Chapter 34

Image by Benjamin Balazs from Pixabay

Keelan

“We can’t just send him to them.” I crossed my arms over my chest, which was getting more difficult with my protruding stomach.

“We may not have a choice,” Haven said flatly, both his hands gripped the steering wheel in a death grip.

“Of course we have a choice,” I grumbled.

“Don’t,” he said.

“Don’t what?” I asked, widening my eyes guilelessly.

“Don’t tell him.” He shot me a stern look as we turned into the parking lot. “It’s not like he’s innocent in all this and he needs to face the music.”

“But-”

“No.” He put the car in park and turned to face me. “He runs, we’re all on the hook. If we can’t manage our own business, why would the Pact ally with us. We can’t afford to burn bridges.”

I knew what he was saying. The Architect had called Hidden Pines ‘home’ and there weren’t many communities willing to trust us anymore. My fault.

“Hey. Hey, look at me.” Haven said softly, grabbing my chin to make me look back at him. “It’s not your fault. But this is a big chance. For everyone.”

Geez, I was about to cry again. Stupid hormones. Yep, I was going to milk that excuse. I swiped angrily at my cheeks. “But what about what you said about… that dragon.”

“Yeah, he was, uh, intense,” Haven winced, “but he’d just lost his sister. I’m not saying we go into this blind but we can’t just spit on them and expect to walk away.”

“Fine,” I sighed heavily. “I won’t tell Robert. But I don’t like this.”

Something slammed on Zoe’s hood making me jump like a startled cat and curl my arms around my stomach. Staring out the front window, Alex was crouched on the hood with a giant grin.

“You two lovebirds comin’ or what?” he jeered.

Haven pointed at Alex then used the same finger to swipe across his throat. Alex made moose antlers with his hands, thumbs to his temples and stuck out his tongue, grinning even more. Haven just raised his eyebrows then pulled out his phone. Pulling up his contacts, he pressed a button and held it to his ear a few seconds before, “Hey, Kiki -”. That was as far as he got before Alex backflipped off the hood and disappeared.

“Wow,” I clapped, “show me another trick.”

“Maybe when we get home.” His smile deepened and my heartbeat quickened.

A knock on the glass by my head made me jump a second time. This time it was Nita who waved with a bright smile as she reached for the door handle. “Come on, come on, come on,” she said giddily, pulling me out of the car.

“Okay, I’m coming,” I stretched my back once I was upright, wincing a little as junior bumped a kidney.

“You alright?” Nita asked, hands out to the side as if she was preparing to do… something.

“Yeah,” I tapped my stomach, “this one just felt like rearranging my organs. What’s with that pose? I’m pretty sure I’m too heavy for you to catch.”

She guffawed.  “You lookin’ down on me?”

“Technically, yes,” I said as I stared down at her.

Nita narrowed her eyes and smirked. “Try me.”

“I’d rather you didn’t,” Haven said, coming around to stand next to me. He settled a hand at the small of my back. “Why don’t we get you situated and Nita can help me unload the food.”

“No, you guys go ahead. I can find my own seat.” I raised my eyebrows when Haven looked like he would protest.

Nita grabbed a bag and then linked her arm with mine. “I’ll take this,” she said to Haven, “You got the rest right?” She winked at her brother as she set us in motion. Haven mumbled something behind us as we walked away but I couldn’t quite make out what it was.

We meandered into the open field by the lake that we’d used for the New Years run. Faux torches lined the pathways and lit the interior of the pavilions with warm light that flickered a little, making it feel more realistic. Several grills were sizzling, Basil and Alex seemed to be in some sort of grilling competition, and people enjoyed hot meals as they sat at picnic tables or lounged on comfortable blankets.

Spotting Robert sitting alone at a far table, I excused myself from the highly sociable Nita who’d stopped to chat for the umpteenth time and made my way over to him. I sat down with relief.

“Hey,” I said. “How are you?” Yikes, that was definitely not the best opener. “Sorry, I mean, do they know what’s wrong?”

“No.” His voice sounded both hoarse and sticky, as if it had either been used too much or not enough. I was pretty surprised he was here, actually. He hadn’t left the hospital the past couple weeks except when he was forced out for sleep or food. He rubbed his hands over his face. “They keep telling me he’s gone.” He finally looked at me and smiled. It was a tired smile but there was a glimmer of hope. “They took him off life support today.” My heart stopped. “But he apparently doesn’t need it.”

I punched his shoulder with a grin. “Don’t do that, I about had a heart attack.”

He gave a raw chuckle. “I’m sure I can find someone who can help him.”

My smile wavered. I knew I’d said I wouldn’t tell him, but if he gets taken away, what about Levi? We could try to find people ourselves, but we didn’t have the contacts he did. And what if everything went south and Levi… I didn’t even want to think about it. “Look, Robert,” I started, but a plate was dropped in front of me, the savory smells making my stomach rumble.

“Looks like I got here just in time,” Haven said, giving me a peck on the lips.

I smiled wryly, “You do have timing.” Robert looked suspiciously between me and Haven, settling on me with narrowed eyes. My smile dipped sourly but I did my best to reaffix it to my face. “Everything’s going to be fine, Robert.” His eyes narrowed further before he nodded and turned his attention to my food. He didn’t buy it, but he’d let it go for now. His quick fingers snatched a rib from my plate. Haven moved to grab his wrist but the smaller man was faster, easily ducking out of reach and bringing the rib to his mouth with an arrogant grin. It didn’t quite reach his eyes, but it was a start.

“Get your own plate,” Haven growled, his arm scooping into a wall between my plate and Robert. I elbowed him in the stomach, though I didn’t have room to put much force behind it, and he shot me smirk. In that instant, Robert had snagged another rib and Haven grunted. I huffed, knowing Robert only saw all this as a challenge.

Grabbing a rib myself I noticed that I had far more on my plate than I could eat, and Haven had his own plate. But Robert didn’t have any food in front him. I looked sideways at Haven. Had he planned this? Nah. Then he glanced at me, eyes crinkling. My jaw dropped. He had planned this. I glanced around toward the buffet table and caught Aunt Peggy’s eyes. She grinned and gave me a thumbs up. Okay, maybe Aunt Peggy had planned this. But Haven had played along and he didn’t like Robert. There truly was no place like home.

As the food got cleared away, the crowd thinned as most of the gathering shifted to play a massive game of hide and seek. AJ’s idea. I hadn’t been sure how well it’d go over, but even several humans joined in. They were split into two teams, a sixth of the participants were ‘predators’ and the rest were ‘prey’.

“Riley,” Captain Thurgood barked as he came up to our table. “Have you seen Lovett?”

“No, Sir,” Haven replied. He glanced around the pavilion. “I thought he was supposed to be on patrol for the run?”

“He hasn’t checked in for his assignment.” The Captain’s scowl deepened the lines bracketing his face.

Haven’s muscles tensed, but relaxed as I put my hand on his arm reassuringly. “I’m sure he’s just playing a joke on someone or got pulled away by Kiki. He’ll be back soon.”

Thurgood pursed his lips thoughtfully as he looked at Keelan, then back at Haven. “Would you mind covering for him?”

Haven was shaking his head, but I said, “Just go. I’m sure when Alex gets back he’ll trade back with you.”

“If you’re sure…” His brows pushed together as he met my eyes.

“What am I, and invalid?” I scoffed. “Besides there are plenty of capable people here, even if I didn’t know how to use my legs.”

He raised his hands. “Fine, fine. I’ll go. But I won’t be gone long.”

Captain Thurgood nodded decisively. “Good. You’re over on the east side of the lake.” He handed Haven a walkie before moving on.

“I’ll be back,” Haven said, sliding his hand behind the back of my neck and melding his lips with mine, time slowing down. I wanted to make a comment about the Terminator but brain was too slow; he was gone before my thoughts caught up to real time.

 As the night wore on, it was clear that Haven was likely going to have to work the whole run. I wasn’t sure whether I was mad at Alex or grateful that he’d skipped his shift so I could have a tiny bit of time without the hovering. As the game was winding down, more ground blankets, lawn and camping chairs were set up to prepare for the start of the lunar eclipse. I eyed the nest Haven had set up earlier insisting I’d be more comfortable laying down with a few pillows and another blanket to cover up with if I fell asleep. If he wanted to heft my dead weight off the ground later, so be it. However, if I lay down too early it’d be difficult to get up on my owns if I needed to.

“Keelan, I was just about to run home to grab something I forgot and wondered if you’d keep me company,” Aunt Peggy said as she approached, a warm smile spread across her face. I put up a hand and opened my mouth to refuse as I glanced toward the lake, as if expecting Haven to step into sight and any moment. “We’ll only be gone a few minutes and I thought maybe you’d like the chance to use an actual restroom and grab some snacks before the big show. We’ve got another hour before the eclipse, and the eclipse itself is supposed to take a couple hours.”

On second thought. “Sure, actually. That sounds like a good idea. Just let me tell Haven. He should be just a little ways around the lake.”

“Why don’t you just text him on the way.”

“Good idea.” If I told him he’d either talk me into staying or come along and I don’t think that’ll go over well with the stern-faced Captain.

Published by melainascriven

Melaina Scriven lives in a mitten, not a shoe. Central mitten, actually. Muggy in the summer, frigid in the winter. It’s not her fault she wants to write. Blame it on the sister. And Harry Potter. Once an outdoorsy child, she quickly fell into the world of books and hasn’t yet found an escape route. Aspiring to the likes of Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Kevin Hearne, and Kim Harrison, she gets out a pen and initiates a staring contest with a sheet of paper. “When To Go” won’t write itself. Although, she secretly hopes it will.

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