Published on 3-15-2015 Genres: Romance
Kensington Worth had a vision for her senior year. It involved her best friends, her posh private school in downtown Chicago and time alone with her piano until her audition was perfected, a guaranteed ticket into the best music programs in the world.
Instead, a nightmare took over.
It didn’t happen all at once, but her life unraveled quickly—a tiny thread that evil somehow kept pulling until everything precious was taken from her. She was suddenly living miles away from her old life, trapped in an existence she didn’t choose—one determined to destroy her from the inside, leaving only hate and anger behind. It didn’t help that her neighbor, the one whose eyes held danger, was enjoying every second of her fall.
Owen Harper was trouble, his heart wild and his past the kind that’s spoken about in whispers. And somehow, his path was always intertwined with Kensington’s, every interaction crushing her, ruining her hope for any future better than her now. Sometimes, though, what everyone warns is trouble, is exactly what the heart needs. Owen Harper was consumed with darkness, and it held onto his soul for years. When Kensington looked at him, she saw a boy who’d gotten good at taking others down when they threatened his carefully balanced life. But the more she looked, the more she saw other things too—good things…things to admire.
Things…to love. Things that made her want to be reckless.
And those things…they were the scariest of all.
“Locked and ready,” the carnie man yells, signaling something to the ride operator. With a jerk, we stream upward about twenty feet, halting fast and our gondola swinging back and forth while we wait for the bucket below us to load more riders.
Owen’s brow is already beading with sweat, and he pulls his hat from his head and runs his long sleeve over his face, his dark eyes blinking fast.
“We don’t have to do this,” I say, but he interrupts me.
“Yes. Yes, we do,” he says, and suddenly, his hand finds mine. His grip on my fingers is hard, but the way we lock together is almost familiar—right. Owen tugs on the fabric of his left sleeve with his teeth, chewing on the ribbed edge for a few seconds before grasping it with his thumb and holding it to his closed lips, his eyes darting from the safety latch to the pivot wheel to the line of people still waiting to load. With every new thing he notices, his grip on my hand gets tighter, and when we swing up even higher, his breath falters.
“I’m going to ask him to stop the ride. Owen, we’re getting off,” I say.
“No!” he says, closing his eyes and squeezing them, tucking his chin into his chest, then shaking his head no. “No,” he whispers. “Please, Kensi. Help me through this.”
Without pause, I pull Owen’s right hand into my lap, and I cover it even more with my other fingers. His leg starts to bounce, and the rhythm is making the cart swing a little too much, so I lift his hand again, this time bringing it to my chest so I can hold it to me closely.
“Close your eyes, and I’ll tell you when they’re done loading, when you can just look out at the city, okay?” I say.
“Okay,” he whispers, doing as I say.
“One more round, and that’s it…almost there…loading. Latching. Waving. Okay,” I say, still clutching his hand in mine, his fingers fretting and fighting to find more of my hand to grip any time I threaten to loosen my hold.
“Are we moving? Kensi, I can’t tell. Are we moving?” he asks, his voice soft and vulnerable.
“Not yet. Soon, Owen. We’ll be moving soon,” I say, locking my eyes on his closed lids, watching them twitch with panic.
His breathing starts to stutter even more, and I begin to open my lips to beg him to let me make them stop one more time—when his eyes open, his soul looking right into mine. Then the sky begins to move behind him. I keep his gaze, doing my best not to interrupt, to blink, and I let my mouth form a faint smile. “We’re moving,” I say, his hand still held to my chest, my heart no doubt pounding against our grasp on one another.
“Owen, you can look out now, look at the town and the stars,” I say, glancing over his shoulder as the lights from the festival fade and refocus with every pass we make. Owen keeps his eyes on me, never blinking. But I know he’s seeing something. I know he’s safe, that he doesn’t need to “tap out,” because he’s smiling, and his eyes are showing traces of something new, like the life of a child lost years ago.
As the ride slows, we pause at the top, still frozen in our pose, our hands tethered to the point where I can no longer feel beyond my first knuckles. But Owen’s smile remains, and his breathing starts to even out, his chest rising and falling at a normal pace. I spare a look away as my friends exit below us, and I notice Willow point up to our cart as she reaches her arms around Jess and squeezes him.
“I think they’re proud of you,” I say, gesturing to the group waiting for us about thirty feet below. Owen doesn’t look, and he doesn’t break our trance. But he does finally speak.
“You are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen,” he says, and all at once, I fall for Owen Harper.