Three Fates

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When the Lusitania sank, more than one thousand people died. One passenger, however, survived to become a changed man, giving up his life as a petty thief but keeping a small silver statue that would become a family heirloom to future generations.

Now, nearly a century later, that heirloom, one of a priceless, long-separated set of three, has been snatched away from the ...
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Three Fates

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Overview

When the Lusitania sank, more than one thousand people died. One passenger, however, survived to become a changed man, giving up his life as a petty thief but keeping a small silver statue that would become a family heirloom to future generations.

Now, nearly a century later, that heirloom, one of a priceless, long-separated set of three, has been snatched away from the Sullivans. And Malachi, Gideon, and Rebecca Sullivan are determined to recover their great-great-grandfather's treasure, reunite the Three Fates, and make their fortune.

The quest will take them from their home in Ireland to Helsinki, Prague, and New York and introduce them to a formidable female professor whose knowledge of Greek mythology will aid them in their quest; to a daring exotic dancer who sees the Fates as her chance at a new life; and to a seductive security expert who knows how to play high-tech cat-and-mouse. And it will pit them in a suspenseful fight against an ambitious woman who will stop at nothing to acquire the Fates.

Fast-paced and full of the romance and passion for which she's famous, Three Fates is Nora Roberts at her adventurous best-an unforgettable tale of luck, love, and the fateful decisions that shape our lives.

Author Biography: Nora Roberts is the first writer to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. She is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Villa, Carolina Moon, River's End, Dance Upon the Air, and other novels.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Three Fates is a dynamic romantic suspense story about a quest inspired by legend, and accomplished by destined love. According to Greek mythology, the three Fates influence the destiny of all mankind, for one spins the thread of life, the next measures it, and the last cuts it at the proper time. To control any of the Fates is a powerful temptation.... Three beautiful silver statuettes of the Fates were made long ago, designed to link together. Legend says that to possess any of them brings good fortune -- and to possess them all brings power beyond imagining. One of the statues was stolen just before the sinking of the Lusitania. When the thief's life was spared in that disaster, he gave up his errant ways -- but he kept the statue as a keepsake and in time passed it on to his descendants. After their family is tricked out of that statue, the Sullivan siblings -- Malachi, Gideon, and Rebecca -- become determined to get it back, and to reunite the long-separated triad. Their search leads from Ireland to Europe to New York, entwining each of their lives with a new ally whose destiny is also linked with the Fates. And each of them is fated to face deadly danger as they match wits with a ruthless enemy who is determined to claim the three Fates as her own.
Publishers Weekly
This book Roberts's fifth new one released this year features all the romance, drama and intrigue that fans have come to expect from the bestselling writer. It also offers a bit more: cliched characters (e.g., a rough-talking, street-smart stripper; a reclusive alcoholic brainiac) and well-trod ground (e.g., a grand-scale shipwreck and the international art scene). Despite a predictable plot involving the Sullivan family and their quest to find a small silver figurine that belonged to their ancestors and narrowly escaped sinking with the Lusitania in 1915 reader Quigley triumphs to make this a winning production. Her performance rings with subtle nuances, accents ranging from Czech to Irish, and theatrical crescendos and decrescendos. The story opens just before the Lusitania meets its fate, and Quigley draws listeners round with an ominous "happily unaware he'd be dead in 23 minutes, Henry W. Wiley imagined pinching the nicely rounded rump of the young blonde who was directly in his line of sight." In this scene and throughout the story, she puts herself inside each character, giving each one a unique mannerism, tone and feeling no matter how formulaically Roberts may have drawn them. Quigley's presentation is captivating; Roberts's story, regrettably, is not quite. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
On May 7, 1915 the lives of two people change forever. Henry Wyley is a wealthy man enjoying a cruise, on the way, he hopes, to purchasing the second of three figurines called the Fates, a trio of priceless, long-separated silver statues. Felix Greenfield, a petty thief on the run from the law in New York, decides to rob Wyley's stateroom and comes across the statue. They are sailing on the Lusitania when a torpedo hits; Wyley is killed, but Greenfield helps to rescue a passenger and survives. While recovering, he meets the woman who becomes his wife and begins to move toward redemption. Eighty-seven years later Greenfield's heirs work to recover the Three Fates. There is lots of action, intrigue, and wonderful dialog here. Bernadette Quigley does an exceptional job as reader, providing interesting characterizations. The story does plod some in the middle but reaches a satisfying conclusion. For libraries where Roberts is popular.-Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399148408
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/1/2002
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Nora Roberts is the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of more than 200 novels. She is also the author of the bestselling In Death series written under the pen name J.D. Robb. There are more than 400 million copies of her books in print.

Biography

Not only has Nora Roberts written more bestsellers than anyone else in the world (according to Publishers Weekly), she’s also created a hybrid genre of her own: the futuristic detective romance. And that’s on top of mastering every subgenre in the romance pie: the family saga, the historical, the suspense novel. But this most prolific and versatile of authors might never have tapped into her native talent if it hadn't been for one fateful snowstorm.

As her fans well know, in 1979 a blizzard trapped Roberts at home for a week with two bored little kids and a dwindling supply of chocolate. To maintain her sanity, Roberts started scribbling a story -- a romance novel like the Harlequin paperbacks she'd recently begun reading. The resulting manuscript was rejected by Harlequin, but that didn't matter to Roberts. She was hooked on writing. Several rejected manuscripts later, her first book was accepted for publication by Silhouette.

For several years, Roberts wrote category romances for Silhouette -- short books written to the publisher's specifications for length, subject matter and style, and marketed as part of a series of similar books. Roberts has said she never found the form restrictive. "If you write in category, you write knowing there's a framework, there are reader expectations," she explained. "If this doesn't suit you, you shouldn't write it. I don't believe for one moment you can write well what you wouldn't read for pleasure."

Roberts never violated the reader's expectations, but she did show a gift for bringing something fresh to the romance formula. Her first book, Irish Thoroughbred (1981), had as its heroine a strong-willed horse groom, in contrast to the fluttering young nurses and secretaries who populated most romances at the time. But Roberts's books didn't make significant waves until 1985, when she published Playing the Odds, which introduced the MacGregor clan. It was the first bestseller of many.

Roberts soon made a name for herself as a writer of spellbinding multigenerational sagas, creating families like the Scottish MacGregors, the Irish Donovans and the Ukrainian Stanislaskis. She also began working on romantic suspense novels, in which the love story unfolds beneath a looming threat of violence or disaster. She grew so prolific that she outstripped her publishers' ability to print and market Nora Roberts books, so she created an alter ego, J.D. Robb. Under the pseudonym, she began writing romantic detective novels set in the future. By then, millions of readers had discovered what Publishers Weekly called her "immeasurable diversity and talent."

Although the style and substance of her books has grown, Roberts remains loyal to the genre that launched her career. As she says, "The romance novel at its core celebrates that rush of emotions you have when you are falling in love, and it's a lovely thing to relive those feelings through a book."

Good To Know

Roberts still lives in the same Maryland house she occupied when she first started writing -- though her carpenter husband has built on some additions. She and her husband also own Turn the Page Bookstore Café in Boonsboro, Maryland. When Roberts isn't busy writing, she likes to drop by the store, which specializes in Civil War titles as well as autographed copies of her own books.

Roberts sued fellow writer Janet Dailey in 1997, accusing her of plagiarizing numerous passages of her work over a period of years. Dailey paid a settlement and publicly apologized, blaming stress and a psychological disorder for her misconduct.

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    1. Also Known As:
      J. D. Robb; Sarah Hardesty; Jill March; Eleanor Marie Robertson (birth name)
    2. Hometown:
      Keedysville, Maryland
    1. Date of Birth:
      1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Silver Spring, Maryland

Read an Excerpt

One

May 7, 1915

Happily unaware he'd be dead in twenty-three minutes, Henry W. Wyley imagined pinching the nicely rounded rump of the young blonde who was directly in his line of sight. It was a perfectly harmless fantasy that did nothing to distress the blonde, or Henry's wife, and put Henry himself in the best of moods.

With a lap robe tucked around his pudgy knees and a plump belly well satisfied by a late and luxurious lunch, he sat in the bracing sea air with his wife, Edith-whose bum, bless her, was flat as a pancake-enjoying the blonde's derriere along with a fine cup of Earl Grey.

Henry, a portly man with a robust laugh and an eye for the ladies, didn't bother to stir himself to join other passengers at the rail for a glimpse of Ireland's shimmering coast. He'd seen it before and assumed he'd have plenty of opportunities to see it again if he cared to.

Though what fascinated people about cliffs and grass eluded him. Henry was an avowed urbanite who preferred the solidity of steel and concrete. And at this particular moment, he was much more interested in the dainty chocolate cookies served with the tea than with the vista.

Particularly when the blonde moved on.

Though Edith fussed at him not to make a pig of himself, he gobbled up three cookies with cheerful relish. Edith, being Edith, refrained. It was a pity she denied herself that small pleasure in the last moments of her life, but she would die as she'd lived, worrying about her husband's extra tonnage and brushing at the crumbs that scattered carelessly on his shirtfront.

Henry, however, was a man who believed in indulgence. What, after all, was the point of being rich if you didn't treatyourself to the finer things? He'd been poor, and he'd been hungry. Rich and well fed was better.

He'd never been handsome, but when a man had money he was called substantial rather than fat, interesting rather than homely. Henry appreciated the absurdity of the distinction.

At just before three in the afternoon on that sparkling May day, the wind blew at his odd little coal-colored toupee, whipped high, happy color into his pudgy cheeks. He had a gold watch in his pocket, a ruby pin in his tie. His Edith, scrawny as a chicken, was decked out in the best of Parisian couture. He was worth nearly three million. Not as much as Alfred Vanderbilt, who was crossing the Atlantic as well, but enough to content Henry. Enough, he thought with pride as he considered a fourth cookie, to pay for first-class accommodations on this floating palace. Enough to see that his children had received first-class educations and that his grandchildren would as well.

He imagined first class was more important to him than it was to Vanderbilt. After all, Alfred had never had to make do with second.

He listened with half an ear as his wife chattered on about plans once they reached England. Yes, they would pay calls and receive them. He would not spend all of his time with associates or hunting up stock for his business.

He assured her of all this with his usual amiability, and because after nearly forty years of marriage he was deeply fond of his wife, he would see that she was well entertained during their stay abroad.

But he had plans of his own, and that driving force had been the single purpose of this spring crossing.

If his information was correct, he would soon acquire the second Fate. The small silver statue was a personal quest, one he'd pursued since he'd chanced to purchase the first of the reputed three.

He had a line on the third as well and would tug on it as soon as the second statue was in his possession. When he had the complete set, well, that would be first class indeed.

Wyley Antiques would be second to none.

Personal and professional satisfaction, he mused. All because of three small silver ladies, worth a pretty penny separately. Worth beyond imagining together. Perhaps he'd loan them to the Met for a time. Yes, he liked the idea.

THE THREE FATES
ON LOAN FROM THE PRIVATE COLLECTION
OF HENRY W. WYLEY

Edith would have her new hats, he thought, her dinner parties and her afternoon promenades. And he would have the prize of a lifetime.

Sighing with satisfaction, Henry sat back to enjoy his last cup of Earl Grey.

Felix Greenfield was a thief. He was neither ashamed nor prideful of it. It was simply what he was and had always been. And as Henry Wyley assumed he'd have other opportunities to gaze upon the Irish coast, Felix assumed he'd remain a thief for many years to come.

He was good at his work-not brilliant at it, he'd be the first to admit, but good enough to make ends meet. Good enough, he thought as he moved quickly down the corridors of first class in his stolen steward's uniform, to have gathered the means for third-class passage back to England.

Things were just a bit hot professionally back in New York, with cops breathing down his neck due to that bungled burglary. Not that it had been his fault, not entirely. His only failing had been to break his own first rule and take on an associate for the job.

Bad choice, as his temporary partner had broken another primary rule. Never steal what isn't easily, discreetly fenced. Greed had blinded old Two-Pint Monk, Felix thought with a sigh as he let himself into the Wyley stateroom. What had the man been thinking, laying sticky fingers on a diamond-and-sapphire necklace? Then behaving like a bloody amateur by getting drunk as a sailor-on his usual two pints of lager-and bragging over it.

Well, Two-Pint would do his bragging in jail now, though there'd be no lager to loosen his idiot tongue. But the bastard had chirped like the stool pigeon he was and given Felix's name to the coppers.

It had seemed best to take a nice ocean voyage, and what better place to get lost than on a ship as big as a damn city?

He'd been a bit concerned about the war in Europe, and the murmurs about the Germans stalking the seas had given him some pause. But they were such vague, distant threats. The New York police and the idea of a long stretch behind bars were much more personal and immediate problems.

In any case, he couldn't believe a grand ship like the Lusitania would cross if there was any real danger. Not with all those wealthy people on board. It was a civilian vessel after all, and he was sure the Germans had better things to do than threaten a luxury liner, especially when there was a large complement of American citizens on board.

He'd been lucky indeed to have snagged a ticket, to have lost himself among all the passengers with the cops two steps behind him and closing.

But he'd had to leave quickly, and had spent nearly all his wherewithal for the ticket.

Certainly there were opportunities galore to pluck a bit of this, a bit of that on such a fine, luxurious vessel filled with such fine, luxurious people.

Cash would be best, of course, for cash was never the wrong size or the wrong color.

Inside the stateroom, he let out a low whistle. Imagine it, he thought, taking a moment to dream. Just imagine traveling in such style.

He knew less about the architecture and design of where he was standing than a flea knew about the breed of dog it bit. But he knew it was choice.

The sitting room was larger than the whole of his third-class accommodations, and the bedroom beyond a wonder.

Those who slept here knew nothing about the cramped space, the dark corners and the smells of third class. He didn't begrudge them their advantages. After all, if there weren't people who lived high, he'd have no one to steal from, would he?

Still, he couldn't waste time gawking and dreaming. It was already a few minutes before three, and if the Wyleys were true to form, the woman would wander back before four for her afternoon nap.

He had delicate hands and was careful to disturb little as he searched for spare cash. Big bucks, he figured, they'd leave in the purser's keeping. But fine ladies and gentlemen enjoyed having a roll of bills close at hand for flashing.

He found an envelope already marked STEWARD and, grinning, ripped it open to find crisp dollar bills in a generous tip. He tucked it in the trouser pocket of his borrowed uniform.

Within ten minutes, he'd found and claimed nearly a hundred fifty dollars and a pair of nice garnet earbobs left carelessly in a silk evening purse.

He didn't touch the jewelry cases-the man's or the woman's. That was asking for trouble. But as he sifted neatly through socks and drawers, his fingers brushed over a solid lump wrapped in velvet cloth.

Lips pursed, Felix gave in to curiosity and spread open the cloth.

He didn't know anything about art, but he recognized pure silver when he had his hands on it. The lady-for it was a woman-was small enough to fit in his palm. She held some sort of spindle, he supposed it was, and was garbed in a kind of robe.

She had a lovely face and form. Fetching, he would have said, though she looked a bit too cool and calculating for his personal taste in females.

He preferred them a bit slow of wit and cheerful of disposition.

Tucked in with her was a paper with a name and address, and the scrawled notation: Contact for second Fate.

Felix pondered over it, committed the note to memory out of habit. It could be another chicken for plucking once he was in London.

He started to wrap her again, replace her where he'd found her, but he just stood there turning her over and over in his hands. Throughout his long career as a thief, he'd never once allowed himself to envy, to crave, to want an object for himself.

What was taken was always a means to an end, and nothing more. But Felix Greenfield, lately of Hell's Kitchen and bound for the alleyways and tenements of London, stood in the plush cabin on the grand ship with the Irish coast even now in view out the windows, and wanted the small silver woman for his own.

She was so . . . pretty. And fit so well in his hand with the metal already warming against his palm. Such a little thing. Who would miss her?

"Don't be stupid," he muttered, wrapped her in velvet again. "Take the money, mate, and move along."

Before he could replace her, he heard what he thought was a peal of thunder. The floor beneath his feet seemed to shudder. Nearly losing his balance as the ship shook side to side, he stumbled toward the door, the velvet-cloaked statue still in his hand.

Without thinking, he jammed it into his trouser pocket, spilled out into the corridor as the floor rose under him.

There was a sound now, not like thunder, but like a great hammer flung down from heaven to strike the ship.

Felix ran for his life.

And running, he raced into madness.

The forward part of the ship dipped sharply and had him tumbling down the corridor like dice in a cup. He could hear shouting and the pounding of feet. And he tasted blood in his mouth, seconds before it went dark.

His first wild thought was, Iceberg! as he remembered what had befallen the great Titanic. But surely in the broad light of a spring afternoon, so close to the Irish coast, such a thing wasn't possible.

He never thought of the Germans. He never thought of war.

He scrambled up, slamming into walls in the pitch black of the corridor, stumbling over his own feet and the stairs, and spilled out on deck with a flood of others. Already lifeboats were being launched and there were cries of terror along with shouted orders for women and children to board them.

How bad was it? he wondered frantically. How bad could it be when he could see the shimmering green of the coastline? Even as he tried to calm himself, the ship pitched again, and one of the lowering lifeboats upended. Its screaming passengers were hurled into the sea.

He saw a mass of faces-some torn, some scalded, all horrified. There were piles of debris on deck, and passengers-bleeding, screaming-trapped under it. Some, he saw with dull shock, were already beyond screams.

And there on the listing desk of the great ship, Felix smelled what he'd often smelled in Hell's Kitchen.

He smelled death.

Women clutched children, babies, and wept or prayed. Men ran in panic, or fought madly to drag the injured clear of debris.

Through the chaos stewards and stewardesses hurried, passing out life jackets with a kind of steady calm. They might have been handing out teacups, he thought, until one rushed by him.

"Go on, man! Do your job! See to the passengers."

It took Felix one blank moment before he remembered he was still wearing the stolen steward's uniform. And another before he understood, truly understood, they were sinking.

Fuck me, he thought, standing in the middle of the screams and prayers. We're dying.

There were shouts from the water, desperate cries for help. Felix fought his way to the rail and, looking down, saw bodies floating, people floundering in debris-strewn water. People drowning in it.

He saw another lifeboat being launched, wondered if he could somehow make the leap into it and save himself. He struggled to pull himself to a higher point, to gain ground was all he could think. To stay on his feet until he could hurl himself into a lifeboat and survive.

He saw a well-dressed man take off his own life jacket and put it around a weeping woman.

So the rich could be heroes, he thought. They could afford to be. He'd sooner be alive.

The deck tilted again, sent him sliding along with countless others toward the mouth of the sea. He shot out a hand, managed to grab the rail with his clever thief's fingers and cling. And his free hand closed, as if by magic, over a life jacket as it went tumbling by.

Muttering wild prayers of thanks, he started to strap it on. It was a sign, he thought with his heart and eyes wheeling wild, a sign from God that he was meant to survive this.

As his shaking fingers fumbled with the jacket, he saw the woman wedged between upturned deck chairs. And the child, the small, angelic face of the child she clutched against her. She wasn't weeping. She wasn't screaming. She simply held and rocked the little boy as if lulling him into his afternoon nap.

"Mary, mother of God." And cursing himself for a fool, Felix crawled across the pitched deck. He dragged and heaved at the chairs that pinned her down.

"I've hurt my leg." She continued to stroke her child's hair, and the rings on her fingers sparkled in the strong spring sunlight. Though her voice was calm, her eyes were huge, glazed with shock and pain, and the terror Felix felt galloped inside his own chest.

"I don't think I can walk. Will you take my baby? Please, take my little boy to a lifeboat. See him safe."

He had one moment, one heartbeat to choose. And while the world went to hell around them, the child smiled.

"Put this on yourself, missus, and hold tight to the boy."

"We'll put it on my son."

"It's too big for him. It won't help him."

"I've lost my husband." She spoke in those clear, cultured tones, and though her eyes were glassy, they stayed level on his as Felix pushed her arms through the life jacket. "He fell over the rail. I fear he's dead."

"You're not, are you? Neither is the boy." He could smell the child-powder, youth, innocence-through the stench of panic and death. "What's his name?"

"Name? He's Steven. Steven Edward Cunningham, the Third."

"Let's get you and Steven Edward Cunningham, the Third, to a lifeboat."

"We're sinking."

"That's the God's truth." He dragged her, trying once more to reach the high side of the ship.

He crawled, clawed his way over the wet and rising deck.

"Hold on tight to Mama, Steven," he heard her say. Then she crawled and clawed with him while terror raged around them.

"Don't be frightened." She crooned it, though her breath was coming fast with the effort. Her heavy skirts sloshed in the water, and blood smeared over the glinting stones on her fingers. "You have to be brave. Don't let go of Mama, no matter what."

He could see the boy, no more than three, cling like a monkey to his mother's neck. Watching her face, Felix thought as he strained for another inch of height, as if all the answers in all the world were printed on it.

Deck chairs, tables, God knew what, rained down from the deck above. He dragged her another inch, another, a foot. "Just a little farther." He gasped it out, without any idea if it were true.

Something struck him hard in the back. And his hold on her slipped.

"Missus!" he shouted, grabbed blindly, but caught only the pretty silk sleeve of her dress. As it ripped, he stared at her helplessly.

"God bless you," she managed and, wrapping both arms tight around her son, slid over the edge of the world into the water.

He barely had time to curse before the deck heaved and he pitched in after her.

The cold, the sheer brutality of it, stole his breath. Blind, already going numb with shock, he kicked wildly, clawing for the surface as he'd clawed for the deck. When he broke through, gasped in that first gulp of air, he found he'd plunged into a hell worse than any he'd imagined.

Dead were all around him. He was jammed into an island of bobbing, staring white faces, of screams from the drowning. The water was strewn with planks and chairs, wrecked lifeboats and crates. His limbs were already stiff with cold when he struggled to heave as much of his body as possible onto a crate and out of the freezing water.

And what he saw was worse. There were hundreds of bodies floating in the still sparkling sunlight. While his stomach heaved out the sea he'd swallowed, he floundered in the direction of a waterlogged lifeboat.

The swell, somehow gentle, tore at the island and spread death over the sea, and dragged him, with merciless hands, away from the lifeboat.

The great ship, the floating palace, was sinking in front of his eyes. Dangling from it were lifeboats, useless as toys. Somehow it astonished him to see there were still people on the decks. Some were kneeling, others still rushing in panic from a fate that was hurtling toward them.

In shock, he watched more tumble like dolls into the sea. And the huge black funnels tipped down toward the water, down to where he clung to a broken crate.

When those funnels touched the sea, water gushed into them, sucking in people with it.

Not like this, he thought as he kicked weakly. A man wasn't meant to die like this. But the sea dragged him under, pulled him in. Water seemed to boil around him as he struggled. He choked on it, tasted salt and oil and smoke. And realized, as his body bashed into a solid wall, that he was trapped in one of the funnels, would die there like a rat in a blocked chimney.

As his lungs began to scream, he thought of the woman and the boy. Since he deemed it useless to pray for himself, he offered what he thought was his last plea to God that they'd survived.

Later, he would think it had been as if hands had taken hold of him and yanked him free. As the funnels sank, he was expelled, flying out on a filthy gush of soot.

With pain radiating through him, he snagged a floating plank and pulled his upper body onto it. He laid his cheek on the wood, breathed deeply, wept quietly.

And saw the Lusitania was gone.

The plate of water where she'd been was raging, thrashing and belching smoke. Belching bodies, he saw with a dull horror. He'd been one of them, only moments before. But fate had spared him.

While he watched, while he struggled to block out the screams and stay sane, the water went calm as glass. With the last of his strength, he pulled himself onto the plank. He heard the shrill song of sea gulls, the weeping prayers or weeping cries of those who floundered or floated in the water with him.

Probably freeze to death, he thought as he drifted in and out of consciousness. But it was better than drowning.

It was the cold that brought him out of the faint. His body was racked with it, and every trickling breeze was a new agony. Hardly daring to move, he tugged at his sopping and ruined steward's jacket. Bright pain had nausea rolling greasily in his belly. He ran an unsteady hand over his face and saw the wet wasn't water, but blood.

His laugh was wild and shaky. So what would it be, freezing or bleeding to death? Drowning might have been better, after all. It would be over that way. He slowly shed the jacket-something wrong with his shoulder, he thought absently-and used the ruined jacket to wipe the blood from his face.

He didn't hear so much shouting now. There were still some thin screams, some moans and prayers, but most of the passengers who'd made it as far as he had were dead. And silent.

He watched a body float by. It took him a moment to recognize the face, as it was bone-white and covered with bloodless gashes.

Wyley. Good Christ.

For the first time since the nightmare had begun, he felt for the weight in his pocket. He felt the lump of what he'd stolen from the man currently staring up at the sky with blank blue eyes.

"You won't need it," Felix said between chattering teeth, "but I swear before God if I had it to do over, I wouldn't have stolen from you in the last moments of your life. Seems like robbing a grave."

His long-lapsed religious training had him folding his hands in prayer. "If I end up dying here today, I'll apologize in person if we end up on the same side of the gate. And if I live I take a vow to try to reform. No point in saying I'll do it, but I'll give doing an honest day's work a try."

He passed out again, and woke to the sound of an engine. Dazed, numb, he managed to lift his head. Through his wavering vision, he saw a boat, and through the roaring in his ears, heard the shouts and voices of men.

He tried to call out, but managed only a hacking cough.

"I'm alive." His voice was only a croak, whisked away by the breeze. "I'm still alive."

He didn't feel the hands pull him onto the fishing trawler called Dan O'Connell. Was delirious with chills and pain when he was wrapped in a blanket, when hot tea was poured down his throat. He would remember nothing about his actual rescue, nor learn the names of the men whose arms had hauled him to safety. Nothing came clear to him until he woke, nearly twenty-four hours after the torpedo had struck the liner, in a narrow bed in a small room with sunlight streaming through a window.

He would never forget the first sight that greeted him when his vision cleared.

She was young and pretty, with eyes of misty blue and a scatter of gold freckles over her small nose and round cheeks. Her hair was fair and piled on top of her head in some sort of knot that seemed to be slipping. Her mouth bowed up when she glanced over at him, and she rose quickly from the chair where she'd been darning socks.

"There you are. I wonder if you'll stay with us this time around."

He heard Ireland in her voice, felt the strong hand lift his head. And he smelled a drift of lavender.

"What . . ." The old, croaking sound of his voice appalled him. His throat felt scorched, his head stuffed with rags of dirty cotton.

"Just take this first. It's medicine the doctor left for you. You've pneumonia, he says, and a fair gash on your head that's been stitched. Seems you tore something in your shoulder as well. But you've come through the worst, sir, and you rest easy for we'll see you through."

"What . . . happened? The ship . . ."

The pretty mouth went flat and hard. "The bloody Germans. 'Twas a U-boat torpedoed you. And they'll writhe in hell for it, for the people they murdered. The babies they slaughtered."

Though a tear trickled down her cheek, she managed to slide the medicine into him competently. "You have to rest. Your life's a miracle, for there are more than a thousand dead."

"A . . ." He managed to grip her wrist as the horror stabbed through him. "A thousand?"

"More than. You're in Queenstown now, and as well as you can be." She tilted her head. "An American, are you?"

Close enough, he decided, as he hadn't seen the shores of his native England in more than twelve years. "Yes. I need-"

"Tea," she interrupted. "And broth." She moved to the door to shout: "Ma! He's waked and seems to want to stay that way." She glanced back. "I'll be back with something warm in a minute."

"Please. Who are you?"

"Me?" She smiled again, wonderfully sunny. "I'd be Meg. Meg O'Reiley, and you're in the home of my parents, Pat and Mary O'Reiley, where you're welcome until you're mended. And your name, sir?"

"Greenfield. Felix Greenfield."

"God bless you, Mr. Greenfield."

"Wait . . . there was a woman, and a little boy. Cunningham."

Pity moved over her face. "They're listing names. I'll check on them for you when I'm able. Now you rest, and we'll get you some tea."

When she went out, he turned his face toward the window, toward the sun. And saw, sitting on the table under it, the money that had been in his pocket, the garnet earbobs. And the bright silver glint of the little statue.

Felix laughed until he cried.

He learned the O'Reileys made their living from the sea. Pat and his two sons had been part of the rescue effort. He met them all, and her younger sister as well. For the first day he was unable to keep any of them straight in his mind. But for Meg herself.

He clung to her company as he'd clung to the plank, to keep from sliding into the dark again.

"Tell me what you know," he begged her.

"It'll be hard for you to hear it. It's hard to speak it." She moved to his window, looked out at the village where she'd lived all of her eighteen years. Survivors such as Felix were being tended to in hotel rooms, in the homes of neighbors. And the dead, God rest them, were laid in temporary morgues. Some would be buried, some would be sent home. Others would forever be in the grave of the sea.

"When I heard of it," she began, "I almost didn't believe it. How could such a thing be? There were trawlers out, and they went directly to try to rescue survivors. More boats set out from here. Most were too late to do more than bring back the dead. Oh sweet God, I saw myself some of the people as they made land. Women and babies, men barely able to walk and half naked. Some cried, and others just stared. Like you do when you're lost. They say the liner went down in less than twenty minutes. Can that be?"

"I don't know," Felix murmured, and shut his eyes.

She glanced back at him and hoped he was strong enough for the rest. "More have died since coming here. Exposure and injuries too grievous to heal. Some spent hours in the water. The lists change so quick. I can't think what terror of heart families are living with, waiting to know. Or what grief those who know their loved ones are lost in this horrible way are feeling. You said there was no one waiting for word of you."

"No. No one."

She went to him. She'd tended his hurts, suffered with him during the horrors of his delirium. It had been only three days since he'd been brought into her care, but for both of them, it was a lifetime.

"There's no shame in staying here," she said quietly. "No shame in not going to the funeral today. You're far from well yet."

"I need to go." He looked down at his borrowed clothes. In them he felt scrawny and fragile. And alive.

The quiet was almost unearthly. Every shop and store in Queenstown was closed for the day. No children raced along the streets, no neighbors stopped to chat or gossip. Over the silence came the hollow sound of church bells from St. Colman's on the hill, and the mournful notes of the funeral dirge.

Felix knew if he lived another hundred years he'd never forget the sounds of that grieving music, the soft and steady beat of drums. He watched the sun strike the brass of the instruments, and remembered how that same sun had struck the brass of the propellers as the stern of the Lusitania had reared up in her final plunge into the sea.

He was alive, he thought again. Instead of relief and gratitude, he felt only guilt and despair.

He kept his head down as he trudged along behind the priests, the mourners, the dead, through the reverently silent streets. It took more than an hour to reach the graveyard, and left him light-headed. By the time he saw the three mass graves beneath tall elms where choirboys stood with incense burners, he was forced to lean heavily on Meg.

Tears stung the backs of his eyes as he looked at the tiny coffins that held dead children.

He listened to the quiet weeping, to the words of both the Catholic and the Church of Ireland services. None of it reached him. He could still hear, thought he would forever hear, the way people had called to God as they'd drowned. But God hadn't listened, and had let them die horribly.

Then he lifted his head and, across those obscene holes, saw the face of the woman and young boy from the ship.

The tears came now, fell down his cheeks like rain as he lurched through the crowd. He reached her as the first notes of "Abide With Me" lifted into the air. Then he fell to his knees in front of her wheelchair.

"I feared you were dead." She reached up, touched his face with one hand. The other peeked out of a cast. "I never got your name, so couldn't check the lists."

"You're alive." Her face had been cut, he could see that now, and her color was too bright, as if she were feverish. Her leg had been cast as well as her arm. "And the boy."

The child slept in the arms of another woman. Like an angel, Felix thought again. Peaceful and unmarked.

The fist of despair that gripped him loosened. One prayer, at least one prayer, had been answered.

"He never let go." She began to weep then, soundlessly. "He's such a good boy. He never let go. I broke my arm in the fall. If you hadn't given me your life jacket, we would have drowned. My husband . . ." Her voice frayed as she looked over at the graves. "They never found him."

"I'm sorry."

"He would have thanked you." She reached up to touch a hand to her boy's leg. "He loved his son, very much." She took a deep breath. "In his stead, I thank you, for my son's life and my own. Please tell me your name."

"Felix Greenfield, ma'am."

"Mr. Greenfield." She leaned over, brushed a kiss on Felix's cheek. "I'll never forget you. Nor will my son."

When they wheeled her chair away, she kept her shoulders straight with a quiet dignity that brought a wash of shame over Felix's face.

"You're a hero," Meg told him.

Shaking his head, he moved as quickly as he could away from the crowds, away from the graves. "No. She is. I'm nothing."

"How can you say that? I heard what she said. You saved her life, and the little boy's." Concerned, she hurried up to him, took his arm to steady him.

He'd have shaken her off if he'd had the strength. Instead, he simply sat in the high, wild grass of the graveyard and buried his face in his hands.

"Ah, there now." Pity for him had her sitting beside him, taking him into her arms. "There now, Felix."

He could think of nothing but the strength in the young widow's face, in the innocence of her son's. "She was hurt, so she asked me to take the boy. To save the boy."

"You saved them both."

"I don't know why I did it. I was only thinking about saving myself. I'm a thief. Those things you took out of my pocket? I stole them. I was stealing them when the ship was hit. All I could think about when it was happening was getting out alive."

Meg shifted beside him, folded her hands. "Did you give her your life jacket?"

"It wasn't mine. I found it. I don't know why I gave it to her. She was trapped between deck chairs, holding on to the boy. Holding on to her sanity in the middle of all that hell."

"You could've turned away from her, saved yourself."

He mopped at his eyes. "I wanted to."

"But you didn't."

"I'll never know why." He only knew that seeing them alive had changed something inside him. "But the point is, I'm a second-rate thief who was on that ship because I was running from the cops. I stole a man's things minutes before he died. A thousand people are dead. I saw some of them die. I'm alive. What kind of world is it that saves a thief and takes children?"

"Who can answer? But there's a child who's alive today because you were there. Would you have been, do you think, just where you were, when you were, if you hadn't been stealing?"

He let out a derisive sound. "The likes of me wouldn't have been anywhere near the first-class deck unless I'd been stealing."

"There you are." She took a handkerchief from her pocket and dried his tears as she would a child's. "Stealing's wrong. It's a sin and there's no question about it. But if you'd been minding your own, that woman and her son would be dead. If a sin saves innocent lives, I'm thinking it's not so great a sin. And I have to say, you didn't steal so very much if all you had for it were a pair of earbobs, a little statue and some American dollars."

For some reason that made him smile. "Well, I was just getting started."

The smile she sent him was lovely and sure. "Yes, I'd say you're just getting started."

--from Three Fates by Nora Roberts, Copyright © April 2002, G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

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First Chapter

One

May 7, 1915

Happily unaware he'd be dead in twenty-three minutes, Henry W. Wyley imagined pinching the nicely rounded rump of the young blonde who was directly in his line of sight. It was a perfectly harmless fantasy that did nothing to distress the blonde, or Henry's wife, and put Henry himself in the best of moods.

With a lap robe tucked around his pudgy knees and a plump belly well satisfied by a late and luxurious lunch, he sat in the bracing sea air with his wife, Edith-whose bum, bless her, was flat as a pancake-enjoying the blonde's derriere along with a fine cup of Earl Grey.

Henry, a portly man with a robust laugh and an eye for the ladies, didn't bother to stir himself to join other passengers at the rail for a glimpse of Ireland's shimmering coast. He'd seen it before and assumed he'd have plenty of opportunities to see it again if he cared to.

Though what fascinated people about cliffs and grass eluded him. Henry was an avowed urbanite who preferred the solidity of steel and concrete. And at this particular moment, he was much more interested in the dainty chocolate cookies served with the tea than with the vista.

Particularly when the blonde moved on.

Though Edith fussed at him not to make a pig of himself, he gobbled up three cookies with cheerful relish. Edith, being Edith, refrained. It was a pity she denied herself that small pleasure in the last moments of her life, but she would die as she'd lived, worrying about her husband's extra tonnage and brushing at the crumbs that scattered carelessly on his shirtfront.

Henry, however, was a man who believed in indulgence. What, after all, was the point of being richif you didn't treat yourself to the finer things? He'd been poor, and he'd been hungry. Rich and well fed was better.

He'd never been handsome, but when a man had money he was called substantial rather than fat, interesting rather than homely. Henry appreciated the absurdity of the distinction.

At just before three in the afternoon on that sparkling May day, the wind blew at his odd little coal-colored toupee, whipped high, happy color into his pudgy cheeks. He had a gold watch in his pocket, a ruby pin in his tie. His Edith, scrawny as a chicken, was decked out in the best of Parisian couture. He was worth nearly three million. Not as much as Alfred Vanderbilt, who was crossing the Atlantic as well, but enough to content Henry. Enough, he thought with pride as he considered a fourth cookie, to pay for first-class accommodations on this floating palace. Enough to see that his children had received first-class educations and that his grandchildren would as well.

He imagined first class was more important to him than it was to Vanderbilt. After all, Alfred had never had to make do with second.

He listened with half an ear as his wife chattered on about plans once they reached England. Yes, they would pay calls and receive them. He would not spend all of his time with associates or hunting up stock for his business.

He assured her of all this with his usual amiability, and because after nearly forty years of marriage he was deeply fond of his wife, he would see that she was well entertained during their stay abroad.

But he had plans of his own, and that driving force had been the single purpose of this spring crossing.

If his information was correct, he would soon acquire the second Fate. The small silver statue was a personal quest, one he'd pursued since he'd chanced to purchase the first of the reputed three.

He had a line on the third as well and would tug on it as soon as the second statue was in his possession. When he had the complete set, well, that would be first class indeed.

Wyley Antiques would be second to none.

Personal and professional satisfaction, he mused. All because of three small silver ladies, worth a pretty penny separately. Worth beyond imagining together. Perhaps he'd loan them to the Met for a time. Yes, he liked the idea.

THE THREE FATES
ON LOAN FROM THE PRIVATE COLLECTION
OF HENRY W. WYLEY

Edith would have her new hats, he thought, her dinner parties and her afternoon promenades. And he would have the prize of a lifetime.

Sighing with satisfaction, Henry sat back to enjoy his last cup of Earl Grey.

Felix Greenfield was a thief. He was neither ashamed nor prideful of it. It was simply what he was and had always been. And as Henry Wyley assumed he'd have other opportunities to gaze upon the Irish coast, Felix assumed he'd remain a thief for many years to come.

He was good at his work-not brilliant at it, he'd be the first to admit, but good enough to make ends meet. Good enough, he thought as he moved quickly down the corridors of first class in his stolen steward's uniform, to have gathered the means for third-class passage back to England.

Things were just a bit hot professionally back in New York, with cops breathing down his neck due to that bungled burglary. Not that it had been his fault, not entirely. His only failing had been to break his own first rule and take on an associate for the job.

Bad choice, as his temporary partner had broken another primary rule. Never steal what isn't easily, discreetly fenced. Greed had blinded old Two-Pint Monk, Felix thought with a sigh as he let himself into the Wyley stateroom. What had the man been thinking, laying sticky fingers on a diamond-and-sapphire necklace? Then behaving like a bloody amateur by getting drunk as a sailor-on his usual two pints of lager-and bragging over it.

Well, Two-Pint would do his bragging in jail now, though there'd be no lager to loosen his idiot tongue. But the bastard had chirped like the stool pigeon he was and given Felix's name to the coppers.

It had seemed best to take a nice ocean voyage, and what better place to get lost than on a ship as big as a damn city?

He'd been a bit concerned about the war in Europe, and the murmurs about the Germans stalking the seas had given him some pause. But they were such vague, distant threats. The New York police and the idea of a long stretch behind bars were much more personal and immediate problems.

In any case, he couldn't believe a grand ship like the Lusitania would cross if there was any real danger. Not with all those wealthy people on board. It was a civilian vessel after all, and he was sure the Germans had better things to do than threaten a luxury liner, especially when there was a large complement of American citizens on board.

He'd been lucky indeed to have snagged a ticket, to have lost himself among all the passengers with the cops two steps behind him and closing.

But he'd had to leave quickly, and had spent nearly all his wherewithal for the ticket.

Certainly there were opportunities galore to pluck a bit of this, a bit of that on such a fine, luxurious vessel filled with such fine, luxurious people.

Cash would be best, of course, for cash was never the wrong size or the wrong color.

Inside the stateroom, he let out a low whistle. Imagine it, he thought, taking a moment to dream. Just imagine traveling in such style.

He knew less about the architecture and design of where he was standing than a flea knew about the breed of dog it bit. But he knew it was choice.

The sitting room was larger than the whole of his third-class accommodations, and the bedroom beyond a wonder.

Those who slept here knew nothing about the cramped space, the dark corners and the smells of third class. He didn't begrudge them their advantages. After all, if there weren't people who lived high, he'd have no one to steal from, would he?

Still, he couldn't waste time gawking and dreaming. It was already a few minutes before three, and if the Wyleys were true to form, the woman would wander back before four for her afternoon nap.

He had delicate hands and was careful to disturb little as he searched for spare cash. Big bucks, he figured, they'd leave in the purser's keeping. But fine ladies and gentlemen enjoyed having a roll of bills close at hand for flashing.

He found an envelope already marked STEWARD and, grinning, ripped it open to find crisp dollar bills in a generous tip. He tucked it in the trouser pocket of his borrowed uniform.

Within ten minutes, he'd found and claimed nearly a hundred fifty dollars and a pair of nice garnet earbobs left carelessly in a silk evening purse.

He didn't touch the jewelry cases-the man's or the woman's. That was asking for trouble. But as he sifted neatly through socks and drawers, his fingers brushed over a solid lump wrapped in velvet cloth.

Lips pursed, Felix gave in to curiosity and spread open the cloth.

He didn't know anything about art, but he recognized pure silver when he had his hands on it. The lady-for it was a woman-was small enough to fit in his palm. She held some sort of spindle, he supposed it was, and was garbed in a kind of robe.

She had a lovely face and form. Fetching, he would have said, though she looked a bit too cool and calculating for his personal taste in females.

He preferred them a bit slow of wit and cheerful of disposition.

Tucked in with her was a paper with a name and address, and the scrawled notation: Contact for second Fate.

Felix pondered over it, committed the note to memory out of habit. It could be another chicken for plucking once he was in London.

He started to wrap her again, replace her where he'd found her, but he just stood there turning her over and over in his hands. Throughout his long career as a thief, he'd never once allowed himself to envy, to crave, to want an object for himself.

What was taken was always a means to an end, and nothing more. But Felix Greenfield, lately of Hell's Kitchen and bound for the alleyways and tenements of London, stood in the plush cabin on the grand ship with the Irish coast even now in view out the windows, and wanted the small silver woman for his own.

She was so . . . pretty. And fit so well in his hand with the metal already warming against his palm. Such a little thing. Who would miss her?

"Don't be stupid," he muttered, wrapped her in velvet again. "Take the money, mate, and move along."

Before he could replace her, he heard what he thought was a peal of thunder. The floor beneath his feet seemed to shudder. Nearly losing his balance as the ship shook side to side, he stumbled toward the door, the velvet-cloaked statue still in his hand.

Without thinking, he jammed it into his trouser pocket, spilled out into the corridor as the floor rose under him.

There was a sound now, not like thunder, but like a great hammer flung down from heaven to strike the ship.

Felix ran for his life.

And running, he raced into madness.

The forward part of the ship dipped sharply and had him tumbling down the corridor like dice in a cup. He could hear shouting and the pounding of feet. And he tasted blood in his mouth, seconds before it went dark.

His first wild thought was, Iceberg! as he remembered what had befallen the great Titanic. But surely in the broad light of a spring afternoon, so close to the Irish coast, such a thing wasn't possible.

He never thought of the Germans. He never thought of war.

He scrambled up, slamming into walls in the pitch black of the corridor, stumbling over his own feet and the stairs, and spilled out on deck with a flood of others. Already lifeboats were being launched and there were cries of terror along with shouted orders for women and children to board them.

How bad was it? he wondered frantically. How bad could it be when he could see the shimmering green of the coastline? Even as he tried to calm himself, the ship pitched again, and one of the lowering lifeboats upended. Its screaming passengers were hurled into the sea.

He saw a mass of faces-some torn, some scalded, all horrified. There were piles of debris on deck, and passengers-bleeding, screaming-trapped under it. Some, he saw with dull shock, were already beyond screams.

And there on the listing desk of the great ship, Felix smelled what he'd often smelled in Hell's Kitchen.

He smelled death.

Women clutched children, babies, and wept or prayed. Men ran in panic, or fought madly to drag the injured clear of debris.

Through the chaos stewards and stewardesses hurried, passing out life jackets with a kind of steady calm. They might have been handing out teacups, he thought, until one rushed by him.

"Go on, man! Do your job! See to the passengers."

It took Felix one blank moment before he remembered he was still wearing the stolen steward's uniform. And another before he understood, truly understood, they were sinking.

Fuck me, he thought, standing in the middle of the screams and prayers. We're dying.

There were shouts from the water, desperate cries for help. Felix fought his way to the rail and, looking down, saw bodies floating, people floundering in debris-strewn water. People drowning in it.

He saw another lifeboat being launched, wondered if he could somehow make the leap into it and save himself. He struggled to pull himself to a higher point, to gain ground was all he could think. To stay on his feet until he could hurl himself into a lifeboat and survive.

He saw a well-dressed man take off his own life jacket and put it around a weeping woman.

So the rich could be heroes, he thought. They could afford to be. He'd sooner be alive.

The deck tilted again, sent him sliding along with countless others toward the mouth of the sea. He shot out a hand, managed to grab the rail with his clever thief's fingers and cling. And his free hand closed, as if by magic, over a life jacket as it went tumbling by.

Muttering wild prayers of thanks, he started to strap it on. It was a sign, he thought with his heart and eyes wheeling wild, a sign from God that he was meant to survive this.

As his shaking fingers fumbled with the jacket, he saw the woman wedged between upturned deck chairs. And the child, the small, angelic face of the child she clutched against her. She wasn't weeping. She wasn't screaming. She simply held and rocked the little boy as if lulling him into his afternoon nap.

"Mary, mother of God." And cursing himself for a fool, Felix crawled across the pitched deck. He dragged and heaved at the chairs that pinned her down.

"I've hurt my leg." She continued to stroke her child's hair, and the rings on her fingers sparkled in the strong spring sunlight. Though her voice was calm, her eyes were huge, glazed with shock and pain, and the terror Felix felt galloped inside his own chest.

"I don't think I can walk. Will you take my baby? Please, take my little boy to a lifeboat. See him safe."

He had one moment, one heartbeat to choose. And while the world went to hell around them, the child smiled.

"Put this on yourself, missus, and hold tight to the boy."

"We'll put it on my son."

"It's too big for him. It won't help him."

"I've lost my husband." She spoke in those clear, cultured tones, and though her eyes were glassy, they stayed level on his as Felix pushed her arms through the life jacket. "He fell over the rail. I fear he's dead."

"You're not, are you? Neither is the boy." He could smell the child-powder, youth, innocence-through the stench of panic and death. "What's his name?"

"Name? He's Steven. Steven Edward Cunningham, the Third."

"Let's get you and Steven Edward Cunningham, the Third, to a lifeboat."

"We're sinking."

"That's the God's truth." He dragged her, trying once more to reach the high side of the ship.

He crawled, clawed his way over the wet and rising deck.

"Hold on tight to Mama, Steven," he heard her say. Then she crawled and clawed with him while terror raged around them.

"Don't be frightened." She crooned it, though her breath was coming fast with the effort. Her heavy skirts sloshed in the water, and blood smeared over the glinting stones on her fingers. "You have to be brave. Don't let go of Mama, no matter what."

He could see the boy, no more than three, cling like a monkey to his mother's neck. Watching her face, Felix thought as he strained for another inch of height, as if all the answers in all the world were printed on it.

Deck chairs, tables, God knew what, rained down from the deck above. He dragged her another inch, another, a foot. "Just a little farther." He gasped it out, without any idea if it were true.

Something struck him hard in the back. And his hold on her slipped.

"Missus!" he shouted, grabbed blindly, but caught only the pretty silk sleeve of her dress. As it ripped, he stared at her helplessly.

"God bless you," she managed and, wrapping both arms tight around her son, slid over the edge of the world into the water.

He barely had time to curse before the deck heaved and he pitched in after her.

The cold, the sheer brutality of it, stole his breath. Blind, already going numb with shock, he kicked wildly, clawing for the surface as he'd clawed for the deck. When he broke through, gasped in that first gulp of air, he found he'd plunged into a hell worse than any he'd imagined.

Dead were all around him. He was jammed into an island of bobbing, staring white faces, of screams from the drowning. The water was strewn with planks and chairs, wrecked lifeboats and crates. His limbs were already stiff with cold when he struggled to heave as much of his body as possible onto a crate and out of the freezing water.

And what he saw was worse. There were hundreds of bodies floating in the still sparkling sunlight. While his stomach heaved out the sea he'd swallowed, he floundered in the direction of a waterlogged lifeboat.

The swell, somehow gentle, tore at the island and spread death over the sea, and dragged him, with merciless hands, away from the lifeboat.

The great ship, the floating palace, was sinking in front of his eyes. Dangling from it were lifeboats, useless as toys. Somehow it astonished him to see there were still people on the decks. Some were kneeling, others still rushing in panic from a fate that was hurtling toward them.

In shock, he watched more tumble like dolls into the sea. And the huge black funnels tipped down toward the water, down to where he clung to a broken crate.

When those funnels touched the sea, water gushed into them, sucking in people with it.

Not like this, he thought as he kicked weakly. A man wasn't meant to die like this. But the sea dragged him under, pulled him in. Water seemed to boil around him as he struggled. He choked on it, tasted salt and oil and smoke. And realized, as his body bashed into a solid wall, that he was trapped in one of the funnels, would die there like a rat in a blocked chimney.

As his lungs began to scream, he thought of the woman and the boy. Since he deemed it useless to pray for himself, he offered what he thought was his last plea to God that they'd survived.

Later, he would think it had been as if hands had taken hold of him and yanked him free. As the funnels sank, he was expelled, flying out on a filthy gush of soot.

With pain radiating through him, he snagged a floating plank and pulled his upper body onto it. He laid his cheek on the wood, breathed deeply, wept quietly.

And saw the Lusitania was gone.

The plate of water where she'd been was raging, thrashing and belching smoke. Belching bodies, he saw with a dull horror. He'd been one of them, only moments before. But fate had spared him.

While he watched, while he struggled to block out the screams and stay sane, the water went calm as glass. With the last of his strength, he pulled himself onto the plank. He heard the shrill song of sea gulls, the weeping prayers or weeping cries of those who floundered or floated in the water with him.

Probably freeze to death, he thought as he drifted in and out of consciousness. But it was better than drowning.

It was the cold that brought him out of the faint. His body was racked with it, and every trickling breeze was a new agony. Hardly daring to move, he tugged at his sopping and ruined steward's jacket. Bright pain had nausea rolling greasily in his belly. He ran an unsteady hand over his face and saw the wet wasn't water, but blood.

His laugh was wild and shaky. So what would it be, freezing or bleeding to death? Drowning might have been better, after all. It would be over that way. He slowly shed the jacket-something wrong with his shoulder, he thought absently-and used the ruined jacket to wipe the blood from his face.

He didn't hear so much shouting now. There were still some thin screams, some moans and prayers, but most of the passengers who'd made it as far as he had were dead. And silent.

He watched a body float by. It took him a moment to recognize the face, as it was bone-white and covered with bloodless gashes.

Wyley. Good Christ.

For the first time since the nightmare had begun, he felt for the weight in his pocket. He felt the lump of what he'd stolen from the man currently staring up at the sky with blank blue eyes.

"You won't need it," Felix said between chattering teeth, "but I swear before God if I had it to do over, I wouldn't have stolen from you in the last moments of your life. Seems like robbing a grave."

His long-lapsed religious training had him folding his hands in prayer. "If I end up dying here today, I'll apologize in person if we end up on the same side of the gate. And if I live I take a vow to try to reform. No point in saying I'll do it, but I'll give doing an honest day's work a try."

He passed out again, and woke to the sound of an engine. Dazed, numb, he managed to lift his head. Through his wavering vision, he saw a boat, and through the roaring in his ears, heard the shouts and voices of men.

He tried to call out, but managed only a hacking cough.

"I'm alive." His voice was only a croak, whisked away by the breeze. "I'm still alive."

He didn't feel the hands pull him onto the fishing trawler called Dan O'Connell. Was delirious with chills and pain when he was wrapped in a blanket, when hot tea was poured down his throat. He would remember nothing about his actual rescue, nor learn the names of the men whose arms had hauled him to safety. Nothing came clear to him until he woke, nearly twenty-four hours after the torpedo had struck the liner, in a narrow bed in a small room with sunlight streaming through a window.

He would never forget the first sight that greeted him when his vision cleared.

She was young and pretty, with eyes of misty blue and a scatter of gold freckles over her small nose and round cheeks. Her hair was fair and piled on top of her head in some sort of knot that seemed to be slipping. Her mouth bowed up when she glanced over at him, and she rose quickly from the chair where she'd been darning socks.

"There you are. I wonder if you'll stay with us this time around."

He heard Ireland in her voice, felt the strong hand lift his head. And he smelled a drift of lavender.

"What . . ." The old, croaking sound of his voice appalled him. His throat felt scorched, his head stuffed with rags of dirty cotton.

"Just take this first. It's medicine the doctor left for you. You've pneumonia, he says, and a fair gash on your head that's been stitched. Seems you tore something in your shoulder as well. But you've come through the worst, sir, and you rest easy for we'll see you through."

"What . . . happened? The ship . . ."

The pretty mouth went flat and hard. "The bloody Germans. 'Twas a U-boat torpedoed you. And they'll writhe in hell for it, for the people they murdered. The babies they slaughtered."

Though a tear trickled down her cheek, she managed to slide the medicine into him competently. "You have to rest. Your life's a miracle, for there are more than a thousand dead."

"A . . ." He managed to grip her wrist as the horror stabbed through him. "A thousand?"

"More than. You're in Queenstown now, and as well as you can be." She tilted her head. "An American, are you?"

Close enough, he decided, as he hadn't seen the shores of his native England in more than twelve years. "Yes. I need-"

"Tea," she interrupted. "And broth." She moved to the door to shout: "Ma! He's waked and seems to want to stay that way." She glanced back. "I'll be back with something warm in a minute."

"Please. Who are you?"

"Me?" She smiled again, wonderfully sunny. "I'd be Meg. Meg O'Reiley, and you're in the home of my parents, Pat and Mary O'Reiley, where you're welcome until you're mended. And your name, sir?"

"Greenfield. Felix Greenfield."

"God bless you, Mr. Greenfield."

"Wait . . . there was a woman, and a little boy. Cunningham."

Pity moved over her face. "They're listing names. I'll check on them for you when I'm able. Now you rest, and we'll get you some tea."

When she went out, he turned his face toward the window, toward the sun. And saw, sitting on the table under it, the money that had been in his pocket, the garnet earbobs. And the bright silver glint of the little statue.

Felix laughed until he cried.

He learned the O'Reileys made their living from the sea. Pat and his two sons had been part of the rescue effort. He met them all, and her younger sister as well. For the first day he was unable to keep any of them straight in his mind. But for Meg herself.

He clung to her company as he'd clung to the plank, to keep from sliding into the dark again.

"Tell me what you know," he begged her.

"It'll be hard for you to hear it. It's hard to speak it." She moved to his window, looked out at the village where she'd lived all of her eighteen years. Survivors such as Felix were being tended to in hotel rooms, in the homes of neighbors. And the dead, God rest them, were laid in temporary morgues. Some would be buried, some would be sent home. Others would forever be in the grave of the sea.

"When I heard of it," she began, "I almost didn't believe it. How could such a thing be? There were trawlers out, and they went directly to try to rescue survivors. More boats set out from here. Most were too late to do more than bring back the dead. Oh sweet God, I saw myself some of the people as they made land. Women and babies, men barely able to walk and half naked. Some cried, and others just stared. Like you do when you're lost. They say the liner went down in less than twenty minutes. Can that be?"

"I don't know," Felix murmured, and shut his eyes.

She glanced back at him and hoped he was strong enough for the rest. "More have died since coming here. Exposure and injuries too grievous to heal. Some spent hours in the water. The lists change so quick. I can't think what terror of heart families are living with, waiting to know. Or what grief those who know their loved ones are lost in this horrible way are feeling. You said there was no one waiting for word of you."

"No. No one."

She went to him. She'd tended his hurts, suffered with him during the horrors of his delirium. It had been only three days since he'd been brought into her care, but for both of them, it was a lifetime.

"There's no shame in staying here," she said quietly. "No shame in not going to the funeral today. You're far from well yet."

"I need to go." He looked down at his borrowed clothes. In them he felt scrawny and fragile. And alive.

The quiet was almost unearthly. Every shop and store in Queenstown was closed for the day. No children raced along the streets, no neighbors stopped to chat or gossip. Over the silence came the hollow sound of church bells from St. Colman's on the hill, and the mournful notes of the funeral dirge.

Felix knew if he lived another hundred years he'd never forget the sounds of that grieving music, the soft and steady beat of drums. He watched the sun strike the brass of the instruments, and remembered how that same sun had struck the brass of the propellers as the stern of the Lusitania had reared up in her final plunge into the sea.

He was alive, he thought again. Instead of relief and gratitude, he felt only guilt and despair.

He kept his head down as he trudged along behind the priests, the mourners, the dead, through the reverently silent streets. It took more than an hour to reach the graveyard, and left him light-headed. By the time he saw the three mass graves beneath tall elms where choirboys stood with incense burners, he was forced to lean heavily on Meg.

Tears stung the backs of his eyes as he looked at the tiny coffins that held dead children.

He listened to the quiet weeping, to the words of both the Catholic and the Church of Ireland services. None of it reached him. He could still hear, thought he would forever hear, the way people had called to God as they'd drowned. But God hadn't listened, and had let them die horribly.

Then he lifted his head and, across those obscene holes, saw the face of the woman and young boy from the ship.

The tears came now, fell down his cheeks like rain as he lurched through the crowd. He reached her as the first notes of "Abide With Me" lifted into the air. Then he fell to his knees in front of her wheelchair.

"I feared you were dead." She reached up, touched his face with one hand. The other peeked out of a cast. "I never got your name, so couldn't check the lists."

"You're alive." Her face had been cut, he could see that now, and her color was too bright, as if she were feverish. Her leg had been cast as well as her arm. "And the boy."

The child slept in the arms of another woman. Like an angel, Felix thought again. Peaceful and unmarked.

The fist of despair that gripped him loosened. One prayer, at least one prayer, had been answered.

"He never let go." She began to weep then, soundlessly. "He's such a good boy. He never let go. I broke my arm in the fall. If you hadn't given me your life jacket, we would have drowned. My husband . . ." Her voice frayed as she looked over at the graves. "They never found him."

"I'm sorry."

"He would have thanked you." She reached up to touch a hand to her boy's leg. "He loved his son, very much." She took a deep breath. "In his stead, I thank you, for my son's life and my own. Please tell me your name."

"Felix Greenfield, ma'am."

"Mr. Greenfield." She leaned over, brushed a kiss on Felix's cheek. "I'll never forget you. Nor will my son."

When they wheeled her chair away, she kept her shoulders straight with a quiet dignity that brought a wash of shame over Felix's face.

"You're a hero," Meg told him.

Shaking his head, he moved as quickly as he could away from the crowds, away from the graves. "No. She is. I'm nothing."

"How can you say that? I heard what she said. You saved her life, and the little boy's." Concerned, she hurried up to him, took his arm to steady him.

He'd have shaken her off if he'd had the strength. Instead, he simply sat in the high, wild grass of the graveyard and buried his face in his hands.

"Ah, there now." Pity for him had her sitting beside him, taking him into her arms. "There now, Felix."

He could think of nothing but the strength in the young widow's face, in the innocence of her son's. "She was hurt, so she asked me to take the boy. To save the boy."

"You saved them both."

"I don't know why I did it. I was only thinking about saving myself. I'm a thief. Those things you took out of my pocket? I stole them. I was stealing them when the ship was hit. All I could think about when it was happening was getting out alive."

Meg shifted beside him, folded her hands. "Did you give her your life jacket?"

"It wasn't mine. I found it. I don't know why I gave it to her. She was trapped between deck chairs, holding on to the boy. Holding on to her sanity in the middle of all that hell."

"You could've turned away from her, saved yourself."

He mopped at his eyes. "I wanted to."

"But you didn't."

"I'll never know why." He only knew that seeing them alive had changed something inside him. "But the point is, I'm a second-rate thief who was on that ship because I was running from the cops. I stole a man's things minutes before he died. A thousand people are dead. I saw some of them die. I'm alive. What kind of world is it that saves a thief and takes children?"

"Who can answer? But there's a child who's alive today because you were there. Would you have been, do you think, just where you were, when you were, if you hadn't been stealing?"

He let out a derisive sound. "The likes of me wouldn't have been anywhere near the first-class deck unless I'd been stealing."

"There you are." She took a handkerchief from her pocket and dried his tears as she would a child's. "Stealing's wrong. It's a sin and there's no question about it. But if you'd been minding your own, that woman and her son would be dead. If a sin saves innocent lives, I'm thinking it's not so great a sin. And I have to say, you didn't steal so very much if all you had for it were a pair of earbobs, a little statue and some American dollars."

For some reason that made him smile. "Well, I was just getting started."

The smile she sent him was lovely and sure. "Yes, I'd say you're just getting started."


From Three Fates by Nora Roberts, Copyright © April 2002, G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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Average Rating 4.5
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 161 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Nora's best

    Initially, especially after reading the synopsis on the inside cover, I wasn't expecting much from Three Fates. But the cover doesn't do the book justice--Three Fates is perhaps Nora Roberts' best book yet. I was captivated within the first few chapters and probably lost countless hours of sleep over the constantly moving plot, which incorporates not only an interesting amount of history and mythology, but a fair share of romance, drama, and action. Not only was the plot intriguing, but so were the characters. Roberts did an excellent job developing her characters, and making you fall in love with all of them--even the stripper. Three Fates is worth five stars, if not more, easy.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2009

    Great book

    Again, this is a awesome book. It's so different from her typical plot of boy meets girl and solve a mystery. There are different couples that we follow and find yourself rooting for all of them. Great combination of mystery, humor, suspense, romance and more. I laughed out loud as I read it, and cheered for the characters. I loved it!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2007

    A reviewer

    I've always been a fan of Nora Roberts, especially her J.D. Robb series, but this is my favorite by far! I've tried other authors but no one depicts characters quite like she does. And this book is no exception. I've read it, serioulsy, about 8 times, and it never gets old! Humor is laced in with passion, mystery, revenge, murder, and fortune! You cannot miss this one!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 15, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I can nearly always count on Nora Roberts to write a good book,

    I can nearly always count on Nora Roberts to write a good book, so if I see something that even remotely sounds interesting, I can pick it up without hesitation.

    Three Fates is that good, solid book. It has seven or eight main characters, and each is well-written. Of course, the three fates as a collective are a character in and of themselves. Each character, or set of characters, is given an opportunity to be on top so the reader gets to know them.

    Because of the number of main characters, and the chance each got to be up front, when I finished the book, I actually felt like it was a bit too short. So much was put into characterizing that the last few chapters of mostly action weren't really enough for me. Some of the personal advances seemed wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am. I must note that I enjoyed reading the book, and while I was reading, this too much, too fast didn't feel that way. It's only on reflection afterwards that it seems that way.

    I liked the characters (the ones I was supposed to like, anyway), even the peripheral ones. I'd like to read more about the core family characters, whether back in Ireland on their home turf, or on travels related to the job, in the case of Jack and Rebecca. I'd like for Ms. Roberts to find a way to work the cop and the Greek Tycoon into the background of another book or two. The cop might even be able to carry a book on his own (with a female companion, obviously - this is Nora Roberts).

    Bottom line - I enjoyed it and it was a good use of my reading time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2006

    Loved this one :)

    Can't go wrong with Nora Roberts and this was no exception. Great writing style with great detail. Sexy men and ballsy women...gotta love it. This book has everything. I read it in a day and a half. I found it very hard to put it down. Loved the fact that there was more than one couple in the book, switches it up on you and keeps you interested. Great job, Nora!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2005

    Her Best Yet!!!!

    To make this short and sweet... this was her best novel to date. The characters were complex and believable. I read it in 8 hours start to finish and have reread it several times. It was simply that good.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2005

    Awesome!!

    This is definitely some of her best work. I've read it more than once and I'm always waiting to see how it ends. It's a wonderful story combining love, danger, friendship, and a little history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2003

    Best Since The Villa

    This is her best book since The Villa came out. I absolutely love this book and hope that Nora Roberts writes much more like it. Although I rented it at the library I think that I'll buy it to read whenever I want. Her characters were charming and very likeable. I'm glad she didn't spread the three siblings through three books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2013

    Great reading! I would love to see it on screen!

    Great reading! I would love to see it on screen!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2012

    One of her best!

    This is a great read. The action is thrilling. The love and romance beautiful. I couldn't put it down.

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  • Posted June 18, 2012

    GREAT BOOK

    GREAT BOOK

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2012

    Engaging...3 love stories in one.

    Engaging...3 love stories in one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2011

    Great characters

    Even the bad guys are well developed with clear and believable motives. Strong story , fast pace, great cast of characters, roberts signature witty dialog, and a happy but believable ending. One of her best.

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  • Posted November 10, 2011

    recommended

    One of Roberts better books exciting, fast paced and interesting. Enjoyed it recommend Three Fates as a very good read.

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  • Posted September 30, 2011

    Good read

    I have always loved Nora Roberts book .I am always amazed to the world she take us in the books. She just make you belong there. I have almost read 30 books of her. This was also briliantly written . I am totaly engrossed in the Antique worlds of her and the "three ladies" .

    Nora used to pull hatred for negative characters as well , but in ths Novel I could not make myself hate Anita. The negative character could have been more storng to counter the 6 protagonist.

    Rest of all it has amazing wirlwind of events and so much vivid characters.

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  • Posted June 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Another Fun Nora Escapade

    This older tale by Ms. Roberts is told in classic Nora style. By that, I mean she creates three female leads and three male leads that come together to make three romantic and interesting couples. They work together towards a common goal, and battle a ruthless villain. This is a fun story. Any fan of this prolific author will have a great time with this book.
    Michael Travis Jasper, author of the novel, "To Be Chosen"

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  • Posted June 2, 2011

    CNZABEL

    This is one of my favorite books by Nora Roberts. A keeper especially Nora Roberts fans.

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  • Posted March 4, 2011

    a fave

    i have read All nora roberts and adore them all, but this one is even beyond all the rest.

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  • Posted December 7, 2010

    Fantastic!!!

    This is one of my favorite books by Nora Roberts. The six main characters are funny and remind me of real people. I love how this book could have been made into a trilogy but is just one great story with three different couples branching out. I re-read this book a few times a year and never get tired of it.

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  • Posted June 18, 2010

    Starts slow

    It took me half the book to really get into the characters. They didn't reach out and capture me as Nora Roberts characters usually do. The story line was very interesting, which is what kept me reading. Not really one I would jump to recommend to friends.

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