Authors: Nora Roberts
But for the moment, she took a couple of Advil, went down to pour herself a glass of ginger ale over ice. After sneaking quietly into their bedroom, she pulled out a sweatshirt and a pair of flannel pantsâadding thick socks because she felt chills coming on. Back in the second bedroom she changed, lay down on the bed, pulled around her the pretty throw that had been folded at the foot of the bed, and almost immediately fell asleep.
And into dreams about black lightning and black birds, a river that ran with bubbling red water.
She woke with a jolt, her throat on fire, her head pounding. Had she heard a cry, a shout? Even as she fumbled to untangle herself from the throw, she heard a
“Ross!” The room spun when she leaped up. Hissing out an oath, she raced to the bedroom, let out her own cry.
He was on the floor by the bed, convulsing. A pool of vomit, another of watery excrement, and she could see the blood in both.
“Oh God, God.” She ran to him, tried to turn him on his sideâweren't you supposed to do that? She didn't know, not for sure. She grabbed his phone off the nightstand, hit nine-one-one.
“I need an ambulance. I need help. God.” She rattled off the address. “My husband, my husband. He's having a seizure. He's burning up, just burning up. He's vomited. There's blood in it.”
“Help's on the way, ma'am.”
“Hurry. Please hurry.”
Jonah Vorhies, a thirty-three-year-old paramedic, smelled the soup cooking and turned off the burner before he and his partner, Patti Ann, rolled MacLeod out of the house and loaded him into the ambulance.
His partner jumped in the front, hit the sirens as he stayed in the back, working to stabilize the patient while the wife looked on.
And held on, Jonah thought. No hysterics. He could almost hear her willing her husband to wake up.
But Jonah knew death when he saw it. Sometimes he could feel it. He tried not toâit could get in the way of the workâtried to block out that
. Like, sometimes he knew that some guy who brushed by him on the street had cancer. Or some kid running by would fall off his bike that very afternoon and end up with a greenstick fracture of his right wrist.
Sometimes he even knew the kid's name, his age, where he lived.
It could be that specific, so he'd made it a kind of game for a while. But it spooked him, so he stopped.
With MacLeod, the knowing came on fast and strong, wouldn't let him block it out. Worse, this came with something new. A
. The seizure had stopped by the time he and Patti Ann had arrived but, as he worked and called out details for Patti Ann to radio in, Jonah could
the patient in bed, rolling over, vomiting on the floor. Calling for help before he fell out of bed and began to convulse.
the wife rushing in, hear her voice as she cried out. He could hear it, see it all as if watching it on a big screen.
And he didn't fucking like it.
When they rolled up to the ambulance bay, he did his best to turn off that screen, to do whatever he could to help save the life he knew was already gone.
He rattled off vitals, the details of symptoms, of emergency treatment given so far, as Dr. Rachel Hopman (he had a pretty serious crush on the doc) and her team double-timed the patient toward a treatment room.
Once there, he took the wife's arm before she could push through those double doors. And released it as if burned because he'd seen she was dead, too.
She said, “Ross,” and put a hand on the door to push it open.
“Ma'am. Mrs. MacLeod, you need to stay out here. Dr. Hopman's the best. She's going to do everything she can do for your husband.”
And for you, pretty soon now, for you. But it won't be enough.
“Ross. I need toâ”
“How about you sit down? You want some coffee?”
“Iâno.” She pressed a hand to her forehead. “No, thanks. No. What's wrong with him? What happened?”
“Dr. Hopman's going to find out. Is there someone we can call for you?”
“Our son's in London. He won't be home for a couple of days. My daughterÂ â¦ But she's pregnant, with twins. She shouldn't be upset. This will upset her. My friend Marjorie.”
“Do you want me to call Marjorie?”
“Iâ¦” She looked down at the purse she clutched, the one she'd grabbed automatically, just as she'd grabbed her coat, yanked on shoes. “I have my phone.”
She took it out, then just stared at it.
Jonah stepped away, snagged a nurse. “Somebody needs to look after her.” He gestured toward Mrs. MacLeod. “Her husband's in there, and it's bad. I think she's sick, too.”
“There's a lot of sick going on around here, Jonah.”
“She's running a fever. I can't tell you how high.” He could: 101.3 and rising. “The patient's running one. I have to get back on the roll.”
“Okay, okay, I'll check on her. How bad?” she asked, lifting her chin toward the treatment room.
Against his will, Jonah saw inside, watched the woman he hadn't worked up the guts to ask for a serious date look at the clock, and called it.
“Bad” was all he said, escaping before Rachel came out to tell the wife that her husband was dead.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Across the East River, in a loft in Chelsea, Lana Bingham cried out, soaring on the long, rolling orgasm. As cry slid to moan and moan to sigh, her fingers unclenched from the bedsheets, lifting so she could wrap her arms around Max as he came.
She sighed again, a woman replete and loose and content with her lover's weight on her, his heart still drumming its mad beat against hers. She ran her fingers, lazily now, through his dark hair.
He probably needed a trim, but she liked when it had some length, when she could twine the ends around her finger.
Six months since they'd moved in together, she thought, and it only got better.
In the quiet aftermath, she closed her eyes, sighed yet again.
Then cried out as something, something wild and wonderful, burst through her, in her, over her. Stronger than the orgasm, deeper, and with a ferocious mix of pleasure and shock she'd never be able to describe. Like light exploding, a lightning strike to her center, a flaming arrow to her heart that flashed through all of her. She all but felt her blood glow.
On her, still inside her, Max's body jerked. She heard his breath catch even as, for an instant, he hardened again.
Then it all quieted, smoothed, soothed to no more than a glimmer behind her eyes until even that faded.
Max pushed up on his elbows, looked down at her in the light of a dozen flickering candles. “What was that?”
A little dazed yet, she blew out a long breath. “I don't know. The world's biggest postcoital aftershock?”
He laughed, lowered his head to brush his lips to hers. “I think we're going to have to buy another bottle of that new wine we opened.”
“Let's go for a case. Wow.” Under him she stretched, lifting her arms up and back. “I feel amazing.”
“And look the same. My pretty, pretty witch.”
Now she laughed. She knewâas he didâshe was a dabbler at best. And was perfectly happy to stay one, to try her hand at little charms and candle rituals, to observe the holidays.
Since meeting Max Fallon at a winter solstice festival, and falling for himâhardâbefore Ostara, she'd made some attempt to work more seriously on the Craft.
But she didn't have the spark and, to be honest, knew few who
did. Mostâtry pretty much allâshe knew or met at festivals, rituals, meetings, ranked as dabblers, just as she did. And some were just a little crazy by her gauge. Others were way too obsessed.
Some might even hit dangerous, if they actually had power.
Then, oh yes, then, there was Max.
He had that spark. Hadn't he lit the bedroom candles with his breathâsomething that always aroused her? And if he really focused, he could levitate small things.
Once he'd floated a full cup of coffee across the kitchen and set it down right on the counter in front of her.
And he loved her. That was the kind of magick that mattered to Lana above all else.
He kissed her again, rolled off. And picked up an unlit candle.
Lana rolled her eyes, gave an exaggerated groan.
“You always do better when you're relaxed.” He did a slow scan of her body. “You look relaxed.”
She lay comfortably naked, her arms behind her head, her long butterscotch hair spread over the pillow. Her bottom-heavy lips full, curved.
“If I were any more relaxed, I'd be unconscious.”
“So give it a try.” He took her hand, kissed her fingers. “Focus. The light's in you.”
She wanted it to be, because he did. And because she hated disappointing him, she sat up, shook back her hair.
Preparing herself, she closed her eyes, leveled her breathing. She tried, as he'd
to teach her, to draw up the light he believed she held.
Oddly, she thought she felt something stir inside her and, surprised by it, opened her eyes, released a breath.
The wick shot light.
She gaped at it while he grinned.
“Look at you!” he said, with pride.
“Iâ But I didn't evenâ¦” She had managed to bring a few candles to flame, after a couple minutes of fierce concentration. “I wasn't even ready to start, andÂ â¦ You did it.”
Amused, and secretly a little relieved, she poked a finger into his chest. “Trying to boost my confidence?”
“I didn't.” He laid his free hand on her bare knee. “I wouldn't do that, and I'll never lie to you. That was all you, Lana.”
“But IÂ â¦ You really didn't? And you didn't, I don't know, give me some sort of boost?”
“All you. Try it again.” He blew out the candle, and this time put it in her hands.
Nervous now, she closed her eyesâmore to calm herself than anything. But when she thought of the candle, of lighting it, she felt that
inside her. When she opened her eyes and simply thought of the flame, the flame appeared.
“Oh, oh God.” Her eyes, a bright summer blue, reflected the candlelight. “I really did it.”
“What did you feel?”
“It wasÂ â¦ like something lifting inside me. Lifting up, spreading out, I don't know exactly. But, Max, it felt natural. Not a big flash and
. Just like, well, breathing. And still, you know, a little spooky. Let's keep it between just us, okay?”
She looked at him through the light.
She saw the pride and the interest on that handsome, poetic face, with the edgy cheekbones under the scruff, as he'd worked through the day without shaving.
She saw both in his eyes, pure gray in candlelight.
“Don't write about it or anything. At least not until we're sure it's not a fluke, a just-this-one-time thing.”
“A door opened inside you, Lana. I saw it in your eyes, just as I
saw the potential for it in your eyes the first time we met. Even before I loved you, I saw it. But if you want it to stay between us, it does.”
“Good.” She rose, stepped over to place her candle with his. A symbol, she thought, of their unity. She turned, candlelight swaying behind her. “I love you, Max. That's my light.”
He stood, lithe as a cat, gathered her close. “I can't imagine what my life would be without you in it. Want more wine?”
She tipped her head back. “Is that a euphemism?”
He smiled, kissed her. “I'm thinking wine, and we order in because I'm starving. Then we'll see about euphemisms.”
“I'm in for all of that. I can cook.”
“You certainly can, but you did that all day. You've got the night off. We talked about going outâ”
“I'd rather stay in. With you.” Much rather, she realized.
“Great. What are you in the mood for?”
“Surprise me,” she said, turning to pick up the black pants and T-shirt she'd worn under her chef's coatâsous chef to be exactâhe'd stripped off her when she'd come home from the restaurant.
“Two double shifts this week, so I'll be happy to stay home, eat somethingâanythingâsomebody else cooked.”
“Done.” He pulled on the jeans and dark sweater he'd worn to workâwriting in his office in the loft. “I'll open the wine, and surprise you with the rest.”
“I'll be right out,” she promised, going to the closet.
When she'd moved in with Max, she'd tried to limit her space to half the closet, butÂ â¦ She loved clothes, adored fashionâand since she spent so much of her time in a white tunic and black pants, indulged herself outside of work.
Casual, she thought, could still be pretty, even a little romantic for an evening at home. She chose a navy dress with swirls of red that would float a bit just below her knees. And she could come up
with her own surpriseâsome sexy underwearâfor when they got to the euphemism part of the night.
She dressed, then studied her face in the mirror. Candlelight flattered, butÂ â¦ She laid her hands on her face and did a light glamourâsomething she'd had the talent for since puberty.
She often wondered if whatever spark she had depended more on vanity than real power.
That was fine with Lana. It didn't shame her a bit to be or feel more pretty than powerful. Especially since whatever she had of each attracted a man like Max.
She started out, remembered the candles.
“Don't leave them unattended,” she murmured, and turned back to put them out.
She stopped, considered. If she could light them, could she
“It's just the reverse, right?” Saying it, thinking it, she pointed at one, intended to walk over and try.
The flame died.
“Oh wellÂ â¦ Wow.” She started to call Max, then realized he'd probably get wound up in it all, and they'd end up practicing and studying instead of having their quiet dinner at home.
Instead, she simply moved from candle to candle in her mind until the room fell dark. She couldn't explain what she felt, or how that door Max spoke of had so suddenly opened.
Something to think about later, she decided.
She wanted that wine.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
While Lana and Max enjoyed their wineâand an appetizer of melted Brie on toasted baguette slices Lana couldn't stop herself
from makingâKatie MacLeod Parsoni rushed into a hospital in Brooklyn.
The tears hadn't come yet because she didn't believe, refused to believe, her father was dead, and her mother suddenly was so ill as to be in ICU.
With one hand pressed to her belly, her husband's arm around her now nonexistent waist, she followed directions to the elevator that led to Intensive Care.
“This isn't happening. It's a mistake. I told you, I talked to her a few hours ago. Dad wasn't feeling wellâa cold or somethingâand she was making soup.”
She'd said the same thing over and over again on the drive to the hospital. Tony just kept his arm around her. “It's going to be all right,” he said, as he could think of nothing else.
“It's a mistake,” she repeated. But when they reached the nurse's station, she couldn't get a word out. Nothing came. She looked up helplessly at Tony.