“Mmm. Why don’t you read it to me?” She nibbled lightly on his earlobe. “You have such a sexy voice.” She took the glasses out of his pocket. “And you know how turned on I get when you wear these.”
He made some sound, then fumbled the glasses on. “These are, ah, photocopied pages. I have the original journal in a vault, because it’s old and fragile. It was written by my great . . . well a number of greats, grandmother. On my mother’s side. The first entry was made September 12, 1758, and written on Three Sisters Island.”
Ripley jerked back. “What did you say?”
“I think you should just listen. ‘Today,’ ” he read, “ ‘my youngest child had a child. They have named him Sebastian, and he is hale and healthy. I am grateful Hester and her fine young man are content to remain on the island, to make their home and family here. My other children are so far away now, and though from time to time I look into the glass to see them, my heart aches that I am unable to touch their faces, or the faces of my grandchildren.
“ ‘I will never leave the island again.
“ ‘This, also, I have seen in the glass. I have time yet on this earth, and I know death is not an end. But when I see this beauty of life in this babe of my babe, I am saddened that I will not be here to see him grown.’ ”
He risked a quick glance at Ripley, saw she was staring at him as if she’d never seen him before. Best to finish it all, he told himself. Just get it all out at one time.
“ ‘I am saddened that my own mother did not choose life,’ ” he continued, “ ‘that she denied herself the joy I have felt this day on seeing a child come from one of my own.
“ ‘Time moves swiftly. What comes from this boy will one day balance the scales, if our children remember and choose wisely.’ ”
Though she’d forgotten she held it, Ripley’s knuckles were white on the stem of her glass. “Where did you get this?”
“Last summer I was going through some boxes in the attic of my parents’ house. I found the journal. I’d been through those boxes before. I used to drive my mother crazy because I was always pawing through the old stuff. I don’t know how I missed it, unless you subscribe to the theory that it wasn’t there for me until last June.”
“June.” When a shudder worked through her, Ripley got to her feet. Nell had come to the island in June—and the three had linked. She sensed that Mac started to speak, and she held up a hand. She needed to focus.
“You’re assuming this was written by an ancestor.”
“Not assuming. I’ve done the genealogy, Ripley. Her name was Constance, and her youngest daughter, Hester, married James MacAllister on May 15, 1757. Their first child, a son, Sebastian Edward MacAllister, was born on Three Sisters Island. He fought in the Revolutionary War. Married, had children, settled in New York. The line runs down through my mother, and into me.”
“You’re telling me you’re a descendant of . . .”
“I have all the documentation. Marriage records, birth records. You could say we’re really distant cousins.”
She stared at him, then turned to stare into the fire. “Why didn’t you tell us when you first came here?”
“Okay, that’s a little sticky.” He wished she would sit back down, cuddle up against him again. But he didn’t think that was going to happen until they got through this. “I thought I might have to use it as an incentive, a kind of bargaining chip.”
“Your ace in the hole,” she remarked.
“Yeah. If Mia put up roadblocks, I figured this information would be a good way to knock some of them down. But she didn’t, and I started to feel uncomfortable about withholding it. I was going to tell her tonight. But I needed to tell you first.”
“Because you matter. I realize you’re ticked off, but—”
She shook her head. “Not really.” Unsettled, she thought, but not angry. “I’d’ve done the same thing to get what I wanted.”
“I didn’t know you’d be here. You know what I mean. You. I didn’t know we’d be involved like this. I’m in what most people consider an illogical field. It’s only more essential to approach it logically. But under it, on a personal level, I’ve been pulled to this place all my life without knowing where it was that I was being pulled. Last summer I finally knew.”
“But you didn’t come.”
“I had to gather data, research, analyze, fact-check.”
“Always the geek.”
She sat on the arm of the couch. It was, he thought, a step. “I guess. I dreamed of the island. Before I knew where it was—or if it was—I dreamed of it. I dreamed of you. All of that was so strong, so much a part of my life, that I needed to approach it the way I’d been trained. As an observer, a recorder.”
“And what do your observations tell you, Dr. Booke?”
“I’ve got reams of data, but I don’t think you’d be interested in reading it.” She shook her head at his questioning look. “Right. But I’ve also got one simple feeling. That I’m where I’m supposed to be. I have a part in this. I just don’t know, yet, exactly what it is.” r />
She was up again. “A part in what?”
“Balancing the scales.”
“Do you believe, in that detail-filing brain of yours, that this island is doomed to fall into the sea? How can you buy some centuries-old curse? Islands don’t just sink like swamped boats.”
“There are a number of respected scholars and historians who would argue that point, using Atlantis as their example.”
“Of which you would be one,” she said sourly.
“Yeah, but before you get me started on that and I bore you senseless, let me just say that there’s always room for less-than-literal interpretations. A force five hurricane, an earthquake—”
“Earthquake?” She’d felt the earth tremble under her feet. She’dmade the earth tremble. And didn’t want to think of it. “Jesus, Mac!”
“You don’t want me to start on plates and pressure and shifts, do you?”
She opened her mouth, shut it again, and settled for shaking her head.
“Didn’t think so. I’ve got degrees in geology and meteorology, and I can get really boring. Anyway, put simply, Nature’s a bitch and she barely tolerates us.”
She studied him consideringly. Earnest, sexy, quiet. Somehow unshakably confident. Hardly a wonder that she’d fallen for him.
“You know what? I bet you’re not as boring when you get going as you think.”
“You’d lose.” Because he thought she would accept it now, he reached out to take her hand. “Heaven and Earth, Ripley, do more than hold us between them. They expect us to deserve it.”
“And we have to decide how far we’ll go.”
“That pretty much wraps it up.”
She puffed out her cheeks, blew out a breath. “It gets harder to tell myself this is all crap. First Nell, then you, and now this,” she added glancing down at the copies of journal pages. “It starts to feel like somebody’s added bars to a cage, so there’s less and less chance of squeezing out again.”
She frowned down at the pages as another thought sprang into her head. “You’ve got a blood connection to the Sisters.” Her gaze flashed up to his. “Do you have magic?”
“No. Seems like a rip-off to me,” he said. “I may have inherited the interest, the fascination, but none of the practical usage.”
She relaxed and slid down on the seat beside him. “Well, that’s something at least.”
Mia read thefirst journal entry while sitting at her desk in her office. A freezing rain had come in behind the wind and was now battering her window.
She’d dressed in bright, bold blue to dispel the gloom and wore the little stars and moons Nell had given her for her last birthday at her ears. As she read, she toyed with them, sending star colliding with moon.
When she’d finished the entry, she leaned back and studied Mac with amusement. “Well, hello, cousin.”
“I wasn’t sure how you’d take it.”
“I try to take things as they come. May I keep these a while? I’d like to read the rest of them.”
She set the pages aside, picked up her latté. “It’s all so nice and tidy, isn’t it?”
“I realize it’s quite a coincidence,” he began, but she stopped him.
“Coincidence is often what tidies things up. I can trace my family back to its start on the Sisters. I know some stayed, some scattered. And I remember now, there was a MacAllister branch. The one son, among three daughters. He left the island, survived a war, and began to make his fortune. Odd, isn’t it, that I didn’t think of that until now, or connect it with you? I suppose I wasn’t meant to. Still, I felt something for you. A kinship. That’s nice and tidy, too. And comforting.”
“Comfort wasn’t my first reaction when I put it all together.”
“Excitement. Descended from a witch and a silkie. How cool is that?” He broke off a piece of the applesauce muffin she’d urged on him. “Then I was pretty irked that I didn’t get any power out of the deal.”