It was her favorite way to pretend she wasn’t crazy.
Hannah tied off the last of the warp threads on the small lap loom and brushed her fingers across the taut, evenly spaced vertical lines. Organized in a way her life could never be.
She was using yellow silk today. Bright and girly and the same color as the dandelions that used to bloom in the front yard of the townhome that had been her last truly happy place. Pretty yellow flowers dancing in the grass, aided and abetted by one small girl who loved to blow the seeds helter-skelter.
Floating in the wind.
She sighed and looked out the window. Moody mornings were never a good sign, but dammit, she didn’t want to go hide in her room on such a glorious late-summer day.
She picked up her shuttle, already loaded with some of the wild and crazy rainbow yarn she’d dyed herself. Dr. Max had bent a lot of rules for that afternoon in the kitchen, full of hot water, fragrant smells, riotous color, and odd looks from the kitchen staff—ones that had leaned toward panic when she’d picked up a knife to open her dye packets. They weren’t used to having one of the inmates in their midst.
With a quiet chuckle, Hannah threaded her shuttle through the shed, beginning to lay down her weft threads. They weren’t supposed to call themselves inmates, but they did anyhow. Dr. Max only grinned and made calming noises at the other medical types. Something about the importance of reclaiming words—the kind of thing that mattered when you couldn’t reclaim your life.
Hannah pulled down the reed, beating her first weft threads into place. Already, she could see that the yellow warp was an inspired choice.
Everyone always ignored the warp threads. Hidden away, nothing but structure—but take them away, and all you had was a tangle of pretty and useless color.
On her loom, warp threads were celebrated. A way to make people see the hidden and the ignored.
Hannah rolled her eyes and let her hands pick up speed now that the bottom edge was set. It was too damn early in the morning to get all philosophical. Yellow was pretty and bright and gave her eyes something to look at. And in the drab white and gray and muted pastel colors of the world she lived in, eye-popping was a good thing.
She was pretty sure paint companies ran regular fire sales on all their shades of gray.
She looked over as Harvey drifted in and took a chair in the corner of the sunroom. He liked to hide here—staff generally gave the quiet, cozy room a quick glance and kept moving. “Morning, Harvey. Did you feed your oatmeal to the plant again?” Breakfast had taken a turn for the worse lately—budget cuts—and the plant that lived closest to his breakfast chair was paying the price.
For a man of few words, Harvey managed to express his opinions just fine.
His face showed no signs he’d heard her, but his hands relaxed in his lap. Having a good day, then. Hannah kept up the rhythm of her weaving—she wasn’t the only one at Chrysalis House it soothed.
“There you are, Harvey. I thought I told you to go wait outside your room.”
Hannah was facing the door—there was no escape. Her eyes were on the entering attendant before survival instinct could yank them closed.
Someone new. A stranger in her protected cocoon.
She gripped the sides of her loom, caught in the awful, frozen moment just before the attack would start.
A decade ago, she would have prayed for it not to come. Ten years of unanswered prayers and she didn’t bother anymore. Despairing, she stared at the intersecting lines of yellow and red on her loom and watched as they began to melt.
Images started flashing, a horrible, dizzying montage of home movies on fast forward. People and places she didn’t know. Didn’t want to know.
I am Hannah Kendrick, and this will stop. Nails digging into her palms, she threw her words at the onslaught.
She slid to the floor, needing to feel the cool tiles under her cheek. Soon, not even those would penetrate.
I am Hannah.
Puny, insignificant words. The torrent never cared.
The new attendant, sitting on a beach, eyes happy, toes covered in sand. In the dark, crying, a sodden wedding dress in her lap. Holding a tiny baby with pain in her eyes.
A tiny, very still baby.
Hannah knew, long before she saw the grave covered in bright yellow flowers.
Before she heard the heartrending wail of a mother with empty arms.
Or maybe the screams were her own.
I. Am. Hannah.
“I thought I’d made my orders perfectly clear.”
Dear, sweet Dr. Max. Always on her side. His orders were clear—but real life in a mental institution didn’t always follow orders.
Hannah felt the sedatives kicking in. And the black hole of depression.
She was never going to be free.
Nell checked her to-do list. The world was about to end and she didn’t want to miss a single second of the action.
More clothes for when Aervyn fell in the ocean in his wedding attire, check.
Gorgeous purple flowers Ginia had been singing to daily, check.
Hookup so that all of Realm could watch the most thoroughly embarrassing day of Marcus Buchanan’s life, check.
Nell grinned as she ticked that one off the list. As Witch Central’s top emissary to the wedding planning in Fisher’s Cove, she’d seen firsthand how much their grumpy bachelor had changed. He smiled, he laughed, and when he thought no one was looking, he gazed at Cassidy Farrell with the kind of naked longing that made mothers of five look away, all gooey inside.
But none of that was going to help him survive his own wedding.
A marriage of two witches whose clans were both entirely delighted their lost sheep had found home pastures. It was going to be epic.
One more week. And the Walker clan was heading out early to help with, and likely contribute to, the pre-wedding chaos. Nan and Moira were running a tight ship, but herds of Irish visitors weren’t expected to be much better behaved than most witchlings.
Fisher’s Cove, preparing for happy, boisterous invasion. Nell was more than happy to add to their ranks.
Back to the list—lobster stew called.
The handwritten scrawls at the bottom of Nell’s list made her giggle. Daniel’s additions. Figure out what Ginia’s up to.
Nell snorted. “Thwarted your spy network too, has she?” They were still getting used to three daughters who suddenly didn’t spill all the beans about their nefarious activities. Parenting was way easier when the culprits started babbling before you even asked any questions.
There had been a dearth of pink bunny slippers lately, though.
Nell grinned. Whatever Warrior Girl had up her sleeve, it was likely to be memorable, funny as hell, and ultimately harmless.
None of which precluded her parents’ right to snoop, but clearly neither of them had time at the moment.
Nell turned back to the list. Turn OFF the fetching spell. Marcus is busy enough.
She shook her head, amused by her husband’s priorities. It wasn’t a bad idea, though—if they were going to fetch Marcus yet another family member, it was probably reasonable to wait until after the wedding to do it.
She pulled up Realm’s admin controls and clicked several times, navigating to the well-hidden guts of the fetching machinery. A couple of quick changes and done. One spell, put to bed for the next couple of weeks. Witch Central had a wedding to attend.
She backed out of the guts, veiling them with the set of layering spells that kept out wandering child labor and not-so-innocent gamers. And groaned as her shut-down routine issued a warning. The spell had someone in active tracking.
Sighing, she pulled up the innards again. The spell often followed a witch around for a while before it fetched them. She began typing a quick subroutine to unlock the tracking. Whoever her sniffer had found, it could darn well find them again later.
Her fingers moved quickly, most of her brain back on her checklist. Aervyn claimed that one of his black shoes had gone missing. And Ginia wanted lavender. Bushels of it.
Nell sneezed—even the thought of lavender made her nose itch.
Sighing, she peered at her screen and the cursor that had sneezed along with her nose. And saw the two words that weren’t supposed to be there.
Her hands froze. A practical joke, maybe. Or a stray line of code that had ventured over from Realm. Something innocuous and innocent that would unclench the very bad feeling in her gut.
Reaching for a second keyboard by feel, her eyes still glued to the two words, Nell tried to quiet her insides. Pre-wedding jitters. Or maybe Ginia had snuck something into the spaghetti sauce.
Her warrior soul didn’t believe either.
Nell pulled up the log files—the enormous, bloated, coma-inducing scroll of lines that tracked every action ever taken anywhere on the Sullivan servers. Well used to log-file drudgery, she isolated records for the last week and ran a search.