"And you get to buy lunch. "

"Always a catch," she muttered with her mouth full.

Mac had only been able to wheedle an hour out of Lulu, and that was just as well now, he thought. He still had to drive back home, meet up with Ripley again, and drive back for the newly arranged dinner meeting at the Todds'.

But for now he had his tape recorder and notebook, and had primed Lulu with a box of Godiva.

"Really appreciate this, Lulu. "

"Yeah, yeah. " She drank coffee, black, with the candy. She was giving wine a little rest. "I told you I don't much like this interview crap. Reminds me of being hauled in by the cops for protesting. "

"What were you protesting?"

She sent him a pitying look. "Come on. It was the sixties. What wasn't I protesting?"

It was a good place to start, he decided. "You lived in a commune, right?"

"For a while. " She shrugged. Might as well get it done. "I flopped here, or there. Slept in parks, on beaches, whatever was handy. Saw a lot of the country you're not going to see if you're in the family minivan and stopping at the Holiday Inn. "

"I bet. How'd you end up here? On Three Sisters?"

"Heading east. "

"Lulu . . . " he pleaded.

"Okay, don't give me that puppy-dog look. " She made herself more comfortable on the sofa. "I hit the road when I was about sixteen. Didn't get along with my family. " She leaned over, plucked out another chocolate.

"Any particular reason for that?"

"You name it. My old man had a narrow mind and a hard hand, and my mother danced to his tune and played with the ladies auxiliary. Couldn't stand it. I lit out first chance I got, and I'd been such a pain in their asses, they didn't go to much trouble to find me. "

He found the offhanded way she spoke of her parents' disinterest sad and telling. But knowing Lulu, the slightest inkling of sympathy would earn him a kick in the teeth. "Where were you going?"

"Anywhere that wasn't there. Ended up inSan Francisco for a while. Gave my virginity in a nice marijuana haze to a sweet-faced boy named Bobby. "

She smiled at that, as despite the years and the circumstance, it was a nice memory. "I made love beads, sold them for food, listened to a lot of music, solved all the world's problems. Smoked a lot of joints, dropped a little acid. Cruised aroundNew Mexico andNevada with a guy named Spike - can you beat that - on his Harley. "

"At sixteen?"

"Might've been seventeen by then. You only get to be sixteen for a year. Liked being a gypsy, as I had itchy feet. " She wiggled her toes in her ancient Birkenstocks. "I planted them now and then. The commune inColorado for one. I learned to plant a garden, how to cook what I planted. Learned how to knit there, too. But . . . "

Behind her lenses, her eyes sharpened. "You want the weird stuff, right? Not the hippie-trippie memoirs. "

"I'll take what I can get. "

"I had dreams. Not like goals," she added. "Didn't have an ambition to my name back then. But I had dreams of this place - The Sisters. The house on the cliff, and a woman with long red hair. "

Mac had been sketching Lulu's face on his notepad, but now he stopped and looked up. "Mia. "

"No. " Because it reminded her of the old days, Lulu lighted a cone of vanilla incense. "She'd cry in the dreams, and tell me I had to tend her children. "

Mac made a quick notation. There had been a nurse, and the one called Earth had left the children with her before leaping from the cliffs. "Reincarnation?" He scribbled. "A link within the circle?"

"Whenever I had the dream, I just had to move again, just had to leave where I was and move on. Long story short, I ended up in Boston, broke. But I didn't mind being broke back then. Somebody always knew somebody who had a pad you could crash in. One day this girl who called herself Buttercup - Jesus - said how we should all take the ferry over to Three Sisters Island. She liked to think she was a witch, but as I remember she was the daughter of some rich lawyer whose money she was pissing away in college. She could pay the freight to get us all over and back with daddy's allowance money. I went along because, hey, free ride. They made the round-trip. I stayed. "

"Why?" Mac asked her.

She didn't answer for a moment. Despite her relationship with Mia, with Ripley and Nell, and the island itself, Lulu didn't talk much about her own brushes with magic.

It always made her feel a little silly.

But Mac was watching her in that quiet way he had. And she was damn fond of him.

"I knew it was my place, as soon as I saw it coming up out of the water. I was high," Lulu continued.

"We all were. Buttercup was a moron, but she always had prime weed. I saw the island like it was in crystal, everything so vivid and clear. Maybe it was the pot, but it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I looked up and saw the house on the cliffs, and I thought - well, shit, there it is. That's where I'm supposed to be. I walked away from Buttercup and the rest as soon as we hit the docks, and never gave them another thought. Wonder what the hell ever happened to her. "

"You went to work for Mia's grandmother. "

"Not right away. I wasn't looking for gainful employment. Too establishment for me. " She took off her glasses to polish the lenses. "I camped out in the woods a while, ate berries or what I'd liberated from people's vegetable gardens. I think I was going through a vegetarian stage," she mused with a little frown of concentration.

It was interesting to look back and see herself - young, careless, smooth.

"Didn't last long. Born a carnivore, die a carnivore. So . . . one day I was hiking and this woman came by in a fancy car. Stopped. She leaned out, looked me up and down. I guess she was on the shy side of sixty, but when you're figuring thirty's the end of it all, that's really old. "

She stopped, laughed now as she put her glasses on. "What the hell, I'm having a glass of wine. Want one?"

"No thanks. I've got driving to do. "

"You're a real straight arrow, aren't you, Mac?" She headed off to the kitchen, shouting back. "I never was much to look at, and after camping a couple weeks, I'd've been a little ripe. Had long hair then, wore it in braids. What was I thinking? The woman, she was old to me, but she was a looker. Dark red hair all done up, lady suit on like she'd just come from teatime. She had dark, dark eyes, and when they latched on to mine, I swear I heard waves crashing on rock, storms, I felt the wind blow over me though the day was hot and still. I heard a baby crying. "

Wineglass in hand, Lulu clumped back in, dropped back on the colorful, well-sprung sofa. "She told me to get in, just like that. And I did, just like that. Never thought about it twice. Mrs. Devlin, she had power, just like her granddaughter does. I didn't know what it was then, I just knew it was. She took me to the house on the cliffs.

"I loved her. " Lulu allowed sentiment to fill her throat along with the wine. "I respected her, and I admired her. She was more family to me than my own blood. They'd never given much of a damn about me, and I'd gotten used to that. But she taught me. Passed on her love of reading, trusted me. Made me work for my keep - goddamn, she expected you to pull weight! I cleaned that big-ass house so many times I could've done it in my sleep. "

"You didn't know she was a witch?"

Lulu considered. It wasn't something she had given a great deal of thought to. "It was kind of gradu

al. I

think she saw to that so it'd be a natural thing for me to accept. Maybe it was easier seeing as how I was into all that hippie-metaphysical-nature-is-our-mother business. "

"When did you learn about the legend?"

"That was a gradual thing, too. It's part of the Sisters, so you hear this, read that. Working for Mrs. Devlin, I became part of the island before I realized it. "

Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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