Chapter Fourteen

"What did she say when you told her?"

As Sam paced his office, Mac lifted his hands. "That it has surrounded her all her life, but is just being more blatant about it now. "

"Yeah, I can just hear her saying that. When we were - before I left the island, we talked about it a couple of times. She'd read up on it more than I had at that point. That's probably still true. The woman can absorb a book before most of us get to chapter two. She was so confident about it all. Good would overcome evil as long as good was strong and faithful. "

"She's both of those. What I didn't tell her was that my readings picked up several different - let's call

them fingerprints - on her side of the line. I'm assuming they'd be yours. "

"Just because she doesn't want my protection doesn't mean she isn't going to get it. "

"Whatever you're doing, keep it up. "

Sam wandered to the window, looked out on the new terrace across the street. She had taken in the tables she'd put out for the weekend, and the crew was setting the slate in place. "How did she look today?"

"Spectacular. "

"You should see her when she uses real power. " Then he glanced back at Mac. "But I suppose you have. "

"Late last winter - a call to the four elements. It took me half a day to come to my senses. I wonder if she uses the Wiccan equivalent of a dimmer switch on that face of hers for the everyday. "

"No. The power punches it up, as if it wasn't enough already. Beauty like that blinds a man, muddles the brain. I've asked myself if it's that that pulls me to her. "

"I can't answer that. "

"I can now. I've loved her all my life. Before I knew what love meant, after I tried to redefine it. It's a nasty blow to finally understand that now, when she doesn't love me. Or won't. "

He turned back, eased a hip onto the edge of his desk. "All right, scientifically speaking - or theoretically, academically, whatever you like - is my being here - no, loving her now - putting her at greater risk?"

"Your feelings don't count. " As soon as he said it, Mac winced. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. "

"I get it. It's her feelings that tip the scale, one way or the other. In that case, I'm going to assume that trying to rekindle her feelings, or change them, won't hurt her. If you think otherwise, I'll hold off on that until after September. "

"I can't tell you. "

"Then I'm going with the gut. If nothing else, I intend to be as close to her as I can when it comes to the sticking point. Even the circle can use a guard dog. "

He called her that night, at home, just as she was settling in with a book and a glass of wine.

"I hope I'm not catching you at a bad time. "

"No. " Mia pursed her lips as she studied the play of light and liquid in her glass. "Thank you for the flowers. They're lovely. "

"I'm glad you liked them. I am sorry we argued yesterday. That I took my mood out on you. "

"Accepted. "

"Good. Then I hope you'll have dinner with me. We can call it a business meeting, to discuss the details of Caroline's tour stop. Would tomorrow night suit your schedule?"

So pleasant, she thought. So smooth. That was when you had to watch him most carefully. "Yes, I suppose. "

"I'll pick you up, then, say seven-thirty?"

"There's no need. I can easily walk across the street. "

"I had somewhere else in mind and you usually take the late afternoon and evening off on Tuesdays. No point in you changing your routine just for this. I'll pick you up. We'll keep it casual. "

She'd nearly asked for specifics before she decided he wanted her to. "Casual's just fine. I'll see you tomorrow. "

She hung up, went back to her book. But found it hard to concentrate. The day before, she thought, they'd raked up the past with all its wounds and bitterness. Had she trapped him by being so blindly in love, so sure of her own feelings and so confident of his? Could he have been so selfish, so cold, that he had cast her aside rather than share his own mind and heart, rather than give her a chance to understand?

How foolish and shortsighted of both of them, she thought now.

Still, blame, excuses, reasons, none of that changed what had happened. None of it changed, nor would she have it change, who each of them had become. It was best to bury it again and go on as they were. Cautious friends, careless lovers, with no plans to be more.

From his current attitude, it seemed he agreed with her on that one point. And yet . . .

After setting it aside, Mia said to her cat, "He's up to something. "

On the other side of the village, Sam made a hurried second call. "Nell? It's Sam Logan. I have an emergency. A confidential emergency. "

It was a matter of sharpening the details. To hone some of them, he had to wait until Mia left the store the next afternoon. He also concluded that the only way to deal with Lulu was to be direct. Inside Cafe Book he gestured her over to a display of CDs. A CD titled Forest Serenity was tucked in a slot labeled Playing Now.

"Which one's her favorite?"

Lulu adjusted her glasses. "Why?"

"Because I'd like to buy her favorite. "

Always ready for a sale, Lulu ran her tongue around her teeth. "You buy five, you get the sixth half price. "

"I don't need half a dozen - " He broke off, hissed. "Okay, I'll buy six. Which ones are her favorites?"

"She likes them all or they wouldn't be in here. It's her store, isn't it?"

"Right. " He started to pluck some at random.

"Don't be in such a damn hurry. " She brushed his fingers aside. "When she gets in before me, she tends to put one of these three on. "

"Then I'll take these three. And these. "

"We sell books, too. "

"I know you sell books. I'm just . . . What would you recommend?"

She hosed him, but Sam decided it was money well spent. Or well enough. It wasn't as if he couldn't use a hundred-dollar coffee table book on Renaissance art, or this week's top ten bestsellers. Or the six CDs, and the three audiotapes. And the rest of it.

At least when Lulu had rung him up, she'd laughed. And meant it.

He left Cafe Book several hundred dollars poorer, and with a great deal left to do in a short amount of time.

Despite that, he arrived at Mia's door at exactly seven-thirty.

She was just as prompt, and stepped out carrying a slim file.

"Notes," she said. "On the event. And copies of the flyer that went out, the store's newsletter, and the ad that will run for the next two weeks. "

"Can't wait to see them. " He gestured toward his car. "Want the top up?"

"No, let's keep it down. "

She noted he'd meant casual. He wore dark trousers and a blue T-shirt. Once again, she had to suppress the urge to ask him where they were going for dinner.

"By the way" - he gave her a light kiss before he opened the car door for her - "you look wonderful. "

Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance