She felt herself rising as he brought her back, as if waking from a hill of feathers. The closer she came to the top, the more she began to feel the cold. And the dread.

When her eyes were open, and her vision clear, she saw the blood on Mac’s face. It trickled down his forehead, down his cheek.

“God! My God!”

“It’s nothing.” He hadn’t realized he was cut until she touched her hand to his face and brought it back smeared with blood. “Some flying glass. It’s nothing,” he repeated. “A couple of scratches.”

“Your blood.” She fisted her hand over it, felt the guilt, the power. The hunger and the fear.

“I’ve done worse shaving. Look at me. Relax. Nell, maybe you could get Ripley a glass of water. We’ll take a little break here before we talk about all this.”

“No.” Ripley snapped as she rose. “I’ll get it. I need a minute.” She touched his face lightly. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t control it. I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right.”

She nodded as though she agreed with him, but she knew as she walked back toward the kitchen that it wasn’t. Wouldn’t be. Couldn’t be.

She knew what she had to do. What had to be done. His blood was already cool on her fingers as she walked out the back door and into the rising storm.

Twenty

She stepped outinto the wind with only one clear purpose. She would get Harding and herself off the island. Away from Mac. Away from Nell and Mia and her brother. After that, she would do whatever came next. But the most immediate danger to those she loved was inside her, and linked to whatever was inside Harding.

She had shed Mac’s blood.

She curled her fingers, still damp with it, into a fist again. Blood was power, one of its most elemental sources. The darker magics used it as a conduit, or fed on it.

Everything she was and believed rejected that. Refused it. Refuted it.

Do no harm, she thought. She would try to do no harm. But first, she would see to it, she would ensure, that no harm could or would be done to those she loved.

The murdered innocents.

It was a whisper in her ear, so clear, so urgent, she spun around expecting to see someone standing behind her.

But there was nothing but the night—the dark, and the bright and brutal force of the storm.

The farther she got from the house, the more violent the storm raged, and the more her anger grew. It would use her to hurt Mac, to get to Nell, to destroy Mia.

She would die first, and take it with her.

When she reached the beach, she quickened her pace, then whirled around at the sound behind her.

Lucy bolted out of the dark, ears alert. She nearly sent the dog back home with one abrupt command. But Ripley lowered the arm she had lifted to point and hissed out a breath.

“All right, then, come along. Might as well have a goofy dog as a familiar as none at all.” She rested her hand on Lucy’s head. “Protect what’s mine.”

Her hair flew in the wind as she and the dog jogged across the sand. The surf pounded, a wall of black water that slammed relentlessly against the shore.

The sound of it beat in her head.

Her sister was dead. Slain like a lamb for her love, for her heart. For her gift. Where was the justice?

The air itself was full of howls and screams, a thousand tormented voices. Under her feet, a dirty fog began to creep along the ground, rising until it was up to her ankles, then halfway to her knees.

The chill of it seeped into her bones.

Blood for blood. Life for life. Power for power. How could she have believed there was any other way?

Something made her look over her shoulder. Where the house should have been, with its lights glowing against the window, was nothing but a curtain of dirty white.

She’d been cut off from home—and she could see now, as the fog continued to rise and swirl and thicken, from the village as well.

Fine and good, she thought, shoving fear down beneath fury.

“Come on, then, you bastard.” She shouted it, and her voice cut through the fog like a scalpel through gauze. “Take me on.”

The first punch of power knocked her back a full three steps before she dug in.

Rage curled inside her. As she threw up her arms, embraced it, lightning slashed the sky and sea like red-tipped whips. Ah, here, she thought, here was magic with muscle. She saw herself, and not herself, standing in the gale, gathering forces. Air, Earth, Fire, Water.

Beside her, Lucy lifted her head and let out a long, ululant howl.

Harding, or what had mastered him, stepped out of the fog.

“Rip always didthrow a good tantrum,” Zack said to try to lighten the mood.

The living room was in shambles, and if he let himself, he could still feel the buzz of what had whipped through it sting along his skin.

“Fear and anger, anger and fear.” Mia paced as she spoke. “I couldn’t get through it. Ripley’s and the one she comes from. It’s so strong, so thick.”


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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