Chapter Twelve

Mia closed and locked the door behind the last straggle of customers. Then leaned back against it and looked at Lulu. "Long day. "

"I thought that last group was going to make camp in here. " Lulu shut down the cash register for the night, then zipped the cash bag. "You want to take this moola home, or should I make a night deposit?"

"How much moola?"

Because they both enjoyed it, Lulu unzipped the bag, pulled out the stack of bills, and flipped her thumb over the ends. "Lots of cash customers today. "

"God bless them every one. I'll do the deposit. Credit card receipts?"

"Right here. "

Rolling her shoulders, Mia crossed over, scanned the stack. "Business is good. "

"Solstice week, sucks them right in. I had two teenagers in here today, summer girls. Wanted to know if they could see the witch and get some love potion. "

Amused, Mia leaned on the counter. "And what did you tell them?"

"I told them sure, and how well the beauty potion worked for me. That sent them scurrying. "

"Well, they have to learn not to look for life cures in a pretty bottle of potion. "

"You put out some fancy jars full of colored water during solstice week, and customers would trip over themselves to buy them. Mia's Magic Mix, for love, beauty, and prosperity. "

"Terrifying thought. " Mia angled her head. "In all these years, Lu, you've never once asked me for a spell or a charm. For luck, love, fast money. Why is that?"

"I get on well enough on my own. " Lulu hauled her enormous purse from behind the counter. "Besides, don't think I don't know you look out for me anyway. Better start looking out for yourself. "

"What an odd thing to say. I always look out for myself. "

"Sure, you've got your house, and you live well. Live the way you see fit to live. You've got your looks, and you're healthy. Got more shoes than a Vegas chorus line. "

"Shoes separate us from the lower mammals. "

"Yeah, yeah. You just like having men look at your legs. "

Mia trailed a hand through her hair. "Well, naturally. "

"Anyway. " Lulu focused in. She knew her girl, and she knew when that girl was trying to distract her.

"You run things pretty much as you want to. Got good friends. And you've made this place into something you can be proud of. "

"We made it," Mia corrected.

"Well, I didn't sit on my hands, but this is your place. " Lulu gave a decisive nod that took in the entire store. "And it shines. "

"Lu. " Touched, Mia brushed Lulu's arm as she came around the counter. "It means a lot to me that you'd think that, say that. "

"It's fact. And there's another fact, one that worries me some nights. You're not happy. "

"Of course I am. "

"No, you're not. And worse, you don't think you're ever going to be. Not deep-down-in-the-gut happy. You want to give me a spell, you fix that. That's all I have to say. Now I'm going to go put my feet up and watch my video of Die Hard. I like seeing Bruce Willis kick ass. "

With no comeback, Mia simply stood there while Lulu strode through the store and out the back. Unsettled now, she took the cash and receipts and wandered through the store. It did shine, she thought. She had put a great deal of energy and imagination to use here. Financial resources and intellect, long, hard hours and eclectic taste.

And nearly seven years of her life.

It made her happy, she insisted as she walked up the stairs. It challenged and fulfilled her. That was enough. She'd made it be enough. Maybe she had once assumed she would have a different kind of life. A life that included a man who loved her and the children they made together. But that had been a young girl's fantasy, and she had put away such dreams. Just because she didn't have those things didn't mean they were missing, she thought as she went into her office to fill out the deposit slips. It only meant she'd taken another path, ended up at a different destination.

In-the-gut happy, she mused, and sighed. How many people were, when it came right down to it?

Wasn't it just as important to be satisfied, fulfilled, successful? And wasn't it essential to any level of happiness to feel in control of your life?

She heard, as clearly as fingernails scraping against glass, the dark pressing against her windows. She looked outside. The sky was still glowing with the light of a summer evening. But the dark was there, just at the edges, trying to find a crack, a chink in her will.

"You won't use me to destroy. " She said it clearly, so her voice carried through the empty store.

"Whatever else I do in my life, I won't be used. You are not welcome here. "

And there at her desk, with the day's receipts and paperwork neatly stacked, she spread her arms, palms up, and called the light. It shimmered in her hands like gilded pools, then flowed out in golden rivers. As it spilled from her, the dark slithered back.

Pleased, she gathered what she needed to make the deposits.

Before she left the store, she detoured to her new terrace. The doorwalls had been installed that day, and she unlocked the glass, slid it open. Stepped out into the evening. The ironwork railing was exactly as she'd wanted. Fussy and female. She laid her hands on it, gave it a quick, testing shake, and was satisfied at its unyielding strength. Beauty, she thought, never had to be weak.

From her vantage point she could see the curve of beach, the roll of the sea. And the first sword of white from her lighthouse as dusk faded toward night. The dark that crept in now was benign, full of hope. Below her, High Street was still busy. Tourists were out for strolls, wandering into the ice cream parlor for a treat. The air was so clear she could hear bits of conversation and the shouts and squeals of young people on the beach.

As the first stars glimmered to life, she felt her throat go tight with a longing that she refused to recognize, and couldn't resolve.

"If you had a trellis, I'd climb up. "

She looked down and there he was. Dark and handsome, and just a little dangerous. Was it any wonder the girl she'd been had fallen so pathetically in love with Sam Logan?

"Climbing up into business establishments after hours is discouraged on the island. "

"I've got pull with the local authorities, so I'd risk it. But why don't you come down? Come out and play, Mia. It's a hell of a night. "

There had been a time when she would have run to him. Because she remembered just how easy it had been for her to forget everything and anything but him, she simply leaned out over the railing. "I have an errand to do and another long day tomorrow. I'm going by the bank, then home. "

"How can anyone so beautiful be so stuffy? Hey" - he grabbed the arm of one of three men walking by, then pointed up - "isn't she spectacular? I'm trying to hit on her, but she's not cooperating. "

"Why don't you give the guy a break?" one of the men called to her, only to be elbowed aside by one of his companions.

"The hell with him. Give me a break. " He laid a hand dramatically on his heart. "I think I'm in love. Hey, Red. "

"Hey, yourself. "

"Let's us get married and move to Trinidad. "

"Where's the ring?" she demanded. "I don't move to Trinidad unless I have a big fat diamond on my finger. "

"Hey. " The man jabbed one of his friends. "Lend me ten thousand dollars so I can buy a big fat diamond and move to Trinidad with Red. "

"If I had ten K, I'd move to Trinidad with her. "

"Now see what you've done. " Sam chuckled. "Destroying friendships, inciting riots. You'd better come down here and go with me before my new pals and I have to beat the crap out of each other. "

Amused, she laughed, stepped back, and shut the doors.

He waited for her. When he'd seen her standing on the terrace, he'd been staggered. She'd looked so enchanting, and so sad. Heartbreaking. He'd have done anything in his power to lift that quiet sorrow. And anything, nearly anything, to

reach past that thin shield she kept between them. He wanted to see what was in her mind. In her heart.

Maybe the key, at least for one precious evening, was to keep things simple. He stood on the sidewalk when she came out and locked the front door behind her. She wore a slim dress that flowed around her ankles and was scattered with tiny yellow rosebuds. Her shoes were a series of slender crisscrossing straps and a high wedged platform. He found the thin chain of gold around her left ankle ridiculously sexy.

She turned, hitched the strap of her bag onto her shoulder, then scanned the sidewalk. "Where did your friends go?"

"I bribed them with free drinks at the Coven. " He jerked his head toward the hotel.

"Ah. Replaced by a cold beer. "

"Want to go to Trinidad?"

Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance