Winter Rising (Book One)

Brea was born a Second, a lowly class of people in the Lexcon society. But she also bore the birthmark that destined her to marry a Gatekeeper, the “superheroes” of their world. Some called her destiny a great privilege. She called it doomed to a cage with no key.

Gatekeepers were born and raised to ensure time remained untainted and unchanged, but Brea saw them as overlords who looked down on her kind… on Seconds.

Forced to marry Gatekeeper Jax Winters, Brea vows not to complete the ritual bonding with him until she can talk with council about how Seconds are treated. She plans to use her newfound status to help the plight of those born like her.

But she never dreams of the twist her life will take, moving her into a higher position than she’d ever dreamed. Will she and Jax always be at odds, or will their hearts bond together as their souls already have? Will Brea change the future of Lexcon, or will she be forever doomed to live life in the dark?

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CLEAN AND SPICY editions

Samantha Majchrzak artist behind the Winters Crest on the cover of the book

Samantha Majchrzak has been drawing since she was four when she completed her first “accomplished” drawing for her mom. She remembers her mom pinning it on the fridge and never wanting to miss out on that joy again. More importantly she didn’t want to lose the joy and happiness she had while creating her “masterpiece.”

After attending Pittsburgh Art Institute for Digital Media, she realized that digital media was not where her heart lay. She wanted to create thoughts into images with her own hands, instead. Now Samantha creates sketches and drawings, forming new worlds from her mind and on to the page.

Samantha’s latest artwork can be seen on the cover of Shannyn Leah’s novel, Winters Rising. She been delving into tattoo art as well and is excited for more freelance work. For more information about Samantha’s artwork, email her atSmajchrzak222@gmail.com.

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Prologue

HE WAITED PATIENTLY for darkness to fall over the Victorian house and the light from each window to turn black, before he made his way across the back yard to the door.

The cold, rainy October night had soaked through his thin cotton gown. Now he wished he’d stopped to find an outfit that suited this timeline, rather than wearing his clothes from home. Tonight wasn’t the same warm July whether he’d visited three months ago, when it had been easy to snatch a few modern pieces of clothes from a backyard.

He wished he’d opened another gateway to raid suitable garment for this cold weather, but he didn’t have much time. The elders had been watching him closely lately and he needed to be swift about his plan. He didn’t blame the elders for their scrutiny. After all, he’d been changing the future by using future time traveling, a practice frowned upon by the elders.

Changing the future had consumed a large amount of his time, too. His absence hadn’t gone unnoticed, but his actions were hard for them to trace, helping to set his brilliant plan.

He would never tire of traveling into the future. Every new invention he’d encountered astounded him. The first time he’d been transported in a moving automobile, a magnificent creation for moving across the countryside on land, he’d gaped at the amount of distance it was able to cover in such a short time. Not as much distance as a rip, but still amazing.

In another time rip, large winged contraptions called “airplanes” flew safely high in the sky, above the clouds, over oceans, moving cargo and people too far off distant lands without the help of a gateway. It blew his mind away.

And he’d been so impressed with the telephone he’d purposely traveled back in time to spend days with Alexander watching him master his invention.

But these were the reasons the elders warily watched him now. Their warning for him to stop time traveling the future rips hadn’t gone unheard; simply unheeded. He couldn’t recall when anyone had put them in charge. He didn’t see the need to obey their orders.

As always, merely thinking about those travels sent a thrill of exhilaration through his blood, a desire to travel into the future more, a need to live forever. Although everyone thought eternity was impossible, the accuracy he would present to them proved the possibilities. They could live forever, travel forever, and rule the entire Lexcon community without fear of losing their position. They simply had to listen. But he knew they never would.

So, instead, he had concocted this plan involving the brave couple that waited for him now, hidden behind the back door. They were the first step in his master plan.

Both in their late teens, they had blindly accepted his suggestions−solidifying his plan. When they saw him, they rushed him through the hallways of the quiet house, careful not to wake anyone. The couple ushered him in and shut the door to the gatekeeper’s private library behind them.

When they were sure no one had heard their steps, their bickering began. Their loud, evaluating whispers ticked along with the wall clock, glancing at him periodically. He heard their apprehension and worry in the tone of their voices, but didn’t miss the excitement, too. Even though this mother-to-be was a Gatekeeper, with duties and responsibilities to the position she upheld, she was also human and carried human emotions.

“Our parents will be disappointed in us,” she said. She hadn’t started to show yet, but would any day and then it would be too late for an abortion. She’d be shipped away for a full term pregnancy as all Gatekeepers were. He anticipated the day she gave birth, the butterfly effect of his plan.

The father-to-be put his hands on his soulmate’s arms. “He’s proved himself to us,” he assured her. “We can trust him to keep the baby safe.” 

The teary-eyed girl looked away from her soulmate and to the man who would change their lives. “You will protect my baby?” she asked, not for the first time. 

He stepped away from the shadows by the door and into the dim light above them. “Yes,” he said. “Your child will grow up to live a full and meaningful life. The future of our society. Your child will make things right where so much has gone wrong.”

Hope filled the mother-to-be’s eyes and she wiped away the few tears that slipped down her cheek. She looked back at the father-to-be, a man she’d consummated with before she should have. This was another surprise he discovered about people in the future, they all disobeyed the laid out rules of Lexcon.

Bonding, while intimate, seldom involved sex, but was rather a blending of the souls. Back in his time, it was rare two people would be together intimately before bonding, but here, it seemed a constant occurrence. And here, they had no idea that these babies they referred to as Unborns, were indeed born, but wasn’t that all part of his plan? 

“Okay,” she said, interrupting his thoughts. “Tell us what we have to do.” 

A wickedly wonderful feeling pulsed through him at her acceptance of his plan. He had been smart to leave out a few minor details, like her death, but sacrifice for the bigger future outweighed her right to know.

Once Lexcon was his, why couldn’t he rule earth too?

He put his arms around both of them. “Alright, listen closely...”

The people on earth, who were not part of the secret society of Lexcon, the community who made sure time remained untainted, would soon learn of Lexcon and the powers it held.

 

 


 

Chapter One

SHE CLIMBED OUT of bed before the crack of dawn and before he rolled over to wish her a good morning. Like that was ever going to happen again. A good morning. Ha!

Pulling on her jeans, Brea glanced at her husband, Jax Winters sprawled out in his king-size bed. The magnificent mahogany was hand brushed with gold accents, and had likely been in his family forever...just like the rest of Brea’s life was now fated to be: in his family forever.

A soft glow radiated from antique sconce lights outside the bedroom window, casting a golden illumination across the bed.

For a brief moment, while the sun was still below the horizon, she envisioned his sleepy morning grin. It was adorable, no denying it, and lazy, like his morning routine: wake up and run his fingers through his thick, dark, wavy hair. It usually followed with Jax leaning across the kitchen island counter, sipping black coffee and flipping through the paper, waiting for the rest of the house to wake up for breakfast. His overgrown hair and the scruff around his distinct jaw line suited his personality. His eyes melted her heart, especially in the morning. They were drowsy, sparkling gems, but the color of the most brilliant emeralds.

But still, she had denied him and had pushed him away time and again, refusing the bond required of them as soulmates.

Some called her destiny a great privilege. She called it doomed to a cage with no key.

Brea would never get used to her new name, or her new supposed family. What a bland last name for a family of Gatekeepers. Winters. The Sterling Gatekeepers from the south, the Eastons Gatekeepers from the east, or even the Nightendale Gatekeepers from the north, all had superior sounding surnames, and all four were as equally significant in the Lexcon ranking.

Brea was not a Gatekeeper, but only a lowly Second. Gatekeepers and Seconds bloodlines ran from the first ancestors of Lexcon, an elite, secret society, unknown to human men. Those who were born bearing the birthmark of their status followed the fate of their marks. Gatekeepers branded the birthmark to time-travel through the rips of time. Seconds, the mark deeming they served the Gatekeepers. The progression of order had been developed from the beginning of time and even in the twenty-first century it still remained. Gatekeepers and Seconds were governed by council, who resided on earth, and they, in turn obeyed the Elders who remained in a time rip of Lexcon.

Gatekeepers, like Jax, held the highest ranking jobs. Each descendant born and raised to ensure time remained untainted and unchanged. If the past became altered, a Gatekeeper trio of siblings were sent back in time by the elders of Lexcon to repair it.

They were like superheroes, admired by the insignificant members, the Seconds, of Lexcon.

Well...most Seconds. Brea wouldn’t doubt Seconds thought the Gatekeepers actually wore capes on their missions...not that she could confirm or deny whether they did. But the hush-hush community kept the Seconds in the dark about the lives of the Gatekeepers−something Brea had resented from early on.

Brea could feel her resentment rising now, before the sun, and dark like the hour, while foreseeing another long, excruciating day.

Jax might be the Winters first-born son, highly respected, highly groveled at by the women who drooled over such power, with their obvious stares and unmistakable lip licking, carrying jealousy they hadn’t been born with the birthmark that bonded Brea to Jax. But Brea saw him as no more than a man, not only ill-fated in his own position as the current Key Keeper, the man who opened the gates for time ripping, but who also gave her future a grim hopelessness.

Brea scrubbed her hand over the side of her neck where the Winters family crest branded her skin, as if enough rubbing would erase it.

Branded. Destiny. Forever.

Brea tore her eyes away from Jax, even his name was irritatingly stunning, and grabbed a sweater on her way out of his suite.

Right now, she wanted to throttle her parents and two sisters for leaving her here. Abandoning her in this huge, cold mansion where all the Winters lived under one enormous roof. Three generations of the Winters family Brea was forced to face every single day, for the rest of her life.

She clenched her fists, aggravated. If she were that close to her siblings, she would want to strangle them, lock her door and remain alone forever.

Brea traipsed about the third floor of the west wing, down corridors carpeted with blood-red rugs over darkly stained wood floors. She trailed her hand along the velvet-papered wall and then pulled it away in disgust. Her eyes found it hard to adjust to the dim lighting from the wall sconces as she made her way down the unaccustomed hallway.

After all, it’d only been three days.

Her mission this morning was to locate the front door on her own before the household roared to life. A mass of servants staffed the mansion like some ancient castle, assigned to duties both indoors and out.

Brea couldn’t handle another day of his family’s disapproving looks over Brea and Jax’s bonding not yet completed.

  1. The union she didn’t want, sent cold shivers down her spine now. A union her maddening birthmark had branded her with at birth.

Why couldn’t she have been branded to another Second? She was a Second. She liked being a Second. Sure, they weren’t the highest rank, like the intolerable Gatekeepers, and Seconds were considered nobodies until they were bonded to a Gatekeeper. But without the Winters’ mark, her future would have been her own, allowing her the opportunity to fall in love with any unmarried Second of her choice. Real love. Not branded to some oversized, macho Gatekeeper.

Every time she doubted her duty, she felt the distinct pull from her mark to her soul, reminding her that it was her destiny and not her choice. The sensation wasn’t physically painful. It didn’t burn or itch, but rather swirled an emotional war inside her, tossing her between her obligations as a Gatekeepers wife, and her want of something entirely different.

Brea stopped walking, feeling trapped in her own body. Everything about this situation was wrong and yet, everyone said it was right. Her parents, her teachers, her so-called friends, every person involved. And if she tried to change it, the Gatekeepers would get sent back through time to make it right. It was an impossible feat. An impossible fight.

She looked around.

Where was she? 

Lost, in the dark, in a house full of overruling Winters and their loyal staff.

“Lost?”

Brea jumped at Gabrielle Winters’ whisper. Jax’s sister. The youngest sibling of three. Brea found her less irritating than the rest. Her smile warmer, her words less superior. But, she was still a Gatekeeper, and, so, Brea had been busted sneaking out of the house by a Winters.

Great. A great start to another condemning day.

Gabrielle stepped out of the shadows as Brea covered her pounding heart with a hand. Gabrielle wore a fluffy pink housecoat that hung just above her bare knees. The color contrasted with her usual lively energy. Her mass of black curls poked out in every direction, but her green eyes triggered on Brea. These Winters had a way of not backing down. They knew how to make a person squirm...like the way Brea was doing right now.

“He’s not so bad,” Gabrielle said, in her soft, almost understanding tone.

Of course, she would say that. They were siblings, close siblings and connected by the Gate. Each Gatekeeper from the trio had their own duties in order to time travel together. Jax was the Key Keeper. Gabrielle, the Visionary. Their middle brother, Declan, the Healer. They were bonded together in their own, special way. So, who was Gabrielle to judge her? Who were any of these Winters to judge her? 

Brea straightened, taking a deep breath before speaking. 

“I wouldn’t know. I’ve only met him three days ago.” Brea didn’t continue to point out that since her and Jax had said their vows, the first step in their bonding ritual, Jax had disappeared every day and not returned until night fell.

He refused even to court her like a real gentleman. Some Gatekeepers courted their soulmates, but not Jax. Apparently, he couldn’t find time from his busy schedule for her, but thought she would fill her marital vows to him after less than ten complete sentences between them.

They were both stubborn it seemed.

Gabrielle’s face turned a shade of pity, knowing Brea didn’t comprehend all that their lives entailed. “There’s a reason–”

“I might not be a Gatekeeper, but I’m not dense,” Brea snapped, hating their vision of her.

“I didn’t mean it like that...”

Brea rolled her eyes. She didn’t want to fall apart in front of Gabrielle, or any of them, but the entire family treated her worse than a child.

“Besides, when you bond, you will be a Gatekeeper,” Gabrielle said.

Brea didn’t want to be a Gatekeeper.

Her birthmark itched with objection, and she rubbed it again. Her hands always seemed to be drawn to it.

Gabrielle stepped out of the way and pointed in the direction she’d just come. “Follow this hall to the end, turn right, and it will take you to the stairs which lead to the foyer.” She dropped her hands, clasping them together in front of her. “If that’s where you’re trying to go.”

“Thank you.” Brea scurried away without another word.

It wasn’t like Brea intended to leave forever. It wasn’t possible now, or had ever been, but she couldn’t handle looking at her birthmark every single day with the reminder that it controlled her...almost as much as the man himself. It would drive her insane. No longer under the severe scrutiny of her parents, gave her the opportunity to make the mark, which bound her to Jax, her own. She planned to do that by visiting the tattoo parlor in town.

Brea’s insides snickered at Jax’s reaction upon her return home to find the birthmark he craved to touch no longer matched to his own.

She pulled the silver keys she’d “borrowed” from her new husband out of her pocket and found his big, bad machine waiting for her in the garage.

One bonus to being married to Jax Winters, the first born Winters Gatekeeper, was that he liked danger. After a life of reservation and obeying rules, Brea was in need of some excitement.

 

 

 


 

Chapter Two 

JAX FINISHED HIS second glass of his regular morning routine: Chocolate flavored protein shake with soy milk. It was the perfect combination of what every meal should be: sweet with a dash of healthy. Plus, it was great for his workouts.

“Throw that rubbish in the trash,” his mother, Annalieese, said, slapping the back of his head as she walked by. She looked beautiful as ever for such an early hour, in her pressed beige suit and her hair styled in a sleek bob below her ears. “Millie has prepared us a breakfast buffet of eggs, fresh bread and fruit and you sneak off into the kitchen to eat...” She made a disgusted look that didn’t enhance the young features of her smooth face. “...rubbish.” 

Jax chuckled, planning to follow his protein drinks with a hearty egg breakfast. “Mother, it’s extra protein–”

Annalieese held up her hand to stop him from continuing. “I don’t want to hear the healthy benefits of processed garbage.” She slanted him a curious look. “I don’t understand how you continually sneak these containers of powder inside this house.” 

Jax simply grinned at her, sending her the charming look he’d used as a child to get out of trouble, not daring to tell her that Millie, their maid, smuggled him a new container each time Annalieese threw his into the garbage.

“My lips are sealed,” Jax said, instead.

“That’s the only thing you’ve got sealed,” Victor Winters grumbled, making his way into the room.

Jax stiffened, suddenly losing his appetite. He wished he’d sat with the family in the formal dining room to avoid the criticism he knew would follow here in the kitchen.

Victor stood next to Annalieese. Like all the Winters men, his chest spanned a wide breadth, twice the size of that of his slim wife’s. A formidable figure, except around his wife. Victor’s rigid body softened now as he leaned in to kiss his wife’s cheek. He whispered something in her ear that made her giggle and turn a light hue of pink.

Jax wanted that with his wife. He looked forward to the special moments between only him and Brea. However, if they kept up the way they were going, they would grow old beating each other over the head with their canes.

He felt an inner grin grow, picturing Brea tackling him with her cane. But the grin was short lived, with Victor’s implications of Jax’s inability to complete his bonding with Brea sitting fresh on the surface.

All Gatekeepers had their wives bonded after their vows, a ceremony similar to a wedding. But Brea wasn’t like most marked women and when they’d finally been alone for the first time, she’d rejected his advances to bond, sending Jax into a world of confusion.

Bonding was a two-step ritual in the Gatekeeper society. Jax and Brea had completed the first step when they’d said their vows during the ceremony days ago. To finish bonding, Jax and Brea needed to connect their birthmarks by simultaneously touching the others to unite their half souls into one, completing them.

Brea however, wasn’t ready to accept her destiny with Jax. A warning that his future wife wasn’t interested in becoming the wife of a Gatekeeper would have been helpful to prepare him for her cold shoulder and the space she required to adapt. Her lack of enthusiasm also explained why there had been a delay in their meeting. Marked couples usually met in advance. Jax didn’t know another couple who had stayed apart until the day of the vows. Of course, bonding and intimacy before their vows wasn’t permitted. He didn’t plan on doing any such thing. He longed to take her out to dinner, maybe a movie instead.

Jax had certainly never heard of a couple not bonding the night of the vow ceremony. He was making history with Brea. He wouldn’t be surprised if her rebellion to marry a Gatekeeper stemmed from the excuses her family had used to prevent their meeting.

Brea’s attitude, as strong and independent as it was, and as much as Jax respected her for it, was also considered disrespectful, and in turn, could shame her family.

Jax could picture Brea causing an uproar with her family. She did just that each night she denied him access to her birthmark.

A smile crept to his lips.

“What are you grinning about?” his father growled. “You can’t even acquire enough control to compel her to have breakfast with us. Hiding away in your wing...” He shook his head. “Disrespectful. Almost as much as living under my roof without bonding. Did you bond last night?”

Jax’s jaw tightened as he said, “No.”

A string of curses and threats, Jax didn’t take to heart, followed. Victor’s disposition was obvious, but it wasn’t of a cruel nature but rather his parental duty. Jax understood his father’s quick-temper and respected the scoldings in regards to their time travel rips. Gatekeepers could never know enough, but when it came to Brea, Jax wasn’t as understanding of his dad making their relationship his business.

Brea missing breakfast pulled Jax from his thoughts. “Brea’s not in the sunroom? I thought she was eating breakfast.”

His father shook his head, with another round of dissatisfied grumblings.  

“You lost her?” His father’s face reddened further. The more this conversation developed, the angrier Victor became.

“I didn’t lose her,” Jax snapped.

He simply didn’t know her current whereabouts. And since when did vows transform him into a control freak, who needed to keep tabs on his wife’s every movement? Brea was her own person. If she wanted to skip out on breakfast, he wasn’t about to drag her downstairs kicking and screaming.

The thought amused him, but he didn’t dare crack another smile in front of his dad. Besides...where was Brea?

His father continued ranting, shaking his head as he made his way out the door, grumbling more about this lazy, ignorant generation of disrespectful Gatekeepers.

Jax would have loved to see what his dad had been like at Jax’s age. He couldn’t envision Victor ever trying to control Annalieese or force her into anything she didn’t want to do. He also couldn’t see his mother forcing Victor into the difficult predicament Brea was in with Jax.

“Jax’s quiet bedroom angered Papa Bear,” Gabrielle said, walking into the kitchen. She also held the wick of a firecracker, but in a different way. His sister would never go against the rules of their society, but she wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion.

Gabrielle stopped between Jax and their mother, a mischievous smile appearing across her red painted lips. She wiggled her eyebrows.

Annalieese frowned at her daughter. “Bonding is a sacred moment between two souls as they come together as one. I don’t appreciate you degrading it.”

“Don’t you want grandbabies?” Gabrielle asked, unfazed by their mother’s disapproval. “I know you do. Jax’s kids are the future Winters Gatekeepers and if he doesn’t get bonded first, he might end up with an Unborn.”

“Gabrielle,” Annalieese scolded, in an outraged tone. “That’s enough from you.” She spoke to Gabrielle, but her eyes pursued Jax’s eyes, searching for whether Brea and he had been intimate before bonding.

Jax could’ve wrung his sister’s neck for putting the fear and panic into in his mother’s eyes. “You don’t need to worry about an Unbron,” Jax said softly to Annalieese. She sighed in relief, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.

Jax understood Annalieese’s fear and he knew Gabrielle did too, but he wasn’t sure why she would bring up Unborns.

The risks of giving birth to an Unborn had been instilled into the heads of the Lexcon children throughout their school years in order to prevent babies conceived between an unbonded couple. No Unborn babies survived conception, which was why they were given the title “Unborn.” However, it wasn’t the fear they drove into the young adults, but rather the possibility of death for the mother if she tried to go to term with an Unborn.

In Jax’s life he’d never heard of an Unborn in their division of the Lexcon community and he sure wasn’t going to man known for producing one.

After a long, silent glare at Gabrielle, Annalieese said nothing more and left the kitchen, taking Jax’s protein shake in the process and tossing the entire contents, thermos and all, in the trash can.

Gabrielle made a face. “She’s sensitive today.”

Jax stood and said, “A little.”

Why was everyone so tense? It had only been three days. They had their whole lives ahead of them to bond, get to know each other, and to fall in love. 

“Have you seen Brea today?” Jax asked.

The look on Gabrielle’s face said she had seen his wife and screamed there was more that he didn’t want to know.

“Where is she?” he asked. 

Gabrielle tilted her head and her long black hair fell across one shoulder. “Do you notice how Brea is always running her hands across her birthmark with that little flicker of annoyance?” she asked.

He hadn’t seen Brea enough to take that notion into consideration.

“And then, take note, she likes ink...”

He hadn’t missed Brea’s tattoos, the ones he could see anyway. And his mind had toyed with the possibility of covered ones he had yet to see.

Gabrielle let the words play out in Jax’s mind. When he finally stopped thinking about Brea naked, he realized the implication of his sister’s words. 

Brea was going to tattoo over her birthmark. Great. Just great.

“I caught her sneaking out this morning,” Gabrielle continued, and not a second too soon. 

“And you didn’t bother to stop her or tell me earlier than this moment?” he snarled.

Gabrielle shrugged. “Actually, I told her how to find the front door.”

“Gabby!”

“What? This place is a horrible maze and she was lost.”

“In the future, leave her lost. On the premises.”

Gabrielle bit her lower lip but Jax didn’t want to hear the rest.

“Then I heard your bike come to life...”

Jax grimaced.

“For the love of...” He inhaled deeply. “Get your keys because you’re driving me into town.”

Prologue

HE WAITED PATIENTLY for darkness to fall over the Victorian house and the light from each window to turn black, before he made his way across the back yard to the door.

The cold, rainy October night had soaked through his thin cotton gown. Now he wished he’d stopped to find an outfit that suited this timeline, rather than wearing his clothes from home. Tonight wasn’t the same warm July whether he’d visited three months ago, when it had been easy to snatch a few modern pieces of clothes from a backyard.

He wished he’d opened another gateway to raid suitable garment for this cold weather, but he didn’t have much time. The elders had been watching him closely lately and he needed to be swift about his plan. He didn’t blame the elders for their scrutiny. After all, he’d been changing the future by using future time traveling, a practice frowned upon by the elders.

Changing the future had consumed a large amount of his time, too. His absence hadn’t gone unnoticed, but his actions were hard for them to trace, helping to set his brilliant plan.

He would never tire of traveling into the future. Every new invention he’d encountered astounded him. The first time he’d been transported in a moving automobile, a magnificent creation for moving across the countryside on land, he’d gaped at the amount of distance it was able to cover in such a short time. Not as much distance as a rip, but still amazing.

In another time rip, large winged contraptions called “airplanes” flew safely high in the sky, above the clouds, over oceans, moving cargo and people too far off distant lands without the help of a gateway. It blew his mind away.

And he’d been so impressed with the telephone he’d purposely traveled back in time to spend days with Alexander watching him master his invention.

But these were the reasons the elders warily watched him now. Their warning for him to stop time traveling the future rips hadn’t gone unheard; simply unheeded. He couldn’t recall when anyone had put them in charge. He didn’t see the need to obey their orders.

As always, merely thinking about those travels sent a thrill of exhilaration through his blood, a desire to travel into the future more, a need to live forever. Although everyone thought eternity was impossible, the accuracy he would present to them proved the possibilities. They could live forever, travel forever, and rule the entire Lexcon community without fear of losing their position. They simply had to listen. But he knew they never would.

So, instead, he had concocted this plan involving the brave couple that waited for him now, hidden behind the back door. They were the first step in his master plan.

Both in their late teens, they had blindly accepted his suggestions−solidifying his plan. When they saw him, they rushed him through the hallways of the quiet house, careful not to wake anyone. The couple ushered him in and shut the door to the gatekeeper’s private library behind them.

When they were sure no one had heard their steps, their bickering began. Their loud, evaluating whispers ticked along with the wall clock, glancing at him periodically. He heard their apprehension and worry in the tone of their voices, but didn’t miss the excitement, too. Even though this mother-to-be was a Gatekeeper, with duties and responsibilities to the position she upheld, she was also human and carried human emotions.

“Our parents will be disappointed in us,” she said. She hadn’t started to show yet, but would any day and then it would be too late for an abortion. She’d be shipped away for a full term pregnancy as all Gatekeepers were. He anticipated the day she gave birth, the butterfly effect of his plan.

The father-to-be put his hands on his soulmate’s arms. “He’s proved himself to us,” he assured her. “We can trust him to keep the baby safe.” 

The teary-eyed girl looked away from her soulmate and to the man who would change their lives. “You will protect my baby?” she asked, not for the first time. 

He stepped away from the shadows by the door and into the dim light above them. “Yes,” he said. “Your child will grow up to live a full and meaningful life. The future of our society. Your child will make things right where so much has gone wrong.”

Hope filled the mother-to-be’s eyes and she wiped away the few tears that slipped down her cheek. She looked back at the father-to-be, a man she’d consummated with before she should have. This was another surprise he discovered about people in the future, they all disobeyed the laid out rules of Lexcon.

Bonding, while intimate, seldom involved sex, but was rather a blending of the souls. Back in his time, it was rare two people would be together intimately before bonding, but here, it seemed a constant occurrence. And here, they had no idea that these babies they referred to as Unborns, were indeed born, but wasn’t that all part of his plan? 

“Okay,” she said, interrupting his thoughts. “Tell us what we have to do.” 

A wickedly wonderful feeling pulsed through him at her acceptance of his plan. He had been smart to leave out a few minor details, like her death, but sacrifice for the bigger future outweighed her right to know.

Once Lexcon was his, why couldn’t he rule earth too?

He put his arms around both of them. “Alright, listen closely...”

The people on earth, who were not part of the secret society of Lexcon, the community who made sure time remained untainted, would soon learn of Lexcon and the powers it held.

 

 


 

Chapter One

SHE CLIMBED OUT of bed before the crack of dawn and before he rolled over to wish her a good morning. Like that was ever going to happen again. A good morning. Ha!

Pulling on her jeans, Brea glanced at her husband, Jax Winters sprawled out in his king-size bed. The magnificent mahogany was hand brushed with gold accents, and had likely been in his family forever...just like the rest of Brea’s life was now fated to be: in his family forever.

A soft glow radiated from antique sconce lights outside the bedroom window, casting a golden illumination across the bed...across him. She swore he purposely slept with the sheets only inches below his waist on purpose, showing off his defined pelvic muscles simply to bait her, to lure her undeniable spirit, and forcing her to make the next move.

But he could look forward to a long string of chilly nights because Brea wasn’t easily baited.

She felt her body warm and her mouth grow dry, betraying her. Her soul yearned for him, but she would not bow down.

For a brief moment, while the sun was still below the horizon, she envisioned his sleepy morning grin. It was adorable, no denying it, and lazy, like his morning routine: wake up and run his fingers through his thick, dark, wavy hair. It usually followed with Jax leaning across the kitchen island counter wearing only his briefs, sipping black coffee and flipping through the paper, waiting for the rest of the house to wake up for breakfast. His overgrown hair and the scruff around his distinct jaw line suited his personality. His eyes melted her good sense away, especially in the morning. They were drowsy, sparkling gems, but the color of the most brilliant emeralds.

Why couldn’t she have been destined to an ugly man, making it easy to resist him? Jax was gorgeous and sexy, with a hint of arrogance, a feature even she found attractive and repulsed by at the same time.

But still, she had denied him and had pushed him away time and again, refusing their bond.

Some called her destiny a great privilege. She called it doomed to a cage with no key.

Brea would never get used to her new name, or her new supposed family. What a bland last name for a family of Gatekeepers. Winters. The Sterling Gatekeepers from the south, the Eastons Gatekeepers from the east, or even the Nightendale Gatekeepers from the north, all had superior sounding surnames, and all four were as equally significant in the Lexcon ranking.

Brea was not a Gatekeeper, but only a lowly Second. Gatekeepers and Seconds bloodlines ran from the first ancestors of Lexcon, an elite, secret society, unknown to human men. Those who were born bearing the birthmark of their status followed the fate of their marks. Gatekeepers branded the birthmark to time-travel through the rips of time. Seconds, the mark deeming they served the Gatekeepers. The progression of order had been developed from the beginning of time and even in the twenty-first century it still remained. Gatekeepers and Seconds were governed by Council, who resided on earth, and they, in turn obeyed the Elders who remained in a time rip of Lexcon.

Gatekeepers, like Jax, held the highest ranking jobs. Each descendant born and raised to ensure time remained untainted and unchanged. If the past became altered, a Gatekeeper trio of siblings were sent back in time by the elders of Lexcon to repair it.

They were like superheroes, admired by the insignificant members, the Seconds, of Lexcon.

Well...most Seconds. Brea wouldn’t doubt Seconds thought the Gatekeepers actually wore capes on their missions...not that she could confirm or deny whether they did. But the hush-hush community kept the Seconds in the dark about the lives of the Gatekeepers−something Brea had resented from early on.

Brea could feel her resentment rising now, before the sun, and dark like the hour, while foreseeing another long, excruciating day.

Jax might be the Winters first born son, highly respected, highly groveled at by the women who drooled over such power, with their obvious stares and unmistakable lip licking, carrying jealousy they hadn’t been born with the birthmark that bonded Brea to Jax. But Brea saw him as no more than a man, not only damned in his own position as the current Key Keeper, the man who opened the gates for time ripping, but who also gave her future a grim hopelessness.

Brea scrubbed her hand over the side of her neck where the Winters family crest branded her skin, as if enough rubbing would erase it.

Branded. Destiny. Forever.

Brea tore her eyes away from Jax, even his name was irritatingly sexy, and grabbed a sweater on her way out of his suite.

Right now, she wanted to throttle her parents and two sisters for leaving her here. Abandoning her in this huge, cold mansion where all the Winters lived under one enormous roof. Three generations of the Winters family Brea was forced to face every single day, for the rest of her life.

She clenched her fists, aggravated. If she were that close to her siblings, she would want to strangle them, lock her door and remain alone forever.

Brea traipsed about the third floor of the west wing, down corridors carpeted with blood-red rugs over darkly stained wood floors. She trailed her hand along the velvet-papered wall and then pulled it away in disgust. Her eyes found it hard to adjust to the dim lighting from the wall sconces as she made her way down the unaccustomed hallway.

After all, it’d only been three days.

Her mission this morning was to locate the front door on her own before the household roared to life. A mass of servants staffed the mansion like some ancient castle, assigned to duties both indoors and out.

Brea couldn’t handle another day of his family’s disapproving looks over Brea and Jax’s bonding not yet completed.

  1. The union she didn’t want, sent cold shivers down her spine now. A union her maddening birthmark had branded her with at birth.

Why couldn’t she have been branded to another Second? She was a Second. She liked being a Second. Sure, they weren’t the highest rank, like the intolerable Gatekeepers, and Seconds were considered nobodies until they were bonded to a Gatekeeper. But without the Winters’ mark, her future would have been her own, allowing her the opportunity to fall in love with any unmarried Second of her choice. Real love. Not branded to some oversized, macho Gatekeeper.

Every time she doubted her duty, she felt the distinct pull from her mark to her soul, reminding her that it was her destiny and not her choice. The sensation wasn’t physically painful. It didn’t burn or itch, but rather swirled an emotional war inside her, tossing her between her obligations as a Gatekeepers wife, and her want of something entirely different.

Brea stopped walking, feeling trapped in her own body. Everything about this situation was wrong and yet, everyone said it was right. Her parents, her teachers, her so-called friends, every person involved. And if she tried to change it, the Gatekeepers would get sent back through time to make it right. It was an impossible feat. An impossible fight.

She looked around.

Where was she? 

Lost, in the dark, in a house full of overruling Winters and their loyal staff.

“I guess there was no hanky-panky last night in the Key Keepers wing...”

Brea jumped at Gabrielle Winters’ whisper. Jax’s sister. The youngest sibling of three. Brea found her less irritating than the rest. Her smile warmer, her words less superior. But, she was still a Gatekeeper, and, so, Brea had been busted sneaking out of the house by a Winters.

Great. A great start to another condemning day.

Gabrielle stepped out of the shadows as Brea covered her pounding heart with a hand. Gabrielle wore a fluffy pink housecoat that hung just above her bare knees. The color contrasted with her usual lively energy. Her mass of black curls poked out in every direction, but her green eyes triggered on Brea. These Winters had a way of not backing down. They knew how to make a person squirm...like the way Brea was doing right now.

“He’s not so bad,” Gabrielle said, in her soft, almost understanding tone.

Of course, she would say that. They were siblings, close siblings and connected by the Gate. Each Gatekeeper from the trio had their own duties in order to time travel together. Jax was the Key Keeper. Gabrielle the Visionary. Their middle brother, Declan, the Healer. They were bonded together in their own, special way. So, who was Gabrielle to judge her? Who were any of these Winters to judge her? 

Brea straightened, taking a deep breath before speaking. 

“I wouldn’t know. I’ve only met him three days ago.” Brea didn’t continue to point out that since her and Jax had said their vows, the first step in their bonding ritual, Jax had disappeared every day and not returned until night fell. Then, when he’d returned to their bed, he’d been like a cat prowling under the sheets for a midnight snack.

He hadn’t even courted her. Gatekeepers courted their soulmates, but not Jax. Apparently, he couldn’t find time from his busy schedule for her, but thought she would jump into bed with him after less than ten complete sentences between them.

Technically, they were sharing the same bed, but that was a whole lot of stubbornness on both their behalves.

Gabrielle’s face turned a shade of pity, knowing Brea didn’t comprehend all that their lives entailed. “There’s a reason–”

“I might not be a Gatekeeper, but I’m not dense,” Brea snapped, hating their vision of her.

“I didn’t mean it like that...”

Brea rolled her eyes. She didn’t want to fall apart in front of Gabrielle, or any of them, but the entire family treated her worse than a child.

“Besides, when you bond, you will be a Gatekeeper,” Gabrielle said.

Brea didn’t want to be a Gatekeeper.

Her birthmark itched with objection, and she rubbed it again. Her hands always seemed to be drawn to it.

Gabrielle stepped out of the way and pointed in the direction she’d just come. “Follow this hall to the end, turn right, and it will take you to the stairs which lead to the foyer.” She dropped her hands, clasping them together in front of her. “If that’s where you’re trying to go.”

“Thank you.” Brea scurried away without another word.

It wasn’t like Brea intended to leave forever. It wasn’t possible now, or had ever been, but she couldn’t handle looking at her birthmark every single day with the reminder that it controlled her...almost as much as the man himself. It would drive her insane. No longer under the severe scrutiny of her parents, gave her the opportunity to make the mark, which bound her to Jax, her own. She planned to do that by visiting the tattoo parlor in town.

Brea’s insides snickered at Jax’s reaction upon her return home to find the birthmark he craved to touch no longer matched to his own.

She pulled the silver keys she’d “borrowed” from her new husband out of her pocket and found his big, bad machine waiting for her in the garage.

One bonus to being married to Jax Winters, the first born Winters Gatekeeper, was that he liked danger. After a life of reservation and obeying rules, Brea was in need of some excitement.

 

 

 


 

Chapter Two 

JAX FINISHED HIS second glass of his regular morning routine: Chocolate flavored protein shake with soy milk. It was the perfect combination of what every meal should be: sweet with a dash of healthy. Plus, it was great for his workouts.

“Throw that rubbish in the trash,” his mother, Annalieese, said, slapping the back of his head as she walked by. She looked beautiful as ever for such an early hour, in her pressed beige suit and her hair styled in a sleek bob below her ears. “Millie has prepared us a breakfast buffet of eggs, fresh bread and fruit and you sneak off into the kitchen to eat...” She made a disgusted look that didn’t enhance the young features of her smooth face. “...rubbish.” 

Jax chuckled, planning to follow his protein drinks with a hearty egg breakfast. “Mother, it’s extra protein–”

Annalieese held up her hand to stop him from continuing. “I don’t want to hear the healthy benefits of processed garbage.” She slanted him a curious look. “I don’t understand how you continually sneak these containers of powder inside this house.” 

Jax simply grinned at her, sending her the charming look he’d used as a child to get out of trouble, not daring to tell her that Millie, their maid, smuggled him a new container each time Annalieese threw his into the garbage.

“My lips are sealed,” Jax said, instead.

“That’s the only thing you’ve got sealed,” Victor Winters grumbled, making his way into the room.

Jax stiffened, suddenly losing his appetite. He wished he’d sat with the family in the formal dining room to avoid the criticism he knew would follow here in the kitchen.

Victor stood next to Annalieese. Like all the Winters men, his chest spanned a wide breadth, twice the size of that of his slim wife’s. A formidable figure, except around his wife. Victor’s rigid body softened now as he leaned in to kiss his wife’s cheek. He whispered something in her ear that made her giggle and turn a light hue of pink.

Jax wanted that with his wife. He looked forward to the special moments between only him and Brea. However, if they kept up the way they were going, they would grow old beating each other over the head with their canes.

He felt an inner grin grow, picturing Brea tackling him with her cane. But the grin was short lived, with Victor’s implications of Jax’s inability to complete his bonding with Brea sitting fresh on the surface.

All Gatekeepers had their wives bonded after their vows, a ceremony similar to a wedding. But Brea wasn’t like most marked women and when they’d finally been alone for the first time, she’d rejected his advances to bond, sending Jax into a world of confusion.

Bonding was a two-step ritual in the Gatekeeper society. Jax and Brea had completed the first step when they’d said their vows during the ceremony days ago. To finish bonding, Jax and Brea needed to connect their birthmarks by simultaneously touching the others to unite their half souls into one, completing them.

Brea however, wasn’t ready to accept her destiny with Jax. A warning that his future wife wasn’t interested in becoming the wife of a Gatekeeper would have been helpful to prepare him for her cold shoulder and the space she required to adapt. Her lack of enthusiasm also explained why there had been a delay in their meeting. Marked couples usually met in advance. Jax didn’t know another couple who had stayed apart until the day of the vows. Of course, bonding and intimacy before their vows wasn’t permitted. He didn’t plan on doing any such thing. He longed to take her out to dinner, maybe a movie instead.

Jax had certainly never heard of a couple not bonding the night of the vow ceremony. He was making history with Brea. He wouldn’t be surprised if her rebellion to marry a Gatekeeper stemmed from the excuses her family had used to prevent their meeting.

Brea’s attitude, as strong and independent as it was, and as much as Jax respected her for it, was also considered disrespectful, and in turn, could shame her family.

Jax could picture Brea causing an uproar with her family. She did just that each night she denied him access to her birthmark.

A smile crept to his lips.

“What are you grinning about?” his father growled. “You can’t even acquire enough control to compel her to have breakfast with us. Hiding away in your wing...” He shook his head. “Disrespectful. Almost as much as living under my roof without bonding. Did you bond last night?”

Jax’s jaw tightened as he said, “No.”

A string of curses and threats, Jax didn’t take to heart, followed. Victor’s disposition was obvious, but it wasn’t of a cruel nature but rather his parental duty. Jax understood his father’s quick-temper and respected the scoldings in regards to their time travel rips. Gatekeepers could never know enough, but when it came to Brea, Jax wasn’t as understanding of his dad making their relationship his business.

Brea missing breakfast pulled Jax from his thoughts. “Brea’s not in the sunroom? I thought she was eating breakfast.”

His father shook his head, with another round of dissatisfied grumblings.  

“You lost her?” His father’s face reddened further. The more this conversation developed, the angrier Victor became.

“I didn’t lose her,” Jax snapped.

He simply didn’t know her current whereabouts. And since when did vows transform him into a control freak, who needed to keep tabs on his wife’s every movement? Brea was her own person. If she wanted to skip out on breakfast, he wasn’t about to drag her downstairs kicking and screaming.

The thought amused him, but he didn’t dare crack another smile in front of his dad. Besides...where was Brea?

His father continued ranting, shaking his head as he made his way out the door, grumbling more about this lazy, ignorant generation of disrespectful Gatekeepers.

Jax would have loved to see what his dad had been like at Jax’s age. He couldn’t envision Victor ever trying to control Annalieese or force her into anything she didn’t want to do. He also couldn’t see his mother forcing Victor into the difficult predicament Brea was in with Jax.

“Jax’s quiet bedroom ticked off Papa Bear,” Gabrielle said, walking into the kitchen. She also held the wick of a firecracker, but in a different way. His sister would never go against the rules of their society, but she wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion.

Gabrielle stopped between Jax and their mother, a mischievous smile appearing across her red painted lips. “I love that our family has suddenly gone from ‘don’t you dare get intimate’ to wanting us to score.”

Annalieese frowned at her daughter. “Bonding has nothing to do with scoring. It is a sacred moment between two souls as they come together as one. I don’t appreciate you degrading it.”

“Don’t you want grandbabies?” Gabrielle asked, unfazed by their mother’s disapproval. “I know you do. Jax’s kids are the future Winters Gatekeepers and if he doesn’t get bonded first, he might end up with an Unborn.”

“Gabrielle,” Annalieese scolded, in an outraged tone. “That’s enough from you.” She spoke to Gabrielle, but her eyes pursued Jax’s eyes, searching for whether Brea and he had been intimate before bonding.

Jax could’ve wrung his sister’s neck for putting the fear and panic into in his mother’s eyes. “No,” Jax said softly to Annalieese. “Brea and I haven’t had sex yet.” Annalieese sighed in relief, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.

Jax understood Annalieese’s fear and he knew Gabrielle did too, but he wasn’t sure why she would bring up Unborns, and even more, suggest the possibility of him impregnating Brea with an Unborn.

The risks of giving birth to an Unborn had been instilled into the heads of the Lexcon children throughout their school years in order to prevent babies conceived between an unbonded couple. No Unborn babies survived conception, which was why they were given the title “Unborn”. However, it wasn’t the fear they drove into the young hormonal kids, but rather the possibility of death for the mother if she tried to go to term with an Unborn.

In Jax’s life he’d never heard of an Unborn in their division of the Lexcon community and he sure wasn’t going to man known for producing one.

After a long, silent glare at Gabrielle, Annalieese said nothing more and left the kitchen, taking Jax’s protein shake in the process and tossing the entire contents, thermos and all, in the trash can.

Gabrielle made a face. “She’s sensitive today.”

Jax stood and said, “A little.”

Why was everyone so tense? It had only been three days. They had their whole lives ahead of them to bond, get to know each other, and to fall in love. 

“Have you seen Brea today?” Jax asked.

The look on Gabrielle’s face said she had seen his wife and screamed there was more that he didn’t want to know.

“Where is she?” he asked. 

Gabrielle tilted her head and her long black hair fell across one shoulder. “Do you notice how Brea is always running her hands across her birthmark with that little flicker of annoyance?” she asked.

He hadn’t seen Brea enough to take that notion into consideration.

“And then, take note, she likes ink...”

He hadn’t missed Brea’s tattoos, the ones he could see anyway. And his mind had toyed with the possibility of covered ones he had yet to see.

Gabrielle let the words play out in Jax’s mind. When he finally stopped thinking about Brea naked, he realized the implication of his sister’s words. 

Brea was going to tattoo over her birthmark. Great. Just bloody great.

“I caught her sneaking out this morning,” Gabrielle continued, and not a second too soon. 

“And you didn’t bother to stop her or tell me earlier than this moment?” he snarled.

Gabrielle shrugged. “Actually, I told her how to find the front door.”

“Gabby!”

“What? This place is a horrible maze and she was lost.”

“In the future, leave her lost. On the premises.”

Gabrielle bit her lower lip but Jax didn’t want to hear the rest.

“Then I heard your bike come to life...”

Jax grimaced.

“Son of a...” He inhaled deeply. “Get your keys because you’re driving me into town.”