I sucked in a breath, my brain telling me I couldn't have seen right. But I had. The feather had moved on its own accord.
Selena rested her hand on her mother's arm, bringing her back from the trance. “It worked perfect, just like a compass,” she said.
Olya blinked and shook her head as if trying to straighten out her thoughts. “Phew. That wasn't easy. There's not much of a connection. I'll have to go with you tomorrow or you'll never find her.”
Selena waved her off. “Don't be silly. I've been practicing and I've been thinking, too.” She grinned. “Maybe we need to shake things upâgive scrying a makeover. After all, Lotli is young.”
Olya's eyes bulged and her hand flew to her chest. “No. That is not a good idea. The Craft, she is about patterns and connections. Old ways work best.”
With a flick of her hair, Selena plucked the feather from the bowl. “And who just messed with a magic oil that had remained unchanged since Methuselah's day?” Before her mother could reply, Selena pivoted toward me. “Would you mind assisting me in an experiment?”
“Sure.” I had no idea what she was up to, but her point about the oil was right and I was as determined to prove she could do this as she was. Actually I was crossing my fingers that Selena would prove she could do it better than her momânot only for Selena's sake, but to increase our chance of finding Lotli as well.
“Could you get me a bottle of cola from the kitchen? Any kind should work.”
I dashed inside and got a soda from the fridge. Through the open window I could hear Olya lecturing Selena about the importance of witchcraft traditions and Selena obstinately not budging. Selena had caved to her parents' demand that she take a year off before she went away to Yale for Premed. But over the last few weeks, Selena had made the cost of that surrender perfectly clear to them. She was going to have her way in every other area of her life: total Internet freedom, no credit card limits, no clothing restrictions, and especially her freedom to tinker with medicine and magic as she saw fit. The only place she'd failed to get her way was in their unwavering resistance to her dating and social life.
Once the two of them quit bickering, I hurried back out to the terrace and set the soda on the table in front of Selena.
“Watch and learn,” she said to her mother.
Olya frowned. “Don't be disappointed if it doesn't work, sweetheart.”
“Don't worry about that. I may not have heard much of Lotli's music, but I did see her.” She pulled a vintage compact from her jeans pocket. “Perfect for scrying on the run, huh?”
She set the compact on the table, opened it, and poured cola on its mirror, turning it into as dark of a reflective surface as the silver bowl her mother had used. Then she pricked her finger with the knife, added the blood, and carefully floated the feather on top.
Selena's chest rose and fell in a slow rhythm. Her forehead wrinkled in concentration. She began to murmur. I shuddered when her head lolled back and her eyeballs rolled up until all I could see were the whites. It was gross, even grosser than when Olya had done it. The creeps rapidly faded though, as the feather zinged northward toward Bar Harbor in half the time it took for her mom to get the same reaction.
I glanced at Olya. Her eyes glistened with pride. I was certain Selena's desire to go away to Yale and her frustration at being delayed was real, but for the first time I wondered if maybe her parents were right to suggest she hold off. Selena's gift for magic was clearly extraordinary.
Open minds with eyes on the heavens.
he next morning, I was jolted awake at four a.m. by a sudden realization. With everything that had been going on, I'd missed the registration deadline for the fall semester at Sotheby's. I could sneak into an online class, but I'd really wanted to take the short course in London.
As I switched on the bedside light, my brain finished waking up and I realized I was mistaken. The deadline was next week.
With a sigh, I got out of bed, retrieved my phone from my bag, and double-checked Sotheby's e-mail. Yup, one more week, and I knew exactly which course to register for. There were a ton of more important things going on right now, but that didn't mean I could just blow this off. After all, I'd been dying to do it for ages.
I slumped down in the desk chair with the phone in my hand, thinking about classes and how I'd felt last night watching Selena and Olya scry, like I was exactly where I was meant to be. Before Dad and I had returned to Moonhill, I'd never thought about doing anything other than deal antiques, travel, and buy and sell stuff. Sure, I wanted to take classes and become a certified appraiserâas a way to do what Dad had done but on a higher level. It's what I'd always planned for my future, along with spending some time in London on my own.
Except now there were these unexpected forks in the road: Selena, my grandfather, all these family members, magic and secrets, a whole world I thought only existed in stories. And the possibility of Mother coming home, so many things had already begun to change because of that. And there was Chase. There was no way to tell if what he and I had would last. But my gut and heartâand a few other parts a bit lower down in my bodyâscreamed that they didn't want to be away from him, in fact they yearned to be with him every second.
Chase. I let my hand touch my lips, drift down my throat, dreaming about how my whole body trembled with desire when our eyes met and lingered. Just the two of us, alone. How yesterday, after we'd left his mother's house, my heart had ached and I'd longed to put my arms around him, to comfort him. It must have been horrible for him to hear that his mom was in a permanent care facility. What had the maid called it?
I picked my phone up from my lap and did a quick search.
Maine. Care Facilities. Beach Rose House.
In a moment, my suspicion was confirmed. It was in Bar Harbor, not far from the village green, in fact.
Most likely, Chase had done the same Internet search since we'd gotten home. He was probably out there patrolling the grounds alone, thinking about his mom and if he wanted to take the next step and contact her. Or he was thinking about how he might never see her, if something went wrong when he attempted to rescue my mother.
I glanced at the time. Four thirty. His shift ended at five.
I sent him a text:
Hey. How's it going? Quiet night?
He answered instantly:
Real quiet. About to wake Tibbs so he can take over.
A spike of excitement raced into my veins and I smiled. I knew what would cheer Chase up. Maybe I'd pay for it later, but who needed sleep anyway?
Meet me on the widow's walk. ASAP.
Bring some ice.
I shut off my phone and threw it into my oversize shoulder bag before he could ask me anything else.
Leaving my sleep shirt on, I brushed my hair and put on a tiny bit of makeup. Then I snagged a couple single-serve orange juices and the bottle of strawberry vodka that I'd had Tibbs pick up for me, and stashed them in my bag along with a couple of Solo cups. It was a bitch being twenty and having to find people to buy liquor for me, not to mention having to stash mixers in my underwear drawer like some kid in high school, not that I drank that muchâbut it was nice to have something for occasions like this.
I grabbed the quilt off my bed and tiptoed into the dark hall with my flashlight in hand.
Hazy moonlight drifted in through the window at the end of the hallway. I made my way toward it, my flashlight beam brightening the hall even farther. Still, an uneasy feeling gave me the chills and I shuddered. I hated the dark. Maybe less than in the past, but it never would be on my list of favorite things.
Across from the narrow servants' staircase that led downstairs, there was a small alcove with a locked door. Behind that door was another steep staircase that went up to an attic and then up again to a widow's walk. I'd gone to the walk once before, when Zachary begged Chase to show it to me. It was a gorgeous place, perched on top of Moonhill's highest rooftop. It also was dangerous as hell, with steep slopes on every side and no place to land except the ground, three-plus stories below.
I set down my bag and the quilt beside the door and put my flashlight in my mouth. I'd always lived by my dad's motto of being prepared for anything. Recently, I'd taken it to heart and started keeping a few select tools in my shoulder bag, mostly for picking locks. Moonhill had about a million of them and my curiosity couldn't stand not knowing what they hid.
I got out a screwdriver and wire and in a second the lock clicked open. Chase had a set of keys, but waiting down here would give him a chance to beg off, though after yesterday's Doughnut Olympics, I couldn't see why he would. Except that there was a spark of fear deep inside me that had been ignited by the weight of his gaze and the sadness in his eyes when he'd explained why he didn't want to put off driving by his mother's house. “
I can't afford to have anything take away from my focus, not with everything that's going on.
” I knew on the surface he was referring to his mother. But I couldn't help but wonder if he was also using this as an excuse to pull away from me, and I was quite certain my bitching at him in front of Kate and everyone couldn't have helped.
After I gathered up my stuff, I opened the door. But as I went to step onto the first tread, something touched my ankle and the air chilled. Like a ghost brushing past.
My heart launched into my throat and I leapt back from the stairwell, fanning the flashlight beam all around me and back toward the main hallway.
But there was nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Holy shit. What had I felt?
Cold sweat iced my spine. I pointed the beam into the stairwell.
Everyone claimed Moonhill wasn't haunted. But I was certain something had touched me. The temperature had definitely dropped.
Panic overwhelmed me and I froze, unable to move. But if Moonhill really didn't have ghosts, then it might have been a shadow-genie like the one I'd seen in the gallery a few weeks ago. Olya had strengthened the magical wards in the gallery to keep genies from using that weak point in the veil as a gateway into our realm. But what if those wards had failed? Or what if a genie had gotten in through a different weak point and was wandering around the house?
A thump came from behind me.
I winged my flashlight beam toward the sound. A tapestry hanging on the wall rippled as if caught in a breeze. My pulse went wild, but my legs refused to move.
The sound of a throaty growl came from below the tapestry, close to the floor. I moved my flashlight beam downward and it trapped the misty outline of a shadow. It was low and small, and cat-shaped. It reached up and batted the tapestry, a soft thump resounding as the fabric slapped against the wall.
The tension went out of my spine and I blew out a relieved breath.
It was the tiger-striped cat from the research room, the one Kate and Olya had covered with the Methuselah oil, the one fated to appear ethereal from sunset until sunrise. Zachary's cat.
“Silly kitty,” I whispered as it zinged to the staircase and slipped upward, bounding from one tread to the next. Stepping inside, I pulled the door shut behind me and followed the cat up the dark stairwell to the attic. Once there, I flicked on the first light switch I came to.
A dusty bulb wavered to life above me, its dim light filtering down onto the last flight of stairs that went up the walk. As I climbed up them, the bulb's faint shimmer was joined by square reflections of moonlight coming in through the widow's walk's windows and stretching across the walls in pale, rippling sheets. It was beautiful and about a million shades of eerie.
A thousand steps laterâor at least it felt like a thousandâI reached the top of the stairs and stepped out onto the widow's walk's deck. A breeze blew my hair back from my face. I hooked the rebellious curls behind my ears and made my way to the walk's wooden railing. Moonlight bathed the slate rooftops, and the gardens and lawns far below me. The ocean stretched luminescent white and plum-black to where a hint of dawn glimmered on the horizon. Behind me a stark moon settled on the treetops, lost somewhere between its first quarter and full. I shivered at the sheer power of the view and shivered again from the chill in the air.
I set my shoulder bag down on the floor next to a wooden chaise and wrapped the quilt around me. The deck was fairly small, only room for a couple of Adirondack chairs, a tiny table with a pentagram carved into its top, and the chaise. It was well maintained, though. My guess was that Chase and Tibbs used it to watch the grounds sometimes and the pentagram pretty much screamed that witchy-type rituals also happened up here.
I snugged the quilt tighter and sat down on the chaise, resting my elbows on my knees as I gazed across the rooftops and gardens toward the ocean. The faint trill of a wood thrush's morning song reached out from the forest's depths. A robin joined the chorus as the darkness lightened a shade.
“Hey,” Chase's voice came from right next to me.
Startled, I jumped to my feet and spun toward him, leaving the quilt behind. “Wow. How did you do that? I didn't even hear the door open.”
“Comes with the territory,” he said, handing me a plastic bag full of ice. “What's up?”
I shrugged. “I couldn't sleep and thought it might be fun to watch the sunrise.” I retrieved the bottle of strawberry vodka and orange juice from my bag and set them on the table. “Maybe toast the new day? Want one? Virgin-style or with a touch of something extra?”
“The extra sounds good. But just one.”
I opened the bag of ice and scooped cubes into each cup. “I kind of wanted to make up for being a bitch in the research room too.”
He squeezed my shoulder. “Forget about it. I should have told you about the feather.”
I smothered a smile and focused on pouring the orange juice, the ice crackling as the warm OJ flowed over it.
“We're still going to Bar Harbor later, right?” he asked.
“Yeah. Around ten.” I added vodka and used my finger to mix the liquids. “By the way, I checked to see where Beach Rose House was.” I swallowed hard. Bringing this up would most likely ruin the mood, but it was important. And I had a feeling we wouldn't get many moments like this again soon. I brought him one of the drinks. “It's in Bar Harbor. We could stop by while we're in townâif you want.”
“Ah, maybe.” Taking the drink, he turned away and walked to the railing. He stared out toward the ocean, his head, broad shoulders, and muscular arms silhouetted against the skyline. “A facility like that isn't going to let strangers just walk in and visit.”
“We could try.”
He sloshed the cup in a slow circle, then lowered his gaze to drink as if he could foresee the future in the icy liquid.
I slipped up next to him. “What are you thinking?” I asked quietly.
The cup's plastic sides crunched a little under his tightening grip and his voice lowered. “In the realm, when we headed into the arena to spar or fight, I used to calm myself instead of getting hyped up like most of the slaves.” He took a sip and set the cup on the wide railing. “We had to walk down this tunnel, one at a time. There were these rosebushes, glass instead of green leaves and thorns. They roofed the tunnel and would block it off behind us as we marched forward, so we couldn't leave. I'dâ” His jaw tensed.
“Yeah?” I was afraid he wouldn't go on.
His voice became taut and even more hushed. “I'd walk down that tunnel and pretend I was walking down my mother's driveway, the trees' canopy overhead, my mother holding my hand. Her hands were always so smooth. We'd wait at the edge of the road for the bus to come. She smelled like whatever we'd had for breakfast: bacon, French toast. She never let go until I stepped up onto the bus's first step. That's what I'd think of while I walked down that tunnel with the glass thorns closing in behind me. That's what I was thinking about yesterday in the car. You parked right where Mother and I used to stand beside the mailbox, waiting for that bus . . .”
I didn't know what to say as his voice faded. He slid his arm around my waist and I leaned in, resting my head against his shoulder. We stood there like thatâme snuggled in close and him motionlessâwatching as red and yellow rimmed the horizon, brightening the tops of the waves and glistening on a jagged outcrop of rocks slowly being engulfed by the rising tide.
“My dad used to tell me a story,” I said softly, to break the silence, “about ships getting hung up and wrecked right off the shore of Moonhill on what he called the Pirate's Coffin.” I nodded toward the jagged outcrop. “Is that it?”
“Yeah,” he said. “There's a hollow in the top of it, shaped like a casket. Things wash into it during high tide and get trapped: driftwood, sea glass . . . A few days after I was rescued from the realm, I found a bottle in there.”