Mare Fortune bounded down the
stairs of the family home in her ragged blue running
shorts just as the wind caught the front door and blew
it open, sending coppery dust swirling in that sparked
in the sunlight. She batted the dust away and looked
out, but instead of Mrs. Elder’s beat-up front porch
across the street, she saw golden sunshine beating down
on a red tiled roof and a fat laughing baby toddling
in a dusty road while a tough dark-haired guy chased
after it, laughing, too. She sucked in her breath and
thought, Crash, and reached out into the sunlight
for him, but he vanished, him and the baby and the red
tile roof and the sunshine, and it was just boring old
Duckpond Street under cloudy skies in Salem’s Fork,
West Virginia, with Mrs. Elder’s peeling porch across
the way, and there was no dust at all.
“Oh,” Mare said, feeling bereft
and then feeling stupid for feeling bereft. He left
you, he’s gone, it’s been years, you’re over it. She
turned to close the heavy door with her butt, just as
her oldest sister Dee took down their mother’s jewelry
chest from the mantel in the living room. Beyond her,
their middle sister Lizzie bent over her metallurgy
book at the battered dining room table..
“Big one coming in.”
Mare yanked down on her tank top, shoving Crash and
the whole vision thing out of her mind. “Big old Beltane
storm.” Her tiger-striped cat, Pywackt, padded down
the narrow stairs with dignity, and she made kissing
sounds at him, which he ignored. “Lightning on the
mountain just for us, Py, baby.”
“Didn’t we throw those away?”
Dee said, cradling the brass-bound box in her slender
arms as she frowned at Mare’s tattered shorts.
“You tried,” Mare said.
She nodded, looking distracted.
“Come on,” she said and turned toward the dining room,
her blue wool suit perfectly fitted to her tiny waist.
Mare stuck her tongue out at Dee’s sensible auburn chignon
and followed her into the dining room where ethereal
Lizzie sat hunched over her book in her purple silk
kimono, all blonde curls tangled and blue eyes wide,
dripping muffin butter onto her notebook as she ate.
Dee put the jewelry box on the
table and said, “Mind the butter, Lizzie,” and Lizzie
turned another page, oblivious to Dee, the butter, and
the wind whistling outside the open garden windows.
Mare plopped herself down at
the table and looked at the muffins. “They’re all apple
bran, Lizzie. I like blueberry and lemon poppyseed
Lizzie moved her hand over the
muffin basket, still not looking up from her book and
tendrils of violet smoke trailed from her fingertips
“Thank you.” Mare craned her
neck to look into the basket and then went for a blueberry,
but Dee moved the basket out of her reach.
“First we vote.” Dee straightened
the jewelry box.
Lizzie looked up from her book.
Crap, Mare thought, and
looked longingly at the muffins. Lizzie had made them
so they were bound to be munchable.
“Yes, now.” Dee sat down at
the head of the table. “If Mare’s going to college,
she has to register now. Which means we have to decide
if we move so she can go to a school we can afford.
And which piece of mother’s jewelry we sell to finance
it. And I have to be at the bank in an hour, so we
have to do it now.”
“Not now.” Mare stared
at a blueberry muffin just out of her reach—come
here, damn it—so that a couple of dust motes lazing
in the air sparked blue. “Not now, not ever.” She
lifted her chin, feeling the weight of the muffin in
her mind, and it rose slowly until it hovered at eye
“Mare,” Dee said. “Not
in front of the window.”
Mare grinned and crooked her
finger, and the muffin floated toward her, sparking
blue once or twice.
“Oh, dear.” Lizzie waved her
hands a little, as if to warn Mare off. Tendrils of
violet smoked from her fingertips, and her butter knife
turned into a rabbit.
Py sat up and took an interest.
“Easy there, Lizzie,” Mare said,
staring cross-eyed at her muffin, now floating in front
of her nose. “You know Py and bunnies.”
Dee flushed. “Put down the muffin,
please. Mare, you know how important this vote is.”
“It’s important to you,” Mare
said, concentrating on keeping her muffin afloat. “It’s
not important to me. As mistress of all I survey, I
feel that college would be, how can I put this? Unnecessary.”
She scowled at Dee—why were they having this conversation
again, she was twenty-three, if she didn’t want to go
to college, she wasn’t going to go—and her annoyance
broke her concentration and the muffin dropped and broke,
and Mare uncrossed her eyes and said, “Damn.”
She focused on another one, lemon poppyseed this time,
making it rise from the muffin basket while Lizzie’s
butter-knife rabbit began to forage for crumbs on her
At the end of the table, Py began
to forage for the rabbit.
“You are not mistress of all
you survey,” Dee said exasperated, “you’re--”
“Queen of the Universe,” Mare
“—assistant manager of a Value
Video!!,” Dee said.
Mare pulled the muffin toward
her with her eyes. “That’s temporary. It’s only a
matter of time until I’m queen of the company.”
“I don’t think Value Video!!
has queens,” Dee said dryly.
“I know, they have presidents.
But when I get to the top, that’s gonna change.”
“Well, to become queen of Value
Video!! you have to go to college.” Dee opened the
jewelry box. “It was always Mother’s dream that we’d
Then, she should have stayed
with us to see that we went, Mare thought.
“--and it’s your turn. It’s
past time for your turn. So we vote.”
“I don’t want to,” Mare said.
“Lizzie doesn’t want to vote, either, do you, Lizzie?”
Lizzie looked away from the window.
“It’s time to vote,” Dee said
“All right,” Lizzie said, her
focus drifting again.
“Lizzie!” Mare said.
Lizzie jerked back, startled.
“Lizzie, I’m sorry, it’s okay,
it’s okay,” Mare said, but it was too late. Lizzie was
raising her hands, fingers waving to ward off Mare’s
anger, purple tendrils of apology wafting over the table.
“Oh, hell,” Mare said as lavender
smoke rose around them.
Lizzie closed her book, letting
the purple cloud engulf them. It was so quiet in there.
Two more bunnies popped up, depleting the knife count
on the table and drawing Py closer. She blinked rapidly—it
felt as if dust had gotten into her eyes. For a moment
she’d drifted away from her contentious sisters and
their tiny living room in Salem’s Fork, and she was
in Venice, the water from the canal reflecting on a
frescoed ceiling, and she was lying on her back, and
someone was leaning over her, and it was…
“Lizzie, honey, take a breath,”
“I’m sorry,” Lizzie said to Mare,
pulling herself together. “I wasn’t paying attention.
“It’s okay.” Mare floated a muffin
over to her, sprinkling the dispersing fog with blue
sparks. “Dee’s trying to get us to vote and I
don’t want to.”
Lizzie picked the muffin out
of the air and sighed the rest of the fog away. Fog,
drifting over the canals of Venice, moody and romantic.
Stop it. “I’m not sure I want to either.”
“We’re voting,” Dee said
She startled the bunny and made
it quiver, and Lizzie picked it up and petted it, trying
not to quiver herself. They were fighting again. She
hated the days when they voted. Three more bunnies had
popped up on the table during the argument, and Lizzie
wondered whether she could take them and sneak back
into her room while Mare and Dee glared at each other.
“And just how is ignoring your
future going to protect you from Xan the next time she
finds us?” Dee said, goaded.
“What makes you think
we need protected from her?” Mare said. “She’s our
aunt. And she hasn’t come after us in years. I’m not
even sure she’s the demon you make her out to be.”
Dee began to protest and Mare overrode her. “And anyway,
I don’t see your college degree getting you much protection
or anything else except stuck in that damn bank.
At least I get to watch movies.”
“ I wouldn’t be stuck in that
damn bank if you’d grow up and take care of yourself--” Dee
Oh, Dee. “I’m sorry,”
Lizzie said into the silence, trying to fight the sick
feeling inside her. “Dee, I’m sorry, about the
bunnies and I’m sorry about the bank. I’ll get
us money, I’m almost there, I’ve almost got it, I’ll
get us the money and you can quit and paint full time,
“No, Lizzie, it’s all right.”
Dee patted Lizzie’s hand. She reached out to Mare
and Mare pulled back. “Mare, I didn’t mean it, I’m
fine at the bank. We’re fine. I just want
you to have a future.”
“I have a future.” Mare focused
on the muffin crumbs and they piled onto each other
in lumpy parodies of muffins, little Frankencakes, misshapen
That’s not how you make a
muffin, Lizzie thought. Mare didn’t know how to
make things, making things took time and patience and
thought and understanding.
Mare shook her head and let them
fall apart again. ”You don’t need to work at the bank
for me, Dee. I don’t want college.”
“You haven’t even tried it,”
Mare met her eyes. “What can
they teach me that I need to know? The only one
who can do that is Xan. She knows how to use her powers,
she knows how to use our powers. She could
teach us, Dee.”
“No,” Dee said.
“You don’t know her. You were too young when we
ran, you do not know her. She’s dangerous.
Tell her, Lizzie.”
“Yes,” Lizzie said. I can’t
stand this, she thought, picking up her book again.
“At least Xan has a good time.”
Dee straightened. “We
are not going to Xan, and that’s final. Now it’s
time to vote.” She turned their mother’s jewelry
box so they could see inside. “I vote yes. We use one
of mother’s necklaces to send Mare to college.”
“Not the amethyst,” Lizzie said
from behind her book. She could feel the satin sheets
against her naked skin, the weight of the stone between
her breasts, his breath warm and … She shook her head.
Not the amethyst.
“Not any of them,” Mare said.
“I vote no.”
“Lizzie?” Dee said to the cover
of the metallurgy book.
Lizzie lowered the book.
“You really don’t want to go to school?” she asked Mare.
Mare rolled her eyes in exasperation.
Lizzie looked at Dee. “I’m
sorry. I don’t think we should force....” Dee scowled
at her and she sucked in her breath. “I abstain.”
Dee drew a deep breath and green
fog began to rise, swirling around her.
“Oh,” Lizzie said faintly. “Oh,
no. , , ”
Well, that tears
it, Dee thought, coughing
green fog. It wasn’t bad enough that her
head was about to explode, now the rest of her was,
too. Her skin burned. Her
heart pounded like a jackhammer. Her body
was in the throes of cataclysmic change, and there wasn’t
a damn thing she could do about it.
Couldn’t she just
cry when she got upset
like other women? Maybe
throw a tantrum? Hell, even
spinning muffins would be
better. No, she had to
be theatrical. But God, didn’t
the two of them understand? Did they want to
end up stuck here for the rest of their lives?
She didn’t. She wanted what she’d seen when
that damn dust had blown through the door and into her
eyes: a high, white studio in Montmartre and paint
on a canvas, and a model she seemed to know. A breathtaking
man who smiled as if he’d waited just for her.
. . .
“Oh, Mare,” Lizzie said.
“I am not taking responsibility
for this,” Mare said.
Dee could feel her cells metamorphosing,
twinkling into new patterns like the transporter beam
in Star Trek. Her throat tightened, her vision sharpened,
the colors faded. Damn it, this was the worst time
for this to happen. It was tough enough to get Mare
to take her seriously. It was even harder when she was--
“An owl!” Lizzie said, as she
waved away the green fog. “Oh, dear. Are you a screech
“I’m a pissed-off big sister
owl,” Dee said, but it came out in screeches and chirps
only her sisters could understand. She wasn’t sitting
at the table anymore, she was on top of it, clad in
cinnamon feathers and perched on a set of talons, frantically
scrabbling for purchase in the nest of her collapsed
“You sound like a screech owl.”
Mare shoved her chair under the table. “Not that you
don’t most of the time anyway. I have to run. You
have a nice, uh, flight.”
She did not always screech.
“You’re not going anywhere until
I return to form,” she screeched.
Mare bent down, so that she was
eye to eye, which made Dee blink. “You look very Disney,
all ruffled up like that. You should have a perky little
musical number with the other forest creatures coming
right up. Call me if the urge to sing sweeps over you.”
“Go on and run like the dog you
are,” Dee said. “But I’ll be here when you--”
The doorbell rang.
For a second, they froze, looking
at each other.
“I’ll get the bunnies,” Lizzie
“I’ll check the window,” Dee
“I’ll get your clothes,” Mare
said and scooped up the nest out from under her.
Lizzie shoved the bunnies into
the kitchen. Mare tossed Dee’s clothes into her room.
Dee focused on the view out the front window, which
revealed nothing more than the jungle of flowers that
was their front yard and the picket fence that contained
“One person at the door,” she
said. “No official vehicles at the gate.”
Lizzie sat back down and tried
to look calm. Dee tried to look as normal as an owl
could under the circumstances. They all nodded to each
other, and Mare opened the door.
“Well, hi,” a baritone voice
said. “You must be Moira Mariposa Fortune.”
Mare’s mouth dropped open. Dee’s
dropped even farther. That man. The
one she’d just seen in the dust:
she swore it was him. Tall, lithe, and dark, his sable
hair just a little too long, his leather jacket a little
too worn, and his battered jeans way too tight.
In short, as wicked as sin. Especially when he smiled.
When he smiled he was Dennis Quaid in Daniel Day-Lewis’s
body. And he’d smiled at her.
Mare finally snapped her jaw
shut. “What’s it to you?”
“Well, if I’m right,” he said
with a big smile, “it means I can stop tramping across
this town like a door-to-door salesman.”
“Then move on, Willie Loman,”
Mare said and tried to shut the door.
The guy stuck his foot in her
way. “If you’ll just listen….”
Dee’d listen all right. She’d
nestle against his neck and trill in his ear. She might
be the oldest virgin in North
America, but she wasn’t a dead virgin . And she
could swear she knew what every inch of him looked like
without those clothes.
“Good heavens,” Lizzie whispered
from behind her. “You’re preening.”
Good heavens, she was. Fluffing
her feathers and twitching her tail and tucking her
head, as if the guy standing in the door was a big barn
“Did you know you have a screech
owl on your table?” he asked Mare.
“No,” Mare said. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Get him out of here,” Dee begged.
It came out as a descending carillon
of chirps. The guy on the other side of the door lifted
amazed eyebrows. “And I think she likes me.”
Leave it to her to turn into
an owl in front of an ornithologist. Well, at least
she was already changed. Considering how excited this
guy was making her, it didn’t even bear thinking about
what else she could have turned into.
“You think wrong,” Mare said.
She began to close the door.
He flashed that smile again, and Dee almost slid completely
off the table.
“Wait,” he said. “Please. I’m
looking for Moira Mariposa, Elizabeth Alicia and Deirdre
Dolores Fortune. I’m researching a book.”
“Our name’s O’Brien.” Mare stopped
with the door half closed. “A book?”
He nodded. “About Phil and Fiona
Fortune. That’s your real name, isn’t it? You just
took O’Brien as an alias when you moved here.”
Dee shut her eyes, suddenly sick.
Oh, hell. Didn’t it just figure? She couldn’t even have
a decent fantasy without it blowing up in her face.
“No, our name really is O’Brien,”
Mare said, trying to close the door. “And we’re orphans.
Would we lie to you?”
“Since your parents are still
alive, I’d say that’s a yes,” he said, his foot still
in the way, perfectly calm for all the disaster he was
unleashing. “I was at least hoping to talk to your oldest
“She doesn’t want to talk to
you,” Dee chirped. “Get rid of him.”
Her heart was slamming against
her tiny chest. Her head threatened to explode again.
It wasn’t fair. They’d run so far, hidden so well. And
here was the man of her dreams—well, her dust-- blithely
threatening to do a great big Geraldo on them.
“Thanks,” Mare said, “but no
thanks. Now if you’d move your foot so I could close
He just kept smiling. “That’s
what I was told you’d say.”
“Really?” Mare asked. “And here
I thought I was being delightfully unpredictable. Go
“Find out who told him who we
are,” Dee begged.
“How about we start over?” he
asked, putting out a hand. “I’m Danny James. Like I
said, I’m researching a book ---“
He never had the chance to finish.
Mare kicked his foot out of the way and slammed the
door. Then she turned and looked at her sisters. “Well,
this is another fine mess the ‘rents have gotten us
Dee was frantic. That was disaster
standing on their front porch. How could Mare just dismiss
it like an inconvenient Mormon on a mission? “We have
to find out what’s going on,” she said. Flapping her
wings, she swooped over to perch on the living room
“I don’t have to find out,” Mare
said. “I don’t care. I got rid of him. He’s gone.”
“I don’t have time,” Lizzie said,
picking up her book. “I have work to do. I’m really
close to a breakthrough.”
“Well, I have time.” Dee stared
out the front window where she could see Danny James
pause out by the curb. “What if she sent him?”
“Who?” Mare asked.
Dee glared. “Xan.”
Mare shook her head. “She’s your
nightmare in the closet. Let it go, Dee.”
“Open the door.” Dee ruffled
her feathers, preparing to fly. “I’m going after him.
Somebody has to keep an eye on him. I can do it without
“You really don’t think he’ll
find an owl on his ass suspicious?” Mare asked.
“He’ll never see me.”
“How about when you change back
to human form in the middle of the sidewalk and you’re
naked?” Mare stopped and looked thoughtful. “Actually,
men usually don’t ask questions about naked women, so
you might actually get away with that one.”
Dee ruffled her feathers again.
“I have clothes stashed all over this town. Nobody’s
going to see me naked. And anyway, we have to know.
I can at least see where he goes before I have to be
at the bank.”
“Couldn’t he just be what he
says?” Lizzie asked. “A book researcher?”
Dee inched her way to the edge
of the table. “Maybe, but we need to make sure. Last
time we almost didn’t get away before Xan found us.
Open the door.”
Lizzie and Mare looked at each
“Maybe we should vote on it,”
Mare said. “Just because Dee is over twenty-eight,
that doesn’t mean she gets to choose her own life--”
“MARE!” Dee screeched,
and Lizzie slipped around her and opened the front door.
Dee shoved off the dining room
table and launched herself past them, out into the morning
Xantippe Fortune put aside her
silver spell bowl, the coppery dust of the True Desire
spell gleaming in the bottom, and then wiped her see
glass clean while the short, dark-haired woman next
to her looked defiant but nervous. Very nervous.
Good, Xan thought and
settled into the silver brocade wing chair, the folds
of her red gown falling smoothly over her wrists.
It was hell finding competent
help for a supernatural power heist in the twenty-first
century, especially in a place as small and clueless
as Salem’s Fork.
“All I did was sneeze,” Maxine
said, smoothing down her polyester peasant blouse.
Fashion always tells, Xan
thought. “You sneezed on a magic glass, Maxine. Twice.
The first one blew the front door wide open, which made
the sisters close it instead of leaving it open to the
screen door, which made it impossible to hear what was
happening in the front of the house. The second sneeze
almost made them close the garden windows and if they
had, I would have lost the dining room conversation.
Because you were never taught to use a handkerchief,
they think a hurricane is coming. Plus it’s unsanitary.
You just bought a diner, woman. I shudder to think
what happens in your kitchen.”
“I’m going to call it Maxine’s,”
Maxine said in a dreamy voice.
“No, you are not,” Xan said.
“You are going to do nothing to call attention to yourself
or to the fact that you have suddenly acquired enough
money to buy a diner. Our arrangement was that I would
give you the money to buy the diner in exchange for
your clandestine services for the next three
days, but you must not call attention to yourself.
That’s where the clandestine part comes in, Maxine.
Until Monday, the Greasy Fork stays The Greasy Fork.
Do you understand?”
“There are gonna be big changes,”
Maxine said, looking off into the distance at her magnificent
“Maxine!” Xan snapped,
and Maxine jerked to attention. “What are you going
to do for the next three days?”
“I’m gonna watch the Fortune
sisters and not make any big changes because I’m clandestine,”
“And I’m gonna keep an eye for
the three men who come for them.”
“And I’m gonna tell you everything.”
Xan settled back into her wing
chair again. “Good, Maxine.”
“And then I’m gonna sell martinis
at the Greasy Fork.”
“But not until Monday,” Maxine
When hunting season comes,
Xan thought. I’m going to turn you into a rabbit.
“Good, Maxine. You may go.”
Maxine looked around the room.
“How do I--”
Xan waved her hand and Maxine
vanished, only to reappear in the see glass, behind
The Greasy Fork’s dumpster, looking dizzy and slightly
I know how you feel, Xan
thought. The whole town makes me feel that way.
Then she turned her attention
back to the Fortune house, her heart beating a little
faster now that her plan was in motion. She’d cast
one spell and brought the sisters’ True Loves to Salem’s
Fork, then cast another and the sisters had seen their
True Desires. Now Danny James had met Dee and Dee was
on her way after him. Lizzie was about to turn around
and meet . . . well, somebody amazing. And Mare--
Xan sat bolt upright as Maxine
stood before her. “How the hell did you get
Maxine blinked. “The portal
by the dumpster was still open.”
Xan closed her eyes. If someone
breathes in natural psychic energy her entire life,
Xan told herself, even if she’s a dolt, she’ll pick
up some basic skills. “Yes?”
“Danny James just checked into
The Lighthorse Harry Lee Bed and Breakfast Inn.”
Xan nodded. “Thank you.”
Maxine nodded back. “About the
“Maxine, do you have any idea
how powerful I am?”
Xan waved her hand and Maxine
became a mouse, frozen in terror on the floor, the only
part of her left that resembled Maxine her tiny horrified
beady black eyes. Xan waited a beat and then waved
her hand and Maxine stood before her again, shaking
so hard, her head bobbed.
“Never forget, Maxine,” Xan said
gently, “that I turned you back by choice. The next
time, I may leave you turned. And you might not be
Maxine sucked in a terrified
“But of course, I won’t,” Xan
said. “I need you, Maxine. You’re my friend.”
She smiled into Maxine’s eyes, radiating hypnotic goodwill,
and after a moment, Maxine relaxed.
“Good one,” Maxine said, still
a little rocky.
“Go watch the girls.” Xan waved
her hand and Maxine disappeared, only to reappear in
the see glass, next to the dumpster again, stumbling
as she landed. “Next time, it’s in the dumpster,
Maxine,” Xan said to the glass, closed the portal, and
sat back, catching sight of the sisters in another angle
of the see-glass: Dee flying away in the shape of an
owl and Lizzie and Mare in the doorway, talking.
Xan leaned closer to the glass
and whispered, “It’ll be a fair trade, darlings, those
spells were true,” and Lizzie looked up startled and
said something to Mare, who looked stolid as ever, shaking
her head and then pounding off down the pavement like
the draft horse her nickname said she was.
They didn’t know it, but they
were lucky to have Xan looking out for them.
Especially Lizzie, Xan
thought, feeling a pang of jealousy as Lizzie turned
to go inside.
Especially Lizzie . . .