Teaser Time! Chapter 1 from Keeper of Truth!

Happy Sunday Friends,

I have a treat for you today. For those who have been anxiously awaiting the release of Keeper of Truth, I am giving you the first chapter today!

The release is coming soon, still no solid date though. Sorry about that, but I do hope you enjoy this chapter.

CHAPTER ONE

STEPH

Her brush stroked gently across the canvas, leaving a thin trail of blue in a space that would eventually be a sky at sunset.

Steph sat on a stool holding her palate and staring contemplatively at her work. She wasn’t sure yet what the painting would be in the end, but she was working and that was a good thing. She hadn’t had much time for her art since her father died.

This was where she was most comfortable and the place that gave her the most peace. The farmhouse came in second, but nothing compared to having her own little space where she could work, surrounded with the various supplies and materials that were used for all of her different projects.

When she was in school, most of her art teachers tried to get her to focus on one medium, claiming that if she is good at many, she could be great at one. That didn’t work for her though. Art was part of her soul, she worked on whatever she felt like working on at the time. Sometimes that would be painting, other times it might be sculpting or her junk art sculptures that she had a passion for.

She also was one of the lucky few to make a decent living being an artist. A few galleries in Napa Valley and the Bay Area had bought some paintings from her, but it was really her digital art that brought the dollars in. She spent a lot of time working on stuff intended for those sites alone.

Music from one of her many playlists drifted through the wireless speakers that she had set up throughout the apartment and the windows were open, letting in the crisp winter air. Luckily, she could play her music at a fairly decent level and not bother any of her neighbors. After moving in, she’d asked each of the other residents how they felt about it and all had told her that they didn’t mind as long as it wasn’t in the middle of the night or anything.

Her apartment was located on the edge of town, off the highway that led to The Springs. The building was a two-story Spanish Revival, that housed four units within. Steph had grown up admiring the building, with its white walls and terracotta roof. It was set off the road, hidden by a large, white stone wall that had ivy crawling all over it. An iron gate, that always stood open, provided entry onto the grounds.

The first thing one could see once entering the gate was a paved, circular drive with a fountain in the center. The fountain was dry, since California was on a water shortage, the fountain hadn’t been full in years. The owners did, however, keep their lawns green. In addition to that, a gardener was often on site, maintaining the plethora of flowers and plants that covered the grounds.

Growing up, Steph thought of the property as Summer Hollow’s very own secret garden and it had become her goal to live there someday. Everywhere you looked ivy crawled up walls or trellises. Bright, blooming flowers of every color were located in garden beds and planters all over. A fenced vegetable garden took up a large portion of the backyard, it was maintained by the owners and the gardeners. Herbs were potted and had their place on the patio, but the larger weed type plants like mint and lemon balm could be found in their own area of the back yard.

She achieved her goal and had been able to secure one of the units in the building when she was nineteen. James had wanted them to share a place to make it easier financially, but she had shut that down fast. She loved her twin more than anything, admittedly, more than her other siblings. He was a part of her and always would be, but she needed her own space and living with her brother wouldn’t have been good for that.

James eventually came to terms with the fact that he was going to have to get his own place or stay at the farmhouse, so he ended up in a studio garage apartment that belonged to a widower.

Lenora Hutchins had a very nice home in town. Her husband passed away and she was having a hard time getting things done around the house and yard. So, in exchange for room and board, James did stuff around the place for her. He also worked part time at the mechanic shop in town … like really part time now, Steph actually wasn’t sure if he even had a job anymore because of all the time off he had taken lately.

In any case, Lenora was awesome. She was sweet and always invited Steph in for cookies and tea if she happened to see her. Lenora also fed James all the time, since the woman couldn’t get out of the habit of cooking for two, she always had extra. Steph knew that her brother tried to tell her to freeze the extra so that she would have another meal for days she didn’t want to cook, but Lenora never did that.

Both she and James got pretty lucky when it came to where they lived, she knew that. There were three other units on the property besides her own and all were occupied by long time residents. She was the youngest of all of them, but they didn’t seem to care how old she was.

Two of residents were elderly, but in good shape so they didn’t need a lot of extra care. George was one of them. He was a thriller novelist who had never been married. ‘I’m married to my work.’ He told Steph once, when she asked about it. She actually got along great with George. The two of them would sit in the gardens, silently working on their mediums together. George also enjoyed movies and television, so other times they would have coffee or drinks and chat about something they had both seen.

Juan was the other older man, he was hilarious and made the best Mexican food she had ever eaten. He founded one of the Mexican restaurants in Clear Lake, and ran it for most of his life. He was retired now, but still loved cooking. ‘I will always cook. It is my art, just as you have yours.’ She loved that he was passionate about what he did. It also didn’t hurt that she would often find a burrito or a wrapped plate of food waiting for her on her table when she got home.

No, she didn’t lock her doors.

Any stranger that set foot on the property would have to go through Millie before they could get anywhere else.

Millie was probably around fifty, though, Steph had no idea what her actual age was. Millie had long, beautiful gray hair and she only had a few wrinkles around the eyes. Millie did morning yoga in the backyard and knew every herb and plant in the place. She was an earthy, peaceful woman, but at the same time one of the loudest, most outspoken people she had ever met in her life.

So yeah, anyone who wanted to break into her house better be prepared to confront Millie on the way. A criminal might prefer jail time over dealing with a pissed off Millie any day.

As far as neighbors go, Steph couldn’t have been happier with hers. However, she had been spending a lot of time at the farmhouse since her father had passed away and Jack had come into their lives. Even though she was a Keeper and it was her duty to protect the souls, living in Summer Hollow had been a pretty peaceful existence up until then.

The sunset had formed on her canvas while she was lost in thought. The blue sky had become an explosion of yellow, orange and red surrounding a sliver of sun as it slipped behind a mountain range. Below the mountains, she began the workings of what would be a town. She didn’t know what town it was, or if it existed somewhere in reality, but for now it was purely her imagination which she drew from.

Her mind always wandered while she worked. It was almost as if she went into some kind of trance while her brain checked out and her body simply took over. Sometimes, she would come out of her thoughts, and there before her would be a work that she hadn’t realized she had done. Sometimes it would be a finished product, sometimes not. It was always strange to look upon something you know you did, but didn’t remember having done it. It was creepy, though not uncommon for artists or those of like minds to drift off into another world while they were creating.

While she had painted a sunset, she had missed the one that had been happening right outside her windows. Putting her brush and pallet down, she stood and stretched, then went to one of the windows to get a look. Darkness hadn’t quite taken over yet. The sun was no longer visible above the hills and the land had gone completely gray. It was that time in the evening when it wasn’t dark, but it wasn’t bright out either.

Tonight was her turn on rotation in the graveyard. The week since the group had come back from Florida had been very quiet. They still didn’t know anything for sure about the Empress, but Emily’s vision had told them she had lived through the blast and the gunshot wound. They believed in Emily’s visions, so if that is what she told them, they had to assume it was true.

The family needed a little while to decompress after this last mission. Jack was wounded and probably an emotional wreck, though he didn’t show the emotions part of that at all. Liv and Aiden had been hiding away at Liv’s place, Ethan was basically MIA and hadn’t been around except to do his shifts. She figured he was still trying to stay away from Jack and Lucy. It wasn’t a secret that he had been in love with her sister since they were kids. He was dealing with it okay, but he still avoided them whenever he could.

Dan was keeping busy, he didn’t do well with down time, so he was working on a remodel project for the back patio at Knight’s Bar and behind the bar with Reese when they were open. Steph didn’t know how he did it, but it seemed that her brother could be around the drinking and booze and it didn’t cause him any problems. He seemed to really enjoy working the bar, in fact. Steph just hoped that it would stay that way. His relationship with Reese was still pretty new, so she didn’t want to think about what would happen when they had their first huge fight.

Greg had been holing up with Emily in his room when he wasn’t showing her all around Summer Hollow. Steph loved Emily, she didn’t know why or what it was that made her instantly part of the family, but that was how it was. Emily was quiet, soft spoken and appeared as if she were delicate, all of those things were the total opposite of any one of her siblings. But Greg, of all of them was the most gentle and even tempered. Probably because he was the first born and had more time as an only child. In any case, Steph liked Greg and Emily together. Unlike the other recent relationships in her family, they were taking it nice and slow, getting to know each other and letting the attraction grow at an organic pace. Granted, the relationship was unexpected, but Steph totally supported it.

Hannah and David were at the farmhouse most of the time right now. Hannah didn’t like being very far away from Lucy, and David didn’t like being away from her, so they just hung out at the farmhouse. It was strange to Steph, after David came back, it was like he had never been gone at all. She was glad that her sister finally got to settle down with her true love. When everything was finally over with the Reapers and the Empress, they would truly be able to relax and settle.

So there it was, all her siblings hooking up and finding love, and here she was single and loving it. Her twin said he felt the same, but she knew that he was lying. He hadn’t even had a girlfriend for years because of the whole Keeper thing. It was hard living in small town Summer Hollow and having to roam a graveyard and occasionally fight Reapers. That wasn’t exactly something that you could easily explain to a date when they asked what you did in your spare time.

Steph could really care less. She did online dating for fun and sometimes ended with sex, but she only dated guys in other cities and never let them know where she was really from. It was fun and she didn’t have to commit. She didn’t want to be tied down for anyone or anything. That was the awesome part about being adult and single. Your life was entirely yours. Well, except for her family. Her family meant more to her than anything else in the world and she absolutely loved that they were all as close as they were. Who needed friends, she had all she needed with her brothers and sisters.

After cleaning and putting away her supplies, she slid on a pair of black jeans and a dark blue form fitting turtleneck sweater. She pulled her long hair into a high pony tail and secured tightly. The last things she added to her outfit were over the knee black boots and a short leather jacket, also black, like most of the outfit. Even though a Reaper could see them by their silvery auras, Keepers did try to stay inconspicuous. Wearing dark colors kept the chances low that someone would wander by and see any of them hanging out in a cemetery for no reason in the middle of the night.

Her phone rang just as she was zipping up her boot. The sound of the song ring tone she had picked out specifically for her twin, echoed through the room. Yanking the zipper up all the way, she hopped to her feet and grabbed her phone off the dresser. Clicking the button, she cut the ring tone and answered, “Hello.”

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“Where are you?”

Steph had spent the week away from everyone, hiding out in her apartment. It wasn’t often that she and James were apart for very long. He had gone to Florida with the group and she had seen him that day and the next, but since then she had been taking some time out for herself. “I’m still at home.” She held the phone up to her ear with her shoulder and bent to pick up a large duffel bag off the floor by her dresser and moved it over to her bed.

“Well hurry up and get over here.”

“Aww, do you miss me?” Steph teased as she unzipped the bag and withdrew a shiny dagger made of silver.

“Duh. Of course I do. We haven’t been apart this long since we were like ten and you went to that summer camp when Dad was trying to encourage us to be individuals.”

Steph laughed. “I remember that. Camp was fun, even though you weren’t there.” She didn’t tell him that she knew that he had tried to ride his bike over sixty miles to the camp to try and get to her. Sheriff Davis had spotted him about fifteen miles outside of town and called their dad. Greg senior hadn’t even known that James was on a mission to reunite with his twin and hauled ass in the pickup truck to retrieve his son. Steph didn’t know the whole story, but she had heard that much from Liv. James never told her that he’d done that.

“Anyway. Just get over here. I’m having twin withdrawal.”

She lifted her belt out of the bag and set it on the bed. It had a holster for her gun and two knife sheaths on it. She wouldn’t put it on until she got to the farmhouse. “I’ll be there in like fifteen minutes.”

“See you then.” James clicked off the line and so did Steph. She threw her phone on the bed and checked the weapons in her belt to make sure her gun had a full clip and that the daggers were secure in the sheaths.

“Perfect.” She shoved everything back into the bag and zipped it back up. Grabbing her keys and phone, she hefted the bag over her shoulder and headed out the door.

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