The tabby, arching its back, rubbed against Dixon’s legs. Standing just to Mara’s side, he held her elbow to steady her from falling. Ted, standing to her other side, held her other arm. She panted, chest and shoulders heaving, eyes wide, fingers and hands jittering. She licked her lips and closed her eyes tight.
The three exchanged glances, their mouths all open in surprise.
Mara took her arm from Ted’s grip. She pointed at the compact on the rug under the table.
Ted and Dixon moved the table aside. The cat jumped at the compact and batted at it with its paws.
“Who’s there? Rowena? Is that you? Are you all right?”
As the feline played with its new toy, Mara squatted. She caught a glimpse of a face in the mirror. She stopped the mewing tabby’s tussling. “It’s coming from there,” she whispered. “It’s like there’s someone inside of it.” She nudged the trinket and then, still shaking, picked it up and placed it on the table, directing it forward so that she could see inside.
There in the mirror, was the visage of a woman of perhaps thirty or so. Her face was round, cherubic even, complete with light blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and lips the color of a tea rose. As Mara peered into the mirror, the woman’s demeanor changed.
“You’re not Rowena. Who are you? And what are you doing with her compact?”
Mara’s mouth gaped open. “Ahhh . . . ahhh,” she stuttered. Taken so by surprise, finding the talking mirror so astounding, she couldn’t collect her thoughts.
The woman’s brow rose. Her head cocked to the side. “I asked, ‘who are you?’” This time it was more than a question—it was a demand for information.
“I, ahhh . . . Well, that is, I . . .”
Dixon squatted down and peered into the mirror. “Lucy? Is that you?”
The woman turned her gaze his way. “Dixon,” she said, obviously perturbed, “what is the meaning of this?”
“You know that woman?” Mara stared at him, pointing to the mirror.
“What is going on here?” Ted asked.
“I asked, ‘do you know that woman?’”
Dixon scrunched his shoulders. “Yes, I—I do.”
“You might have told me she’d show up in Rowena’s mirror!” Mara scolded. “Scared me half to death.”
“But I had no idea! I—”
“Look,” interrupted Lucy, “I was expecting Rowena. Where is she?”
“Excuse me . . . ahhh . . . Lucy,” Ted said, “but we have a few things to resolve here. Would you just be patient with us for a minute?”
She scowled. “Who are you? What are you doing with Rowena’s compact? What’s going on there? I want answers!”
“We’ll get right back to you,” Ted said.
“I don’t care what you all do or how many minutes you take, I’m checking in with Rowena as usual and I demand to know where she is.” Lucy’s gaze moved from Dixon, to Mara, to Ted, the faces of all three now visible to her. “Now!”
“Like I said, ma’am, we need a minute.” Ted motioned toward the other side of the room, then grasped Dixon’s arm on his one side, and Mara’s on his other. Retreating, he directed his question to his old friend. “Who is that woman?”
Dixon shook his head in disbelief. “That’s Lucy Haven, a dear friend and confidante of Rowena’s. She’s probably the only living person other than me who’s known all of Rowena’s plans. She was instrumental in them. And she knows the whereabouts of Rowena’s other six daughters.” He rubbed his head. “This explains so much. I just wish Rowena had told me. I don’t understand why she wouldn’t have.”
“What does this explain?” Mara asked.
“I always wondered how she got her information or decided on her next destination. Lucy just said she was ‘checking in with Rowena as usual.’ I never saw her use her compact to make contact with Lucy, but she must have. I’m just so . . . surprised.”
“Can she be trusted?” Ted asked.
“Implicitly. She leads a group of Rowena’s friends who helped her these many years. They know important things and people, and they possess incredibly powerful magic, both individually and collectively. Rowena referred to them as her ‘inner circle.’”
“Meaning she knew there were always dangers ahead of her and that they went beyond the usual for the Select. Her enemies crossed all lines. The inner circle used various means to gather information. The one place they’d not been particularly successful, however, was at the palace itself.”
“Why?” Mara asked.
“I can’t say for certain. They just couldn’t break through to the truth there. It was one reason we left.”
Mara tightened the belt of her house frock and then, brushing her hair away from her face, said, “We’d best hear what she has to say.”
Ted caught Dixon’s arm. “What do we tell her about Rowena?”
“I think we have to tell her the truth. We have to trust her. We can trust her. To be of help to us, she’ll need all the facts.”
The three looked to one another and nodded agreement, then turned back to where the compact sat.
Mara took a deep breath and picked it up. It no longer vibrated in her hand; the vibrations had ceased when she’d opened it. Gesturing to her friends to attend to her either side, she sat down.
“Well?” Lucy asked, with a huff.
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