“You let him go?”Ripley paced the station house, tugging at her hair in frustration. “Just patted him on the head and told him to take a nap?”

“Ripley.” Zack’s voice held a quiet warning, but she shook her head.

“For Christ’s sake, Zack, think! The man’s dangerous. She said herself she sensed something in him.”

“It’s not his fault,” Nell began, but Ripley whirled to face her.

“This isn’t about fault, it’s about reality. Even if he were just some reporter with delusions of grandeur, that would be bad enough. He came here looking for you, he followed your path all across the damn country, talking to people behind your back.”

“That’s his job.” Nell held up a hand before Ripley could snap at her again. A year before, she would have backed away from the confrontation. Times had changed. “I’m not going to blame him for doing his job, or for what’s happening to him now. He doesn’t know what’s happening, and he’s sick, he’s frightened. You didn’t see him, Ripley. I did.”

“No, I didn’t see him because you didn’t call me. You didn’t bring me in.”

“Is that the real problem? I didn’t ask you for advice, for help?” Nell tilted her head. “Tell me, would you have called me? Or Mia?”

Ripley opened her mouth, then shut it again in one hard, thin line. “We’re not talking about me.”

“Maybe we are. Maybe we’re talking about all of this. It’s a cycle, after all. What started it is inside us. What’s inside us will end it. He was hurt,” she said, appealing to Zack now. “Confused, afraid. He doesn’t know what’s going on.”

“Do you know?” Zack asked her.

“I’m not sure. There’s a power, and it’s dark. It’s using him. And I think . . .” It was hard to say it, hard to think it. “I’m afraid, it’s using Evan. Like a bridge, from wherever it is through Evan to this poor man. We need to help him.”

“We need to get him off the island,” Ripley interrupted. “We need to get his ass on the next ferry to the mainland, and it doesn’t take magic to do that.”

“He hasn’t done anything, Rip,” Zack reminded her. “He hasn’t broken any law, made any threats. We’ve got no right to order him off the island.”

She slapped her palms on his desk, leaned forward. “He’ll come after her. He’ll have to.”

“He won’t get near her. I won’t let it happen.”

She spun back to Nell. “He’ll destroy what you love. It’s his reason for being now.”

Nell shook her head. “I won’t let him.” She reached for Ripley’s hand. “We won’t let him.”

“I’ve felt what he is, and what he’s capable of. I’ve felt it in me.”

“I know.” Nell’s fingers linked with hers. “We need Mia.”

“You’re right,” Ripley agreed. “And I hate that.”

“You’re a fascinatingwoman, little sister.” Mia leaned on the kitchen counter and watched Nell slide pasta into boiling water. “A crisis is upon us, an event that has been brewing for three centuries. Ripley frets and curses. And you cook and serve.”

“We all do what we do best.” She glanced up as she gave the pasta a quick stir. “What do you do, Mia?”

“I wait.”

“No, it’s not as simple as that.”

“I prepare, then.” Mia lifted her wineglass, sipped. “For whatever comes.”

“Did you see this? What’s coming?”

“Not specifically. Only something strong, something blighted. Something that formed from blood and vengeance. It craves what birthed it,” she said. “And grows as it feeds. It uses weakness.”

“Then we won’t be weak.”

“It underestimates us,” Mia continued. “We should take care not to underestimate it. Evil doesn’t concern itself with rules, with what’s right and fair. And it’s clever. It can twist itself into the desirable.”

“We’re together now, the three of us. I have Zack, and Ripley has Mac. I wish—”

“Don’t wish for me. I have what I need.”

“Mia . . .” Trying to find the right words, Nell got out her colander. “Even if—when—we face what’s here now, there’s one more step. Yours.”

“Do you think I’ll fling myself off my cliffs?” Mia relaxed enough to laugh. “I can promise you, I won’t. I enjoy living entirely too much.”

There were other ways, Nell thought, to leap into a void. She started to say so, then held her tongue. They had enough to deal with for now.

What waswrong with them? Ripley listened to the conversation hum around the table, spiced with the scent of good food well served. Everyday words in easy voices.

Pass the salt.

Jesus.

It felt as if something was simmering inside her, right on the edge of boil, ready to bubble up and spew over the lid. And everyone else kept chatting and eating as if it were just another evening.

A part of her knew it was only a lull, that space of time used to gather forces and brace. But she had no patience with it, with Nell’s utter calm, with Mia’s cool waiting. Her own brother helped himself to another serving of pasta as if everything in his life that mattered wasn’t teetering on the brink.

And Mac . . .

Observing, absorbing, assessing, she thought with a helpless resentment. A geek to the last.

There was something hungry out there, something that wouldn’t be sated with a tidy, home-cooked meal. Couldn’t theyfeel it? It wanted blood, blood and bone, death and anguish. It craved sorrow.

And its need clawed at her.

“This blows.” She shoved at her plate, and conversation snapped off. “We’re just sitting here, slurping up noodles. This isn’t a goddamn party.”

“There are a lot of ways to prepare for a confrontation,” Mac began, and laid a hand on her arm.

She wanted to slap his hand away, and hated herself for it. “Confrontation? This is a battle.”

“A lot of ways to prepare,” he said again. “Coming together like this, sharing a meal. A symbol of life and unity—”

“It’s past time for symbols. We need to do something definite.”

“Anger only feeds it,” Mia chimed in.

“Then it should be full to bursting,” Ripley snapped back and shoved to her feet. “Because I am supremely pissed off.”

“Hate, anger, a thirst for violence.” Mia brought the glass of wine to her lips. “All those negative emotions strengthen it, weaken you.”

“Don’t tell me what to feel.”

“Could I ever? You want what you’ve always wanted. A clear answer. When you don’t get it, you pound with your fists or turn away.”

“Don’t,” Nell pleaded. “We can’t turn on each other now.”

“Right. Let’s keep the peace.” Ripley heard the bite in her own voice, and even while it shamed her she couldn’t soften it. “Why don’t we have coffee and cake?”

“That’s enough, Rip.”


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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