Face the fire, p.11

Face the Fire, page 11

 part  #3 of  Three Sisters Island Series


Face the Fire

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Chapter Ten

  They made it to the kitchen before they dived at each other. Pressed against the back door, she let her system rage under his hands.

  Oh, to be touched again, stroked by hard hands so foreign and familiar. The wild and wicked freedom of it gushed into her, flooded away questions, worries, doubts. To be wanted like this again, devoured by desperation. To have her own needs matched by equally insatiable ones. She pulled his tattered shirt aside and filled her own hands with hot, smooth flesh. She bit at him, craving the taste. Fueling herself on it, she whispered half-crazed demands as they stumbled out of the kitchen. Something fell, a musical tinkle of glass, as they bumped a table in the hall. Little shards of what had been a crystal faerie's wings were crushed to glittery dust under his feet. She couldn't breathe, couldn't think. Her lips skimmed over the wounds on his shoulder. Neither of them noticed when the marks faded away. "Touch me. Don't stop touching me. "

  He'd have cheerfully died first.

  He filled his hands with her - curves, slender lines, felt his own primitive thrill when she quivered against him. His blood surged, a primal beat, when her breath caught, then released on a moan. He slid his hands up her legs, groaning at the glorious length of them, at the heat that gathered around the witch mark that rode high on her thigh. With no thought of finesse, he tugged impatiently at the thin barrier of silk.

  "I have to - " And plunged his fingers into her. "Oh, God. Sweet God. " His face was buried in her hair when she erupted. "Again, again, again. " Savagery took over so that he fixed his teeth on her throat, driving her while her body bucked and shuddered.

  Impossibly hot, wonderfully wet, gloriously soft. He found her mouth again, swallowed her sobbing breaths.

  They dragged each other up the stairs. With fast and urgent fingers, he fumbled with, tore at the tiny buttons that ranged down the back of her dress. Snapped threads, exposed flesh.

  "I need to see you. To see you. "

  The dress slithered to the floor and was left behind. At the top of the steps, he started to pull her to the right.

  "No, no. " Nearly sobbing with desperation, she dragged at the button of his jeans. "This way now. "

  She circled him to the left, shivering when he snapped open the clasp of her bra. When he filled his hands with her breasts. Soon his mouth, hot and hungry, replaced his hands.

  "Let me. Just let me. " Half mad with her, he pulled her arms over her head. Feasted. Mia let her head fall back and relished the helpless and heavy sensation of being ravished. Alive - she was so brutally alive. Even as her heart raged against his greedy mouth, her body wept for more. When he gripped her hips, her arms locked around him in taut, possessive ropes. The bed was steps away, but it might have been miles. His eyes, pure green, burned into the dark smoke of hers. For an instant it seemed the world went still.

  "Yes," she said. "Yes. "

  Then he drove himself into her.

  They took each other where they stood, and took hard and fast. The race through pleasure, toward bliss, stole breath and reason as they mated with a kind of willful violence. Her nails scored his back, his fingers dug bruises on her skin, and still they pushed each other for more. Their mouths met, a wild and frenzied feeding, and their bodies plunged relentlessly.

  The climax raked her like claws. One long swipe that sliced through her system and laid her bare. Helpless against it, she surrendered. And felt him plunge after her. Sweaty, weak, quivering, they held each other up. They swayed there, slick, bruised flesh to flesh. Lowering his forehead to hers, Sam struggled to draw in air. His body felt as if it had fallen off a mountain and landed in a pool of hot, melted gold.

  "I'm a little dizzy," she managed.

  "Me, too. Let's see if we can get to the bed. "

  They stumbled through the haze and fell on Mia's ancient four-poster together. Lying flat on their backs, they both stared, dazed, at the ceiling.

  It wasn't, he realized, precisely the sexual reunion he'd envisioned for them. His fantasy had involved seduction, sophistication, and a great deal more finesse on his part.

  "I was in a little bit of a hurry," he told her.

  "No problem. "

  "You know the weight I mentioned you'd put on?"

  "Hmmm. " The sound was a low warning.

  "It really works for me. " He shifted his hand just enough to skim the side of her breast. "I mean, it really works. "

  "You filled out a bit yourself. "

  He let himself float, studied the mural on her ceiling. In the night sky, stars glowed and faeries flew. "You moved your bedroom. "

  "Yes. "

  "Good thing I didn't follow the impulse to climb up the trellis the other night. "

  Because the image brought her back to nights he'd done just that, she sighed. It had been a long time, a very long time, since her body had felt so loose, so used . It made her want to curl up like a cat and purr.

  She would have done so once with him. Once they would have turned to each other and, tangled together, would have slept like kittens after a romp.

  Those days were over, she thought. But as romps went, they'd done very, very well. "I have to get back to work," she said.

  "So do I. "

  They turned their heads, looked at each other, and grinned. "Do you know the beauty of owning your own business?" she asked him.

  "Yeah. " He rolled over until his mouth hovered a breath from hers. "Nobody can dock our pay. "

  But that didn't mean you got off scot-free.

  When Mia strolled back into the bookstore, Lulu took one look at her and knew. "You did it with him. "

  "Lulu!" Hissing, Mia scanned the area for customers.

  "If you think it's not going to show, and people aren't going to gab about it, then sex gave you instant brain damage. "

  "Be that as it may, I'm not going to stand here and discuss it at the cash register. " With her head high, she started toward the stairs and was immediately waylaid by Gladys Macey.

  "Hello, there, Mia. Don't you look pretty today?"

  "Hello, Mrs. Macey. " Mia angled her head to read the titles of the books Gladys had picked up. "You'll have to let me know what you think of that one. " She tapped a finger against a current bestseller. "I haven't read it yet. "

  "I'll be sure to do that. I heard you had dinner over at the hotel. " Gladys beamed into Mia's face. "Sam Logan's making some changes over there, I'm told. The food as good as ever?"

  "Yes, I enjoyed it. "

  Then Mia looked over her shoulder at Lulu. Considering Lulu's voice and Gladys's ears, there was no doubt the opening comment had been heard and digested.

  "Would you like to know if Sam and I had sex?" she asked pleasantly.

  "Now, honey. " Gladys gave Mia a motherly pat. "Don't get all dandered up. Besides, it's hard to look at you and not see right off you've got a nice, healthy glow about you. He's a handsome boy. "

  "Troublemaker," Lulu muttered under her breath, and proved that Gladys's ears were well tuned.

  "Oh, now, Lu, that boy never caused any more trouble than any of the others around here, and less than some. "

  "The others didn't come sniffing around my girl. "

  "Well, they certainly did. " Gladys shook her head, calling back to Lulu as if Mia was invisible - or deaf.

  "There wasn't a boy on the island who didn't sniff around her. Fact is, Sam was the only one who had her sniffing back. I always thought they made a pretty couple. "

  "Excuse me. " Mia held up a finger. "I'd like to remind both of you that the boy and the girl who did the sniffing are now full-grown adults. "

  "But you still make a pretty couple," Gladys insisted.

  Giving up, Mia leaned over, brushed her lips over Gladys's cheek. "You have a sweet heart. "

  And a wagging tongue, she thought as she walked up to her office. Word would spread like a rash over the island that Sam Logan and Mia Devlin were at it again.

  Since she didn't know how she felt about that, but could do nothing to circumvent it, Mia put the matter in a corner of her mind and went back to work on her proposal.

  By four, ignoring the stares, she sailed across the street and into the hotel, where she dropped the envelope containing her proposal at the lobby desk, with a request that it be delivered to Mr. Logan as soon as possible. Then she sailed out again.

  To make up for the time she'd lost, she closed herself in the stockroom and concentrated on business. She organized, rearranged, and put together a list of inventory that needed replenishing. The solstice always brought a flood of tourists to the island. It paid to be ready for them. Armed with the stock list, she rose. Then quickly sat again as a wave of dizziness swamped her. Foolish, she berated herself. Careless. She'd had nothing but a half a muffin all day. She got to her feet, thinking she'd pick up a bowl of soup in the cafe. And an image swam into her brain. Evan Remington stood by a barred window, smiling. And his eyes were as empty as a doll's. But he turned his head, slowly, so slowly, and those eyes began to glow red and filled with something that wasn't human.

  She had to force herself not to run, to pull her calm around her like a cloak. As the image faded, she left her work behind.

  "I have an errand," she told Lulu as she breezed out of the store. "I'll be back when I can. "

  "Going and coming," Lulu muttered.

  Mia walked straight down to the station house, pausing when she had to exchange a word with an acquaintance. The streets, she noted, were already full of tourists. They strolled and shopped, cruised the island looking for the perfect picnic spot, a new vista. They would crowd into the restaurants at night or go back to their rental houses to cook up fish brought fresh from the docks. Shops were running spring-into-summer sales, and the pizza parlor was offering two free toppings with the purchase of a second large pie. She watched Pete Stubens drive past in his pickup with his beloved dog riding shotgun.

  Ripley's young cousin Dennis flashed by on the opposite sidewalk, hanging ten on his skateboard. His Red Sox jersey flapped like a flag.

  It was all so normal, she thought. So easy and right and real.

  She was going to do everything in her power to keep it that way.

  Zack was at his desk when she walked in, and immediately sprang to his feet. "Now, Mia," he began.

  "I'm not here to pin your ears back. "

  "That's a relief. Nell already took care of that. " To prove it, he rubbed them. "I would like to say we weren't going behind your backs. We were just looking into a situation. It's my job to deal with trouble on the island. "

  "We can debate that later. Can you check on Evan Remington?"

  "Check on?"

  "Make sure he's where he's supposed to be. What the progress of his treatment is, the prognosis, his recent behavioral patterns. "

  He started to ask her why, but the look on her face told him to answer first, then ask questions. "First I can tell you he's still locked up and he's going to stay that way. I make it my business to call a couple of contacts of mine every week. " He angled his head. "I assume you don't consider that little chore out of my scope. "

  "Don't get snotty. Can you get progress reports?"

  "I don't have access to his medical records, if that's what you mean. I'd need a warrant, and cause to request one. What's the problem?"

  "He's still part of this, padded cell or not. "

  Zack was around the desk in two strides, and had his hand wrapped firm on Mia's arm. "Is he a threat to Nell?"

  "No. " What was it like to be loved so utterly? she wondered. Once, she'd thought she knew. "Not directly. Not like before. But he's being used. I wonder if he knows it?"

  It was essential to find out.

  "Where's Ripley?"

  "Out doing her job. " His grip tightened. "Is she in trouble?"

  "Zack, both Nell and Ripley have done what they were meant to do. But I need to talk to them. Would you tell them both to come up to the house tonight? By seven if they can. "

  Now Zack's grip lightened to a caress and ran up to her shoulder. "You're in trouble. "

  "No. " Her voice was clear and calm. "I'm in control. "

  She believed it absolutely. Just as she understood the value of that faith, and that sense of self. Doubts, questions, fears would only diminish power when she needed it most. The vision had come unbidden, and with some physical distress. She wouldn't take such a thing lightly. She prepared carefully. It was not a time for rash behavior or showmanship, though she often appreciated the flash and the flare.

  It seemed now that much of what had happened that day had been meant to prepare her. Her purging of temper that morning, the fasting, and yes, the sex. Ridding the body of frustration and celebrating one of its more joyful purposes would only aid her in what was to come.

  The herbs and oils for her ritual bath were chosen with deliberation. Rose for psychic power and divination. Carnation for protection. Iris for wisdom that she might understand what was shown to her. By the light of candles inscribed for her quest, she immersed herself, washing body and hair, cleansing her mind.

  Using creams she'd made herself, she coated her skin before slipping into a long, loose robe of white. She selected her charms and pendant carefully. Dendritic agate for protection in travel, amethyst to sharpen her third eye. She hung malachite from her ears, for vision questing. She gathered her tools, her divination wand with moonstone at the tip. Incense and candles, bowls and sea salt. Knowing that she might need it, she selected a tonic for restorative energy. Then she went into her garden, to gather peace and wait for her sisters. They came together and found her sitting on a stone bench beside a bed of nodding columbine.

  "I need your help," she said. "I'll tell you on the way to the clearing. "

  They were barely into the forest, the light dimming with dusk, when Ripley stopped. "You shouldn't be the one to do this. A flight leaves you too open, too vulnerable. "

  "Which is why I need my circle," Mia countered.

  "I should do it. " Nell touched Mia's arm. "Evan's most directly connected to me. "

  "Which is exactly why you shouldn't do it," Ripley argued. "The connection's too close. I've already done this once, so I should do it again. "

  "You flew without preparation, without protection, and you were harmed. " Reminding herself that there was patience in reason, Mia continued to walk. "The vision came to me, unbidden. This is for me to do, and I'm fully prepared. You don't have enough control as yet," she said to Ripley. "And you, little sister, not enough experience. Even disregarding both those facts, this is for me. We all know it, so let's not waste any more time. "

  "I don't like it," Ripley said. "Especially after what happened to Sam last night. "

  "Unlike some men, I don't have to prove my heroism. My body stays within the circle. "

  She set her bag down in the clearing and began to cast the circle. Nell lit the candles. She was calm because calm was needed. "Tell me what to do if something goes wrong. "

  "Nothing will," Mia assured her.

  "If. "

  "If, then. You pull me back. " She looked up and saw the glow in the trees as the moon began its rise.

  "We'll begin. "

  She disrobed, standing in the arms of the young night in nothing but crystals. Holding out her hands for her sisters', she began the chant that would free her consciousness from the shell of her body. And let her fly.

  "Open window, open door. I seek to see, I seek to soar. Over sea and into sky, my spirit lifts, my senses fly. It is within my gift of power to command this airy hour and to ask that what I see bring no harm to them or me. As I will, so mote it be. "

  There was a slow and lovely sense of weightlessness, of lifting out of the shell that held the spirit bound to the earth. She floated free of it, a bird rising on the wing. And, for a moment only, allowed herself to embrace the glory of it.

  Such a gift was g
olden, but she knew the ribbons that tethered her to the earth could be carelessly snapped. Even for the thrill of flight, she wouldn't trade her reality. She beamed over the sea where the starlight was reflected like bits of sparkling glass scattered on black velvet. From deep within its depths came whale song, and the music carried her to the far shore. The buzz of traffic, conversations within houses, the scent of trees and of dinners cooking all swirled below her as life drove forward.

  She heard the outraged cry of a newborn pushed into life. And the last sigh of the dying. The quick, soft brush as souls passed on their way. She kept the light of them around her, and sought the dark. He had such hate in him. The breadth of it was infinite, and layered, and not, she realized as she drew closer, all his own. What was in Evan Remington was a rancid mix, one that offended the senses. But she could see as she watched the orderlies, the guards, the doctors move through the facility where Remington was imprisoned, that none of them caught the underlying stench. She let the thoughts, the voices of the others bleed away, and focused on Remington and what used him. He was in his room for the night, a cell far removed from the plush surroundings he'd once commanded. She saw he had changed considerably from the night in the woods when Nell had defeated him. His hair was thinner, his face rounder, with the jowls beginning to sag beneath deep, sharp lines of dissipation. No longer handsome, no longer smooth, his face had begun to mirror what he'd hidden inside him for so many years.

  He wore loose orange coveralls and paced his cell like a soldier on sentry duty.

  "They can't keep me here. They can't keep me here. I have work. I'm going to miss my plane. Where is that bitch?" He spun away from his cell door, and his pale eyes searched the small space. His mouth folded down as if in mild annoyance. "She's late again. I'll have to punish her. She leaves me no choice. "

  Someone from outside shouted at him to shut the fuck up, but he continued to pace, continued to rant.

  "Can't she see I have business? I have responsibilities? She's not going to get away with it. Who the hell does she think she is! Whores, every one of them whores. "

  Suddenly, like a puppet on a string, his head jerked up, and his eyes were madness slicked thin over hate. Madness began to glow red.

  "Don't you know I see you, whore-bitch? I'll kill you before it's done. "

  The blast of power slammed into her, a fist in the belly. She felt herself waver, then bore down. "You're pathetic. You use a madman to horde your power. I need only myself. "

  "Your death will be slow and painful. I'll keep you alive long enough so that you see it all destroyed. "

  "We've already beaten you twice. " She sensed the next whip of energy and deflected it. But it took all of her strength, and she felt her link shudder as Remington's head changed into that of a snapping wolf.

  "And the third time's the charm," she finished; and pulled herself back. She poured back into her body, staggered, and might have fallen if Nell and Ripley hadn't supported her.

  "Are you hurt?" At the urgency in Nell's voice Mia struggled to settle again. "Mia?"

  "No, I'm not hurt. "

  "You were gone too damn long," Ripley told her.

  "Just long enough. "

  "So you say. " Still gripping Mia's hand, Ripley jerked her head. "We've got company. "

  As the visions cleared out of her mind, Mia saw Sam standing just outside the circle. He wore black, the long coat swirling in the night air.

  "Finish it, and close the circle. " His voice was brisk, businesslike. "Before you collapse. "

  "I know what to do. " She reached for the tonic Nell was already pouring into a cup. Because she was not yet steady, she took the cup with both hands. And she drank until she no longer felt as if her body was a mist ready to be swept away by the wind.

  "Close the circle," Sam demanded. "Or I come in, regardless. "

  Ignoring him now, she offered thanks for a safe flight and, with her sisters, closed the circle.

  "It continues to use Remington. " She slipped into her robe and belted it, though her skin felt as thin, as fragile, as the silk. "More like a vessel than a source, but still some of both. It fills him up with hatred of women, of female power, then uses the mix to feed its own energy. It's potent, but not without vulnerability. "

  She reached down for her bag, and when she straightened, swayed.

  "That's enough. " In one motion, Sam swept her into his arms. "She needs to sleep this off. I know what to do for her. "

  "He's right. " Ripley put a hand on Nell's shoulder as Sam carried Mia out of the clearing. "He knows what she needs. "

  Mia's head spun, infuriating her. "I just need to get my balance. I can't get it unless I'm on my feet. "

  "There was a time you weren't so twitchy about needing help. "

  "I wouldn't be twitchy if I needed help. And I don't need you to - " She bit off the words. "I'm sorry, and you're right. "

  "Boy, you must be shaky. "

  She let her head rest on his shoulder. "I'm queazy. "

  "I know, baby. We'll fix it. How's the headache?"

  "It's not bad. Really. I'd have come back sturdier, but I had to come back fast. Damn it, Sam, this dizziness is . . . " Gray began to swim at the edges of her vision. "It's not passing off. I'm going under. "

  "That's all right. Go ahead. "

  For once she did exactly as he suggested and didn't argue. When she went limp in his arms, he continued to carry her toward the house. He would curse her later, he told himself, when she could fight back. For now, he took her inside and up to her bed.

  Knowing she had to sleep long and deep didn't make it any easier for Sam to see her, so pale, so still in the shadowy light of her bedroom. He knew what could be done, and tending to her at least helped keep his mind on the practical.

  He knew what protective oils and creams she'd used. He could smell them on her skin. After he laid her in bed, he gathered the proper incense and candles to bolster what she'd already used. She always had been an organized soul, he thought as he checked the shelves and cupboards in her tower room for the supplies he needed.

  Even here she had flowers - clay pots of violets - and books. He scanned the books, selected one on healing spells and charms in case he needed to refresh his memory.

  In her kitchen he found the herbs he needed, and though it had been some time since he'd practiced any kitchen magic, he steeped a pot of rue tea to aid her in spiritual cleansing. She was deeply asleep when he returned. He lighted the candles and incense, then sitting beside her, slid his mind into hers.

  "Mia, you need to drink, then you can rest. "

  He trailed his fingers over her cheeks, then brushed his mouth over her mouth. Her eyes opened, but the gray was blurred. She was limp as water as he lifted her head and put the cup to her lips.

  "Now you drink and heal in sleep. Dreams will take you far and deep. Through the night and into the light. "

  He brushed the hair from her face as he eased her down again. "Do you want me to come with you?"

  "No. I'm alone here. "

  "You're not. " He lifted her hand to his lips as her eyes closed again. "I'll wait for you. "

  She let go of him, and slid into dreams.

  She saw herself, a child, sitting in the rose garden her parents had neglected. Butterflies fluttered in the palms of her upturned hands as if her fingers were petals.

  She and Ripley, so young and eager, lighting the Beltane fire in the clearing. Sprawled on the floor in front of the fire while Lulu sat in a chair, knitting. Walking on the beach with Sam on a hot, close summer night. And the beat, beat, beat of her heart as he drew her up, drew her in. The world standing still, holding its breath in that magical instant before their first kiss.

  The feel of tears, the hot flood of them as they'd gushed out of her shattered heart. He'd walked away

  so carelessly, left her broken and grieving as she stood by a pretty pool of early spring violets. I'm
not coming back.

  With that one statement, he'd broken her to pieces.

  Dreams floated in and out, and she with them. She saw herself standing in her summer garden, teaching Nell how to stir the air. She felt the joy of clasping hands, at last, with both of her sisters in a circle of unity and power.

  She saw the soft colors and sweetness of Nell's wedding, the bright promise of Ripley's. She watched as they began yet another circle without her, as was meant to be.

  And she was alone.

  "Fate moves us, and then we choose. "

  She stood on the cliffs now, with the one who was called Fire. Mia turned, looked into the face so like her own.

  "I regret no choice I've made," Mia said.

  "Nor did I. Nor can I now. "

  "To die for love is a poor choice. "

  The one called Fire lifted her brows, and there was an innate arrogance in the gesture. In the night wind, her hair streamed like flames. "Yet it was mine. If I had chosen differently, daughter, perhaps you would not be here now. Would not be what you are. So I have no regrets. Will you say the same at the end of your time?"

  "I cherish my gift and bring no harm. I live my life, and live it well. "

  "As did I. " She spread her arms. "We hold this place, but the time grows short. See. " She gestured to where the fog boiled along the edge of the rocks. "It craves most what it cannot have, and what it cannot have will, in the end, defeat it. "

  "What is there to do that I haven't done?" Mia demanded. "What's left for me?"

  "Everything. " With that last word, she vanished.

  And Mia was alone.

  Lulu was alone. Sleeping deeply under her hodgepodge quilt, floating on dreams. Unaware of the dark mists gathering outside her house, rising up to slither around her windows. And through the cracks. She stirred, she shivered, when that cold mist slid over her, snuck under the covers to crawl over her skin. With a little sound of protest, she burrowed deeper under the quilt, but found no warmth.

  She heard the baby crying, long wails of misery. In a mother's automatic response, she tossed the covers aside, rose in the dark, and started out of the bedroom.

  "Okay, okay, I'm coming. "

  In the dream she walked, sleepily, down the long corridor of the house on the cliff. She felt the smooth wood under her feet - and not the rough grass of her own yard as she left her house, moving through the thickening fog. Her eyes were open, but she saw the door to the baby's room, and not the street where she walked, the quiet houses she passed.

  She didn't see or sense the black wolf stalking behind her.

  She reached out, opened the door that wasn't there as she trudged around the corner toward the beach. The crib was empty, and the baby's wails became screams of terror.

  "Mia!" She ran, hurling herself across High Street, which was a maze of corridors in her mind. "Where are you?"

  She ran, breath heaving, fear rising as she pounded on locked doors and raced toward the sound of the baby's cries.

  She fell, scoring her hands on the sand of the beach and feeling her fingers dig into thick carpet. She was weeping, calling for her baby as she pushed herself to her feet, swayed, then raced on. In the dream she flew down the main staircase and out into the black night, then plunged into the sea. The surf knocked her back, knocked her down, but in a blind fury to find and protect her child, she fought her way up again, pushed her way through the waves.

  Even as the water closed over her head, her eyes were open, and the baby's screams pounded in her ears.

  There was a great weight on her chest, and the sharp taste of vomit in her throat. She gagged, heaved again.

  "She's breathing. It's okay, Lulu, take it easy. "

  Her eyes burned, refused to focus. Through the haze over them she made out Zack's face. Water dripped from his hair and onto her cheeks.

  "What the hell is this?" she demanded, and her voice came out in a croak that hurt her throat.

  "Oh, God, Lulu. " Nell knelt on the sand beside her, grabbed her hand and pressed it to her own cheek.

  "Thank God. "

  "She's still in shock. " Ripley nudged her brother aside and spread a blanket over Lulu.

  "Shock, my ass. " Lulu managed to sit up, coughed violently enough that she considered passing out. But she bore down and stared at the faces surrounding her. Nell was weeping openly, and Mac, soaking wet, crouched beside her. Ripley sat on the sand now, and with her brother's help, arranged the blanket over Lulu's shoulders.

  "Where's Mia?" she demanded.

  "She's at home, she's with Sam," Nell told her. "She's safe. "

  "Okay. " Lulu began to draw slow and careful breaths. "What the hell am I doing out here, soaking wet, in the middle of the night?"

  "Good question. " Zack considered a moment, then decided flat truth was best. "Nell woke up and knew you were in trouble. "

  "So did I," Ripley added. "I'd barely fallen asleep when I heard you shouting in my head, for Mia. Then the vision hit like a freight train. " She glanced at Nell then. "I saw you walking out of your house, saw the fog closing in. "

  "And the black dog," Nell murmured, and waited for Ripley to nod. "Stalking you. I was afraid we wouldn't get to you in time. "

  Lulu held up a hand a moment, trying to clear her head. "I walked into the water? For Christ's sake. "

  "It lured you there," Mac replied. "Do you know how?"

  "I had a dream, that's all. A nightmare. Walked in my sleep. "

  "Let's get her home, and warm," Nell said, but Ripley shook her head.

  "Not yet. You damn near drowned in your sleep. " Her tone turned sharp and angry. "So don't pull the stubborn crap on me. If Nell and I hadn't linked in, we'd have found you dead in the morning, washed up in the fucking tide. "

  Because Ripley's voice broke, she clenched her teeth and spoke through them. "My brother and my man pulled you out, and Zack pumped the life back into you. Don't you dare brush this off. "

  "Stop it now. Stop that crying. " Shaken, Lulu gave Ripley's arm a little shake. "I just had a bad spell, that's all. Nothing more than that to it. "

  "It lured you here," Mac repeated.

  "That's just bull. " But she started to shiver again, from a cold inside her bones. "Why would this thing want to hurt me? I've got no power. "

  "It hurts you," Mac said, "it hurts Mia. You're a part of her, Lu, so you're part of this. What would've happened to the island - to the children the sisters left behind - if they hadn't had the nurse to tend them?

  And we should've taken that into account before. It was stupid not to. Careless. "

  "We won't be careless anymore. " Nell wrapped her arm around Lulu's shoulders. "She's cold. We need to get her home. "

  She let herself be carried, let herself be pampered, even tucked into bed. She felt her age, and then

  some, but she wasn't done yet.

  "I don't want Mia to know about this. "

  "What?" Ripley jammed her fists onto her hips. "A near-death experience rattle your brain?"

  "Think about what your man said back on the beach. Hurt me, hurt her. If she's worried about me, she's distracted. " With her glasses back in place, she turned to Mac and saw him clearly. "She needs all her strength, all her wits to finish this. Have I got that right?"

  "She needs to be strong, but - "

  "Then why muck her up?" There was nothing - nothing - more vital than Mia's well-being. "How do we know this didn't happen tonight just to make her upset and worried about me so she's vulnerable?

  What's done's done, and telling her doesn't change it. "

  "She could help protect you," Nell put in.

  "I can take care of myself. " The minute the statement was out, she caught Zack's lifted eyebrows. And huffed out a breath. "Been doing it for longer than any of you've been alive. Added to that, I've got me a big strong sheriff, a smart scientist, and a couple of witches looking out for me. "
r />   "She may be right about this. " Ripley thought of how pale, how fragile Mia had been when she'd come back from the flight. "Let's at least agree to keep it to ourselves until telling Mia has a purpose. Nell and I can put protection around the house. "

  "You go right ahead," Lulu invited.

  "I can set up a sensor," Mac put in. "So if there's any energy change, you'd be alerted. "

  "Sounds like a plan. " Lulu firmed her jaw. "Mia's the target. Nothing and no one's going to use me to hurt her. That's a promise. "

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