How much, he wondered, did who we came from form us? Did Zack's staggeringly functional childhood predispose him to create his own functional family?

The luck of the draw?

Or was it all, in the end, what we made of ourselves? Each choice leading to another choice. He paused now, looking out and watching the swath of white light sweep over the water. Mia's lighthouse, on Mia's cliffs. How many times had he stood and studied that hopeful beam and thought of her?

Wanted her.

He couldn't remember when it had started. There were times when he thought he'd been born wanting her. And it had been terrifying, that feeling that he'd been swamped by some tide that had begun forming before his existence.

How many nights had he ached for her? Even when he'd had her, even when he'd been inside her, he'd ached. Love, for him, had been a storm, full of boundless pleasure and abject terror. For her, it had simply been.

Standing on the edge of the beach, he sent his thoughts winging over the black water, toward the beam of light. Toward the cliffs, the stone house. Toward her.

And the wall she'd built around what was hers rejected them, bounced them back at him.

"You have to let me in," he murmured. "Sooner or later. "

But he left it alone, for now, and continued to walk toward the cottage. The solitude he'd welcomed on his first day pressed down on him now and became loneliness. He shook it off, and instead of going into the house, he moved into the woods.

Until Mia talked to him, he would learn what he needed to learn, see what he needed to see, by other means.

The dark was deep, with a scatter of stars and a thin sickle of moon. But there were other ways to see. He tuned himself to the night. He could hear the babble of a little stream, and knew that wildflowers were sleeping on its banks. There was the rustle of a small animal in the brush, and the plaintive call of an owl. One would feed, the other would perish.

He smelled earth, and water, and knew there would be rain before morning. And he felt power.

He moved through the dark, through the trees, as confidently as a man walks downMain Street on a sunny afternoon. Power pulsed along his skin, that awakening thril

l of magic. He saw, where there was only ground scattered with fallen leaves, where the circle had been cast. The three were strong when linked, he thought. He'd felt that same trickle of energy on the beach and had known that a circle of power had been cast there. But this one had come first, and so he would look here first.

"It would be simpler if they'd just tell me," he said aloud. "But probably not as satisfying. So. "

He lifted his hands with palms up, like cups ready to be filled.

"Show me. I call to the three, once and ever a part of me. I use as my mirror the night to bring what transpired to my sight. Show me how and why this circle was cast that I might begin to complete my task. Grant this vision unto me. As I will, so mote it be. "

The night thinned, and billowed like a blowing curtain. Parted. Fear, like a rabbit in a trap. Hate, sharp as ravaging teeth. And love, wrapped warm in courage.

He saw what Zack had told him, saw Nell racing through the woods, and her thoughts were clear to him. Fear and grief for Zack, a desperation not only to escape what pursued her but to save the man she loved.

Sam's hands fisted as he saw Remington leap at her, angle the knife at her throat. Emotions pounded at him. There was Mia, in a black dress scattered with silver stars, and Ripley, holding a gun. Zack, bleeding, his own weapon pointed.

The night was alive with madness and terror.

The magic began to hum.

It pulsed from Nell, who glowed as she rejected her fears. It shimmered around Mia, whose eyes gleamed as silver as the stars she wore. And slowly, almost reluctantly, it sparked from Ripley when she lowered her gun and clasped Mia's hand.

And then the circle burned like blue fire.

The punch of it caught Sam unprepared and pushed him a full two paces back before he regained himself. But he'd lost his hold on the vision, and it wavered, faded.

"The circle's unbroken. " He lifted his face, watched clouds stream across the stars. "You have to let me in, Mia, or this was for nothing. "

Late into the night, without plan, without design, he reached out to her in dreams. Floating back in time to when love was fresh and sweet, and everything.

She was seventeen and leggy, with hair a tumble of fire and eyes as warm as summer fog. Her beauty struck him, as always. A fist in the heart.

She laughed as she waded in the cove. She wore trim khaki shorts and a bright-blue top that left her arms and an inch of her midriff bare. He could smell her, over the scents of salt and sea, he could smell that heady, taunting fragrance that was Mia.

"Don't you want to swim?" She laughed again as she splashed up water. "Sad-eyed Sam, what are you brooding about today?"

"I'm not brooding. "

He had been. His parents were freezing him out because he'd chosen to work on-island that summer in the hotel rather than inNew York . He'd been wondering if he was making a mistake, a terrible mistake, by being so desperate to stay on-island because of Mia.

Because the idea of being away from her month after month was both tantalizing and unthinkable. Yet he had begun to think it. To wonder about it more and more every time he left the Three Sisters to go back to the mainland and college. He'd begun to consider testing himself by making some excuse not to come back to the island, back to her, some weekend during the semester. Every time he left the mainland on the ferry, they pulled him back. The island and Mia. Now he was refusing to take the escape hatch that had been tailor-made for him. He needed to think it over again. Reconsider.

But when Mia had come along to his beach, he'd been too crowded with lust and longing to brood or to think about being anywhere but with her.

"If you're not brooding, prove it. " She walked backward in the water so that it lapped at her calves, her knees, those long white thighs. "Come in and play. "

"Too old for games. "

"I'm not. " She slid into the water, skimmed through it like a mermaid. And when she surfaced, water raining from her hair, her shirt clinging seductively to her breasts, he thought he'd go mad. "But I forgot. You're nearly nineteen. Too dignified to splash around in the water. "

She did a surface dive and streaked through the dark blue water of the cove. When he grabbed her ankle, she kicked and came up laughing.

Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance