By ten the next morning, Mia was already polishing up her proposal for an author event. She'd worked off considerable sexual frustration the night before by diving straight into the project and sticking with it until after midnight.
Then she'd sprinkled ginger and marigold over the rough draft for success in business ventures. With rosemary under her pillow to aid in a restful sleep, she'd tuned out the nagging need. She had always been good at channeling her energies, at focusing them on the task that needed attention. After her initial mourning period for Sam, that strength of will had gotten her through college, into business. Into life.
It had, for years, kept her moving forward with matters both practical and pleasurable when she was fully aware that the web of protection around her home was thinning. Yet despite that will she'd dreamed. Of Sam, and of being with him then. Of being with him now. The physical ache of it had her tossing until she was tangled in the sheets. She dreamed of the marked wolf, stalking through the woods. Howling from its perch on her cliffs. And once she'd heard it scream, in pain and rage. And in sleep, she called Sam's name like a chant. Still, she had slept, and she woke to a brilliant sunrise that promised a perfect day. She tended her flowers first while the sky shimmered with the reds and golds of dawn. She paid her respects to the elements that gave her the beauty of her gardens and the gift of her power. She brewed a cup of mint tea, for money and luck, and drank it while standing on her cliffs with the sea raging against the rocks below.
She felt closest to her ancestor there, and could always sense the iron core of strength as well as the bitter, rending loneliness.
Sometimes, when she'd been very young, she'd stood here looking out to sea and hoping to see the sleek head of a silkie bobbing in the waves. Once, she'd believed in happily-ever-after and had woven the tale in her head of how the one who was called Fire's lover had come back for her and how their spirits had found each other. Loved each other. Ever and always.
She no longer believed that, and was sorry for it. But she'd learned, and learned well, that there were some losses that sliced you to bits, shattered the spirit into dust. And still you went on, you remade yourself, mended your spirit. You lived. If not happily ever after, then contentedly enough. It had been on those cliffs that she had sworn an oath to protect what had been entrusted to her. She had been eight, full of pride in what she was. And every year since, on the nights of the summer and winter solstices, she stood on those cliffs and renewed that vow.
But this morning, Mia stood on the cliffs and simply gave thanks for the beauty of the day, then went in to dress for work.
She didn't shudder when she drove the curves of the cliff road. But she watched. At her desk, she read over her proposal, searching for mistakes, any detail she might have overlooked. Her brow furrowed at the knock on her door. Though she ignored it, deliberately, Ripley strode in.
"I'm busy. Come back later. "
"Something's up. " Never one to stand on ceremony, or to be put off by a less than warm welcome, Ripley came in, dropped into a chair.
That annoyed Mia enough to have her looking up. She saw Nell in the doorway.
"Nell. Isn't it your day off?"
"Do you think I'd've dragged her in here on her day off," Ripley said before Nell could answer, "if it wasn't important?"
"All right. " With sincere regret, Mia set her work aside. "Come in, close the door. Did you have a vision?"
Ripley grimaced. "I try not to, and no, this has nothing to do with woo-woo stuff. Not directly, anyway. I heard Mac talking on the phone this morning, trying not to let me hear him talking on the phone. "
"Ripley, I really can't meddle in your domestic disputes during working hours. "
"He was talking to Sam. Well, that woke you up," she commented.
"It's hardly surprising that they'd have a conversation. " Mia picked up her proposal, frowned at the bullet points, then gave up and set it down again. "All right. What were they talking about?"
"I don't know exactly, but something. Mac was really interested. He even walked outside with the phone, casual-like. But I know it was because he didn't want me to hear him. "
"How do you know it was Sam?"
"Because I heard him say, 'I'll come by the cottage this morning. ' "
"Well, why . . . can't you just get to the point?"
"I'm getting to it. So he scoots me out to work, trying not to make it obvious he's railroading me along.
Kiss, kiss, pat, pat. Shove, shove. But I go, because I'm thinking I'll just run by the cottage myself once I'm on patrol. But first I check in at the station house, and Zack's on the phone. And he stops talking in the middle of a sentence when I walk in, then says hello to me, using my name really definitely. "
Her scowl deepened at the memory. "So I know he's talking to either Mac or Sam. Then he starts giving me all this grunt work to do, crap jobs that'll keep me tied to the station house for two or three hours. Says he's got to do stuff. I wait until I'm sure he's gone, then I drive by the cottage and what do you think I see?"
"I hope," Mia said, "you're about to tell me and put an end to this play-by-play. "
"The patrol car and Mac's Rover," Ripley announced. "I grabbed Nell, and now I'm grabbing you, because I'm telling you, they're not playing poker or watching dirty movies in there. "
"No, they're putting something together without us," Mia agreed. "Too manly for the little women. "
"If they are," Nell said, "Zack's going to be very sorry. "
"Let's just go find out, shall we?" Mia yanked her car keys out of her desk. "I'll tell Lulu I've got to go out, and I'll be right behind you. "
M ac hunkered down on the ground, ran his portable scanner. "Positive energy all the way," he muttered. "Any negativity has been thoroughly cleansed. Next time call me first. I could really use a sample. "
"It was a little late for science experiments," Sam told him.
"Never too late for science. Can you sketch the manifestation?"
"I can't sketch a stick figure. It was the same image Mia described. The black wolf, massive size, with the mark of the pentagram. "
"It was smart to brand him when they had him down on the beach last winter. " Mac sat back on his haunches. "Makes ID simple - and it's diminished his power. "
Sam rolled his shoulders. "Sure as hell wasn't any pussycat last night. "
"He sucked the extra punch out of something, probably you. Bet you were pissed, huh?"
"The fucker tried to drive Mia off a cliff. What do you think?"
"I think the emotional turmoil we discussed the other night is a primary element of the equation. If you'd - "
"I think," Zack interrupted, "Sam should get that shoulder looked at. Then we should stop jerking off with theories and go after this bastard. If it can hurt Sam, it can hurt somebody else. I'm not having it run loose on my island. "
"You're not going to be able to track it down and shoot it like a rabid dog," Mac told him.
"I can sure as hell try. "