The Twelfth Keeper(8)

By: Belle Malory


“Ooh,” Hannah said at the young Asian girl’s picture. “That’s Fang. Everyone says she’s a real badass. She’s been studying karate since she was three and jiu-jitsu since she was seven.”

The keeper’s strong, fierce features and lean body reminded Kennedy of a wild cheetah, ready to pounce the first person who rubbed her the wrong way. Yeah, Kennedy could believe she was a badass, all right.

Reagan and Hannah continued prattling on about each of the keepers as Kennedy swept up cheerios from the floor. She had just begun to load the dishwasher when Ashley slipped an arm around her. “Hey,” she whispered. “How are you doing?”

Ashley wasn’t the heart-to-heart type. She was too busy for the emotional stuff, and today especially, too wrapped up in making Reagan’s birthday as special as possible. It didn’t bother Kennedy, but it was unfamiliar—so unfamiliar it took a second for her to remember to respond.

“Okay.” About as okay as one can be, knowing her family has a death wish.

“I know today is going to be hard for you, Kenn.”

No kidding, Mom. Was it something I said or Dad’s absence in the house that gave it away?

Kennedy looked away from the sink and into her mother’s eyes, surprised to find something there she wasn’t expecting.

It was bothering her, too.

Argh, good grief. That big, doe-eyed look wouldn’t let anyone stay annoyed with her. Ashley looked just as lost and hopeless as she had back then, back when she’d first been told she no longer had a husband. Big swallowing teddy bear hugs were all Kennedy wanted to give her mom just then, not the piece of her mind she’d originally wanted to lay on her.

Ashley took a deep breath, straightening. “Despite what happened, Lady Liberty was important to your father. That’s why Reagan loves it so much.”

I’m not gonna say it. Not gonna to say it…Kennedy gritted her teeth. “I understand, Mom.”

She could have kicked herself. Why was she acting so composed and understanding, when she was anything but?

“Anyway, I just want to thank you for being so cool about this.”

Cool about this? That was the last thing she was. Inside she was furious. She kept her mouth shut though. As badly as Kennedy wanted to scream and argue, and as badly as she wanted to stomp around the house and bang on things, she didn’t.

Yeah, she was a little scared. She could admit that much. Okay, terrified was the more appropriate way of putting it.

“No one says cool anymore, Mom.”

She could get through this. For them.

“Well, excuse me for getting behind the times.” She squeezed Kennedy’s shoulders before leaving the room with Lincoln to change him into his swimsuit.

Reagan and Hannah were still sitting at the table, chatting about the news. Just as Kennedy bent over to deposit a glass bowl into the dishwasher, she heard the name Phoenix and froze. Her breath caught as a set of sharp, angular features filled the screen.

She’d seen his face before, a curious fascination enveloping here very time he was on TV or in the tabloids. “By far the most gorgeous of the keepers,” Hannah breathed.

Phoenix Jorgensen was exactly that—gorgeous. But in a lethal sort of way. Like lightening. People enjoyed admiring it from afar, but not too closely.

“He was the first keeper found, and he’s been with DOE since he was five years old.” Hannah couldn’t help being a know-it-all. “Poor guy. Can you imagine being raised by the military in such a sterile, unfeeling environment? They say he was trained to be a weapon—practically a robot.”

The broadcast zoomed in on Phoenix’s face. Beneath his unkempt blonde hair were eyes so dark they looked black. A cold, impenetrable black. Those eyes told the world to back off.

The newscasters switched to the next keeper—a Caribbean islander named Alanna—before Kennedy remembered what she was doing. Shaking her head at herself, she finished loading the dishwasher.

Honestly, the keeper news was starting to become annoying. Ever since humans figured out the planet came stocked with its very own protectors, no one could talk about anything else. “Sheesh, give it a rest already,” Kennedy mumbled. “Sliced bread is still pretty great, you know.”





Four





Wild horses had always been a mystery to Kennedy. They had managed for so long without people trying to tame them. Most of the feral horses in the nearby areas were kept on Cumberland Island, just north of Amelia. It was a rare thing to spot them here.

Staying very still and quiet, Kennedy watched through her binoculars as they trotted along the beach, their black coats shimmering in the sunlight, their tails swishing back and forth. Of course, they were too far away to get spooked, but she kept still anyway, refusing to risk the chance that they might see her and decide to leave.

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