Here for your reading pleasure, is a little sample of the early chapters of Keeper of the Grove (Previously titled Passion’s Sacred Dance). Enjoy.
“We know that the sacred ground is in Stacy Macken’s hands in Bitter Thorn Grove.” Cyreth looked down at her copy of the report, but in a moment, she pushed it away. Probably knew everything about Stacy, by heart. “She knows she’s Ruth Macken’s descendant.”
“I suppose so,” Aaron said. Why did he feel like she scolded him?
“She’s running a history center in the city named after her family properties. She knows the building stands on the sacred ground?”
“If she does, she didn’t bring it up in our conversation,” Aaron said.
“So what’s the problem?”
Aaron tapped his copy of the druid’s report. “This is the problem. Cyreth, you’ve wiped out everything there is to know about the wars, from Lilly throughout history.” He nodded to the bank of computers to the far side of the room. “Without it, Isaac may be the only link we have to prove how important her part is, in our war.”
“Do you really think she needs it?” Cyreth asked. “She’s a Macken.”
“In a new age. She believes the old philosophers are dead.”
“What of the old gods?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “We haven’t gotten into deep conversations. But I know from watching her in that gallery she knows more about her family than most of her cousins do.”
“I think so. You should’ve seen her face when I told her I had people in my family from Old Bitter Thorn Grove. By the gods I worship, I thought she was going to grill me about her ancestors, right then and there.” Aaron rose and paced to the computer consoles, reading the information displayed there, and not seeing it at all. “Hiding the history from her has been a mistake.”
“What if the media get hold of it?” Cyreth asked. “Somehow, I doubt they’ll believe our war is an urban legend. We don’t need another poet writing about the ‘latest battle of Mag Turied’.” She rubbed her wrinkled forehead tiredly. “The ensuing panic won’t help us.”
Aaron glanced toward the windows. A light dusting of snow fluttered across the gloomy central Florida sky. He shuddered. It wouldn’t do to yell at Cyreth. The druid was only trying to do what she thought best. Still, it irked him. “I’m not speaking of the populace, I’m talking about Stacy. Our blessed steward.”
“If we’d told her the truth before, would that stop Balor and his men?” she asked, twitching a silver bracelet around her old, tattooed wrist. “They may’ve found her sooner, as well. We could’ve led them to her.” Her bracelet seemed to annoy her and she took the bangle off and laid it out on the table before her. She twisted its sides into a figure-eight. A shield decorated with tri-pointed spirals lay face up. “Maybe when she was an infant? Then what?”
Aaron opened and closed his hand. He didn’t want to picture what the world of the last thirty-seven years might’ve been like without Stacy in it.
“I thought so,” she said. “No, I think we’re doing the right thing.”
“Maybe,” Aaron said, “it will help her help us.”
“And who will help her keep the knowledge where it belongs? Do you or do you not know what historians do when they get excited: write—”
He pointed to her and knew she couldn’t deny what he was about to say. How many nights had he passed listening to her lengthy tales? “And talk, I know.”
The druid’s nose twitched. “Do you think she’ll keep the story of our war with Balor out of the media?” she asked. “In this day and age, when everyone thinks they have a right to know everything?”
Frustrated, Aaron snatched a copy of the deed off the table. Whoever had drafted it wrote, BITTER THORN GROVE HISTORY CENTER across its top surrounding the words in a border of thorns drawn in Celtic style braiding. “Fine,” he said, meeting the old druid woman’s gaze. “I suppose I can only hope, this time, we’ll end this damned war for good.”
Cyreth nodded. “May the Bright Lord and Lady make it so.”
January 22nd, 4 p.m.
Stacy tapped the pen against the documents, leaving barely visible black marks here and there on his note.
I think our family was right about you, Stacy Macken. Keep this number handy. It may be of use to you soon. Meanwhile, if you have any questions, please call.
Re-reading his note, she assumed he meant the number he’d written at the bottom, a sequence resembling a foreign phone number.
Their conversation wouldn’t leave her mind and she knew she needed to call him. Silly as it seemed. She plucked up the receiver and tapped in the digits.
The line rang and she waited.
Who was this Aaron Fielding? Was he another buyer hoping to persuade her to sell the Bitter Thorn Grove History Center to him? Given that ridiculously large tip he’d handed the clerk in their gift shop today, he could afford it. With her beloved history center facing foreclosure, she’d consider almost anything to save it.
Unfortunately, the city didn’t want the place. The city fathers claimed they understood its importance, but not enough to approve her request for more money. The arts council already thought they spent too much every year.
Too much? The historical records alone were priceless.
A curse escaped her lips and she clenched her skirt in her fists. If this call offered her an out, it’d be worth it.
Everything depended on what plans Mr. Fielding had for the center. She wouldn’t give up Bitter Thorn Grove History Center to someone who might plow it under to build another shopping mall. It wouldn’t bother her if it were for a better cause, like a new branch of the hospital or an elementary school. For that, she might agree.
On second thought, maybe she could talk him into loaning her the money she needed, if nothing else. Was that why he’d come by?
She needed time to clear her head and think. Air. Quiet. She pushed away from the desk and pulled her coat from the back of the chair. Peering out the window into the dark night, she noticed frost dusted the glass. Disgusted with her whole day, and the unusually cold winter, Stacy changed her mind and tossed her coat down.
When had Florida’s winters ever been like this before? This cold was setting record lows for the Gulf Coast and the weather around the country was even worse. Some argued the world was moving into a new Ice Age. Something told her they might be right.
Family legend said it had happened before.
Working on the bank’s proposal wasn’t enough to distract her from her worry. Stacy gave up trying to get any work done tonight. She needed something to take her mind off Aaron, the weather, and especially the family legend.
Peering out the office door into the center’s main hallway, she could see a member of the staff attempting to straighten a new portrait of the mayor. Off in the distance, the guard’s footsteps echoed through the halls. The squeak of a door drew her attention away from him, and she spied her assistants, Hannah and Melody, carrying an empty pedestal toward the storeroom.
“How’s it look, girls?”
“We just locked the front doors, but there are still a couple of students milling around the courtyard, slurping up coffee,” Hannah said.
Stacy checked her watch. Six o’clock already? “Good. Anything else?”
“Nope,” Melody said. “That’s about it.”
Stacy nodded then strode into the main gallery, past statues of a few founding fathers, paintings of historical incidents, and cabinets displaying the city charters and noteworthy proclamations. Slipping through a door at the far end of the room, she entered the courtyard.
Despite the chill air, Stacy spied a few tattooed men and women gathered around a small table, discussing a class while nursing cups of coffee. One woman sitting with them had silvery gray eyes that shone like beacons. Hard to miss.
Stacy stared at her a moment longer, trying to figure out the nature of the color. Putting the woman’s eye color down to a set of extremely cool contacts, she smiled and gave the woman a jaunty salute then reached out for the empty glasses lining the next abandoned table.
Uncomfortable, Stacy strode to the far side of the courtyard to escape the woman’s scrutiny. Something told her to look back.
The woman with the startling eyes stood right behind her, glaring. Her eyes glowed like quicksilver.
Miss Silver Eyes smelled of patchouli, musk, and some other strange scent Stacy couldn’t identify.
She leaned close to Stacy’s ear, and her voice sounded raspy when she spoke, “We will have this ground. This harshad time, Stacy Macken, the ground is ours, and they will never dance again.”
Harshad? How did she know about harshads? Had the long-awaited war truly come, then?
Stacy stared as impossibly long incisors slid down from the woman’s gums like snake fangs. Miss Silver Eyes clamped a hand around her upper arm. The woman’s steely gaze, the ruby and alligator’s tooth earring glittering in her right earlobe, and the dark threat mesmerized Stacy.
“You won’t if I have anything to say about it.” A cool male voice brought the silver-eyed woman up short and the fog lifted from Stacy’s mind.
Aaron Fielding stood before her dressed in casual jeans and a gray, cable knit sweater. He seemed right at home here among the students, and yet somehow he also stood apart.
The air shifted. Stacy could have sworn his leather coat, for just an instant, took on the shape of a golden eagle’s wings.
A high-pitched whine scraped from the silver-eyed woman’s throat. Taking Aaron in, she cocked her head. A bemused smile spread across her face, as if at some private joke.
Aaron retrieved an item from his coat. At first, Stacy thought the object might be a baton. A hint of blue light flickered between his fingers, barely there; almost hidden by the glare of the courtyard lights. Then the object changed shape and substance, wood to steel. The innocuous baton became a sword.
“Now, wait!” Stacy jumped to her feet and caught the baton before it bashed the woman’s face in.
Aaron grasped Stacy’s upraised hand and thrust her behind him. “For your own good, don’t interfere.”
Miss Silver Eyes screamed. Steel glinted from her fists as she rushed headlong at Aaron.
He raised the weapon while muttering something in a foreign language.
An explosion of light split the air. A blue starburst flashed at the edges of Stacy’s vision. Cringing and blinking in the brightness, she saw that the woman, hands outstretched, had gone utterly still.
Stacy frowned as she studied the woman, wondering what happened.
Aaron turned back to the silver-eyed woman, grasped her arm, and whispered in her ear. Her feet began to move, one step, then another, as a zombie might—unseeing and stiff in posture. Aaron kept a hand on her back, leading her to the entrance. He opened the gate and shoved her through, then slammed it shut with an Irish curse. He proceeded to mutter something, tracing a finger along the gate’s edge.
His words reminded Stacy of something out of Chaucer. Azure light danced around the gate’s perimeter.
Aaron turned to face her. “This should never have happened,” he said. “Forgive me, Stacy.”
Surprised to see his medallion glowing with a soft reddish-golden light and his eyes an unearthly shade of green, Stacy gasped.
Aaron shook his head. “We were lax in our vigilance, and this intrusion never should’ve been allowed.”
His gaze came back to hers. The glow in his eyes was gone. Had she hallucinated?
“I give you my solemn vow that I’ll do everything in my power to see it doesn’t happen again.”
Shaking, she recalled the fables she’d heard all her life about women and fated love with mystery men. Was the tale just the stuff of silly bedtime stories? Was Aaron merely defending her from an attacker as any gentleman might? Or did his purpose spring from something other than chivalry?
Taking her hands, he tried to soothe her. “These grounds have been violated,” he said. His expression melted into a solemn frown. “And we’ve work to do to restore the safeguards. If you’ll come with me, we can get down to the business of ensuring that.”
Safeguards? Stacy couldn’t believe her ears. Work to restore the safeguards?
Oh, God. Oh, God! Why now? Would that her whole life could’ve passed without having to hear those words.
Yet, she knew what he said was true, and reached out to him. Stacy’s breath caught in her throat as he raised her hands to his biceps. His expression held a combination of intensity and passion. Her heart raced.
His voice, a mixture of seduction and gravel, rumbled through her. “Hold on tight. I don’t want to lose you along the way.”
The lights at the corners of the courtyard flared. Digging her nails into Aaron’s arms, Stacy squinted. They glided upward, and she looked down, disbelieving what she saw. They floated above the floor as if they’d become no more than a puff of smoke.
The puff thinned, stretched out in the light, blinding her as it blended along the spectrum. A thin whining sound screamed in her ear. She shot along its frequency, until she felt she was one with the universal energy pulsing through her, until all she saw turned to white darkness that seemed to go on forever.
If you’d like to read more, Keeper of the Grove is available at Amazon (in Kindle Select so you may borrow it with a Prime membership) and in paperback.
Add to your Good Reads shelf here. (FYI, for the time being, Good Reads might have it listed by an old title) Thanks for reading!