There was noarguing with Mia’s logic. But . . . there was no reasonnot to choose pink candles for the table. She neither charmed nor inscribed them. The color being that used for love spells could be purely coincidental.

She already had rosemary potted on the windowsill, for cooking, of course. And also to absorb negative energy. It was true that that particular herb was used in love charms, but that was neither here nor there.

Nor was the rose quartz tumbled in a bowl, nor the amethyst crystals that stimulated intuition.

It wasn’t as if she’d made a charm bag.

She’d used Zack and Ripley’s grandmother’s china, the silver candlesticks she’d unearthed weeks before and polished to a gleam, an antique lace tablecloth that had been a wedding present, and a centerpiece of lily of the valley that she’d forced to keep the winter gloom away.

The wineglasses had been another wedding gift, and their garnet stems went well, she thought, with the pale pink candles and the rosebuds on the china.

She was so intent on judging the results that she jumped when Zack came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.

“Pretty fancy.” He rubbed his lips over her hair. “The table hasn’t looked like that in . . . Come to think of it, I’ve never seen it look like that.”

“I want it to be perfect.”

“I don’t see how it could look better. Or smell better. I nearly fell to my knees in reverence when I passed through the kitchen. How come Rip’s not helping you out? It’s her date, isn’t it?”

“I chased her out half an hour ago. She was in my way. And so”—she turned, kissed him briefly—“are you.”

“I figured you needed somebody to sample some of those little canapé things you’ve got in the kitchen.”


“Too late.” He grinned at her. “They’re great.”

“Zack. Damn it, I had them arranged.”

“I scooted everything in,” he told her as he followed her back into the kitchen. “No gaps.”

“Keep your fingers out of the food or I won’t make beef stew and dumplings with the leftovers.”

“Nell, honey, that’s downright mean.”

“No sulking. Now, let me look at you.” She stepped back, skimmed her gaze over him. “My, aren’t you handsome, Sheriff Todd.”

He hooked a finger in the belt of her slacks. “Come over here and say that.”

She obliged, was just lifting her mouth to his when she heard the knock on the front door. “That’s him.” She broke free, dragged off her apron.

“Hey, come back here. Ripley can get the door.”

“No, she can’t. She needs to make an entrance. Oh, just—” She waved a hand at him as she hurried out. “Go put on some music or something.”

Mac brought wine and flowers, and earned Nell’s approval. Three times, that Nell counted, he touched Ripley’s hand as they enjoyed appetizers in the living room.

It was comfortable, as she’d wanted, casual as she’d planned. And watching the two of them together she felt a nice warm glow. By the time they settled down in the dining room, Nell was already patting herself on the back.

“Of all the places you’ve been,” she asked Mac, “which is your favorite?”

“Wherever I am is always my favorite. Three Sisters is like this perfect little slice of the world.”

“And the natives are friendly enough,” Zack added.

“They are.” Mac sent Ripley a grin as he ate his roast. “Mostly.”

“We discourage munching on missionaries and explorers these days.” Ripley stabbed a potato. “Mostly.”

“Lucky for me. I’ve had some interesting interviews. Lulu, the Maceys.”

“You talked to Lulu?” Ripley interrupted.

“Mmm. She was top of my list. She’s lived here a long time, but she wasn’t born here. And there’s her close association with Mia. It’s intriguing to me the easy, almost casual way Lulu accepts the metaphysical. She accepts Mia’s gifts the way another might accept a child’s hair color. It would be different for you,” he said to Nell. “Coming into your talents as an adult.”

“I suppose.” She didn’t mind talking about it. In fact, Nell thought she might enjoy discussing the entire matter on an intellectual, scientific plane. But she recognized the warning signals in Ripley’s stiff shoulders. “More beef?” she asked brightly.

“Thanks. It’s great. Zack, I wonder if I could schedule some time with you? Get your perspective as someone who’s lived here all his life, and who married a woman of considerable talents.”

“Sure. My time’s fairly flexible.” He wasn’t oblivious to his sister’s reaction, but he considered it her problem. “You’re going to find that most of us don’t think about the history of the island on a daily basis. We save that for the tourists. Most of us just live here.”

“That’s one of my points. You live with it, go about your business, create and maintain normal lives.”

“We are normal,” Ripley said softly.

“Exactly.” Mac lifted his wine, studied her coolly. “Power doesn’t alter, doesn’t have to alter, elemental human needs. Home, family, love, financial security. The close, familial relationship between Lulu and Mia, for example, isn’t based on what Mia is, but on who she is.”

He looked at Zack. “I don’t imagine you married Nell because she’s a witch, or despite it, but because she’s Nell.”

“True. Then there was her pot roast.”

“Which can’t be discounted. Strong emotion feeds power. I’ve been pretty emotional about Nell’s cooking since my first bowl of soup.”

Zack chuckled as he topped off everyone’s wine. “Good thing I saw her first.”

“Timing is key. If Lulu hadn’t landed here when she landed here, she might not have had the major role in Mia’s upbringing. And as I understand it, Nell, if you hadn’t walked into the bookstore at the exact moment that Mia’s former café chef was quitting, you might not have made that connection—or not that precise connection. That connection led to one with Zack, and to Ripley, and in a winding, indirect way, to me.”

“I don’t have anything to do with it.” Ripley’s voice remained soft, but the barbs were poking through.

“Your choice,” Mac said easily. “Choice is another key. In any case, since you’re reluctant to show me around the island when I’m working, I wanted to ask you about a place on the south point. Great old house. Lots of gingerbread, wide covered porch. There’s not much else around it. It’s just up from a cove that has a shale beach. There’s a terrific little cave.”

Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance