Nell scooped up a second helping for Mac before he'd asked for one. Zack tore off a hunk of bread and passed it to Mia while he continued to hold a heated debate with his sister on the pitching depth of the Red Sox. Nell and Mia exchanged looks in an unspoken joke that had them both chuckling. And all of it, all the ease, made it clear to Sam that building a bridge over his years away would take more than time and proximity.

"I think my father and yours played in the same foursome for some charity golf tournament," Mac commented. "Just last month, in Palm Springs, or Palm Beach. Or something with a Palm in it. "

"Really?" Sam had never been interested in his father's pseudo charity events. And it had been years since he'd had to bow to the pressure of participating in any of them. "I met your parents at various functions in New York. "

"Yeah, same circles. "

"More or less," Sam agreed. "I don't recall meeting you at any of those various functions. "

Mac only grinned. "Well, there you are. So . . . do you play golf?"

Now, Sam smiled. "No. Do you?"

"Mac's pretty much a spaz," Ripley put in. "If he tried to tee off, he'd probably slice his big toe into the woods. "

"Sad, but true," Mac agreed.

"Last week he tripped going down the deck steps. Six stitches. "

"The dog tripped me," Mac said in his own defense. "And it was only four stitches. "

"Which you could've avoided if you'd come to me instead of going to the clinic. "

"She rags on me every time I get a bump or a bruise. "

"Which is daily. On our honeymoon - "

"We're not getting into that. " The flush started creeping up Mac's neck.

"When we were using taking a shower as an excuse to have some hot, steamy sex - "

"Cut it out. " Mac spread his hand over Ripley's face and gave it a nudge. "And that towel bar was not properly installed. "

"He ripped it right out of the wall in the throes. " She batted her lashes at him. "My hero. "

"Anyway," Mac said on a long breath. "Seeing as you're in the hotel business, Sam, you might want to make sure your towel bars are secure. "

"I'll make a note, particularly if the two of you decide to take a weekend at the Magick Inn. "

"Well, if Nell and Zack make a reservation," Ripley continued, "you'd better check the stability of the bathroom sinks. They knocked the one upstairs out of alignment when - "

"Ripley!" Nell hissed it, horrified.

"Do you have to tell her everything?" Zack demanded.

"Not anymore. " Ignoring Ripley's laughter, Nell pushed to her feet. "I'll get dessert. "

"I had no idea bathrooms had become such erogenous zones," Mia commented as she rose to clear her plate.

"I'll be happy to show you mine," Sam said, and was given a shrug as she strolled into the kitchen.

"She didn't eat. She only pretended to. " Sam kept his voice low.

"She's tense," Mac added.

"There's no point in my being here if it closes her off. "

"The world doesn't revolve around you. " Ripley snagged her glass and drank.

"Rip. " Zack's voice was a quiet warning. "Let's just see how it goes from here. "

With a nod, Sam picked up his own plate. "She trusts you," he said to Mac.

"Yes, she does. "

"Maybe that balances things out. "

Sam had nerves of his own when they settled back in the living room. What he was had never been an issue for him. It simply was. But neither was his gift something he discussed. He joined no coven. And though only four out of the six there were hereditary witches, it was very much a kind of coven.

"We all know the legend," Mac began.

The historian, Sam thought. The scientist. The detail man with the facile mind.

"During the Salem witch trials, the three who were known as Fire, Earth, and Air conjured what became Three Sisters Island as a haven against persecution. "

"While innocents were hunted and murdered," Ripley added.

The soldier. Sam idly stroked the cat, who had deigned to join him on the sofa. A woman with grit. The earth.

"They couldn't have stopped it, or if they'd tried," Zack said, "others might have died. "

And here, Sam decided, was reason and authority.

"Change one angle of destiny, change all. " Mac nodded, continued. "The one called Air fell in love, married a merchant who took her back to the mainland. Bore his children, kept his home. But he could never accept what she was. He abused her, and ultimately killed her. "

"She blamed herself, I think, for not being what he wanted. For not staying true to herself, and choosing poorly. "

Nell, the nurturer, Sam thought when she spoke. The cat stretched under his hand, as if agreeing. She was the air.

"She saved her children, sent them back to her sisters. But the circle was diminished. Weakened. And the horror of it, the fury of it," Mac went on, "festered in the one known as Earth until she surrendered to the anger, the rage, and the need for revenge. "

"She was wrong," Ripley said now. "I understand what she felt, why she felt it, but she was wrong. And she paid. Using her power to kill the one who'd killed her sister destroyed her, and came back threefold. She lost her husband, a man she loved; was never able to see her children again; and shattered what was left of the circle. "

"There was one left. " Mia's voice was clear, her gaze level. "One left to hold it. "

Intellect, pride, and passion. Was it any wonder that she stirred him? Sam thought. She was the fire.

"Despair can crush even the strongest. " Nell laid a hand on Mia's. "But even alone, even heartbroken, she wove a web of protection. Three hundred years strong. "

"She made certain her children were taken care of. " Mac thought of Lulu. "Which brings us to now. " He frowned into his coffee. "A still unbroken circle. "

"You're worried I'll fail when my time comes. Nell faced her demons, and Ripley hers. " In what seemed an idle gesture, Mia stroked Mulder with the side of her foot. "Of the three of us, my knowledge and practice of the Craft is the most extensive. "

"Agreed. But - "

Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance