Sneak Peek: Keeper of the Light by Sheila English

The Faith Healer’s Daughter trilogy opens with book 1: Keeper of the Light where we learn about two sisters coming into their own power as they try to stay one step ahead of the man who murdered their mother; their father.  A man powerful enough to heal, or kill, with a touch.

Keeper of the Light
Keeper of the Light

The first book features 16 year old Ivy who has been taught from birth how to take care of herself, how to fight and how to stay hidden.  But, no one taught her how to protect her heart from 17 year old Gabe, how to negotiate high school when you’re supposed to be invisible and what to do when you discover the price of your power can cost you more than you ever imagined?

Blurb:

What if you could save someone with just a touch? What if that touch came with a price?

While trying to escape both danger and fate, Ivy and her twin Amber, will discover if their years of training to fight and to hide will save them from the man who killed their mother and who would enslave them in his cult. A faith healer with the ability to heal or kill with a touch. Their father.

But just as Ivy has come into her own power, the power to heal, her adoptive parents are kidnapped and the only help she has to save them comes from the boy who broke her heart, and his cousin whose secrets may cost them everything. In an attempt to save her sister, Ivy discovers her power comes with a price as she ignites her sister’s power to channel the dead.

Life and death are both gift and curse to the…

Keeper of the Light.

 

Chapter 1 and 2

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

Pain ripped through Abigail, ending in a long and exhausted scream.  They’d told her it would be difficult, dangerous even.  She was only eighteen and very petite.  Her size worked against her, but her age, her health, these were on her side.

A faint dizziness replaced the pain for the moment.  It was nearly midnight, and she’d been at this for twelve hours.  She’d gone through two midwives, both of them sister-wives loyal to her husband, their husband, Zachariah Williams.  Loyalty carved from fear of the most powerful man in the secluded community, a man no one crossed and the strongest faith healer anyone had ever seen.

The sister-wives had been called away to give an update to Zachariah, and only Abigail’s cousin, sweet, caring Patricia, herself only sixteen, remained to tend her. Patricia would risk the wrath of Zachariah tonight.  They both would. They had to if they were to save Abigail’s unborn children from a fate no one should have to endure.  Life in the community. Life with Zachariah.

Thunder roared outside, so loud and close it rattled the bedside table.  The water in Abigail’s glass swayed, almost pitching over the lip.  Almost, but not quite was the story of her life. She’d almost escaped so many times that they finally married her to Zachariah to keep her in her place. That was two years and six attempted escapes ago.  Married at sixteen to a man who looked to be seventy, who could blame her for trying to escape? But they did blame her. No one left the faith healer community, Zachariah and his crazy brothers made sure of that.

The pain began to build again and Abigail reached out for Patricia’s hand.  She was afraid she might break Patricia’s slight fingers, but she couldn’t help it. She needed Patricia and always had.  Her younger cousin was her only real friend, the only one who not only understood why she’d wanted out of this place, but wanted out herself.  And though Abigail had failed so many times, Patricia had devised a plan. One that would likely work, if they could just get out of this house.  She gripped Patricia’s hand tighter, but the younger girl never complained. She knew what she was in for the moment she’d offered her hand.

The pain built, rolled over her, pulled out another scream and then began to subside, this time, taking a small bit of her will with it.  The lights flickered, but finally determined to stay on.  It was as though the heavens cried out for them, or perhaps the heavens also feared Zachariah and were doing all that could be done to stop their escape tonight.  Abigail knew Patricia feared the thunder, but she feared Zachariah more.  Smart girl, Abigail thought of the young blonde with huge, round blue eyes staring at her as though she were caught in a trap and knew it. Patricia could be gone already, but she refused to leave Abigail and her unborn children behind.

“Patricia, you need to go. This is taking too long. We’ll be found out,” Abigail kept her voice a whisper, whether from fear or from screaming herself hoarse, it was hard to say.

“Not gonna happen,” Patricia squeezed her hand and let it go.  She reached over to the bedside table and took the cold, damp cloth left there by the midwives and used it to wipe the sweat from Abigail’s brow and upper lip.  “Those babies are coming soon and as soon as you are able to move, we’ll be out of here.”

“The problem is,” Abigail broke off to take in a deep gulp of air.  The contraction took its course.  “The sister-wives already said my babies are high risk.  Triplets, Patty.  I may not live through this. They may not.”

“Stop it! You’re going to live and we’re going to get these babies out of this place.” Patricia started to say something more, but another contraction stopped her.  She held on to Abigail’s hand with all her strength until Abigail released her death grip. “As soon as they come back for you I can leave long enough to do what needs done.  All you have to do is have that litter of munchkins, and I’ll take care of the rest.”

Abigail managed a smile.  Patricia had teased her about having a litter ever since they discovered she was having triplets.  She helped Abigail see the beauty and wonder of her pregnancy, regardless of who the father was. Patricia was like that, full of hope.  Even when she was told she had been promised to Zachariah as a new wife, she continued to be hopeful.  Hopeful that they would escape. Hopeful that it wasn’t too late to have the life they had always wanted.

Creaking brought their attention around to the only door in the room.  Ethel, one of the two midwives attending Abigail walked in and quietly closed the door behind her.  She spared a glance to Patricia and for just one moment her face made Abigail’s blood run cold, but another contraction brought her focus back to the task at hand.

“Where are you going?” Ethel’s attention was torn between the screaming Abigail and Patricia who was about to walk out the door.

“I need a break,” Patricia said, her heart beating wildly now.

“Brother Zachariah says to stay put.”

“I’ll be right back. Need to use the bathroom.” Patricia took a moment to look out into the hallway. No one was there. Why would there be? Abigail was the only one known to run away and she certainly was going nowhere in her condition. But, on the heels of that thought she heard footsteps down the hall, coming up the stairs, several footsteps.

“Stay put! You can use that one,” Ethel pointed to the closed bathroom door inside the birthing room and was clearly confused as to what to do, but when Abigail screamed out Ethel chose to leave Patricia to her own fate.

In an instant Patricia was gone.  The door didn’t quite close all the way and Abigail could see out into the hallway.  Lights flickered again, but held fast.  Lightning, which couldn’t be seen in the boarded up room, cast light and shadow through the window down the hall.  With the sound of thunder crashing around her, Abigail gave birth to her first daughter, Ivy.

Another crash, but this time it wasn’t thunder.  The door was thrown open just as the lights gave up the battle and threw them all into darkness.  Lightning lit the hallway causing the tall figure to stand out in silhouette.  His arms were inordinately long, almost long enough to be considered a malformation, and his profile was unmistakable with the bulbous nose and pointy chin.  Abigail’s husband, Zachariah.  She would have feared the dark, angry expression on his face if she hadn’t been delivering their second daughter, Amber.  He knew.  Somehow, he knew they were planning to escape.

Zachariah’s footsteps fell hard on the floor, as he strode in to the room powered by anger and purpose.  He glanced around the room briefly, then his hard gaze fell to Ethel who wisely took a step back from him.

“Where is Patricia?” he demanded.

“She wouldn’t listen to me.  I had to tend to Abigail and the babies.  She walked out right before you got here.” Ethel blanched.

The tall, older man pierced Ethel with is steely gaze.

Abigail almost felt sorry for Ethel in that moment.  Zachariah’s punishments were as creative as they were cruel, and no doubt Ethel already knew that.  Abigail didn’t have time to worry about Ethel as another contraction wracked her body with pain.

Ethel turned her attention so fully on Abigail and final baby you would have thought Ethel herself was the baby’s grandmother.  Perhaps she was.  Abigail would never know, since it was forbidden to know who your biological mother was in the community.  Fathers were known, but never mothers.  All the sister-wives acted as community mothers and some of them didn’t care for that at all.  Some children looked similar enough to one of the sister-wives that it wasn’t a stretch to guess who the parent was, but you guessed in silence.

Abigail gave birth to Elizabeth nearly half an hour after Patricia left.  Patricia didn’t return and Abigail hoped she’d made her escape.  But as Ethel put the tiny babies into a large carrier someone knocked on the door that Zachariah had shut as he awaited the final child’s birth. And Patricia’s return. Zachariah opened the door slightly, but it was enough that Abigail could see and hear what was going on.

“We’ve spotted an old truck across the ridge on the west property.  It’s gotta be her.”  The man was in his late twenties, armed with a gun and enough sense to keep his eyes on Zachariah and not gaze at the leader’s nearly naked young wife.

“Go get her,” Zachariah’s voice was calm, almost serene.  That was never a good sign.  The man nodded and walked away.  Zachariah turned to Ethel.  “Leave us.” And with that Ethel sighed her relief and moved faster than Abigail had ever seen her move before.

Zachariah walked closer and towered over Abigail beside her bed.  He glanced once at the basket filled with his three daughters, but showed no joy.  Why would he? He had fathered so many children she doubted he would even miss these three, if she ever got away.  Yet, she sensed there was something more going on here and she willed herself to look up into his face.

“Abigail,” his voice was nearly soothing, but she knew not to believe anything he said. “For two years we’ve tried to have a child together.  Two years, two miscarriages.” His eyes raked over her body which was now covered, but not clean.  “I healed you.  I made you fertile.  My power kept these babies in your womb.  And you plotted to repay this gift by taking them from me?”

Abigail remained silent.  She didn’t care that he used his faith healing powers to keep the babies alive in her womb.  She was happy to have her daughters, but nothing about their father made her proud or grateful.

“Did you know, Abigail,” he began as he sat on the side of her bed, trapping her between him and the carrier on the other side of her, “my power, given to me by the Divine One, that which I use to heal the sick and injured, it is only one side to a very powerful coin.”  He sighed, a sound that she thought, in her exhausted state, could be one of sadness.  “The other side of that coin, my girl, the other side of life, well, it’s death.”

Abigail found she still had some adrenaline left in her body and it flooded her, increasing her heart rate, making her already dry mouth feel as though she’d been trapped in the desert for weeks.  Energy surged through her body as she considered the soft cries of her babies in the carrier next to her.  Within arm’s reach of Zachariah.

“It’s forbidden to harm your own children!” Abigail started to push herself upright, but Zachariah put his large hand on her shoulder and she couldn’t move past it.

 

*          *          *

Patricia stuffed her fist in her mouth to keep from crying out and giving away her position.  Abigail made her promise to save the children even if Abigail could not be saved.  Patricia couldn’t stop Zachariah.  She could only look on and pray Abigail might be spared.

“I have no intention of harming our children,” he said as his hand moved slowly from her shoulder to her chest, resting over her heart.  “You wanted to leave me, and so you will.  But, before you go I want you to know that these innocent girls, our children, these final reminders of you, will be the most miserable creatures this community has ever known.  They will be less than slaves here.  Never loved. I will forbid loving them.” He paused for a moment, studying her face, assuring himself of her utter misery.  He wiped at one of the tears with his free hand, unaffected.  And with the other he pulled the energy, the very life, from Abigail Williams.  If he were sure there would be no consequences he would have killed the babies, too, but of course even Zachariah Williams had something to fear.

An explosion sounded outside, dwarfing the clash of the thunder.  Zachariah stood without a glance to the crying babies or a final parting look at his young wife and hastily strode out the door, closing the door behind him.  He had no idea another door had opened as he made his dark promise to Abigail.  Patricia was careful when she had circled back, climbed the trellis and come in through the small bathroom window.  Her heart shattered at the lifeless Abigail.  She couldn’t stop staring at her.  Her cousin, best friend, confidant.  She thought living in the community was the worst tragedy of her life, but she had been wrong.

She focused on the large carrier filled with three tiny babies. Even a sixteen year old girl such as her could see the babies were far too small.  The smallest had to be Elizabeth. They’d chosen the names together, and Elizabeth was to be the last one born.  The tiny thing was almost surreal and it wasn’t breathing as well as the other two.  Patricia lifted the carrier, finding it much lighter than she had anticipated.  Abigail had chosen the carrier herself, and Patricia already knew it would fit out the bathroom window.

Patricia quickly ran to the door and turned the lock. She needed a little time.  Most of the men would be running after the old truck she set fire to, but the women inside the house could be plenty dangerous in their own way.

She ran back to the bed and placed her hand on the side of Abigail’s face.  It was still warm.  She silently mouthed the words, “I love you.”  Then she grabbed the carrier, threw a blanket over the babies and ran.

Chaos both man-made and nature-made served to keep Patricia hidden from the eyes of any who might call attention to her.  She knew some saw her slinking around with what appeared to be a large, covered basket, but not everyone in the community was as loyal as Zachariah liked to think.  She headed southeast to a long stretch of tall fence that had been cut the previous day.  It wasn’t until she began to peel back the chain link fencing that the car on the other side could be seen.  No lights came on when the door opened and someone came running toward her.  A woman dressed entirely in black took the carrier, trusting Patricia would follow.

The woman placed the carrier gently into the backseat and then got into the driver’s seat.  Patricia got in the back with the babies and tapped the driver on the shoulder, which put the car into motion.  Next to the woman driver sat a man who also wore dark clothes.  His shoulders were wide, his hair black and tied back. His features much like those of the men at the Sioux reservation nearby.  Patricia knew at once this had to be John, Helena’s husband, the man who helped her escape the community nearly ten years ago.  He turned around, offered her a kind smile and glanced toward the carrier.

“Where’s the mother?”  His voice was deep, gentle but concerned.

“Zachariah killed her.”  Patricia’s voice caught on a sob and she stifled it.  It wouldn’t help anyone to have her lose it right now.  She turned around and watched the lights of the community begin to fade in the distance.

“I’m so sorry, honey,” Helena’s eyes reflected in the rear-view mirror.  Patricia nodded, knowing not to trust her voice.  “How are the babies?”

“I don’t know. They’re so small.  The tiny one is Elizabeth and she’s not breathing right.” Patricia wasn’t sure she could take another death.  She loved these little ones before they were ever born.  She would die before she would let something happen to them.

“Patricia, we need to drop Elizabeth at a hospital.  It may be the only way we have to save her life.”  John thought of every contingency.  They knew it was possible there would be complications.

Patricia nodded, picked up the tiniest of the girls and held her close.  They drove through back roads for over two hours, eventually coming back to the main highway.  They’d get as far away from the community as they could, but Patricia knew leaving Elizabeth was a gamble.  As Patricia cuddled the small bundle in her arms she finally let the tears fall.  There were hospitals that took in newborn babies, no questions asked.  As Elizabeth struggled to breathe Patricia knew they would have to leave her behind.

Patricia kissed Elizabeth’s tiny head. The baby’s skin was ashen, her breathing labored.  Helena was the one to drop her off.  Elizabeth might actually be the lucky one in the long run.  Zachariah was known for hunting and capturing those who escaped the community.  With Helena, Patricia and the girls together, he would likely double his efforts to find them.  Elizabeth would have no tie to the community.  It was the only consolation Patricia had.

Helena and John would raise the girls as their own, but in her heart those were her girls.  She reached out and softly caressed first Ivy and then Amber lightly on the cheek.  It was the first time she noticed that Ivy had a small heart-shaped birthmark high on her cheekbone, near her right eye.  Patricia’s thumb moved over the tiny heart with a feather light brush across the softest skin she’d ever felt.  The girls would be hunted their entire lives.  Their childhood would be different from normal children, but at least they wouldn’t belong to Zachariah Williams.  They would need to be strong, like their mother. They would need each other to survive.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Gabriel Hennessey flipped Ivy Jones over on her back, but not for long.  Ivy was up, sweeping his leg with a roundhouse kick, putting him on the floor she’d just got up from.  She’d always pulled her punches with him, but the memory of last week took control over emotions she had been trained for years to hold in check.  As he jumped back up with a smile on his face, certain of his years of training—top trophy wins for martial arts competitions, an eighty pound difference in their weight, and a height advantage of nearly a foot—he took his stance like he had for the nearly ten years they had both trained at this dojo.  But, this time, history would not be repeating itself.  The warnings she got about not standing out, not showing off, were overridden by the recent events of the summer and his dismissal of her just as school started up again.  She moved into a defensive stance and instead of throttling back so he could take her down as usual she threw a punch, unchecked and unencumbered by warnings, training, or any sense of self preservation.

The loud crack caused a few of the others to stop and stare.  Gabriel was the top student at this dojo, and no one even came close to being able to beat him, so when he hit the mat, nose bleeding profusely, it didn’t take long to gain the attention of everyone there, including a very concerned and unhappy sensei.  The sensei grabbed a rag on his way over for

Gabe to put on his nose and helped him up, sparing a very disparaging look in Ivy’s direction.

“Miss Jones, please clean this up and join me in my office when you’re finished,” the small Japanese man instructed in soft tones, which did nothing to quell Ivy’s fear of him.  Not that she feared he would hurt her, but she didn’t like disapproval of any kind from someone she respected.  Accidents happened of course, but when they did you always got a talking to so he knew you understood where things went wrong and how to avoid such accidents in the future.  Ivy hoped he’d think it was an accident and a lucky hit, because she had no other story prepared for him, at least nothing she wanted to share.

Ivy turned toward her sister, a mirror image of herself except for the slight red hue to Amber’s blonde hair, and the birthmark on Ivy’s face.  Amber gave a quick frown of disapproval, a slight shake of the head and then she turned back to her sparring partner.  Ivy got herself into this, so she would own up to the consequences.  But the feeling of satisfaction from even a tiny bit of revenge was a balm to her damaged pride and broken heart.  So she cleaned the blood off the mat with little concern. But, as she made the trek to the sensei’s office, the first tingle of regret nudged her.  Was it really worth it? Ivy thought about the long, wonderful summer filled with picnics, movies, and long walks with Gabe, laughing and holding hands and her first kiss.  Sparks, fireworks, butterflies and all the romance her sixteen year old mind could hope for in a single summer.  Then school started, and Gabe informed her the starting quarterback dated cheerleaders, not the geek girl from AV club.  Okay, maybe he didn’t put it that way exactly, but she knew what he meant when he broke things off with her.

His words echoed in her mind as she came to the door and put her hand on the doorknob. “There’s nothing that really holds us together, Ivy. You have no interest in my friends and I won’t give them up.” Now that his popular friends came back to town from their expensive vacations and wildly exciting stories, being with her was boring. Ivy pushed the door open and saw Gabe sitting, head back, rag still in place and she realized that, yes, it was worth it. Cause now he’d been humiliated too.

The lecture was what she expected, the punishment not too severe.  There seemed to be some question as to just how “accidental” the punch was, and she wondered if Gabe had said something to the sensei about their recent falling out.  Ivy would call it breaking up, but Gabe assured her they were never going out officially, so it was just a “falling out” or “moving on.”

Jackass.  She seemed to think that a lot these days.  Every single time she looked at Gabe Hennessey she thought it. Every time she thought of his brown hair with the blond streaks, his blue eyes and perfect smile.  Every time.

She’d gotten dressed, met up with her sister, and made her way out of the dojo and into the sunshine, but not without passing by Gabe and getting some weird look from him that she couldn’t even fathom.  He didn’t appear angry like she thought he would, but that expression was not one of respect for an opponent either.  Accusation?  Whatever it was she didn’t care.  He could have his cool friends, pretty cheerleaders and limelight. She was done. Over. Finished. Tonight she’d go all night long without thinking about him one time.  Without crying herself to sleep.  Without wishing her life could be different so she could be what he needed her to be at school.

Wishing wouldn’t change anything.  She knew that more than most.  She’d been wishing for a different life ever since she realized that not all kids spent their weekends learning to shoot guns or build smoke bombs.

Amber walked in sync with her, silent at least for the moment.  A vintage Camaro pulled up and the driver signaled for them to stop.  Ivy couldn’t think of a single reason why she should be rude to Gabe’s cousin Ryan, but she wished she could think of a way to avoid what she was sure he wanted to talk about.

“Hey Ivy!” He said.

The passenger window was down and Ivy dropped her duffle next to her sister and walked over to lean in a little so they could talk.  He was an older guy, eighteen, and had graduated already then came to Coalville, Kentucky to spend the summer with Gabe.  Gabe was mad that he couldn’t go to Europe with his friends over the summer because of some family issues, so he talked his cousin into hanging out for a while.  Ryan was what Patricia, her god mother, called a beatnik.  John, her adoptive father, called him a hippy, but that might be because Ryan’s dark hair was just a bit past his shoulders and often in a ponytail.  Or because he had a pretty decent goatee going on. Or because he was artistic and unemployed. Either way, Ryan was all about fun and he’d spent a good part of the summer trying to convince Amber he was the most fun she’d ever have.  Amber was never one to be easily impressed by a hot guy and never gave him much attention, which only seemed to make Ryan like her more.  He’d tried to get her to pose for some pictures and followed her around for a few days with his new camera until she threatened to do something Ivy felt pretty sure was anatomically impossible.  A few days later and Ryan went back home, but like magic he showed back up right as school started, surprising everyone by getting an apartment in town and setting up a tattoo shop there. And that was where she’d gotten herself into trouble.

They’d all been at a bonfire when she and Gabe first started seeing each other, or hanging out, or whatever, and Ryan showed Amber a tattoo on his left forearm of a grim reaper and told her he’d done the tattoo himself.  It was really good and Ivy didn’t believe he’d actually done it himself. She thought he was trying to impress her sister.  After some discussion, Ryan told Ivy he’d do a tattoo for her if she wanted. If she wasn’t afraid.  The power of the pinky swear was invoked in front of witnesses, and Ivy bravely announced to all that she loved tattoos and she would certainly let Ryan do one for her when he had a shop of his own.  How could she have ever guessed she’d be held to that promise so soon?  Ryan needed people to tattoo so he could build his reputation in town and he planned to start with her.  It was ironic really.  Gabe didn’t want to be with her anymore because she was a nobody, and Ryan wouldn’t leave her alone about being his first client because it would somehow impress a bunch of people.  Such was her life. A conundrum wrapped in an anomaly.

“Hey Ryan!”  She threw on her best fake smile and told herself to man up. She’d made a promise, and a Jones always kept her promise.

“We still on this week?” He spoke to her, but his eyes wandered past her to where Amber stood, ignoring him in a most obvious manner.

“Yeah.” She answered, then rallied when he glanced back at her. “Of course!” She smiled and hoped it looked better than it felt.

“What about you sunshine?” He asked Amber, who continued to ignore him, though Ivy was certain she’d heard him.

“I think it’s just me,” Ivy said when Amber didn’t answer.

“Not just you.” The voice was masculine and familiar and annoyed her in direct proportion to how much it made her heart feel like it’d dropped down into her toes.

“Gabe,” Ivy said by way of acknowledging him.  She moved away from the door so he could get in.  This time when she leaned back down to talk to Ryan she was sure not to touch the car in any way, as though it were now contaminated. “You’re getting a tattoo?”

“No,” he answered, buckling his seat belt, checking his hair in the mirror and flashing her one of his infamous half-smiles that used to make her knees weak but now served only to remind her to throw her shields up where he was concerned.  “I don’t want a tattoo.  But, I know how you love them.” His smile widened as he not-so-subtly referred to her proclamation at the bonfire. “I planned on being at Ryan’s to check out his work. And I get to see you squirm.  That just might make us even for today, right?”

“I won’t squirm,” she assured him, “And today did make us even.  You remember that the next time you want to spar with me. Or humiliate me.”  She’d hoped to show him that she wasn’t so easy to hurt, but sometimes words have power not fully realized until they leave your lips.  The end of her tirade was more sad than tough and she hated that.

His smile faded and a slight frown held what she took as pity.  She didn’t want his damn pity and she straightened, took a step back so she didn’t have to lean in.  She lifted her chin and squared her shoulders.

“Do what you want,” she told him, her voice stronger and under her control again. “I could care less if you’re there.”  What was one more lie at this point? She lied when she told him she understood why they couldn’t see each other and she lied when she told herself she was over him.  This one seemed pretty small compared to some she’d told this week.

Amber stepped up beside her and she leaned down, pushing herself forward so that she leaned in through the window, forcing Gabe to move out of her way.  Her shoulder hit his sore nose and he yelped, grabbing it and giving Amber a look that would wither most people.  Amber didn’t acknowledge him or apologize.  She acted like she didn’t realize she’d done it even though that noise Gabe made was close to her ear.

“I guess I’ll come too.” Amber smiled, winning a grin from Ryan, albeit a cautious one, as he glanced at Gabe holding his nose.

Amber nodded and moved away from the car, giving Gabe a smile that had nothing to do with humor. At least nothing he would find humorous.  Gabe frowned at her again, but then Ryan put the car in gear and they slowly rolled away from the curb.

“You did that on purpose.” Ivy didn’t bother posing it as a question as she picked her duffle up.

“You betcha.”  Amber didn’t bother denying it.

“We’ve got archery class at home.” Ivy began walking home. “Let’s get going.”

They walked side by side, quiet at first, but Ivy knew her sister couldn’t let it drop. If Amber had her way, they would have blown up Gabe’s locker the first day of school.  To say her sister was a bit protective would be like saying she was just a little vindictive. “Just a little” was not how Amber did things.

“Ivy, I’m sorry he hurt you. I’m sorry he’s an ass.” Amber drew in a deep breath as though she were just getting started. “But you need to pull yourself out of this funk and you need to not go through with this whole tattoo idea.  John and Helena will kill you and kill me for knowing about it and not telling them.”

“If you do, it will all turn into a life-lesson philosophy speech and more training on how to stay invisible.  I just don’t need that right now.  You’re protective enough it’s like I don’t even need parents!”

“That’s not really fair, Ivy.  After all they’ve been through to take us in, adopt us, keep us safe.  If not for John and Helena taking us and Patricia in, things could be really bad,” Amber scolded.

Ivy hated this speech and knew it by heart.  “I know, I know, and I do appreciate all they’ve done for us.  I love our home.  We couldn’t have asked for better parents.  But, between Helena and Patricia mothering us and John’s constant train-till-you-drop it’s hard to fit in a regular life.  It’s hard to fit in at all.”  Ivy wondered for the millionth time if things would have been different between her and Gabe if her life allowed her to have a lot of friends like he did.  She’d underestimated how many people would be curious about them as a couple.  She couldn’t afford that kind of attention and Gabe refused to choose her over his friends.  Something had to go.  That something ended up being her.

“You know there’s never going to be a regular life for us.  At least not until we’re adults and can keep anyone from forcing us to go back to our biological father.  Rules keep us safe.  Keeping a low profile keeps us safe,” Amber continued.  “Standing out in any way is a beacon for trouble.” She quoted Helena.

The day was warm and bright, completely opposite of Ivy’s mood.  They walked leisurely, in no hurry to spend the rest of the day in the heat training.

Ivy sighed loudly.  “Helena doesn’t want us to do anything that brings attention to us, but doing nothing does bring attention to us!  We’ll always be outcasts at this point.  We’ll never fit in.”

Amber’s eyes reflected the pity Ivy hated to see there.  “You want to be popular because you think that’s how you’ll get into Gabe’s life,” Amber said.  “Well, Ivy, not only can that not happen, but if you have to be popular to have him stay with you, he isn’t worth having.  I almost wish Helena wasn’t friends with his mom.  He’s the only boy you’ve really ever known well.  The only one ever allowed to hang out with us.  You put too much stock in the history you have with him and how cute he is and how popular.”

Ivy slid a glance to Amber, thinking about those days.  Amber had never fallen under Gabe’s spell.  It had always been Ivy who wanted to be with him every possible chance she got.  At first, Gabe said she was too young to hang out with, and years later she wasn’t popular enough to hang out with.

Maybe Gabe was right and there really wasn’t anything to tie them together, not time, age, friends, or social status.  How this past summer happened was purely fate, or bad luck, depending on how you look at it.

Amber’s pace quickened, her steps slapping the pavement hard enough to echo in the street.

“When John and Helena find out about the tattoo, you better cover for me! That’s all I’m sayin’.” Amber continued voicing her train of thought. “And don’t even ask me to lie to Patricia for you, cause I won’t.”

Ivy picked up her pace.  “Patricia is the only one likely to not care.  She would understand that I just want to do something for myself.”

“Uh, huh.  You keep telling yourself that.  But if she gives me the guilt-ray stare you know I’ll fold.”

Ivy had to smile.  They always teased in secret that Patricia’s super power was her shield-of-honesty, kind of like Wonder Woman’s golden lasso, and her most diabolical weapon was her guilt-ray.  No one wielded guilt like Patricia did when she really wanted to get her way.  It was a gift.

“No worries, sis,” Ivy assured her as they turned down Appleseed Lane.  “I’d never draw you into a web of lies.” She glanced at Amber, whose expression told her she was not buying into anything she was saying. “We’ll stick with tradition and we’ll sneak out.  No one will ever even know what happened and I’ll have the tattoo put somewhere they’ll never see it.”

Amber frowned at that.  They’d snuck out of the house a couple of times during the summer for bonfires and midnight movies.  They’d never been caught, so Ivy felt sure that Amber would go even if she didn’t like it.  Even if it meant having to listen to her sister complain the whole three mile walk to Ryan’s place.

“One day, Ivy, you’re going to get caught,” Amber warned.

“Are you really going to give me the ‘Ivy you take too many chances’ lecture? I mean, do you do it for your own plausible deniability if we get caught, or because you think if you say it enough times I’ll actually listen?”  Ivy sighed, hoping this would nip that particular lecture in the bud.

“You’re reckless,” Amber said, dashing Ivy’s hopes that the conversation was ending. “One day it may be more than just you that pays the price.”

Ivy waited for more.  She knew the lecture well enough to give it herself.  Amber was all about survival and doing what was right. She didn’t seem to understand that life without fun, without adventure, without something to live for, was no life at all.  They’d just have to be at odds about this one thing.  She just wished it wasn’t such a big thing to have between them.  She wished Amber didn’t need to be coaxed or guilted into every idea, every adventure.

Honeysuckle, lavender, roses and other scents she couldn’t name but loved just the same, hung in the air, and she breathed them in like they could feed her soul.  They had been trained to take a different route each day and there were several they took, but this was by far the best one.   The weather was perfect and the colors of autumn had begun to paint with passion everywhere.  The leaves weren’t ready to give up just yet, but soon they would carpet lawns in red and gold and dance as the September winds came and orchestrated the music of Fall.  In that moment, Ivy didn’t mind that her life was void of adventure, excitement, or attention.  The sun kissed her skin and the cool breeze of late afternoon soothed it before she felt the burn from a Fall sun that had already turned her skin a lovely bronze, nearly as dark as her whiskey-colored eyes.

The birds chirped and Ivy could hear the sound of lawn mowers announce the commitment of husbands and gardeners.  The day was so serene and perfect she immediately felt the need to cheer herself by needling her sister.

“So, you’re going to be at Ryan’s lair,” Ivy said, doing her best to sound neutral.  “Right where he’s wanted you all along.”

Ivy smiled and wriggled her eyebrows, but the laughter died on her lips as she watched Amber’s shoulders tense, her eyes narrow and her lips set in a serious line.  Ivy immediately went on alert, but she continued on as though her heart wasn’t pounding hard in her chest. Ivy knew immediately what was up when she looked ahead, and now adrenaline poured into her body.  She’d noticed the white van parked outside the dojo when they arrived.  She hadn’t seen it when they came out, but it hadn’t gone far.

“Montana plates,” Amber whispered.

“Tinted windows,” Ivy added.  “Parked away from the houses.  Can’t see if anyone is inside.”

“Take Richardson Avenue and cut through the Wheeler’s old place.” Ivy smiled as she instructed her sister of their plan. Outwardly they looked like a couple of girls chatting and enjoying the day. No one would suspect they had gone on alert.  Richardson Avenue was an alternate route that had an emergency duck-and-run route built in.

Once they turned onto Richardson Avenue they picked up their pace just a bit.  The sound of an engine starting up had Ivy glancing at her sister to confirm she had heard it too.  Ivy’s breathing was shallow, heart racing, adrenaline pouring in, and she moved her feet even faster, bringing the Wheeler house closer.  The house was empty and had been for sale for the past few years.  The only fence was in the back and separated the yard from the forest beyond.

“Now!” Ivy started running for the fence, sparing a quick glance back to ensure herself that Amber was keeping up.  Ivy dropped her duffle right before she hit the fence, launching herself as high on the fence as possible and then throwing herself over to land gracefully on the other side.  She had momentum on her side and took off at full speed. She heard Amber hit the fence but was pulled up short when her sister’s gasp stopped her in her tracks. She turned to see Amber was already up, but limping as fast as she could toward her.  Ivy ran back even though Amber was shaking her head.

“Just go,” Amber told her. “I’ll catch up.”

“Put your weight on me!”  Ivy put her arm around Amber’s waist and her sister put her arm around Ivy’s shoulders.  Ivy was grateful that Amber was smaller than her and though Amber was only about fifteen pounds lighter and maybe an inch shorter it helped Ivy to move her sister faster through the next two miles of forest.

Ivy saw the house in the distance and found some reserve energy to help her pick up the pace again.  Her side hurt, and Amber was leaning harder. She needed to get her sister help more than she needed relief from the pain.

Ivy heard the deep baritone voice of John as he called out to Helena.  John was big and he was fast.  He’d grown up on a reservation where they hunted for food and spent a great deal of time running in the woods.    In no time he was there, picking Amber up, carrying her swiftly through the trees.  Helena joined them, but her attention went from Amber to the forest behind them in a split second.  Ivy kept up with John, but she had no doubt Helena was assessing the threat, searching for anyone who may have followed them.  Ivy chastised herself for not knowing if they had been followed. She scanned the area from time to time, but her energy and attention had been on Amber and getting her home.

They’d reached the porch at the rear of the house, and Patricia had the door standing open for them to come in.

“What’s happened?” Patricia asked, her eyes wide.  The petite blonde woman pointed to a chair just inside.

John put her gently onto the chaise lounge in the family room.  Ivy’s eyes struggled to adjust to the darker interior of the house.  She stood at the foot of the chaise lounge peering down at Amber’s swollen ankle as Patricia ran to get an ice pack and some pain medication.

“There was a white van,” Ivy started as soon as she heard the door slam shut announcing that Helena had joined them.

“Where?” John asked.  His dark eyes grew intense, though his large hand gently rested on Amber’s shoulder.

“Not even a quarter mile west of the dojo off Richardson,” Ivy answered for Amber.

“No one was following you,” Helena assured them and walked over to stand next to John.  Immediately the two joined hands. They were each other’s touchstone.  “Did you get a good look at them? A license plate number?”

“White van, Colorado plates, tinted windows,” Ivy cataloged.  “I think I remember the plate number, too. But, I didn’t see anyone.”

Ivy heard Amber’s quick intake of breath as Patricia placed the ice pack lower on Amber’s ankle where swelling had started to highlight an oncoming bruise.     .

“It did have one of those license plate frames,” Amber interjected, then stopped talking again when Patricia handed her some pills to take.

“Right!” Ivy recalled the license plate frame now. “It had dollar signs all around it in black and silver.”  How could she have forgotten that? But immediately she knew—she had been distracted by boys and tattoos.  Her desire to have a normal life could result in putting everyone she loved most in danger, just as Amber had warned, and she didn’t want that.

“John and I will go into town and find the van,” Helena said. “Patricia and Ivy, be on alert.”

Patricia snorted and gave an exaggerated scowl at Helena.  But Ivy knew Helena hadn’t said it for Patricia’s benefit.  Patricia was always on alert.  Ivy knew it had been said for her benefit, for not paying closer attention, and the shame of it burned all the way down to her toes. Helena made her point and then signaled to John and walked out of the room.

A warm, strong finger touched the bottom of her chin, pulling up until she was forced to look into John’s eyes.  His black hair had recently made room for strands of gray.  His Native American heritage gave him high cheek bones, darker skin and aura of patience and wisdom Ivy found comforting.  Or perhaps, she thought, it was his gentle nature housed inside a large and powerful frame that caused her to feel comforted.  John had a way of seeing you in a way that made you feel right about yourself and Ivy needed that more often than she cared to admit.

“You got your sister here safely,” John peered into her eyes and she was sure he saw her soul, “I’m proud of you.”  He smiled, tapped his finger gently on her chin and was gone.

Ivy heard them in the next room, gearing up, though you’d never know they were packing deadly weapons if you just passed them on the street.  The door banged shut and soon the rev of a car engine sparked to life and Ivy pushed away the threat of tears at having let everyone down.

“No one wants to be the one to tell you that you should have been paying better attention,” Patricia spoke gently, “Especially not when it’s so obvious that you already know that. But, it’s Helena’s duty to make sure you hold yourself accountable for the things you know you’re responsible for.”  Patricia always spoke to her as though she were an adult and it made Ivy want to be that for her, but sometimes it was hard to live up to that.

“I know.” Ivy glanced from Patricia to Amber when Amber tried to move and let out a little yelp of pain.

“Let’s get that ankle elevated a little more and get a bigger ice pack on it.” Patricia had removed Amber’s shoe and sock and had pulled her pants leg up.  “I’m afraid a trip to the hospital may be in order.”  Patricia left the room to find something else to prop up Amber’s ankle.

“Ivy, I’m pretty sure it’s broken.”  Amber was pale and her breathing was labored with pain.  She’d done a great job hiding that from Patricia, and Ivy knew why.  “Can you do anything?”

Ivy considered the swollen ankle and was pretty sure Amber was right.  Her mind jumped back to that day six months ago in the barn.  One of the barn cats had been attacked by something and was crying out in pitiful screams.  They’d been headed there to work the punching bag and the wooden training dummy when they heard the sounds and rushed in to find the sad creature.  Ivy loved cats, she loved going out to the barn and hanging out with them after a workout.  She’d even named the injured cat.  This was Tink, one of her favorites.  Immediately she went to it but was afraid to touch the little thing for fear of making things worse.  She was already crying when she reached out to gently pet the cat’s back leg, the only spot she saw that didn’t have an injury.  She wanted Tink to live. She didn’t want her to suffer. It was all she could think of as she felt Amber’s arm go around her shoulders and her sister pull her close.

But something happened in that moment that would change her life forever.  A warm current of energy, smooth as water, fast as lightning, flowed from the center of her being, down her arm, and out her fingertips into the cat.  She could actually feel the power moving into the cat’s body as if they were one being tied together through that warm power.  Ivy sat there marveling at the sensation when she realized the power had also moved to Amber, who was also petting the cat.  Amber’s quick intake of breath told her that she felt it too.  But this time the power grew warmer as it grew in intensity, flowing back from Amber, through her and down into the cat.  Ivy wasn’t sure what it was doing to Amber so dislodged herself and moved away from them both.

Ivy breathed hard and fast. It felt as though she’d gone on a long run without eating anything.  Her heart raced, but her energy waned.  It wasn’t a painful sensation, but it was foreign, uncomfortable, and frightening.  Immediately she turned to Amber, who was staring at her as though she’d grown a second head.

“You alright?” Ivy hoped she hadn’t shared that feeling with her sister. “Did you feel that?”

“I felt it alright,” Amber answered, still staring at Ivy. “What was it?”

“I don’t know.”

The cat moved and both girls turned their attention to it.  Her fur was still matted with blood, but she was standing and licking at the blood as though her only care was to get clean.

“Tink?” Ivy moved a little closer to examine the small cat that had moments earlier been in the throes of a very painful death.

Tink stopped and eyed Ivy, then Amber, dismissed them, and went back to cleaning herself.

Ivy picked Tink up, eliciting a sound of displeasure, but not one of pain.  Ivy ran her hands over the cat but found no wounds, no breaks, nothing.  She put Tink down, who took off in a heartbeat down the length of the barn and around a corner, disappearing from sight and reach of the annoying humans.  Ivy and Amber had not spoken of that day again.  Not until now.

“I don’t know if it’ll work.” Ivy looked from Amber’s hazel eyes to her swollen ankle and back.  “But, it can’t hurt to try, right?”  Oh, she hoped that was true.  The cat was still alive and full of mischief, and neither she nor Amber experienced any negative repercussions from the healing except that it had made them tired for a short while.

Amber just nodded.  Ivy crouched down at the foot of the lounge chair, took a deep breath and gently laid her hands on Amber’s hot, swollen ankle.  She shut her eyes, searching within herself for that place where that power lived.  She envisioned Amber and her ankle as she felt the center of her being begin to warm.  The energy moved out in a fluid motion. Her heart began to speed up even though she felt very relaxed and calm.  She felt it leave her fingertips and enter Amber.  Amber’s ankle warmed to the touch and Ivy felt connected to what she could only think of as Amber’s energy.  The fluid energy covered the ankle, grew warm, and Ivy knew instinctively that it was healed.

The sound of a deep intake of breath caused Ivy to open her eyes. As Amber cast a worried glance at the kitchen door Ivy realized what she thought was a sign of relief, was far from it.  It was the sound of shock.  She slowly turned her head to see Patricia standing there with a pillow under her arm, an ice pack in her hand and her fist closed around what Ivy assumed were more pain pills.  Patricia’s mouth hung open.

“What have you done?”

 

 

               Chapter 2

 

 

Patricia moved her slender fingers over Amber’s ankle so tentatively Ivy wondered if she were concerned she’d catch something, or that there’d be some kind of electric shock involved in touching the place where she’d healed her sister.  Ivy glanced at the clock for the third time since Patricia sat next to Amber.  Time was moving so slowly Ivy fidgeted, wishing she could hurry it along and get it all over with.  There was a really good reason why she and Amber had said nothing about her gift.

“How long have you been able to do this?” Patricia set Amber’s ankle back down gently, as though she’d forgotten it was healed.  She wrung her hands as she started pacing in front of the lounge chair, her eyes going everywhere but to Ivy.

“How did you plan on explaining away the injury?”  She stopped pacing.

Ivy stared down at her shoes, seeing only the scene at the barn playing out over and over until she was dizzy from it.  She half sat, half fell onto the end of the lounge chair, her hand falling naturally to Amber’s now-healed ankle. She gripped the ankle so tightly that Amber moved, bringing Ivy out of her self-reflection.

She sat in the safest place she knew of—home.  The furniture was modest but comfortable with little items collected over the years displayed on shelves, side tables, and walls.  The faint smell of cedar mingled with the wonderful peach cobbler aroma coming from the kitchen.  They had nothing fancy, by choice.  Nothing to make them stand out in any way.  Nothing they couldn’t leave behind.  What some might consider quaint or old fashioned was a clever disguise for the fortress that was really here.  Ivy could see three places from her peripheral vision where weapons were hidden.  She knew every escape route in the room, in the house, within a mile radius of the place.  Fight or run.  That was all there was to life for her and her sister.

And she knew why: Zachariah.  Her father.  A man who wielded such power that he could give or take life, just as he had given life to her and Amber and taken it from their mother.  A power no one understood, but everyone feared. Now she had a power she didn’t understand.  She was her father’s daughter and it set her apart from everyone else in this house, in this family.

“Ivy!” Patricia raised her voice enough to snap Ivy out of her inner reflections.

“Not long, maybe a month,” Ivy spoke quietly, not daring to make eye contact.  Prolonging the inevitable judgment she was certain was coming, “I didn’t think about how I’d explain it.”

A slight pressure, warm and gentle, on her shoulder brought her head up to meet Patricia’s eyes.  Patricia seemed to be searching for something, her eyes moving back and forth over Ivy’s face, looking for something with such an expression of raw emotion that Ivy felt the burn of tears behind her eyes.  Then Patricia pulled her close, held her tight and stroked her hair.

“Baby,” Patricia always called her that and secretly Ivy liked it. “I love you. Everything is going to be okay.”

Ivy melted into her and the tears broke free.  Patricia continued to gently stroke her hair, waiting, as patient as John, for her to speak.

“I thought you’d worry that I was going to be like my father,” Ivy admitted, bringing more tears and a hot ball of dread into her stomach.  “I don’t want to be like him.”

“Listen to me,” Patricia let go and stepped back just enough to peer into Ivy’s eyes. “You are nothing like him. Not where it matters. This power you have will be a gift, because of how you use it.  You have a heart for people, for animals, for lost causes.” Patricia’s smile was gentle and sincere.

“That’s the thing with power, any kind of power. It, in itself, is neither good nor bad.  How you use it determines whether or not it is good or bad, blessing or curse. You know what I mean?”

Ivy nodded, the ball of fire in the pit of her stomach began to cool.  She wiped the tears from her eyes as she stepped back, arms falling away, but somehow, in some real and important way, she was closer to Patricia than any embrace could ever bring them.

“She saved one of the barn cats.” Amber’s voice was quiet, but steady. “But, healing makes her tired. Drains her.”

Ivy nodded.  “When I was saving the cat I got tired, then I touched Amber and it was as though she were a living battery that I could pull energy from.”  Ivy told Patricia exactly what had happened the day in the barn.

“You need to understand, Ivy,” Patricia gazed at her pointedly, “that kind of power always comes with a price.  One way or another.  I never saw Zachariah look tired after a healing, but his brother, who I believe is my grandfather, Ezekiel nearly died from trying to heal a child whose cancer had progressed really far before it was discovered. They say he was in a coma for weeks afterward. I wasn’t born then, but I remember the sister wives talking about it. So be careful.”

“Amber?” Ivy hadn’t considered that using Amber as a living battery might have dire consequences. “Did it hurt when I touched you? When I took your energy?”

“Not hurt, not exactly,” Amber replied. “I could feel something like an electric current, but it didn’t hurt. It kind of hummed through me, if that makes sense. And it made me really tired. Exhausted.”

Consequences had always been Ivy’s enemy.  Going to school, she wanted to be on the swim team, or maybe be a cheerleader so Gabe would notice her, but when Helena laid out the possible consequences of being found, it seemed unfair to everyone else for her to want those things.

Ivy’s heart picked up its pace. “Do we have to tell John and Helena?”

“Why wouldn’t you?” Amber’s quizzical expression left no doubt as to where she stood on the matter.

“You don’t understand,” she glanced back to Amber. “You’re always the good one. You always do what you are supposed to. You’re careful. I’m the one everyone has to worry about. Now, there’s more to worry about. What if they pull me out of school until we know more about this power?” No more Gabe. A prisoner in the home she loved. That was not going to happen.

Ivy shook her head before Patricia could speak.

“Just give me a little time to figure out what this…” she focused on her hands, then back to Patricia, “…power is.  You can help me. Then, when we tell them we can let them know all the facts. They won’t have to worry. They won’t have to put me under a microscope. Please, Patty?”

Patricia scowled and did that thing with her eyes like she was reading as she looked into Ivy’s face.

“I don’t like keeping secrets from John and Helena.” Patricia relaxed her stance and the scowl disappeared. “One week. That’s it. And no keeping secrets from me. We work on trying to figure out as much as we can about your power, then we go to them and tell them everything. Deal?”

Ivy already had her arms around Patricia, hugging her with a quick squeeze, trying on a tentative smile.

“If we’re going to hold this information back we need to do two things now.” Patricia considered both girls. “First, no experimenting without me there, got it?” Both girls nodded, so she went on. “We had better wrap that ankle or they’re going to know something is up.”

Patricia wrapped Amber’s ankle and cleaned up all the supplies lying around the lounge chair.  Patricia hated to talk about the community.  Helena and John talked about it more than Patricia did and they had been away longer by nearly five years. No one ever pressed her to talk about it. Ivy knew Patricia had seen their father kill their mother. Patricia saved her and Amber that night.  But, she never wanted to talk about it in detail.  And she never spoke about family and friends she’d left behind.    Hearing her talk about her grandfather was like getting a peek inside a forbidden treasure box. She wasn’t about to push her on it though, not when she’d just been given a huge favor.

Ivy followed Patricia and Amber into the kitchen.  The peach cobbler was sitting out, perfuming the air with goodness.

 

 

 

 

About the Author:

Sheila_DW_small

Sheila English writes fantasy, scifi, thrillers and YA as well as screenplays and book trailer scripts.  Award winning producer, international speaker and CEO of Circle of Seven Productions, her passions outside of writing and producing include animal rescue (she has 7 dogs), typewriter collecting (she has 60 typewriters) and a strange obsession with Doctor Who (she has a life-size TARDIS in her office).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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