#PublicationDay Aroha by L.C. Conn @ConnLoraine @btwnthelinespub @rrbooktours1 #Aroha #Books #Fantasy #RRBookTours

Huge congratulations to author, L.C. Conn on the release of her epic conclusion to the One True Child Series, Aroha! To celebrate, the entire One True Child series is on sale today!

Read on for more details and a sneak peek at chapter one!

Cover (13)

Title: Aroha (One True Child Series #7) by L.C. Conn

Publication Date: 28th April 2020 

Genre: Fantasy

Description:

Aroha, born of the Universe, needs her godmother’s help. Danger is once more swirling around Claire and her family as Chaos seeks domination over the world. The continuing quest to protect them all will take them on a journey around the world, discovering things about themselves of which they had no prior knowledge. But will it be enough to finally defeat Chaos in the battle that will decide all?

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE 

As she stared out of the kitchen window drinking her coffee, Claire Drummond was feeling a little pensive. There was something happening up at the stones that sat on the hill behind the cottage, hidden away in a valley in the highlands of Scotland, her adoptive home. For days now she had felt the changes slowly emerging and spreading out to encompass its surroundings, including the old house in which she now stood. If she were asked how to describe it, Claire honestly did not think she could give a coherent answer that anyone would be able to understand. It was just a feeling.

Claire and her husband, Matt, now lived in the house that had been the home of his mother and grandmother. They split their time between Glasgow ‒ where they both worked at the university ‒ and the small hidden valley. But the cottage always felt more like home to her. Having been born and raised in New Zealand ‒ which Claire still loved fondly ‒ Scotland was where she felt she belonged and needed to be. There was a connection to the land, especially the valley, that she had never felt anywhere else. 

Reflecting back over her life, she was in awe at how much it had changed since she had discovered the beginnings of her Abilities at the age of seventeen. The many Talents that were once buried deep inside had grown from the initial two: Hide and Flight. Claire had been born into a very special group of people; so too her husband and their children. Her studies in the library in the outbuildings of the farm had revealed a rich history and insight into this group, more than she could ever have hoped. 

Claire and her family were descended from an ancient race of people, the first to live in these lands, and created by the Coimheadair. These people had openly used their Abilities until it was necessary to hide them away, as the rest of the world came to their shores. Claire had read with fascination the references to the Coimheadair, the Guardians of the lands, the creators of this world and, now, a new name she had discovered: Ancient Ones. She had just finished reading an account of an old creation story that had fascinated her and was still wondering if it were true or just some fanciful way of explaining how things had come to be. The Coimheadair were real – of that she was certain; she had seen and spoken to them herself.

Claire had emerged from the library with new wonder and, as always, she looked up to where the two hills joined behind the house. The large upthrust of rock was clearly visible and standing guard as it hid the stones, marking where the brook started with the spring at the top and tumbling down the rocks into the length of the valley. 

She placed the empty mug down on the bench and looked at the brook once more. It sparkled under the weak winter sun that had managed to push its way through the clouds. According to the story it had been opened up by an Ancient One to give water and life to the family of people who would guard the stones. Before she knew what she was doing, Claire was out of the house and flying through the air, finding herself already halfway up the hill. She rose up and landed carefully beside the spring. It burbled and bubbled up from the depths under the hill, tumbling down the first few rocks and disappearing over the edge.

Kneeling down she plunged her hand under the cold water and lifted it to her lips. It tasted sweet and crisp. Claire stood and slowly, almost hesitantly, made her way around the guarding rock. They stood as they had done since the beginning of time, tall and straight; they were dark pillars, with only the clinging lichen giving any hint as to how old they really were. The standing stones still called strongly to her; she could feel their vibrations and the anticipation of her touch. She felt the energy swirling around and inside them as they reached out for her, pulling her closer. They had always healed and calmed Claire in her times of need.

Now she reached out her hands that seemed to have aged since the first time she had touched the stones. The energy immediately raced through her fingers and into her body; it filled her up and she felt revitalised. The energy surged and Claire felt the stones searching, seeking more of her. The feeling frightened her. With great effort she pulled her hands away from the dark stone. Always she was wary of touching them for too long, afraid of being lost to them. She walked around the large stones on the outside, touching each one briefly as she went. 

This time as she walked it was different. The peace she normally felt was interrupted by voices. Faintly the murmuring came to her as if carried on a breeze from far away, and she frowned as she tried to hear them, only for it to slip away each time, just as she thought she could make out what they were saying. Reaching the entrance stones, she stopped in the gap. Very rarely did she step inside the circle. The last time had been with her family when Aroha, her niece, had been given the blessing of the Coimheadair of the north and south. It was also when Claire had pulled evil from Aroha that had lain hidden away in the depths of her soul, something she had inherited from her great-grandfather.

Stepping through the entrance Claire made her way to the centre of the circle. She stood and looked around her. The change she had felt grew and increased in intensity. It was urgent now. She wanted to turn and leave, it was expectant and weighed heavily on her, holding her in place.

From around the rocks a procession came, seven beings in all, dressed in dark hooded cloaks that covered them from head to toe. Their faces, hands and feet were concealed under the heavy robes. They entered the circle in single file and arranged themselves around her, standing in the gaps between the large stones. Claire did not fear them; she knew they were the Coimheadair.

“Greetings to the One True Child,” they called in unison.

“My greetings to the Guardians of these lands,” she replied.

“Carling,” One of the figures stepped forward, greeting her with the name she had been told was hers. “You once asked that we give you an explanation of what has happened to you.” 

“I remember. It was shortly before I disposed of Marcus’s remains,” Claire said, nodding.

“It is now time that you knew everything, Carling. That you were made aware of who and what you truly are. The many lives you have lived down the ages have been hidden from you, your actions and deeds only hinted at and drawn on when those skills were needed. You are so much more than just a wife, mother and scholar. You are the Protector, the Staff and Sword of Order. Your spirit born from two who stand here and sent out into the world to guard against the darkness.”

“I don’t understand. What do you mean, ‘born from two who stand here’? I knew my parents. Is part of them still with me in my mind?”

“We know, we helped them be there to guide you and love you,” the figure said gently. “The time for your education to begin is now, Carling. It is time for you to come into your full potential in order for you to act as Guide and Protector to the Ultimate One, to help her achieve her goal. It has been written in the Book of Destiny and cannot be erased.”

“The Ultimate One is Aroha, our god-daughter?” Claire asked, seeking confirmation to what she already suspected about her niece.

“Yes, it is she that the world has been waiting for. The Universe has sent her daughter to us.”

“What is the task that lies ahead of her?” Claire asked, feeling anxious for her niece.

“That will be part of your education,” another cloaked figure said in a deep male voice.

Claire looked at each Coimheadair that was present; they all stood upright, taller than her. Never once had she glimpsed what was hidden in the depths of those cowls.

“When does my education start?” she asked them.

“When Galen arrives.” A third figure stepped forward, referring to Matt’s true first name. “He will need to be with you. You need to draw on his strength and his love as it has always been between you. That is the reason my son was born.”

“That is tonight,” Claire said quietly, biting her lip a little.

“It is the reason we called you up to the stones. There is so much you must learn, so much you must understand and not one piece can you doubt or reject. The writings in the library are all true, Carling. They were made so that you could read them now, to prepare for tonight. We cannot lie; it will be hard on you, and maybe a little painful. But the time is coming when you need to use everything you have learned over all of your lives to survive and protect Aroha.” Yet another figure spoke now, in a woman’s voice this time.

“You have told me in the past that you are the Coimheadair, the Guardians. But you are so much more, aren’t you?” she asked them.

“We are, Carling, and so are you,” the first figure said. “We must leave now and will meet you here tonight. You will know when it is time. Galen is not far away.” 

Slowly the host of beings began to file out of the entrance to the stones and Claire was left in the middle as she watched them disappear around the rocks. All she could hear was the wind as it wound around the stones and the lonely, haunting cry of an eagle on the wing, high up in the cloud-strewn sky above.

Claire made her way back down the hill, taking her time as she pondered on the Guardians’ mysterious words. The texts she had been deciphering came to mind and she flicked through the pages in her mind. It was part of the Abilities she had acquired – understanding their ancient language. It was knowledge that she had shared with her father-in-law and with his help she had made great inroads into the myriad volumes in the family library. 

Walking around the house to the front she saw a car making its way up over the rise in the track that led to the ford and the main road. She waited by the door of the cottage for it to arrive and smiled broadly as her husband got out of the car. Claire ran to him and flung her arms around his neck. Matt Drummond was tall; his dark hair now showing traces of grey and the beard he had grown was now almost completely white. He was still the most handsome man to her, still so full of life and love for her. Claire clung to him.

“Hey, what’s up?” he asked, pulling away. He placed his hands on the side of her face, leaned down and kissed her gently. He could always tell when something had happened.

“Just when I thought I was free to live my life, they called me back,” she told him.

“They said… They told you that you were free.” 

She could see the agitation growing in him. His hands dropped from her face and he stepped back from her embrace.

“We have to be at the stones tonight. Apparently, I have to finish my education and I get to learn who I am.”

“But we know who you are. They told you that your tasks were done!” Matt said, a little forcefully. 

He reached out and took her hand. They walked together into the house and headed to the kitchen, which always felt warm and comforting. The traces of Matt’s grandmother were still there, and Claire had never tried to erase them.

“They want me to guide and protect Aroha as she faces her own task,” Claire informed him.

“This is not fair, Claire,” Matt growled. “You have already done so much for them. You have done everything they asked of you, and it almost destroyed you. They ask too much!”

The deaths of Jack and his father Marcus had affected her greatly, as had the ordeals that Marcus had put Claire and their family through. They were things that they had not spoken of for years; the memories were still too painful, and they had actively sought to suppress them.

She leaned up against the bench and looked out of the window up to the hill. Matt came up behind her and put his arms around her waist, his lips seeking the spot between her neck and shoulder.

“They want so much from you,” he whispered to her. “I fear they want your life, that you will leave me behind. I can’t live without you, Claire. I love you.”

Claire turned in his arms and wrapped her own around him. “I love you, too. I couldn’t have done what I did back then without you, without knowing how much you love me and feeling it within my heart. I still feel the rose that you created for me; it still surrounds my heart and protects me. It fills me with love and hope every day.”

“That is not just my love, but everyone’s.”

“But the rose and dewdrop from your tear is from you. It is the source of my strength and my love.”

“I guess we must go, then, and find out what they want,” Matt said, seeming resigned to the fact. “I’m pleased that they want me there too. In the past they have kept me in the dark and I’ve been floundering around trying to help you.”

“I know they have. I will make sure they include you in this; you have every right to know. Our lives are shared, we are one,” she told him and kissed him again.

They stood in the centre and waited. Inside the circle it felt warm; the wind and rain that blustered in the darkness beyond the stones did not affect them. Matt clasped her hand in his and was growing impatient. Claire turned to face him, her arms going about his waist as she drew him into her. He looked down at his wife and smiled, his bright blue eyes sparkling in the fleeting moonlight and showing the love he felt for her. He reached up and pushed her blond hair away her face and kissed her. 

There was no need for words, they had been together for twenty-eight years and they knew each other too well. The connection between them ran deep inside their minds and was unbreakable. Claire rested her head on his chest and closed her eyes, taking comfort from his arms and his presence. Memories of their times at the stones came floating up and she smiled at the ones that meant the most to her.

“Claire,” Matt said, softly bringing her out of her memories. 

Pulling away from the warmth of his body reluctantly, she watched the Coimheadair enter the circle. Each figure took their place once more in the gaps between the large stones and faced the couple. With increasing nervousness Claire waited for the Guardians to begin. 

“Greetings to the One True Child, daughter and sister of the Sentinels, Staff and Sword of Order, Guardian of the Stones and wife of Galen the Protector,” one of the hosts proclaimed, as he stepped forward from his place.

“My greetings to the Guardians of the lands,” Claire said.

“Greetings to Galen of the Boar, Protector and husband of the One True Child,” another said, moving forward.

“Greetings to the Guardians of these lands,” Matt said.

“That is a lot of titles and some I have never heard before,” Claire spoke to the first. 

“The time for all knowledge is now. What once was hidden and kept from you, will now be laid out and revealed to you, Carling,” he replied

“Before we begin, there is something I must ask,” Claire said, her hand still clasping that of Matt’s.

“If it is within our Abilities to grant it to you, Carling, then we shall,” the first Guardian told her.

“I ask that the knowledge is also passed on to Galen,” she requested, using her husband’s real name. “He has a right to know what I do, we share everything, and we are one.”

“My son shall know what you do as far as your joined history together. But there is still knowledge that my son will not be able to comprehend or understand. I do not intend to insult you, Galen, but some of the knowledge is specific for Carling to do with her Abilities,” the second Guardian replied.

“I understand, Guardian,” Matt inclined his head.

“I thank you, Guardians.” Claire bowed her head to them.

“Carling and Galen, it may pay that you sit. I fear that the knowledge will be weighty and hard for you.” Yet another figure spoke with a gentle feminine voice.

The couple sat facing each other, legs crossed, and hands held together. Their knees were touching, and Claire couldn’t tell if it were her hands that were shaking or Matt’s. She gave him a small smile of encouragement and closed her eyes.

The Guardians’ chanting started slowly and quietly, rising in tempo and volume. Some the words Claire understood and recognised as a blessing. The words then formed a request from a higher being than the host gathered, to grant knowledge to the couple. The pressure inside her mind increased as she saw her beginnings here in the stones. Claire witnessed her birth from a great being clothed in sunshine yellow, surrounded by others in multiple hues. Lights under their skin swirled as a storm raged overhead and around the stones. The scene shifted before her, showing Carling as a child with golden hair, her small hand clasped in that of a tall boy with bright blue eyes. Claire recognised the spirit of her husband. They had been destined for each other from the moment of her conception. 

Deeds played out before her, travels and people. Marveling as she recognised the spirits of so many, linking them with those she knew in this life. They had followed her down through the ages to be at her side, to support and love her. So many were there her mind began to rebel at the enormity of it and a flash of pain seared through her.

“Peace, Carling. Accept it,” a gentle voice called to her. It was familiar and she relaxed under its smooth tones.

The imprisonment of Chaos was before her. The crystal cave and its bright light she understood. Order was still standing guard over its brother, who was bound to two large pillars of pure clear crystal that pushed their way up through the floor of the cave. 

The scene changed quickly. She saw the lives of her children and that of her husband, the love she felt for her ultimate parents, and the Guardians. She saw them once more transform into the seven great trees to stand guard around the sacred lands.

Another life rose to meet Claire. Another called Carling. The same in every single way. The house which sat over the water, flames leaping from the thatched roof and the roar that frightened the small child, the fire that claimed her family. The scene changed and once again she saw the spear as it pierced her grandmother, the blood and the sound of her cries. The man who had taken her and who wanted to possess her. The hazel eyes, the face the same as the Marcus Claire had known, only younger. She saw the evil begin in him.

She saw the great fire she had caused at the Roman fort and the final battle. Galen killing the man, the first Marcus, as he cried out for him to do so. The darkness had not fully possessed his soul; there was a part that was still human and capable of love. Claire also understood where that love had come from: the Guardians.

The aftermath of the great fire and the life as she lived it with Galen with their children on the side of the mountain. The broch she recognised, the little village she knew, and had helped to rediscover, where she had dug the stones from the earth with her own hands. The pendant Matt had found, with the image of a boar, the one she had once worn at her throat, the work of her husband Galen. It all came to her and she smiled at the memories.

Other lives she had lived: in the area around Loch Tay; some later on, further afield in America. She saw the lines of her children. Galen and her offspring spread far and wide across the world, so many now. One she recognised and she stood before its spirit – that of Maddison, her brother Tony’s first wife.

She saw her own home. The small settlement in the valley in New Zealand. The stones as they had once stood at the head of the gully, green stones from the ground, polished and gleaming in the southern sun. She felt the Sentinels of the south as they gathered there, joining their energy to that of the north as they imparted all their knowledge to her. 

With the memories finished, it was now time for the truth. In the darkness of her mind, in a small corner, where the glow from the crystal that was the facilitator for her Abilities could not reach, she found herself. It was there that Claire tried to centre herself and accept the new memories. 

From the shadows of that corner came another to stand in front of her. Identical to herself in every way except for golden points of light which danced and swirled under her skin. Her hair was the same, her eyes the same shade of blue. Dressed like one of the Sentinels she smiled at Claire.

“We are one,” she said.

“I take it you are the one I call Crystal?”

“I am. It was necessary for the Sentinel side of us to manifest itself in such a way. It was too early for us to understand and accept it. Our first life showed us that the human side would take a little convincing.”

“This is what the Sentinels look like?”

“It is. They were born of the light of Order, although for ourselves we were born from the bodies of Yellow and Blue.”

“This is a lot for us to take on, Carling,” Claire said to her twin.

“It is, Claire. There is more – the Abilities that we used in our first life must now be released. It will be painful as our mind grows to accept them all. To do this, Claire, we must wake from here and open ourselves up to the Stones. Do not be afraid of losing ourselves to them, they will not absorb us. The energy we have felt inside the stones is that which has been stored for us, to draw on at this moment.”

“We shall trust in the knowledge that is stored in your side of our spirit.” Claire told the glittering being.

“Are we ready?”

“We are ready,” Claire nodded and opened her eyes.

Matt was sitting watching her, still clasping her hands in his own. His bright blue eyes widened as he came to terms with his own history and that of his wife.

“The time is now, Carling,” one of the male Sentinels intoned. “Open yourself to the stones and take the knowledge that is yours. Use it well and protect the world and the Ultimate One. The task is yours to take on and once more we ask you to be the Staff and Sword of Order.” 

“I accept the task,” she told them and turned to Matt. “I must do this, Galen, it is the reason I was created and born.”

“I understand, Claire. And where you go, so do I, as your support, love and protector.”

“We cannot touch you, Carling, while you are communing with the Stones. This task is for Galen to support you. You must hold her onto the stones, my son, and do not let her release until it is time.”

“I understand, my Ancestor,” he nodded to the Sentinel.

“I’m ready, Galen,” Claire told him, and he walked with her to the largest of the stones.

Standing in front of it and feeling very small in comparison, Claire could sense the knowledge already reaching out to her. She raised her hands and placed them on the flat hard surface and found it warm to the touch. It vibrated with energy as it started to impart knowledge, releasing all the Abilities and so much more. In her mind a bell began to toll, it was a sound she had heard before at the stones and the understanding of where it came from washed over her. The Universe herself was giving Claire her blessing. 

When Claire was first granted access to some of her Abilities, she had trouble controlling the influx of information. It was the same feeling she was now experiencing. Everything around her was blocked out, including the feeling of Matt holding her.

“Let it in and do not try to control it. Accept it,” the calming voice told her. 

“We are trying to,” Claire replied gritting her teeth and she forced herself to relax, and the pressure eased some.

Beads of sweat appeared on her brow as she concentrated on the knowledge. Her body shook with the force and weight of it. Matt held his wife tightly and was amazed at the capacity she had. He noticed small points of lights flickering to life just under the skin of her hands. They spun and swirled as they made their way slowly up her arms. Looking around at the Sentinels who stood guard over them, he was concerned and sought their guidance.

“The side that has been hidden from her, she is now accepting, my son. Keep her there, the time is not right to release her,” the Guardian reassured him.

“What are they?”

“They are the lights of the Universe. When Order created us, he took the light from his own body, the light that was created from the explosion of the old world and split it into its many facets. We are those facets. A rainbow of colours to stand guard over this world and protect it from the darkness. Carling’s light is purer than ours, her light is greater. It burns brighter and the Abilities she has been granted by our Mother Universe far exceeds our own. She is a gift from the Universe to help bring back balance. Chaos was never meant to be only darkness, the Universe created Order from Chaos’s destruction to bring balance. But unfortunately, it never came to pass. The great plan of Carling was only the beginning. She was always meant to be a tool to be honed and used to prepare and protect the Ultimate One. Aroha is meant to replace Chaos and Order. The balance shall be returned when she has banished them.”

“And what is to become of Claire when it is over?” Matt asked with a great fear beginning to grow inside him.

“It will be decided on the day of the banishment. We cannot see the outcome. Carling, when she does pass, will join us and take her rightful place with the Sentinels, at our side to continue our work. This has been seen.”

“So, I will lose her…?” He looked at Claire. The love he had for her was written clearly on his face, and the pain of knowing they would be separated from one another.

“We cannot see that,” another spoke gently.

“But you said…”

“Yes, it is written in the Book of Destiny, but we cannot see what becomes of either of you,” she told him.

The lights that had started underneath the skin on Claire’s hands were now spreading faster up her arms. They pushed their way with a surging force, advancing and then retreating a little until Matt saw them reach under the pushed-up sleeves of her jacket. They emerged at her throat and he could see them seeking out the rest of her body. The moment they reached her face she grimaced in pain and he almost pulled her off the stone.

“A little longer, my son.” A thin, bony hand was raised over Claire’s head and a spark of light jumped from the hand to Claire, like a little piece of golden lightening. The Guardian pulled back and held the hand under its robe.

The others stood their ground, waiting for the moment when all knowledge had been passed onto Claire. Matt could feel her tremble under the pressure, and she began to weaken. He held onto her, holding her in place. The weight of her body slightly pushing him off balance as he tried to adjust. The lights were now rushing through her body, streaking and pulsating like a meteor shower in the heavens. Under his hands he could feel her racing heartbeat as she absorbed all that she should be, and it became a part of her.

“Now, Galen.” One of the gathered hosts placed a hand on his shoulder and gently pulled him back.

Claire’s hands released their hold on the stone, and she collapsed into his arms. Matt gently lowered her to the ground and cradled her, smoothing the damp hair from her face. Claire’s eyes flickered opened and the lights had even invaded the soft blue of her iris. They flashed for a moment before disappearing and she focused on his face.

“Claire,” he said softly to her.

“Galen, my Galen. So long have we loved,” she said in wonder as her golden laced hand reached up to his face.

“And we shall continue forever more,” he promised as he bent and kissed her lips. 

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About the Author:

L.C. Conn grew up on the outskirts of Upper Hutt, New Zealand. Her backyardL C Conn - Author Photo encompassed the surrounding farmland, river, hills and mountains which she wandered with her brothers and fed her imagination. After discovering a love for writing in English class at the age of eight, she continued to write in secret. It was not until much later in life that L.C. turned what she thought was a hobby and something fun to do, into her first completed novel. Now married, L.C. moved from New Zealand to Perth, Western Australia, and became a stay at home mum. While caring for her family and after battling breast cancer, a story was born from the kernel of a dream. The first book of The One True Child Series was begun, and just kept blooming into seven completed stories.

Author Links:

L.C. Conn: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17714374.L_C_Conn

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LCConn

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ConnLoraine

Email: raindropc1970@gmail.com

The One True Child Series: https://www.amazon.com/One-True-Child-Book/dp/B07NJD8X6K/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=L.C.+Conn&qid=1587909572&sr=8-1

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#BlogTour #Excerpt Stones (Book 5 One True Child Series) by LC Conn @ConnLoraine @RRBookTours1

Today I’m bringing you an excerpt from Stones by LC Conn but first a little about the book:

L C Conn - Stones Book 5 Cover

Title: Stones (Book 5 One True Child Series) by LC Conn

Publisher: Between the lines publishing

Date Published: 5th March 2019

Genre: Fantasy

Description:

In the six years that have passed since Matt came to find Claire in New Zealand, their lives have changed. They married and soon after welcomed the birth of their daughter, Bree. They are at peace and happy. All seems settled and calm, until her Uncle Geoff passes. So starts her nightmare as darkness and despair try to take over her mind. Soon after she is rushing to be by her husband’s side in Scotland, after his mother, Leana, passes. The stones above the cottage in the hidden valley have their pull and soon draw in both Matt and Bree.

Claire wakes one morning to find Bree gone, and she chases after the man she thinks has her, Tony Benning. Only to find that he is just as much caught up in the chaos as she is. Marcus Ryder is truly to blame. His plan to have Claire for himself is nearly complete, he now just has to convince her to join him—or force her. And his insurance that she complies is Bree and Tony’s son, Johnny.

Hidden in the hills of New Zealand, near where Marcus is holding her and the children captive, are the ancient stones of the Guardians of this land. Their energy is still strong, and he uses them as a focal point for who is truly behind this madness. It will take the combined efforts of those left behind in Scotland and those in New Zealand to defeat the darkness that threatens the world.

It is a story of love. The strength of love given freely as a family, the complete unconditional love that gives strength from a soul-mate, and a brother. It is about connections and how it can support an individual in a time of desperate need; the strength of self-love, and the belief in yourself to get you through the tough times, no matter how dark they are. There is always light in the form of love. Love is stronger than hate.

Excerpt:

Chapter One:

The house was deathly quiet, and it suited the moment as Claire Drummond hung up the phone with a frown. She had always known that this time would come, but it still made her heart feel heavy. He was the last of his generation, and now her Uncle Geoff was seriously ill and in decline. The last four years had felt like one long funeral, as her grandparents had passed away one by one. But Lynnette, Grace, and Malcolm had all been there for the two most important moments in her life since meeting them when she was seventeen: her wedding to her wonderful husband, Matt, and the birth of their daughter Breena a year later.

No matter how much she had come to love her grandparents, Geoff held a special place in her heart. It was her uncle who had taken her in and cared for her since she was ten years old after her parents had been murdered. He had been her strength and support when at seventeen she had learnt about her past, her Talents, and the truth of where she had come from. Then again with her ordeal both in Scotland and back home, until Matt had found her again—even though she had not appreciated it at the time.

Quickly she glanced at her watch; it was almost time to collect Breena from school. Claire grabbed her jacket and scarf and headed out into the bitter cold southerly wind. Clouds, dark and threatening, raced overhead; she shivered as the cold winter air blasted around her, creeping under the layers she was wearing. The walk was only a short one, but today her feet felt heavy, dragging as she made her way down the street. She stopped for a moment as the news finally sunk in; a tear escaped her eye and she let it fall.

Steadying her breathing and calming not only her mind but also her heart, she carried on. Claire brought forth the image of her daughter—her long, dark curly hair that refused to stay in a ponytail for longer than a few minutes, the bright blue eyes so much like her father’s, and the image of her namesake—Matt’s long-passed sister. Sometimes when they were alone together, Breena would look up at her and smile. It had a depth to it that suggested something to Claire, but she always put it out of her mind as soon as she thought it, refusing to face what might be true.

The gates of the school were already open, and children of all sizes streamed out of them into the waiting arms of parents or walked together for the trip home. The noise of their chatter and squeals of delight turned to shouts and calls of farewell. Claire smiled and waved at friends, promising to get together for a coffee or a playdate with the kids while she waited for Breena to skip out of the narrow entrance. Normally her daughter was very punctual and the wait at the gate was a short one, but today there was no sign of her.

Glancing around frantically, Claire could feel panic starting to rise inside her chest. Today of all days, Breena had decided to tarry. She searched for her daughter in the still-moving crowd of little people, but she was not there. Claire headed in through the gates and made her way to Breena’s classroom; her teacher was at the door, talking to another mother. She smiled as Claire approached, then pointed inside. Looking through the door, Claire found her daughter still sitting at the table, drawing.

Bree, what are you doing, sweetheart? School has finished,” Claire said as she entered.

Hello, Mum. I just wanted to finish this.” Bree indicated the paper she was drawing on. The little girl turned back to her task and the long, wavy black hair fell over her face, free from the hair ties Claire had put in that morning.

We have to go; you can’t stay here after school. How about you bring it home and finish it there?” Claire knelt down and pushed the hair off her daughter’s face. “What are you drawing?”

It’s a picture for my friend,” she told her mother.

Claire looked at the picture; it constantly surprised her how well Bree could draw, knowing full well she had inherited it from her father and her grandmother. The picture Bree was so determined to finish before going home was clearly of her and a very tall person.

Who’s that with you?” Claire asked her.

That’s my friend—I told you about him. He’s funny. He asked me to draw a picture of us.” Bree smiled and stood up. “Can I really take it home to do?”

Yes, of course you can. Come on.” She held out her hand for her daughter to take and they collected Bree’s bag from the hook outside. As they walked up the street, Claire pondered the person in the picture with a little concern. “So does this friend have a name?” she asked Bree curiously.

No, he won’t tell me what it is, so I call him Mr Man. He laughs when I call him that.” Bree smiled.

Claire took her daughter’s hand, and she started to skip beside her mother. Her backpack bounced on her back, and Claire could hear something rolling around inside.

Did you eat your lunch today, Bree?” She looked down at her.

No; I told you I don’t like cottage cheese and cucumber. It’s yucky.”

But you liked it last week.”

Now I don’t. What I do like is peanut butter and…” Bree stopped skipping while she thought, making Claire come to a halt as well.

What do you like with peanut butter?”

Shh; I’m thinking.” Her little finger was pressed against her mouth as she contemplated.

Claire waited, starting to feel frustrated. It seemed her daughter’s taste in food changed from one minute to the next, and trying to keep up was becoming difficult. Fat raindrops started to fall, landing heavily on the path around them, leaving dark splatter spots on the pale concrete.

Come on, Bree, otherwise we are going to get drenched!” She tugged her daughter into movement and they raced down the street together, laughing and squealing whenever they got hit by a raindrop.

After they reached their front door, Bree raced inside and dumped her bag in the living room, then headed straight for the kitchen. Claire picked up the bag and pulled out the lunchbox. Everything she had put in it that morning was gone, except for the offending sandwich. The picture Bree had been so busy drawing caught her attention.

Taking it with her, she walked into the kitchen. Already strewn across the countertop were bread, butter, peanut butter, and three different types of jams. Bree was attempting to spread the peanut butter on the bread, but she seemed to be smearing it on everything else as well.

You make the mess, missy, you clean it up.”

Yes, Mum.”

Claire pinned the picture up on the notice board and looked at it clearly for the first time. It was beautifully done, and Breena had captured her own face very well, but the drawing of her daughter’s mysterious imaginary friend gave her an uneasy feeling once more. He was not quite finished, but already she could see some of his features and they seemed almost familiar.

Mum?” Bree called her.

Mmm?” Claire broke her gaze at the page and turned to face her.

Can we go see Granddad soon?” she asked, taking a bite from her jam-dripping sandwich. As soon as Bree could talk, she’d refused to call Geoff by any other name than Granddad; it had made him so pleased that Claire never corrected her.

Her question stunned Claire, especially after the phone call she had received. “Why’s that, Bree?”

I just get this feeling we should go see him.” Jam was now smeared on her face, not just the countertop.

As a matter of fact, my little oracle, we are leaving in an hour and will be there tonight.” Claire grabbed a cloth and handed it to Bree. “So when you have finished eating that sandwich and cleaned up your mess, then go and find some things to take with you. And I don’t mean half of your toys.”

Claire finished packing their bags and dropped them at the front door on the way to the kitchen as she listened to Bree chatting about her day. The evidence of her daughter’s cleaning was still on the bench, with smeared lines of peanut butter and jam heading towards the sink. Claire shook her head and picked up the cloth, rinsed it off and finished the job, then went looking for her daughter.

In her bedroom Bree was sitting in the middle of the floor and staring at a couple of her dolls. She picked one up very carefully and then whispered to it. “I’ll take you; I think you will be good on this trip.” She placed the doll carefully into the bag at her side and then put the other away on her bed. “You can come on our next trip, to Scotland.”

Come on, Bree; we have to go pick up Dad.”

I’m ready.” Bree picked up her bag and put it on her shoulder, then took one last look around her room.

Claire hated the rush-hour traffic that was already starting to build and knew that getting out of the city would be a nightmare—even more so now that the rain had set in. She threaded the small car in and out of the lanes and waited impatiently for the many traffic lights that were determined to delay her. Finally, she made it to the university, pulled into the car park, and took out her phone.

Here he comes, Mum!” Bree squealed from the back seat.

Matt Drummond was running down the steps from the administration building and splashing across the rain-soaked car park with his bag over his head. He jumped into the car and slammed the door quickly behind him.

How’s my girls?” he asked and then leaned over to give Claire a kiss.

We’re going to see Granddad,” Bree answered him from the back.

Aye; I know, my wee angel.” Matt looked hard at Claire. “Have you had any word?”

Claire nodded instead of answering in case she started to cry. “Charlie rang,” she said softly, pulling back onto the road and into the madness of congestion.

Do you want me to drive?” Matt placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

No, you can take over after we stop for dinner.” She smiled weakly back at him.

After the stop-start congestion of the city and suburbs that surrounded it, the journey to the village was an uneventful one. The small family only stopped once when Bree started to complain about being hungry and then got back on the road as soon as possible. Once Matt was in the driver’s seat, Claire could relax and take a breath. She remembered the first time Geoff had taken her on this journey; it seemed then that her life had been turned completely upside down.

But that had been nothing compared to her first trip to Scotland, where she thought she was going to be on an ordinary excavation. The discovery of the heritage of The Community was still ongoing, thanks to what she had learned in Scotland, but also of her own heritage and learning the purpose for which she had been born. The Talents that the Guardians of the land had given her still had not found their limits, and sometimes that scared her—just as much as the death of Jack at her hands had. And always in the background—supporting and caring for her—was Uncle Geoff.

She had always hoped that one day he would find love again. He had told her once that he hadn’t enough time left to train a new wife. Claire knew this was only an excuse; he had found his love and lost her, and he didn’t want a replacement.

Claire looked over to her husband and thought the same thing. How on earth could she replace him? He was so perfect for her, always knowing when she needed extra love, when she needed calm. He made her laugh—a lot—and kept her on an even keel. The day she met him was still so vivid in her mind. The first thing she had noticed about him was his eyes, those beautiful, bright blue eyes.

It was a little bit after nine in the evening when they pulled up outside Geoff Brown’s house in the village. The porch light blazed a warm welcome with its golden glow, and a curtain twitched briefly, showing a patch of light from the living room. The door was opened before they even reached the steps, and her Uncle Ben and Aunt Charlie came out to greet them.

Ben pulled Claire into a big hug and welcomed her home, then turned to Matt and shook his hand. Charlie was next, with a warm smile and an even warmer hug, and then she guided her into the hallway, telling one of her tall sons to go get the bags from the car.

Do you want to go straight up, or do you want a cuppa first?” Charlie asked her softly.

I’ll go up. Matt, can you make sure Bree gets ready for bed?”

Go on up; don’t worry about a thing, my love.” He gave her a kiss and watched as she climbed the stairs to Geoff’s room.

Claire hesitated at the door; taking a deep breath, she opened it quietly. The inside was lit softly by a single lamp at his bedside, and what she saw made her heart break. Geoff, who had been so full of life and vigour, now lay quiet and thin. His breathing was even and shallow, his skin a pallid colour. The full head of hair, which had stubbornly remained mostly dark with a couple of distinguishing bits of grey at the sides, was now almost fully white. His illness had ravaged his body, and he was now so wasted away she nearly didn’t recognise him.

A chair had been pulled up to the side of the bed, and Claire sat in it. She held his hand and kissed it, his skin dry and thin like paper under her touch. She brought it up to her forehead and did something she had never done with him before—she sought out his subconscious.

As she had expected, Claire found an orderly and tidy mind. Everything was compartmentalised and in its place. She found him with ease; it was almost as if he had signposted it for her.

I wondered if you would,” Geoff said to her as she entered. He stood before her just as he had been when she was a teenager. Tall, with dark hair and eyes, and a grin from one large ear to another, stretched out under his equally large nose.

Uncle Geoff!” She ran to him and before he could say no, she hugged him close.

Claire!” Geoff tried to push her off at first, horrified, but she resisted until he hugged her back, wrapping those ever-reassuring arms around her once more. They stayed that way for some time, and by the time she did release him, her face was awash with tears.

That was a foolish thing to do, Kid,” Geoff told her as he held her at arm’s length. “But I thank you.”

How are you? Are you in pain?”

No, I’m fine. I find that I am quite comfortable and happy. It’s my time, Kid, and nothing you do is going to stop it.”

I know.” She nodded.

Now, have you brought that little firecracker with you? I would like to see her one last time.”

Bree is with us. She even asked this afternoon if we could come and see you.”

Good. She reminds me so much of you. So full of energy and enthusiasm. And Matt—has he been well, not missing Scotland too much?”

No, he is going back in a couple of months. His mother isn’t too good.”

Oh, that’s not good. I liked Leana; I’ll keep an eye out on the other side for her.”

But you don’t believe in God and the afterlife.”

Ahh, a human failing it is to change one’s mind when the end is nigh.” He laughed, then his mood changed. “There is one thing I would very much like you to do for me before I go.”

Anything, Uncle Geoff. Just name it,” Claire promised.

I would dearly love to see John and Jess one last time. Can you call them here?”

She nodded with another trickle of tears chasing each other down her cheeks. Claire closed her eyes and sent the call into the dark reaches of her own mind, and she heard the answer at once.

On either side of her, a man and a woman materialised. John, her father, was in black, and Jess, her mother, in white. They greeted her with a kiss each and then went to meet Geoff. Claire had to swallow a lump in her throat as she watched them greet each other and stood back to give them some time together.

Sitting on a large green leather chair, Claire waited while they talked until she felt a tug at her mind. She grasped onto it and brought it in, and she found she was holding on to Matt’s hand.

I didn’t want to disturb you,” he said quietly, taking in the scene before him.

That’s all right, Matt. I was feeling a bit alone.” He wrapped his arms around her, both mentally and physically, and she cried into his shoulder.

Hey, I don’t want tears in here, thank you; you’ll make everything wet,” said Geoff’s deep voice, and he grasped Matt’s hand and pulled him into a hug. They became close while they stayed at his family’s home in Scotland and had remained just as close when Matt came to New Zealand.

Thank you for looking after her; make sure you keep it up. And that gorgeous girl of yours,” Geoff told him.

I will always. I promise,” Matt vowed.

Now, I thank you all for visiting me, but I would very much like to wake up for a second and tell Bree goodnight. John and Jess, I have missed you, and it was a very great privilege and honour to look after your daughter. She is the daughter of my heart.”

It is us who should be thanking you, Uncle Geoff. You have raised her to be such a fine woman.” John shook his hand and hugged him one last time.

Thank you, Geoff,” Jess said and kissed him on the cheek.

Right—the lot of you, out,” he said gruffly, trying to hold back his own tears.

Slowly John and Jess faded out, and Matt gave Geoff another handshake. They spoke no words to each other, just nodded.

Finally it was just Claire once more, and Geoff gathered her up again in his arms. “I meant what I said. You are the daughter I never had, and if you were truly mine I couldn’t have been prouder, Claire.”

I love you, Uncle Geoff, and I am proud to be called your daughter. I am so lucky to have had two fathers who have cared so much for me.” She kissed his cheek and then pulled away.

Go get Bree; I want to see her one last time.” Claire felt him push her away and she left, very carefully, and finally detached her mind from his.

Geoff’s eyes fluttered open, and Bree was by his side in her pyjamas and ready for bed.

There she is! How are you, my firecracker?” he asked softly and smiled at her.

I’m good, Granddad. Are you just about ready to go?” Her voice was very low, almost a whisper.

I do believe that I am, but I waited till I could see you again.” Bree climbed up on the bed and gave him a hug.

Matt, can you go get Ben and the others? It’s nearly time,” Claire whispered to her husband. He nodded in reply, gave her shoulder a squeeze, and left to go downstairs.

When Claire turned her attention back to the man who had raised her and the child she loved, she noticed that Bree was whispering something to him. Geoff’s eyes widened, and he looked at his granddaughter with surprise and love.

Ben, Charlie, and their two boys, Oliver and Owen, filed into the room, followed by Matt. Ben sat on the other side of the bed and held his uncle’s other hand. Geoff smiled and took one last look around the room at all who were left of his family. Bree, still at his side, rested her head on his shoulder, and he closed his eyes.

His breathing, which had been so shallow when Claire first stepped into the room, now began to falter and become ragged. They watched over him into the small hours of the morning, until his last breath escaped his lips and he became still.

Owen, can you and Oliver take Bree out of the room, please?” Charlie asked her son.

Bree reached up and stroked Geoff’s face. “Goodbye, Granddad. I love you.” She stood up and went around to Owen and held his hand. Before Bree left the room, she took one last look at Geoff and sighed.

Claire was still holding Geoff’s hand in hers, and she didn’t want to release it. One of the most important men in her life had just left her for the last time, and she felt that a piece of her heart went with him. Tears coursed down her face and dripped onto her lap. A tissue was produced in front of her, and she took it. Finally she let go of Geoff’s hand and laid it gently back on the bed by his side.

Matt was there immediately to gather her up into one of his comforting embraces, holding her gently and letting her cry. He stroked her hair and kissed her head. When she was ready, he led her out of the room and down the stairs, followed by Ben and Charlie.

The bottle of whiskey was produced from its high cupboard in the kitchen, along with some glasses. With a measure each, they raised them in salute to the man who had meant so much to all of them. Bree climbed onto her mother’s lap and cuddled in, as she had when she was a baby, and fell asleep.

The next few days were a whirlwind of emotions, endless tasks, and cups of tea. And skipping through it all and giving bright smiles and cuddles was Bree; she made sure that everyone benefitted from her sunny nature. Claire had often observed when she was with her friends that this child could make anyone smile.

The day of the funeral, Bree stuck close to her mother all day. Whenever Claire turned around, there she was, slipping her small hand into her mother’s larger one. Claire would instantly feel calmer as she looked into her daughter’s beautiful eyes.

It was a simple service; Geoff had insisted on that. He hadn’t wanted anything too over-the-top or sad. The elders each got up to speak; Claire thought this would have horrified Geoff, as he had often complained about how long their meetings were each month. Claire couldn’t face standing up in front of the large crowd that had gathered in the hall, and she had asked Ben to do the eulogy on behalf of the family.

Ben stood up behind the podium on the stage with a few notes in front of him and cleared his throat. Claire noticed how much he had grown to look like his brother, her father, and reminded herself to tell him. He looked out at the crowd and began. Tales of Geoff from a nephew’s perspective garnered laughter from the gathered mourners. Ben spoke eloquently and long, something he seemed to have inherited from his uncle. He touched a little on Geoff’s relationship with Claire and their history without going into too many details, which had Claire both grateful and a little teary.

The wake was held in the village hall, and it was full of people; he had touched many lives, and they had come from far and wide to farewell him. But the core was the family, and Claire watched them carefully. The boys were now young men; Owen, Oliver, and Hunter, now nineteen, were all at university. The twins were studying architecture, and Ben had great hopes of them joining his construction company. Hunter was following in his father’s footsteps and was studying agriculture. He had declared at the age of twelve that he wanted to take over the farm from his father, much to the horror of his mother. The oldest of Claire’s cousins was Jasper, and he had just graduated with honours in teaching.

As she talked to them, she realised how much they were like their parents. Owen had his mother’s gentle nature and also her Healing Talent, but he confessed to having a phobia of blood. Oliver was more like his father, ready for a good laugh and a joke; he had the Seek Talent. Hunter had Flight and regaled Claire with his exploits in freerunning, something he had long loved, having been taught by her. Jasper, now twenty-three and with Light Talent, told her he had had enough of study for a while and was about to embark on his own adventures overseas before taking up his first teaching job.

Adam and Addy and their two children had come from the city the day before, and Claire was glad they had. Their twin boys, Cameron and Dominic, were great friends with Bree, and they took her mind off the serious and sad nature of the gathering. She decided she still had a great and supportive family.

At one point, Claire found herself sitting in the corner alone, watching everyone as they mingled. Beth was there, but now the laughter and smiles were no longer forced. She talked to everyone with ease, so unlike the Beth Claire had first met that night all those years before. And she had a flashback to the welcome party and Jack approaching her.

Claire? You okay?”

She looked up and found David standing before her. He was her mother’s twin brother and a great support to Claire; she had taken to him at once with his easy nature.

Just going down memory lane,” she said and smiled.

He sat down beside her. “A lot has happened.”

It has indeed. How’s the farm going?”

Oh, you know, still the same. I can’t wait for Hunter to be finished with his studies so I can take a bit more of a back seat. I thought I might take Beth on a trip to Scotland.” He winked and smiled at her.

Do you think she will be able to handle all the midges?”

She’ll be all right. Do you think Gerry, Leana, and Gran would welcome a couple of visitors?”

I’m sure they would love to see you. They always ask after you and your family. You made quite an impression on them.”

We get a card from them every Christmas. Even though it was such a strange trip, I really enjoyed myself.”

Claire spotted Addy and Beth talking. “So are they getting on any better?” she asked him with a small grin.

No, they still have arguments on how to raise the grandkids. I still can’t believe that I am a grandfather!” He laughed at the thought.

Just remind Beth that her mother-in-law also had small issues with her. That might change things a bit.”

Are you kidding me? That would be like a red rag to a bull. Just keep that nose of yours out of it, Kid.” He watched his wife a bit more then stood. “I’d better get over there and split them up before it gets too heated. Come for lunch tomorrow; I know Beth would love to fuss over you for a bit.”

We will. Thank you, Uncle David.” David smiled at Claire; she hadn’t called him that in years, and he left her with a warm heart.

The afternoon dragged on, and Claire kept herself occupied by cleaning up cups and plates in between talking to the elders about the work she was carrying out for them. With everyone gone, she shooed out those who had volunteered to help clean up, declaring that she needed a bit of time to herself and would finish cleaning the hall on her own. She asked Matt to take Bree back to the house; he kissed her after making sure she was all right and left her to it.

The kitchenette was scrubbed and the rubbish bags tied and waiting by the door to go out. Out in the main hall, she held a broom in her hands and started to sweep; it was a great time to be lost in her thoughts in the quiet. Memories of Geoff made her smile and cry in turn. The peace and silence of the large room was just what she needed, having had people constantly around her for the last three days. Her defences were down as she reminisced, and she didn’t hear the silent footsteps enter the foyer.

She turned in front of the stage to make the final run down the length of the hall when she saw movement. Standing in the doorway was a tall figure with wavy dark hair, now with the touches of time showing, and dark brown eyes that stared at her with such intensity.

Hello, Claire.”

What are you doing here?” Claire asked.

I came to give you my condolences.” He started to walk towards her slowly.

I don’t think you should come any further, Tony.” She leaned on the broom as she watched him get closer.

I really am sorry for your loss, Claire, for all your losses.” Tony stopped and never took his eyes off her.

Have you been following me all this time?”

No, I took your advice. I got a job overseas and got back about a month ago. I’ve only checked up on you once since I returned.”

Claire gave him a small smile. “I’m pleased to hear that. And have you gotten over your obsession?”

I did hope so, but then I read that Geoff died and I found myself halfway out the door to come see you. You seem to be a hard habit to break.”

Maybe you need to go see someone, get some therapy for it.”

Oh, I did that too; I ended up in a relationship with her, and she accused me of transference and then broke up with me. So even that didn’t work.” He chuckled.

You’re a hopeless case, then.”

Probably. Or maybe I’m just crap with women.”

So you couldn’t just stay away, stop yourself from coming all this way. A card would have done.”

He stepped closer to her involuntarily. “I needed to see for myself that you were okay. No matter how hard I try, I still care very deeply for you.”

Ah! You said care, not love,” she told him. “There is a difference.”

Yes, there is, but I try not so say it, because if I do…” He trailed away. He was closer now, and Claire did nothing to stop him.

Your daughter is beautiful.”

Stay away from her, Tony.”

Don’t worry, I’m not interested in her.” He smiled down at her; he was close enough to touch her now. “I still remember that night—it haunts my dreams. That kiss.”

This is not helping.” She took a step back from him, unsure whether he would hurt her. Slowly she gathered her energy around her and held it in place, ready for anything.

No, it’s not.” He ran a hand through his thick, wavy hair. “Look, my offer is still there. If you ever need me for anything, call me.”

I threw the card away. I found it when we were moving,” Claire told him.

He pulled his phone from his pocket, dialled a number, and waited. Over by the wall, Claire could hear her phone ringing. She turned automatically to answer it before realising that he had her number already. She turned back to him.

Hi, Claire; just a gentle reminder that I am still around.” He hit the End button on his phone and put it back in his pocket. “There you are; you have my number now. I told you I will always keep tabs on you.”

Are you ever going to stop this?”

Probably not. If I haven’t by now, what’s the point?”

I’d like you to leave, Tony.” She carried on sweeping down the hall and when she reached the end, she turned to find he had followed her.

You are still the most beautiful woman in the world, Claire. Matt is a very lucky man; I hope he realises how lucky he is.”

She stood up straight; to her, it sounded like he was threatening her husband. “He does. Every day he tells me how much he loves me and how lucky he is, and I tell him the same right back.”

Good. Because I have tried everything in my power to break you two up, and not once has he taken the bait.” He had a grin on his face that made Claire very uneasy.

Please leave—before I do something I might regret.”

Remember, Claire, I was on that hill top as well that night. The Talents given to me by the Guardians are still with me. I think we would be very evenly matched.”

Why stand there and throw veiled threats at me, then? Why scare me?”

I’m sorry if I have; it was never my intention.”

Well, you did. You have said what you wanted to say; there is nothing more to talk about.” She leaned the broom up against the wall. When she turned back, it was to find him standing only inches from her.

Stepping back hurriedly, Claire tripped over the broom and started to fall. He grabbed her, wrapping his arms around her body, standing her up on her feet once more. She looked up into his eyes and had a hard job pulling away—from both his gaze and his touch—but finally she did both and moved away.

Please, just go,” she begged him quietly.

I think I should,” Tony replied. He turned, and Claire watched him leave the hall. He stopped at the door and looked back at her. “I know you were looking at my arse.” He smiled and left, his chuckle of laughter floating back to her.

Claire stood staring at the doorway and shook her head, a wry smile tugging at her lips. Her own parting words the last time she had talked to him came floating back to her. Walk away, Tony…stop watching me. My arse isn’t that great!

She finished cleaning, turned the lights off, and headed out of the hall, shutting the door behind her. Out in the cool wintry air, she shivered and pulled her jacket around her more tightly. She hoped the walk would help get rid of any thoughts of Tony that still remained. Just the thought of him made her look around; she could feel him still near and reached out with her mind.

Having already been inside his mind once before made it easy for her to gain access again. She walked through the various compartments, looking for one particular part. When she found it, Claire noticed that it had changed slightly. The white filigree box with golden coils was now very glossy and slightly larger. Slowly she felt the surface; it was warm and slick, and she trailed her hand around it.

Now who is intruding on whose life?” his rich voice spoke from beside her. “And how did you get in here?”

I just wanted to see it again, and it is amazing what I can do now. I can access any part of you that I wish, not just your brain. If I wanted, I could stop your heart. If you wanted, I could make you stop loving me.”

But I don’t want that, Claire. I would rather you stopped my heart. But I know you. I know that you could not hurt me in any way. You proved it on the hill that night. In your own way, you love me.”

Please leave the village; don’t stay.” Claire withdrew her thoughts from his and walked down the street. The wind was starting to pick up and the moon was rising over the hill. From behind her, she heard a car starting and then driving down the road in the opposite direction. She listened to it leave with a tear in her eye.

About The Author:

L.C. Conn grew up on the outskirts of Upper Hutt, New Zealand. Her backyard encompassed the surrounding farmland, river, hills and mountains which she wandered with her brothers andL C Conn - Author Photo fed her imagination. After discovering a love for writing in English class at the age of eight, she continued to write in secret. It was not until much later in life that L.C. turned what she thought was a hobby and something fun to do, into her first completed novel. Now married, L.C. moved from New Zealand to Perth, Western Australia, and became a stay at home mum. While caring for her family and after battling breast cancer, a story was born from the kernel of a dream. The first book of The One True Child Series was begun, and just kept blooming into seven completed stories.

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#BlogTour #Excerpt #Giveaway Sentinels by LC Conn @ConnLoraine @RRBookTours1

Today I have an excerpt from Sentinels by LC Conn and a giveaway to win a Digital Box Set of The One True Child Series (Books 1-3) (see bottom of the post) but first a little about the book:

lc conn - sentinels front

Title: Sentinels: Book 1 of the one true child series by L.C. Conn

Date Published: 14th February 2018

Genre: YA Fantasy

Description:

The world is new, created from a great explosion caused by Chaos in a childish rage. Order is born from the intense light of the explosion, sent as a balance to the Dark One. As the world is created around It, Order realises that It cannot stand alone and creates the Sentinels. Extreme beings with amazing powers, they shape and mould the world, creating creatures and plants to inhabit it. A world of light and love.

Chaos cannot understand why these beings will not bend to his will and worship him. He tries to destroy their work and riles against them. In answer, Order forms a plan. A being; born of two of the Sentinels, with abilities stronger than their own. A child in human form, who must be raised by The People in order to understand their race. The One True Child.

Carling is that child. Raised in the sacred valley in secret, along with her four brothers. Raised by Tarl’a, the Keeper of the Stones and her husband, Mailcon. Her life is quiet and uneventful, until she turns thirteen. It is then she learns of her true identity and purpose on earth. Now she must come to terms with this great change and prospect of finally being able to leave the valley to be taught her skills by the Sentinels. She must do this before Chaos can find her and attack before she is ready.

It is a story of learning and growing, of making mistakes and building on them. It is good vs evil, light vs dark and love vs hate. Carling’s very life depends on the love of her family and he soul-mate. It is also a story about how the world will only survive if we can control hatred and learn to love.

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38588436-sentinels

The One True Child Series available to purchase here:

Sentinels: https://t.co/mjUv5CW7KS

Carling: https://t.co/zGBFSNMxc9

Claire: https://t.co/cJWS1h85lJ

Guardians: https://t.co/fAc5PJ2dox

CHAPTER EXCERPT:

Chapter Two

And that, my children, is how the world came to be,” Tarl’a told the boys, their eyes bright as they pulled the covers tighter over themselves. The wind howled outside the small hut.

Ma, we are descended from Red, then?” the oldest of the boys asked.

Yes, Galen; we are. We were born to look after the stones, but that is not for you or your brothers to worry about. It is always the women who watch the stones.”

But we have no sisters,” he spoke plainly.

I am still young enough to have more children, Galen. Now sleep, all of you.”

Tarl’a moved back to the fire and to the side of her husband, Mailcon. He put his arm around her as she began to sing a quiet song to send the boys to sleep.

There have been no more children for some time now, my love,” he said to her quietly once the boys were asleep.

There is still time, Mailcon.”

You should go to the stones and seek the Ancestors’ help. I am sure they will help you conceive the daughter you so desperately want.”

I will go next summer if there is no child before then. Loc is only two summers old now. There is still time,” Tarl’a said adamantly.

Mailcon drew her closer and they lay together beside the warm fire. He kissed her gently and they joined together as they had on so many long winter nights. But in her heart, she knew it would do no good. The feeling of no more children was overwhelming her; she had no daughter to pass the task on to, and that worried her the most.

In the morning as Tarl’a made the long trek up the hill to the sacred stones, she stopped at the spring, drank her fill, and then rounded the up-thrusting rock that protected the stones. Standing at the entrance, she waited. Normally her Ancestor would not take long to answer her call, but today she waited for a long time. She was about to give up when a shimmer of light flickered at the entrance and formed into a being whose light shone brightly.

Being so used to the red hue of her Ancestor, this one startled her and she took a step back at the staggering presence of Order.

Tarl’a, daughter of our son, you seek guidance.”

She sank to her knees and bowed to him, the One. Order came and lifted her up. “We do not seek your reverence; we do not seek adulation. We do not set ourselves up as gods,” It said gently.

I only sought guidance from my Ancestor; I never thought that you yourself would ever appear to me.” She still held Order’s hand, and slowly It drew her into the circle.

We came to seek your permission to put a plan into action,” Order told her as they reached the centre.

My permission?”

Yes child. We would not force this request onto you; we are not Chaos. This must first be agreed upon and discussed greatly before it can happen.”

What is it you wish from me?”

You came seeking understanding as to why there have been no more children for you in the last two turnings of the seasons. It is as we wish. If you say no to our request, you shall have the child you have wished for—a daughter.”

And what is this request?”

That, my child, is a great burden that we are afraid may be heartbreaking and hard for you to take on. If you take on our request, there shall be no more children for you and Mailcon. You have your four boys, one of whom the protector line shall pass through; this we have allowed. The task we ask of you is to foster a special child—a girl. The hopes and fate of this world shall rest heavily on her tiny shoulders.”

Who is this girl—where does she come from?”

The child will be born from two of our children, a true child. It has always been forbidden, this type of union, but she is a necessity. Chaos will become stronger and more of a threat to this world, and that cannot be allowed to happen. This child shall become even greater in the abilities than our children. She will come to possess the energy of the universe, and will hopefully one day defeat Chaos.”

Why do you wish for us to foster her? She should be trained by her parents, by you.”

Tarl’a, through the guidance of you and Mailcon, through your understanding and love for her, will she grow to have the traits that will be necessary. The child would not get that from her parents. She would be too much like them; though they are not arrogant, their sense of self-worth would be passed to her. We have thought long and hard about this child. You and Mailcon, as the descendants of their brother and sister, are the perfect pair to bring this child up. We do not ask you to take this on lightly; we ask you to go and think about it and talk with Mailcon.”

I will think about it.” Tarl’a nodded.

Order placed a hand on her head. “Our blessings and love be upon you. Go in peace until we meet again, Tarl’a. We will wait for your answer. Take your time and make sure you know what it is you are taking on.”

When Tarl’a looked up, Order was gone and she was left with a singing in her heart. As far as she could remember, no one had ever been visited by the Great Light before.

Mailcon stood at the door as his wife came back down the hill; he could see already that something momentous had been revealed to her.

Galen, take the boys and go collect deadfall for the fire,” he told his eldest son.

Yes, Da.” The young boy, only six summers old, gathered his brothers up; taking the youngest by the hand, he led them down the valley towards the woods that hid the entrance.

Mailcon waited for Tarl’a to get nearer, and she gave him a weary smile. “There was no need to send the boys off,” she said as she entered the small house.

The set of your face suggested otherwise to me. What did your Ancestor have to say?”

It was not Red I met with at the stones.” She turned to him with a worried frown.

Which one was it? Was it mine, Violet?”

No. Mailcon, it was Order.”

Mailcon stood looking at her. “Order? The Highest Being?”

Yes.” Tarl’a sat by the fire and stirred it to life, placing a pot on the edge.

Why would Order appear to you? Order has never done this before.”

No, not to my knowledge has anyone been so blessed. But I was today. The power that emanates from the Being is immense.”

Are you able to tell me what Order wanted?”

Yes; we need to discuss this very carefully. It is a great honour that will be bestowed on us, but one that comes with disappointment, I think, for you.”

What is it? You are scaring me.”

Order wishes us to foster a girl, a very special girl.”

Is that all? Of course we will take her in.”

Mailcon, it would mean there would be no more children for us. If we refuse, we will have one more child—a girl. But if we take this child in, she will become our daughter.”

Who is this girl and why are we being asked?”

A true child of the Ancestors. Born of two from Order, not from a mere mortal. She is needed to battle Chaos; her abilities will be great and stronger than the Ancestors themselves. We have been asked to take her in and raise her as our own, to give her the necessary human traits that Order thinks she will need to defeat Chaos.”

Mailcon sat beside her as he poked the fire. Tarl’a started to place grain and meat into the boiling water in the pot, beginning the meal for the evening.

Think on it, Mailcon. It is something we must agree on together,” she told him and then stood to see where the boys were.

In the quiet of the house with just the crackling of the fire, he contemplated the great task that lay before him and his wife. The prospect of not having any more children came to him, but either way there would be one child, a girl. He poked the fire one more time, watching the embers flare and glow brightly.

My son,” a sweet voice said beside him. He looked up and saw the softly glowing form of Violet. She sat beside him and smiled.

My Ancestor, you do me honour by visiting me here at our hearth,” he greeted her.

I sense a great worry in you, my son. I have already talked to the two who have been asked this task and assured them that their child would be in no better hands than those of yourself and Tarl’a. Red is of the same opinion. I feel your hesitation.”

When you sent me here, I thought I would be given some great task. Instead I found myself falling in love with Tarl’a. Is this the task you sent me here for? To raise this child?”

It is, my son. We have been planning this child since Order first made us aware of her necessity.”

I am not worried about having no more children; we have our four boys. I am only worried for Tarl’a’s sake.”

Your wife will love this child without question or hesitation. She is waiting for you alone to make the decision. She comes back.” Violet stood and waited for Tarl’a to duck under the doorway.

As she straightened up, her eyes grew wide.

Violet, you do us a great honour.”

No, daughter of my brother, you and my son do us a great honour by even considering what has been asked of you.”

We have not decided,” Tarl’a told her.

No, you have not, and we await your decision eagerly. I will leave you. My blessings on you both and your sons.”

Thank you, Violet. Until we meet again,” Mailcon said, coming to his feet and standing with his wife.

The Ancestor disappeared, and they were left alone. The noise of the boys coming back to the hut floated in through the door, and Tarl’a turned to her husband.

Was she demanding an answer?”

No. She would not do that. Only encouraging. I think either way we will have a daughter. We should be honoured that we have been asked to take on the role of parents to the child. Will you be all right, knowing you did not birth her?”

A little saddened that the line will not follow my own true daughter’s. But Order told me that it shall pass through one of our boys. Are you sure you want to take this on, Mailcon?”

He took her in his arms and held her. “Yes, I am sure. She will be loved and cared for, and she will be well protected until she comes into her abilities.”

Then it is settled. We will go to the stones tomorrow and let them know,” Tarl’a declared.

Da, Ma!” The call came from outside, and Galen put his head in the doorway. “We have visitors.” He ducked back out and the couple exited.

Before them stood a dazzling array of colour in a semi-circle around the house. They came towards the couple, and as they closed in together they merged into the one light. Order held out Its hands to them both.

Thank you, our children. It has gladdened our hearts to know that you will look after this child.”

It is our honour, Order,” Mailcon told him.

The child will be born, as is the order of these things, in nine months hence. When we leave, we shall leave the two that are to birth her for you to get to know. A protection shall be placed over this valley. It shall only be allowed to be entered by those who come to seek true knowledge from the stones and protect you from those of ill intent, including Chaos. The child must grow up here in this valley for the protection to work. She cannot leave, or we cannot guarantee that Chaos will not find out about her.”

We understand,” Tarl’a said.

Order turned and looked at the four boys all lined up in order; he came to stand in front of Galen, the eldest. “Galen, you shall be a great warrior with strength and flight abilities, and a protector.” He went to the next. “Ru, I see a guide with stealth and tongues, a peacemaker also; your life will take you far and wide. Uven, a healer and mind touch—perfect for an advisor. And finally, Loc. Animals will come from near and far to talk with you, but be careful you don’t fall too deeply into their midst; you shall also possess the ability of foresight.”

Each child looked up in awe at the magnificent being. The blessing Order had bestowed on each boy was more than they would have gotten in the normal way.

Each of these abilities will be necessary for the protection of the child. I must go now and leave you all to your lives. Yellow and Blue will tell you more. My blessings and love are on you both, Tarl’a and Mailcon.” Order’s last words floated away as It disappeared, and in Its place were two.

Yellow and Blue stood before them. “We find, Tarl’a and Mailcon, that we are in need of your guidance,” Yellow said softly, blushing.

Tarl’a’s view of the Ancestors changed that afternoon. While she had always thought of them as being all-knowing and aware, she now found that when it came to relationships between women and men, it was a different story. This confused her and she tried a few times with Yellow to find out how they had mated with the people, always stopping herself, unable to put it into words.

Is it always necessary to have affection for the person you wish to mate with?” Yellow asked naively.

No. Most find that it is a necessary part of the process,” Tarl’a said, embarrassed to be talking about it. “Sometimes a man can mate without consideration for his partner’s feelings or wishes.”

He can force himself on a woman?”

It has happened and sometimes the other way around as well. A man can be led easily into that state.”

As you have suggested.”

Yellow, may I ask you a question that may seem to be intrusive?”

You may, Tarl’a.”

How is it you have mated with the people but are so unaware of how to go about it?”

Ah, yes, that word may be a little misleading. We do not mate as the people do; we are not built the same as you. This form is my own choosing; I can change it as I see fit.” Yellow’s body evolved fluidly into that of a tall, muscular, and very good-looking man and then changed back. “As you see. When we mated with the nomadic people who came to our lands, we put an essence of ourselves inside each child as it lay in the womb. We passed the abilities that way, some of us more strongly and some of us more frequently than others.”

Is that still the case with each child?”

No. The abilities are now in the people. They will remain so until such a time that all necessity for the abilities is at an end—and Chaos has been defeated and cast out of this world for good.”

Will such a day come, Yellow?”

We hope with our child, the One True Child of the Ancestors, that it will be so.”

You would give up your child to be fostered by us?”

Yes. It is necessary for us to do so. I am not equipped to bring up a child properly who will be one of the people. I have already seen that I will love her and care for her down the ages. Her spirit will remain the same, as will her name.”

You have already chosen it?”

Very carefully, Tarl’a.”

Can you tell me her name?”

No, not until I place her into your arms. If I speak her name, she will already be in danger. A name is a great talisman for her. Her true name, when spoken, is a herald of her abilities. There will be a time in the far-off future when she will be called another name, but her true name will always be there, written across her spirit.”

You speak of a future; how can she live to be that old?”

You have foresight, Tarl’a; cannot you see the future for my daughter?”

I cannot; I have not met her yet.”

We shall talk again when I bring her to you and you will see what I see. She will be a great woman with a great capacity for love, and it is love she needs to deal with her tasks and trials.” Yellow stood from the meadow where she had sat with Tarl’a.

The sun was beginning to go down on such a strange day; the final rays over the tops of the forest at the valley’s end were orange and golden laced with purples on the clouds above. Yellow faced the sun and breathed in deeply, the swirling colours under her skin bright points of light that glowed momentarily.

Thank you, Tarl’a. I understand now the relationship between a woman and a man. I understand now more greatly the way a child is conceived. How I envy your ability to love a single man.”

You do not feel love for Blue?” Tarl’a asked, standing now before Yellow.

I feel affection for my brother, but not the love you so evidently have for your Mailcon. We are not permitted that kind of love. We are Sentinels. Guardians, Coimheadair, Ancestors, Ancient Ones are how we will be known. But as Sentinels it is our purpose to protect the world, guarding against Chaos, who inadvertently created both Order and us.” Yellow looked up and saw Blue and Mailcon walking towards them. “Would you consider Blue to be handsome?”

Tarl’a turned and watched the pair walk towards them. “Amongst The People, some would consider him to be an extremely handsome man, and many a heart would flutter over him. For myself, I find that he is too handsome.”

Thank you for your honesty,” Yellow said and went to meet the pair.

Blue held his hand out and she placed her own in his. To Tarl’a it almost appeared as if Yellow were blushing at the physical contact. Within moments, both Ancestors had vanished from sight with the last of the sun’s rays. Mailcon came to her side and placed an arm around her waist.

That had to be the most embarrassing conversation I have ever had.” He smiled as they walked back to the house.

You will have four more to make as they grow.” Tarl’a laughed, watching their boys playing around the house.

At least now I have had some practice.” He joined her laughter.

Tarl’a sat up in the middle of a stormy night; a voice had called to her in her dream and she was compelled to answer it. She got up and started to gather some things around her.

Mailcon woke with her movements and watched her for a moment before speaking.

What are you doing?” he whispered so as not to wake the children.

I have to go to the stones,” she told him, standing, now prepared.

It is the middle of the night and there is a storm.”

It is important, Mailcon. It’s the child,” she said and ducked out the door.

The wind whipped up around her, throwing sheets of water into her face and drenching her within moments, pulling and tearing at her clothes. Pushing through the tempest, she headed to the track on the hill, knowing where she was going in the inky darkness of the night. At the base of the hill a light shone into the blackness, a dark and deep colour; Indigo nodded as Tarl’a passed her and followed on up the track. At the next switch was Violet, a soft, warm light emitting from her. At each turn she was met—Green, Orange, Red, and finally Blue. At the last turning she was met with Order, glowing brightly and illuminating the way to the great circle of stones.

In the centre she found Yellow; the swirling colours under her skin raced now with the effort she was feeling of birthing the child. Tarl’a did not notice the drop in the wind or the absence of the rain as she entered the circle, coming to the Ancestors side.

How far along are you?” she asked the woman.

I don’t know; help me, please, Tarl’a. I was not meant to give birth.”

Let me check.” Tarl’a’s experience with her own four births came back to her as she checked Yellow. “It won’t be long; I can already feel the head.”

Yellow’s brothers and sisters all stood around the circle, placing themselves in between the great tall standing stones. Order had taken the place that would normally have been taken up by Yellow. All the Sentinels raised their hands and started to chant, the language unknown to her and unheard, as Tarl’a concentrated on Yellow and helping her.

The birth was long, and the storm that Yellow’s emotions had whipped up raged outside the circle. Inside she screamed out to the world, her hands grasping at the grass underneath her until with one great, final effort the child was born into the hands of the woman who would raise her. Tarl’a wiped the child and bundled the little girl up into the blankets she had brought, and then handed her to Yellow to hold.

Carefully, Yellow unwrapped the girl and stood. The parts of her she had changed so she could carry the baby were now gone, no longer needed. The pain she had felt was forgotten and was never to be remembered. But the love she instantly had for the little girl in her arms was immense, and she transferred as much as she could to the child.

Tarl’a stood back as the Ancestors all drew in close to see the girl, to bless her. Yellow passed her into the arms of Order and It held a hand over her tiny head; with eyes closed, Order saw the potential in the child and all the children down her line. Order nodded and smiled, then handed the child to Blue.

His own blessing he made on his daughter as he bent down and kissed her forehead. His own love he passed to her to join that of Yellow’s, then passed her to her mother.

Tarl’a, it is time,” Yellow said as she still gazed into the blue eyes of her daughter.

Tarl’a came forward now and stood before them all. As each passed her and stepped out of the circle, they gave her their own blessing. With just Blue, Yellow, and Order standing before her now, she accepted the child into her arms.

The child has a name; we spoke of it once before. It is now passed to you, but still you must not speak it until you are safely back inside your house. Take care of her, Tarl’a; let her know her parents love her.”

I will, Yellow. I will love her and protect her, but also let her know how special she is.”

No; she must grow with no preferential treatment, no special notice. The girl must grow strong in love of a family. We place her in your care along with Mailcon’s to raise her as your own,” Order told her.

We will do so.” Tarl’a bowed her head. When she looked up, the three had already started to move to the entrance and she turned to follow them.

As she descended with the precious bundle in her arms, the Sentinels once more guided their way in the dark of the night, their lights shining the path for her. The storm had abated and the clouds gave way to the starry sky above, a meteor show streaking golden across the inky sky. But she had no eyes for the wonder of the sparkly display.

They stayed with her until she reached the little house. Each once more blessed the child as she passed them on her way to the door, last of all Yellow with one final kiss for her daughter.

Tarl’a entered the house and found the fire built up and glowing brightly. At the side was Mailcon, dozing with his chin on his chest. He woke with a start at her touch and she sat beside him, unwrapping the child.

What is her name?” he asked her with wonder as he took the baby from her arms.

Carling.” The name came to her as clearly as if it had been called out into the room. “Carling is her name.”

Little Champion. It is truly a fitting name for her. She is so beautiful and perfect.”

About The Author:

L.C. Conn grew up on the outskirts of Upper Hutt, New Zealand. Her backyard encompassed the surrounding farmland, river, hills and mountains which she wandered with her brothers andlc conn - author photo fed her imagination.

After discovering a love for writing in English class at the age of eight, she continued to write in secret. It was not until much later in life that L.C. turned what she thought was a hobby and something fun to do, into her first completed novel.

Now married, L.C. moved from New Zealand to Perth, Western Australia, and became a stay at home mum. While caring for her family and after battling breast cancer, a story was born from the kernel of a dream. The first book of The One True Child Series was begun, and just kept blooming into seven completed stories.

FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/LCConn
TWITTER:
https://twitter.com/ConnLoraine

INSTAGRAM: https//www.instagram.com/l.c.conn
WEB PAGE: https//
lcconnwriter.wordpress.com/

GIVEAWAY:

For your chance to win a Digital Box Set of The One True Child Series (Books 1-3) please click the link below:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0e7c6a8f57/?

Tour Schedule:

Jan. 21st

Reads & Reels (Guest Post) http://www.readsandreels.com

The Ghastly Grimoire (Promo) http://theghastlygrimoire.com/

On the Shelf Reviews (Promo) https://ontheshelfreviews.wordpress.com/

Your Books, My Reviews (Review) https://yourbooksmyreview.wordpress.com

Jan. 22nd

Beware of the Reader (Promo) http://bewareofthereader.com/

Breakeven Books (Promo) https://breakevenbooks.com/

Life at 17 (Review) https://lifeat17.wordpress.com/

Jan. 23rd

The Writer’s Alley (Review) https://www.jacobrundle.com/

Love Books Group (Promo) https://lovebooksgroup.com/

I Smell Sheep (Promo) http://www.ismellsheep.com/

Reading Nook (Promo) https://readingnook84.wordpress.com/

YA/ NA Book Divas (Promo) http://www.yabookdivas.com/

Rockabilly Spoonie (Interview) https://lauramorningstar.com/

Your Book, My Reviews (Review) https://yourbooksmyreview.wordpress.com

Jan. 24th

Mid West Ladies Who Lit (Promo) https://mwladieswholit.wordpress.com/

The Cozy Pages (Promo) https://thecozypages.wordpress.com/

Banshee Irish Horror Blog (Promo) http://bansheeirishhorrorblog.com/

Jan. 25th

The Invisible Moth (Review) https://daleydowning.wordpress.com/

J Bronder Book Reviews (Review) https://jbronderbookreviews.com/

Book Mania (Review) https://bookmania176.wordpress.com/


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