“For love, and for compassion. I bought it as a kind of talisman, a good luck piece. I always carry it with me. Can’t find it half the time, but it always turns up. So I think it’s been pretty lucky. It has a loop in the back, so I imagine it was once worn as a pendant. Or you can just carry it in your pocket. I didn’t know it at the time, but I bought it for you.”

She rested her head on his shoulder. “This is going to make me mushy.”

“I don’t mind.”

“I have to get back to work, and I can’t be all googly-eyed. I really love you,” she told him as she turned her mouth up to his. “I really do.”

He nudged her along, careful not to behave as if hewas nudging her along.

He had a great deal to do.

Mac wasn’t foolish enough to believe he couldn’t be hurt. Even killed. No, he believed Ripley’s dream was a foretelling of what could be. The cycle that had begun three hundred years before was still in play.

But he was also smart enough to know various means to protect himself, and to believe that knowledge is power. He would gather more knowledge and strengthen the shield over both of them.

He wouldn’t risk putting her in a vulnerable trance state unless he was certain she would be safe.

He got out the copies of his ancestor’s journal entry, and found the page he wanted.

February 17

It is early, before dawn. Cold and deep dark. I have left my husband sleeping warm in bed, and come to my tower room to write this. A restlessness is on me, a worry that nags like a bad tooth.

A mist hangs over the house like a shroud. It presses against the glass. I can hear it scratching—sly little fingers made of bone. How it craves to come in. I have charmed the doors and windows and all the tiny cracks, as my mother taught me before despair swallowed her spirit.

How long ago that was, and yet on a night such as this it was only yesterday. And I pine for her—thecomfort, the strength, the beauty of her. With this chill seeping into my bones, I wish for her counsel. But it is barred to me, even through crystal and glass.

It is not for myself I fear, but for my children’s children’s children. I have seen the world in my dreams, a hundred years times three. Such wonders. Such magic. Such grief.

A cycle spins. I cannot see it clearly. But I know my blood, before and after me, spins with it. Strength, purity, wisdom, and, above all, love will war with what now creeps outside my house.

It is ageless, it is ever. And it is dark.

Blood of mine freed it, and blood of mine will face it. From this place and time I can do little more than protect what is now and pray for what will come. I will leave what magic I can behind me for these beloved and distant children.

Evil cannot and will not be vanquished by evil. Dark will only swallow dark and deepen. The good and the light are the keenest weapons. Let those who come after hold them ready, and end this in time.

Beneath was a charm written in Gaelic that Mac had already translated. He studied it again now, hoping that the message from the past would help with the now.

Harding felt betterthan he had in days. The vague fatigue that had dogged him was put down to recovery from whatever bug had invaded his system. But his mind was clear, and he was certain he’d passed the crisis.

In fact, he felt well enough to be annoyed that a touch of the flu had thrown him off stride and off schedule. He fully intended to rectify that by approaching Nell Todd that very day for his first interview.

In preparation for it, he decided to have a light breakfast and a large pot of coffee in his room so that he could go over his notes, refresh his memory of the details, and plan the best strategy for persuading her to talk to him for his book.

The idea of the book, and the money and glamour he intended to reap from it, filled him with anticipation. For days, it seemed, he hadn’t been able to think of it clearly, to imagine it, to remember just what it was that he planned to do.

It was as if his mind had been locked away behind some thick door, and whenever it had fought its way clear again, had been too tired to function.

While he waited for his breakfast, he showered and shaved. Looking at himself in the mirror, he admitted that he didn’t look his best. He was pale, a bit gaunt. Not that he couldn’t get by without the pounds he could clearly see he’d shed. But the dark circles haunting his eyes offended his vanity.

He considered using a portion of his imagined advance for the book for a little nip and tuck, and a regenerative stay in some posh spa.

After he had completed his initial interview with the former Helen Remington, he would finish putting his book proposal together and send it to the New York agent he’d contacted about the idea.

In the bedroom he considered the choice between tailored suit and the more casual look of slacks and sweater. He opted for the casual—more friendly, approachable. That was the image for Nell Todd, rather than the formal business attire he’d used with Evan Remington.

As he thought of Remington, a wave of dizziness washed over him, forcing him to grip the closet door to steady himself. Not quite a hundred percent yet, he thought. He would feel better, he was certain, after breakfast.

His next shock came when he put on his slacks. They gapped at the waist, bagged at the hips. He realized he’d lost at least ten pounds during his bout with the flu, perhaps more. Though his hands shook a bit as he cinched his belt in the last notch, he told himself he could take advantage of this unexpected development.

He would just keep the weight off, start an exercise program, watch his diet more carefully. He’d look fit and trim for public appearances when his book was published.

By the time he sat down to breakfast at the table that room service had set up by the window, he’d convinced himself he was perfectly fine. In fact, better than ever.

With his first cup of coffee, he gazed out the window. The sun was bright, almost too bright as it bounced off the ice that seemed to slick every surface. He found it odd that the strength of that sun didn’t appear to be melting any of the ice. And that the village street seemed so still. As if it was genuinely frozen. A bug in amber.

He hoped the bookstore wasn’t closed because of the weather. He preferred to approach Nell Todd there, this first time. She would feel safer, he imagined, and more inclined to listen to his pitch. He might also be able to set up an interview with Mia Devlin.

As the person who’d hired Nell, who’d rented her a house, when she had first come to the island, the Devlin woman would add a great deal to the book.

More, Mia Devlin was reputed to be a witch, not that Harding himself actually believed in such nonsense. But something unusual had gone on in the forest the night Remington had been taken into custody, and the Devlin angle was worth exploring.

Blue lightning, a shining circle. Snakes under the skin.

Harding shuddered despite himself, and began to look over his notes.

He could approach Nell Todd, tempering his request for information with his admiration for her courage and intelligence. And quite sincerely, too, Harding admitted. What she had done had taken guts, skill, and brains.

He would flatter her ego. Tell her how he had followed her trail across the country, interviewed dozens of people she’d worked for, or with. And ah, yes, he mused, flipping a page in his notebook, appeal to her sense of compassion, her duty to others who found themselves in abusive situations.

A beacon of hope,he scribbled down hastily.A shining example of courage. Female empowerment. For some, escape is an option too terrifying to be considered or too far beyond their crushed spirits. (Confirm latest statistics on spousal abuse, women’s shelters, victims of marital homicides. Select family therapist to interview re: most common causes, effects, results. Interview other survivors? Batterers? Potential comparisons and confirmations.)

Pleased that his thoughts were flowing smoothly again, Harding began to eat.

Conception often cubbyholes victims of this nature as being part of an a

buse cycle. Helen Remington—NellChanning Todd—appears to have no such cycle in her background. (Continue research into childhood. Obtain statistics on what portion of abuse victims have no such activities in their previous home life.) A cycle, however, must have a beginning. From all appearances, this cycle began and ended with Evan Remington.

Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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