“Yes, I do.”

She nodded as she studied his face. “I thought you would, and on some level, you even understand it. He was meant to find her. This . . . test that held her life in the balance was written centuries ago. Her courage, and faith in self, were key.”

She paused a moment, gathering herself. “Even knowing that, I was afraid. As a woman is afraid. He held a knife to her throat. Her face was already bruised from his hand. I abhor those who prey on others, who deliberately cause fear and pain in those they see as weaker.”

“You’re a civilized woman,” he said.

“Am I, Dr. Booke? Do you also understand that it was within my power to have caused Evan Remington’s heart to stop, to have stopped his life, given him unspeakable pain, in the instant he threatened my sister?”

“A curse of that magnitude, that violence, requires the belief of the one being cursed. And a complex ritual with . . .” He trailed off because Mia was sipping coffee and smiling—pure amusement now. “All my research confirms that.”

“As you like.” She said it lightly, and the back of his neck prickled. “What I could have done is one thing. I’m bound by my own beliefs, my own vows. I can’t break faith and be what I am. We stood, the five of us, in that wood. Both Zack and Ripley had weapons. But using them would certainly have ended Nell’s life as well as Remington’s. There was only one path, one answer. The circle of three. We cast it that night, without the ceremony, the tools, the chants that are most often required. We cast the circle through will.”

Fascinating, he thought. Amazing. “I’ve never seen that done.”

“Nor had I, until that night, ever attempted it. Needs must,” she murmured. “A link, mind to mind to mind. And power, Dr. Booke, ran in a ring like fire. He couldn’t harm her when she wouldnot be harmed. He couldn’t stay sane when forced to face what lived inside him.”

She spoke quietly, but something—the wordmagic seemed almost too ordinary—shimmered in the room, stroked over his skin. “Ripley told me you closed the circle.”

“Ripley is uncharacteristically chatty with you. Yes, we closed the circle.”

“The energy’s still there. Stronger than any open circle I’ve documented.”

“The three are very strong when linked. I suspect the energy will be there long after we’re just memories. Nell found what she needed. The first step toward the balance.”

The air cooled again, and she was just a beautiful woman holding a china pot. “More coffee?” she asked.

Seven

The slick-handed son of a bitch.

First he puts the moves on her, then he worms his way past her better judgment with that cute, trust-me act, then he makes it clear he wants to have sex.

Ripley ground her teeth as she jogged along the beach.

Then,then , at the first chance, he cozies up to Mia.

Men, she decided, were slugs.

She might not have gotten wind of it either if Nell hadn’t casually commented about Mia having Mac up to her house for dinner.

Dinner? she snorted. Right, dinner.

She just bet he had his mind on his stomach when he bought a bottle of Mia’s favorite fancy French wine at Island Liquors. She’d heard about that, too, after the fact. He’d evenasked the clerk which type—vintage—Mia preferred.

Well, he was free to put the make on Mia and on every female on the island. Butnot when he’d put it on Ripley Todd first.

Bastard. City-slicker bastard getting her all stirred up and twitchy, then sneaking off to nibble on Mia. Mia had probably cast out lures just to get her goat.

It would be just like her.

She swung around at the end of the beach, pounded in the opposite direction.

No, d

amn it, it wasn’t. However much she would have enjoyed jabbing her elbow in Mia’s face on principle, she couldn’t delude herself. Mia never went sniffing after someone else’s man. The fact was, she didn’t sniff after men at all, which was probably why she was such a moody, irritating woman. A little recreational sex would improve her attitude.

But it wasn’t Mia’s style, and however much at odds they were, Mia Devlin was entirely too loyal, and too damn classy, to poach.

Which brought Ripley back full circle to Mac.

His fault, completely and totally. All she had to do now was figure out the most satisfying way to make him pay for it.

She finished her run, showered, dressed for the day in dark wool slacks and a turtleneck, buttoning a flannel shirt over it. She laced up her boots. Then took a good long look at herself in the mirror.

She could never compete with Mia in the looks department. Who could? Then again, she’d never wanted to. She had her own style and was comfortable with it. Still, she knew just how to bump up the package when she was in the mood.

Toying with the outline of an idea for vengeance, she slicked on lipstick, smudged on eyeliner and shadow, brushed on mascara. Satisfied that she’d made the best use of what she had to work with, she sprayed on some of the perfume Nell had put in her Christmas stocking.

It was a deep, earthy scent and suited her more than anything floral or airy.

After some debate, she ditched the flannel shirt. She might be a bit chilly before end of day, but the turtleneck and slacks showed off her curves. Pleased with the results, she strapped her holster to her belt and headed out to work.

Pete Stahr’s mutthad gotten off the leash, again. He’d nosed out a goodly pile of frozen fish guts, feasted on same. Then had sicked them up, along with his morning ration of kibble, on Gladys Macey’s pristine front stoop.

It was the sort of neighborhood crisis Ripley preferred leaving to Zack. He was more diplomatic, more patient. But Zack was on the windward side helping to deal with a couple of downed trees. That left her stuck.

“Ripley, I’m at the end of my patience.”

“I don’t blame you for that, Mrs. Macey.” They stood, hunched against the cold, and several steps downwind from the mess on the front stoop.

“That dog—” She pointed to where the unrepentant hound sat tied to a tree trunk by a length of clothesline. “He’s got no more sense than a block of wood.”

“No arguing there, either.” Ripley watched the dopey-faced dog grin and loll his tongue. “But, you know, he’s affable.”

Gladys merely puffed her cheeks full of air, blew it out. “Why he’s taken such a shine to me I don’t know, but the fact is, every blessed time he gets loose he’s over here doing his business in my yard, burying some mangy bone in my flower beds, and now this.”

She set her hands on her hips and scowled at her stoop. “Just who’s going to


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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