I didn’t take an early retirement to find myself in a position that requires me to work more than forty hours per week still wearing a uniform and carrying the same weapon. Been there, done that. I even got the t-shirt.”

  Gwen would have asked how his hip was holding up, but Mitch would only have shot her an irritating glance. He’d most likely unfold his large frame and stalk back into the house if she so much as brought up the subject of the pins holding his pelvis together. Instead, she took another sip of coffee as she used her shoe to gain traction on the worn piece of barren ground underneath the swing so that she could spin and face him.

  If he could pick and choose what to focus on in this discussion, then so could she. Her brothers never should have kept such a world-altering secret from her, especially Mitch.

  “You could have at least called to give me a heads-up about Mom’s final wish so that I wasn’t bawling like some newborn baby in front of Dad,” Gwen scolded lightly, only to receive a raised eyebrow. She was the only one of her siblings who couldn’t achieve such a superior expression. It was irritating as all hell. “Don’t give me that look. You know that Dad hates it when I cry.”

  “I also know that you were well aware of what Dad was up to before you ever drove into Blyth Lake,” Mitch said wryly with a shake of his head before taking a drink of his coffee. “You think I don’t know about that?”

  He was right. She had known that their parents had purchased each of their children separate properties in their hometown. It had been their mother’s dying wish to have all of her children back in Blyth Lake, Ohio to raise their own families. Gwen’s chest tightened at the thought that Mary Kendall would never get to meet her future grandchildren…nor see any of her children marry.

  God, it still hurt to be without their mother. Gwen doubted she’d ever get over losing such a wonderful example of a matriarch to such a horrible disease. Talk about the complete package. She would have been the best grandmother ever.

  Gwen cleared her throat before Mitch caught on that she was having a hard time returning to their family homestead without their beautiful and genuine mother at the helm.

  “What can I say?” Gwen shrugged with a small smile. “Lance is a horrible liar. Always has been. He’s as easy to peel as a grape. One phone call was all I needed to know that something was up with his homecoming, so I made a few discreet calls of my own to find out what was going on.”

  “And you ruined Dad’s surprise for you.”

  “Did not,” Gwen countered, recalling how excited her father was when he’d spotted her fireball red Jeep Rubicon coming down the lane. “I played it off perfectly, and he was none the wiser.”

  The last thing Gwen would have wanted was to hurt her dad’s feelings. He’d done his best to make today special, and he’d succeeded with flying colors.

  Gwen had driven up the gravel lane lined with full-bodied tall pine trees, having rolled the windows down to catch the fresh scent of pine that she’d missed over the years. The sight of their dad—Gus Kendall—standing on the front porch of his two-story yellow house with its full three-hundred and sixty degrees wraparound porch had immediately brought tears to her eyes.

  Mom had loved that porch. She used to spend hours out back of the kitchen snapping beans from her garden. Gwen could still feel the sting on her palm from hitting that old screen door on the way out to the back yard, craving the adventure that awaited her on those long summer days.

  It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Dad was trying to fill Mary Kendall’s shoes, of sorts—the most wonderful and loving mother in the world who had always been standing on her beloved porch steps with a dishtowel in her hand, waving it excitingly in the air each time Gwen had visited home.

  Gus had a dishtowel in his hand, but he wasn’t exactly the waving type. Instead, his wide smile that practically bared all his teeth said it all—he was beyond happy that his only daughter was finally home after serving her duty to her country.

  Each of her brothers and their newly acquired significant others—with the exception of Mitch, who would most likely remain a bachelor for the rest of his life—had been in attendance for the family barbeque her dad had thrown to welcome her back to town. It had been so chaotic greeting everyone that she’d been fortunate enough to have the commotion keep the tears at bay…until Gus Kendall had handed her the last key, per her mother’s wishes.

  She didn’t doubt that her dad had kept five keys on the same keyring before Noah had arrived in town, being the first of the Kendall clan to drive back over the county line for good.

  Gwen was now the proud owner of a small piece of prime ranchland where she would be able to rebuild the old four-stall stable whose bones were more than fit and ready for a new proprietor. She’d be able to own a horse or two and go riding on several acres of wooded trails every day after she got home from putting in a full day at the office. From what she remembered of the property back in the day, there was a half-acre of pasture to turn the horses out in and forested hills of hardwood beyond.

  Her father had all but handed over her dream on a silver platter, but there was a vital piece of the puzzle that would forever be missing. Her most experienced riding partner was gone, eaten up by the cancer that had sapped her strength and stolen her future.

  “We all miss her, Gwen.”

  Gwen had to swallow a couple of times before she could speak, which allowed her to promptly admonish her older brother for causing her to be overly emotional.

  “Stop it,” Gwen managed to say with a forced laugh, blinking away the tears. “I’m serious. We’re finally all home, and I refuse to make this a sad occasion.”

  “That’s kind of hard to do with all those numbskulls in attendance,” Mitch muttered underneath his breath, his gaze darting to the side. “Those three have been making me very unhappy lately. Do me a favor? Tell them to stay out of what’s left of my investigation.”

  Sure enough, the rest of her brothers converged on Mitch’s attempt to have a little one-on-one time with his only sister. They’d always been close growing up, not that she didn’t love each and every one of her brothers individually.

  She loved them more than anything in the world.

  They were the Kendall clan.

  Jace was the middle child, but he wasn’t technically the peacekeeper. Actually, there were times she’d definitely call him the instigator. Keeper of the peace was her role, and she took it very seriously. Their mother had once said she would never allow Jace to feel thwarted for being smack dab in the middle of the lineup, so he was either the youngest of three or the oldest of three. It was most likely why he had a split personality—one minute he could be the comic relief and the other he was downright sentimental.

  Then came Noah. He was his own person, always doing things he thought was right and to hell with anyone else who thought otherwise. He had a mind of his own. Maybe it was because Noah had always looked up to his brothers and wanted to follow in their footsteps and accomplish something important. Technically, th
ey’d all fulfilled the family legacy of serving their country honorably, but there was always something more to achieve.

  Last, but not least, was Lance. He was the baby of the family, although that adjective didn’t come close to describing the man who had all but plopped himself down next to Mitch. His infectious smile always kept the mood light, but he also had a dangerous side to him that had made the Marines very lucky to have him when the mission needed a man of action.

  But Mitch? He was special. He’d always been her protector, her supporter, and her sounding board amongst everything else that they had going on.

  “Dad is sharing Mom’s lemonade recipe with Brynn,” Lance said, bumping shoulders with Mitch to get a bit more room against the tree trunk. “She’s going to add a twist and some of Pappy Angstroms’ lightning to make a new drink to sell at the Cavern. Kendall’s Ole Summertime Lemonade.”

  Gwen allowed Mitch to carry on the conversation, still taking in the fact that she was now home in the warm embrace of family. It wasn’t that much of a stretch to learn that Lance had gotten back together with Brynn Mercer. After all, they’d been high school sweethearts and destined to be so for their entire lives.

  It was Noah and Jace falling into two rather serious relationships that had her stumped.

  “Anything new on the investigation?” Jace asked quietly, causing Gwen to catch Mitch’s glare of irritation and bring her around to the conversation at hand. “Shae’s parents headed back to Michigan after the service. I’m sure the drive was hell knowing that the person who’d killed their baby girl is still out there hiding somewhere, free to do as he pleases.”

  Gwen truly wanted to heed Mitch’s request to steer the conversation away from a murder case that had basically rocked the town of Blyth Lake, but she couldn’t bring herself to force her way in.

  She hadn’t been here when Noah and his new love—Reese Woodward—had inadvertently discovered a body in the wall of his newly acquired homestead. Apparently, everyone had assumed the decomposed body had at first belonged to Emma Irwin. The teenager had gone missing twelve years prior, but Gwen had already left town to start her life in the Navy by then.

 
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