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Authors: Nora Roberts

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BOOK: Face the Fire
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The explosion boomed out of the set, flashed hot red light into the room. The sharp pain in Lulu’s chest had her crying out, frantically pressing her hands between her breasts. Chips flew as she scrambled up, looking for blood.

She found nothing but her own wildly beating heart.

On the screen Mel and Danny were arguing about police procedure.

Shaken, and feeling like an old fool, Lulu staggered to the window. A little fresh air, she thought. Clear her head. Must’ve fallen asleep for a minute, she decided as she pushed the rattling beads aside and shoved her window all the way up.

She shivered. It was cold as winter—colder, she
realized, than it should have been. And the mists swirling out of the ground had an odd tone to them. Like floating bruises, all dull purples and sickly yellows.

She could see her calliope of flowers, and the moonball rising up through them. Her rude little gargoyle who stuck his tongue out of a grinning mouth at passersby. The rain sounded icy now, and when she reached out the window, cold, sharp shards of it stabbed into her palm.

Her glasses slid down as she jerked her hand back. And when she shoved them back into place, she’d have sworn the gargoyle was closer to the house, turned so that instead of his profile she could see three-quarters of the homely face.

Her chest began to hurt from the racing of her heart.

Need new glasses, she thought. Eyes are going.

As she stared, frozen in shock, the gargoyle swiveled to face her. And bared long, vicious teeth.

“Jesus H. Christ!”

She could hear them, actually hear the greedy snap of them as he inched through the fog toward the house. Toward the open window. Behind him, the little flute-playing frog she’d bought the week before began to hop closer. And the flute he held was now a long, jagged-edged knife.

“Nobody will care.”

Reeling, she snapped her head around. On TV a huge cartoon snake with Mel Gibson’s handsome face leered at her.

“Nobody will give two good shits if you’re dead. You’ve got nobody, do you, Lu? No man, no kid, no family. Nobody to give a rat’s ass about you.”

“That’s bull!” Terror screamed through her as she saw that the gargoyle and his companion had come within a foot of the house while she was looking away. Teeth snapped—a hungry sound, and the knife swished through the thick fog like a deadly metronome.

“That’s just horseshit.” Her shaking hands fumbled at the window, her breath panting out in puffs as she fought to find a grip on the sash.

As she slammed it down, she fell backward and hit the floor with a jar of her bones.

She lay there, struggling to catch her breath, struggling to find her nerve. When she managed to get to her knees, she crawled whimpering toward her sewing basket and grabbed two knitting needles as weapons.

But when she managed to find the courage to go back to the window, the rain was falling warm and gentle, the mists had cleared. And the gargoyle, homely and harmless, squatted in its usual spot, ready to insult the next visitor.

Lulu stood in the bedroom while another firefight broke out on television. She rubbed her hand over her clammy face.

“That must’ve been some bottle of chardonnay,” she said aloud.

But for the first time since she’d moved into the little house, she—armed with her needles—walked through it locking all the doors and windows.

A man, however dedicated, was entitled to some
time off. That’s what Sam told himself as he drove away from the village. He’d spent hours at his desk, in meetings, doing inspections, reading reports. If he didn’t clear his mind, it was going to fry.

And it was Sunday. The rain had finally blown out to sea, leaving the island sparkling like a jewel. Getting out, seeing what on this little clump of land had changed, and what hadn’t, was as important to his business as ledgers and projections.

That sensibility, he knew, had skipped a generation in
the Logan family. He’d always been aware that his parents had viewed the twenty-odd years they’d spent on Three Sisters as a kind of exile. Which, he imagined, was why they’d found excuses to leave it so often during that period—and then to pull up stakes permanently when his grandfather had died.

It had never been home for them.

Coming back had proved that to him, just as it had proved the island
was
home for him. One answer he’d come back to find was clear to him now. Three Sisters was his.

Pleasure boats were skimming along the water, motors humming or sails fat with wind. It brought him a steadying kind of pleasure to see them. Buoys bobbed, orange, red, white, against the cool blue surface. The land jutted or curved or tumbled out to meet the water.

He saw a family clamming and a young boy chasing gulls.

There were houses that hadn’t been there when he’d left. And the time between came home to him as he noticed the weathered silver of cedar and the thick clumps of vegetation. Growth, he thought. Man’s and nature’s.

Time didn’t stand still. Not even on Three Sisters.

As he approached the north point of the island, he turned onto a narrow shale road, listened to his wheels crunch. The last time he’d driven this stretch he’d had a Jeep, with its top off so the air had streamed over him. And his radio had been going full blast.

He had to smile at himself as he realized that while he might be in a Ferrari, he had still put the top down. And turned the stereo up to scream.

“You can take the boy off the island,” he murmured, then pulled off the side of the road opposite the bluffs and the house that rose from them.

The house hadn’t changed, he decided, and wondered
how long it would take the islanders to stop referring to it as the Logan place. Two stories, it rambled over the bluff, jutting out, shooting up as if on its own whim. Someone had recently painted its shutters a dark blue to contrast with the silvered wood.

The screened porch and the open decks offered stunning views of the cove, and the sea. The windows were wide, the doors glass. He remembered that his room had faced the water, and how much time he’d spent staring out at it.

How often its changing and unpredictable moods had reflected his own.

The sea had always spoken to him.

Still, the house didn’t bring him any tug of sentiment, or any lovely haze of nostalgia. The islanders could call it the Logan place for another decade, but it had never been Sam’s. It was, in his opinion, a good property in a prime location that had been well maintained by its absentee owners.

He hoped the man who owned the Land Rover parked outside it felt he’d gotten his money’s worth.

Dr. MacAllister Booke, Sam thought now, of the New York Bookes. A man with a brilliant mind, and an unusual bent. Paranormal science. Fascinating. He wondered if Booke had felt like a round peg in the square hole of his family, as he himself had.

Sam got out of his car, walked toward the bluff. It wasn’t the house that called him, but the cove. And the cave.

It pleased him, more than he’d expected, to see a bright-yellow sailboat tied to the dock below. And it was a honey, he mused, studying its lines. He’d had a boat tied there too. For as long as he could remember. For that, at least, he felt the tug, the soft haze.

Sailing had been the single real interest that father and son had shared.

The best times he’d had with Thaddeus Logan, the only times there had ever been that click of kinship between them, Sam remembered, had been when they were sailing.

They’d actually communicated, connected, during those hours on the water, not just as two people who happened, through circumstance, to occupy places in the same family, the same house. But as father and son who shared a common interest. It was good to remember that.

“Pretty, isn’t she? I just got her last month.”

Sam turned and, through the lenses of his shaded glasses, watched the man who had spoken walk toward him. Dressed in faded jeans and a gray sweatshirt ragged at the hem, he was tall, with a strong, lean face shadowed by a night’s growth of beard. Dark blond hair blew in the frisky breeze, and friendly brown eyes squinted against the flash of sunlight. He had a tough, disciplined build that Sam could admit he hadn’t expected from a scholarly spook hunter.

He’d imagined a thin, pale, and nerdish bookworm. Instead, he thought, amused with himself, he was getting Indiana Jones.

“How’s she handle in the rough?” Sam asked.

“Oh, like a charm.”

They spent a few minutes, thumbs tucked in front pockets, admiring and talking about the boat.

“I’m Mac Booke.” Mac held out a hand.

“Sam Logan.”

“Thought so. Thanks for the house.”

“It wasn’t mine, but you’re welcome.”

“Come on inside, have a beer.”

He hadn’t intended to socialize, but the offer was so easy and unstudied that Sam found himself heading toward the house with Mac. “Ripley around?”

“No, she’s on duty this afternoon. Did you want to see her about something?”

“Absolutely not.”

Mac only laughed, and after they climbed the steps to the main deck, opened the door. “I guess that feeling’s going to be mutual for a while. Until it all settles in.”

The deck led into the living room. Sam remembered it as being polished, full of pastels and pale watercolors. Time hadn’t stood still here, either, he mused. The colors were bold and bright, the furnishings tailored for comfort. There were homey, untidy piles of newspapers, books, shoes.

One of which a busy puppy was currently gnawing.

“Damn it!” Mac leaped in, tripped over the unmauled mate of the sneaker, and made a grab for the other. The pup was faster, and with the shoe in his mouth he scrambled for cover.

“Mulder! Give me that.”

Sam angled his head as man and pup went into a little tug-of-war. The pup lost, but didn’t look put out by it.

“Mulder?” Sam asked.

“Yeah, you know—
X-Files
guy. Ripley said she named him after me. Her little joke.” He heaved out a breath. “She’s not going to think it’s a joke when she sees her shoe.”

Sam crouched, and the pup, thrilled at the prospect of company, raced over to leap and lick. “Pretty dog. Golden retriever?”

“Yeah. We’ve only had him three weeks. He’s smart, and mostly housebroken, but he’ll chew through rock if you don’t watch him, which I wasn’t.” Sighing, Mac scooped the pup up and went nose to nose. “You know who’s going to take the heat for this, don’t you?”

The puppy wriggled in delight and licked Mac’s chin. Giving up on the lecture, Mac tucked Mulder under his
arm. “Beer’s in the kitchen.” He led the way back, got two bottles out of the fridge. On the table sat a number of electronic devices, one of which seemed to be gutted.

Idly, Sam reached over to pick one up, and set off a series of beeps and blinking red lights.

“Sorry.”

“No problem.” Mac’s eyes narrowed, a speculative look. “Why don’t we take these out on the deck? Unless you want to look around. You know, the old homestead and whatever.”

“No, thanks anyway.” But as they started back out, Sam glanced toward the stairs, imagined his room as it had been, and himself watching the sea, or watching for Mia, out the window.

From the second floor a new beep sounded.

“Equipment,” Mac said easily, and had to squelch the urge to dash upstairs and check readings. “I’ve got my lab set up in one of the extra bedrooms.”

“Hmmm.”

Once outside, Mac set Mulder down, and he immediately bounded down the steps and began to sniff along the yard. “Anyway . . .” Mac took a swig of beer, leaned on the rail. “Ripley didn’t mention that you were a witch.”

Sam opened his mouth, closed it again, then just shook his head. “What, am I wearing a sign?”

“Energy readings.” Mac gestured toward the house. “And actually, I’d wondered about it, as I’ve done a lot of research on the island, the families, the bloodlines, and so on. Did you practice in New York?”

“Depends on your definition.” It wasn’t often that Sam found himself being studied like a science experiment, or that he would have allowed it. But something about Mac appealed to him. “I’ve never neglected the Craft, but I don’t advertise either.”

“Makes sense. So what do you think of the legend?”

“I’ve never considered it a legend. It’s history, and fact.”

“Exactly.” Delighted, Mac lifted his bottle in a kind of toast. “I’ve done a time line, projecting the spin, you might say, of the cycle. By my calculations—”

“We have until September,” Sam interrupted. “No later than the equinox.”

Mac nodded slowly. “Well, bingo. Welcome home, Sam.”

“Thanks.” He sipped his beer. “It’s good to be back.”

“Are you going to be open to working with me?”

“It’d be stupid to turn down the input of an expert. I’ve read your books.”

“Yeah?”

“You have an open and flexible mind.”

“Someone else said that to me, once.” Mac thought of Mia, but was tactful enough not to mention her name. “Can I ask you a personal question?”

“Yes, as long as I can tell you to mind your own business as an answer.”

“Deal. If you knew September was a kind of deadline, why did you wait so long to come back?”

BOOK: Face the Fire
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