Her nightclothes consisted of ratty shorts, a T-shirt that announced it was better to be rich than stupid, and a book light fastened to a ball cap.

She munched, sipped, divided her attention between the book and the video, and considered herself in her own personal heaven.

Rain drummed outside the windows of her colorful little saltbox, and the breeze rattled the love beads that dangled in lieu of curtains. Content, marginally tipsy, she sprawled under the spread she'd quilted from squares of madras, paisley, and tie-dyed scraps.

You could take the child out of the sixties, but you couldn't take the sixties out of this child, she often thought.

The words on the page began to blur, so she adjusted her glasses, boosted herself up in bed a little more. She just wanted to finish one more chapter and find out if the young prostitute was going to be stupid enough to get her throat slit and her internal organs gutted. Lulu was banking on it.

But her head dipped. She jerked it back up. Blinked. She could have sworn she heard someone whisper her name.

Hearing things, she thought in disgust. Getting old was God's big rip-off. She polished off the glass of wine, glanced toward the TV.

And there was Mel, his pretty face filling the screen, his eyes brilliantly blue as they grinned at her. "Hey, Lu. How's it going?"

She rubbed her eyes, blinked rapidly. But the image was still there. "What the hell?"

"That's what I say! What the hell!" The image drew back, far enough for her to see the gun. Its barrel looked to be the size of a cannon. "Nobody wants to live forever, right?"

The explosion boomed out of the set, flashed hot red light into the room. The sharp pain in Lulu's chest had her crying out, frantically pressing her hands between her breasts. Chips flew as she scrambled up, looking for blood.

She found nothing but her own wildly beating heart.

On the screen Mel and Danny were arguing about police procedure.

Shaken, and feeling like an old fool, Lulu staggered to the window. A little fresh air, she thought. Clear her head. Must've fallen asleep for a minute, she decided as she pushed the rattling beads aside and shoved her window all the way up.

She shivered. It was cold as winter - colder, she realized, than it should have been. And the mists swirling out of the ground had an odd tone to them. Like floating bruises, all dull purples and sickly yellows.

She could see her calliope of flowers, and the moonball rising up through them. Her rude little gargoyle who stuck his tongue out of a grinning mouth at passersby. The rain sounded icy now, and when she reached out the window, cold, sharp shards of it stabbed into her palm. Her glasses slid down as she jerked her hand back. And when she shoved them back into place, she'd have sworn the gargoyle was closer to the house, turned so that instead of his profile she could see three-quarters of the homely face.

Her chest began to hurt from the racing of her heart.

Need new glasses, she thought. Eyes are going.

As she stared, frozen in shock, the gargoyle swiveled to face her. And bared long, vicious teeth.

"Jesus H. Christ!"

She could hear them, actually hear the greedy snap of them as he inched through the fog toward the house. Toward the open window. Behind him, the little flute-playing frog she'd bought the week before began to hop closer. And the flute he held was now a long, jagged-edged knife.

"Nobody will care. "

Reeling, she snapped her head around. On TV a huge cartoon snake with Mel Gibson's handsome face leered at her.

"Nobody will give two good shits if you're dead. You've got nobody, do you, Lu? No man, no kid, no family. Nobody to give a rat's ass about you. "

"That's bull!" Terror screamed through her as she saw that the gargoyle and his companion had come within a foot of the house while she was looking away. Teeth snapped - a hungry sound, and the knife swished through the thick fog like a deadly metronome.

"That's just horseshit. " Her shaking hands fumbled at the window, her breath panting out in puffs as she fought to find a grip on the sash.

As she slammed it down, she fell backward and hit the floor with a jar of her bones. She lay there, struggling to catch her breath, struggling to find her nerve. When she managed to get to her knees, she crawled whimpering toward her sewing basket and grabbed two knitting needles as weapons.

But when she managed to find the courage to go back to the window, the rain was falling warm and gentle, the mists had cleared. And the gargoyle, homely and harmless, squatted in its usual spot, ready to insult the next visitor.

Lulu stood in the bedroom while another firefight broke out on television. She rubbed her hand over her clammy face.

"That must've been some bottle of chardonnay," she said aloud.

But for the first time since she'd moved into the little house, she - armed with her needles - walked through it locking all the doors and windows.

A man, however dedicated, was entitled to some time off. That's what Sam told himself as he drove away from the village. He'd spent hours at his desk, in meetings, doing inspections, reading reports. If he didn't clear his mind, it was going to fry.

And it was Sunday. The rain had finally blown out to sea, leaving the island sparkling like a jewel. Getting out, seeing what on this little clump of land had changed, and what hadn't, was as important to his business as ledgers and projections.

That sensibility, he knew, had skipped a generation in theLogan family. He'd always been aware that his parents had viewed the twenty-odd years they'

d spent on Three Sisters as a kind of exile. Which, he imagined, was why they'd found excuses to leave it so often during that period - and then to pull up stakes permanently when his grandfather had died.

It had never been home for them.

Coming back had proved that to him, just as it had proved the island was home for him. One answer he'd come back to find was clear to him now. Three Sisters was his. Pleasure boats were skimming along the water, motors humming or sails fat with wind. It brought him a steadying kind of pleasure to see them. Buoys bobbed, orange, red, white, against the cool blue surface. The land jutted or curved or tumbled out to meet the water.

He saw a family clamming and a young boy chasing gulls.

There were houses that hadn't been there when he'd left. And the time between came home to him as he noticed the weathered silver of cedar and the thick clumps of vegetation. Growth, he thought. Man's and nature's.

Time didn't stand still. Not even on Three Sisters.

As he approached the north point of the island, he turned onto a narrow shale road, listened to his wheels crunch. The last time he'd driven this stretch he'd had a Jeep, with its top off so the air had streamed over him. And his radio had been going full blast.

Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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