CHAPTER ONE: STOPPING FORCE
On bad days, the world around Kit vibrated in sympathy. The third of September was one of those days, as unappealing as a show-dog under strong storms. Kit shimmied around the kitchen and its rosebud wallpaper. Had she stood straight, she would have looked tall the way an icicle did - length dropping down from the shoulders, all waterlines. She sloshed in the sink, drenched up to the elbows as she worked on one of the two-dozen cooking implements that had somehow been involved in dinner for two.
Terri Urquhart leveled hazel eyes on her charge. "You should get back on the ice."
"No point." Kit knocked over a spoon with her palm. "Been out too long. Not like I have anyone to train with, anyhow."
She tried to look formidable, which wasnít easy. Apart from the hard notch in her chin, she was all cherub, round features battling rounder honey curls. She willed Terri to stop talking. The older woman might have felt the silent push, but ignored it.
"You could," she said. "Once you have your driverís license, we could see clear to an apartment just outside Cincinnati." She folded the placemats with a snap of her wrists. "You canít tell me that just sitting around... "
"Iím not sitting around," Kit protested, fast enough that it made her flush. "I donít want another injury."
The tendon tear in her left leg had taken her out of figure skating almost a year ago. She leaned into the counter, fingers scraping the marble. Terri rested a hand on her shoulder. Kit squirmed at the contact, conscious of weird prickles in the back of her head - half-sensed pride, frustration and hopes. They were not her emotions, and more difficult to shut out when she was upset. Why couldnít her guardian back off?
"I know itís hard to pick up the pieces," she said. "But your motherís death wasnít... "
These things happened in one sequence or another: Kitís jerk away from the sink, the casserole dish shattering into a hundred pieces, and her shout.
"You donít know what happened!"
The lights went out in a surge that had nothing to do with the lightning, leaving the two to stare at each other in silver-lined dark. Kit could feel her heartbeat racing as if someone else had control of it, and she swore the room beat in time. The fierceness of it slapped the anger out of her. Coincidence, she thought, but could not breathe for fear something would explode.
Terri sighed, the sound as loud as a gunshot despite the continuous shush of the rain. "Enid Katrine Morgan," she said, in a weary voice, "let it go."
Kit soaked up the silence. "I canít," she said. "I know." The lights flickered, the power returning. She bit her lip eyeing the sink, but if she apologized for the dish it would be admitting that - somehow - she had caused it.
"Maybe you do." It was a compromise that wouldnít last until dawn: Terri believed in accepting facts, and she had made it clear she thought Kit was inventing things to cope. She claimed that the girl couldnít heal until she looked the truth in the eye. Kit knew she was already doing that, though she had stopped saying it out loud. "Iíll finish the dishes."
Kit leapt on the offered escape, and scurried into her room, dropping the latch before she remembered touching it. The sketches she had been working on before dinner littered the bed and desk, half-completed life cold on the page. Sometimes it seemed that the right nuance would bring them to life; today was not one of those days. Each page cast a thrust shadow, mingling with the gentler flow of the sheets.
The room was chaos, summer colors and printed quotations melting across the walls. The only clear space was on the desk, a shrine of absence with a framed picture of a woman with ivory skin, impossibly dark tresses, and larkspur blue eyes, deep and gorgeous. Kit had experimented with dark makeup under her cheekbones to imitate the look and only succeeded in looking dirty.
She went to the window and opened, it leaning out into the storm. The wind snapped, spraying salt into her eyes. Whitebay was on the ocean, and from the window, she could almost make out the waves. It might be the wrong country, but she could understand selkie legends from watching. The overwhelming urge to walk and keep walking until there was nothing but water...
Gold ran athwart the moonlight, a fleeting curve like the edge of a pirateís doubloon. Kit sat bolt upright, but there was no obvious source. The light cut a diagonal up the shore, where something moved, and... it vanished, just in time to pique Kitís curiosity and her indignation.
Stuffing second thoughts out of the way, she swung her legs over the sill and dropped into the mud. In the past five months, she had done this too many times to count, and her body knew the impressions of the air as much as the ground beneath her. The wind was blowing too hard to hear the squelch, but she could feel it.
Stubby bushes, half a fence, and rusty wire lay between her and the ledge. A tumbling unicornís horn of stone jutted out over the beach, an ideal lookout spot. Kit scampered across the sheeted rock.
The light reappeared, a flickering orb that hovered a few feet over the sand. Kit squinted, but she couldnít see wires or any sort of container. The orb seemed to be sculpted of pure light, which was, of course, even more impossible than spontaneously shattering Pyrex. A hint of movement in the water, black on blue, caught her attention. What looked like a child walked the shallows moving without resistance against the wind. She stepped out of the shallows wearing azure with black, the skirt flaring to her ankles, dark ebony hair almost to her hips.
Dry ebony hair.
Kit did a double-take and dropped into a crouch. She inched onto the thin part of the spire so she could see better. The sky cleared its throat, building up energy for louder thunder. Her fingers scrabbled on the shale as she leaned. The wind splayed the womanís hair as if to let her inspect it. It was definitely dry, as was her anonymous attire, and unaffected by the steady rainfall. Where water beaded on her arms, it seemed to vanish as if drawn away into the storm.
"Holy schnitzel," Kit said, under her breath, wedging her foot under a ledge to steady herself.
She told herself it was a trick of the light even as she decided she didnít care. The woman lifted her head and spoke, but it was no language Kit knew the sound of - the syllables werenít even words as far as she could figure, distinct in pitch but not melodic. The glowing orb responded to her, floating back from the far end of the beach to drop into her satchel.
Lightning burned Kitís eyes. She yelped - the sound was devoured by the wind - and lost her grip on the rock. Her foot kicked sideways and she went with it.
Rocks speared up. Before panic could finish spreading to her lips, her body locked in place suspended two feet above the highest jagged spar. She hovered an arm-length away from the rock.
A sob backed up in Kitís throat, terror bound and determined to vent itself. She stared out across the water, worried she would drop the distance with renewed force if she even looked at the ground, much less thought about how to get there. There was no sign of the woman with her glowing orb, who would have been a safe person to blame - equally impossible, but safe.
Kit closed her eyes, aware that she was tensing every inch of her mind and her body, and somehow there were more muscles to control than there ought to be. Panting, she lowered one foot until it hit the ground, then the other. Taking a deep breath, she let go of all the tension. Her body dropped as if cut from strings, but there was nowhere to fall. The rain hissed in her ears.
Kit clutched her arms as the winds howled. The coincidence defense had shattered. Things swirled back to her from childhood, that she could make salt-shakers hop, an unthinking certainty that the little dogs she drew could wag their tails - any teenager knew to scoff at those beliefs, but now? Cold shock faded into just plain cold. She wobbled over the rocks picking her way along the beach to the hewn steps. Time enough to deal with this where it was light and dry. In the morning she would call her grandfather. Arthur Morgan, crazy but harmless.
Not so crazy any more, she bet.
Kit broke into a run as soon as the house came into view. The lady of the waves slipped to the back of her mind.