|09-02-11, 02:31 AM||#1|
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Face the Fire - Nora Roberts
"Face the Fire" is a fantastic read and I will most definitely read it again. It was wonderful to see lots of Nell & Zack and Ripley & Mac in this novel (the main characters from the two previous books in the trilogy). Mia is a wonderfully strong and courageous heroine who readers will become very attached to. And though it's fun watching Sam squirm when he first arrives on Three Sisters, he will win readers over with his sincere devotion to Mia and keeping her safe. This book is full of magic and romance, and contains a lovely tale of true love and destiny that I found irresistible. "Face the Fire" comes highly recommended, so buy it today
التعديل الأخير تم بواسطة silvertulip21 ; 10-05-12 الساعة 11:42 PM
|09-02-11, 02:35 AM||#2|
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THREES ISTERSI SLAND
S EPTEMBER1702 H er heart was broken. The jagged shards of it stabbed at her soul until each hour, each moment, of what her life had become was a misery. Even her children—those she had carried in her body, those she carried for her lost sisters—were no comfort. Nor was she, to her great shame, any comfort to them. She had left them, even as their father had left them. Her husband, her lover, her heart, had returned to the sea, and the parts of her that were hope and love and magic had died that day. Even now he would not remember the years they’d had together, the joy of them. He would not remember her, or their sons, their daughters, the life they’d made on the island. Such was his nature. Such was her fate. And her sisters’, she thought as she stood on the cliffs she loved, above a sea that boiled and bucked. They, too, had been fated to love and to lose. The one who was Air had loved a handsome face and kind words that had disguised a beast. A beast who had shed her blood. He had murdered her for what she was, and she had not used her power to stop him. And so the one who was Earth had raged and grieved and built her hatred stone by stone until it had become a wall that no one could breach. She had used her power for vengeance, forsaken her Craft, and embraced the dark. Now the dark closed in, and she who was Fire was alone with her pain. She could fight it no longer, could find no purpose for her own life. The dark whispered to her in the night, its sly voice full of lies. Even knowing them for what they were, she was tempted by them. Her circle was broken, and she could not, would not, withstand alone. She felt it, creeping closer now, sliding along the ground in a filthy fog. It hungered. Her death would feed it, and still she could not face life. [IMG]file:///C:/DOCUME%7E1/Master/LOCALS%7E1/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg[/IMG] She lifted her arms so the flame of her hair snapped in the wind that she called up with a breath. She had such powers left in her. And the sea howled in response, the ground beneath her shuddered. Air and Earth and Fire—and the Water that had given her great love, then had stolen it away again. This last time they were hers to command again. Her children would be safe, she had seen to that. Their nurse would tend them, teach them, and the gift, the brightness, would be passed down. The darkness licked along her skin. Cold, cold kisses. She teetered on the edge, will straining against will as the storm within her, and the storm she’d conjured, raged. This island, that she and her sisters had conjured for safety from the ravages of those who would hunt and kill them, she thought, would be lost. All would be lost. You are alone, the darkness murmured. You are in pain. End the loneliness. End the pain. And so she would, but she would not forsake her children, or the children who came from them. Power was still in her, and the strength and wit to wield it. “A hundred years times three, this isle of the sisters is safe from thee.” From her reaching fingers, light whipped, spun, a circle in a circle. “My children your hand cannot reach. They will live and learn and teach. And when my spell comes undone, three more will rise to form the one. A circle of sisters joined in power to stand and face the darkest hour. Courage and trust, justice with mercy, love without boundaries are the lessons three. They must, by free will, join to face their destiny. If this they fail, one, two, or three, this island will sink into the sea. But if they turn back the dark, this place will never bear your mark. This spell is the last cast by me. As I will, so mote it be.” The darkness snatched at her as she leaped, but could not reach her. As she plunged toward the sea, she hurled her power around the island, where her children slept, like a silver net. One
|09-02-11, 02:36 AM||#3|
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I t had been more than ten years since he’d stood on the island. Over a decade since he’d seen—except in his mind—the wedges of forest, the scatter of houses, the curve of beach and cove. And the drama of the cliffs where the stone house stood beside the white lance of the island lighthouse. He shouldn’t have been so surprised by the pull and tug, or by the sheer simplicity of pleasure. Sam Logan was rarely surprised. But the delight in seeing what had changed, and what hadn’t, surprised him by its depth.
He’d come home and hadn’t realized, not completely, what that meant to him until he’d gotten there. He parked near the ferry dock because he wanted to walk, to smell the salty spring air, to hear the voices from the boats, to see the life flowing along on the little bump of land off the coast ofMassachusetts .
And perhaps, he admitted, because he wanted a little more time to prepare himself before seeing the woman he’d come back for.
He didn’t expect a warm welcome. The fact was, he didn’t know what to expect from Mia. Once he had. He’d known every expression on her face, every inflection of her voice. Once she would have been standing on the dock to meet him, her glorious red hair flying, her smoky eyes alight with pleasure and promise.
He’d have heard her laugh as she raced into his arms.
Those days were over, he thought as he climbed the road toward High Street and the stretch of pretty shops and offices. He’d ended them, and had exiled himself, deliberately, from the island and from Mia. Now, he was deliberately ending that exile.
In the time between, the girl he’d left behind had become a woman. A businesswoman, he thought with a half laugh. No surprise there. Mia had always had a head for business and a view for profit. He intended to use that, if need be, to wheedle his way back into her good graces. Sam didn’t mind wheedling, as long as he won.
He turned on High Street and paused to take a long look at the Magick Inn. The Gothic stone building was the island’s only hotel, and it belonged to him. He had some ideas that he intended to implement there, now that his father had finally released the reins.
But business would wait, for once, until the personal was dealt with. He continued walking, pleased to see that while traffic was light, it was steady. Business on the island, he decided, was as good as reported.
He had a long stride, and it ate up the sidewalk quickly. He was a tall man, nearly three inches over six feet, with a rangy, disciplined build more accustomed in the last years to tailored suits than the black jeans he wore today. The long dark coat he wore against the brisk breeze of early May billowed behind him as he walked.
His hair was black as well and, windblown now from the ferry ride from the mainland, swept past his collar. His face was lean, the long bones of his cheeks well defined. The planes and angles were softened somewhat by a full and sculpted mouth, and with those black wings of hair flying back, presented a dramatic picture.
His eyes were alert as they scanned what had been, and would be again, his home. Somewhere between blue and green, they were the color of the sea that surrounded the house, framed by dark lashes and brows.
He used his looks when it suited him, just as he used charm or ruthlessness. Whatever tools came to hand were employed to reach his goal. He’d already accepted that it would take everything at his disposal to win Mia Devlin.
From across the street, he studied Café Book. He should have known Mia would have taken what had been a neglected building and turned it into something lovely, elegant, and productive. The front window held a display of books and potted spring flowers scattered around a lawn chair. Two of her deepest loves, he mused. Books and flowers. She’d used them both in a way that suggested it was time to take a break from the yardwork, sit down, and enjoy the fruits of the labor with a ride in a story. Even as he watched, a couple of tourists—he hadn’t been away so long he couldn’t tell tourists from islanders—walked into the bookstore.
He stood where he was, hands in his pockets, until he realized he was procrastinating. There was little more turbulent than Mia Devlin in full temper. He expected her to lash out at him in blistering fury the minute she laid eyes on him again.
And who could blame her?
Then again, he thought with a grin, there was little more arousing than Mia Devlin in full temper. It would be . . . entertaining to strike swords with her again. Just as it would be satisfying to soothe that temper away.
He crossed the street and opened the door to Café Book.
Lulu was behind the counter. He’d have recognized her anywhere. The tiny woman with a gnome’s face almost swallowed up by silver-framed glasses had, essentially, raised Mia. The Devlins had been more interested in each other and traveling than in their daughter, and Lulu, the former flower child, had been hired to tend her.
Because Lulu was ringing up a customer’s purchases, he had a moment to look around the store. The ceiling was pricked with lights for a starry effect and made the prospect of browsing through the books a festive one. A cozy seating area was arranged in front of a fireplace with a hearth, scrubbed and polished, used as a haven for more spring flowers. The scent of them sweetened the air, as did the pipes and flutes playing softly on the speaker system.
Glossy blue shelves held books—an impressive array, he reflected as he wandered through, and as eclectic as he would have expected of the proprietor. No one would ever accuse Mia of having a one-track mind.
His lips quirked as he saw that other shelves held ritual candles, Tarot cards, runes, statues of faeries, wizards, dragons. An attractive arrangement of another of Mia’s interests, he thought. He’d have expected nothing else there, either.
He plucked a tumbling stone of rose quartz from a bowl, rubbed it between his fingers for luck. Though he knew better. Before he could replace it, he felt a blast of frigid air. Smiling easily, he turned to face Lulu.
“Always knew you’d come back. Bad pennies always turn up.”
التعديل الأخير تم بواسطة Dalyia ; 09-02-11 الساعة 03:34 AM
|09-02-11, 02:39 AM||#4|
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This was his first barrier, the dragon at the gate. “Hello, Lu.”
“Don’t you hello-Lu me, Sam Logan.” She sniffed, skimmed her gaze over him. Sniffed a second time.
“You buying that or do I call the sheriff and have you hauled in for shoplifting?”
He laid the stone back in the bowl. “How is Zack?”
“Ask him yourself, I don’t have time to waste on you.” Though he had her by a foot in height, she stepped forward, jabbed her finger at him, and made him feel twelve years old again. “What the hell do you want?”
“To see home. To see Mia.”
“Why don’t you do everybody a favor and go back to where you’ve been gallivanting these past years?New York City ,Paris , and oo-la-la. We’ve all done fine without you taking up space on the Sisters.”
“Apparently.” He gave the store another casual look. He wasn’t offended. A dragon, in his mind, was meant to be devoted to its princess. In his memory, Lulu had always been up to the job. “Nice place. I hear the café’s particularly good. And that Zack’s new wife runs it.”
“Your hearing’s just fine. So listen up. Go on and get.”
Not offended, no, but his eyes turned edgy, the green in them deepening. “I came to see Mia.”
“She’s busy. I’ll tell her you stopped by.”
“No, you won’t,” he said quietly. “But she’ll know in any case.”
Even as he spoke, he heard the sound of heels on wood. It could have been a dozen women, descending the curving steps in high heels. But he knew. As his heart stumbled in his chest, he stepped around the bookshelves and saw her just as she made the last turn.
And the look, that one look at her, sliced him into a thousand pieces. The princess, he thought, had become the queen.
She’d always been the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen. The transition from girl to woman had only added polished layers to that beauty. Her hair was as he remembered it, a long tumble of flaming curls around a face of rose and cream. That skin, he remembered, was as soft as dew. Her nose was small and straight, her mouth wide and full. And he remembered, perfectly remembered, the texture and flavor. Her eyes were smoke-gray, almond-shaped, and watched him now with a studied coolness. She smiled, and that, too, was cool, as she walked toward him.
Her dress, a dull gold, clung to her curves, showed off long, long legs. The heels she wore were the same tone and made her look like something glowing with heat. But he felt no warmth from her as she arched a brow and looked at him in turn.
“Well, it’s Sam Logan, isn’t it? Welcome back.”
Her voice was deeper, just a few degrees deeper than it had been once upon a time. Sultrier, smokier, silkier. It seemed to wind its way into his belly even as he puzzled over her polite smile and detached welcome.
“Thanks.” Deliberately, he matched her tone. “It’s good to be back. You look amazing.”
“We do what we can.”
She tossed back her hair. There were citrine stones at her ears. The details of her, down to the rings on her fingers, the subtle scent that surrounded her, etched themselves into his mind. For an instant, he tried to read hers but found the language foreign and frustrating.
“I like your bookstore,” he said, careful to keep his voice casual. “Or what I’ve seen of it.”
“Well, we’ll have to give you the grand tour. Lulu, you have customers.”
“I know what I’ve got,” Lulu muttered. “It’s a workday, isn’t it? You don’t have time to go showing this one around the place.”
“Lulu.” Mia merely angled her head, a quiet warning. “I’ve always got a few minutes for an old friend. Come upstairs, Sam, see the café.” She started back up, her hand trailing along the rail. “You may have heard that a mutual friend of ours, Zack Todd, was married last winter. Nell’s not only a close friend of mine but she’s a spectacular cook as well.”
Sam paused at the top of the stairs. It annoyed him that he had to get his bearings, seek his balance. The scent of her was turning him inside out.
The second floor was just as welcoming as the first, with the added enticement of a bustling café on one end and all the wonderful aromas, of spices, coffee, rich chocolate, that wafted from it. The display glass sparkled in front of a dazzling selection of baked goods and salads. Fragrant smoke streamed from an enormous kettle where even now a pretty blonde ladled out soup for a waiting customer.
Windows on the far wall let in glimpses of the sea.
“It’s terrific.” That, at least, he could say without qualification. “Just terrific, Mia. You must be very proud of what you’ve done here.”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
There was a bite, a quick, nasty nip, in the tone that had him looking back at her. But she only smiled again, gestured with an elegant hand that sparkled with rings. “Hungry?”
“More than I’d counted on.”
A glimpse of that bite snapped, for an instant, in those smoke-gray depths before she turned and led the way to the counter. “Nell, I have a man with an appetite.”
“Then he’s come to the right place.” Nell grinned, her dimples fluttering, her blue eyes friendly when they met Sam’s. “Our soup of the day is chicken curry. Special salad is shrimp diablo, and the sandwich of
the day is grilled pork and tomato on olive loaf. Plus our regular fare,” she added, tapping the counter menu, “with our vegetarian offerings.”
Zack’s wife, Sam thought. It was one thing to realize that his oldest friend had taken the plunge and another to see the reason why. It gave him yet one more jolt.
“Quite a selection.”
“We like to think so.”
“You can’t make a bad choice when Nell’s prepared it,” Mia told him. “I’ll just leave you in her capable hands for the moment. I do have work. Oh, Nell, I should have introduced you. This is an old friend of Zack’s, Sam Logan. Enjoy your lunch,” she said, then walked away.
Sam watched surprise race over Nell’s pretty face, then every bit of warmth drain away. “What can I get you?”
“Just coffee for now. Black. How’s Zack?”
“He’s very well, thank you.”
Sam drummed his fingers on his thigh. Another guard at the gate, he thought, and no less formidable than the dragon, for all the soft looks. “And Ripley? I heard she got married just last month.”
“She’s very well and very happy.” Nell’s mouth formed a firm, unwelcoming line as she set his coffee in a to-go cup on the counter. “No charge. I’m sure Mia doesn’t want, or need, your money. They serve a very nice lunch at the Magick Inn, as I’m sure you know.”
“Yes, I know.” A pretty kitten, and very sharp claws, Sam mused. “Do you think Mia needs your protection, Mrs. Todd?”
“I think Mia can handle anything.” She smiled now, thin as a blade. “Absolutely anything.”
Sam picked up his coffee. “So do I,” he agreed, then wandered off in the direction Mia had gone. The bastard. Once she was behind the closed door of her office, Mia let out a splinter of the rage. Even that had books and knickknacks on her shelves rattling and jumping. That he would have the nerve, the insensitivity, the stupidity to waltz into her store.
To stand there and smile at her as if he expected her to shout for joy and jump into his arms. And to look baffled when she hadn’t.
She clenched her fists, and a thin crack snaked across the glass of her window. She’d known the moment he’d walked in. Just as she’d known the instant he’d come onto the island. It had washed over her, flooded into her, as she’d sat at her desk completing a stock order. Pain, shock, joy, fury, all so intense, all so immediate, she’d been dizzy from them. One stunning emotion slamming into another, leaving her weak and trembling.
And she’d known he was back.
Eleven years. He’d walked away from her, leaving her hurting and helpless and hopeless. It still shamed her to remember the quivering mass of confusion and grief she’d been for weeks after he’d gone. But she’d rebuilt her life on the ashes of the dreams that Sam had burned beneath her. She’d found her focus, and a kind of steady contentment.
Now he was back.
She could only thank the fates that her foreknowledge had given her time to compose herself. How humiliating it would have been if she’d seen him before she’d had a chance to prepare herself. And how satisfying it had been to see that flicker of surprise and puzzlement cross his face at her cool and casual greeting.
She was stronger now, she reminded herself. She was no longer the girl who had laid her heart, bleeding and broken, at his feet. And there were more—many more—important things in her life now than a man. Love, she thought, could be such a lie. She had no place, and no tolerance, for lies. She had her home, her business, her friends. She had her circle again, and that circle had a purpose. That was enough to sustain her.
At the knock on the door, she blocked her feelings, her thoughts again, then slid onto the chair behind her desk. “Yes, come in.”
She was scanning the data on her monitor when Sam stepped inside. She glanced over absently, with just a hint of a frown in her eyes. “Nothing on the menu to tempt you?”
“I settled for this.” He lifted the coffee, then pried off the top and set it on her desk. “Nell’s very loyal.”
“Loyalty’s a necessary quality in a friend, to my mind.”
He made some sound of agreement, then sipped the coffee. “She also makes superior coffee.”
“A necessary quality in a café chef.” She tapped her fingers on the desk in a gesture of restrained impatience. “Sam, I’m sorry, I don’t want to be rude. You’re more than welcome to enjoy the café, the store. But I have work.”
He studied her for one long moment, but that slightly annoyed expression on her face didn’t waver. “I won’t keep you, then. Why don’t you just give me the keys, and I’ll go off and settle in?”
Baffled, she shook her head. “Keys?”
“To the cottage. Your cottage.”
“My cottage? Why on earth would I give you the keys to the yellow cottage?”
“Because.” Delighted to have finally broken through that polite shield, he drew papers out of his pocket.
“We have a lease.” He set the papers on her desk, leaning back when she snatched them up to read.
“Celtic Circle’s one of my companies,” he explained as she scowled at the names. “And Henry Downing’s one of my attorneys. He leased the cottage for me.”
Her hand wanted to tremble. More, it wanted to strike. Deliberately, she laid it, palm down, on the desk. “Why?”
“I have attorneys do all manner of things for me,” Sam said with a shrug. “Added to that, I didn’t think you would rent it to me. But I did think—was sure—that once a business deal had been made, you’d keep your end.”
She drew in a long breath. “I meant, why do you need the cottage? You have an entire hotel at your disposal.”
“I don’t choose to live in a hotel, nor to live where I work. I want my privacy and my downtime. I won’t get either if I stay at the hotel. Would you have rented it to me, Mia, if I hadn’t gone through the lawyer?”
Her lips curved now, sharply. “Of course. But I’d have bumped up the monthly rent. Considerably.”
He laughed, and more on balance than he’d been since that first sight of her, drank more coffee. “A deal’s a deal, and maybe it was meant to be. Since my parents sold our house to Ripley’s new husband, I can’t set up housekeeping there. Things usually happen the way they’re supposed to happen.”
“Things happen,” was all she said. She opened a drawer, took out a set of keys. “It’s small, and it’s on the rustic side, but I’m sure you’ll make do with it while you’re on the island.”
She set the keys on the desk, on top of his copy of the lease.
“I’m sure I will. Why don’t you have dinner with me tonight? We can catch up.”
“No, thank you.”
He hadn’t meant to ask, not so soon. It irked him that the words had escaped. “Some other time, then.”
He rose, pocketed the keys, the lease. “It’s good to see you again, Mia.”
Before she could evade it, he laid his hand over hers on the desk. Something sparked, visibly. The air sizzled with it.
“Ah,” was all he said, and tightened his grip.
“Take your hand off me.” She kept her voice low, spoke slowly while looking directly into his eyes.
“You have no right to touch me.”
“It was never about rights with us, and all about need.”
Her hand wanted to tremble. Sheer will kept it steady. “There is no us now, and I no longer need you.”
It hurt. A bright, swift pain twisted in his heart. “But you do, and I need you. There’s more to be considered than old, bruised feelings.”
“ ‘Bruised feelings.’ ” She repeated the phrase as if it were a new language. “I see. Be that as it may, you will not touch me without my permission. You don’t have it.”
“We’re going to have to talk.”
“That implies we have something to say to each other.” She allowed some of the anger to surface and coated it with disdain. “Right at this moment, I don’t have anything to say to you. I want you to leave. You have the lease, you have the keys, you have the cottage. That was clever of you, Sam. You always were clever, even as a boy. But this is my office, my store.” My island, she nearly said, but bit it back in time. “And I don’t have time for you.”
When his grip loosened, she slid her hand free. The air cleared. “Let’s not spoil your visit with a scene. I hope you’ll like the cottage. If you have any problems with it, let me know.”
“I will. Enjoy it and let you know.” He turned to the door, opened it. “Oh, Mia, this isn’t a visit. I’m here to stay.”
He saw, with vicious pleasure, her cheeks go pale just before he shut the door. He cursed himself for that, and for bungling the first steps. His mood remained foul as he stalked downstairs and out of the store under Lulu’s steely stare.
He turned away from the docks where he’d parked, away from the cottage where he would live for a while, and headed toward the police station.
He could only hope that Zack Todd, now Sheriff Todd, would be in. By God, Sam thought, he’d like one person, one goddamn person, to welcome him home and mean it.
If he couldn’t count on Zack for that, he was in a very sorry state. He hunched his shoulders against the brisk spring breeze, no longer appreciating it.
She’d brushed him off like a fly. Like a gnat. Not with a slash of temper but with irritation. That snap of connection between them meant something. He had to believe that. But if anyone he knew could hold the line against fate, could press her will against it, it was Mia.
التعديل الأخير تم بواسطة Dalyia ; 09-02-11 الساعة 03:35 AM
|09-02-11, 02:39 AM||#5|
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Stubborn, prideful witch, he thought, then sighed. The fact that she was exactly that had always been part of her appeal for him. Pride and power were hard to resist. Unless he missed his guess, she had more of both now than she’d had at nineteen.
That meant he had his work cut out for him, on a number of levels. He hissed out a breath and shoved open the door to the station house. The man who sat with his feet on the desk and a phone at his ear hadn’t changed much. He’d filled out here, fined down there. His hair was still unruly, still sun-streaked brown. His eyes were the same sharp, pure green.
And they widened as they studied Sam’s face.
“Hey, let me get back to you. I’ll have the paperwork faxed over by end of day. Yeah. Right. I have to go.” Zack swung his feet from desk to floor as he hung up the phone. Then he unfolded himself and stared, grinning, at Sam. “Son of a bitch, it’s Mister New York City.”
“So, look who’s John Law.”
Zack crossed the small office area in three strides on battered high-tops and caught Sam in a bear hug. More than relief rippled through Sam, for here was welcome, and the uncomplicated affection and bone-deep bond that had sprung from childhood.
The years between the boy and the man fell away.
“It’s good to see you,” he managed.
“Right back at you.” Zack eased away, took stock. Pure pleasure flashed in his grin. “Well, you didn’t get fat and bald from sitting behind a desk.”
Sam shot a look at Zack’s cluttered work area. “Neither did you. Sheriff.”
“Yeah, so remember who’s in charge and keep your nose clean on my island. What the hell are you doing here? Want some coffee?”
“If you’re calling what’s in that pot coffee, I’ll pass, thanks. And I’ve got business here. Long-term business.”
Zack pursed his lips as he poured muddy coffee into a mug. “The hotel?”
“For one thing. I bought my parents out. It’s mine now.”
“Bought them—” Zack shrugged, eased a hip onto the corner of the desk.
“My family never did run like yours,” Sam said dryly. “It’s a business. One that my father lost interest in. I haven’t. How are your parents?”
“Dandy. You just missed them. They came in for Ripley’s wedding and stayed nearly a month. I almost thought they’d decided to move back permanently, but then they packed up their Winnebago and headed up toNova Scotia .”
“I’m sorry I won’t get to see them. I’ve heard Rip’s not the only one who got married.”
“Yeah.” Zack lifted his hand where his wedding ring glinted. “I’d hoped you would make it back for the wedding.”
“I wish I could have.” That was a real regret, one of many. “I’m happy for you, Zack. I mean that.”
“I know it. You’ll be happier when you meet her.”
“Oh, I met your wife.” Sam’s smile thinned. “From the smell of that crap you’re drinking, she makes better coffee than you.”
“Ripley made it.”
“Whatever. I’m just grateful your wife didn’t pour hers over my head.”
“Why would she . . . ? Oh.” Zack puffed out his cheeks. “Oh, well, then. Mia.” He rubbed a hand over his chin. “Nell and Mia and Ripley. The fact is—”
He broke off as the door swung open. Ripley Todd Booke, vibrating from the brim of her ball cap to the toes of her scarred boots, glowered at Sam. Her eyes, the same green as her brother’s, shot arrows of resentment.
“Better late than never,” she announced as she started forward. “I’ve been waiting for this for eleven years.”
Zack lunged toward her, caught her around the waist as she swung out. She had, he had reason to know, a keen right cross. “Hold on,” he ordered. “Just hold the hell on.”
“Hasn’t mellowed, has she?” Sam commented. He tucked his hands in his pockets. If she was going to plant a fist in his face, he’d just as soon she get it over with.
“Not a bit.” Zack hefted her off her feet while she cursed at him. Her cap fell off, and her long dark hair tumbled over her furious face. “Sam, why don’t you give me a few minutes here? Ripley, cut it out!” he ordered. “You’re wearing a badge, remember?”
“Then I’ll take it off before I punch him.” She blew her hair out of her eyes and they scorched the air between her and Sam. “He deserves it.”
“Maybe I do,” Sam agreed. “But not from you.”
“Mia’s too much of a damn lady to bust your chops. I’m not.”
He smiled now. “I always liked that about you. I’m renting the yellow cottage,” he told Zack and watched Ripley’s mouth drop open in shock. “Come on by when you have time. We’ll have a beer.”
He decided the shock was complete when she didn’t try to kick him as he walked to the door. He stepped outside again, took another long look at the village.
He’d had a welcome from a friend, even if three women had formed a tight circle of resentment against him.
For better or for worse, he thought, he was home.
T he road to hell, Sam decided, was paved with intentions—and they didn’t have to be good. He’d intended to stride back into Mia’s life, face her fury, her tears, her bitterness. She was entitled to all of those, and he would be the last to deny it.
He would have accepted her rage, her curses, her accusations. He’d intended to give her the opportunity to vent every drop of resentment she had harbored for him. And, of course, he’d intended then to sweep them aside and win her over.
A done deal, in his calculations, in a matter of hours at best, days at worst. They’d been linked since childhood. What was eleven years compared to a bond of blood and heart and power?
But he hadn’t intended to face her cool indifference. Oh, she was angry with him, he thought as he parked in front of the cottage. But overlying the anger was a thick, icy shield. Chipping through that would take more than smiles, explanations, promises, even apologies. Lulu had blasted him, Nell had slapped at him, and Ripley had bared her teeth. Mia had done none of those things, but her response had leveled him as none of the others’ had, or could. It stung to have her look at him with a kind of studied disdain, particularly since seeing her again had stirred all the memories inside him, churning them with fresh spurts of lust, longing. Love. He had loved her, obsessively, outrageously. And that had been the root, or one of the many tangled roots, of the problem.
As he turned it over in his mind, he tapped his fingers idly on the steering wheel. He refused to believe she didn’t still care for him. There had been too much between them, too much of them for there to be nothing left.
And if there’d been nothing, that spark, that one instant of connection when their hands had touched, wouldn’t have happened. He was going to hold on to that, Sam thought as his hands tightened and released on the wheel. Whatever else came down, he was holding on to that one spark. A determined man could build one hell of a blaze from one good spark. Winning her back, doing what must be done, facing what must be faced, would be a challenge. His lips quirked. He’d always enjoyed one.
He would have to do more than chip through Mia’s ice. He’d have to get past the dragon—and Lulu was no pushover. And he’d have to deal with the women who flanked Mia: Nell Todd with her quiet disapproval, and Ripley with her infamous temper.
When a man had to wage a battle against four women, that man had best have a plan. And very thick skin. Or he would be ground to dust in a heartbeat.
He’d work on it. Sam swung out of the car, rounded back to the trunk. There was time. Not as much as he might have liked under the circumstances, but there was time.
He hefted two suitcases out of the trunk, started up the walk. Then stopped and took his first real look at what would be his home for the next weeks.
Well, it was charming, he realized. Neither the photographs he’d studied nor his memory had done the cottage justice. It had been white once, as he recalled, and a bit run-down. The yellow paint warmed it, and the flower beds, just sprouting with spring, cheered it. That would be Mia’s doing, he imagined. She’d always had exquisite taste and clear vision.
She had always known precisely what she wanted.
Another tangled root for him.
The cottage was quaint, tiny and private, on a pretty corner lot that bled into a small wood and was close enough to the water that the rumble of the sea played through the greening trees. It had the advantage of quiet solitude and the convenience of being an easy walk from the village. An excellent investment, Sam thought. Mia would have known that, too. The clever girl, he mused as he continued up the walk, had become a clever woman. He set his suitcases on the stoop and dug out the house keys.
The first thing that struck him when he stepped inside was the warmth of welcome, the smooth, open hand of it. Come in and make this home, the room seemed to say. There were no lingering sensations or energy spurts from previous tenants.
That would be Mia’s doing as well, he was sure. She’d always been a thorough witch. Leaving his suitcases by the door, he took himself on a quick tour. The living room was sparsely but prettily furnished, and split logs had already been laid in the hearth. The floors gleamed, and thin, lacy curtains framed the windows. A female ambience, he thought, but he could live with that. There were two bedrooms, one cozy, the other . . . well, he only needed one. The bath, scrubbed and cheery, was also a narrow box designed to give a tall man with long limbs considerable grief. The kitchen at the back of the house would more than do for his needs. He didn’t cook, and didn’t intend to begin. He opened the back door to find more flower beds, an herb garden already thriving, and a tidy patch of lawn that slid right into the spring woods.
He could hear the sea, and the wind, and, if he listened carefully, the hum of a car heading to the village. Bird-song, and the playful yap of a dog.
He was, Sam realized, alone. With the realization, some of the tension that had gathered in his shoulders eased. He hadn’t understood just how much he craved solitude. It wasn’t a commodity he’d been able to claim in great quantities over the last couple of years.
Nor was it something he’d actively sought in the day-to-day scheme of things. He’d had goals to achieve and points to prove, and such ambitions didn’t allow for the luxury of solitude. He hadn’t understood that he needed to find that serenity of aloneness again, almost as much as he needed to find Mia. Once he had had both whenever he wanted them. And once he had cast them both aside. Now the island he’d run from so fast as a young man was going to give them back to him. He would have enjoyed walking through the woods, or down to the beach. Or driving, he thought, to his old house and seeing his bluffs, his cove, the cave where he and Mia . . . He shook that idea and those memories away. It wasn’t the time for sentiment.
There were practical matters to be dealt with. Phones, faxes, computers. The little bedroom would have to suit up as a secondary office, though he planned to base his work at the hotel. He needed supplies, and he knew that as soon as he made his way around the village buying them, word of his return would spread like fire through dry kindling.
He would see what he would see.
Turning from the door, he went back inside to unpack and set his place to rights. Well-meaning friends, Mia thought, were a blessing. And a curse. At the moment, two of hers were crammed into her office.
“I think you should kick his ass,” Ripley announced. “Of course, I thought that ten years ago.”
Eleven, Mia corrected silently. Eleven years, but who’s counting?
“That would make him too important.” Nell stuck her nose in the air. “She’s better off ignoring him.”
“You don’t ignore a blood leech.” Ripley bared her teeth. “You rip it off and stomp it into a quivering pulp.”
“What a pretty image.” At her desk, Mia leaned back, studied her two friends. “I have no intention of kicking Sam’s ass, or of ignoring him. He’s taken a six-months’ lease on the cottage, which makes me his landlord.”
“You could cut off his hot water,” Ripley suggested.
Mia’s lips twitched. “How perfectly childish—but however satisfying it might be, I’ve no intention of pulling silly pranks either. If I did, I’d cut off his water altogether. Why stop at hot? But,” she continued as Ripley gave a hoot of laughter, “he is my tenant, and that means he’s entitled to everything that’s spelled out in the lease. It’s business, and nothing more.”
“Why the hell is he renting anyplace on the Sisters for six months?” Ripley wondered.
“Obviously he’s here to take more personal charge of the Magick Inn.”
He’d always loved it, Mia mused. Or so she’d thought. Yet he’d walked away from it just as he’d walked away from her.
“We’re both adults, both business owners, both islanders. And though it’s a small world here, I imagine the two of us can manage to run our enterprises, live our lives, and coexist with a minimum of fuss.”
Ripley snorted. “If you believe that, you’re delusional.”
“I won’t let him into my life again.” Mia’s voice took on an edge. “And I won’t let my life be upset because he’s here. I always knew he’d come back.”
Before Ripley could speak again, Nell shot her a warning glance. “You’re right, of course. And with the season coming on, you’ll both be too busy to get in each other’s way. Why don’t you come to dinner tonight? I’m trying out a new recipe, and I could use the feedback.”
“You’ll get that from Zack. No need to pamper me or soothe me, little sister.”
“Why don’t we all go out and get drunk and bitch about men in general?” Ripley perked up. “That’s always fun.”
“As appealing as that sounds, I’ll pass. I have a number of things to do at home . . . if I can get my work done here.”
“She wants us to clear out,” Ripley told Nell.
“I get that.” Nell sighed. It was hard, she thought, to want so badly to help and not know how. “All right, but if there’s anything you need or want—”
“I know. I’m fine, and I’m going to stay that way.”
She scooted them out, then sat—just sat with her hands in her lap. It was self-defeating to tell herself she would work, or to pretend she could move through this particular day as if it were any other day. She was entitled to rage and to weep, to spit at fate and beat her fists on the face of destiny. But she would do none of those things, those weak and useless things. She would, however, go home. She got to her feet, gathered her purse and the light jacket she’d brought. And as she passed her window, she saw him.
He stepped out of a sleek black Ferrari, his coat a dark swirl around him. He always did like shiny toys, she thought. He’d changed out of his jeans into a dark suit and tamed his hair, though the breeze was already playing with it. As her fingers once had.
He carried a briefcase and strode toward the Magick Inn like a man who knew precisely where he was going and what he meant to do.
Then he turned, lifting his gaze unerringly to where she stood in the window. His eyes locked on hers, and she felt the jolt, the punch of heat that would once have melted her knees. But this time she stood straight, and without a quiver. When enough time had passed for pride, she stepped away from the window and out of his sight.
Home soothed her. It always had. Practically, the big, rambling stone house on the cliff was too much for one woman. But it was, she knew, perfect for her. Even when she’d been a child, the house had been more hers than it had been her parents’. She’d never minded the echoes, the occasional drafts, or the sheer volume of time it took to maintain a house of its size and age. Her ancestors had built it, and now it was hers alone.
She’d changed little on the inside since the house had come into her care. The furnishings here and there, a few of the colors, some basic modernization of the kitchen and baths. But the feel of the house was as it had always been for her. Embracing, warm, waiting.
التعديل الأخير تم بواسطة Dalyia ; 09-02-11 الساعة 03:36 AM
|09-02-11, 02:41 AM||#6|
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There had been a time when she’d imagined herself raising a family there. God she’d wanted children. Sam’s children. But over the years she had accepted what was, and what wasn’t, and had made a nest of contentment.
At times she thought of the gardens as her children. She had created them, taking the time to plant, to nurture, to discipline. And they brought her joy.
And when she needed more than the gentle pleasure they provided, she had the passion and drama of her cliffs, the secrets and shadows of her forests.
She had, Mia told herself, all she needed.
But tonight she didn’t wander out to fuss with her flowers or walk to face the sea from her cliffs. She didn’t stroll into her forest. Instead, she went directly upstairs, climbing until she was closed inside her tower room.
Here had been refuge and discovery when she was a child. Here she had never felt alone unless alone was what she needed to feel. Here she had learned, and had disciplined, the beams of her own power. The walls were rounded, the windows tall, narrow, and arched. The late-afternoon sun streamed through them in pale gold to pool on the dark, aged wood of the floor. Shelves curved along one wall, and on them were many of the tools of her trade. Pots of herbs, jars of crystals. Spell books that had belonged to those who’d come before her, and the ones that she’d written herself. An old cabinet held other objects. There was a wand she’d made herself, from maple that she had harvested on Samhain when she turned sixteen. A broom, her best chalice, her oldest anthame, and a ball of pale blue crystal. Candles and oils and incense, a scrying mirror. All this and more, carefully organized.
She gathered what she needed, then slipped out of her dress. She preferred, whenever possible, to work skyclad.
And so she cast the circle, calling on her element—fire—for energy. The candles she lighted with a breath were blue, for calm, for wisdom, for protection.
She had performed this ritual before, several times in the past decade. Whenever she felt her heart weaken or her purpose waver. She admitted that if she hadn’t done so she would have known Sam was coming back to the Sisters before he’d arrived. So the years of relative peace had their price. She would block him again—block her thoughts and feelings from him, and his from her. They would not touch each other, on any level.
“My heart and mind are mine to keep,” she began, lighting incense, sprinkling herbs on still water.
“When I wake and when I sleep. What once I gave with love and free will, I take back to me, and hold calm and still. Then lovers, now strangers without joined destiny. As I will, so mote it be.”
With her cupped palms lifted, she waited for the cool flow of serenity, the stream of confidence that would indicate her ritual was complete. As she watched, the cup of herb-scattered water began to shiver. Water lapped against the rim in quiet, teasing waves.
She fisted her hands, fought back her own temper. Focusing her energy, she punched magic against magic. “My circle is closed to all but me. Your tricks are foolish and bore me. Do not enter what’s mine
again without invitation.”
At the flick of her fingers, the lights from the candles streamed up, lancing to the ceiling. Smoke from them billowed, spread, and blanketed the surface of the water.
Even then she couldn’t find her calm, or get a clean grasp of her temper. He would dare test his power against hers? And in her own home?
So he hadn’t changed, she decided. Samuel Logan had always been an arrogant witch. And his element, she thought, hating herself when the first tear escaped, was water. In her circle, behind the haze of smoke, she lay down and wept. Bitterly. The island grapevine spread the news fast. By the next morning, the hot topic of Sam Logan had outdistanced every other tendril of gossip.
Conflicting reports had him selling the Magick Inn to mainland developers, expanding it into some fancy resort, firing the staff, or giving everyone a raise.
One thing everyone could agree on was that it was very, very interesting that he was renting Mia Devlin’s little cottage. There was no consensus on what it meant, only that it was a puzzler. Islanders, hoping to gather more nuggets, found reasons to drop into Café Book or stroll into the lobby of the hotel. Nobody had enough gumption to ask Sam or Mia directly, but there was plenty of watching and hoping for some excitement.
It had been a long, slow winter.
“Still handsome as sin and twice as deadly.” Hester Birmingham confided this information to Gladys Macey as she bagged Gladys’s weekly supply of groceries at Island Market. “Strolled in here big as life and twice as bold, and said hello to me like we’d just seen each other a week ago.”
“What did he buy?” Gladys questioned.
“Coffee, milk, dry cereal. Whole wheat bread and stick butter. Some fruit. We got bananas on special, but he passed them up and paid dear for fresh strawberries. Bought himself some fancy cheese and fancy crackers and some bottled water. Oh, and some orange juice in a carton.”
“Not planning on doing any cooking or cleaning for himself from the sound of it.” Confidentially, she leaned closer to Hester. “I ran into Hank from the liquor store. He says Sam Logan breezed in and bought up five hundred dollars’ worth of wine, some beer, and a bottle of single malt scotch.”
“Five hundred!” Hester’s voice lowered to a hiss. “You think he picked up a drinking problem inNew York ?”
“Wasn’t the number of bottles, but the price,” Gladys hissed back. “Two bottles of French champagne, and two of that fancy red wine you-know-who favors.”
Gladys rolled her eyes. “Mia Devlin. Heaven’s sake, Hester, who do you think!”
“I heard she kicked him out of the bookstore.”
“No such thing. He walked in and out again under his own steam. I know that for a fact because Lisa Bigelow was in the café having lunch with her cousin fromPortland when he was there. Lisa ran into my daughter-in-law at the Pump ’N Go and told her the whole story.”
“Well . . .” Hester liked the first story better. “Do you think Mia will put a whammy on him?”
“Hester Birmingham, you know Mia doesn’t do whammies. What a thing to say.” Then she laughed.
“But it sure will be interesting seeing what she does do. I think I’ll go put these groceries away, then go buy myself a new paperback novel and a cup of coffee.”
“You call me if anything develops.”
Gladys winked as she rolled her loaded cart away. “You can take that to the bank.”
Sam was well aware that tongues were wagging. He’d have been disappointed if they hadn’t. Just as he’d expected to read trepidation, resentment, and puzzlement when he called a morning meeting with all department heads at the hotel.
Some of the trepidation eased when it became clear that a mass firing was not on the agenda. And some of the resentment increased when it became clear that Sam intended not only to take an active role in the running of the hotel but to make some changes as well.
“In season we run at near capacity. Off season, however, our occupancy rate drops sharply, often dipping to under thirty percent.”
The sales manager shifted in his seat. “Business is slow on-island in the winter months. Always has been.”
“What’s always been doesn’t apply,” Sam said coolly. “The goal, for now, is to increase the guest rate to sixty-five percent off season within the year. We’ll do that by offering more appealing packages to conventions, as well as weekend and weekly getaway packages. I’ll have memos regarding my ideas in those areas on your desk by end of week.
“Next,” he continued, flipping through his notes, “a number of the rooms require renovation and re-dressing. We’ll begin next week, with the third floor.” He glanced at his reservations manager. “You’ll make the necessary adjustments.”
Without waiting for acknowledgment, he flipped another page. “We’ve had a steady decline in our breakfast and lunch business over the last ten months. Data indicate that Café Book is nipping off our usual business in those areas.”
“Sir.” A brunette cleared her throat, adjusted the dark-framed glasses on her face.
“Yes? I’m sorry, your name?”
“Stella Farley. I’m the restaurant manager. If I can speak frankly, Mr. Logan, we’re never going to be able to compete with the café and Nell Todd. If I could—”
She broke off when he lifted a finger. “I don’t care for the word never .”
She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, but I’ve been here the last ten months and you haven’t.”
There was a deep silence, like a unified holding of breath. After a beat, Sam nodded. “Point taken. And just what have you learned in the last ten months, Ms. Farley?”
“That if we want to bring back business and generate more of it during the breakfast and lunch hours, we should counter-program. The café offers casual and casual gourmet. A relaxed atmosphere and, well, fabulous food. We need to offer an alternative. Elegance, formality, romance, an upscale atmosphere for a business meal or a special date. I sent your father a report and a proposal last fall, but—”
“You’re not dealing with my father now.” It was said so flatly, so smoothly, none of the resentment showed. “Get a copy on my desk by this afternoon.”
He paused. “If anyone else has run ideas or proposals by my father over the last year, they should copy me by end of week. I want to make it clear that I own this hotel now. Own and run. While my word will be final, I expect input from my department heads. I’ll have memos to all of you over the next several days, and expect your responses to same within forty-eight hours of receipt. Thank you.”
He watched them file out and heard the mumbling start before the door was closed. One woman remained behind in her seat. Another brunette, she wore a simple navy suit and practical pumps. She was nearing sixty, had worked at the inn for more than forty years. She slipped off her glasses, lowered her steno pad, and folded her hands.
“Will that be all, Mr. Logan?”
Sam lifted an eyebrow. “You used to call me Sam.”
“You didn’t used to be my boss.”
“Mrs. Farley . . .” His eyes cleared. “Was that your daughter? Stella? Jesus.”
“Don’t swear in the office,” she said primly.
“Sorry. It just didn’t connect. Congratulations,” he added. “She was the only one with guts or brains enough to say anything worthwhile.”
“I raised her to stand up for herself. They’re scared of you,” she told him. Boss or not, she decided, she’d known him since he was a baby. If her daughter could speak her mind, so could she.
“Most of the people who were in this room haven’t ever so much as seen aLogan . For better or worse, this hotel’s been run by proxy for a decade.” There was just enough acid in her voice to let him know her opinion was worse. “Now, you drop in out of nowhere and stir things up. You always were one for
stirring things up.”
“It’s my hotel, and it needs stirring up.”
“I won’t disagree. TheLogans haven’t taken enough interest in this place.”
“You’re not your father,” she reminded him. “No point in using him as an excuse when you just finished making sure to get that point across yourself.”
That rap on the knuckles made him nod. “All right. Then we’ll say I’m here now, I intend to take plenty of interest—and make no excuses.”
“Good.” She opened her steno pad again. “Welcome back.”
“Thank you. So”—he got to his feet, wandered to the window—“let’s get started. The flower arrangements,” he began.
He put in a fourteen-hour day, eating what passed for lunch at his desk. Because he wanted to keep his business local, he met with an island contractor personally and went over his renovation requirements. He instructed his assistant to order updated equipment for his office, then set up a meeting with the head of Island Tours.
He re-ran figures, reviewed proposals, refined and solidified random ideas. He knew just how much it would cost, in hard capital and in man-hours, to implement his plans. But he was in for the long haul. Not everyone would think so, he admitted when he came to the surface and rubbed the stiffness out of the back of his neck. Mia wouldn’t.
He was grateful he’d had so much on his plate through the day: It had helped keep thoughts of her at bay.
But he thought of her now, and remembered how he had felt the shimmer of her power flutter around the edges of his mind the day before. He’d pressed back at it, poked through it momentarily. And had seen her, clearly, kneeling in her tower room, her body washed by pale gold light, her hair a fiery fall to her shoulders.
Her birthmark, the tiny pentagram high on her thigh, had shimmered. He had no doubt it had been that momentary jolt of desire that had allowed her to snap the link between them so quickly, so easily.
No matter. It had been wrong of him to intrude on her the way he had. Rude and wrong, and he’d been sorry for it almost as soon as he’d done it.
He would have to apologize for it, of course. There were rules of conduct that neither intimacy nor animosity could excuse breaking.
No time like the present, he decided. He culled the most pressing paperwork and tucked it in his briefcase. He’d speak to Mia, then grab some takeout and finish his work at home over a meal. Unless he could convince her to have dinner with him, as a peace offering. Then work could wait. He walked out of the hotel just as Mia stepped out of the bookstore across the street. They stood where they were a moment, each obviously caught off guard. Then she swiveled on her heel and walked toward a spiffy little convertible.
He had to dash across the street to catch her before she slipped into it.
“Mia. A minute.”
“Go to hell.”
“You can send me there after I apologize.” He snagged the car door she’d swung open and closed it again. “I was completely in the wrong. I have no excuse for that kind of discourtesy.”
Being surprised didn’t mean being mollified. “I don’t recall you ever being so quick with an apology before.” She gave a little shrug. “Fine. Accepted. Go away.”
“Give me five minutes.”
“Five minutes, Mia. I’ve been cooped up all day, and I could use a walk and some fresh air.”
She wouldn’t struggle with him for the car door. It would be—and look to the people who were trying to pretend they weren’t watching—undignified. “No one’s stopping you. There’s a great deal of air around here.”
“Give me a chance to explain. A casual walk on the beach,” he said quietly. “If you blow me off, you’re just going to give them more to talk about. And me more to wonder about. A friendly conversation, in public, doesn’t hurt either of us.”
“All right.” She dropped her car keys in the pocket of her long gray dress. “Five minutes.”
She took a deliberate step away from him, slid her hands into her pockets, and jingled her keys as they walked along High Street toward the beach.
“Was your first day productive?”
“It was a good start. Do you remember Stella Farley?”
“Of course. I see her quite often. She belongs to the book club at the store.”
“Mmm.” Another reminder that she’d been here while changes had taken place and he hadn’t. “She has some ideas for getting back some of our lunch business that you’ve been stealing away.”
“Really?” Mia asked, amused. “Good luck.” She felt people watching them as they turned toward the seawall. She stopped there, sliding out of her shoes before stepping onto the sand.
“I’ll carry them.”
The sea was a warm blue, deeper toward the horizon. Shells heaved up by the last high tide scattered the shore. Gulls circled, wheeled, cried.
“I felt you,” he began. “Yesterday. I felt you and I reacted. That’s not an excuse, it’s a reason.”
“I’ve already said accepted.”
“Mia.” He reached out, but his fingers only brushed her sleeve as she moved away.
“I don’t want you to touch me. That’s basic.”
“We were friends once.”
She stopped to stare at him out of cold gray eyes. “Were we?”
“You know we were. We were more than lovers, more than . . .” Mates, he’d nearly said. “It wasn’t just passion. We cared about each other. We shared thoughts.”
“Now my thoughts are my own, and I don’t need any more friends.”
“Lovers? You never married.”
She turned that staggering face on him, and her expression was all female and smug. “If I wanted a lover or a husband, I’d have one.”
“No question about it,” he murmured. “You’re the most extraordinary creature. I thought of you.”
“Stop,” she warned. “Stop now.”
“Damn it, I’ll say what I have to say. I thought of you.” He dropped his briefcase, grabbed her arms, as some of the frustration broke through. “I thought of us. What’s happened in between doesn’t erase what we were to each other.”
“You erased it. Now you have to live with it, as I did.”
“It’s not just about us.” He tightened his grip. He could feel her vibrating and knew she could strike out, woman or witch, at any moment. “You know that as well as I do.”
“There is no us. Do you think after all this time, after all I’ve done, all I’ve learned, I’d let fate toy with me again? I won’t be used. Not by you, not by a centuries-old curse.”
A single bolt of white lightning speared out of the clear sky and blasted into the sand between his feet. He didn’t jerk back, but it was a near thing.
His throat was dry, but he nodded. “You always did have exquisite control.”
التعديل الأخير تم بواسطة Dalyia ; 09-02-11 الساعة 03:38 AM
|09-02-11, 02:48 AM||#7|
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التعديل الأخير تم بواسطة Dalyia ; 09-02-11 الساعة 03:40 AM
|09-02-11, 02:48 AM||#8|
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“There, that’s better.” She plumped one of her velvet pillows as if she had no concern other than her own comfort. “Now, Nell, what did you want to talk to me about before we discuss our plans for the solstice?”
“Get her.” Ripley gestured with her wineglass, and dumped a neat fall of popcorn in her mouth with her free hand. “Sounds like the chairwoman for some ladies social club.”
“Not so far off. Club, coven. But anytime you want to take charge, Deputy Fife—”
“Okay.” Nell held up a hand for peace. It seemed she was always calling for peace when Mia and Ripley spent more than ten minutes together. There were times when she thought it would be simpler to just knock their heads together. “Why don’t we move beyond the insult portion of our program? I wanted to say that I thought the first meeting of the cooking club went well.”
Mia steadied her temper. Nodded. She leaned over, contemplated the glossy purple grapes she’d arranged on a pale green dish. Selected one. “It did. It was a terrific idea, Nell. I think we’ll find it brings business into the store, and the café. We sold a dozen cookbooks that night, and a dozen more since.”
“I was thinking after we give it a couple of months to see if interest holds, we might want to plan a combination event with the book club. Maybe around Christmas. I know that’s a long way off, but—”
“But it never hurts to plan,” Mia finished and, nipping into a second grape, leveled a smirk in Ripley’s direction. “There are a number of novels that have food playing a major role, and some even have recipes. We might suggest one for the book club, then the cooking club could prepare the dishes. Everybody has fun.”
“And you sell books,” Ripley pointed out.
“Which, oddly enough, is the primary function of Café Book. Now—”
“There’s something else.”
Mia paused, lifted an eyebrow at Nell. “All right.”
Nervous, Nell pressed her lips together. “I know selling books is the primary function, but, well, I had this idea a while ago. I’ve been playing with it in my head, trying to see if it would work, or be worthwhile. You may think it’s out of line, but—”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Nell.” Out of patience, Ripley shifted in her chair and set the bowl of popcorn aside. “She thinks you should expand the café.”
“Ripley! Would you just let me tell it my way?”
“I would, but I don’t have a week to spare before I get home.”
“Expand the café?” Mia interrupted. “It already takes up nearly half the square feet on the second level.”
“Yes, the way things are now.” After shooting Ripley a hot look, Nell turned back to Mia. “But if you took out the windows on the east side, added a terrace of, oh, say six feet by ten feet, used atrium or sliding doors leading out to it, you’d have more room for seating, and the benefit of alfresco seating in good weather.”
Because Mia said nothing, just lifted her glass from the table, Nell rushed on. “I could extend the menu here and there, adding more entrée selections for a nice, casual dinner during the summer evening hours. Of course you’d have to take on more help, and . . . and I should mind my own business.”
“I didn’t say that.” Mia leaned back. “But it is a complicated idea. There’s zoning, and building codes. Then there’s cost, and the ratio of profit projection against that cost. The potential loss of business during that kind of remodel.”
“I’ve, um, looked into it. A little.” With a quick, sheepish smile, Nell pulled a stack of papers out of her satchel.
Mia stared, then sat back with a long laugh. “You’ve been busy, little sister. All right, let me look it all over, think about it. It’s intriguing,” she murmured. “More seating, entrée selections . . . I imagine, if successful, it would nip into the hotel’s dinner business, at least during the season.”
At Mia’s small, satisfied smile, Nell felt a wave of guilt. “There’s one more thing. We had Sam Logan over for dinner,” she blurted out.
Mia’s smile slipped away. “Excuse me?”
“You had that rat bastard at your table!” Ripley popped out of her chair. “You fed him a meal? Did you at least poison him while you were at it?”
“No, I didn’t poison him. Damn it, I didn’t invite him, Zack did. They’re friends.” Nell sent Mia a look filled with misery and guilt. “I can’t tell Zack who he can or can’t invite to the house.”
“Just let Booke try asking some traitorous son of a bitch to leach off us.” Ripley bared her teeth as if she was ready to take a bite out of her new husband whether he had the thought or not. “Zack always was stupid.”
“Now, just a minute.”
“He’s been my brother longer than he’s been your husband,” Ripley shot back. “I can call him stupid, especially when he is.”
“There’s no point in this,” Mia said quietly and drew both Nell’s and Ripley’s attention. “No point in casting blame or in recriminations. Zack’s entitled to choose his friends, and to have them in his home. That’s nothing Nell should feel guilty over. What’s between Sam and me is between Sam and me, and it doesn’t affect anyone else.”
“Doesn’t it?” Nell shook her head. “Why didn’t anyone tell me he was one of us?”
“Because he’s not.” It all but exploded out of Ripley. “Sam Logan isn’t one of us.”
“I don’t think Nell was implying he’s a girl,” Mia said dryly. “Or even an islander. Though, of course, since he was raised here he’ll always be considered an islander.” She waved her hand as if brushing that aside. “The fact that he has the gift has nothing to do with us.”
“You’re sure of that?” Nell demanded.
“We are the three.” In the stone hearth, flames rose and snapped. “We make the circle. It’s for us to do what must be done. Just because some—what was that lovely term of Ripley’s—oh, yes, just because some rat bastard has magic doesn’t change anything.”
Deliberately calm, she stretched out her hand for another grape. “Now, about the solstice.”
She wouldn’t let it change anything. She would do what had to be done, alone or with her sisters. But she wouldn’t allow anyone into their circle. Or into her heart.
In the deepest part of night, while the island slept, she stood on her cliffs. The cold rain poured and the black sea lashed at the jagged rocks as if it would, in one night, wear them to nubs. All around her the irritable wind swirled, snapping at her cloak until it billowed up like wings. There was no light, no relief from the black except the single circling blade from the white tower behind her. It cut over her, the cliffs, the sea. Then left her alone in the dark again. Fly, the canny voice whispered. Fly out and let go, and it will all be over. Why do you fight theinevitable? Why would you live with the loneliness?
How many times, she wondered, had she heard that voice? How many times had she come here, testing herself against it? Even when her heart had been shattered, she’d come. And had won. She would never give in.
“You won’t beat me.” She felt the cold as the dirty fog slithered over ground and rock. Felt it like icy fingers wrapping around her ankles, where it could tug, and tempt. “I’ll never give up.” She raised her arms, spread them wide.
And the wild, whirling wind she called tore the fog to tatters.
“What’s mine I serve and protect and keep.” She lifted her face to the rain, let it wash over her like tears. “Whether I wake or whether I sleep, to what I am I will be true in what I say, in what I do.”
Magic poured into her and pulsed like a heart.
“This vow I make, and will not break: I will meet my destiny. As I will, so mote it be.”
With her eyes closed, she fisted her hands as if she could beat against the night. As if she could use them to rip through the veil that blinded her from what would come for her.
“Why don’t I know ? Why can’t I feel? Why can’t I do anything but feel?”
Something shivered on the air, like warm hands brushing her cheeks. It wasn’t comfort she wanted, or the urges to be patient. So, she turned from them, from the cliffs, and the sea. Her cloak whipped behind her as she ran toward the lights of home.
While Mia wrapped herself in isolation, cocooned in the house on the cliff, Lulu was propped in bed with her third glass of wine, her latest true crime book, Diary of an American Cannibal , and a bag of cheese-and-garlic potato chips. Across the room, the bedroom TV blasted out gunfire as Mel Gibson and Danny Glover kicked ass in Lethal Weapon.
It was, for Lulu, her Saturday-night ritual.
Her nightclothes consisted of ratty shorts, a T-shirt that announced it was better to be rich than stupid, and a book light fastened to a ball cap.
She munched, sipped, divided her attention between the book and the video, and considered herself in her own personal heaven.
Rain drummed outside the windows of her colorful little saltbox, and the breeze rattled the love beads that dangled in lieu of curtains. Content, marginally tipsy, she sprawled under the spread she’d quilted from squares of madras, paisley, and tie-dyed scraps.
You could take the child out of the sixties, but you couldn’t take the sixties out of this child, she often thought.
The words on the page began to blur, so she adjusted her glasses, boosted herself up in bed a little more. She just wanted to finish one more chapter and find out if the young prostitute was going to be stupid enough to get her throat slit and her internal organs gutted. Lulu was banking on it.
But her head dipped. She jerked it back up. Blinked. She could have sworn she heard someone whisper her name.
Hearing things, she thought in disgust. Getting old was God’s big rip-off. She polished off the glass of wine, glanced toward the TV.
And there was Mel, his pretty face filling the screen, his eyes brilliantly blue as they grinned at her. “Hey, Lu. How’s it going?”
She rubbed her eyes, blinked rapidly. But the image was still there. “What the hell?”
“That’s what I say! What the hell!” The image drew back, far enough for her to see the gun. Its barrel looked to be the size of a cannon. “Nobody wants to live forever, right?”
The explosion boomed out of the set, flashed hot red light into the room. The sharp pain in Lulu’s chest had her crying out, frantically pressing her hands between her breasts. Chips flew as she scrambled up, looking for blood.
She found nothing but her own wildly beating heart.
On the screen Mel and Danny were arguing about police procedure.
Shaken, and feeling like an old fool, Lulu staggered to the window. A little fresh air, she thought. Clear her head. Must’ve fallen asleep for a minute, she decided as she pushed the rattling beads aside and shoved her window all the way up.
She shivered. It was cold as winter—colder, she realized, than it should have been. And the mists swirling out of the ground had an odd tone to them. Like floating bruises, all dull purples and sickly yellows.
She could see her calliope of flowers, and the moonball rising up through them. Her rude little gargoyle who stuck his tongue out of a grinning mouth at passersby. The rain sounded icy now, and when she reached out the window, cold, sharp shards of it stabbed into her palm. Her glasses slid down as she jerked her hand back. And when she shoved them back into place, she’d have sworn the gargoyle was closer to the house, turned so that instead of his profile she could see three-quarters of the homely face.
Her chest began to hurt from the racing of her heart.
Need new glasses, she thought. Eyes are going.
As she stared, frozen in shock, the gargoyle swiveled to face her. And bared long, vicious teeth.
“Jesus H. Christ!”
She could hear them, actually hear the greedy snap of them as he inched through the fog toward the house. Toward the open window. Behind him, the little flute-playing frog she’d bought the week before began to hop closer. And the flute he held was now a long, jagged-edged knife.
“Nobody will care.”
Reeling, she snapped her head around. On TV a huge cartoon snake with Mel Gibson’s handsome face leered at her.
“Nobody will give two good shits if you’re dead. You’ve got nobody, do you, Lu? No man, no kid, no family. Nobody to give a rat’s ass about you.”
“That’s bull!” Terror screamed through her as she saw that the gargoyle and his companion had come within a foot of the house while she was looking away. Teeth snapped—a hungry sound, and the knife swished through the thick fog like a deadly metronome.
“That’s just horseshit.” Her shaking hands fumbled at the window, her breath panting out in puffs as she fought to find a grip on the sash.
As she slammed it down, she fell backward and hit the floor with a jar of her bones. She lay there, struggling to catch her breath, struggling to find her nerve. When she managed to get to her knees, she crawled whimpering toward her sewing basket and grabbed two knitting needles as weapons.
But when she managed to find the courage to go back to the window, the rain was falling warm and gentle, the mists had cleared. And the gargoyle, homely and harmless, squatted in its usual spot, ready to insult the next visitor.
Lulu stood in the bedroom while another firefight broke out on television. She rubbed her hand over her clammy face.
“That must’ve been some bottle of chardonnay,” she said aloud.
But for the first time since she’d moved into the little house, she—armed with her needles—walked through it locking all the doors and windows.
A man, however dedicated, was entitled to some time off. That’s what Sam told himself as he drove away from the village. He’d spent hours at his desk, in meetings, doing inspections, reading reports. If he didn’t clear his mind, it was going to fry.
And it was Sunday. The rain had finally blown out to sea, leaving the island sparkling like a jewel. Getting out, seeing what on this little clump of land had changed, and what hadn’t, was as important to his business as ledgers and projections.
That sensibility, he knew, had skipped a generation in theLogan family. He’d always been aware that his parents had viewed the twenty-odd years they’d spent on Three Sisters as a kind of exile. Which, he imagined, was why they’d found excuses to leave it so often during that period—and then to pull up stakes permanently when his grandfather had died.
It had never been home for them.
Coming back had proved that to him, just as it had proved the island was home for him. One answer he’d come back to find was clear to him now. Three Sisters was his. Pleasure boats were skimming along the water, motors humming or sails fat with wind. It brought him a steadying kind of pleasure to see them. Buoys bobbed, orange, red, white, against the cool blue surface. The land jutted or curved or tumbled out to meet the water.
He saw a family clamming and a young boy chasing gulls.
There were houses that hadn’t been there when he’d left. And the time between came home to him as he noticed the weathered silver of cedar and the thick clumps of vegetation. Growth, he thought. Man’s and nature’s.
Time didn’t stand still. Not even on Three Sisters.
As he approached the north point of the island, he turned onto a narrow shale road, listened to his wheels crunch. The last time he’d driven this stretch he’d had a Jeep, with its top off so the air had streamed over him. And his radio had been going full blast.
He had to smile at himself as he realized that while he might be in a Ferrari, he had still put the top down. And turned the stereo up to scream.
“You can take the boy off the island,” he murmured, then pulled off the side of the road opposite the bluffs and the house that rose from them.
The house hadn’t changed, he decided, and wondered how long it would take the islanders to stop referring to it as theLogan place. Two stories, it rambled over the bluff, jutting out, shooting up as if on its own whim. Someone had recently painted its shutters a dark blue to contrast with the silvered wood. The screened porch and the open decks offered stunning views of the cove, and the sea. The windows were wide, the doors glass. He remembered that his room had faced the water, and how much time he’d spent staring out at it.
How often its changing and unpredictable moods had reflected his own. The sea had always spoken to him.
Still, the house didn’t bring him any tug of sentiment, or any lovely haze of nostalgia. The islanders could call it theLogan place for another decade, but it had never been Sam’s. It was, in his opinion, a good property in a prime location that had been well maintained by its absentee owners. He hoped the man who owned the Land Rover parked outside it felt he’d gotten his money’s worth. Dr. MacAllister Booke, Sam thought now, of the New York Bookes. A man with a brilliant mind, and an unusual bent. Paranormal science. Fascinating. He wondered if Booke had felt like a round peg in the square hole of his family, as he himself had.
Sam got out of his car, walked toward the bluff. It wasn’t the house that called him, but the cove. And the cave.
It pleased him, more than he’d expected, to see a bright-yellow sailboat tied to the dock below. And it was a honey, he mused, studying its lines. He’d had a boat tied there too. For as long as he could remember. For that, at least, he felt the tug, the soft haze.
Sailing had been the single real interest that father and son had shared. The best times he’d had with Thaddeus Logan, the only times there had ever been that click of kinship between them, Sam remembered, had been when they were sailing.
They’d actually communicated, connected, during those hours on the water, not just as two people who happened, through circumstance, to occupy places in the same family, the same house. But as father and son who shared a common interest. It was good to remember that.
“Pretty, isn’t she? I just got her last month.”
Sam turned and, through the lenses of his shaded glasses, watched the man who had spoken walk toward him. Dressed in faded jeans and a gray sweatshirt ragged at the hem, he was tall, with a strong, lean face shadowed by a night’s growth of beard. Dark blond hair blew in the frisky breeze, and friendly brown eyes squinted against the flash of sunlight. He had a tough, disciplined build that Sam could admit he hadn’t expected from a scholarly spook hunter.
He’d imagined a thin, pale, and nerdish bookworm. Instead, he thought, amused with himself, he was getting Indiana Jones.
“How’s she handle in the rough?” Sam asked.
“Oh, like a charm.”
They spent a few minutes, thumbs tucked in front pockets, admiring and talking about the boat.
“I’m Mac Booke.” Mac held out a hand.
“Thought so. Thanks for the house.”
“It wasn’t mine, but you’re welcome.”
“Come on inside, have a beer.”
He hadn’t intended to socialize, but the offer was so easy and unstudied that Sam found himself heading toward the house with Mac. “Ripley around?”
“No, she’s on duty this afternoon. Did you want to see her about something?”
Mac only laughed, and after they climbed the steps to the main deck, opened the door. “I guess that feeling’s going to be mutual for a while. Until it all settles in.”
The deck led into the living room. Sam remembered it as being polished, full of pastels and pale watercolors. Time hadn’t stood still here, either, he mused. The colors were bold and bright, the furnishings tailored for comfort. There were homey, untidy piles of newspapers, books, shoes. One of which a busy puppy was currently gnawing.
“Damn it!” Mac leaped in, tripped over the unmauled mate of the sneaker, and made a grab for the other. The pup was faster, and with the shoe in his mouth he scrambled for cover.
“Mulder! Give me that.”
Sam angled his head as man and pup went into a little tug-of-war. The pup lost, but didn’t look put out by it.
“Mulder?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, you know— X-Files guy. Ripley said she named him after me. Her little joke.” He heaved out a breath. “She’s not going to think it’s a joke when she sees her shoe.”
Sam crouched, and the pup, thrilled at the prospect of company, raced over to leap and lick. “Pretty dog. Golden retriever?”
“Yeah. We’ve only had him three weeks. He’s smart, and mostly housebroken, but he’ll chew through rock if you don’t watch him, which I wasn’t.” Sighing, Mac scooped the pup up and went nose to nose.
“You know who’s going to take the heat for this, don’t you?”
The puppy wriggled in delight and licked Mac’s chin. Giving up on the lecture, Mac tucked Mulder under his arm. “Beer’s in the kitchen.” He led the way back, got two bottles out of the fridge. On the table sat a number of electronic devices, one of which seemed to be gutted. Idly, Sam reached over to pick one up, and set off a series of beeps and blinking red lights.
“No problem.” Mac’s eyes narrowed, a speculative look. “Why don’t we take these out on the deck?
Unless you want to look around. You know, the old homestead and whatever.”
“No, thanks anyway.” But as they started back out, Sam glanced toward the stairs, imagined his room as it had been, and himself watching the sea, or watching for Mia, out the window. From the second floor a new beep sounded.
“Equipment,” Mac said easily, and had to squelch the urge to dash upstairs and check readings. “I’ve got my lab set up in one of the extra bedrooms.”
Once outside, Mac set Mulder down, and he immediately bounded down the steps and began to sniff along the yard. “Anyway . . .” Mac took a swig of beer, leaned on the rail. “Ripley didn’t mention that you were a witch.”
Sam opened his mouth, closed it again, then just shook his head. “What, am I wearing a sign?”
“Energy readings.” Mac gestured toward the house. “And actually, I’d wondered about it, as I’ve done a lot of research on the island, the families, the bloodlines, and so on. Did you practice inNew York ?”
“Depends on your definition.” It wasn’t often that Sam found himself being studied like a science experiment, or that he would have allowed it. But something about Mac appealed to him. “I’ve never neglected the Craft, but I don’t advertise either.”
“Makes sense. So what do you think of the legend?”
“I’ve never considered it a legend. It’s history, and fact.”
“Exactly.” Delighted, Mac lifted his bottle in a kind of toast. “I’ve done a time line, projecting the spin, you might say, of the cycle. By my calculations—”
“We have until September,” Sam interrupted. “No later than the equinox.”
Mac nodded slowly. “Well, bingo. Welcome home, Sam.”
“Thanks.” He sipped his beer. “It’s good to be back.”
“Are you going to be open to working with me?”
“It’d be stupid to turn down the input of an expert. I’ve read your books.”
“You have an open and flexible mind.”
“Someone else said that to me, once.” Mac thought of Mia, but was tactful enough not to mention her name. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Yes, as long as I can tell you to mind your own business as an answer.”
“Deal. If you knew September was a kind of deadline, why did you wait so long to come back?”
Sam turned his head, looked out on the cove. “It wasn’t my time. This is. Now let me ask you one. In your expert opinion, with your research, your calculations, your projections, am I necessary to the Three Sisters?”
“I’m still working on that. I do know you’re part of what’s necessary to Mia’s role in it—the third step.”
“Her acceptance of me.” When Mac frowned, drummed his fingers on the deck rail, Sam felt unease slither into his belly. “You don’t agree.”
“Her choice, when it comes, has to do with her own feelings. Accepting them, and what’s right for her. That might mean accepting you, or it might mean resolving her emotions by rejecting you—without malice.” Mac cleared his throat. “The last step has to do with love.”
“I’m fully aware of that.”
“It doesn’t require her to . . . it doesn’t mean, in my opinion, that she’ll be obliged to love you now, but that she accepts what she once felt, and that it wasn’t meant. To, well, let you go without resentment and cherish what used to be. Anyway, it’s a theory.”
The hem of Sam’s coat snapped in a stray gust of wind. “I don’t like your theory.”
“I wouldn’t like it either from where you’re standing. The third sister killed herself rather than face her lover’s desertion. Her circle was broken, and she was alone.”
“I know the goddamn story.”
“Just hear me out. Even then, she protected the island, and her bloodline and the line of her sisters. As far as she could with what she had left. But she couldn’t—or wouldn’t—save herself. Couldn’t or wouldn’t live without the love of one man. That was her weakness, and her mistake.”
التعديل الأخير تم بواسطة Dalyia ; 09-02-11 الساعة 03:41 AM
|09-02-11, 02:49 AM||#9|
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It was direct enough to follow. It was logical. It was maddening. “And Mia’s lived without me very well.”
“On one level,” Mac agreed. “On another, and in my opinion, she’s never resolved her feelings, never forgiven you or accepted. She’ll have to, one way or the other, and with a whole heart. If she doesn’t, she’ll be vulnerable, and as the protective spell weakens, she’ll lose.”
“And if I’d stayed away?”
“The logical conclusion is you weren’t meant to stay away. And the presence of more magic on the island . . . well, it can’t hurt.”
He’d never thought it could. But his conversation with Mac had put doubts in his mind. He’d come back to the island with no questions about what needed to be, and would be done. He would win Mia again, and once things were as they had been between them, the curse would be broken. End of story.
End of story, he thought now as he walked the beach by the cove, because he hadn’t wanted to look beyond it. He wanted Mia, was ready for Mia, and that was that.
He’d never once entertained the notion that her not wanting him, not loving him, might be the answer. He looked toward the mouth of the cave. Maybe it was time to explore that possibility, and face his ghosts. As he walked toward the cave, his heart beat too fast. He stopped, waiting until he’d controlled it, then ducked into the cave’s shadows.
For a moment, it was filled with sound. Their voices, her laughter. The sighs of lovers. And of weeping.
She’d come here to cry for him. Knowing it, feeling it, sliced him with sharp stabs of guilt. He willed them clear, then stood in the silence, with only the backdrop of the surf lapping at the shore. When he’d been a boy, the cave had been Aladdin’s, or a bandit’s hideout, or whatever he and Zack and other friends had made it.
Then he’d no longer been a boy, or not quite a boy, and it had been Mia. His legs felt weak as he moved to the far wall, knelt and saw the words he’d carved for her. She hadn’t scored them out. Until that moment, until a fist released its squeezing grip on his heart, he hadn’t realized he’d been afraid she might. That she could. And if she could, that her heart would be lost to him. Ever and always.
He reached out, and light filled the words, seemed to drip from them like tears of gold. He felt in that light everything the boy had felt when he’d carved them, with magic and utter faith.
It rocked him, staggered him that there had been so much bursting inside that boy that the man he was could still reel from it. And ache for it.
The power was still there. Why would it be, if it meant nothing? Was it only his will, his wish, that brought back to life what had been?
They’d loved here, so wrapped up in each other that the world could have ended without them knowing, or caring. They’d shared bodies, and hearts. And magic.
He could see her now, rising above him, her hair like wildfire and her skin golden. Her arms lifted as she rode them both past reason.
Or curled against him in sleep with her mouth curved in contentment. Or sitting close while they talked, her face alight with excitement, so full of plans. So young. Was it his fate to let her go, before he had her again? To be forgiven, then forgotten?
The idea stabbed at him, left him shaken as he got to his feet. Unable to bear the press of memories any longer, he turned away from them and walked out of the cave.
Into the sunlight, a flash like fire, where she stood with her back to the sea. Five
F or a moment he could only look at her as old memories and old needs tangled with new. Time hadn’t stood still for them. She wasn’t the coltish young girl who would splash headlong into the water with a dare. The woman who watched him now with cool, measuring eyes had a layer of polish and sophistication the girl had lacked.
The breeze had her hair dancing in fiery spirals. That, at least, hadn’t changed. She waited with every appearance of calm as he walked to her, but he neither saw nor felt any welcome.
“I wondered how long it would take you to come here.” Her voice was low, as measured as her gaze. “I wasn’t sure you’d have the nerve.”
It was difficult, horribly, to speak rationally when the emotions and images from the cave still churned inside him. “Do you ever come back here?”
“Why would I? If I want to look at the ocean, I can stand on my own cliffs. If I want the beach, it’s a short walk from my store. There’s nothing here to warrant the trip.”
“But you’re here now.”
“Curiosity.” Her head tilted to the side. The dark blue stones at her ears caught the light and glinted.
“And did you satisfy your own?”
“I felt you in there. Felt us in there.”
It surprised him when her lips curved, almost affectionately. “Sex has strong energy, when it’s done correctly. We never had a problem in that area. As for me—well, a woman has a certain sentimental vision of the first time she gave herself to a man. I can remember that particular event fondly, even if I came to regret my choice of partner.”
“I never meant to—” He broke off, swore.
“To hurt me?” she finished. “Liar.”
“You’re right. Absolutely.” Whatever came from this point on, if he was indeed fated to lose her, he could and would be honest about this one thing. “I did mean to hurt you. And I’d say I did a damn good job of it.”
“Well, you surprise me at last.” She turned away because it hurt to look at him, to see him stand there with his back to the shadowed mouth of the cave that had been theirs. To feel the echoes of that boundless, consuming love she’d once felt for him.
“A clear truth, after all these years.”
“Meaning to do something at twenty doesn’t mean I can’t, and don’t, regret it now.”
“I don’t want your regrets.”
“What the hell do you want, Mia?”
She watched the water tease the shore in its endless flirtation. She heard the edge in his voice, knew it as a sign of a rising and reckless mood. And it pleased her. The more unsettled he was, the more she could feel in control.
“A truth for a truth, then,” she said. “I want you to suffer, to pay, and to go back toNew York or to hell, or wherever you choose, so long as it isn’t here.”
She looked back over her shoulder at him, and her smile was cold as winter. “It seems so little to ask, really.”
“I mean to stay on Three Sisters.”
She turned back to him. He looked dramatic, she thought. Romantic. Dark and broody. Full of anger and turmoil. Because of it, she indulged herself and gave him yet another push.
“For what? To run a hotel? Your father managed to run it for years without being here.”
“I’m not my father.”
The way he said it, that small, verbal explosion, triggered more memories. He’d always had to prove himself, to himself, she thought. The constant internal war of Samuel Logan. She shrugged.
“Well, in any case, I imagine you’ll be bored with island life soon enough and escape. As you did before.
‘Trapped,’ I believe was your term. You felt trapped here. So, it’s just a matter of waiting you out.”
“You’ll have a long wait,” he warned. He hooked his hands in his pockets. “Let’s get something straight, so we can avoid going around the same loop again and again. I have roots here, just as you do. The fact that you spent your twenties on-island and I didn’t doesn’t change the fact that we both come from the same place. We both have businesses here, and beyond that we have a purpose, one that goes back centuries. What happens on and to Three Sisters matters to me as much as it matters to you.”
“An interesting speech from someone who walked away so casually.”
“There was nothing casual about it,” he began, but she had already turned her back on him, was already striding toward the bluff.
Let her go, his mind ordered. Just let her go. If this is fate, it can’t be beaten. Shouldn’t be, for the good of the whole, fought against.
“The hell with that.” The words ground between his teeth as he went after her. He grabbed her arm, spun her around so quickly their bodies collided. “There was nothing casual about it,” he repeated.
“Nothing impulsive, nothing careless.”
“Is that how you justify it?” she tossed back. “Is that how you make it right? You left because it suited you, and you come back because it suits you. And because you’re here, why not see if you can stir up some old flames?”
“I’ve been pretty restrained in that area.” He yanked his sunglasses off, threw them on the ground. His gaze was burning, blistering green. “Up till now.”
He crushed his mouth to hers, let himself take, let the storm of emotions that had shadowed him since he left the cave break over both of them. If he was to be damned, he’d be damned for taking what he wanted, not for letting it go.
The unique flavor of her seared through him, sizzling the nerves, smoking the senses. His arms tightened so that her long, lean body was molded to his, and against his heart her heart kicked and galloped until the paces matched. Exactly.
The scent of her, darker than he remembered and somehow forbidding, slithered into him, twining through his system until it was tied in knots. The memories of the girl, the reality of the woman—both blurred together and became one. Became Mia.
He said her name once, his lips moving against hers, then she broke free. Her breathing was as uneven as his. And her eyes were huge, dark, unreadable. He waited to be cursed, and counted it worth the price of that one taste of heaven.
But she moved to him in one quick stride. Locking her arms around his neck, pressing her body to his, she took from him as he had taken from her.
Her mouth was a fever, and the ache of it throbbed through her. He was the only man who’d ever brought her pain, and the only man who’d ever brought her true pleasure. Both edges of that keen sword stabbed, and still she took.
She had pushed him, plucked at the ragged threads of his temper with one underlying purpose. This. Just this. Whatever the risks, whatever the price, she’d had to know . She remembered the taste of him, the texture, the way it felt when his hands slid up from her waist to fist in her hair. She relived all of that now, and experienced the new.
He nipped her bottom lip, just one quick bite before his tongue slicked over the same spot to soothe and to entice. She changed the angle of the kiss, daring him to follow, to circle the slippery rim of that well of need.
Someone trembled. She wasn’t sure who, but it was enough to remind her that a misstep could lead to a tumble. And the fall was long.
She drew back, then away, as the reverberations of that mating of mouths tossed her emotions. So she knew. He was still the only one who could meet and match her passions. His voice was hoarse, and far from steady when he spoke. “That proves something.”
It helped, somehow, knowing he was as undone as she. “Proves what, Sam? That we still have heat between us?” She waved her hand, and a duet of clear blue flames danced on her palm. “Fire is easily lit.” She curled her fingers, opened them again, and her palm was empty. “Easily extinguished.”
“Not so easily.” He took her hand, felt the pump of energy. And knew she felt it, too. “Not so easily, Mia.”
“Wanting you with my body means so very little.” She drew her hand from his, looked toward the cave.
“It makes me sad to be here, to remember how much more we both expected of each other, and ourselves, once.”
“Don’t you believe in fresh starts?” He reached out to touch her hair. “We’ve both changed. Why not take the time to get to know each other again?”
“You just want to get me into bed.”
“Oh, yeah. That goes without saying.”
She laughed, surprising them both. “More honesty. Soon I’ll be speechless.”
“I’d seduce you eventually, but—”
“Seduction’s overrated,” she interrupted. “I’m not a jittery virgin. If I decide to sleep with you, then I’ll sleep with you.”
He blew out a breath. “Well, then. It so happens I have an entire hotel at my disposal.”
“ ‘If’ is the key word,” she said mildly. “On the occasion ‘if’ becomes ‘when,’ I’ll let you know.”
“I’ll stay available.” To give himself a moment to steady, he bent down to pick up his sunglasses. “But what I was going to say, was that while I’d seduce you eventually, I’ll settle for a friendly dinner.”
“I’m not interested in dating you.” She turned to walk back up the bluff, to the road, and he fell into step beside her.
“A civilized meal, intelligent conversation, that chance to see who we are. If you don’t like calling it a date, we can call it a meeting of two of the island’s prominent business owners.”
“Semantics don’t change reality.” She stopped beside her car. “I’ll think about it.”
“Good.” He opened the car door for her, but blocked her from getting in. “Mia—”
Stay with me, he wanted to say. I’ve missed you.
He shook his head, stepped back. “Drive safe.”
She went straight home, ruthlessly keeping her mind turned off as she changed into gardening clothes. Her large black cat,Isis , ribboned between her legs as she headed outside. In her greenhouse she babied and fussed over her seedlings, selected flats to set out in the sun to help them harden off before planting later in the month.
She gathered tools and set to work prepping soil.
Her daffodils were already up and dancing, and the hyacinths perfumed the air. Warm weather was beginning to tease her tulips open, and soon she imagined they’d be parading in their candy colors. She had manipulated him into kissing her, Mia admitted as she turned the earth. Once a woman knew a man’s buttons, she didn’t forget where to push.
She’d wanted him to hold her, she’d wanted to feel his mouth on hers. It wasn’t a crime or a sin, or even a mistake, she thought now. She’d had to know. And now she did. There was still a charge between them. She couldn’t claim it surprised her. Between the last kiss and this, no man had truly moved her. There’d been a time when she’d wondered if that part of her had simply died off. But the years had coated the wound, and she had recognized, even appreciated, her own sexuality.
There had been others. Interesting men, amusing men, attractive men. But none who tripped that switch inside her, opened her to that rush of feeling.
She’d learned to be content without it.
And now what? she wondered, studying the wisteria, just greening, that scrambled over one of her arbors. Now she wanted, and had tested and believed—needed to believe—that she could take her pleasure on her own terms. And protect her heart.
She was human, wasn’t she, and entitled to basic human needs?
This time she would be careful, she would be calculating, and in control. Better, always, to face a dilemma head-on than to turn your back on what wouldn’t be ignored. Her wind chimes jingled, and the tune struck her as faintly mocking. She glanced over to whereIsis lay sprawled in the sun, watching her.
“And what would happen if I let him drive this train?” Mia demanded. “I wouldn’t be sure of the destination, would I? But if I choose the track, I choose the station.”
The cat made a sound between a purr and a growl.
“So you say,” Mia muttered. “I know exactly what I’m doing. And I believe I will have dinner with him. Here, on my turf.” She stabbed her garden spade into the soil. “When I’m damn good and ready.”
Isisrose, stuck her tail meaningfully in the air, then stalked over to watch the fish swim in gold flashes in the lily pond.
For the next few days, Mia had too much to do to think about critical cats, or having dinner with Sam, or potentially taking him to her bed. Lulu was distracted and cranky. Crankier than normal, Mia corrected. They’d squabbled twice over petty bookstore business.
Which forced Mia to admit she was a bit cranky herself. In any case, Nell’s expansion proposal had lighted a fire under her and provided her with an outlet for the energy that had pumped through her since the moment on the bluff with Sam.
She met with an architect, with a contractor, with her banker, and spent several hours running figures. It didn’t please her that the contractor she wanted had already committed the bulk of his time over the next few months to Sam and his renovation of guest rooms at the Magick Inn. But she tried to take it philosophically. Sam had, damn it, gotten there first.
Both the renovation and her expansion, she reminded herself, were good for the island. As the weather continued warm, she spent her free time in the gardens at home and in the beds she’d planted behind the bookstore.
“Hey.” Ripley wandered to the back garden of the store from the road. “Looks nice,” she commented, scanning.
“Yes, it does.” Mia continued to plant. “The moon’s been warm and yellow all week. We won’t have another frost.”
Ripley pursed her lips. “Do you make that stuff up?”
“I’m setting in my cosmos, aren’t I?”
“Whatever that means. Mac’s got this itch to plant some stuff around the house. He’s been researching the soil and the local flora and blah, blah. I told him he should just ask you.”
“He’s welcome to.”
“He’s going to be coming into the village sometime soon to interview Lulu for his books and stuff. He can catch you then.”
“I had the weirdest dream about Lu the other night—something to do with Mel Gibson and frogs.”
Mia paused, looked up again. “Frogs?”
“Not your lily pad variety. A big, spooky frog.” Ripley furrowed her brow, but could bring the dream back only in vague and disjointed pieces. “Something about the stupid gargoyle thing of hers, too. Weird,” she said again.
“Lulu might be interested—if Mel was naked.”
“Yeah, well. Anyway.” Ripley stuck her hands in her pockets, shifted her feet. “Anyway, I guess you knowLogan came over to the house a few days ago.”
“Yes.” Mia said a mental charm as she set a plant. “It’s natural he’d want to see the house again.”
“Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean Mac should let him inside and give him a damn beer. Believe me, I skinned him over that one.”
“Ripley. There’s no reason Mac should’ve been rude, and no way his nature would allow him to be.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Which was, she thought, just where her argument with him had ended up. “But I don’t have to like it. He’s got this whole mumbo about Sam’s place in the destiny deal, and your step toward holding the circle intact.”
Mia’s stomach clutched, but her hands remained steady as she selected another plant. “I’ve never considered Mac’s theories or opinions mumbo.”
“You don’t live with him.” But on a sigh, Ripley crouched down beside Mia. There was a time, not so long before, when such a gesture would have come hard to her. It still took her a moment to find what she wanted to say, and how she wanted to say it.
“Okay, Mac’s stupendously smart, and he’s thorough, and nine times out of ten, he’s right, which is really irritating in the day-to-day course of things.”
“You’re crazy about him,” Mia murmured.
“Well, sure. Sexiest geek on the planet, and all mine. But even the amazing Dr. Booke has to miss sometime. I just want to say I don’t figure Sam Logan has to have anything to do with anything.”
“Succinct, and sentimental.”
“Well, why the hell should he?” Ripley lifted her hands, let them fall in frustration. “You two had a thing when you were practically kids still, and it cut you up when he ended it. But you’ve been handling the way he came back, going about your business and pretty much keeping your distance. You’ve blown him off, and lightning hasn’t shot out of the sky.”
“I’m going to sleep with him.”
“So I say chances are he’s irrelevant to your part of the . . . What? What? ” Ripley’s mouth dropped open as she goggled. “Sweet Jesus Christ.”
Even as Mia’s lips twitched, Ripley leaped to her feet and headed into a full-blown rant.
“What are you thinking? Have you lost your mind? Sleep with him? You’re going to give the guy sex as a reward for dumping you?”
All amusement fled. Carefully tugging off her gloves, Mia got slowly to her feet. “I’m thinking I’m an adult and capable of making my own decisions. That I’m a single, healthy, thirty-year-old woman who is free to have a physical relationship with a single, healthy man.”
“It’s not a man, it’sLogan !”
“Perhaps you could shout just a little louder. I don’t believe Mrs. Bigelow across the street heard you clearly.”
Ripley set her teeth, rocked back on her heels. “I gave you too much credit, I see that. I figured you’d kick his ass, one way or the other. Then dust your hands off and walk away. I don’t know why I thought you had it in you. You never did.”
“What does that mean?”
“Just what I said. You want to cozy up with Sam, go right ahead. Don’t look for me to pick up the pieces when he breaks you again.”
Mia bent to set down her garden trowel. Even a controlled and civilized woman had to take care when she had a weapon in her hand. “You needn’t worry. I’ve had experience in that area with you. You cut me off every bit as coldly, as completely as he did. Cut yourself off, for ten years, from the gift we share and all its joys and responsibilities. Yet I still manage to join hands with you when it’s necessary.”
“I didn’t have a choice.”
“Convenient, isn’t it, how when one devastates another, it’s always because there wasn’t a choice.”
“I couldn’t help you.”
“You could’ve been there. I needed you to be there,” Mia said quietly, and turned to go.
“I couldn’t.” Ripley took her arm, wrapped her fingers tight. “It’s his goddamn fault. When he left you all you did was bleed, and I . . .”
Ripley dropped her hand. “I don’t want to get into all this.”
“You kicked in the door, Deputy. Have the guts to step through it.”
“Fine, great.” She paced away, paced back. Temper still stained her cheeks, but her eyes were bleak.
“You walked around like a zombie for weeks, barely functioning. Like somebody who hadn’t quite recovered, and never would, from some horrible illness.”
“It probably came from having my heart ripped out.”
“I know it, because I felt it too.” Fisting a hand, Ripley tapped it on her chest. “I felt what you felt. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I could barely get out of bed most days. It was like dying from the inside out.”
“If you’re talking about complete empathy, I’ve never—” Mia stammered.
“I don’t know what you call it,” Ripley snapped. “I experienced, physically, what you experienced. And I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to do something, wanted you to do something. Pay him back, make him hurt. And the longer it went on, the more angry I got. If I was mad, it didn’t hurt as much. I couldn’t think past the fury.”
She drew a breath. “I was standing outside, behind the house. Zack had just come in from a sail. Minutes before. And all this rage just rose up. I thought about what I wanted to do, what I could do. It was inside me to do it. I pulled lightning out of the sky. A black bolt. And it struck the boat where Zack had just been. A few minutes earlier, and I might have killed him. I couldn’t control it.”
التعديل الأخير تم بواسطة Dalyia ; 09-02-11 الساعة 03:43 AM
|09-02-11, 02:49 AM||#10|
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“Ripley.” Shaken, appalled, Mia reached out to touch her arm. “It must have terrified you.”
“A few giant steps beyond terrified.”
“I wish you’d talked to me. I could’ve helped.”
“Mia, you couldn’t even help yourself.” Sighing as the weight slid off her shoulders, Ripley shook her head. “And I couldn’t take the chance of hurting someone. I couldn’t handle the—I don’t know—the intimacy of my link with you. I knew if I told you, you’d talk me out of giving up the Craft. I saw only one way out, and that was to pull back from you. From all of it, before I did something I couldn’t take back.”
“I was furious with you,” Mia countered.
“Yeah.” Ripley sniffled, but she was only marginally embarrassed. “I got mad back, and it got easier, maybe more comfortable for me, to be at odds with you than it had been to be your friend.”
“Maybe it got easier for me, too.” It was difficult to admit, after all the years when casting blame had helped soothe the hurt. “Sam was gone, but you were still here. Needling you whenever possible was some small satisfaction.”
“You were really good at it.”
“Well.” With a little laugh, Mia brushed back her hair. “Just one of my little gifts.”
“I always loved you, even when I called you nasty names.”
Tears threatened. A stone that had been in her heart for so long dissolved in an instant. She took the two steps that separated them, slid her arms around Ripley’s waist and held on. Held tight.
“Okay.” Mia’s voice caught. Ripley patted her back. “Okay.”
“I’ve missed you so much. So much.”
“I know. Me, too.” She let out an unsteady breath, then blinked when she saw Nell standing just outside the door, crying silently.
“Sorry I came out in the middle of that, and, well, by the time I’d decided whether I should mediate or just slip back inside, I was caught up.” She handed tissues all around. “I’d apologize for eavesdropping, but I’m just so happy.”
“What a trio.” Ripley sniffled. “Now I’m going to finish my rounds with red eyes. It’s embarrassing.”
“For heaven’s sake, do a glamour and get rid of them.” Mia finished wiping her eyes, then closed them, murmured a chant. When she opened them again, they were sparkling and clear.
“Always the show-off,” Ripley muttered.
“I still can’t do it that quickly,” Nell began. “Do you think if I—”
“Let’s not get into a damn coven here.” Ripley waved a hand. “Since you’re here, Nell, I need some weight. Get this. Mia’s going to shag Sam.”
“You have such a way with words,” Mia said. “It never fails to impress me.”
“The point is, whatever you call it, it’s a mistake.” Ripley gave Nell a little poke on the arm. “Tell her.”
“It’s none of my business.”
“Cop-out,” Ripley stated, with a sneer.
“To spare you from the insults, and from biting your own tongue, I’ll ask for your opinion.” Mia raised her eyebrows. “If you have one on the subject.”
“My opinion is it’s your decision. And if,” Nell continued over Ripley’s snort, “you’re considering going to bed with him, then you’re still attracted enough for it to be an issue. You don’t do things on impulse or recklessly. It seems to me that until you either get Sam out of your system or resolve your feelings, you’ll be conflicted and unsettled.”
“Thank you. Now—”
“I’m not quite finished,” Nell told Mia, then cleared her throat. “Physical intimacy will resolve only one level of your conflict, and probably the easiest one. What happens after will depend on whether you open yourself or close yourself. That’ll be your decision, too.”
“I’m considering it finishing up old business. Until I do, I can’t know, clearly, what step it is I’m meant to take.”
“Then just look,” Ripley said impatiently. “You were always a whiz with visions.”
“Do you think I haven’t tried?” Some of the pent-up frustration snapped out. “I can’t see my own. I see her, standing on the cliffs, with the storm raging, the fog creeping. I feel her strength and her despair. And in that instant before she jumps, she seems to reach out to me. I can’t tell if it’s to pass that last link to me, or to pull me over with her.”
Her eyes blurred, and the air thickened. “Then I’m alone, and I feel the dark pressing in. Close, tight. And so cold it seems the night should crack from it. I know if I can get to the forest, to the clearing and the heart of the island, we’ll make the circle and that dark will break apart, once and for all. But I don’t know how to get there.”
“You will.” Nell took her hand. “She was alone. You aren’t and never will be.”
“We haven’t come this far to lose now.” Ripley took her other hand.
“No.” Mia drew strength from the circle. She needed it. For even there, in the sunlight, with her sisters beside her, she felt alone in the dark.
A mist blanketed the island, as thin and luminous as the skin of a pearl. Trees and rocks rose up from it, humps and towers in a soft white sea.
Mia left the house early. On the slope of her lawn, she stood for a moment, absorbing the serenity, the stillness that was the Sisters on a lovely spring morning.
Her spread of forsythia was a golden fan of color through the morning fog, her daffodils a band of sunny trumpets. She could smell her hyacinths, damp and sweet. It seemed to her that the earth was waiting to awaken, to throw off all memories of winter and burst into life.
She could appreciate the sleepy before as much as she would the beauty of what was to come. She opened her car, her satchel of paperwork on the seat beside her, and started down the long and curving road to the village.
There were several routine chores to deal with before the store opened. She enjoyed that, too—the relative quiet, the repetition, the freshening of stock—as much as she did the business hours with customers breezing in and out, lingering, browsing. And, of course, buying. She loved being surrounded by books. Uncarting them, shelving them, designing displays. She loved the smell and the texture and the look of them. And the surprises uncovered when she flipped one open at random and saw the play of words on paper.
The bookstore was more than a business to her. It was a deep and steady love. But she never forgot it was a business, one she ran efficiently, and profitably.
She’d come from money, and as a result had never had to work for a living. She’d had to work for her own gratification, her own sense of ethics. Her financial base had allowed her to choose the course of her career and establish a business that reflected her interests. Those ethics, and her own skills, effort, and shrewdness had made the business flourish.
She was grateful, and always would be, for the Devlin money. But it was, to her mind, much more exciting and satisfying to make her own.
And to risk her own.
That was precisely what she would be doing by following through with Nell’s idea. Expanding the café
would change things. As much as Mia trusted and respected tradition and continuity, she was also a proponent of change. As long as the change was smart. And this one, she thought as she wound her way through the mist, could be.
Expanding the café could mean tucking in a more appealing, and roomier, event area. Her monthly book club was popular on the island, and the new cooking club already showed potential. The trick would be to make the best use of space and still maintain the intimacy the store was known for. But since Nell had planted the seed in her mind, the idea had taken hold. Mia could see exactly what she wanted, and how it would be. When it came to Café Book, she knew precisely what she was doing. Too bad she wasn’t quite as confident at the moment about the rest of her life. It was as if a curtain had been lowered, dead center of her vision. She could see peripherally, but straight ahead was blocked. It worried her more than she was willing to admit. Behind the curtain were choices, she understood that. But how could she make the right one if she didn’t know the options waiting for her?
One of the choices was Sam Logan. But to what extent did she trust her instincts there, weighing them with logic and past history? Balancing them against a primal sexual attraction that tended to cloud logic. A misstep with him could crush her a second time. She might not survive it whole. More, the wrong choice could doom the island she loved and was sworn to protect.
Once another woman had chosen death rather than bear the pain of loneliness and heartbreak. She had flung herself into the sea, after the lover who had deserted her. And had woven the last threads of the web about Three Sisters.
Hadn’t she herself, by choosing to live, to find contentment, even to flourish, already countered that act?
Nell had chosen courage, and Ripley true justice. And so their circle held. And she had chosen life. Perhaps the curse had already been broken, and the dark that hovered in wait around the island had already been banished.
Even as the thought, and the hope of it, ran through her mind, the mist boiled up from the roadbed. A jagged lance of lightning crashed beside her car with an explosion of dirty red light and the stink of ozone. In the center of the road, an enormous black wolf snarled.
Instinctively she slammed on the brakes, jerked the wheel. The car skidded, spun, giving her a dizzying view of rocks, fog, and the dull glint of the guardrail that stood between the narrow edge of road and the sheer drop to the sea.
Fighting back the panic that gushed into her throat, she yanked the wheel again. The eyes of the wolf glowed like embers, and its teeth were long. On its muzzle was a white pentagram, sliced through the black hide like a scar.
Her mark—and her heart slammed painfully against her ribs at the sight of it. Through the roar of blood in her head, over the scream of her own tires, she felt the cold of its breath on the back of her neck. She heard the sly, coaxing voice whispering, whispering in her mind. Let go. Just let go, and you won’t be alone. It’s so hard to be alone. Tears blurred her vision. For a moment, her arms went weak, trembling as the urge to let it end nudged at her will. In that moment she saw herself, quite clearly, flying over the edge of the cliff. She bore down even as she struggled to control the car, and pulled her power up from the gut. “Go back to hell, you son of a bitch.”
As the wolf threw back its head to howl, she spun the car forward, punched the gas. And drove through it.
She felt the shock, not from impact but from the explosion of greed that pounded the air as her car rammed through the image.
The fog lifted, and the mist, thin and pearly in the strengthening sun, sparkled over Three Sisters. Mia pulled over to the side of the road, laid her forehead on the wheel, and gave in to the shakes. Her own breathing was too loud in the closed car, so she fumbled for the window control. The cool, damp air and the steady chant of the sea revived her.
Still she closed her eyes, made herself sit back until she began to calm again.
“Well, I guess that answers my question about this being over and done.” She inhaled, exhaled slowly until her chest no longer hitched with every breath. Then opening her eyes, she scanned the road behind her in the rearview mirror.
Her tires had left wild, sinuous trails over the pavement—trails, she noted with one quick shudder, that had veered perilously close to the edge.
The wolf was gone, and the mist was already as sheer as gauze.
“An obvious ploy,” she said aloud for herself and whatever listened. “Black wolf, red eyes. Obvious and clichéd.”
And, she thought, very, very effective.But he’d borne her mark, the mark she’d put on him when he’d worn another form. He hadn’t been able to disguise it, and that gave her some comfort. Much-needed comfort, she admitted, for the ambush had
very nearly succeeded.
She eased the car back on the road, and her hands had almost stopped trembling by the time she parked her car in front of Café Book.
He’d been waiting for her. It had been easy enough to time his arrival at the hotel to match hers at the store. She wasn’t like clockwork, Sam mused as he strolled across the street. But sometime between eight-forty-five and nine-fifteen she parked her pretty little car and unlocked the store. She wore one of her long, thin dresses today, the kind of dress that made a man want to offer thanks to the gods of spring. It was a soft, pale blue, the color of quiet pools, and skimmed fluid as water down her body.
She wore sexy high-heeled sandals, hardly more than a series of buff-colored straps and a long, thin spike.
He’d had no idea shoes could make the mouth water.
She’d tied her hair back, his only complaint about her appearance that morning. He liked it best wild and loose, but the binding did leave an intriguing spill of red down the center of her back. He’d like to lay his lips there—beneath the spill of hair, beneath the soft, thin dress, and onto the smooth skin at the center of her back.
“Good morning, gorgeous.”
She jerked when he spoke and turned away from the door. His opening grin faded instantly, and his eyes went dark at the shock still mirrored in hers.
“What is it? What happened?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Damn it, her hands were going to shake again. “You startled me.” She angled her body enough to hide the tremor in her hand as she unlocked the door. “Sorry, Sam, no time for a neighborly chat. I have work.”
“Don’t pull that on me.” He moved through the door with her before she could attempt to shut it and lock it in his face. “I know you.”
“No, you don’t.” Her voice wanted to rise, and she refused to allow it. As casually as possible, she set her satchel on the front counter. “You don’t know me.”
“I know when you’re upset. Christ, Mia, you’re shaking. Your hands are like ice,” he said as he snatched one and held it between his own. “Tell me what happened.”
“It’s nothing.” She’d thought she was calm. She’d thought she was steady again. But her legs wanted to give. Pride made her lock them stiff. “Damn it, let me go.”
He nearly did. “No,” he decided, moving closer. “I did that once. Let’s try something new.” He scooped her off her feet.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“You’re cold, and shaking. You need to sit down. Put on a little weight, haven’t you?”
She sent him one withering look. “Oh, really?”
“It looks good on you.” He carried her to the sofa, set her down. He pulled the bright throw off the back and tucked it around her.
“Now. Tell me.”
“Don’t sit on the—” She bit off a sigh because he’d already lowered himself to the coffee table facing her. “I see you never have figured out the difference between a table and a chair.”
“They’re both in the furniture family. There, you’ve got some color coming back. Good thing I came along to annoy you.”
“Just my lucky day.”
He took her hand again, warming it in his. “What scared you, baby?”
“Don’t call me that.” He had only used that term, she remembered, when he was being particularly sweet. She let her head rest back against the cushions. “It’s just . . . I had a near miss on the drive down. A dog jumped out in the road. The roads were damp with the mist, and I skidded.”
His grip tightened on hers. “I don’t think so.”
“Why would I lie?”
“I don’t know.” He held on until she stopped trying to pull her hand free. “But something’s off. I imagine I could find out for myself if I took a drive up the coast road.”
“Don’t.” Fear grabbed her by the throat so that the single word was thin and urgent. “Don’t,” she repeated with more control. “It isn’t for you, but at this point I can’t be sure it won’t take what it can get. Let go of my hand, and I’ll tell you.”
“Tell me,” he countered, knowing the value of the link, “and I’ll let go of your hand.”
“All right,” she managed after a vicious internal struggle. “Your way. This time.”
She told him, sparing none of the details but keeping her tone even, almost conversational. Even so, she saw his expression change.
“Why aren’t you wearing protection?” he demanded.
“I am.” She lifted the trio of crystals dangling from a star-shaped pendant. “It wasn’t enough. He’s strong. He’s had three centuries to gather his forces, nurse his powers. Even so, he couldn’t cause me real harm. He can only play tricks.”
“This trick might’ve caused you to have an accident. You were probably driving too fast.”
“Please, you’ll force me to pull out the old pot calling the kettle.”
“I didn’t nearly drive off a cliff.” He pushed to his feet, paced away the terrifying image of Mia doing exactly that.
He hadn’t anticipated this kind of direct, frontal attack on her. And, he thought, neither had she. Confidence in their own powers, he realized, had blindsided them.
“You’d have taken extra precautions with your home.”
“I protect what’s mine.”
“You neglected your car,” he said, tossing a look over his shoulder and having the satisfaction of seeing her flush.
“I certainly did not neglect it. I have the standard charms—”
“Standard isn’t enough, as you’ve just discovered.”
Her teeth clenched at being told how to conduct herself, but she nodded. “Point taken.”
“Meanwhile, I’d prefer to give him back some of his own rather than constantly taking the defense.”
She got to her feet. “This isn’t for you, isn’t about you.”
“No point in wasting time arguing that point, as we both know I’m part of it.”
“You’re not one of the three.”
“No, I’m not.” He stepped back to her. “But I’m of the three. My blood and your blood, Mia, spring from the same pool. My power and your power feed from the same source. It links us, however much you might prefer otherwise. You need me with you to finish this.”
“What I need isn’t yet clear.”
He lifted a hand, grazing a knuckle over the line of her jaw. An old gesture. “And what you want?”
“Wanting you sexually isn’t life and death, Sam. It’s scratching a vague itch.”
“Vague?” Amusement brightened his face as his hand slid around to cup the back of her neck.
“Vague,” she repeated and let his mouth come to hers, let it rub teasingly. And entice. “Slight.”
“I was thinking more . . .” He danced the fingers of his free hand up and down her spine. “Constant. Chronic.” Nibbling on her, he eased her closer.
She kept her gaze on him, her arms at her sides. “Desire’s only a hunger.”
“You’re right. Let’s eat.”
He ravished her mouth, shifting so swiftly from gentle warmth to raging heat that she had no choice but to plunge with him.
التعديل الأخير تم بواسطة Dalyia ; 09-02-11 الساعة 03:44 AM
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