“You’re wrong.” The affection and admiration in her voice nearly made him flush. “Your mind is your power. The strength and the openness of that mind make very strong magic. Stronger yet because it doesn’t close off your heart. We’ll need both.” She waited a beat. “She’ll need you.”

It gave him a jolt. Mia had said it so quietly, so simply. “Do me a favor and don’t mention that to Ripley. It’ll just piss her off.”

“You understand her, recognize all of her various flaws, numerous shortcomings, and irritating habits. But you love her anyway.”

“Yes, I . . .” He trailed off, set the muffin aside. “That was very sneaky.”

“I’d apologize, but I wouldn’t mean it.” Her laughter was too warm and soft to sting. “I thought you were in love with her, but I wanted to hear you say it. Can you be happy living on the island?”

He said nothing for a moment. “You really know her, don’t you? Ripley would never be happy anywhere else. So, yes, I can be happy here. I’ve been heading here all my life, in any case.”

“I like you, very much. Enough to wish, just a little, that it had been me you were meant for. And you,” she added when he looked slightly panicked, “who’d been meant for me. Since neither of those things is, I’m glad we can be friends. I think you’ll help each other find the best you can be.”

“You really love her, don’t you?”

For an instant, Mia’s calm ruffled. Color washed her cheeks, a rare occurrence. Then she shrugged. “Yes, nearly as much as I’m irritated by her. Now, I trust you’ll keep that to yourself as I keep your feelings to myself.”

“Deal.”

“And to seal it—” She rose and turned to the shelves behind her. She took down a carved wooden box and, opening it, removed a star-shaped pendant of silver, set with a sunstone.

“This has been in my family—our family,” she corrected, “since we began here on the Sisters. It’s said that she who was mine forged the pendant from a fallen star and the stone from a sunbeam. I’ve kept it for you.”

“Mia—”

But she only kissed him lightly and slipped the chain over his head. “Blessed be, cousin.”

Harding paid onemore visit to Evan Remington. His plans were set, his schedule outlined. But he felt it imperative to see Remington again before he left.

He felt an odd kinship with the man. The realization of it was both appalling and alluring to him. Remington was a kind of monster. And yet . . .

Didn’t all men have that beast lurking inside them? The sane, the civilized—and Harding considered himself both—restrained it. Controlled it.

He supposed it only made those who did neither—who indulged it, kept it fed and ready—more fascinating.

He told himself that his regular visits to Remington were research. Business. But in truth, he had come to find those frequent brushes with evil thrilling.

We were all one step away from the pit, Harding thought, composing notes in his head as he waited to be admitted. Only by observing, by learning from those who had fallen, would we understand what waited for us on the other side of sanity.

Harding stepped into the visitation room, heard the echo of the lock. Is that the last sound we hear as we fall? he wrote in his head. The hopeless shooting of the bolt?

Remington wasn’t restrained this time. Harding had already been told that as part of his treatment and rehabilitation, Remington had been taken off full restraints. He’d exhibited no violence to others or himself and had been responsive and cooperative in recent sessions.

The room was small, and nearly empty. One table with two chairs. While the restraints were missing, Harding heard the bright jingle of chain from the cuff on Remington’s right wrist. There was a third chair in the corner, occupied now by a broad-shouldered, pasty-faced guard.

Security cameras recorded every sound and movement.

The pit, Harding thought, whatever name we gave it, offered no privacy and little comfort.

“Mr. Remington.”

“Evan.” Today you could hardly see the madness. “After all this, we can hardly be formal. I’ll call you Jonathan. Do you know, Jonathan, you’re the only one who comes to talk to me? They tell me my sister’s been here. But I don’t remember. I remember you.”

The voice was quiet but perfectly clear. Harding experienced a small inward shudder as he remembered just how Remington had looked and sounded on his first visit.

He was still thin, and too pale, his hair lank. But Harding thought if you put him back in a designer suit and shipped him off to L.A., his associates would take a look and simply think he’d been working a bit too hard.

“You’re looking well. Evan.”

“Hardly my best, but one must take the facilities into account.” A muscle twitched in his cheek. “I don’t belong here. My attorneys bungled the entire business. But I’ve taken care of that. Dealt with that. Stupid, incompetent bastards. I’ve fired them. I expect to have new representation within the week. And my freedom shortly after.”

“I see.”

“I think you do.” Remington leaned forward, then he gazed up toward the security cameras. “I think you do see. I was defending myself and mine.” His eyes stayed on Harding’s now, and something dark seemed to swim behind their colorless surface.

“I was betrayed and misused. Those who stood against me, they belong in here. Not I.”

Harding couldn’t look away, couldn’t break the connection. “Your ex-wife?”

“My wife,” Remington corrected, then in barely a whisper mouthed, “Till death do us part. Tell her I’m thinking of her when you see her, won’t you?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You can’t finish what you’ve started, you can’t get what you want, until you deal with her, and the rest of them. I’ve thought about it.” Remington nodded slowly and his eyes, pale as water, stayed locked on Harding’s. “I have plenty of time for thinking. I need someone to remind her I haven’t forgotten. I need someone to show them all that I can’t be ignored. An agent, if you will.”

“Mr. Remington. Evan. I’m a reporter. A writer.”

“I know what you are. I know what you want. Fame, fortune, recognition. Respect. I know how to get those things for you. I made it my business to get those things for others. You want to be a star, Jonathan. I make stars.”

Something seemed to move behind his eyes again, like sharks swimming in a deep pool. Harding shuddered, but couldn’t look away. And as his skin crawled cold, he could feel himself being pulled in. His breath came short beneath a terrible pressure in his chest.

“I’m going to write a book.”

“Yes, yes. An important book. You’ll tell it as it’s meant to be told. End it as it needs to be ended. I want them punished.” He reached over with his free hand, clasped Harding’s limp fingers. “I want them dead.”

Something snapped in the air, sizzled, and brought the guard to his feet. “No contact.”

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” Harding said dully as a fierce grin flashed on Remington’s face.

“No physical contact,” the guard ordered and strode toward the table. But Remington was already breaking his grip.

“I’m sorry.” Remington kept his gaze averted, his head lowered. “I forgot. I just wanted to shake his hand. He comes to visit me. He comes to talk to me.”

“We were just saying good-bye.” To his own ears, Harding’s voice sounded tinny with distance. “I have to take a trip, and won’t be able to visit for a while. I have to go now.” Harding got unsteadily to his feet. A headache blasted in his temples.

Remington lifted his gaze one last time. “I’ll see you again.”

“Yes, of course.”


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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