Magdalena Dunkirk waddled to the front door of her blissful, peaceful home outside Ithaca, New York, with one hand atop her watermelon-sized belly. "I'm coming!" she called. It took her longer to get around these days, and her mother was out running a few errands.
They didn't get a lot of company. They'd only been living at the abandoned vineyard known as Havenwood, on the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, for a little over six months, and aside from their nearest neighbor, Patrick Cartwright, a kind curmudgeon who was also a retired doctor, and the two middle-aged, strictly in-the-broom-closet witches her mom hung out with, they barely knew anyone. Then again, she and her mother tended to keep to themselves. Lena liked it that way.
She got to the big oak door and opened it to see the last person she would have expected. Okay, the second-to-last person. Waist-length dreadlocksboth hair and bearda red-and-white sari, and sad brown eyes staring into hers. She met them for only a moment, then looked past the guru for his ever-present companion. But Bahru was alone. Only a black car stood beyond him in the curving, snow-covered drive. "Where's Ernst?" she asked.
"Your baby's grandfather has gone beyond the veil, Magdalena."
Ernst? Dead? It didn't seem possible. Lena closed her eyes, lowered her head. "How?"
"He died in his sleep last night. I wanted to tell you before you heard it on the news."
Blinking back tears, she opened the door wider. A wintry breeze blew in, causing the conch shell chimes to clatter and clack. "Come in, Bahru."
He shook his head slowly. "No time. It's a long drive back."
She blinked at him. He was eccentric, yes. Obviously. But
"You drove all the way out here just to tell me Ryan's father is dead, and now you're going to turn around and drive all the way back? You could have told me with a phone call, Bahru."
" He shrugged a bag from his shoulder. It was olive drab, made of canvas, with a buckle and a flap, which he unfastened and opened. "He wanted you to have this," he said.
Lena watched, wishing he would come inside and let her shut the door but not wanting to be rude and tell him so. So she stood there, holding it open and letting the heat out into the late January cold, and watching as he pulled an elaborately carved wooden box from the bag.
It caught her eye, because it looked old. And sort of
mystical. It was smaller than a shoe box, heavy and hinged, with a small latch on the front. As she took it from him, he went on. "Of course there will be more. I came to tell you that, too. You must come back to New York City, Lena. You and the child are named in his will."
She looked up from the box sharply and shook her head. "That's sweet of him, but I don't want his money. I never did. I won'tI can't take it, you know that, Bahru. It would just convince Ryan that everything he ever thought about me was true." She clutched the box in her hands, her heart tripping over itself. Maybe because she'd said Ryan's name twice in the past two minutes after not uttering it once in more than six months. "How is he taking his dad's death?"
"As if he doesn't care."
"He cares. I know he does. He's angry with his father, has been since his mother died, but he loves him." God, it was a crying shame he'd never gotten around to telling his father so. She wondered what would happen to the businesses, the empire Ernst had built, since his only son wanted no part of any of it.
Bahru said nothing for a long moment. He just stood there, fingering a crystal prism that hung from a chain around his neck. Lena noticed it because she was into crystalsso was her momand because Bahru always wore exactly the same things. Same robes, just with an extra white wrap over top in colder months. Same shoes, the faux leather moccasin-style slippers in winter and the sandals Mom called "Jesus shoes" in the summer. Same green canvas bag over his shoulder everywhere he went. The crystal pendant was new. Different. She'd never seen him wear jewelry before.
"Will you come?" he asked at length.
Lena pushed a long auburn spiral behind her ear. "Ryan still doesn't know about
about the baby, does he?" she asked, looking down at her belly, which made the tie-dyed hemp maternity dress Mom had made for her look like a dome tent lying on its side. She wore a fringed shawl over it, because the dress was sleeveless and the old house was drafty. And haunted, but you know, being witches, they considered that a plus.
Bahru smiled very slightly. "He does not know. He still has no idea why you left. But he will guess when he sees you. You knew you would have to face that eventually, though."
She nodded. She didn't believe in lying and had no intention of keeping Ryan out of their child's life. She just kept putting off telling him, feeling unready to face him with the truth when she knew what he would think. And now
Well, now it looked as if she had no choice.
"I really wish I'd told him sooner. He doesn't need this to deal with on top of everything else."
"Perhaps the distraction will be welcome."
She lifted her brows. "Well, it'll distract him, all right. But it'll be welcome news about the same time pigs fly."
She didn't bother explaining. In all the years he'd spent in the States since leaving his native Pakistan, there were still a lot of American expressions that perplexed him.
"Will you come?" he asked again.
Lena knew she had to go. Ernst McNally was her child's grandfather, after all. "Of course I'll come. When is the funeral?"
"Tomorrow at one. St. Patrick's Cathedral, of course."
"Of course." Nothing but the best for one of the richest men in the world.
"Good." He patted the box she was still holding. "Take good care of this. We found it in a Tibetan street vendor's stand amid piles of worthless trinkets. Ernst believed it was special. He said it had your name written all over it, but I never knew what he meant by that." He blinked slowly. "He would never let me touch it, never let anyone touch it. Said it was for your hands alone. Very strange. But I've respected his wishes and never touched it until it was time to bring it to you."
"Thank you, Bahru." She was curious, but too distracted by the thought of seeing Ryan again to open the box just then. "Are you sure you won't come in? Mom's out, but I could make some tea"
"No. But I will see you soon, and perhaps
perhaps more. After."
It was her turn to frown. What did he mean by that?
Turning, he walked in his fake leather moccasins through the half inch of fresh snowthere had been so little that year that winter had felt more like late fallto the waiting car. It was a black Lincoln with a driver behind the wheel, cap and all. Probably one of Ernst's. The billionaire-turned-spiritual-seeker had dozens of them, and whatever he had was at his personal guru's disposal.
Ryan wasn't likely to let that continue. He'd always thought the former guru-to-the-stars was a con artist, out to scam his father at his weakest moment, right after the untimely death of Ryan's mother twenty years ago. But Bahru had been at Ernst's side ever since, guiding him in a quest for understanding that had taken him to the far corners of the world. His businesses had been left in the hands of their boards of directors. And his son in the hands of boarding schools and nannies.
She wondered if Ernst had ever found what he'd been looking for, then decided he probably had now. Bahru eased his long limbs into the backseat, pulling the tail of the sari in behind him and closing the door. The car rolled away through the snow, and Lena stepped back and closed out the cold at last.
She was going back to Manhattan. She was going to see him again. Ryan McNally. The father of her unborn baby. The man she had once believed to be the handsome prince of her childhood fantasies come to life. Carrying the wooden box with her, she all but sleep-walked to the rattan rocking chair in front of the stacked stone fireplace that was one of her favorite parts of the house, even though it was old and had gaps where the mortar had fallen away. It was comforting, and she loved it. She sank into the chair and started rocking, memories flooding her mind.
She remembered the day she had first set eyes on her long-lost princeother than in the face of her mother's magic mirror, and her childhood dreams, and the stories she had created out of them in construction paper and crayons. She'd taken one look at him and the impossible visions of her childhood had all come rushing back.
She had been completely at peace, loved her life, her job at a PR firm in New York City, where she made scads of money, and her pricey Manhattan apartment. Her practice of the Craft had matured. As she'd grown up, she had come to understand that magic was more about creative visualization and positive belief than flashes of light and sparkles. Her imaginary sister-friend Lilia had stopped showing up somewhere around the middle of fourth grade, as near as she could pin it.
It was all good. Or she thought it was. And yeah, she'd probably been skating, pretending there was nothing underneath the ice but more ice, ignoring the stuff she'd pushed down there, the stuff she'd frozen out. The undeniable experience of real magic. Those visions of past lives that had been so vivid and convincing at the time. Lilia, the chalice
the curse. A little girl with a witch for a mom and a huge imagination, that was all it was.
Only it wasn't.
She'd managed to deny every last bit of it until the night she met Ryan McNally. Her handsome prince, right down to the roots of his hair.
She'd been handed his father's accounttemporarily, of course, while Bennet, Clarkson & Tate's senior partner, Bill Bennet, was recovering from a triple bypass. Timing was everything. Ernst McNally, billionaire, philanthropist, world traveler and spiritual seeker, had been named Now Magazine's Man of the Year and would receive the honor officially at a posh reception at the Waldorf Astoria. The other partners were booked, and Ernst was an important client. Lena was tapped to be the firm's stand-in, and she didn't kid herself by pretending it wasn't because, of all the younger associates, she would look best in a halter dress. It went against her grain, but she wasn't confrontational and she wasn't an activist. She figured she would use the opportunity to show them she was worthy by doing a bang-up job. Instead, she had pretty much proved the opposite by getting pregnant by the client's son, but that was getting ahead of the story a little.
That night changed her life forever. It was not only the night she had met the father of her baby, it was the night her imaginary childhood friend had returned as big as life and nearly given her heart failure. The night
she had learned that there might be a little bit more to magic than she had come to believe.
Either that, or that a high-pressure job in the big city was a little more stressful than she was equipped to handle.
She had no idea how long she'd been sitting in front of the crackling fireplace, staring into the flames. But when she heard her mom's voice, she brought her head up fast. Selma was standing there looking down at her, frowning. Her glorious red hair was shorter these days, and a few strands of gray dulled its old vibrancy a little. She still wore the big gaudy jewelry and jewel-toned, free-flowing kaftans, though.
Captains, Lena thought, smiling at her inner witchling.
"Are you okay?" her mother asked.
"I. Ernst McNally is dead."
Her mother's hand flew to her chest. "Oh, honey I'm so sorry, I know you cared for him. How did you hear? Did someone call?"
"Bahru came by."
"Bahru?" Selma blinked her surprise, turning back toward the big oak door she'd just come through. "He was here?"
"Yeah. Showed up in a big Lincoln with one of Ernst's drivers at the wheel. I tried to get him to stay, but he was in a rush to leave."
"I wish I'd seen him," her mother said.
Lena sighed, recalling how much her mother and Bahru had seemed to enjoy bickering over tea recipes. Mom was a top-notch herbal-tea maker. Bahru was no slouch. But that was before.
"He says I'm named in the will, or the baby is, or something. Anyway. The funeral's tomorrow. He made me promise that I'd be there."
Selma's still-auburn eyebrows pressed against each other. "Do you think that's wise, honey? To travel that far, this late in the pregnancy?"
"It's only a few hours' drive. I can handle that."
"It's not just the drive I'm worried about. He'll be there. Can you handle that?"
She meant Ryan. Of course. "I'm sure I can. I knew this day would come, Mom. I have to face him sooner or later. He has a right to know."
"You could tell him later. After the baby's here."
"Keeping it from him this long was wrong. And you know it. And I know you know it, because you're the one who raised me never to lie."
"You didn't lie to him."
"And you're also the one who taught me that omissions of this magnitude are the same things as lies."
Selma pressed her lips together. "Damn thorough, wasn't I?" She ran a hand over Lena's hair. "You sure you can handle him?"
"I'm sure." So why did she feel compelled to avert her eyes when she said it? Lena wondered.
"Okay, if that's what you want to do. You want me to go with?"
"Mom, I'm not six."
Selma smiled and nodded, her spiral curlseven tighter than Lena's longer, looser wavesbouncing with the motion. "What's that you have there?" she asked, nodding at the box in Lena's lap.
"I don't know. Bahru said Ernst wanted me to have it." Lena stroked the box. "I got lost in thought and forgot about it."
Lena nodded and tried to ignore the hot moisture in her eyes.
"You really loved him a lot. It hurts. I know, honey."
She wasn't talking about Ernst, but that didn't need to be said. They both knew what she meant. Flipping open the tiny latch, Lena lifted the lid as her mother leaned over her from behind.