Every one of us has a soul.
Some are new, some old, and a few, the dangerous, are lost.
But only twelve know why we have a soul at all.
Only twelve remember mankind’s forbidden past.
Tess thinks she’s going crazy when only she sees the naked man in the crowded café, comatose woman in his arms. The nightmares, the visions: something’s not right. But Tess is entitled to moments of insanity. She’s the daughter of mental illness, suicide, and her husband was just killed in a car accident, leaving her an inept single mom at twenty-six.
Then Tess meets Bryce, Carlisle’s illusive bachelor who spins tales from ancient mythology with knowledge beyond his years. His truths intrigue Tess, pull her from the depths, and might just be what she needs to survive.
Compulsively readable, A Keeper’s Truth is an emotionally charged tale of fate, belief, and the power of the human mind. A story that will have you questioning everything you know about the history of mankind, and wondering if somewhere, deep inside, you knew the truth all along.
Please enjoy this sample chapter from the book . . .
My name is Tess. I’m the daughter of a liar. And unhinged.
Tess is the name on the sticker stuck to my shirt above my right boob. I wonder why it says that, no one uses my name anymore. It should read: Oh, I’m sorry. Or the extended version: Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I’m greeted with pouty lips and sad eyes. Instant reminders . . . as if I need to be reminded my husband is dead. Meyer has been gone five months, two days, sixteen hours, and twenty-two minutes. The last two minutes only slightly better than the first.
I’m standing in my daughter’s classroom, waiting for my turn to meet her kindergarten teacher, Ms. Bubbly. Actually, her name is Ms. Rainer, but since she wears no sticker herself, I’ve taken the liberty to provide her with an appropriate title, one with more verve. I hover in the back corner, pretending to be enthralled with drawings of horses stapled to the bulletin board. Well, I think they’re horses, or ponies, or some sort of animal with four legs; they really aren’t all that easy to decipher. I’m grateful for the distraction. I’m a shell, a remnant, a shadow of my former self.
I catch a glimpse of affection, a naturally intimate gesture between lovers. His hand on her waist, her leaning into his shoulder while whispering in his ear. I draw a mouthful of air, the word widow encasing me like a tomb, and scan the crowd again, hoping to see Thomas. He’s the only other single parent I know of. He’s not here.
It must be my turn to speak to Ms. Bubbly. She reaches out and with a strained voice says, “So sorry to learn about your loss.”
Great, just what I wanted to hear. I look at my nametag and tighten my arms into their usual position, holding my insides, inside. I realize my lack of finesse a moment too late, and Ms. Bubbly drops her hand.
“So . . . Abby . . .” I can’t think of anything more to say. My mind is mush.
Ms. Bubbly briefs me on her first weeks with my daughter, nothing I don’t already know. Abby is quiet. Abby’s working on her printing skills, her b’s and d’s are backwards. Abby likes to play with Thomas’s daughter, Sofia, her best friend from junior kindergarten. Ms. Bubbly ends with, “Abby seems to be coping,” and I stare at my shoes, the word coping caught in my throat. “Yes, under the circumstances, Abby is doing well,” Mrs. Bubbly says, her animation dwindling.
I realize she’s striving for sincerity, but I can’t help but wonder which circumstance she’s referring to: Abby being fatherless or my inability to raise her alone.
“Good,” I say, because it’s Tuesday, opposite day according to the blackboard.
Ms. Bubbly’s attention wanders, and I consider revoking her title as I mumble goodbye, head for the door, and tear the name tag from my shirt. Head down, I smack my forehead into something solid, then recoil, instinct requiring an assessment of the battle wound.
It hurts already. Life just won’t toss me a break.
“My apologies, Tess,” says an unfamiliar voice. A rich, masculine voice.
My eyes follow the six feet four inches of triple-threat black—boots, jeans, leather jacket—to land on two-day stubble and a large hand rubbing the contours of a chiseled chin. Apparently life can get worse. I’ve collided with Adonis, the kind that stops your heart from beating just long enough to make you forget all the ones who came before, offering nothing but hollow promises and seasoned moves. Been there, done that, burned the shirt.
It dawns on me he said my name, no condolences.
“Do I know you?” I ask, my gaze rising from his chin to his eyes.
Wow. His gray eyes and dark lashes are . . . mesmerizing.
“I doubt we’ve met. Tess, it’s the name on your sticker,” he says, pointing to the name tag now on the floor. His hair, dark and cropped, is windblown and off kilter.
I grab the closest chair, attempting to overcome the strangest sensation, like I’m a feather, floating.
“You all right?” His European accent has an almost liquid quality, at odds with his rugged appearance. “Allow me.”
Relocating his motorcycle helmet from one hip to the other and balancing it under his forearm, he bends to collect my sticker from the floor. Something shimmers, my vision suddenly malfunctioning, and for a split second he’s draped in a luxurious white fur, a blanket of sorts, reaching for a bright colored scarf at his feet, big and bare. His movements are gentle and deliberate, but fast, as if I am watching in fast-forward. With the conclusion of one blink he’s back to normal, leather clad arm outstretched toward me.
I stand stock-still, holding the chair for support, trying to bring my eyes into focus.
“You okay?” He thrusts the sticker at me a second time, I think.
I survey body parts, grateful gravity has kept me intact.
“I’ve been better.” I squeeze my eyes tight, trying to recall what I’d seen, but it’s gone, as if wiped from memory, leaving just a weird sense of déjà vu. Man, I’ve fallen apart since Meyer’s been gone.
“You have,” he says, and my eyes pop open to stare. He’s smiling, amused. “Too much caffeine maybe.”
Have I met this guy before? He doesn’t look like anyone I know, but there is something about him, something familiar. It’s not a good feeling.
“Right, caffeine,” I say, lying. I gave up caffeine when I was pregnant with Abby and never looked back.
He grins like a hyena. “Your eyes playing tricks?”
My mother, in one of her moods, would’ve wiped that smirk away with a kiss. And he’d have let her, stranger or not. She was intoxicating. But I’m not my mother, and my brief lapse in sanity doesn’t require justification. I’m a twenty-six-year-old widow with no idea how to pull it together, so I ignore his question and settle for diversion.
“Are you a teacher here?”
“Not here,” he says. “I promised my niece I’d stop by to meet hers.” He takes my hand. “Bryce, Bryce Waters,” he says, planting a soft kiss on the back of my fingers.
Stunned, I search his face for the slightest hint of perversion, a reason to club him, but I see nothing but a gentleman in wolf’s clothing. Still, I pull my hand away.
“I’m not the teacher.”
He tilts his head. “You’re Tess.” My name drips from his lips like melted butter and warning bells sound in my head, loud and clear. “You’ll need ice for that bruise.” He points to my head. “Take care of yourself.”
A gritty moan vibrates my teeth when I touch my forehead and discover a bump the size of Mount St. Helens. It throbs, making me take note of the headache creeping in. Somewhere under the surface I’m mortified I plowed into this guy without an apology or concern for his chin. I can’t bring myself to grasp the emotion, so I draw a deep breath and say, “Always do,” as I shuffle past and without another word, walk straight out the door.
Luckily, I live close, and within minutes I’m home. Other than the entryway lamp, the lights are all out and the place is quiet. A glass of water sits on the bottom stair. Grams greets me at the door, sighing, her gaze aimed at my damaged forehead. Its days like today it hurts to look at her. Meyer’s eyes. His lips. She’s uncharacteristically mute as she pats the gift she’d given me earlier, along with a lecture, setting it beside the cup on the bottom stair. The lecture, I suppose, was necessary. Apparently there is no such thing as a woman’s sexual prime, and it’s important to recognize the body has needs at all ages, under any circumstance. Grams would know, she spent thirty-six years as a leading sex therapist and a decade specializing in women’s sexual health. BOB is the gift tucked neatly in an unassuming tote bag, ready for travel, which is ironic considering he’ll never leave my night table drawer. BOB stands for Battery Operated Boyfriend, and is, hands down, the most unusual gift anyone has ever received from their dead husband’s grandmother.
But who am I to say: I never had a grandmother of my own.
Grams leans in and up onto her toes to kiss my forehead. “Good night.” She takes hold of her loud flower-power purse and gently closes the door, leaving me alone with BOB and the weight of the world. There was a time the quiet soothed me like a hug. I was born Tess Reit, daughter of Celeste Reit, father unknown, and my mother suffered from severe depression and was bipolar, an endless roller coaster of maxed-out credit card highs and Titanic-worthy lows. When my mother would lock herself in her bedroom, lights out, begging for silence, I gave her what she needed. I’d have given her anything in those moments, those days, and the quiet did as much for me as it did for her. Maybe more.
Minutes wear on while I gather the energy to drag myself up the stairs.
As I approach Abby’s room, I pause to listen to her incoherent chatter. I ease the door open and meander in to contemplate the sliver of light from between the curtains as it illuminates her face, an angel in slumber. I feel my way through the peppering of toys and books to tuck the blanket around her tiny form. While relishing her sweet smell, I catch a stray tear tickling my chin. I can’t help but think of all the moments, all the momentous occasions this little girl will experience without a father.
Just like me.
This wasn’t the plan. Other than being knocked-up and twenty, the reason I married Meyer was because he was stable, reliable, here. He was five years older than me and knew what he wanted, a family. He’d be the father I’d never known. Hell, he’d be the mother I never had. For five years he was all that and more to Abby.
“She takes my breath away,” he used to whisper, watching her sleep. He’d rest his hand on her belly to feel her breathing, and she’d smile the content smile of a newborn while I watched in awe.
Tears gather as I try to collect myself from this all-consuming hallucination: my world before the car accident.
“Mama,” slips from Abby’s pink lips, and I panic to think she’s caught me lingering, crying, again. It’s a fleeting worry, stifled by her rousing grumble and diminished when she rolls over, kicking the covers, mumbling, “Push me higher, Mama.”
I will, I swear I will.
Taking the cue, I blindly make my way through the onslaught of toys, shuffling out and into my bedroom to tug on baggy flannels. Hiding BOB in a drawer along with unwanted thoughts of Adonis, I pick another stray hair off my shoulder. I used to have beautiful hair, rich chocolate brown, long, thick, and bone straight. Shortly after the funeral the luster disappeared and my clothes and hairbrush were covered in hairs jumping ship. Doc said stress can do many things to our bodies, and my hair took a beating. I wash my face and lean over the sink to get a closer look at my head. The collision at the teacher open house has left a plum-size purple bruise above my right eye, and between the bruise and the hair, I look about as good as I feel.
Get a grip, says the woman in the mirror. She’s someone unrecognizable.
An unruly laugh escapes me. I laugh again, intentionally this time, trying to mimic the noise, but it sounds fabricated, so I give up the charade. Popping a Tylenol, I turn off the light and shimmy into bed, determined to start afresh in the morning, no more tears.
I need to accept Meyer’s gone, that I’m alone, again. I need to move on with my life. For my sanity. For Abby. I suck in a deep breath. I can do this. I’ve survived on my own my whole life, through some pretty bad shit. What’s another twenty years of motherhood?
I drift into sleep, in search of thoughts vastly dislocated from my current life. Who am I fooling is my last conscious thought.
“Meyer, slow down.” Buildings are flying by, colors blurring. “You’re gonna hit something.”
Meyer flashes me an as-if grin. His sandy-blond hair blows in the wind. His face, usually clean shaven, shows signs of his mad-dash to the office for some forgotten report that couldn’t wait until Monday. He’s in a rush, on an adrenaline high. Today is Abby’s birthday party, her fifth, and he’s late.
My stomach does somersaults. “Slow down, please . . .”
My voice fades into the distance, and the car seems to dissolve. Suddenly I’m cold and the view from the window has come to a complete halt.
“Lady, shut it and drive.” The voice is rough, male, not Meyer’s.
Heavy breathing pounds my right ear. My head is pinned against the headrest, and if I move, the knife against my throat will surely hurt me, so I look straight ahead, watching the rain hit pavement then pounce into the night air. My heart skips time with the idling of the engine. A lack of oxygen distorts the view.
“Drive,” he says.
I open my mouth to scream but nothing comes out. I’m far from home, I think. My headlights are the only fragments of light, the only sign of life. I catch a glimpse of a rain-blackened sign through the half open window, and a fresh wave of panic overtakes me. Nothing good happens in a junkyard at this hour.
“You’re a pretty one,” he says.
Bitter air gnaws my skin. He’s opened my blouse to run his fingers along my collarbone, his touch like shards of ice. I grip the wheel, knuckles white. I can feel the knife cutting thin slices into my neck as the car tires fill potholes. My head pounds, stomach churns. Warmth drips down my chest, the smell of blood and sweat flaring my nostrils.
“Drive round back.” His eyes glow a turbulent shade of indigo, inhuman and wild.
When I stop he’s going to kill me. I know it to my core. Fear consumes me, and the car accelerates.
Claw-like fingers dig into my shoulder. “I’ll make this hurt,” he warns.
He will. This is how I die. This is how I always die.
Bile burns my throat, stomach muscles tense. Something tugs me from the inside, and I panic, the car picking up speed. “Please let me go.” My voice is shaky and wrong. “Let me go,” I yell, and the knife slices farther into my neck, the pain unreal. Blood oozes through my bra, spreading over my thighs, gathering on my lap.
His sneer glowers in the rearview mirror, a look I recognize with dread.
Fear consumes me, and I yank the wheel. The car veers to the right, stopping abruptly when I hammer the brake, and the front-end hits the guardrail with a vibrating crash that sounds of grating metal. A pop pierces my ears, the seatbelt rips into my chest, my eyes burn. I slump back into the seat and regard the white bag hanging from the steering wheel.
A wave of numbness blankets me, disconnecting senses, leaving my oblivious mind to tally injuries with little help. My arms and hands are grossly inflamed, several fingers out of shape. I no longer feel the knife on my neck, which is a relief until I see it in my chest. The white ivory handle is spotted with blood. It doesn’t hurt, I don’t feel anything. It points. I follow its aim, and there, outside the car, is Meyer, standing beside the twisted metal, watching me.
“Wake up.” His voice is quiet and calm, as if he’s sitting beside me and not standing in the rain.
Confused, I close my eyes. You left me is all I can think.
“Now!” his voice booms.
I spring upright, gasping for air. It takes a moment to digest my surroundings. The moon peeks through the blinds, the crumpled down comforter at my feet. I peer over the bed at the sheets and pillows abandoned on the floor. Tears have left sticky stains down my face and neck on their way to soak the collar of my pajamas. I lower my face into trembling hands.
What the hell is happening to me? I’ve had nightmares before, but lately they’ve been brutal. Meyer’s car accident makes sense. I can’t help but think I should’ve been there, stopped it from happening, held his hand while he died, but why can’t I have nice dreams with happy endings? Why are my nightmares filled with strange, murderous men? Should it have been me to die that day?
If I believed in fate . . .
A shiver runs through me. I gather my stuff from the floor and climb back into bed.
There is no such thing as fate.