He understood his power early. What coursed through his blood and made him what he was did not have to be explained to him. Nor did he have to be told that this gift was one not possessed by everyone.
He could see.
The visions were not always pleasant, but they were always fascinating. When they came—even when they came to a small child whose legs were still unsteady—he accepted them as easily as he accepted the sun’s rising each morning.
Often his mother would crouch on the floor with him, her face close to his, her eyes searching his eyes. Mixed with her great love was a hope that he would always accept the gift, and that he would never be hurt by it.
Though she knew better, on both counts.
Who are you? He could hear her thoughts as clearly as if she had spoken aloud. Who will you be?
They were questions he couldn’t answer. Even then he understood that it was more difficult to see into yourself than to see into others.
As time passed, the gift did not prevent him from racing and running and teasing his young cousins. Though often, quite often, he strained against its limitations and tried for more, it did not keep him from enjoying an ice-cream cone on a summer afternoon, or from laughing at cartoons on a Saturday morning.
He was a normal, active, mischievous boy with a sharp, sometimes devious mind, a strikingly handsome face set off by hypnotic gray-blue eyes, and a full mouth that was quick to smile.
He went through all the stages that lead a boy toward manhood. The scraped knees and the broken bones, the rebellions large and small, the first jumpy heartbeat at the smile of a pretty girl. Like all children, he grew into an adult, moved away from his parents’ domain, and chose his own.
And the power grew, as he did.
He considered his life a well-adjusted and comfortable one.
And he accepted, as he always had, the simple fact that he was a witch.
She dreamed of a man who was dreaming of her. But he wasn’t sleeping. She could see, with a perfect clarity that was extremely undreamlike, that he was standing by a wide, dark window, with his arms relaxed by his sides. But his face was very tense, very purposeful. And his eyes … They were so deep, so unrelenting. Gray, she thought as she twisted in sleep. But not quite gray. There were hints of blue, as well. The color of them reminded her of rocks hacked out of a high cliff one moment, and of the soft, calm waters of a lake the next.
Strange—how strange—she knew that his face was taut and tensed, but she couldn’t see it. Just those eyes, those fascinating, disturbing eyes.
And she knew he was thinking of her. Not just thinking of her, but somehow seeing her. As if she had walked up to the other side of that glass, stood there looking back at him through the wide windowpane. Somehow she was certain that if she lifted a hand to that glass her fingers would pass right through it until they found his.
If she chose to.
Instead, she thrashed, tangling the sheets and muttering in her sleep. Even in dreams Mel Sutherland didn’t care for the illogical. Life had rules, very basic rules. She firmly believed you were better off following them.
So she didn’t reach for the glass, or for him. She rolled, almost violently, knocking a pillow to the floor and willing the dream away.
It faded, and, both relieved and disappointed, she dropped deeper into a dreamless sleep.
* * *
A few hours later, with the night vision tucked away in her subconscious, she snapped awake at the clattering bell of the Mickey Mouse alarm clock at her bedside. One expert slap silenced it. There was no danger that she would snuggle down in the bed and slide back into sleep. Mel’s mind was as regulated as her body.
She sat up, indulging in one huge yawn as she dragged her fingers through her tousled cap of dark blond hair. Her eyes, a rich, mossy green she’d inherited from a father she couldn’t remember, were blurry for only a moment. Then they focused on the twisted sheets.
Rough night, she thought, kicking her legs free of them. And why not? It could hardly have been expected that she’d sleep like a baby, not with what she had to do today. After blowing out one long breath, she plucked a pair of gym shorts from the floor and yanked them on under the T-shirt she’d slept in. Five minutes later, she was stepping out into the soft-aired morning for her daily three-mile jog.
As she went out, she kissed the tips of her fingers and tapped them against the front door. Because it was her place. Hers. And even after four years she didn’t take it for granted.
It wasn’t much, she thought as she limbered up with a few stretches. Just a little stucco building tucked between a Laundromat and a struggling accounting firm. But then, she didn’t need much.
Mel ignored the whistle from the car that passed, its driver grinning appreciatively at her long, leanly muscled legs. She didn’t jog for her looks. She jogged because routine exercise disciplined the mind and the body. A private investigator who allowed either to become sluggish would find herself in trouble. Or unemployed. Mel didn’t intend to be either.
She started out at an easy pace, enjoying the way her shoes slapped the sidewalk, delighted by the pearly glow in the eastern sky that signaled the start of a beautiful day. It was August, and she thought of how miserably hot it would be down in L.A. But here, in Monterey, there was perpetual spring. No matter what the calendar said, the air was as fresh as a rosebud.
It was too early for there to be much traffic. Here in the downtown area it would be a rare thing for her to pass another jogger. If she’d chosen any of the beaches, it would have been a different matter. But Mel preferred to run alone.
Her muscles began to warm. A thin layer of sweat gleamed healthily on her skin. She increased her pace slightly, falling into a familiar rhythm that had become as automatic as breathing.
For the first mile, she kept her mind empty, letting herself observe. A car with a faulty muffler rattled by, with no more than a token hesitation at a stop sign.
An ’82 Plymouth sedan, dark blue. The mental list was just to keep in practice. Dented driver’s door. California license Able Charlie Robert 2289.
Someone was lying facedown on the grass of the park. Even as Mel broke her stride, he sat up, stretched and switched on a portable radio.
College student hitchhiking cross-country, she decided, picking up her pace again even as she made a note of his backpack … blue, with an American flag on the flap … and his hair color … brown … and … Name That Tune, she thought as the music began to fade behind her.
Bruce Springsteen. “Cover Me.”
Not too shabby, Mel thought with a grin as she rounded a corner.
She could smell bread from the bakery. A fine, yeasty good-morning scent. And roses. She drew them in—though she would have suffered torture before admitting she had a weakness for flowers. Trees moved gently in the early breeze, and if she concentrated, really concentrated, she could just scent the sea.
And it was good, so very good, to feel strong and aware and alone. It was good to know these streets and to know she belonged here. That she could stay here. That there would be no midnight rambles in a battered station wagon at her mother’s whim.
Time to go, Mary Ellen. Time to head out. I’ve just got a feeling we should head north for a while.
And so they would go, she and the mother she adored, the mother who would always be more of a child than the daughter who huddled on the ripped and taped front seat beside her. The headlights would cut down the road, leading the way to a new place, a new school, new people.
But they would never settle, never have time to become a part of anything but the road. Soon her mother would get what she always called “Those itchy feet.” And off they would go again.
Why had i
t always felt as if they were running away, not running to?
That, of course, was all over. Alice Sutherland had herself a cozy mobile home—which would take Mel another twenty-six months to pay off—and she was happy as a clam, bopping from state to state and adventure to adventure.
As for Mel, she was sticking. True, L.A. hadn’t worked out, but she’d gotten a taste of what it was like to put down roots. And she’d had two very frustrating and very educational years on the LAPD. Two years that had taught her that law enforcement was just her cup of tea, even if writing parking tickets and filling out forms was not.
So she had moved north and opened Sutherland Investigations. She still filled out forms—often by the truckload—but they were her forms.
She’d reached the halfway point of her run and was circling back. As always, she felt that quick rush of satisfaction at the knowledge that her body responded so automatically. It hadn’t always been so—not when she was a child, too tall, too gangly, with elbows and knees that just begged to be banged and scraped. It had taken time and discipline, but she was twenty-eight now, and she’d gotten her body under control. Yes, sir. It had never been a disappointment to Mel that she hadn’t bloomed and rounded. Slim and sleek was more efficient. And the long, coltish legs that had once invited names like Stretch and Beanpole were now strong, athletic and—she could admit privately—worth a second look.
It was then that she heard the baby crying. It was a fussy, impatient sound that bounded through an open window of the apartment building beside her. Her mood, buoyed by the run, plummeted.
The baby. Rose’s baby. Sweet, pudgy-cheeked David.
Mel continued to run. The habit was too ingrained to be broken. But her mind filled with images.
Rose, harmless, slightly dippy Rose, with her fuzzy red hair and her easy smile. Even with Mel’s natural reserve, it had been impossible to refuse her friendship.
Rose worked as a waitress in the little Italian restaurant two blocks from Mel’s office. It had been easy to fall into a casual conversation—particularly since Rose did most of the talking—over a plate of spaghetti or a cup of cappuccino.
Mel remembered admiring the way Rose hustled trays, even though her pregnant belly strained against her apron. And she remembered Rose telling her how happy she and her Stan were to be expecting their first child.
Mel had even been invited to the baby shower, and though she’d been certain she would feel awkward and out of place at such a gathering, she’d enjoyed listening to the oohs and aahs over the tiny clothes and the stuffed animals. She’d taken a liking to Stan, too, with his shy eyes and slow smiles.
When David had been born, eight months ago, she’d gone to the hospital to visit. As she’d stared at the babies sleeping, bawling or wriggling in their clear-sided cribs, she’d understood why people prayed and struggled and sacrificed to have children.
They were so perfect. So perfectly lovely.
When she’d left, she was happy for Rose and Stan. And lonelier than she’d ever been in her life.
It had become a habit for her to drop by their apartment from time to time with a little toy for David. As an excuse, of course, an excuse to play with him for an hour. She’d fallen more than a little in love with him, so she hadn’t felt foolish exclaiming over his first tooth, or being astounded when he learned to crawl.
Then that frantic phone call two months before. Rose’s voice, shrill and nearly incoherent.
“He’s gone. He’s gone. He’s gone.”
Mel had made the mile from her office to the Merrick home in record time. The police had already been there. Stan and Rose had been clutched together on the sofa like two lost souls in a choppy sea. Both of them crying.
David was gone. Snatched off his playpen mat as he napped in the shade on the little patch of grass just outside the rear door of their first-floor apartment.
Now two months had passed, and the playpen was still empty.
Everything Mel had learned, everything she’d been trained to do and her instincts had taught her, hadn’t helped get David back.
Now Rose wanted to try something else, something so absurd that Mel would have laughed—if not for the hard glint of determination in Rose’s usually soft eyes. Rose didn’t care what Stan said, what the police said, what Mel said. She would try anything, anything, to get her child back.
Even if that meant going to a psychic.
* * *
As they swept down the coast to Big Sur in Mel’s cranky, primer-coated MG, she took one last shot at talking sense to Rose.
“There’s no use trying to talk me out of this.” Though Rose’s voice was low, there was steel in it that had only surfaced over the last two months. “Stan’s already tried.”
“That’s because we both care about you. Neither one of us wants to see you hurt by another dead end.”
She was only twenty-three, but Rose felt as old as the sea that spread out beneath them. As old as the sea, and as hard as the rocks jutting out from cliffs beside them. “Hurt? Nothing can come close to hurting me now. I know you care, Mel, and I know it’s asking a lot for you to go with me today …”
“It is.” Rose’s eyes, always so bright and cheery before, were shadowed with a grief and a fear that never ended. “I know you think it’s nonsense, and maybe it’s even insulting, since you’re doing all you can do to find David. But I have to try. I have to try just anything.”
Mel kept her silence for a moment, because it shamed her to realize that she was insulted. She was trained, she was a professional, and here they were cruising down the coast to see some witch doctor.
But she wasn’t the one who had lost a child. She wasn’t the one who had to face that empty crib day after day.
“We’re going to find David, Rose.” Mel took her hand off the rattling gearshift long enough to squeeze Rose’s chilled fingers. “I swear it.”
Instead of answering, Rose merely nodded and turned her head to stare out over the dizzying cliffs. If they didn’t find her baby, and find him soon, it would be all too easy just to step out over one of those cliffs and let go of the world.
* * *
He knew they were coming. It had nothing to do with power. He’d taken the phone call from the shaky-voiced, pleading woman himself. And he was still cursing himself for it. Wasn’t that why he had an unlisted number? Wasn’t that why he had one of those handy machines to answer his calls whenever anyone dug deep enough to unearth that unlisted number?
But he’d answered that call. Because he’d felt he had to. Known he had to. So he knew they were coming, and he’d braced himself to refuse whatever they would ask of him.
Damn it, he was tired. He’d barely gotten back to his home, to his life, after three grueling weeks in Chicago helping the police track down what the press had so cleverly dubbed the South Side Slicer.
And he’d seen things, things he hoped he’d never see again.
Sebastian moved to the window, the wide window that looked out over a rolling expanse of lawn, a colorful rockery, and then a dizzying spill of cliffs dropping down to the deep sea.
He liked the drama of the view, that dangerous drop, the churning water, even the ribbon of road that sliced through the stone to prove man’s wiliness, his determination to move on.
Most of all, he liked the distance, the distance that provided him relief from those who would intrude, not only on his space, but also on his thoughts.
But someone had bridged that distance, had already intruded, and he was still wondering what it meant.
He’d had a dream the night before, a dream that he’d been standing here, just here. But there had been a woman on the other side of the glass—a woman he wanted very badly.
But he’d been so tired, so used up, that he hadn’t gathered up the force to focus his concentration. And she’d faded away.
Which, at the moment, was just fine with him.
e really wanted was sleep, a few lazy days to tend his horses, toy with his business, interfere in the lives of his cousins.
He missed his family. It had been too long this time since he’d been to Ireland to see his parents, his aunts and uncles. His cousins were closer, only a few miles down that winding cliff road, but it felt like years rather than weeks, since he’d seen them.
Morgana was getting so round with the child she carried. No, children. He grinned to himself, wondering if she knew there were twins.
Anastasia would know. His gentler cousin knew all there was to know about healing and folk medicines. But Ana would say nothing unless Morgana asked her directly.
He wanted to see them. Now. He even had a hankering to spend some time with his brother-in-law, though he knew Nash was hip-deep in his new screenplay. Sebastian wanted to hop on his bike, rev it up, and whoosh up to Monterey and surround himself with family and the familiar. He wanted, at all costs, to avoid the two women who were even now heading up the hill toward him. Coming to him with needs and pleas and hopelessness.
But he wouldn’t.
He wasn’t an unselfish man, and he never claimed he was. He did, however, understand the responsibilities that went hand in hand with his gift.
You couldn’t say yes to everyone. If you did, you’d go quietly mad. There were times when you said yes, then found your way blocked. That was destiny. There were times when you wanted to say no, wanted desperately to say no, for reasons you might not understand. And there were times when what you wanted meant nothing compared to what you were meant to do.
That, too, was destiny.
He was afraid, uncomfortably afraid, that this was one of those times when his desires meant nothing.
He heard the car straining its way up his hill before he saw it. And nearly smiled. Sebastian had built high and built solitary, and the narrow, rutted lane leading up to his home was not welcoming. Even a seer was entitled to some privacy. He spotted the car, a smudge of dull gray, and sighed.
They were here. The quicker he turned them back, the better.
He started out of the bedroom and down the steps, a tall man, nearly six-five in his booted feet, lean of hip and wide of shoulder. His black hair swept dramatically back from his forehead and fell over the collar of his denim shirt, curling a bit there. His face was set in what he hoped were polite but inaccessible lines. The strong, prominent bones gifted to him by his Celtic ancestors jutted against skin made dusky by his love of the sun.
As he walked down, he trailed a hand along the silky wood of the banister. He had a love for texture, as well, the smooth and the rough. The amethyst he wore on one hand winked richly.
By the time the car had chugged its way to the top of the drive and Mel had gotten over her first astonishment at the sight of the eccentric and somehow fluid structure of wood and glass he called home, Sebastian was standing on the porch.
It was as if a child had tossed down a handful of blocks and they had landed, by chance, in a fascinating pattern of ledges that had then fused together. That was what she thought as she stepped out of the car and was assaulted by the scents of flowers, horses, and the trailing wind from the sea.
Sebastian’s gaze flicked over Mel, and lingered a moment as his eyes narrowed. With the faintest of frowns, he looked away and focused on Rose.
“Yes, Mr. Donovan.” Rose felt a bubble rise to her throat that threatened to boil into a sob. “It’s so kind of you to see me.”
“I don’t know if it’s kind or not.” He hooked his thumbs in the front pockets of his jeans as he studied them. Rose Merrick wore a plain, painfully neat blue dress that hung a bit on her hips. As if she’d recently lost weight. She’d taken some care with her makeup, but, judging by the way her eyes were shining, it wouldn’t last long.
He struggled against sympathy.
The other woman hadn’t bothered overmuch with appearances, which made her all the more intriguing. Like Sebastian, she was wearing jeans and boots, both well used. The T-shirt she’d tucked into the waistband of her jeans had probably been a bright red at one time, but was now faded with many washings. She wore no jewelry, no cosmetics. What she did wear—and Sebastian saw it as clearly as he did the color of her hair and eyes—was attitude. Bad attitude.
You’re a tough one, aren’t you … He scanned for her name and was thudded by a whirl of feeling—a kind of mental static—that told him this one was in as much emotional turmoil as Rose Merrick.
Rose was already moving forward. Sebastian was trying to stand aside, to remain dispassionate, but he knew he was losing. She was fighting those tears, the ones he could feel burning out of her heart.
There was nothing on earth that weakened a man like a courageous woman.