Isobel stopped short of striking, halted by the familiar voice as well as the wide brown eyes that now peered up at her from behind glinting oval lenses.

Stunned, Isobel lowered the umbrella.

“Yeesh,” Gwen said, a nervous tremor in her voice. “You expecting out-of-town relatives or something?”

Isobel took a step back, unsure of what to say or think.

Or how to feel . . .

Gwen sat up, lowering her arms slowly as though she feared Isobel might change her mind and clock her anyway.

Isobel saw that Gwen wore the scarf she had given her last night. She also had on the owl gloves. Slung over one shoulder, the strap of a heavy-looking messenger bag blended in with Gwen’s charcoal knee-length woolen coat.

Inside the bag, Isobel glimpsed the green binding of a thick hardback book. Her eyes caught the last word of the gold-embossed title. Mysticism?

Quickly Gwen fumbled to cover the book. She looked up, and their gazes met once more.

Despite what had happened between them the previous night, there was an undeniable current of secret joy that surged within Isobel at Gwen’s return.

But there was another part of her, a stronger part, that held her back and kept her from betraying any emotion. It brought with it a wave of cold detachment that sent a slow freeze over the initial impulse to start spilling out everything that had transpired since Gwen’s all-too-sudden departure the night before.


“What are you doing here?” Isobel snapped.

Gwen sobered. Her eyes shifted to the wall. “I came to talk.”

“Yeah?” Isobel said. “I thought you couldn’t talk to me. Ever again.”

This time, Isobel didn’t hold out for a response. Instead she deposited the umbrella back into the brass stand with a harsh clang. Folding her arms, she faced Gwen again, watching her as she grabbed ahold of the banister and drew herself to a standing position. Her thin frame wobbled under the weight of the messenger bag as she opened her mouth to speak, but Isobel cut her off.

“So remember that time you told me I was a terrible friend?” she asked.

Gwen’s jaw clamped shut. A look of wilted misery flittered across her features. At first the reaction gave Isobel the jolt of satisfaction she’d been looking for. A moment later, though, she wished she hadn’t said it.

“Look,” Gwen mumbled, “I’m gonna say I’m sorry, but I’m not there yet, okay?”

Digging a gloved hand into one coat pocket, she drew out a small mahogany box.

“First things first,” she said, and thrust the box toward Isobel. “I’m supposed to give this to you, so take it already. Merry Christmas or whatever. Just open it. After that, if you still want me to go away, then fine, I will.”

Isobel frowned at the small, flat, postcard-size box, uncertain whether she should accept it. Did Gwen seriously think she needed to bring Isobel a gift in order for her to accept her apology?

Gwen continued to hold the box steady.

At last Isobel’s curiosity outmuscled her indecision. She took it.

Gwen retracted her arm immediately and shoved her hand back into her pocket.

That reaction made Isobel pause.

“What?” Gwen said. “Don’t look at me like that. It’s not a freaking tarantula. Would you just open it already?”

Isobel clasped the box between both hands and carefully opened the hinged lid. Inside, the thin chain of a silver necklace glimmered. A tiny charm in the shape of an open hand rested in the middle of a black velvet cushion, its fingers decorated with delicate filigree. In the center of the palm, a tiny iridescent opal lay nestled in the dish of a circular setting.

The necklace sparkled like moonlight on water.

Isobel let out a small sound of surprise. The pendant was so beautiful and so intricate that she had no doubt the stone it held was genuine.

It struck her as an extravagant token. At the same time, the well-worn state of the box gave her the impression that the charm was old—an antique, if she had to guess.

Though the pendant had five fingers, it looked different from any representation of a hand she’d seen. It had two thumbs, the tips of which curved outward on either side. It hung from the chain so the fingers would aim downward, toward the wearer’s feet.

Gwen sniffed. She rubbed at her nose with her sleeve.

“It’s called a hamsa,” she said. “Belonged to my grandmother.”

Isobel looked up. She clamped the box shut with a sharp snap and, shaking her head, held it back out to Gwen. “I can’t accept this,” she said.

Gwen raised a palm. “Too late,” she said. “Besides, she was the one who told me to give it to you.”

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