“Just a little ripple for your readings,” she said with a chuckle. “No wonder Ripley’s crazy about you.”
“Here, then. A little ripple in the air, just a stir from here to there. A quiet breeze, this man to please.”
Even before it began, the readings popped. Like a gathering, Mac thought, noting the rise of heart rate, the fluctuation in brain-wave patterns.
Then they jumped again as the air, well, rippled.
“Fabulous! Look at this pattern! I knew it. It’s not just an increase in brain activity. It’s like an expansion, almost fully right brain. Creativity, imagination. Really neat.”
Nell chuckled again, and stilled the air. Not so cool now, Dr. Booke. “Is it what you were looking for?”
“It goes a long way toward confirming some of my theories. Could you do something else? Something more complicated. Not that what you just did was small potatoes,” he added quickly. “Something that requires more effort.”
“More of a punch?”
“There you go.”
“Let me think.” Her lips bowed up as she considered. Because she wanted him to be surprised, she did the chant in her head, a call to the senses that was both sweet and stunning.
This time the gathering came faster, and bigger. The needle on the EKG graph whipped in wide, rapid sweeps. Suddenly, the room was alive with music—harps, pipes, flutes. It was drenched in a rainbow of colors and tender with the scent of spring.
He could barely keep up with the changes. Desperate to be certain that he had it all on record, he checked his camera, his monitors, nearly danced around the EKG.
“You like it?” Nell asked playfully.
“It’s fucking great! Sorry, beg your pardon. Can you just keep it going another minute?” he asked as he checked his energy sensor. “It’s really pretty, by the way.”
“I’m eager for spring.”
“Me, too, after the last two days. Respiration’s up, but not that much. Pulse strong, steady. Physical exertion appears to be minimal. Hmm, heart rate’s actually back at rest. Did the use of power calm her, or the result?”
“The result,” Nell answered.
He blinked and focused on her again. “What?”
“You were talking to yourself, but I think I know the answer.” She laughed lightly when she saw Diego prance into the room to bat playfully at her rainbows. “It’s a soothing spell. It relaxes me.”
“Yeah?” Interested, he sat down on the floor beside her while harp strings wept. “Would you say your physical reactions reflect the nature of the spell or charm?”
“So, for example, the other night, in the clearing, it was more powerful, maybe edgier, because of what you were doing, and the fact that the three of you were together.”
“It’s always stronger with the three of us. I feel like I could move mountains. Afterward, I stay energized for hours.”
He remembered just how Ripley had channeled her energy and cleared his throat. “Okay. How are you able to sustain this spell while I’m distracting you with conversation?”
She looked completely blank for a moment. “I never thought about it. That was clever of you. I didn’t know you were distracting me. Let me think . . . It’s just there?” she suggested. “No, that’s not completely accurate. It’s more like the way you’re able to do two different things at one time.”
“Like patting your head and rubbing your stomach.”
“No,” she responded. “More like . . . cooking a roast and setting the table. You can keep your mind on the one so you don’t burn it and still manage the other easily enough.”
“What’s nine times six?”
“Fifty-four. Oh, I see, left-brain function. I’m good with numbers.”
“Recite the alphabet backward.”
Concentrating, she began. Twice she fumbled, backtracked, hesitated, but the music and color never faltered.
“Are you ticklish?”
Suspicion flickered over her face. “Why?”
“I want to try a physical distraction.” He squeezed a hand on her knee, made her yelp and jolt, just as Ripley and Zack came through the door.
“What the hell is going on?”
Hearing Ripley’s voice made Mac wince and curse himself for not paying attention to the time. Then, realizing he still had his hand on Nell’s knee—and her husband was armed—he quickly removed it.
“From the looks of it,” Zack said with a wink at Nell, “this guy’s making time with my wife.” As Lucy had come into the house with him, he leaned down casually to rub her head as she sniffed the air and batted her tail. “I guess I have to take him outside and kick his ass.”
“Get in line,” Ripley said and reminded Mac that she was armed as well.
?I, ah. . . Nell agreed to participate in a couple of tests,” he began.
“That’s not quite true,” Nell corrected, and succeeded in making all the blood drain out of Mac’s face. His sudden stricken look made her whoop with laughter. “Ivolunteered to participate.”
“Would you mind turning off the entertainment portion of your little program?” Ripley said coolly.
“All right.” Nell closed the spell, and there was a moment of complete silence.
“So . . .” Zack began to strip off his coat. “What’s for dinner?”
“You can help me with that.” Nell spoke brightly. “As soon as I’m unhooked from these things.”
“Oh, sorry. Let me . . .” Mac started to reach for the electrodes monitoring her heart rate, then pulled his hands back as if he’d burned them. “Nobody’s going to shoot me in the back, are they?” he asked Nell.
“I can promise Zack won’t. He was just teasing you.”
“He’s not who I’m worried about.” As delicately as possible, he unhooked her, and kept his gaze discreetly averted as she buttoned her blouse again.
“That was fun,” Nell said as she got up. “And informative. Zack, why don’t you give me a hand in the kitchen? Now!”
“All right, all right. I hate missing the fun,” he complained as she dragged him off.
“Okay, Booke, why don’t you try explaining to me why I shouldn’t start swinging?”
“Because violence is never a sensible solution?”
Her answer to that was a low, dangerous growl. He stopped shutting down his equipment and turned to her. “Okay, I figure you’re ticked off on a couple of levels, so I’ll pick one to start. There was no funny business going on between me and Nell. It was completely professional.”
“Son, if I thought otherwise you’d be braying like a jackass.”
“Right.” He took his glasses off, to see her more clearly, and because if she decided to try to deck him, he didn’t want them broken. “You’re angry because I brought equipment here and ran tests on Nell.”
“Bingo. I invited you here, to my home. It’s not a goddamn lab.”
“It’s also Nell’s home,” he pointed out. “I wouldn’t have brought anything if she hadn’t agreed.”
“You wheedled her.”
“I can wheedle when I have to,” he said equably. “I didn’t have to. The fact