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A Little Magic

Nora Roberts

  Chapter 1

  "This," the old woman said, "is for you."

  Allena studied the pendant that swung gently from the thickly braided links of a silver chain. Really, she'd only come in to browse. Her budget didn't allow for impulse buys which were, of course, the most fun and the most satisfying. And her affection for all things impulsive was the very reason she couldn't afford to indulge herself.

  She shouldn't have entered the shop at all. But who could resist a tiny little place tucked into the waterfront of a charming Irish village? Especially a place called Charms and Cures.

  Certainly not Allena Kennedy.

  "It's beautiful, but I_"

  "There's only one." The woman's eyes were faded and blue, like the sea that slapped and spewed against the stone wall barely a stone's throw from the door. Her hair was steel gray and bundled into a bun that lay heavy on her thin neck.

  She wore a fascinating rattle of chains and pins, but there was nothing,

  Allena thought, like the pendant she held in her bony fingers. "Only one?"

  "The silver was cured in Dagda's Cauldron over the Midsummer's fire and carved by the finger of Merlin. He that was Arthur's."


  Allena was a sucker for tales of magic and heroics. Her stepsister Margaret would have sniffed and said no, she was simply a sucker.

  "The high king's sorcerer wandered through Ireland in his time. It was here he found the Giant's Dance, and coveting it for Arthur, floated it away over the Irish Sea to Britain. But while he took magic from this land, some he also left." Watching Allena, she set the pendant swaying. "Here is some, and it belongs to you."

  "Well, I really can't and" But Allena trailed off, her gaze locked on the pendant. It was a long oval, dulled and tarnished a bit, and centered in it was a carving in the shape of a bursting star.

  It seemed to catch the murky, cloud-filtered light coming through the small shop window, hold it, expand it, so that it glittered hypnotically in Allena's eyes. It seemed the star shimmered.

  "I just came in to look around."

  "Sure and if you don't look, you can't find, can you? You came looking, all the way from America."

  She'd come, Allena tried to remember, to assist Margaret with the tour group. Margaret's business, A Civilized Adventure, was very successful and very regimented. Everyone said that Allena needed some regimentation. And Margaret had been clear, brutally clear, that this opportunity was her last chance.

  "Be organized, be prepared, and be on time," Margaret had told her as she'd sat behind her polished desk in her perfectly terrifying and perfectly ordered office in New York. "If you can manage that, there might be a chance for you. If you can't, I wash my hands of you, Lena."

  It wouldn't be the first time someone had washed their hands of her. In the past three years she'd lost three jobs. Well, four, but it didn't seem necessary to count those hideous two days she'd spent as assistant to her uncle's mother-in-law's sister.

  It wasn't as if she'd spilled ink on the white Valentino gown on purpose.

  And if the Social Dragon hadn't insisted that she use a fountain pen I mean, really for all correspondence, there wouldn't have been ink to spill.

  But that wasn't the point, she reminded herself as she stared at the pendant. She'd lost that job and all the others, and now Margaret was giving her a chance to prove she wasn't a complete moron.

  Which, Allena feared, she probably was.

  "You need to find your place."

  Blinking, Allena managed to tear her gaze away from the pendant and look back into the old woman's eyes. They seemed so kind and wise. "Maybe I don't have one."

  "Oh, there now, each of us has one, but there are those who don't fit so easily into the world the way others see it. And us. You've only been looking in the wrong places. Till now. This," she said again,

  "belongs to you."

  "I really can't afford it." There was apology in her voice, even as she reached out. Just to touch. And touching, she felt heat from the silver, and terrible longing inside her. A thrill raced up her spine even as something heavy seemed to settle over her heart.

  It couldn't hurt to try it on. Surely there was no harm in just seeing how it looked on her, how it felt.

  As if in a dream, she took the chain from the old woman, slipped it around her neck. The heaviness in her heart shifted. For a moment, the light through the window strengthened, beamed brilliantly over the trinkets and pots of herbs and odd little stones crammed on the shelves and counters.

  An image swam into her mind, an image of knights and dragons, of wild wind and water, of a circle of stones standing alone under a black and raging sky.

  Then a shadow that was a man, standing still as the stones, as if waiting.

  In her heart she knew he waited for her, as no one had before and no one would after. And would wait, eternally.

  Allena closed her hand over the pendant, ran her thumb over the star. Joy burst through her, clear as the sunlight. Ah, she thought. Of course. It's mine. Just as I'm his, and he's mine.

  "How much is it?'' she heard herself say, and knew no price would be too dear.

  "Ten pounds, as a token."

  "Ten?" She was already reaching for her purse. "It has to be worth more." A king's ransom, a sorcerer's spell, a lover's dream.

  "It is, of course." But the woman merely held out her hand for the single note. "And so are you. Go on your journey, a chuid, and see."

  "Thank you."

  "You're a good lass," the woman said as Allena walked to the door.

  And when it shut, her smile turned bright and crafty. "He won't be pleased, but you'll bring him 'round by Midsummer's Eve. And if you need a bit of help, well, that will be my pleasure."

  Outside, Allena stared at the sea wall, the dock, the line of cottages as if coming out of a dream. Odd, she thought, hadn't that all been wonderfully odd?

  She traced a finger over the pendant again. Only one, cast in Dagda's Cauldron, carved by Merlin.

  Of course, Margaret would sneer and tell her that the old woman had a dozen more in the stockroom ready to pass them off to birdbrained tourists. And

  Margaret, as always, was probably right. But it didn't matter.

  She had the pendant and a wonderful story to go with it. And all for ten pounds. Quite a bargain.

  She glanced up now, wincing. The sky was heavy with clouds, and all of them were thick and gray. Margaret would not be pleased that the weather wasn't falling in line with today's plans. The ferry ride to the island had been meticulously arranged.

  Tea and scones would be served on the trip over, while Margaret lectured her twenty-person group on the history of the place they were about to visit. It had been Allena's job to type up Margaret's notes and print the handouts.

  First stop would be the visitors' center for orientation. There would be a tour of a ruined abbey and graveyard, which Allena looked forward to, then lunch, picnic style, which the hotel had provided in hampers. Lunch was to last precisely sixty minutes.

  They would then visit the beehive cottages, and Margaret would deliver a lecture on their history and purpose. The group would be allotted an hour to wander on their own, into the village, the shops, down to the beach, before gathering at four-thirty on the dot for high tea at the restored castle, with, naturally, another lecture on that particular spot.

  It was Allena's job to keep all of Margaret's lecture notes in order, to help herd the group, to watch valuables, to haul parcels should there be any, and to generally make herself available for any and all menial chores.

  For this she would be paid a reasonable salary by Margaret's definition.

  But, more important, it was explained, she would receive training and experience that, her family hoped, wou
ld teach her responsibility and maturity.

  Which, by the age of twenty-five, she should have learned already.

  There was no point in explaining that she didn't want to be responsible and mature if it turned her into another Margaret. Here she was, four days into her first tour and already something inside her was screaming to run away.

  Dutifully, she quashed the rebellion, glanced at her watch. Stared at it, dumbfounded.

  That couldn't be. It was impossible. She'd only meant to slip into the shop for a few minutes. She couldn't possibly have spent an hour in there. She couldn't oh, God, she couldn't have missed the ferry.

  Margaret would murder her.

  Gripping the strap of her bag, she began to run.

  She had long, dancer's legs and a slim build. The sturdy walking shoes

  Margaret had ordered her to buy slapped pavement on her race to the ferry dock.

  Her bag bounced heavily against her hip. Inside was everything ordered from the

  Civilized Adventure directive and a great deal more.

  The wind kicked in from the sea and sent her short blond hair into alarmed spikes around her sharp-boned face. The alarm was in her eyes, gray as the clouds, as well. It turned quickly to despair and self-disgust when she reached the dock and saw the ferry chugging away.

  "Damn it!" Allena grabbed her own hair and pulled viciously.

  "That's it and that's all. I might as well jump in and drown myself."

  Which would be more pleasant, she had no doubt, than the icy lecture Margaret would deliver.

  She'd be fired, of course, there was no doubt of it. But she was used to that little by-product of her professional endeavors. The method of termination would be torture.

  Unless There had to be another way to get to the island. If she could get there, throw herself on Margaret's stingy supply of mercy, work like a dog, forfeit her salary. Make an excuse. Surely she'd be able to come up with some reason for missing the damn ferry.

  She looked around frantically. There were boats, and if there were boats, there were people who drove boats. She'd hire a boat, pay whatever it cost.