The next morning, Olivia was feeling a little better. The nightmares had been filmy and inconsistent, not lingering when she opened her eyes. And she’d been further touched to wake up and see her daughter and all of her friends still asleep in the room with her.
Noah woke up as soon as she moved to get out of bed. She heard him shift behind her. “Hey,” he said groggily.
“How are you feeling?”
She thought for a beat. “Not sure, honestly,” she admitted. “I think a cup of coffee maybe.”
By the time Olivia had taken a couple sips of coffee, someone was knocking on the door. Noah went to answer it and a moment later, he and Celine walked into the kitchen.
“Sorry to burst in, but I wanted to check on you before I went to open the shop,” she said to Olivia. “How are you feeling?”
That question again. This time she was a little more awake, but she still wasn’t sure. “I don’t know,” she said, her hand absently reaching for the cord and sigil around her neck.
She didn’t remember how it had gotten there, but it must have been Celine that threw it over her possessed form. And that thought made her want to throw up the coffee she’d just drank.
“You look good,” Celine said. “Did you get some sleep?”
“Off and on.”
They stood there for a moment. “Coffee?” Noah asked.
Celine shook her head. “I already had some, but thanks. Olivia, I can’t stay very long, but I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the preventative measures we took last night. Just so you know what’s going on.”
Olivia ushered Celine into a chair and Noah walked out to give them privacy. “So,” Celine started. “You obviously know ghosts are real. We don’t have to start all the way back that far.”
Despite herself, Olivia laughed. “No, I’m confident with that one.”
“And that’s just one of the routes a soul takes after death,” Celine continued. “There’s also reincarnation, which I’ve seen before, where a soul is reborn into a new life in this realm. Or moving on to another plane, which I know nothing about, just like every other living person. The idea of someone being so attached to their earthly power isn’t common, but a situation like last night does happen. And when people are more sensitive to the energy of these spirits, like you are, the spirit might use that to their advantage. That amulet you’re wearing was made by a friend of mine. It’s blessed and protected by the sigil. It’s designed specifically as an anti-possession measure and that’s the kind of thing that Iris should have steered you toward. The crystal you and Andrew used can give some protection, but it’s the equivalent of closing a screen door. This closes the door and deadbolts it shut.”
“So as long as I have it on, I’m safe?”
Celine nodded. “I’m not saying it’s infallible, nothing is. But all of the magic, intention, and energy that’s gone into its creation was intentionally done to prevent possession. Honestly, we got lucky last night. I wore it through my last pregnancy and Carol didn’t need it back. So I happened to have it within my supplies. And I want you to keep it.”
Tears stung her eyes. “Thank you,” Olivia whispered.
Celine smiled softly. “It’s scary,” she said. “It’s happened to me before, a long time ago. But it’s nothing you did. There’s a whole other world out there that we can’t see and sometimes it wants to connect with ours in ways that disregard our own autonomy.”
“The spirit-” Olivia started, then cleared her throat. “The man who possessed me. What’s going to happen to him?”
Celine shrugged. “Honestly, I have no idea. From what I know, maybe he’ll have a choice. He could reincarnate and start a new life, letting go of everything he was chasing. Or maybe he’ll linger and grow more bitter, but he won’t be doing that anywhere near you. Or maybe it’ll be something entirely different. But you won’t need to worry about him again.”
Olivia was crying again, silent tears streaming down her cheeks. And when Celine reached out for her hand, she held it tightly. “It’ll be okay,” Celine said. “Take care of yourself, do whatever you need to in order to move past it. It’s not your fault and you’re going to be okay.”
Celine left a few minutes later and Olivia heard the door close behind her. Then Noah walked into the kitchen.
“Liv,” he said softly.
She wiped at her face, but he sat down with her anyway.
There were no customers today. Things had been busy yesterday between customers in person and a few mail orders. So for now, Iris was flipping through the second Harbinger at the counter while she waited for someone, anyone to come in. She wasn’t too worried about the money from one slow day. She had a couple of customers lined up for house cleansings this week and there would be a bump again before Christmas when people were looking for unique presents to give their families. So for now she could take advantage of the quiet.
This was the first time she’d brought the second Harbinger out of the Countess. It had been a few months and she wanted to give it a closer look, but couldn’t get over there today without closing the shop up early. So she’d reasoned with herself that it was fine this time. She had permission and Roland couldn’t get into the shop.
Iris drummed her fingers on the side of the counter as she read. So there were two houses, side by side. One had been the site of a family’s grief. It was then sold and removed from town. The land had grown up wild around it afterward. Then the other house, the Alderidge place. This one was the one Barlow had been trying to buy. And there had been a fire, she was sure of it now. She didn’t know when, but the flames licked at her consciousness every time she tried to dig deeper into what had happened. And God love her, Evelyn Harbinger was no help there. Iris had been through this book at least six times by now, looking for any sort of code or message she might have missed. But there was nothing.
So what was the connection? Was there any? The death of Billy McBride was tragic, but did it have anything to do with the curse? Or was she just getting distracted? After all, she was doing her research on the Alderidge place somewhere else that had a tragic history literally right next door to her target. She needed more time to pick this apart.
The door opened and she looked over with a smile as Andrew walked in. Then her smile faded as she saw the thunderous expression on his face.
“Olivia got possessed last night,” Andrew said. “With the stone that you SWORE would protect her.”
Iris stood up, heart pounding. “Oh my God, is she-”
“She’s fine,” Andrew said. “Or, at least as fine as someone who’s recently been possessed could be. What the hell happened, Iris?”
“I’m sorry,” Iris said. “I thought the crystal would be enough.”
“Oh, bollocks,” Andrew said, waving his hand dismissively. “You didn’t stop long enough to actually talk to her about it.”
Iris felt nauseous as Andrew glared at her from the other side of the counter. Olivia’s devastated face flashed through her mind from last time. Then she got a glimpse of the other woman standing in the wooded driveway and felt that roaring, pressing force and the fear. That must have been what Olivia felt last night. She must have been so scared.
“Who was it?” Iris asked. “Was it Roland? I know he’s still in town and-”
“Not everything is about you, you know,” Andrew snapped. “No, this was some asshole who still had money in the bank when he died and decided that he needed to take over Liv in order to get it. This has nothing to do with Roland or the curse or anything else except the fact that you promised she’d be safe.”
Iris’s face burned with shame. She wasn’t even sure what she could say to that.
“What’s going on?” Andrew demanded. “You aren’t stupid, Iris. You always either have the answer or find the answer. But you’re acting weird lately.”
“Weird?” Iris asked, trying to look innocent and knowing it was failing.
She couldn’t bring him on. Not when she didn’t have the answers yet. What if Baxter knew even more than they did? Or what if he went after Andrew? Or Andrew went after him with half the facts? No, it wasn’t time yet.
“You’re always distracted, you never show up for meetings even when you set them. And you couldn’t have brushed Liv off any more than you did this time. Shit, Iris, if you didn’t know, you could have talked to someone else for answers. Like Celine. Or someone at that mysterious hotel of yours.”
Vivien and her casual light shows came to mind. Iris had been so concerned about Vivien’s arrogance, but maybe she had ignored her own flaws in that area.
“Listen,” she said, sorting out the lie as it came out of her mouth. “I don’t have anything yet. I think there’s an answer in the Countess’s library. But I don’t have any information yet. I promise, once I do, I’ll share it with you.”
He didn’t believe her. She could see it all over his face. “I promise,” she repeated.
Finally, Andrew shook his head. “If you say so.”
She was relieved, but still felt guilty as she stood there. “I’ll talk to Olivia,” Iris said. “I can help-”
“No, I think you’ve done plenty of helping,” Andrew said. “Iris, just leave her alone, okay?”
She nodded, face hot. “I have to go,” Andrew said. “I’m going to skip tonight. Honestly, I think all of us are. Dr. Degas is coming by to see Liv tonight, so I can talk to her if there’s anything you want to share.”
There was, but she couldn’t. “No,” she said. “There isn’t.”
Why did he have to look disappointed in her? That made it even worse.