His gaze became distant, as though he watched some faraway event, or a future unfolding within his own mind.
“All that matters is my hands around Ty’Lis’s throat.”
On Christmas Eve, Sara Halliwell stood in the living room of her father’s house—the house she had grown up in—and stared out the frosted window at the snow-covered yard. Once she had made snow angels there, had learned to ride a bicycle in the street, had pushed Terry McHugh down in the driveway when he tried to kiss her.
God, how long had it been since this place felt like home? It was more the ghost of home, the specter of a bittersweet past. The oldest memories were precious to her. Christmas lights in the windows while she snuggled deep under her goose down comforter, raking leaves with her father, spraying her mother with the hose on a long summer day with Daddy watching the Red Sox game on the little TV in the kitchen.
But the more recent memories were different, just a series of awkward pauses and distant looks, of a mother and father who had forgotten how to talk to one another, and consequently, to their daughter. By the time Sara came out to her parents, the fact that she was in love with another girl was barely a blip on the radar of their estrangement. It couldn’t have improved things, but she didn’t think it had made them any worse.
Living in Atlanta, away from them both, had been wonderful at first. Sara had found her mother much easier to get along with from a distance. But her father was another story entirely. How could she have imagined that it was possible for this man—this cop, so completely defined by his occupation and stolen away from his family by the job—to become more distant? Yet he had.
That’s right, she told herself. Keep blaming Daddy. Distance is the space between two people, but it only takes one to reach out and close it.
Sara sighed, breathed in, and her heart was seized by grief and loneliness unlike anything she had ever felt. The place smelled of him, of all the times he hugged her when he’d come home from work, or bent over to kiss her forehead as she lay in bed, when the job brought him home too late. The faded scent of cologne and cigars was in every curtain, in the furniture and the carpets. He did not smoke cigars anymore, except maybe for the occasional holiday, but the aroma remained. It was such a man smell, such a Daddy smell, and it was both foreign and precious to her.
How could you have let this happen? she thought, and couldn’t be sure if the admonition was directed at her father, or herself. All the time that had gone by, all of the phone calls asking her to come home, and at last she had been drawn home for Christmas when it was too late.
Out the window, she could see the gleam of Christmas lights that had been strung across the frames of neighboring houses. The old Standish house still used the multicolored ones in their trees and above the door, but where the Quinns had once lived, the new family used those bright white lights that she thought were so cheerless and sad. Still, the effect of the various decorative lights all along the street gave a holiday warmth to the scene, gleaming off the snow.
But inside Ted Halliwell’s house, there wasn’t even a tree. He hadn’t bothered with lights or decorations of any kind. Sara understood. He had asked her to come home and she had said no, so what was the point of decorating? He wouldn’t do it for himself. Someone would invite him over for Christmas dinner—Sheriff Norris, maybe—and he’d probably go, but there would be no celebration for him.
No. Stop it. Don’t you feel sorry for him. He could have been different, could have changed it anytime he set his mind to it.
But that was the tragedy. Her father had tried to change. Sara could not escape the truth now. How many times in the past few years had he reached out to her, tried to heal the past and bring them closer together, and how many times had she put him off, telling herself she wasn’t ready to forgive him yet for not being there for her?
She reached out to trace her fingers through the frosty condensation on the window. Christmas Eve existed out there in the world of Bosworth Road, but here, inside, it was so far away.
“Where are you, Dad?” she whispered to the winter night.
Somehow, she had to find out what happened to him. She could haunt Jackson Norris, but knew the sheriff wasn’t going to have any answers for her. If she wanted to know what happened, she had to go and talk to the people at Bascombe & Cox, who’d sent her father and Julianna Whitney to London, searching for the missing lawyer.
But it was Christmas Eve, and nobody was going to be looking for her father or even thinking about him much for the next two days. Nobody except her. The time between now and December 26 stretched out before her as an endless void. She could do nothing but wait for the rest of the world to celebrate and revel in love and holiday spirit, and that helplessness was a terrible weight upon her heart.
Sara needed to understand what had happened. Her father had always felt so far away from her, even when they lived in the same house. Yet in some strange way, she felt closer now, as though if she turned at the right moment and glanced into the corner, she would see him in the shadows. It was as though, if she reached out at the right moment, she would be able to grab him and pull him close. That was something she had not done since grade school, but now she felt like she could hug him without resentment getting in the way, if only she could find him.
Her father was still alive. She refused to believe otherwise. But it felt like his ghost haunted the house.
Sara turned away from the window and strode to the enormous bookshelf that stood against one wall. There was a CD player there and she turned it on. Christmas Eve it might be, but there’d be no holiday music for her. She pressed Play and blinked in surprise when the music started, because she recognized it immediately. Diana Krall sang “I’m an Errand Girl for Rhythm.” Sara had this CD herself. She favored cute little folk-rock boys like Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson and jazz-pop from Jamie Cullum, but there was something so beautiful and sultry about Diana Krall’s voice that Sara fell a little in love with her every time she heard her sing.
To discover that her father listened to Diana as well gave her a chill.
She opened the liquor cabinet beneath the bookcase, took out a tumbler, and poured herself a Seagram’s 7 and 7-Up. Her father had called it the “medicine cabinet.” This was his drink. Sara would have preferred it on the rocks, but did not feel like going into the kitchen for ice.
Taking a deep breath, she sipped the whiskey. It burned the back of her throat, but it warmed her nicely.
Sara closed her eyes and raised the glass, silently toasting her father and cursing the irony that it had taken his disappearance to make her feel close to him for the first time in well over ten years.
“Merry Christmas,” she whispered, and took another sip of whiskey.
Oliver and Kitsune sat together in a compartment on board a train bound for Vienna. Near the mountain lake where they had come through the Veil they had found a small village, brightly decorated with Christmas lights. It had seemed in its way just as mythical a place as the lands beyond the Veil, with its covering of snow and the smoke swirling from fireplaces and the smells of cooking food that came from the inn where they had found the information they needed.
They were in the mountains above Salzburg, Austria. With his American Express card, it was simple to get bus tickets into the city. The countryside had been beautiful, and the city, with its hilltop fortress looming above cobblestoned streets and grand architecture, equally lovely. Oliver had stood with Kitsune in a broad plaza and felt a longing for a simpler day, a time without danger to himself or those he loved, when he could just wander this peaceful, charming city. But if he did not hurry, he might never have a day like that again.
There was magic in the city, this time of year. In some indefinable way, the world of legends had begun to feel more ordinary to him over time, and this place, the mundane world, seemed somehow more fantastic and surreal.
He wished Julianna could have been there with him. She would have seen the simple magic of the place in a way that he knew Kitsune never could. During law school, and in the years since, they had fallen into the habit of purposefully getting themselves lost while driving. Whenever they were on their way somewhere—down to Boston or Portland or in the mountains—they would knowingly take wrong turns, just to see where these strange, unfamiliar roads would lead. Regardless of which one of them was driving, these adventures would begin spontaneously, and they would explore together.
The irony was not lost on Oliver; he only wished that Julianna had been along for this—the ultimate wrong turn.
Though he was an ocean away from home, just knowing that he was in the same world as Julianna was painfully bittersweet. He wished he could just book the next flight to the States—hurry back to her—but he did not dare, as long as monsters and Hunters still pursued him. His father was dead, and Collette the Sandman’s prisoner. If he brought such horrors to Julianna’s doorstep, he could never have lived with himself.
In Salzburg, Oliver and Kitsune had gone shopping, hurrying through various shops for clothing and a heavy canvas duffel bag. On the bus it had been simple enough to hide the scabbarded sword, at first in Kitsune’s cloak and then wrapped in Oliver’s pea coat. They had stored it in a locker in the train station. But there was no way that they were going to be able to get on the train with the weapon wrapped in a coat.
After their shopping spree, however, Oliver had buried the sword amongst the new clothes and toiletries in the duffel bag. As long as no one searched the bag, he thought they would be all right. If they’d had to fly instead of taking the train, there would have been complications because of the sword. Declared as a gift, and kept in checked luggage, he might have gotten it through—people brought swords home from Toledo, in Spain, all the time.
Still, it was simpler to stick to the train, particularly since neither of them had a passport.
He would have liked to check into a hotel for a few hours—to take the time to rest and bathe. Stubble covered his chin and the stale smell of his own body and dirty clothes filled his nose. But Oliver knew they could not wait. His one phone call was to a hotel in Vienna, to make reservations for the evening. The American Express had gotten quite a workout in a few short hours, but he had made one final purchase: their tickets for the next train for Vienna.
Only then—he and Kitsune resting comfortably against each other and drinking hot chocolate in the Vienna train station—did Oliver glance at a newspaper and realize what day it was. Or, by then, what night.
He had sat up awkwardly and moved away from Kitsune, giving her an apologetic smile, making it appear that he only wanted to pick up the paper for a closer look. But he avoided her gaze for several minutes after that.
What was Julianna doing tonight? With all that had happened at home in Kitteridge, could she be celebrating Christmas with her family? Was that just arrogance on his part, to think that she would not?
God, how he missed her.
His breathless race through Salzburg’s streets and shops with Kitsune had been, despite the circumstances, a strange pleasure. She was extraordinary. And yet as much as Oliver embraced the existence of magic, he also longed for the ordinary. The world beyond the Veil thrilled him with each new discovery, and knowing that it all existed satisfied a yearning that had been in him since childhood.
But more and more, his thoughts were of home.
Kitsune was exotic and astonishingly sensual, and the obvious attraction she felt toward Oliver amazed him. To spark the interest of a creature of magic and myth changed, just a little, the way in which Oliver viewed himself. It was a confirmation of all that he had ever believed, that within him there existed a man capable of more than life as a dutiful son and staid attorney would demand.
But he longed for the familiar comfort of Julianna’s arms, and for that look in her eyes that said that she saw right into his heart and knew him better than he knew himself.
Magical or not, Kitsune would never be able to do that.
It was Christmas Eve, and he yearned with all of his heart to be at home in Kitteridge, sitting in front of a fire with Julianna in his arms. All of the confusing things he felt toward Kitsune could not change that.
Guilt about the feelings she stirred in him made Oliver separate himself from her for a few minutes, but it was a useless gesture. Their journey lay ahead of them, and they would travel it together.
Now they sat together on the train, the fox-woman stealing glances at him that alternated between curious and suggestive. The mischief in her eyes was a constant, silent invitation. Yet even then, he kept his mind on Julianna.
Ever since they had crossed the Veil into his world again, he had intended to call Julianna. The day had been frantic, but when they arrived in Vienna, he would have the perfect opportunity. The more he considered it, however, the more he realized how selfish the impulse was. He needed desperately to hear her voice. But what would it accomplish, except to give her false hope that he might be home soon to sort out all that had happened?
When it’s over, he thought. When it’s all done, I’ll tell her everything.
The train steamed through the Austrian countryside and Oliver gazed out the window, breathless at the beauty of the place. Only dim lights glowed in the compartment and he did not bother to turn on anything brighter. Perhaps there was romance in that glow, but he focused on the ambience of Christmas that he saw in each town and village the train passed.
They stopped at a station and there were lights and ribbons everywhere. People on the train platform smiled at one another. He saw two conductors sipping coffee or something even more merry.
Kitsune’s scent filled him. Oliver glanced down and saw that their hands were entwined, and was not at all sure how long they had been this way. She smiled playfully at him, and arched an inquisitive eyebrow, as if to ask “What’s next?” His pulse raced even as he gave a shake of his head and chuckled softly. He chose to take her flirtation as more mischief. If it was more than that, he could not acknowledge it. That would lead to awkwardness, and perhaps a conversation he did not wish to have.