The Mountain Man's Secret TwinsBy: Alexa Ross & Holly Rayner
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Kenzie felt chilled to the bone. Sitting there in her real estate office chair, glaring across the room at the empty seat near the window, she thought back to all the times she should have recognized the truth: that her boyfriend, Austin, was sleeping with their mutual coworker, Tori.
God, the clues had been right there in front of her, probably making many of her coworkers think she was completely stupid, or clueless, for not seeing them. But Kenzie had been happy, or at least mildly so, and she hadn’t pushed any questions. Not when Austin and Tori had worked late together, nearly every night of the week. Not when Austin and Tori had decided to take that real estate vacation out to California, to “bone up” on some of the West Coast real estate tactics. As if.
Austin had moved in with Kenzie the previous year, uniting their funds and their lives in a small apartment in Concord, New Hampshire, just 20 minutes from where Kenzie had grown up with her mother in a lower-class home in the suburbs. Her father had left her and her mother when she was 16, driving quickly away from them and toward another job, another life, in Nevada. This had devastated her mother, at least for a while. But Kenzie had watched as her mother had regrouped, plotting eternally to remarry someone rich, someone who could take care of them.
Often, throughout her later teenage years, her mother would sit her at the table, tossing chicken and beans onto her plate, and declare that Kenzie’s one position in life was to nail down a husband, someone who could pay for her and keep her safe. Someone who could ensure she had a seat at a table, with a heaping plate, every single night of her life.
When Kenzie was 19, her mother had opted to marry a man down the street, an ex-real estate agent with a broad smile and three young children from a previous marriage—a man who talked a great deal about how much money he had and who could flash a credit card. Of course, the funds ran dry rather quickly. Kenzie hadn’t had the money to move out or head to college with the rest of her classmates at that point, and thus she had found herself as head babysitter, chasing the kids around the backyard and daydreaming about personal freedom, about her own piece of the world—one that wasn’t tainted by her mother, or by the fact that her father had left. Naturally, since then, she hadn’t thought much about motherhood for herself.
Her mother’s husband had suggested it first: that Kenzie become a real estate agent at the local firm. “She’s pretty, bright, and personable,” her stepdad had said, speaking as if Kenzie weren’t mere feet away from him, nibbling on a cracker. “She could really bring in the cash. And we could use it, Barb.”
Once the spark had entered her mother’s mind, Kenzie hadn’t questioned her, knowing that requesting permission to live her life would stunt her growth even more. She’d immediately headed to the real estate office, asking flirtatiously to fill out an application and quickly finding herself in an interview. The interviewer, a balding man with a drawl who had obviously moved up from the South, simply leaned back, assessing her with fish eyes. “Sell yourself,” he’d said.
And Kenzie had. She’d sold herself with dramatic and piercing words in the interview. “I have the skills and the ambition to sell these houses,” she’d said. “I’ve worked my way up from the bottom, selling candy bars to kids on the playground when I needed the extra cash. I’m nothing if not resilient. I’m the girl for this job.”
Then she’d sold houses. So many houses, in fact, that she’d found herself brought up to the Concord office in less than a year, leading her to getting her own place, to building her own life from the ground up. She didn’t often return to her mother’s, knowing the moment she arrived back, she’d be sucked into the chaos, probably babysitting within the hour. And her mother would nag, often declaring that Kenzie needed to move home, to contribute to the family funds.
“I gave you my entire life, Kenzie,” her mother often said, taking a long drag from a secret cigarette. “The least you could do is help me out a little bit once in a while. My husband and his kids drive me absolutely nuts. I need you around.”