“Amazing,” was the best he could do, and watched Mia mirror Nell’s gesture before she picked up the chant.
“I call to Fire, her heat and light. In her heart life burns strong and bright. Flame like the sun, bring harm to none. I am Fire, and she is me. As I will, so mote it be.”
The silver candles sprang like torches, and the shimmering circle rose like a flaming wall.
Mac’s sensors rang like alarms. For the first time in his long career, he gave them not a thought. The pencil he held slipped unnoticed out of his fingers. He could feel the heat, see through it. The women behind that sheer, fiery curtain glowed just as brightly.
And the wind sang like a woman in love.
Within the circle, Nell and Mia turned to each other, clasped hands.
Ripley rocketed out of the woods. Mac caught only a glimpse—her pale, pale face, dark eyes, then she was diving into the fire.
With images of her burning, he leaped forward.
“Stay back!” Mia snapped out the order even as she knelt beside Ripley.
“Damn it, she’s hurt.” Mac lifted one unsteady hand, pressed against an invisible barrier. It sparked, hissed, but wouldn’t give way. Nothing he’d seen or done had prepared him to stand helpless behind magic, unable to reach the woman he loved.
“Break the circle,” he demanded. “Let me through.”
“This isn’t for you.”
“She is.” He curled his fists against the shield, ignoring the heat that radiated from it.
“Nell.” Zack strained at the edge of the fire. He felt the scorch of its power, and for the first time a ripple of fear.
“It’s all right. She’s safe here. I promise.” Watching her husband, she cradled his sister’s head. “Please.”
“You know better.” Mia’s voice was steady even as she brushed back Rip
ley’s hair. Even as she watched Ripley’s eyes clear, her heart thudded. “I wasn’t prepared for you, nor you for this.”
“Don’t scold her. She’s shaking. What is it, Ripley?” Nell asked. “What happened?”
Shaking her head, Ripley struggled to her knees. “I can’t control it. I couldn’t stop it. I don’t know what to do.”
“Tell me,” Mia insisted as she gave a worried glance toward the men. Her will and her wall wouldn’t hold them out much longer. No defense lasted against love. “And be quick.”
“A vision. Hit me like a fist. What was, what might be. It’s bad. It’s me.” She moaned and sank into a ball. “It hurts.”
“You know what needs to be done.”
“You know,” Mia repeated and ruthlessly dragged her up again. “You came, you’re here, and you know what you have to do for this, for now. The rest comes when it comes.”
Her stomach pitched, cramped. “I don’t want this.”
“And still you came. To save us? Well, save yourself first. Do it. Now.”
Her breath was coming in ragged gasps, and the look she shot Mia was anything but friendly. But she held out a hand. “Well, damn it, help me up. I won’t do it on my knees.”
Nell took one hand, Mia the other. And when Ripley stood on her feet, they let her go.
“I don’t remember the words.”
“Yes, you do. Stop stalling.”
Ripley hissed out a breath. Her throat was so tight it stung, and her stomach was alive with cramps. “I call to Earth, generous and deep, in her we sow that we may reap . . .”
She felt the power rising, swayed with it. “Mia—”
“Give us your charm and bring no harm. I am Earth and she is me. As I will, so mote it be.”
Power gushed into her, flooded out the pain. The ground at her feet sprang with flowers.
“And the last.” Mia gripped her hand firmly, took Nell’s. They were linked, a circle within a circle. “We are the Three. We call to Water, stream, and sea.”
“Within her great heart,” Nell continued, “life came to be.”
“With your soft rain, bring no harm, no pain.” Ripley lifted her face and joined her sisters in the last of the chant.
“We are Water, and she is we. As we will, so mote it be.”
Rain fell soft as silk and bright as silver.
“We are the Three,” Mia said again, quietly so that only Nell and Ripley could hear.
Because he hadno choice, Mac waited until the ritual was complete and the circle closed. The minute he could reach her he grabbed Ripley’s arms. A shock of electricity jolted through his hands, but he held on.