“Because you love him.”
“Do I?” Malory’s voice thickened with emotion. “Or have I been made to think I do? Is that just one more trick?”
“Ah.” Rowena let out a soft breath. “Perhaps you’re not as close as I thought. Don’t you know your own heart, Malory?”
“I’ve known him two weeks, and I feel as if my life will never be quite right if he’s not in it. But is it real? At the end of my four weeks, will I still feel that way?” She pressed a hand to her heart. “Or will it be taken away from me? Is it any worse to have your soul taken from you than your heart?”
“I think not, for one feeds the other. And I can’t give you the answer, because you already have it. If you choose to look.”
“Then tell me this. Will he be safe if I step away from him? If I close my heart to him, will he be safe?”
“You’d give him up to protect him?” Pitte asked.
Thoughtful, he walked to the lacquered cabinet, opened it to take out a bottle of brandy. “And you’d tell him this?”
“No, he’d never—”
“Ah, so you would deceive him.” With a small smile, Pitte poured brandy into a snifter. “And justify the lie by saying that it was for his own good. Women, whatever their world, are predictable,” he said, with a mocking bow to Rowena.
“Love,” she corrected, “is a constant force in any universe. Your decisions, your choices, must be yours,” she told Malory. “But your man won’t thank you for any sacrifice you make to protect him.” She gave Pitte a mocking bow in turn. “They never do. Go now.” She touched a hand to Malory’s cheek. “Rest your mind a while, until you can think clearly with it. And you have my word, whatever can be done to keep you, your man, your friends safe will be done.”
“I don’t know them.” She pointed to the portrait. “But I know those people outside. You should know, if it comes down to a choice, I’ll choose those I know.”
Pitte waited until they were alone before bringing Rowena a second snifter. “I have loved you through time and through worlds.”
“And I you, my heart.”
“But I’ve never understood you. You could have answered her question about love and eased her mind.”
“She’ll be the wiser, and the happier, for finding the answer herself. How much can we do for them?”
He leaned down, pressed his lips to her brow. “Our best.”
SHE needed time, Malory admitted. She’d been on a roller coaster since the first of the month, and though there’d been a thrill in riding those fast dips and sharp turns, she needed a break.
Nothing in her life was the same as it had been, she thought as she let herself into her apartment. She’d always counted on consistency, and that single element had slipped through her fingers.
Or been tossed aside on impulse.
She didn’t have The Gallery. She wasn’t completely certain she had her sanity. On one of those dips and turns, she’d stopped being sensible, dependable Malory Price and had become irrational, emotional, fanciful Malory Price—a woman who believed in magic, in love at first sight.
All right, maybe third sight, she corrected as she closed her curtains and crawled onto her bed. But it was the same thing, essentially.
She’d taken money that could have seen her through several lean months and invested it in an enterprise with two women she’d known for less than four weeks.
And trusted implicitly, she decided. Without reservation.
She was about to embark on a business of her own, without any stock, any solid plan, any safety net. Against all logic, the idea of it made her happy.
And still her head was pounding, her stomach churning. Over the thought that she might not be in love at all. That the blissful confidence and pleasure she felt in Flynn was only an illusion.
If the illusion shattered, she was afraid she would grieve for the rest of her life.
She bunched the pillow under her head, curled into a ball, and begged for sleep.