“You’re not a stupid woman. And my impression is you’re very self-aware.” He watched her face. She was trying to remain steady. But there was something beneath the calm veneer, some strong, even passionate emotion.

He wanted desperately to dig in. Discover it. Discover her. But he would never get the chance, he realized, if he alienated her so quickly. “I’m assuming this is a sensitive area for you. I’m sorry.”

“I’ve already told you what you can do with your apology. You can do the same with your assumptions.”

“Ripley . . .” He lifted a hand, spread his fingers in a gesture of peace. “I’m not a reporter looking for a story. I’m not a groupie looking for a show or a neophite searching for a mentor. This is my work. I can promise to respect your privacy, keep your name out of my documentation. I won’t do anything to hurt you.”

“You don’t worry me, Booke. You’re going to have to look for your guinea pig elsewhere. I’m not interested in your . . . work.”

“Is Nell the third?”

“You leave Nell alone.” Before she could think, she reached across, gripped his wrist. “You mess with her, I’ll take you apart.”

He didn’t move, didn’t even breathe. Her pupils had gone so dark they were nearly black. Where her fingers gripped were points of heat so intense he wouldn’t have been surprised to see his skin smoke. “Bring harm to none,” he managed in a voice that somehow remained steady. “That’s not just Craft philosophy. I believe it. I won’t do anything to hurt your sister-in-law. Or you, Ripley.”

Very slowly, watching her as he might a guard dog who had snapped its chain, he brought his hand up to cover hers. “You can’t control it, can you?” His voice was soft. “Not completely.” He gave her hand a squeeze that was almost friendly. “You’re burning my wrist.”

With that statement she lifted her fingers, spread them. But her hand wasn’t steady as she looked down, saw the red welts where her fingers had been.

“I won’t do this.” She struggled to bring her breathing back to normal, to close off that violent spike of energy. To be herself again.

“Here.”

She hadn’t heard him get up, or go to the sink. In an instant he was standing beside her, offering her a glass of water.

After she’d taken it, gulped it down, she was no longer sure whether she was angry or embarrassed. But she was sure it was his fault. “You’ve no right to come here, prying into people’s lives.”

“Knowledge, and truth, save us from chaos.” His tone was quiet, reasonable. And made her want to bite him. “Tempering them with compassion and tolerance makes us human. Without those things, fanatics feed on fear and ignorance. The way they did in Salem, three hundred years ago.”

“Not hanging witches anymore doesn’t make the world tolerant. I don’t want to be part of your study. That’s the bottom line.”

“Okay.” She looked so tired all at once, he noted. Bone-weary. It stirred him, a mixture of guilt and sympathy. “All right. But something happened the other night that might make that difficult for both of us.”

He waited a moment, while she shifted in her chair then gave him her reluctant attention. “I saw a woman on the beach. At first I thought it was you. Same eyes, same coloring. She was very alone, and brutally sad. She looked at me, for one long moment. Then vanished.”

Ripley pressed her lips together, then picked up her wine. “Maybe you’ve been drinking too much Merlot.”

“She wants redemption. I want to help her find it.”

“You want data,” she tossed back. “You want to legitimate your crusade, maybe cop a book deal.”

“I want to understand.” No, he admitted, that wasn’t all of it. That wasn’t the core of it. “I want to know.”

“Then talk to Mia. She loves attention.”

“You grew up together?”

“Yeah. So?”

It was easier, he decided, even more pleasant, to deal with her when she had her attitude back in place. “I caught some . . . tension between the two of you.”

“I must repeat myself. So?”

“Curiosity is the scientist’s first tool.”

“It also killed the cat,” Ripley said with a glimmer of her former sneer. “And I don’t call bopping around the globe playing witch-hunter science.”

“You know, that’s just what my father says.” He spoke cheerfully as he rose to take their soup bowls to the sink.

“Your father sounds like a sensible man.”

“Oh, he is that. I’m a constant disappointment to him. No, that’s unfair,” Mac decided as he came back, topped off their wine. “I’m more a puzzle, and he’s sure some of the pieces have gone missing. So. Tell me about your parents.”

“They’re retired. My father was sheriff before Zack, my mother was a CPA. They took their life on the road a while back, in a big Winnebago.”

“Hitting the national parks.”

“That, and whatever. They’re having the time of their lives. Like a couple of kids on an endless spring break.”

It wasn’t what she said so much as how she said it that told him the Todd family was tight and happy. Her problem with her power didn’t stem from family conflict. He was sure of that.

“You and your brother work together.”

“Obviously.”

There was no doubt about it, she was back. “I met him the other day. You’re not much like him.” He glanced up from his notes. “Except for the eyes.”

“Zack got all the nice-guy genes in the family. There weren’t any left over for me.”

“You were there when he was injured while arresting Evan Remington.”

Her face went very still again. “Do you want to read the police report?”

“Actually, I have. It must’ve been a rough night.” And let’s just circle around that for now, he decided. “Do you like being a cop?”

“I don’t do things I don’t like.”

“Lucky you. WhyThe Maltese Falcon ?”

“Huh?”

“I was wondering why you picked that instead of, say,Casablanca ?”

Ripley shook her head, adjusted her thoughts. “I don’t know. Because I figure Bergman should’ve told Bogart, ‘Paris, my butt’ instead of getting on the plane. InFalcon he did the job. He turned Astor over. That was justice.”

“I always figured Ilsa and Rick got together after the war, and Sam Spade . . . Well, he just kept being Sam Spade. What kind of music do you like?”

“What?”

“Music. You said you like working out to music.”

“What does that have to do with your project?”

“You said you didn’t want

to be involved in my work. We might as well pass the rest of the time getting to know each other.”

She blew out a breath, sipped her wine. “You’re a really strange individual.”

“All right, then, enough about you. Let’s talk about me.” He sat back and, when her face blurred out of focus, remembered to remove his reading glasses. “I’m thirty-three, embarrassingly rich. The second son of the New York Bookes. Real estate. The MacAllister branch—we have that surname as first name in common—they’re corporate law. I got interested in preternatural subjects when I was a kid. The history, variations, the effect on cultures and societies. My interest caused my family to seek the advice of a psychologist, who assured them this was just a form of rebellion.”

“They took you to a shrink because you liked spooky?”

“When you’re a fourteen-year-old college freshman, someone’s always calling the shrink.”

“Fourteen?” She pursed her lips. “That had to be strange.”

“Well, it was pretty hard to get a date, let me tell you.” The slight twitching of her lips pleased him. “I channeled the energy from what would have been those first sexual rumbles into study and my personal interest.”

“So you got off on books and research.”

“In a manner of speaking. By the time I was eighteen, my parents had given up on trying to box me into one of the family firms. Then I hit twenty-one and came into the first lap of my trust fund and could do what I wanted.”

She angled her head. She was interested now, couldn’t help herself. “Did you ever get a date?”

“A couple. I know what it is to be pushed in a direction you don’t want to go, or one you’re not ready for. People say they know what’s best for you. Maybe sometimes it’s true. But it doesn’t matter if they keep pushing until they take your choices away.”

“Is that why you’re letting me off the hook tonight?”

“That’s one reason. Another is because you’re going to change your mind. Don’t get steamed,” he said quickly when her mouth thinned. “When I first came here, I thought it would be Mia I needed to work with. But it’s you—at least primarily it’s you.”

“Why?”

“That’s something I’d like to find out. Meanwhile, you’ve paid off your bet. I’ll drive you home.”

“I’m not going to change my mind.”


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
Source: www.StudyNovels.com