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Please enjoy the Prologue and the first three chapters for FREE.
I hope this magical version of Dune Harbor carries you away, as it did for me as I was writing it.
I'm completely in love with this book and the characters in this setting. My hope is that you'll love them as much as I do!
KEEPER OF THE WATCH SERIES, BOOK TWO
KRISTEN L. JACKSON
August 8th, 8:00 a.m. The ticking clock echoed in her head. Tick-tick-tick-tick.
Eight minutes left before the jump.
I think we’re ready...
Alyx fidgeted with the zipper on the backpack. Up and down, up and down. Zip-zip. Zip-zip. Everything was packed. She paced the perimeter of the room in circles, a frown wrinkling her forehead. Chase watched her from the middle of the living room.
They were alone in the abandoned house they had been living in since the victory against the hunters here in Dimension 7—one of twelve parallel worlds, the existence of which remained hidden from most people within those dimensions. Here, they had discovered a post-apocalyptic parallel Earth under the tyrannical rule of two hunters hell-bent on finding the remaining watches, and put an end to their dictatorship. The people here were truly free for the first time in years. A gentle sigh hissed between her teeth.
The watches opened a magical door between twelve parallel worlds, but only watch-wearers known as keepers could bond—or couple—with a watch. Since the invention of the twelve watches by Chase’s ancestor, Elias Walker, over one hundred years ago, the two they’d dubbed ‘hunters’ had made it their life-long goal to steal the power the watches provided. Her eyes took on a faraway glint as she recalled the history she’d been taught since she was old enough the listen. In the beginning, the hunters had tried to harness the power of the watches for themselves—the remarkable ability to travel the twelve dimensions. They soon learned that only a keeper’s blood can power the watch itself … and had begun their quest to eradicate all keepers and their watches. Only children born on specific dates (the first day of the first month, second day of the second month, and so on up to the twelfth day of the twelfth month) within specific ancestral lines could jump to a new world each month of their eighteenth year, and even then only if they coupled with the watch after their eighteenth birthday.
Alyx rounded her shoulders, standing taller. It was an honor to be a keeper, and she had painstakingly—calling on all her powers of persuasion—convinced Chase of that when he had his own doubts back in his home world, Dimension 6.
The hunters new goal was clear: to find and destroy all remaining watches … and their keepers.
Keepers. Us. That’s why we have to destroy them first. They won’t stop until they’ve killed us all.
A determined look lit her eyes. Since hunters were nearly immortal, it wouldn’t be easy. Hunters aged at a very slow rate. They had been around since the watches’ invention but looked like they were in their mid-twenties. Although she and Chase had defeated the hunters in this dimension, she knew they would likely continue to battle the hunters’ ‘other selves’ in each dimension they jumped to. Only a keeper was born solely in one world. Everyone else had the potential to exist in multiple worlds.
At least we don’t have to worry about running into our ‘other selves’ … I don’t think I could survive two of him. Her eyes found Chase and traveled the length of him. His blonde hair with just a slight hint of curls at the tips, cerulean blue eyes that crinkled when he laughed. And those dimples.… At that moment he looked up as if he could hear her thoughts, flashing a smile that showed off that very feature and had her heart skipping in her chest. Her lips turned up against her will. He seemed to have that effect on her. Her shoulders raised with a sigh.
Who am I kidding? He has that effect on everyone.
Breaking her eyes away, she turned and resumed her pacing.
Each event in time caused a shift, creating a ripple effect resulting in a different reality in each world in the multiverse. They had no idea what—or who—they would find in each new world they jumped to. Only the box they’d found hidden in Chase’s home world could guide them on their journey. In it: an ancient journal written by the creator and previous keepers, along with currency and some other trinkets they had no idea how to use.
She knew they had succeeded in this seventh dimension to the best of their ability, but still they had failed to complete a big part of their mission. There just hadn’t been time to search for the last keeper before the next jump. Originally, there had been twelve watches, one originating in each dimension. Now, all but three had been destroyed by the hunters. Hers. Chase’s. And one other. It was their hope to find the last keeper and protect him along with his watch, though they had no idea in which world the third keeper might reside, or for that matter if the next keeper had even been born yet. One thing was sure. If he, or she, resided in this dimension, they would most likely never know it, since this was a one-stop dimension hop. Their time here was up, and they would not return to D-7 again. Even now, they were mere minutes away from jumping to the next world. Dimension 8.
Her hands continued to toy with the zipper as she spoke and her brow creased again. “I think we can assume we’ll both jump to Dune Harbor, I just wish we could jump together to the same coordinates.”
Chase reached for her hand. “What if we hold hands? Anything we’re wearing or holding goes with us, right? If we hold hands, maybe we’ll end up in the same place this time.”
She tilted her head. “But what if our touching throws everything off? This hasn’t been done before, we have no idea if our two transports will be compatible, or if combining them will have disastrous consequences. We could end up anywhere, or worse, not survive the jump. Maybe we should just take our chances and hope to find each other quickly once we get there. Maybe make a meeting point?”
“Easy for you to say. You didn’t have to see me executed. I don’t want to risk something like that happening again, Alyx.”
She blew out a breath. “Okay. We’ll try holding hands. But just in case that doesn’t work, meet me at Uncle Charlie’s house as soon as you can.”
She glanced at her watch.
“Ready?” She said.
They stood side-by-side, backpacks on, fingers intertwined. Chase absently rubbed his thumb over Alyx’s palm as they waited.
“Three minutes seems like an eternity when you’re waiting,” he said.
Both pairs of pupils dilated as the watches began glowing, then pulsing brightly, bathing the room in unnatural light.
“Good luck, Chase.”
“I love you, Alyx.”
She inhaled a deep breath and looked into his glowing blue eyes. “I…”
All at once electricity filled the room and both of their bodies hummed with power of it, causing the hair on their arms to stand on end. Dual silver ever-changing pools appeared above each of their heads, taking on a life of their own. When they emerged, they were about the size of a coin, hovering over each of them, and then grew before their eyes to the size of a full-length mirror in the blink of an eye. The wavering shapes writhed in anticipation of the passing minute, fluctuating in constant motion as if agitated.
Chase looked at Alyx questioningly. “What?”
“I…” Suddenly, she launched herself at Chase, wrapping her arms around him and holding on. He caught her, stumbling back a step, and returned her embrace, folding her in his arms and hugging her body to his. As always, their bodies fit perfectly together. His hard lines meshed with her soft curves. Alyx squeezed her eyes shut, her head tucked under Chase’s chin, so close she could feel his heart beating against her body in perfect unison with her own.
And she waited.
A bolt of lightning streaked through the room as the two shimmering pools bounced off of each other like opposing magnetic forces. His cobalt light joined with her iridescent magenta glow, combining to create a deep mulberry color that ignited their veins and traveled throughout their bodies, as if they had become one unit.
Anticipation turned to attack. The writhing pools above them continued to bounce off of each other, as if engaged in a deadly battle, until a final crash when, accompanied by another bolt of lightning, the two energies united, creating a single shimmering mercurial pool that hung above their heads.
At once the cosmic war ceased, and the mass moved peacefully, as if there had never been discord. A second after the discrete entities joined, the now single larger mass dropped from the air. Both Alyx and Chase were consumed from head to foot in one heartbeat, disappearing instantaneously. The house where they had been present just seconds before stood suddenly vacant. The only trace that anyone had been there was the electrical hum and a faint burning smell left in their wake.
And that’s when the pain began.
It encompassed his body, saturating every pore; every blood cell pumping through his veins seemed to be screaming in anguish.
There was no pinpoint of space within or without left untouched by the violent pain that burned through to the core of his being. It was as if his heart had burst out of his chest in flames, his body gasping to breathe through the inferno raging inside him.
He clenched his teeth against it, jaw grinding, hands fisted even as his eyes remained clamped shut. Coherent thought was just out of reach, so he turned into himself, searching for some kind of solace, sinking farther into a pool of never-ending blackness. Sanity knocked on the outskirts of his consciousness, but he turned it away, preferring the nothingness. Flames licked along the edges, searching for a crack in the mortar, a tiny hole to find its way deeper inside the well.
Can’t. Give. In.
Clawing toward the surface, Chase pushed with every ounce of energy inside him to beat back the burning that threatened to consume him.
I survived this once before. I can do it again.
Willing his body to move, he was again denied. It was as if a tractor trailer was parked on his chest, and he was powerless to do anything but lay here, every breath a struggle. The roaring in his ears made his brain hurt, but he shoved back at it, forcing it to retreat with the strength of his will alone.
Alyx. Are you here?
That one thought gave him the push he needed to fight. He cracked one eye, letting the searing light pierce like a dagger into his cerebrum. He lifted his head and looked down. Chestnut hair tinged with purple tips fanned out across his chest.
Not a truck. Alyx lay sprawled on top of him. His head fell back and he closed his eyes again. He willed his arms to move, gingerly wrapped them around her. Second by second, the pain was receding. Now he could die peacefully.
“Ch-Chase?” the muffled voice broke down the rest of the wall, and he rolled to his side carrying her with him. His breathing evened out, and he savored the feel of doing that one simple act.
“I’m here,” he croaked through his tortured throat.
“You’re ... hurting me.”
“What?” He forced his eyelids open, and realized he was squeezing her to him in a vise grip.
Loosening his arms, he moaned. “Always complaining.”
The sound of her labored breathing broke through the fog, and he pushed his body upright.
“You okay?” he asked, watching her eyelids flutter open, her lavender eyes meeting his.
“Better now. It’s getting better.” She, too, gingerly pushed her body into a sitting position, arms resting on her knees, body hunched over.
“Thank God.” He rubbed his hands over his face then into his hair, making it stand on end. “At least we’re together this time.”
“Two jumps down. How many more times do we have to do that? I can’t think.”
The corners of her mouth lifted, though her eyes remained strained. “You have ten more jumps. I have eight. I’ve got three down, and I skipped a dimension, remember?”
He scowled down at her, then looked up for the first time taking in his surroundings.
“Whoa. Where are we?” He slowly got to his feet, taking in the scene before him. “Uh, guess we didn’t land at the beach this time.”
“No, definitely not the beach.” Alyx pushed to her feet, bent over with hands on her knees, breathing erratically. Her eyes traveled the area around them, squinting through patchy shade broken with bursts of sunlight, creating a kaleidoscope of colors.
A myriad of green hues invaded her senses. Juniper bled into olive and basil creating an explosion of mossy color interspersed with various browns. Vertical slants in shades of mocha as far as she could see.
The smell of pine made her nostrils flare. A musty scent saturated her senses, and she stood straighter.
“A forest. Do you think this is the same place we camped in Dimension 7? The one near that town? Apple Blossom?” She turned in a full circle. “I think I can find my way out, if it is. I spent a lot of time there,” she added.
Chase scanned the area. “Don’t know. We’re not in the clearing. And I don’t hear a stream, at least not close by. It feels … different.” His head tilted as he met her eyes. “I thought we’d always land in the middle of Dune Harbor. I didn’t expect this. Where’s the beach?”
“We have no way of knowing where in Dune Harbor we’ll land. It’s different each time. Let’s check this place out. We’ll have to find our way out of the woods if we’re going to look for the hunters and begin our search for the last keeper.”
“Yeah, and we need to find food. Jumping makes me hungry.”
Alyx rolled her eyes. “You’re always hungry. Food’s the least of our worries. Didn’t you stuff your backpack with every packaged food you could fit before we left?”
“And yours is stuffed with weapons.” He winked, flashing those dimples. Alyx sighed, a slight smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
She shook her head, continuing her inspection.
“Never know when we may need to use the Inferno Ray to incinerate something, or the Spark Gun to incapacitate someone for a while. You were happy to use them in D-7.”
Both heads jerked toward the sound. They held their breath and stilled their bodies, heads cocked.
Alyx positioned herself back-to-back with Chase, hand inching toward the set of blade discs she always carried in a holster under her shirt. The small weapon could, if thrown correctly, sever limbs or even decapitate a target. Her hands went clammy as she remembered a hunter meeting just that fate in D-7. Alyx could almost hear the sound of the woman’s head thumping to the ground; see it launching into a wobbly roll as her body remained standing. At least temporarily. She shook her head to clear the image.
“What was that?” she whispered.
Chase held up a hand, palm out.
“Don’t move,” he breathed. His finger slowly pointed toward the distant left. “Keep quiet and don’t move.”
She froze, except for the hand that continued creeping toward her weapon of choice, just barely breathing as she slid one of the blade discs out, grasping it between her fingers. Her legs spread in battle stance and she rolled her shoulders. This is what she’d trained for since birth.