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~AIR BOUND
Last Updated: March 06, 2015 11:14:48


Air Bound by Christine FeehanThe taxi dropped Airi off just one house over from her own, something she always did just to allow herself a little time to prepare for going home. Five days out of the week she lived in a dorm--well--a small apartment--and going home took some adjustment. Sometimes it was absolutely wonderful and other times it was awful.

She walked slow, counting her steps. Breathing. In and out. She was able to quiet her mind and not look at the patterns around her. Counting was obnoxious, but she had to give her mind something to occupy it or chaos reigned.

Wind teased her face. Once. Twice. Like the feeling of fingers brushing lightly but persistently over her skin to get her attention. She promised herself she wouldn't look, but she couldn't stop the compulsion. She glanced up at the clouds above her head. They swirled around seemly at random, but her mind pieced those puzzles together. Click. Click. The patterns fell into place and left her gasping. Sick. She pressed a hand to her stomach and shook her head, refusing to believe what she saw.

She was normal. Not at all like her mother. She wasn't being eaten alive from the inside, her mind slowly turning in on itself. She refused to believe that could happen. Patterns in the clouds, or a lake or even on the walls of their home were figments of her imagination and nothing else. She wanted to believe that, but her body didn't and it took effort to force one foot in front of the other to proceed up the walkway to her home.

Music blared. Sounds poured out of the windows and through every crack. Loud, brass, a cacophony of noise that shook the panes and filled her mind until she was afraid it would bleed. Her footsteps slowed. Music that loud meant bad things. Very bad things. Her mother's mind, like hers, refused to quiet sometimes and when counting or any of the other tricks didn't work, she resorted to drinking to self-medicate. And when Marina was drinking...

Letting out her breath, Airiana reluctantly opened the front door. The music blasted her in the face, nearly pushing her back out of the house.

"For God's sake, Airi, make your mom turn that off. It's been going on for hours now," Wanda, their neighbor called. "I pounded on the door but she didn't answer--as usual." She paused, her expression turning compassionate. "Come over later if you want. I'll have dinner. You can take some to your mother."

Even the neighbors knew about Marina's drinking. How could they not? The music was atrocious and more often than not, Airi slept outside where it was safe. Sometimes, when her mother's drinking was really bad, she had to take knives away from her to prevent her doing harm to herself. Those were the worst times. She was careful never to tell anyone, especially where she lived and went to school. They would take her away from her mother if they knew just how bad it had gotten at home.

"Thanks, Wanda. I'll probably take you up on that." She liked Wanda. The woman didn't have a mean bone in her body and she was particularly good to Airi and Marina. Although nearly seventeen, Airi still looked twelve. Her young looks might have contributed to Wanda's compassion, but whatever the reason, Airi was glad Wanda was close by. She had moved into the neighborhood about four years earlier and Airi was grateful she had. She was a friend when times were particularly bad--one she could confide in when things were really awful and she needed someone safe to talk to.

Taking a deep breath, her stomach lurching, Airi walked into the living room. In spite of the music the feel of the house was still and ominous, as if she'd just walked onto a horror set. She had taken four steps inside when the odor hit. Blood. Lots of it.

"Mom," she whispered softly, her hand going to her throat. Her blood roared a warning in her ears. She didn't want to move, wanted to stay frozen in time right there, no going back and no going forward. Just not move and nothing would be wrong. Her mother had threatened to kill herself many times, when she was drunk, but Airiana hadn't believed she'd really do it.

The house creaked. The music blared. Her heart slammed a terrible rhythm of dread in her chest. She tried not to breathe in the coppery scent. Absently waving a hand toward the player, the music abruptly ceased. Air circulated, but it didn't relieve that appalling, frightening odor.

Pressing her lips together, she forced herself to walk into the kitchen. Dark coffee swirled in another pattern across the cheerful blue and white tiles, looking like a river of mud. Broken pieces of her mother's favorite mug lay scattered like white islands through the dark spill. A drawer, wide open, tipped precariously downward and a chair lay overturned beside the kitchen table. Her mother was a neat freak. She would never, under any circumstances, have left such a disaster behind, not even if she was very drunk--or suicidal. Airi's heart pounded harder than ever.

"Mom," she called again, this time a little louder. Pain edged her voice. Fear. It was a child's voice seeking reassurance, when lately, she'd often had to be the adult.

There was no answer. She shook her head and forced her feet to move one step at a time down the hallway toward her mother's bedroom. She pushed open the door slowly. It was empty and as perfectly pristine as her mother always kept it. The duvet was white lace, along with the abundance of pillows and shams. Marina loved white, that pure background that soothed her mind and allowed her to rest.

Airi leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. The scent of blood was overpowering now. Much stronger in the hallway. When she turned her head just slightly, she could see a thin line of red leaking out from under the door of her bedroom. Her body, of its own volition, turned away from the sight, a full flight response, but her feet remained frozen in place. She couldn't move. She couldn't leave.

If her mother was alive in that room she needed help. There had been no bottles of alcohol out on the sink in a single line in the way her mother liked to arrange them. There was no blender plugged in to make the drinks her mother chose to inhale by the gallon when her mind was too chaotic and she needed a respite. There had been coffee--coffee--on the floor.

Airi bit her lip so hard blood welled up. She had to check. She couldn't run like a coward to her neighbor's house and beg her to look first. Holding her breath she made it down the hall to her bedroom door. It was slightly ajar, but she couldn't see inside. Very slowly, using her fingertips, she pushed the door open so she could look into her room.

She screamed. And screamed. And screamed. Her throat was raw and she felt blood vessels break, but she screamed on and on because nothing was going to save her mother--or what was left of her.

She knew it was her mother only by the dress she wore, her favorite dress. The one she wore when she wanted to do something fun with Airi. When she tried to make up for the times when she had a bad time. When she was sober and determined to start all over again and this time, stay sober.

"Airiana. Airiana." Hands shook her shoulders. Gentle hands.

"They killed her. They tortured her, and they killed her." Airiana Ridell covered her face with her hands, sobbing like that teenager.

"I know, honey. I'm here. You're safe. She's in a place where they can't hurt her anymore."

The calm soothing voice broke through the web of her nightmare. The memories in such vivid detail were horrifying, just as if it had happened, as if she had just entered her bedroom and found her mother. She could still smell the blood. She would never get the odor out of her mind. Her stomach cramped and heaved and her throat hurt so bad she could barely swallow.

"Lissa," she gasped, pushing herself into a sitting position. "I'm sorry. Did I scream again?"

Lissa Pinar sat on the side of the bed, pushing back the heavy fall of hair from Airiana's forehead. Tiny beads of perspiration dotted Airiana's brow and her thin sweats were damp as well. Lissa looked her sister of the heart over. Airiana was short with a slender, almost boyish figure. Everything about her was fragile. A good wind might blow her over. Her eyes were deep blue, almost cobalt, fringed with golden lashes and her hair--damp at the moment--was a true platinum blonde. Natural streaks of silver and gold ran through the thick pelt of platinum hair, which to Lissa, lent Airiana the ethereal appearance of a fairy. Right now there were dark circles under her eyes and she looked more fragile than ever.

Lissa nodded in answer to Airiana's question. "You screamed two nights in a row now. What's bringing these nightmares back? You haven't had them in quite awhile." Lissa's five acres bordered Airiana's within the large acreage of the farm, so it wasn't as if their homes were close, yet the wind had carried Airiana's cries to her.

Airiana glanced toward her windows. They were open as usual. She never closed them, not even in the rain.

Lissa might not be a blood relative, but she was family to Airiana, a sister, every bit as loved as one born to her.

"I don't know why the nightmares are coming back so strong," Airiana admitted, but there was a nagging feeling in the back of her mind, one that told her the nightmares were a heralding of disaster.

Each of her chosen sisters had gone through something similar in their pasts--having a loved one murdered and feeling responsible, so she knew Lissa would understand exactly how she felt.

She pressed her palm to her mouth feeling sick. "I'm beginning to see patterns in everything, like I'm losing control again." That frightened her. The thought that she'd go down the same path of madness as her mother was terrifying.

"Maybe we should call Debra Jems. I could go with you to Monterey for a consult," Lissa offered immediately. "There's nothing terribly pressing that I can't put off at work."

Debra had been the amazing counselor who had brought six women together in her group therapy. Each of them was a victim of a violent past and each believed they were responsible for the murder of a family member they loved. All had been at the very end of their ability to survive when they had gone, as a last resort, to Debra, in the hopes that she could help them.

"Do you ever wonder why or how we were each drawn to Debra's group?" Airiana asked. "Each of us has a gift, we're bound to an element and somehow we found one another just when each of us wanted to give up."

The six women had formed a bond so strong they had decided they were better off together and had pooled their money to buy a large farm. Eventually, they were able to build a separate home for each of them. Although each had a designated space of five acres, they ran a communal farm and donated a portion of their outside businesses to the running, care and expansion of the farm.

"That's the part that has amazed me," Lissa agreed. "That we all came with special gifts and didn't even realize it. It's no wonder Sea Haven called to us. I think there's magic in our little village and we just responded to it."

"Do you know what's really bad?" Airiana blinked away the tears on her lashes and sent Lissa a small scowl, deliberately changing the subject to give herself a little respite. "Ilya Prakenskii married Joley Drake and settled here. Levi is really Lev Prakenskii. That's two of the brothers here in Sea Haven. And then who comes along to marry our Judith? Another bossy Prakenskii--Stefan Prakenskii."

Lissa nodded. "He can call himself Thomas Vincent, or anything else he wants, but he's a Prakenskii all the way with his domineering attitude."

Airiana held up three fingers. "And that's three of the seven Prakenskii brothers right here in Sea Haven. What are the odds of that? They're here and somehow our sisters are attracted to them, drawn like magnets, when both professed to never want to be with a man. And that, my sister, is a very scary fact."

"What are you saying?" Lissa frowned at her. "Don't even be thinking the other brothers are going to show up here. Thinking it might make it happen."

Airiana nodded. "Right?"

The nightmare faded a bit, just enough to take the edge off, now that they were talking about the Prakenskii brothers. The seven brothers were Russian by birth, taken from their parents and trained as agents for their government in a secret program. She was fascinated by their past because it was very close to her own, without all the brutality--until her mother's murder, but the brothers had seen their parents murdered as well--and they'd been separated from each other.

"You have to admit they're darned hot," Airiana said. "But dangerous as hell and just plain bossy."

"I do agree with them on self defense training. Both of them know so much more than I do and are very good teachers," Lissa admitted. "I'm grateful you're all learning. I tried, but I wasn't tough enough on you."

Airiana chewed on her nail. "You did just fine, Lissa. Aren't you just a teeny bit worried that the other brothers will show up and somehow we'll be..." She frowned trying to think of the right word. "Trapped? They have their own gifts and we seem to just fall right under their spell. Judith was never going to marry. And Rikki? Who would have thought she would allow someone in her home, let alone her boat? That's a miracle in itself."

Lissa slipped off the bed. "Don't say it. Things happen in Sea Haven that can't be explained and I'm not tying myself to any man--any man let alone one of those Prakenskii brothers. Can you imagine my personality with a man like that? So domineering. I'd shove him off a cliff. You just can't put something like that out into the universe and not have it come back and bite you in the butt."

"My butt's pretty small," Airiana pointed out. She swept both hands through her thick hair, breathing deeply. She was beginning to feel normal again, although a residue of the nightmare had lodged in the pit of her stomach, leaving her with a vague uneasiness.

"Yes it is. But I'm kind of curvy. Which means my butt is just big enough for fate to laugh its head off while it bites me. I'm not taking any chances."

Airiana found herself laughing. That was the beauty of having sisters. It might not be her biggest laugh, but at least she was thinking of something other than portents of danger. She sighed softly. "Thanks for coming over. I'm sorry if my screaming scared you. I should have closed my windows."

She never slept with the windows closed. Never. She needed fresh air touching her face even when she slept. Maybe especially when she slept, but the wind had sought help for her, carrying her cries to Lissa and she should have realized that it would always happen after the first few times.

"I wasn't afraid, Airiana, just worried about you. I'll make tea. You're supposed to help Lexi this morning in the greenhouse, right?" Lissa said, pausing to look over her shoulder at Airiana.

"I forgot about promising Lex I'd work this morning. Sheesh, that's two mornings in a row I'll be late. I don't have time for tea."

"You have time. Lexi won't care. Take a shower and get dressed. I'll have tea waiting for you. In fact, I'll give Lex a call and see if she'll join us." Which was code for ‘I'm telling Lexi all about your nightmare'.

Airiana sighed. Every single sister would know very quickly that she'd been having nightmares again, which was both good and bad. She didn't like worrying them, but on the other hand, she wanted the support. When all six women were together, the strength they had was empowering. Airiana always came away from a family get together feeling strong and vibrant. Right now was a good time to get a little family boost.

"Maybe we could have a dinner together," Airiana suggested. A slow, wicked grin came over her face. "We could ask Levi to cook for us. He's actually gotten really good at it."

"You are mean. It's a dive day. Rikki and Levi headed out early this morning to go after sea urchin," Lissa reminded. "The sea is calm today and they've been waiting all week for a day like today."

Airiana nodded. "How could I have forgotten? Rikki was very excited last night. You know how she loves to be out on the ocean."

"Or more precisely in it," Lissa corrected.

Rikki was another sister, recently married to Levi Hammond or rather Lev Prakenskii, although he could never use his given name and be safe. Rikki was autistic and the sea helped her find balance. For Rikki, any day she could dive in the ocean was a good day.

"I'm glad she's so happy," Airiana said. "Although she still won't let Levi captain the boat."

They both laughed. Rikki was fiercely protective over her boat and Levi had somehow managed to worm his way aboard. All five of Rikki's sisters of the heart were very grateful that he was watching over her when she dove for sea urchins. She'd always been a loner and went out to sea by herself. None of them liked it, but they hadn't been able to stop her until Levi had come along.

"Go take your shower," Lissa made a shooing motion with her hand. "I'll put on the tea and call Lexi in. She's determined to start on the greenhouse beds today, but right now it's very cold outside. The fog's rolled in."

Airiana waited until Lissa left the room before she slowly pushed back her covers and padded on bare feet over to the window. The fog had come in dense, so thick she could barely make out the trees in the distance. A small breeze came up from the ocean, swirling the fog into giant pinwheels.

She went very still, staring out the glass, half-mesmerized by the spinning mist. There were the patterns she tried so hard not to see. Right there in the fog itself. As plain as day--and she'd seen them before. She knew if she called Lissa and pointed them out, Lissa wouldn't be able to see them. She would try, but the wind would snatch them away and Lissa would think Airiana was really losing her mind.

She pressed her forehead to the cool glass. Her gift was a blessing and a curse. Being bound to air had advantages, but not when her mind was so demanding. She didn't want to ever think about her childhood, the love she had of learning, of doing, the need and hunger that grew every day and filled her life until there was barely room for relationships. Until there was barely room for her own mother.

She jammed her fist into her mouth to keep silent when she wanted to cry loud and long for the selfish child who didn't understand that her mother needed her as much as she needed those amazing patterns and all that incredible knowledge just pouring into her brain.

Child prodigies were hailed as something unique and wonderful. In reality, gifts such as hers could be a curse for everyone around her. Sometimes, when she was alone too long and not occupied with the day to day running of the farm and the books for each of the businesses, her mind began to work out complex mathematical problems right there on the walls of her home. It always terrified her. She actually had turned her basement into a secret laboratory, one she never told anyone about.

Was she going crazy? Was her mind finally eating through her sanity and demanding more than she was willing to give to it? Her mother had been older than Airiana when she began resorting to drinking to calm her brilliant mind. She hadn't wanted to end up in an asylum, or worse, a government laboratory. Marina had tried to kill her brilliance. Airiana tried to run from it.

There in the swirling fog Airiana could see the portents of evil. How did one explain it to anyone? Worse, something bad was definitely going to happen to someone close to her. She had never told a single soul, not even Debra Jems, her counselor, but she had seen the swirling patterns in the clouds above her home before she'd ever walked inside.

She leaned her forehead against the glass and wept. She'd had a chance here, with these wonderful women who had accepted her as a sister, as family when she had none. Now, there was only madness and if she was reading the fog correctly, some horrible fate for one or all of them.

"Airiana?" Blythe's gentle voice brought on another flood of tears.

Blythe was the oldest of the woman and all deferred to her when there was any kind of a conflict. Blythe was tall and athletic, with very dark chocolate eyes and blonde hair. Right now it was pulled back in a ponytail and she wore her running clothes. Her features were soft and her voice gentle and soothing. She was a cousin to the Drakes, the most powerful magical family in the town of Sea Haven.

Airiana allowed Blythe to turn her into her arms and she cried for everything she'd lost long ago and everything she was about to lose. Blythe held her in silence, allowing the storm of tears to pass before she said anything. When Airiana finally looked up, Lissa was in the room, settling the tea tray on her bureau and Lexi stood in the doorway, with tears running down her own face.

"Lexi, you're so sweet," Airiana said, feeling a burst of love for her youngest sister. "You can't stand to see anyone cry."

Lexi attempted a smile. "I know, it's silly, but if any of you is upset and I can't fix it, I have to cry too."

"Well, let's sit down and have a cup of tea," Blythe said briskly. "When we're together, we always manage to resolve whatever is wrong. Perhaps we should sit in the sitting room rather than in here."

"I'm in my jammies," Airiana pointed out.

"They look like sweats to me," Blythe answered cheerfully, tugging on Airiana's arm.

She allowed Blythe to lead them all down the stairs into the soothing colors of her largest room. Comfortable chairs made a semi circle with low tables allowing for conversation. She knew Blythe had deliberately had them come into Airiana's sitting room because everything about and in the room relaxed Airiana.

Light yellow provided a backdrop and paintings of golden sunbursts and sunsets adorned the wall. The over-stuffed chairs were covered in splotches of yellow and gold with every shade in between. A few brushstrokes of burnt orange lent ambience to the soft materials. Her sister, Judith, had been her interior decorator and as always, Judith knew exactly what colors would be best for each of them.

Lissa placed the tea tray in the center of the low slung coffee table and poured each of them a cup. She handed one with milk to Airiana and settled in the chair across from her, leaving Blythe and Lexi to sit close.

"I don't think I can explain adequately," Airiana said and took a cautious sip of tea. She was beginning to shake and feared her tea would spill, but she didn't want to put the cup down. It gave her something to do with her hands.

"All of us have a past," Lissa said gently. "And all of us keep secrets. If yours is beginning to consume you, Airiana, then you need to tell us and let us help."

Airiana had to put the teacup down. If she didn't she knew it would end up on her floors and she didn't want that. In more ways than she wanted to admit, she was like her mother. She preferred neat and tidy and everything in its place.

"I think I'm losing my mind." She blurted her fear out fast, wanting to get it over.

Lexi shook her head and Lissa frowned. Blythe leaned toward her, looking into her eyes and gently sweeping back the mane of wild hair Airiana hadn't yet brushed into some semblance of order.

"Why do you think that, honey?" Blythe asked, all practical and interested like she managed to sound. Sane. She always sounded grounded and sane. That was the reason the rest of them always relied on her.

"My mind won't stop seeing patterns everywhere. I can't stop doing mathematical theories and I see them in my head. I was like this before when I was a child, but for a time it stopped and I thought I'd be all right. But it's come back worse than ever. I'm devouring books. Text books. Anything I can get my hands on. I stay up all night on the internet and read hundreds of articles." Airiana confessed quickly, wringing her hands together, terrified that she was already so much worse than her mother had been. She ducked her head. "I even set up a small laboratory for myself."

"Your mind was traumatized by finding your mother tortured in your own bedroom," Blythe said softly. "You know you need to stay occupied..."

Airiana shook her head. "Not like this. This is different. This is...madness. I can't make it stop. When I was young, I soaked up everything, absorbed knowledge, anything I could find or read. It was fun and exciting and I never considered the consequences of having a mind that couldn't be satisfied. But my mother..."

"You aren't your mother," Lissa said firmly. "And you have all of us to help you through this. When you were young, did it help to keep learning?"

Airiana nodded slowly. "Yes. My mind would be quiet in the evenings and on the weekends when I went home to see mom, I didn't have the chaos going on. The continual demand to keep working and learning abated a bit, although, when my mother wasn't drinking, we discussed theories. She was wicked smart."

"So there was balance," Blythe said.

"Yes. I could talk to people who were as excited as I was about all the discoveries we were making. Before mom drank, I could always share with her, but once she began, half the time it was just impossible. The breakthroughs in..." She trailed off shaking her head, pressing her palm over her mouth, her large eyes growing enormous. "There's things I can't talk about. For your safety as well as my own."

Blythe nodded. "We understand. My cousin Sarah's husband, Damon, works for the defense department. There's never a discussion about his work."

Airiana's heart jerked hard. Blythe was far too shrewd not to know why Airiana's mother had been tortured, not simply killed outright. In their group sessions, she had admitted to the others that she was responsible, but she had never said why. She'd never told them the kind of work she'd done back then.

She had explained that she lived in a dorm that was really small apartments in a building the government provided for her and a few other remarkable students attending a special type of school. She couldn't tell them the type of things they were all working on. She wanted them safe.

She hadn't been able to keep her mother safe. Her mother who resorted to drinking too much to still her brilliant mind and had talked to the wrong people--people who wanted her daughter's work. Marina had taken money, at least the frightening agents investigating her death had claimed she had. When she didn't deliver the goods to the foreign agents, she had been tortured for the information and then killed. Airiana didn't believe them.

Airiana had been whisked away, back to the school in protective custody. The story didn't add up. Marina couldn't possibly have known enough about Airiana's work to sell it to a foreign government. In the beginning, she had chattered to her mother incessantly, but when her mother started drinking, she had stopped talking about her project so much. When she turned fourteen, she had taken an oath to keep her research secret and she'd taken that very seriously. She had never so much as whispered about her work to her mother, even on Marina's good days. Sadly, that had been the wedge that had slowly driven them apart.

Airiana nodded her head slowly to acknowledge Blythe's revelation about Damon Wilder. The truth was, she had recognized Damon the moment she laid eyes on him when he'd first come to Sea Haven, only a couple of years earlier. She had studiously avoided close contact.

Damon had been aware of her, of course, but he hadn't approached her, and she knew he wouldn't. It had been years earlier that they'd met, and she'd been a child, but still, he couldn't fail to recognize her. She had a very distinctive look. At the time he'd come to brainstorm her project with her, but until he'd shown up in Sea Haven, she hadn't seen him again.

"So what can I do to keep from going insane?" Airiana asked. She felt calmer now that she'd told them. She picked up her cup of tea and this time her hands weren't shaking nearly as much.

"You said you see patterns," Lexi said. "What did you mean by that?"

"The day my mother died, I felt the wind on my face and I looked up at the clouds. I could see this amazing pattern forming, always moving, but immediately I knew something was very wrong. It was there, right in front of me. Who sees forecasts of danger or death in clouds?" Airiana pressed her fingers to her eyes. She had the beginnings of a wicked headache.

"You do, obviously," Lissa said. "And why wouldn't you? Why doesn't that make sense to you? You said you felt the wind on your face just before you looked up. Airiana, everyone knows you're an air element.

You're bound to air. Air is bound to you. Wouldn't it try to warn you of danger? You communicate with air. Could it be that it communicates with you?"

"Well of course, Lissa, but not in patterns. I just know things when I'm outside, I feel things in the wind. But the patterns are different."

"Warnings?" Lissa guessed. "Air warning you of danger, trying to tell you what is going to happen, or what has happened?"

Airiana frowned at her. "What are you saying?"

"I can read fire," Lissa shrugged looking a little embarrassed. "The way it moves speaks to me. I can tell if the flames are angry or joyous. I can manipulate fire. I just presumed you could do the same with air."

Airiana shook her head.

"But you do," Lexi leaned forward. "A hundred times a day. You blow out candles without being close to them. I've seen you lift your shoes and bring them over to you from across a room without even looking up. You manipulate air. You read air all the time. You know before anyone if a storm is approaching. You know if it's going to rain. You always let me know days in advance what the weather will be like and I listen to you, not the weatherman. I plan my work around what you tell me. So if you're communicating with air, how come it can't communicate back?"

Airiana frowned. "I don't know."

"Think about what the element of air actually is, what it represents," Lissa said. "Isn't it the manifestation of communication? Of intelligence? Along with a lot of other very powerful things, air is definitely about intelligence and communication. You've got one of those incredible minds, Airiana. And air communicates with you."

Airiana shook her head slowly, trying to process what her sisters were saying to her. How could they know and not her? She'd been afraid her entire life of going insane because Marina had told her that her mind would eventually devour her.

"You read patterns. You see things in patterns others can't. It doesn't make sense to us, but it would to you. That isn't going insane, Airiana, it's your element manifesting itself in a larger, more complicated way," Blythe explained. "Because you're so highly intelligent your brain needs continual work to keep it satisfied. But first and foremost, you're bound to air. You simply mistook your brains ability to see patterns in mathematics for your elements need to communicate with you. Two different things are going on."

"But..." Airiana trailed off. Could it really be that simple? She was smart. "If that's the case why couldn't I figure it out?"

Lexi shrugged. "When we're too close to a problem, sometimes the answers right in front of us but we can't see it. And sometimes the answer is just too simple when we're used to dealing with something much more complex."

"So you think the patterns I see on the walls, in the ground, in the waves of the ocean are air's communication with me." She wanted to believe them, believe that answer was so simple but her mother... She couldn't help but doubt them. She'd seen her mother's slow deterioration.

Blythe and Lissa both nodded.

Lexi shrugged. "It's possible, isn't it? The ground communicates with me. I know what it needs at all times for my plants. If air is the source of communication, of course it would want to find a way to speak with the person bound to it. Your mind sees in patterns. What better way?"

Airiana felt stunned. Absolutely stunned. She had always thought she would eventually go insane. Everything pointed to that. She had all the same signs her mother had. Marina had given her the signs to watch out for and she had every one. Had her mother been bound to air and didn't realize, like Airiana, that her mind was seeing mathematical problems in patterns but her element was communicating as well?

Was it really her element trying to warn her when danger was close? She could feed her mind data and keep it happy, but seeing patterns everywhere that no one else could see made her certain she was mentally ill and would eventually succumb to the illness.

"What did you see today that upset you?" Blythe asked, using her gentlest tone.

"In the fog, when I looked out the window, I could see danger coming at us. I know it's coming, just as I knew when I walked up the steps to my house when I was a teenager. I didn't know my mother would be dead, but I knew something was dreadfully wrong."

Lexi and Lissa exchanged a long, alarmed look. "Rikki and Levi are diving today. And Judith and Thomas went to an art show in New York. They were flying out this morning from San Francisco."

Airiana shook her head. "No, it's here. On the farm. I could see the layout of the farm, but it doesn't make sense."

"No tractors today, Lexi," Blythe said decisively.

"So you don't think I'm crazy because I see patterns all around me?" Airiana asked, drawing her knees up to rest her chin on top of them.

"No, I think you're perfectly sane," Blythe said. "A little mixed up, but that's to be expected given what you've been through."

"Let's not go that far," Lissa teased. "She's got it in her head that we're all going to find ourselves with a Prakenskii man in our laps."

Lexi nearly spewed her tea across the room. "Don't say that. Good grief, Lissa. This is Sea Haven. You can't put something like that out into the universe and not expect repercussions."

"It wasn't me," Lissa denied, holding up both hands. "Airiana said it first, and I told her the exact same thing."

Blythe kept her head down, her thumb pressed into her palm, not entering the banter.

"Well don't even think it," Lexi reprimanded. "I love Levi and Thomas, I really do, but seriously, they're both a force to be reckoned with. Did you know that even though we warned them we might have to move once Elle Drake and Jackson return, that they put in a bid on the property neighboring ours?"

Airiana could hear the secret pleasure in her voice. None of them wanted to sell the farm and move, least of all Lexi who had poured her heart and soul into it. Unfortunately, Lev Prakneskii, working undercover, had been unable to help Elle Drake escape from a human trafficking ring. The leader, Stavros Gratsos, had held her prisoner for some time before her sisters and husband Jackson, had been able to mount a rescue operation.

All of them worried that when Elle and Jackson returned from their honeymoon and trip to Europe, Jackson would object to Lev's presence on Elle's behalf. There was no way to hide who he was from Jackson and Elle, nor did Lev want to hide from them.

Blythe sighed. "Levi made it very clear that he would not uproot Rikki. She's happy here and functioning well. He said he'd find a way to make his peace with Elle and Jackson and the other Drakes. Naturally his brother is going to support him."

"So they really put in a bid on the piece of property we've been salivating over for the last four years?" Airiana asked. "Well, Lexi's been salivating over. I presume they plan on joining the two properties."

"That's the plan," Lexi said. She couldn't hide her smile and this time she didn't try. "The soil is really good. There's a very large section of forest that is just awesome as well. I've been talking to Thomas about possibly getting a few llamas. The manure is excellent for plants."

Airiana groaned. "It's too early in the morning to be talking about manure, Lexi, especially in such an enthusiastic tone."

In spite of the fear gnawing at her, she couldn't help but be happy when she looked at her youngest sister. Lexi's wild mass of auburn hair was pulled back haphazardly in a ponytail. She looked a little like a pixie with her large green eyes and pale oval face. She nearly always wore faded, and often holey jeans and a flannel plaid shirt, but she managed to look adorable--at least Airiana thought so.

Lexi smirked. "What do you think we're going to be doing in the greenhouse today, Airiana? Make certain you wear old clothes."

"That's my cue to leave," Blythe said. "If you're all right, Airiana. We'll talk about your concerns with seeing patterns..."

"Going insane," Airiana corrected.

Blythe smiled at her. "That too. This evening. I'm certain you'll see that the patterns are all about you being bound to an element and not because you're losing your mind. Think about it logically and try to set aside childhood fears. You're intelligent and you like to learn about things, start reading everything you can about the element of air."

Lissa gave a little sniff of disdain. "Really? On the internet? Do you think she's going to find a lot of really good data on elements on the internet? Do we put things on the internet that we know about our gifts? We don't acknowledge them to ourselves half the time."

"There might be something pertinent," Blythe ventured. "You never know."

Airiana blew Blythe a kiss. "Thanks. You think it will help to keep my mind occupied."

"I do," Blythe conceded.

The phone rang, a loud intrusion in the soothing colors of Airiana's safe retreat. Everyone else looked toward the instrument. Airiana found herself drawn to the center of the room, where the sound took on ominous patterns. Her heart nearly stopped and then began to pound.

"It's Damon. Damon Wilder," She whispered. "And it's for me."




CHRISTINE FEEHAN, #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR

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