Authors: Rae Rivers
Book 2 in The Keepers Trilogy
A division of HarperCollins
I am an avid reader and writer with a passion for writing juicy romance novels. I live in Cape Town, South Africa, with my gorgeous husband, two beautiful children and a zoo of house pets. Besides writing, I love family time, the outdoors, travelling, watching TV series, reading and chocolate. For more information about my books, or me, please visit www.raerivers.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @RaeRivers1.
To my beautiful team of cheerleaders – my husband and children. Your patience and support for my writing means the world to me. I love you all to the moon and back.
The Keepers: Sienna (Free prequel)
The Keepers: Archer
The Keepers: Declan
The Keepers: Ethan
Rapid Falls, Canada
It seemed like a slam-dunk job.
Although Kate Carrigan suspected it might not be.
She dismissed the voice nagging at her to retreat, slipped on her gloves, and focused on her entry into the estate. She’d come so far and there was no turning back.
Breaking into the mansion didn’t bother her. Thanks to the enchanted key in her pocket, locks were no hindrance. That was the easy part and had nothing to do with the flow of unease streaming through her body.
No, that was all down to the owners of the estate.
The Keepers. Three handsome, powerful brothers who were fiercely protective of their home and the witch they were duty bound to defend.
And Kate was about to break into their house.
She’d been watching, waiting, biding time until the Bennett brothers and their witch left their mansion together.
Blissfully unaware they were about to be relieved of three antique daggers.
They’d opted against the Aston Martin and Land Cruiser parked in the garage and had left on foot, disappearing into the forest.
Kate scaled the high wall of the mansion with an ease that almost made her smile but she figured that would be premature. After all, she was about to conduct her first burglary in a house occupied by four people with supernatural abilities.
Without a sound, she dropped to the ground on the other side of the wall, folded her body into a crouched position, and fused herself with the dark shadows of the night.
A dog barked, its shadow approaching from a distance, and Kate dug into her pocket, extracting a cookie smothered in her special peanut butter recipe.
Hoping the dog ate the cookie instead of her.
“Here, sweetie,” she whispered, holding out the treat as the Golden Retriever neared her. The animal looked friendly, despite its guarded stance and wary growl.
But the lure of the treat was quick to disarm her and she trotted over with a wag of the tail.
Some watch dog.
The cookie disappeared in two bites but the peanut butter was more of a challenge.
Satisfied she wouldn’t be barking any time soon, Kate turned back to the house.
She eyed her marked door, tiny against the backdrop of the double storey home. Its central living area branched into separate wings; one for each brother, no doubt. Despite its age, the house was immaculate and peaceful in a way that Kate had seldom associated with home.
With a watchful eye on the security cameras, she sprinted across the snow-covered lawn with the fluid grace of a burglar and breathed a sigh of relief when she reached the door. She produced the enchanted key, ignoring the flush that came with the memory of the night she’d stolen it from the middle brother, Declan. A night she’d spent three months trying to forget.
The key fit perfectly into the keyhole, snapping the lock open with ease, and Kate was thankful for the painless entry. Not bad for an amateur.
Adrenaline rushed through her like a long-lost friend, a welcome reminder of the buzz she received from activities that veered off the lawful path.
And she was
for lawful paths. Most of the time.
The house was in complete darkness. She’d opted for black cat burglar attire, hoodie and all. She blended in well, oddly comforted by the blackness that surrounded her.
Confident of the lack of internal security, Kate moved down the hallway. According to Declan, the Keepers valued their privacy, and made up for it by keeping the perimeters of the grounds well guarded.
True, it had been a challenge to get across the lawns to the house undetected, but after studying the security system for a while, Kate had spotted a weakness. She slipped inside the living room and looked around, imprinting her surroundings to memory. She didn’t need the light to know that the Bennett brothers would have furnished it luxuriously, with money no object. The size of the estate alone hinted at a lifestyle beyond Kate’s dreams.
She crossed to the opposite wall where three ancient daggers hung above the fireplace, their blades crisscrossing downwards.
Hers for the taking.
She ran a finger along one handle, inhaling as a gentle swirl of energy swept through her. A thrill of excitement washed over her, prompting a triumphant smile.
Declan Bennett sat on a leather couch in the corner of the living room, whiskey in hand, enjoying the gloom. Sienna and his brothers would be home soon, and until then he intended to wallow away in alcohol. He sipped his drink, seeking comfort in the scorching liquid. He could use all the comfort he could get after returning from Rose’s memorial service. Saying goodbye to their beloved old witch had torn at a part of him he struggled to keep under wraps.
Too many loved ones lost. His parents, his sister, and now Rose. All taken at the hands of two warlocks – the Brogans. One of the brothers was now entombed and desiccated on their estate and the other was dead.
Sweet fucking justice.
Declan took another sip and closed his eyes, refusing to dwell on the memories.
When the door to the living room opened a moment later, he simply opened one eye.
Declan watched as a tall, dark figure slipped into the room, missing his presence in the shadows. The lights from the garden offered little help and he blinked in the darkness. Dressed in black, the intruder was almost invisible and for a brief moment, he thought he was dreaming.
Until his visitor stepped into a strip of moonlight.
His heartbeat quickened. He couldn’t make out the features, but the delicate face and slender body were definitely female.
What the hell?
A supernatural? A stalker? A burglar? He frowned. Whoever she was and whatever she wanted, she could only mean one thing. Trouble.
His instincts would usually be to charge forward and attack.
And yet he simply sat and watched.
The first thing he noticed was the way she moved. Silent and graceful, almost feline in the way that she sauntered across the room. She appeared in no hurry, but why should she be when the house was in darkness and they were all presumably out for the evening?
At the fireplace, she slid her hands along the mantelpiece, and it suddenly dawned on him.
A cat burglar.
And she was here for their daggers.
As she touched each dagger, almost in admiration, he nearly laughed at her audacity. Their new perimeter security system was the finest around and with three Keepers in residence – all with supernatural hearing – the fact that she’d managed to break in was impressive.
Declan knew she’d be no match for him. After all, he was a Keeper and with that came superhuman powers, speed and strength.
He’d deal with her. Yes, he expected an explanation. Later. For now, he wanted to see what mademoiselle cat burglar could do. The daggers were charmed with a protection spell and only a witch would be able to remove them from their rightful place on the wall. He was curious to see his intruder’s reaction when she failed to crack it.
His jaw unhinged when she rocked back on her heels, the first dagger in her hands.
Foolproof, my ass.
Without making a sound, Declan discarded his glass of whiskey along with his surprise.
It was time for a game of cat and mouse.
Kate’s heart pounded with excitement, adrenaline coursing through her, and she grinned at the first two daggers in her hand. Ancient, blunt, discoloured, a pentagram etched on each handle. Had it not been for her late mother’s letter urging Kate to find them, she would never have believed they were anything special.
Hope flared for the first time in months and she hugged the daggers to her chest before carefully placing them in her rucksack.
Her days of running were over.
“Looking for something?”
Kate’s body shook right to the core as she heard the words muttered in the darkness behind her. Dropping the rucksack, she spun around with a force that almost dislocated her shoulder, and gaped at Declan Bennett highlighted in the strip of moonlight. Although she’d always found darkness comforting, she’d known that it could someday hold an element of surprise.
This particular surprise was standing a few feet from her wearing a grim expression. He was tall with broad shoulders and a voice that hinted of arrogance and control, a voice that rocked her world completely.
Oh, my God.
“What are you doing here?” she cried as icicles washed over her.
“I could ask you the same question.”
“I thought you were out,” she replied, lowering her voice and stepping back into the shadows. If he recognised her,
wouldn’t begin to describe it.
“Clearly.” Irritation lined his voice and she forced herself not to flinch. “Who the hell are you?”
He moved forward and she edged away from the fireplace, tugging her hoodie forward to cover her face. Damn, she wasn’t prepared for Declan. Not now, not like this, and the last thing she needed was for him to recognise her. The woman who had sought him out three months ago, disarmed him with feminine wiles, and stolen from him.
He’d be furious.
Filled with restless energy and the urge to run, she glanced at the living room door, calculating her fastest exit route.
His smouldering gaze followed hers before pinning her with a look that almost made her squirm. “You think you can run?”
“Would you stop me?”
“Absolutely,” he shot back as the corner of his lips curled in a predatory smile that sent her heart rate soaring.
She’d been busted red-handed and he was smiling at her? It caught her off-guard. “You find this amusing?”
“Do you know who I am? Who we are?”
“I know enough.”
“So you know we have zero tolerance for thieves?”
“I’m not everyone.
should concern you,” he said, his words edged with a warning that made her stomach lurch.
She glanced at the door again, her heart pounding.
He tilted his head to follow her gaze again. “You really think you can outrun me?”
Raw adrenaline pumped through her, her body primed to flee. Her heart slammed against her rib cage and she drew in a sharp breath.
Think, think, think.
“You have two options, Catwoman.” Declan turned his eyes back to her. Although it was dark, she knew their colour. She’d never been able to shrug off the memory of those expressive blue eyes that sparked with intensity and mischief.
“And I’m busting at the seams to hear them.”
“Option one is where you surrender and explain why you’re here.”
“Not appealing. And two?”
Declan waved a hand at the door. “Or you can run.”
Kate narrowed her eyes. Not quite what she’d been expecting to hear. Although his tone was easy, he dripped with challenge.
But she couldn’t leave without the daggers.
“And you’ll be after me in a flash,” she said.
“Take it or leave it.”
Apparently, his love of mischief still thrived, the trait that had drawn her to him before – along with the fact that she’d marked him from the start. They’d met in a New Orleans bar, where they’d shared flirty comments and copious shots of whiskey. Then, she’d had the upper hand. She’d had a plan – which might have taken a detour thanks to the alcohol and his charm – but she’d retrieved what she’d needed and run. This was entirely different.
“We both know you won’t let me leave, so why the facade?” she asked.
“Call it curiosity. I’m impressed. And tonight I’m in need of a distraction.” A slow smile softened his features. “Besides, I like a good chase like the rest of them.”
“So what is this then, cat and mouse?”
“Call it what you like. It could be fun.”
“Sure, if you’re the cat.”
“Lucky for me that I’m no mouse.”
Kate’s mind grasped at options. She needed those daggers and the protection they offered. God knows she needed protection right now. Not from the Bennett brother. He was strong, powerful, a Keeper at his best – but he wouldn’t hurt her. After all, he existed to protect his witch and to maintain the balance of nature. Unlike whoever was after her.
She swallowed her desperation and gave him a level stare.
“I’ll make you a deal,” she offered. “A bet.”
Declan folded his arms across his chest. “You’re not really in a position to, but you’ve got my attention.”
a game for him! She shoved out her chin, determined to match his challenge. “I bet you that I’ll beat you to the daggers.”
“I doubt that, but please continue.”
“If I do, I get to keep the daggers and leave.”
“If you don’t, I get to keep you?”
She heard the teasing laughter in his voice and her nerves soared. “Since I intend to win, that part is irrelevant.”
“Is that so?”
He closed the distance between them, the movement making her shrink even further into the shadows, and held out his hand. “I bet that you won’t and in that case, I get to decide your fate.”
Confidence oozed from his words, triggering a flare of panic. Although she had similar abilities, she wasn’t as strong as a true Keeper. The only way she’d be able to defeat Declan was if he used his elemental power – fire.
Not something the Keeper would do lightly.
Her ability to immobilize magic was the only magical power she’d been taught to embrace. Everything else had been forbidden.
Kate quelled her hesitation and held out her hand. “Done.”
His fingers closed around hers, firm, warm, sparking memories of feeling his hands all over her. An unwelcome excitement flushed through her and she tried to pull away.
Instead of releasing her, he tightened his grip and slid an arm around her waist.
“Let me go,” she snapped, shoving a hand against his chest, needing the distance between them. God, any moment now and he’d recognise her. She twisted, he turned, and she struggled. When she tried to shove him away, they stumbled and ended up in a heap on the floor.
Kate struggled to breathe with his weight on top of her. How the hell had she landed beneath him?
! “Manhandling me is not part of the deal, warrior boy.”
“Call me that again and
will be the least of your worries.” He pinned her wrists on either side of her face, and she averted her eyes from his intense blue gaze, grateful for the darkness and the hoodie that concealed her secret – one that was about to crumble at any moment. She’d drugged him that night so his memories would be cloudy, but the proximity was dangerous. His tousled black hair and sculpted face were enough to send any woman’s heart racing. Even hers. Even now.
The scent of him aroused sinful memories and she sucked in air. Shoving away the night she’d lost her grip on reality, she tried to buck him off her. “Get off me!”
“I won’t hurt you, wildcat. Calm down.”
“If you mean me no harm then let me go.”
“I will, but for now, I simply want some answers.”
“That wasn’t our deal.”
“I’m the one on top, so I get to call the shots.”
“I figure you just love being on top.”
His smile was pure naughtiness. “Care to find out?”
“I’ll be more woman than you can handle.”
He leaned forward, his lips hovering above hers, electricity pulsing between them. “I dare you to say that again,” he challenged, his undertone way too suggestive – and, in spite of herself, Kate’s eyes raised to meet his.
She saw the moment it changed, the flash of recognition that wiped away his smile. His gaze narrowed to a deep intensity that made her want to wriggle. His frown deepening, he reached up to pull back her hood.
She slapped his hand away. “In your dreams, Bennett. Now get off me!” she snapped, using all her strength to push him away.
As she scrambled to her feet and backed away, he stood, confusion clouding his expression. “Why … why don’t you start by telling me your name?”
“You win our bet and I’ll give it to you.”
“Fair enough. Ready?”
“On the count of three.”
“Fine. One –”
Using a newfound speed that still surprised her, Kate grabbed a nearby lamp and slammed it against his head before bolting for the daggers. With a curse, he lunged for her but she reacted with a brutal kick that sent him crashing against the wall behind him. Wood splintered and glass shattered, drowning out his outrage.
“Who are you?” he demanded, jumping to his feet, this time eyeing her with more caution.
She groped for the rucksack on the floor, grateful for the surge of strength that had recently joined her magical powers. “I bet it’s not every day a woman kicks your ass.”
“Only when she’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“I just want the daggers.” More now than ever.
Archer, the oldest Bennett brother, came skidding to a halt in the doorway.
Kate grabbed a nearby vase and crashed it across Declan’s shoulders. Glass exploded everywhere but this time he anticipated her move and collided with her, the impact leaving her breathless. Rolling on the floor in a struggle of fists and grunts, they fought each other, but Declan was stronger, faster and more experienced. Kate’s lush brown hair worked itself free from her hood, just as Declan got the upper hand, pinning her to the ground.
“Who are you and what the hell do you want?” he growled.
“Get off me!”
Light flooded the room, destroying any last hope of anonymity. The flash of unguarded surprise that registered across Declan’s expression was immediately masked by fury. “
?” he growled, narrowed eyes searing into her.
Archer darted forward, another Bennett brother with too much muscle, strength, and attitude for her liking. “You’re a woman?”
Taking advantage of their surprise, Kate broke free and shoved Declan with such strength that he collided with the coffee table behind him. She sprang to her feet, swung around, and lunged for the last dagger.
Archer was there in an instant. As he reached out, she whirled around, plunging the dagger into his shoulder. He gaped at her, green eyes rounded in surprise. She gasped, horror ripping through her at what she’d done.
“What the hell’s going on here?” The youngest brother and their witch rushed into the room.
Kate felt a cocktail of energy brewing inside her, a whirl of sensations she struggled to control.
Before anyone could react, the room started to tremble, everything rattling and screeching in an eerie display of witching powers.
Powers magnified in a way Kate had never experienced before.
Cupboard doors burst open, glass shattered, books flew across the room, and light bulbs exploded.
Overwhelmed, she gulped air and reached for control, steadying the flow of energy.
And just like that, everything fell silent.
Sienna and her Keepers squinted through the dark at the chaos she’d created, and Kate took that brief, golden moment to grab the rucksack containing two of the three daggers. Mind racing, heart pounding, she scanned for the nearest exit.