After my ramblings about the Amazon reviews I've gotten on Keeper, in the post before this, I decided to post my excerpt here on my blog. That way whoever wants to read it, regardless of if they have a Kindle or not, they can. Hope everyone enjoys!
I’d heard my name too often lately, and for some odd reason it was always being yelled. This time, the deep, angry tone had me scrambling to shove my iPod and sketch pad under my pillow. The sound of stomping boots reverberated up the stairwell. Algebra book. I stumbled over a pile of dirty clothes as I rushed to my desk and grabbed it. Hearing Delmari’s footsteps grow closer, I leapt for the bed.
He threw the door open, not bothering to knock—obviously not worried I could have been naked—and stood, hands on his hips, glaring down at me. Crap.
My gaze traveled up his looming frame. I faked an innocent smile, trying to pretend I didn’t know the reason he looked ready to rip me a new one.
“Your team lose again?” I asked. “Time you picked a new one to bet on, dontcha think?”
Jaw clenched, his eyes bore into mine like he was attempting to exorcise demons from my soul. Or beat them out of me.
“Not football, huh?” I didn’t scare easily like the majority of Dreas. Then again, no sane person would mess with a Kember…especially when that Kember was Delmari. He pretty much walked the earth as a badass, savior, and god. Trained to protect, he could destroy anyone in his path.
“What were you thinking?” He half turned, running a hand over his buzzed, blond hair, before looking back at me.
“Well…” I averted my gaze to the orange accent wall behind him, wondering how long I could get away with playing stupid. “Depends on what time of day you’re referring to. Mainly, school, though. You know, gotta get those grades up so I can grad—”
“Veronica Watson. History class.” His eyes narrowed. “Ring any bells? Or do I really need to remind you that she stood in the middle of a test and told everyone her hands-on sex ed class would be moved from the backseat of her car to the city park.”
I rubbed my nose, hiding the smile behind my hand. Her outburst in third hour was the highlight of my day. Only something a Drea, like me, could pull off. “You heard about that, huh? Please don’t tell me you signed up.”
The hard set of his mouth hid all signs of the laugh lines that usually creased around his eyes. Okay, not the time for jokes.
“It’s a small town,” he stated. “Now would you mind explaining why she said it?”
“Because it’s true?”
“Taylee! I know you don’t get along with her, but really, you had to make her humiliate herself in front of the whole class?”
“You haven’t heard my side of the story.”
“I’ve told you a thousand—no—a million times not to use your ability, and I swear I’ll…” He paused, and I filled the gap in my imagination. Pop a blood vessel? Take my car and cell phone away? Ground me? I could’ve gone on all day. “I’ll pull your butt out of school if it happens again,” he threatened.
My snarky attitude dried up. “It’s not my fault. She’s the one who got all butt-hurt when her boyfriend couldn’t keep his eyes to himself. Then she started telling everyone I’d do some risqué things for a little cash. And like you said, Del, it’s a small town.”
He sat next to me, letting out a huge sigh. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he looked a little spiteful himself. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve handled it.”
I knew he would have. He never slacked on his job to protect me. I just didn’t need my “daddy figure” fighting my battles at school, too. Leaning my head against his shoulder, I snickered. “How, by making it rain on her?” Along with strength and agility, all Kembers had either an elemental ability or some other physical gift like super speed. We Dreas got gypped. We weren’t fast or strong. All we could do was use our mental abilities to work within the mind.
Delmari chuckled and pulled my ponytail. “Don’t underestimate the gift of water. And I wasn’t talking about using abilities. You should’ve handled it differently.”
“You’re right,” I said, punching the air. “I should have aimed right for her nose.”
He shook his head. “Good hell, what’ve I created?”
“A beautiful, controlled, young woman.”
“Controlled? Hah!” He scoffed. “You have yet to learn the meaning of control.”
“Which is why you’re here.” I poked him in the cheek. “And honestly, it wasn’t that bad. I just made her stand up and take back everything she said about me and, well…you know the rest.”
He smiled his handsome crooked grin. “I’ll let you off again, but I’m serious. Don’t use your mind control, especially on the ungifted, unless your life is in danger. Promise me.”
Delmari could not stand to stay mad at me, and even more, he hated punishing me. I was his Achilles heel. Good thing or I would have been sent straight to a Drea foster family by now.
Twisting a long strand of ebony hair around my finger, I huffed. “I’ll try, but it’s so hard. It feels as natural as breathing, you know?” I shrugged. “When something goes wrong, it’s my gut reaction.”
“I understand, but I haven’t worked with you all these years for your ability to be spontaneous and out of control.”
I sighed, remembering the endless hours we worked when it surfaced, just so I could keep it in check. “I know.”
“And you know why you can’t use it.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I grumbled. “It’s a powerful ability that can screw with people’s lives.”
Delmari laughed, clearly amused by my irritation. “That’s my girl.”
Not even I could argue with that statement. I was his girl, even if we weren’t blood related. He often complained about the way I acted. When he did, I reminded him that if he didn’t act like this, I wouldn’t either. After all, he had been my only example since I was three months old. What had he expected, really? “You know, you should just be grateful I don’t have a physical ability.”
“I suppose you’re right.” He looked down, smiling, and picked at his nails. “You as a Kember would be hazardous. Can you imagine a Drea’s life in your hands? The Authority would really have a messy situation.”
I rubbed my palms together. “So would Veronica Watson.”
Delmari rolled his eyes, bent down, and pressed his lips to my head. “I know high school can be rough, but it’s your last year. If at all possible, be a good girl.”
“What if it’s not possible?”
He looked around the room and let out a slow breath. “Then you and I are going out back with the boxing gloves.” He winked.
A warm glow spread through my body. “Was that a challenge?”
Boxing probably went against the grain for most girls, but I didn’t care. I loved to box, who didn’t like to hit things? Plus I had a disorder: I could not say no to a challenge to save my life. Maybe that was my problem.
“The question is,” said Delmari, “are you up for it?”
I bounded off my bed, laughing. “Ah, what’s another loss for you, right?” I knew I’d get owned. I did every time. But Delmari trained in this stuff—he put the meaning in the word ‘lethal’.
He turned toward the door, and stopped. His eyes widened as he gazed out my window. Before I could question him, he grabbed my arm and shoved me behind him, slamming my back against the wall.
My breath hitched when I caught sight of the flaming trees outside my window. A forest fire? I opened my mouth, but the words stuck in my throat. I could only stare at the red inferno dancing on the treetops.
Delmari’s eyes closed as he summoned the rain. Water started to pour over the trees, but the fire never wavered.
Body tensed, his eyes snapped open. Veins pulsed in his arms. “Grab your pack. Now.”
“M-my pack? What’s going on? Can’t you put it out?” I wished I could keep my composure like he did.
“It’s summoned fire.”
I stood, hands shaking. Someone deliberately set our trees on fire, and I was not talking about an idiot getting happy with matches. I was talking summoned it straight from the pits of hell. An ability only a Kember possessed.
But a Kember? That was crazy. No Kember would ever do this…
“Taylee!” Delmari reached back with one hand and shoved me. “Your pack!”
My heart hammered. I jumped to my closet and grabbed my black emergency backpack. A joke, this had to be some sick joke. Maybe another one of Delmari’s escape drills? Once I secured it on my back, I rushed to stand beside him.
Delmari grabbed my hand and pulled me down the stairs.
He pushed the front door open, and I gasped. Ten foot tall, flaming walls surrounded our house. They shot up in streams, through crevices in the ground. Thick smoke swirled, darkening the sky. I squeezed my eyes closed, fighting the burn that invaded them.
Fifty yards away, among the crackling flames, stood a tall man in a black, hooded cloak, his hands engulfed in fire.
There went my joke theory.
“Listen.” Delmari’s eyes never wavered from the Kember. His voice filled with urgency as he reached for the handgun on his hip. “When there’s a break in the flame, make for the cabin.”
Heat radiated through the air, singeing my skin. Sweat dripped down my forehead and neck. Before I could respond, the figure disappeared.
I jolted back as he materialized in front of Delmari, grabbed him by the throat, and slammed him to the ground. The hairs on the back of my arms rose when the man looked up and focused his ocher eyes on me.
Delmari struggled beneath the Kember. He seized hold of his hands and tried prying them from his throat. Kicking his legs up, he nailed the cloaked figure in the gut.
The man stumbled back. Delmari jumped up and lunged toward him. The Kember vanished then reappeared behind Delmari, kicking at his back, just as Delmari turned and jumped to the side.
“Run!” Delmari yelled.
Despite his words, I froze.
Rain fell harder than I had ever seen, focusing only on one part of the woods: my escape route. It poured like a waterfall from the sky until the section extinguished. My cue. I needed to do what he instructed. He could take care of himself.
Delmari gasped as he fought to keep up with the other Kember’s speed. He ducked, avoiding the man’s fire lit fists, and swung back at him. Delmari missed. The man tackled him at the waist and slammed him to the ground.
Panic shot through me. Never once had I seen a weak or slow movement from Delmari. The rain. Summoning it to this degree drained his energy. I had to get out of here so he could stop the waterworks.
Delmari thrashed. “Go!”
The cloaked figure punched Delmari in the face. He grunted as his head slammed down into a puddle of water. The Kember’s hands gripped Delmari’s throat, cutting off his air supply.
I screamed. My drive to flee halted, and my irrational instinct kicked in. I lunged forward and grabbed the man’s flowing robe. Pain shot through my hands like I had seized a hot iron, and I jerked them back, releasing him.
Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes, concentrating on getting into the Kember’s mind. Come on, Taylee, you can do this! I focused, seeing the black void behind my eye lids. Then I felt the weight of his mind opening up.
Pressure built as his mind pushed back toward mine. Like hitting a wall, my progress halted.
I snapped my eyes open, and the man’s empty gaze flickered to me. An eerie smile spread over his lips. He knew—he knew about my gift, it was the only way he would have been able to stop me.
Delmari writhed beneath him, his fist striking the Kember in the face. Blood poured from the cloaked figure’s nose. He released his hold, and counteracted Delmari’s attacks, struggling to straddle his moving body.
I screamed, wanting to do something—anything. Hysteria threatened to take me, as I realized the only thing I could do for Delmari was leave.
Get to the cabin.
Risking one last glance, I turned my back on the only person I had in the world and ran.
“When you get to the cabin, take the car. Don’t stop—don’t even look back until you reach the Authority.” The memory of Delmari’s rule echoed in my head. Most people grew up being taught not to lie and steal—good qualities which would keep them out of trouble. Not me. Delmari spent hours upon days upon years teaching to me to survive. When he said jump, I leapt. When he said run, I got in the Honda, ignored speed limits, all traffic laws, and hauled ass to the Authority building just outside of Boise, Idaho.
Which was exactly what I did.
The fifteen minute drive felt more like rowing a boat over gravel: frustrating and slow. I never let up on the gas pedal, but I kept checking the rearview mirror, expecting Delmari’s black Hummer to pull up behind me. Every time we found ourselves in this situation, I got all jittery and anxious. He always caught up to me before I got out of Meridian.
What if something went wrong? The enemy wasn’t a stupid Rygon keen on siphoning my life and ability away like all the other times. It was a deranged Kember—one with two very different physical abilities. Impossible.
Maybe that’s why I couldn’t slow my breathing or racing heart as I drove through Boise. I guessed I should’ve expected it’d take him longer. He needed time to unleash his deadly moves and pulverize the guy. Then he’d escape. Delmari was an unstoppable force of nature. No one could take him away from me, not even some super fast, fire blasting Kember. No, Delmari would send him straight to hell.
A painful grinding came from beneath my car as I cut across a small slab of manicured lawn, creating my own entrance into the parking lot. Lurching forward, I popped off my seat. I clenched my teeth, wincing, and glanced in the rearview mirror at the thick piece of cement which almost ripped through the floor board. The curb had been a little high, and those flowers— well, what was left of them—were the least of my problems.
I didn’t even know why I worried about Delmari. He’d always fought for both our lives. He knew he was all I had. My mom, who apparently had been a Drea like me, died. My deadbeat father ran off. Delmari figured my dad must’ve been a Norm—a regular human without an ability. Obviously, whoever he was, he didn’t want anything to do with our world, or me. Delmari had been the only one with enough balls to step in and take on a three month old baby. He was my savior, my best friend. There was no way he’d leave me alone.
I zipped past parked cars, jerking the steering wheel from side to side. My head bashed the ceiling as I sped over speed bumps, heading directly for the front doors of the big building. The tires screeched when I stomped my foot on the brakes. The back of the car skidded to the side, half on the sidewalk and mere feet from the glass doors.
Ripping the keys from the ignition, I glanced at the tall tower of bricks. Delmari never clarified whether he meant get to the Authority building or to the head honchos themselves. I wouldn’t half-ass this. Straight to the source. I barreled out of the car, through the revolving doors, and crashed right into the front desk.
A chubby lady with red, curly hair grimaced when she saw me. “Can—”
Through gasps of air, I choked out, “Ian—uh, I mean, Authority Alvarez. Now!”
She leaned back in her chair and started filing her nails. “Do you have an appointment?”
“Get in line.” She gestured to the full waiting room without even looking up.
I slammed my fist on the counter, earning her full attention and most likely everyone else’s in the room. “No, Delmari’s been attacked! It’s an emergency! Stop with the manicure, and do your job!”
She sighed, holding my gaze with an expression just short of a glare. Tossing her file onto the counter, she pulled a form from a drawer and handed it to me. “Write down everything—”
“I’m not here to fill out a freakin’ paper!” I crumpled the report sheet and drilled it at her. She flinched when it bounced off her forehead.
She sat with her mouth agape and eyes the size of golf balls. I jumped over the half door, next to her desk, that led back to the Authority offices.
Unfortunately, the shock didn’t last long. She sprang from her chair and intercepted my path. “Ian can’t see you right now. Get back over that gate right now, Missy, or I’ll—”
I didn’t have time for empty threats. If Delmari needed help, I couldn’t waste time talking to the old school Strawberry Shortcake. I stepped around her.
She grabbed my arm, digging her freshly filed nails into my skin, and jerked me around.
One impulse came across stronger than mind control. I punched her right in the eye. Probably a lot harder than necessary, considering she staggered into the wall behind her screaming. I didn’t pause long enough to care.
I took off down the hall and ripped open the first door. Through the sea of shocked faces turned in my direction, one came in clear. Blonde ponytail. Bright blue eyes. Black Kember uniform. Ian.
“Taylee!” he barked, standing abruptly from the highest judge’s bench.
Only a few people could brag about Ian putting a name to their face. For me, it wasn’t something brag-worthy. Like so many others, the majority of the time it left his mouth in a yell.
I sprinted down the aisle and leapt over the gate that separated the bench and the audience.
The two burly Kembers who stood on either side of the Podium rushed toward me. One grabbed my arms and twisted them tightly behind my back. I stepped forward—or tried—but the Kember jerked me back so hard I nearly fell backward.
“D-Delmari,” I yelled, sucking in jagged breaths. “He’s b-been a-at-tacked.”
Ian’s jaw clenched, and I swore I’d never seen anyone go so long without blinking. For a moment it seemed like he didn’t know what to do. Beside him, the Authority with auburn hair, Favian, if I remembered right, leaned over to Ian and whispered something.
In the middle of the room, not far from where I struggled, a heavyset man, wearing shackles and an orange jumpsuit smirked at me. A jury consisting of at least fifty Dreas and Kembers, lined the wall on the left. They all looked down their noses at me. Some shook their heads. Others mouths hung open in shock.
Great. Nothing like stealing the entire courtroom’s attention. They may as well have handed me a microphone and put me under a spotlight. I glared back hoping they got my “go off yourself” message.
I knew the Authorities constantly had Kembers and Dreas to discipline, so a trial wasn’t all that shocking. The rules had to be enforced somewhere. Depending on the laws broken, a Kember could be stripped from their guardian rank and thrown in the slammer. Dreas also had a prison. I’d heard it was literally hell in there. Special walls confined them, trapping their mental abilities inside with them. Some went crazy and eventually killed themselves, others were moved to asylums. Yeah, not a place I ever wanted to be.
Ian stepped away from his chair and nodded. Xander, the second Authority, pushed his dark, shoulder-length hair behind his ear and took Ian’s spot. Relief flooded through me, even though I knew a “talkin’ to” was coming. Ian would know where Del was. He’d know who attacked him.
But did he really have to walk that slow? Come on! I wanted to yell at him. Since when did a fifty year old Kember move like a half-dead bear? As his foot made contact with the last stair, Ian nodded at his fellow Kember. He freed me.
I jerked my arm away and rushed toward Ian. Before I could say a word, he gripped my elbow and dragged me into an office to the side of the courtroom.
“Taylee!” he hissed, releasing me. “That was unacceptable. Do you realize—”
“Yeah”— The question was: did I care? Not in the least— “I’m just doing what I’ve been told!”
“Delmari told you to barge in my courtroom screaming?” He folded his arms across his chest.
“Where’s Delmari?” He raised his hand, and his cell phone zoomed from his desk and landed into his palm. Telekinesis. Cool.
“Didn’t you hear a word I said? He’s been attacked. This guy, he—”Ian held his finger to his lips, flipped his phone open, and put it to his ear.
Apparently he’d heard enough. I tapped my foot until, seconds later, he closed his cell.
“No answer,” he said. He secured the phone on his belt next to his special gun and knife. All Kembers carried them. The Titanium bullets and blade acted as an instant poison when it pierced a Rygons flesh. They were the only things capable of killing them.
“Are you gonna freakin’ listen? Fire and water were exploding like geysers! There’s no way his cell made it through.”
Now Ian didn’t answer. He pressed a button on his desk and talked into a speaker, “Cindy, come sit with Taylee. Find out what happened.”
“Where’re you going?” I shouted, stomping toward him.
He pointed to a chair. “Sit and don’t talk.”
“Now,” he said, much too calmly. “Before you really find out what “not fair” is.”
I didn’t like being threatened, not even from Mr. Badass-Head Honcho himself. I planted my feet stubbornly where I stood. Before I could retort, the door opened, and in walked Cindy.
Ian froze upon seeing her. I did, too.
Strands of frizzy, red hair sprung from her head like she’d been electrocuted. She held an ice pack on her left, swollen eye and cast me a murderous glare with her good one. Her knuckles blanched against the thick binder she gripped, most likely preparing to use it as a weapon.
An hour later Cindy’s nasally voice still assaulted my ears. By the smirk on her face, she probably thought the bitch session made us even. I watched the door Ian left through, assuming he and Delmari were having one of their long, drawn out conversations. They were possibly even coming up with a punishment for me punching the norm. I sighed. Come on, Del, let’s get out of this hellhole, already!
“Taylee, pay attention,” Cindy snapped.
I balled my fists to keep them from flying in her direction. Again. “What the hell’s your problem? I’m not even here to see you! Don’t you have a hole or something you can crawl in?”
Her round cheeks flushed. Whether she felt embarrassed or pissed off, I couldn’t tell. “One more question.”
I kicked my feet up on the glass coffee table and slumped back onto the leather couch. “That’s what you said five questions ago.”
Cindy smoothed her blouse over her red pleather skirt, scowling. I had that effect on people. In fact, I felt the urge now to point out to the poor thing that plastic leather died with the eighties. Glancing down, I bit my tongue. I didn’t have any room to talk in my mud splattered jeans and torn green hoodie.
“I only need you to tell me what happened after you got to the cabin,” she said.
I stared around the office, remembering how stupid I thought it was when Delmari made me practice escaping. Who knew I’d ever be grateful for those middle of the night interruptions. “I grabbed the cash he hid, jumped into the car, and followed the GPS he had programmed for me, to here.”
“He prepared well.”
“Duh, it’s Delmari. He plans for everything,” I said. “He built the cabin not far from our house and left everything I’d need there in case of emergency.”
“And how lucky we are he did.” I didn’t miss her condescending tone as she brushed her hand over her black eye. She cleared her throat and scribbled down notes in her binder.
I craned my neck to see what she wrote about me. Probably nothing good. She snapped the binder closed and narrowed her eyes. “Now—”
The door swung open, interrupting Cindy. Thank goodness.
I put my feet down and reached for my bag. Finally. My hand stopped mid air. I blinked. A man, who looked to be in his mid twenties, stepped inside the room and closed the door. Standing in front of it, he held his hands behind his back and stared at the wall across the room.
Black slacks, button up shirt, and all muscle: Kember. A hot Kember. Maybe Ian sent him to make sure I hadn’t rendered Cindy unconscious. Whatever the reason, it was fine with me. My eyes wandered over his shirt, which he left untucked, concealing his weapons. His dark, shaggy hair held a slight wave and curled around his ears almost covering them entirely.
I’m a Drea, I’m a Drea, I’m a Drea. I quickly averted my gaze, feeling heat rise to my cheeks. Did I really need to remind myself how messed up being attracted to a Kember was? No. I didn’t. I risked another glance at the dark haired hottie and cursed myself under my breath.
“Are you my relief?” Cindy’s asked him.
I think I sighed louder than she did.
Why was she here again? Norms didn’t know about us—not usually, anyway. She’d probably slept with one of the Authorities to get the job. What else explained it? After about ten minutes of listening to Cindy gripe and tap her pen against the folder, the door opened again. This time, Ian walked through.
“About freakin’ time,” I muttered.
He whispered something to the Kember and then proceeded over to where Cindy and I sat.
I looked at the door for Delmari, but the Kember closed it before I could see into the hall. This wasn’t the time for Delmari to go all social on me. Hadn’t I been here long enough? Putting my feet down, I stood, hands on my hips. “Where’s Del?”
Ian pointed at the couch, wanting me to sit back down.
Never a good sign. My stomach tightened. “I-I’d rather stand.”
He settled into the chair across from me. Leaning forward, he stared at me for several seconds without saying a word. “There’s no easy way for me to tell you this, Taylee…”
Immediately my suspicions snapped into place. I’d just punched his receptionist. What was with the gentle, rabid-animal approach? Shouldn’t I’ve been getting reamed? The fact I wasn’t made my heart hammer. “What do you mean?”
“Our officials in your district discovered his...” He swallowed. “His body about forty minutes ago.” Ian’s gaze dropped to his hands, and he took a deep breath. “He’s gone. I’m sorry.”
Gone? Delmari? I laughed. No one could kill a god. “Look, I’m sorry for punching your broad over there.” I motioned to Cindy. “But I’ve learned my lesson. Fists away.” I shoved my hands into the pouch of my hoodie and took a step toward the door. “Catch you guys later.”
“Taylee. Sit.” Ian pointed to the chair. “This’s no time for jokes. Delmari’s gone, and I need you to focus.”
I stared at Ian feeling my smirk gradually fall. The normally stern, authoritative glimmer in his eyes disappeared. Now there was only pain and…pity. I kept waiting for a wink or the long lesson on self-control he had down pat. When none of them came, I collapsed onto the chair.