Her mom’s voice came again, less muffled than before, as though she was standing as close to the jamb as possible. “It’s been this way ever since . . .”

Her mother’s hesitation made Isobel tense.

“As much as you’ve been trying to hide it, Izzy,” she went on, “I know what this is about. This all has something to do with that boy, doesn’t it?”

At the barest mention of Varen, the nodule of fear within Isobel exploded. “No,” she snapped before she could stop herself. “It doesn’t have anything to do with him.”

Even to her own ears her words sounded pale, unconvincing.

“Isobel. I know—”

“You don’t know.” Fresh tears filled her eyes, causing the room to swim. Isobel blinked and the tears fell, searing the skin of her already raw cheeks.

After all her effort to hide the truth, her mother had still seen right through her. Her whole family had.

And now, with Gwen gone and her mother and father tuned to her every move, how would she ever get to Baltimore?

Isobel drew in a shaky breath. The prospect that she would miss her one and only chance to find him, to bring him back home—it was too much to even conceive. Shutting her eyes tight, she willed the tide of despair welling up within her to subside. It filled her anyway, leaving her to wonder if the battle for Varen’s return, for his soul, was one she could never win because it was one she had already lost.

“Izzy.” She heard the doorknob rattle. Her mother’s voice, louder and more insistent now, sliced through her thoughts. “Why don’t you get dressed? Come downstairs to dinner. Then I’ll make us some tea and we’ll talk. Just you and me.”


Isobel shook her head, trying to get a grip. “This isn’t what you think.”

“Isobel, you can’t tell me . . . From the moment you and he—”

“You’re wrong!” Isobel shouted, her voice rising over her mother’s. “This isn’t about him. I don’t care about him, okay? I wish I’d never even met him. So just drop it!”

Isobel clamped quaking hands over her mouth.

A sob rose up from her depths, but she caught it before it could escape. She swallowed hard, forcing it down again.

It felt like drowning.

Torn between hoping her mom would go away and wanting her to knock again, Isobel grew still, listening.

She heard only a soft sigh, followed by feet shuffling on the carpet.

A moment later, she caught the sound of the stairs creaking and then her mother’s voice calling for her father.

“Sam? Sam . . .”

The water had not yet grown cold, but Isobel knew she couldn’t sit there while her parents took turns conducting tag-team damage control.

Isobel climbed out of the tub, wiping the drying tears from her face with both hands. She wrapped herself in her pink robe and, tilting her head to one side, pulled her hair free from its ponytail holder. She paused, though, startled by the sight of someone’s shadow visible beneath the door.

Had her mother only pretended to leave?


No answer.

She continued to watch the shadow, waiting for it to move or shift, but it didn’t budge. Instead it seemed planted, as though cast by a statue rather than a person.


Again, no answer.

That left only one person. But Isobel couldn’t understand why she hadn’t heard Danny’s clunky footfall on the stairs or his loud mouth-breathing. Despite all his ninja sentiments and Boy Scout “training,” Isobel’s little brother had never earned a badge for stealth.

“What is it, Danny? What do you want?”


Isobel’s gaze remained focused on the space beneath the door. At last the shadow shifted, and she watched it drift backward one step at a time before fading from view.

Scowling, she hurried to unlock and yank the door open.

Brisk air seized her damp skin.

A coldness too stagnant to be a draft permeated the empty space. She saw no one on the landing or the stairs. And there was no one in the hall, either.

To her left, Danny’s door stood ajar, his room dark.

Isobel padded to stand at the banister overlooking the downstairs hallway. She scanned the empty foyer as, outside, a snowplow lumbered by. Its headlights cast a wash of white light through the house windows, sending sheets of gray shadows sliding down the walls.

“Let’s let her cool off for a bit, okay?” she heard her father say, his voice drifting from the kitchen. “She probably just needs a little space.”

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