Unlocking Secrets

By: Kennedy Layne

Keys to Love, Book Two


CHAPTER ONE





Twelve years ago…

Emily stared into the cold dark eyes of a man she should have recognized—only she didn’t.

Why did he seem so distant? So far away?

“I-I’m going home,” Emma choked out around the nervous constriction in her throat. Fear immobilized her feet to the ground. “Everyone is leaving the party. I’ve got to get home before my parents find out I’m not in bed.”

She ran her sweaty palms down the brand-new pair of ripped jeans she’d bought to impress Billy Stanton. She’d found them on the clearance rack after having saved enough of her allowance to afford them. She wanted to look over her shoulder where the bonfire was still raging, but his unsettling stare kept her from taking her attention off him.

What was he doing here anyway?

Something deeply inherent to her survival told her that she was in danger, but that was impossible. Things like that didn’t happen in their small town. He would never really hurt her, right?

“I know I’m late. My mom and dad will freak if they find out I’m late for curfew.” Emma wished she’d waited for Brynn or Julie, but it was already an hour past the curfew her parents had initially set up a few years ago. Is that why he was here? Had her parents discovered her empty bed? Shoot. That would mean the sheriff was on his way out here and everyone would blame her come Monday morning for the party being busted. “I didn’t m-mean to lose track of time.”

Emma shifted her weight in unease. He hadn’t said a word. Why was he staring at her with such a blank expression?

“Julie and Brynn are right behind me. They’ll be here in just a minute.”

Emma wasn’t sure why she’d lied like that. It wasn’t like he didn’t know the annual bonfire was taking place and who was in attendance. After all, the alcohol had to be supplied by someone.

His gaze drifted over her shoulders toward the farm.

It wasn’t until that moment that she became aware of how still he’d been standing in front of her with his arms hanging down at his sides.

Would he tell her parents where she’d been?

Wait. That didn’t make any sense. He’d be in just as much trouble as the rest of them, maybe even more so given the circumstances.

“You’re here to warn us, aren’t you?”

Relief came over her in waves as she finally connected the dots. She was so stressed about missing curfew that she must have misread the situation.

“My dad called the sheriff, and he’s on his way out here, isn’t he?” Emma did look over her shoulder, grimacing at the fact that mostly everyone would be grounded come the weekend. They’d all say it was her fault, and Billy would never ask her out. “You should go warn the rest of them. I’ll run home and try to make up an excuse as to why I was out so late.”

Emma didn’t wait around for him to answer. She took off at a dead run, brushing past him as the adrenaline and fear pumped through her at facing the disappointing reaction of her parents.

How could she possibly get out of the grounding of her life?

She ran deeper into the woods, ignoring the rumbling sound of thunder overhead. The gathering clouds made it rather difficult for her to see the path in front of her, but she’d memorized this route from the many times she’d taken it over the years.

The air contained a bit of a chill, especially since she’d been by the bonfire for the last few hours. The only good thing about the fast jog she’d undertaken was that it kept her heartrate up, chasing away the cool breeze stinging her cheeks.

She cried out when the tip of her boot got caught in the root of a tree. The leaves on the ground cushioned her fall, but the palms of her hands still suffered scratches from the coarse sticks littered amongst the foliage. It wasn’t her skin she was worried about so much as the condition of the cute little ankle boots she’d borrowed from her sister. If she so much as scuffed the toe, she’d be in deep shit for taking them without asking.

Emma shifted off her hands and knees, choosing to stand instead of sitting on the ground. The clouds took advantage of the moment and slowly covered the moon, limiting the light she’d been using to lead the way. She couldn’t see the damage done to her sister’s boots, nor the severity of the cuts on her hand. The warm stickiness alerted her to the fact that she was bleeding at least a little.

Was it bad of her to think that she could use this to her advantage? She squinted to try and see how bad the scratches were so she could adjust her story. She could always say she’d fallen on her way home and stopped at Julie’s house to clean up the wounds. Would her parents believe her slight misdirection?