Chapter 1


Here is the way it was.

The way it had to be then, so it could be now.

In the midst of the ancient forest, the priestesses and their helpers come together, their breath barely a breeze in the leaves, hardly a step to hear above the calling of the birds.

For the birds are singing of this gathering, spreading the news amongst those with feathers, fur, and scales.

Amongst those with branch and leaf.

Amongst those of stream and breeze.

Amongst those too who shine, barely visible now unless the eye is wide open, but there all the same, their steps matching those of the women and men, pacing them as they move up the hillside to the place where they will settle, build their shelters.

Light their fires.

Make their circle of stones.

Sing the world to keep turning.


Bryn’s horse toiled up the slope, watching his steps for there were roots under the springy ground and the myriad of flowers that brought colour to the forest floor. Wiping her brow, Bryn let herself glance ahead, at the swaying back of the woman who led the way.

They must, she thought, be almost there.

The journey had started in the last cycle of the moon, and now it was well into the new. When she and the priestess had camped the night before, wrapping their shawls tight about them to ward off the cooling night air, Bryn had lain upon the ground and gazed up at the moon as she’d sailed above them, bright and swelling as the stars swirled around her.

She’d listened to Awel’s low singing, letting it wash over her, sweeping the homesickness away as the older priestess sang of the night and the owl who flew high in the sky, seeking the dazzling moon, only to come tumbling down, out of breath and dazed, and the woman who picked her up from the ground and breathed life and healing back into the owl’s broken body, and who ever after danced with owl feathers in her hair and wings upon her arms.

Bryn had fallen asleep then, and dreamt of flying, not as an owl, but with her own wings, spread wide over the sea, the moon at her back, her shadow upon the water, and as always, delight in every light hollow bone of her body. She glided, dipped a wing to turn, sought the breath of the wind upon which to soar and opened her beaked mouth to cry out with joy.

Yes. They were almost there. Bryn saw the knowledge in the sudden excitement in the air around Awel and she touched a hand to the stone her mother had given her, and which hung yet on a cord around her neck. The stone was polished from the sea’s tumbling, and her mother had held the hole in it up to her eye, then nodded.

‘To remind you,’ she had said, and Bryn heard her mother’s voice crack where it never had before, in all the singing, prompting, even the chastising.

‘To remind you that your task now is to learn to see.’


Chapter 2


‘What do you want to do?’ Ebony asked.

Rue had the phone clamped between her shoulder and ear as she pulled her sneakers on. ‘I want to go to the beach.’

‘The beach?’ Ebony was faintly disappointed. But then, she didn’t know why – was there a single decent thing they could do the day before Rue left for Wilde Grove?

She shook her head. No. There was not.

‘Yeah.’ In her bedroom, Rue straightened. ‘I don’t know which one, though. There’s something I want to find.’

Rue’s statement perked Ebony up a little. ‘Are you planning us an adventure?’ She turned and leaned against the back of her house. She’d been about to stare glumly at the backyard where her mother was in the greenhouse trying to talk the spinach into growing through the winter, but now she nodded, her mood lifting. ‘What will we be looking for at the beach? And which beach?’

Rue held her phone and shook her head. ‘I don’t know which beach – I want your opinion on that. I’m looking for one of those stones with a hole in the middle of it. You know the sort I mean?’

‘A hag stone,’ Ebony said. ‘Also known as a Druid stone and a serpent stone.’

‘A serpent stone?’ Rue paused. ‘You mean, like a dragon?’

‘Well, dragons were often described as serpents, but a serpent could just be a snake as well.’

Rue shook her head. Ebony was a fount of esoteric knowledge. ‘What’s that got to do with a stone, though?’

Ebony laughed and a sneaky autumn wind gusted around the side of the house, flattening her hair against her cheek and driving her inside to get a hat and jacket. ‘This is where it gets a bit gross,’ she said. ‘Apparently a serpent’s stone is made of their hardened saliva, and the hole is made by their tongue.’

‘Yep,’ Rue agreed. ‘That’s kind of disgusting. Why’s it called a Druid’s stone, then?’ Perhaps this would make a little more sense in the context of her dream. She shivered slightly at the memory of her dream, at the way Selena had gazed at her when she’d related it to her after greeting the day.

It had been Selena’s idea to find a holey stone. Or a holy stone, Rue thought, remembering the way she’d pressed her hand to it in the dream. It had been precious to whoever she’d been then.


She’d been someone named Bryn.

Rue was determined to see if she could find one. To see if she could discover the magic of it. For surely Bryn had been wearing it because it had magic in it.

‘I’ll tell you on the bus or something,’ Ebony said. ‘Just get your butt down here. The day’s half over already.’ She shoved a few essentials one-handed into her backpack. ‘We’ll go to Aramoana. I’ll call Sophie and Suze as well.’

‘Aramoana?’ Rue wrinkled her nose. ‘I’ve never been there. Isn’t that where that guy shot all those people?’

Ebony snorted. ‘That was years ago now, and definitely not why we’re going there.’ She threaded her arms into her jacket and went outside, the phone still jammed against her ear. She waved goodbye to her mother and went down the driveway. ‘There are heaps of shells washed up along the beach there. Those ones that look like unicorn horns, right?’

‘I’m not after a unicorn horn.’

Ebony laughed. ‘You sure? They’re supposed to be able to cure sickness, purify water, and their horn is a powerful antidote to poison.’

Rue shook her head, but she had a wide grin on her face. ‘You are a deep and endless repository of weird facts.’

‘Yup,’ Ebony agreed. ‘It’s one of the things you love about me.’ She pursed her lips. ‘Not too late to take me on your trip with you.’

Rue’s heart sank. ‘You know I want to,’ she said.

‘Yeah,’ Ebony sighed. ‘Maybe next time, eh?’



‘I forgot to tell you the other reason why Aramoana,’ Ebony said as they walked down onto the beach.

Rue was tugging her hat down over her ears. The wind wasn’t bad on the beach, fortunately, but the air was getting wintery, and the sky overhead had darkened from blue to grey during the bus trip.

‘What’s the other thing, then?’ Sophie asked. She’d become more interested in Ebony’s weird ideas since she’d decided to become a folklorist. 

Ebony pointed. ‘That.’

Rue looked up, then stopped walking and stared. ‘What is that?’ She shook her head. ‘Is it natural?’

Ebony nodded and glanced at Rue in triumph. ‘You wanted a hag stone, right?’ She looked at the rock formation that reared from the cliff and over the beach about halfway along the stretch of sand.  ‘Although I guess, in this circumstance, it’s probably more appropriate if we call it a Druid’s stone.’ She nudged Rue in the side with her elbow and grinned. ‘Am I right?’

‘You’re right.’

‘Yep. Told you I was right.’

Rue gazed up at the jutting rock, picking up her pace towards it. There was a hole in the middle of the rock, forming a natural window to the sky.

It was a very large holey stone.

‘Can you climb up there?’ Suze asked, zipping up her jacket against the cool day.

Ebony danced a small jig, kicking up sand under her boots. ‘Yes,’ she said, coming to a solemn stop and nodding. ‘Yes, my dear friends, you can.’ She tamped down the urge to grin and kept her expression serious. ‘And when you slip through it, legend says that you will be cured of all ills.’ She raised an impish eyebrow. ‘And if you pass backwards seven times through the hole, then you’ll soon be pregnant.’

Suze turned and looked at her, sceptical. ‘Really? I don’t think so.’

Ebony relaxed and shrugged. ‘Okay, so that’s actually said about the one in Cornwall, in the United Kingdom, but hey, who’s to say it’s not the same with this one?’ She gazed up at it. ‘Of course, the one in Cornwall is part of a Bronze Age stone circle, and not a natural formation like this.’ She squinted. ‘But it looks a bit like a love heart, right?’

‘I’m going through it,’ Rue said. ‘Or at least up to it. And I’m not going to get pregnant; I think we can count on that.’

‘Yeah,’ Ebony said. ‘None of us will be getting with child for we are currently without men.’

Rue paused, grinning at Suze who rolled her eyes, and let Ebony’s words fall unanswered to the sand. ‘There’s really one in where? Cornwall?’

‘There are standing stones with holes in them all over the place in the UK and Ireland.’ Ebony sighed wistfully. ‘I want to visit them.’

‘You can come with me,’ Sophie said, gazing up at the giant rock formation. ‘There are bound to be fascinating stories attached to the stones there.’ Her eyes shone as she considered it.

Rue glanced at her friends, then looped an arm over Ebony’s shoulders. ‘We will,’ she said. ‘One day we’ll all visit them. What do you say to that?’

‘I say hell yeah.’ Ebony’s smile was wide, and her eyes were dancing again. ‘Let’s climb the cliff and thread ourselves through this hole, right?’

‘Can you fit through it?’

‘It’s bigger than it looks from here. You can stand up in it.’


The scramble up the cliff left them out of breath, or perhaps it was just that close up, the hole in the rock was large and even more magical than it had looked from the ground far below. The girls stood crowded shoulder to shoulder on the path in front of it, looking through at the sky.

‘Wow,’ Rue breathed.

‘I know,’ Ebony answered.

‘I’ve never climbed up here,’ Suze said.

Sophie shook her head in awe. ‘It’s amazing,’

‘I dreamt last night,’ Rue said, because she hadn’t told them about it yet.

‘I was Bryn again. There was a woman with me. A priestess. She was singing.’ Rue blinked. ‘Something about owls, I think. We were on a long journey somewhere.’

Sophie perked up. ‘Can you remember anything else about the song?’

Rue frowned, not looking at the rock anymore, but inside herself where the dream still echoed. ‘An owl and the moon,’ she said. ‘The owl tried flying to the moon?’ She pressed her lips together and shook her head. ‘It fell down, or something, and a woman picked it up, nursed it back to health and then was an owl herself?’ She shook her head again. ‘I don’t think I’ve got it right.’

‘Where were you going?’ Ebony asked. 

Rue wrapped her arms around her middle and hugged herself, staring at the hole in the rock. ‘To Wilde Grove, I think.’ She shifted slightly. ‘Except it wasn’t Wilde Grove then, of course. I don’t know what it was called, but I was travelling there to be a priestess.’

Ebony turned and looked at her, then shook her head. ‘When?’ she demanded. ‘When was this?’

Rue shrugged. ‘Dunno,’ she said. ‘Maybe near the beginning?’

‘The beginning of the Grove?’ Suze asked.

Rue nodded. Selena had thought so.

‘I was wearing a stone on a string around my neck,’ Rue continued. ‘It had a hole through it, and it was really precious to me.’ She nipped a tooth at her lip. ‘To Bryn, I mean. Her mother had given it to her.’

‘That’s why you want to find one?’ Suze asked.

Rue nodded. ‘Selena says to bring things back from your dreams like this, if you can.’

‘Yeah,’ Ebony said. They’d been in on that lesson. On most of the lessons, actually. She wished once more that she was going to Wilde Grove with Rue. ‘We’ll look down on the beach. There should be some. I’ve heard that they’re pretty easy to find on the beaches here.’

Rue nodded but she was looking at the great hole through the rock right in front of them again. ‘I’m going to go through it,’ she said, and let her arms drop and dangle loosely while she took a breath. ‘I reckon this could count as one of Selena’s liminal spaces, don’t you?’

Ebony looked through the hole. ‘Definitely.’

Suze and Sophie nodded in agreement.

Tipping her head to the side, Rue blew out a breath. ‘We’ll have to, you know, expand our senses, right?’

‘Yeah. Just don’t take a tumble on the other side.’ Ebony stood on her tippy toes and looked. ‘I don’t think there’s anywhere to stand on the other side. I think we can only stand inside the hole.’

‘Okay,’ Rue said, automatically adjusting her expectations. ‘That’s fine, right? It can be a window instead of a doorway.’ She shrugged. ‘We can just look.’ A glance at Ebony. ‘Want to do it together?’

A nod from Ebony and they drew breath simultaneously, used to doing this exercise now. They’d learnt it at the beginning when Selena had taught them how to make their staves, and from when she’d taken them to help the spirit pass on from Sophie’s house. It was a basic skill, Selena said, although not necessarily an easy one.

Rue felt like she was drifting. As though she wasn’t quite inside her head anymore, but was in all of her skin, her blood, bones, and wafting in the salty breeze just outside herself as well. She glanced at Ebony, saw her friend’s glowing pale eyes, the smile on her lips, and nodded. Ebony returned the gesture, and they scrambled forward together.

The hole was big enough for them to stand beside each other, one arm around the other’s waist, their other arms outstretched, fingers locked onto the rocky surface of the inner circle.

They saw the beach and the sky, and the seagulls on the other side of the hole, and Rue closed her eyes for a moment, looking inside as well, then flicking her eyes back open and seeing her hand lift a stone and she peered through it.

The stone was a reminder of a different way to see. Her mother had pressed it into her hand before saying goodbye, waving her off, standing in front of the hut Bryn had lived in her whole life, tears streaming down her face, her mouth stretched wide in a proud, radiant smile.

Ebony’s arm clamped tighter around Rue’s middle then loosened as Rue came back to herself and nodded.

‘I’m all right,’ she said.

‘What did you see?’ Ebony asked, turning her head back to the view and closing her eyes, feeling the cold air against her face with a sudden surge of happiness. This was the life, she thought, feeling a tug of her own, a slight shifting sideways, and the press of a sudden impression. A face, a sprigged dress, blue steps.

The images vanished as she gasped.

‘I saw Bryn,’ Rue said, patting the rock that encircled them and twisting carefully around to step back down to the narrow pathway where Sophie and Suze waited. ‘She was saying goodbye to her mother, and that’s when her mother gave her the stone.’ She landed with bent knees and reached a hand up for Ebony to steady herself with. ‘It was meant to show her the…Otherworld, I guess.’

Ebony jumped down beside her. ‘This is real, right?’

‘You’re asking that?’ Rue laughed. ‘You’re the biggest believer in all this that I know.’

Sophie looked at Ebony, noticed her expression. ‘Did you see something?’

‘Just for a moment,’ Ebony said. Then shook her head. ‘I mean, it was real brief.’

‘What was it? What did you see?’

‘Just a face, for a moment, and a bit of this girl’s dress.’ Ebony frowned. ‘And some steps.’ She shook her head, then shrugged. ‘Blue steps.’

‘But that’s awesome,’ Rue said. ‘Selena told us we’d start getting impressions and stuff if we kept doing the exercise.’

‘Yeah.’ Ebony took a breath then blew it out in a puff. ‘I really did see something, didn’t I? Wow. That is so cool. I wonder who she was?’

‘Our turn,’ Suze announced and looked at Sophie. ‘Ready?’

Sophie nodded back and they climbed into the hole in the rock and stood there looking down the beach, arm in arm.

‘You can see for miles,’ Suze said.

Sophie nodded, watching the ocean stretch out to the horizon. ‘We’re just kind of small, really, aren’t we?’

Suze nodded. ‘Yeah, but lucky too, right? We get to enjoy all this.’

Sophie closed her eyes for a moment, thinking about Rue seeing Bryn, and even Ebony catching a glimpse of something. She let herself relax in the way that Selena had taught them and felt the rock rough against the hand that gripped it, and Suze’s warmth next to her on the other side. For a moment, everything swung around her – the whole world turning and everything endless. She opened her eyes and was glad to be even one small piece of it.

Rue led the way back down the rocky path and landed back on the beach with a thump of her sneakers. ‘We’ve got to keep trying,’ she said. ‘Then we’ll see more.’

She swivelled to look out at the sea. The tide had turned while they were climbing the cliff and now the waves were inching higher up the beach.

‘I wish you were coming with us,’ she said to her friends.

‘Nah, it’s only a few weeks,’ Ebony said. ‘It’s okay.’ She glanced at Suze and Sophie. ‘We’ll manage without you for a bit.’

The other two girls nodded.

‘I’m going to hang out a bunch with Dandy anyway,’ Ebony said. She’s agreed to teach me to read the tarot.’

Rue nodded, looked at her friends. ‘Keep an eye on Clover for me too, will you? You know, go over, and play with her and stuff. That way I’ll know she’ll be all right.’





Chapter 3


‘Ambrose!’ Selena shook her head. ‘Teresa. You are both a blessed sight.’

‘Selena,’ Ambrose said. ‘We have missed you terribly!’

Teresa nodded, glad to see her friend again so soon.

Selena smiled at them, alarmed at the tears that had sprung to her eyes. She wrapped Teresa in an embrace, then put a hand on Ambrose’s shoulder, and drew him into a hug. ‘You have been well?’ she asked when she finally let him go.

‘Very,’ he said, his heart filled with gladness at the sight of Selena. ‘And you are looking wonderful.’ His eyes crinkled with his smile, and he turned to Rue standing slightly behind Selena. She gazed back at him.

‘Welcome,’ he said. ‘I’m Ambrose. Selena and Teresa have told us all so much about you.’

‘Yes,’ Selena said, still smiling. ‘This is Rue.’

Rue hugged Teresa, very glad to see her again, then gazed at the fair-haired man and felt her cheeks glow red. He was very handsome. And a member of the Grove. Another bona fide member of Wilde Grove. She cleared her throat, Teresa’s arm still wrapped around her.

‘Hello,’ she said.

Ambrose tipped his head and smiled. ‘I’m very pleased to be able to meet you finally, and I know you’ve had such a long trip.’

‘Are you taking us to Wilde Grove now?’ Rue asked, her cheeks heating some more while she kicked herself mentally, glancing at Teresa, mortified. Of course, he was there to take them to the Grove. Did she think they were just going to stay at the airport for the whole month?

Teresa gave her a squeeze. ‘We certainly are,’ she said.

Ambrose beamed at her. ‘Everyone there is waiting to see you. Do you like owls?’

Rue frowned in confusion. ‘I guess so,’ she said. ‘Do you have owls there?’

‘Clarice has,’ Ambrose said. ‘An owl, anyway. She’s very keen to show her to you.’

Teresa laughed. ‘Expect her to want to show you as soon as we arrive.’

Rue swallowed. Selena had told them about each person at the Grove. About Morghan and Grainne. And Clarice, who was ten, or almost eleven. But she’d never mentioned an owl.

‘Clarice has an owl?’ Selena asked as they walked out of the airport to Ambrose’s car, her brows raised.

Ambrose grimaced. ‘It was something that just sort of happened after you left,’ he said. ‘I was, well, talking to her about a man who trains raptors, and about how he had rescued an owl…and it just escalated from there.’

Selena laughed then shook her head. ‘I can’t wait to see everyone.’


The drive took a couple hours, Rue listening with half an ear to Selena and Ambrose’s conversation up front, and looking out the window as she sat beside Teresa in the back, feeling both excitement and nervousness. What would everyone be like, she wondered? Would Morghan like her? She glanced up at Ambrose’s flop of fair hair, the way his shoulders and arms looked slim but strong, then looked quickly away, back out the window.

She watched the scenery go by, thinking then about Bryn, wondering at the dreams she’d had of her, wondering if Bryn had walked or lived near any of the places they were passing. It was possible, she decided, sitting a little straighter in the seat and squeezing her eyes open and shut trying to get rid of some of the gritty fatigue in them.

She was going to Wilde Grove, Rue thought. They were going there because of her. Because of her dreams.

Her dreams of Bryn.

She’d not known what to say when Selena had told her she wanted to take her to Wilde Grove – just for a visit, if Andy would let them go. Rue had been astounded, and immediately in contact with her father, begging him to let her take the trip, just for a few weeks.

He’d agreed, but only that she could go. Not Clover as well.

Then there was the fuss over passports, and the discussions about whether it would be better to wait until school was out for the year.

Rue had argued against that one with everything she had. The school year wasn’t even halfway through, she’d said. That meant waiting months before they could go. Rue said it wouldn’t matter to skip a couple weeks. 

Tara hadn’t liked it when she’d said that, Rue remembered, missing her suddenly. She’d frowned at Rue and argued strenuously that the whole trip should wait until the end of the year when Rue would have a whole six weeks off school. 

But eventually, it had been decided. They’d go during the next school holidays, even though they were only two weeks long. Rue would take two weeks off school, which she’d have to catch up on when she got back. 

A month, she thought now, marvelling at the stone cottages they were passing. Only a month. It wouldn’t be long enough.

Although long enough for what, Rue wasn’t quite sure.

She was going to the Grove because of the dreams, because of Bryn, but Selena admitted she wasn’t sure what would happen when they got there.

‘I only follow the thread,’ she’d said. ‘I don’t always know where the thread leads.’


Grainne stepped out of the house and onto the driveway, her smile widening as she heard the car pull up. By the time Selena was getting out of the passenger’s side, Grainne was laughing, her arms spread wide.

‘Selena!’ she said, wrapping her arms around her and breathing her in. ‘You have been sorely missed.’

‘As have you, Grainne,’ Selena answered, smiling into Grainne’s familiar face. ‘You are looking very well, however.’

‘I have been feeling very well.’ Grainne turned her attention to Rue standing awkwardly beside the car. She beamed at her.

‘Welcome to Wellsford,’ she said, then swept a hand at the house. ‘And welcome to Hawthorn House, your home away from home. We are honoured to have you here.’

Rue wondered why Grainne was welcoming them to Wellsford, rather than Wilde Grove, but she had no intention of asking the woman whose eyes were an astounding golden green in a face covered with reddish freckles. But still, she wondered, glancing at Teresa who merely smiled back at her. Wilde Grove was in Wellsford, obviously, but how did it work? Was it a place? Selena spoke of it as though it was, and Hawthorn House, where Selena had used to live as Lady of the Grove was part of it.

But Wilde Grove was more than an estate, Rue thought. Much more.

She was determined to learn how much more.

‘Thank you,’ she said, feeling a little as though she were dreaming. ‘The house is beautiful.’ Rue gazed at it, then glanced at Selena. ‘This was where you used to live?’

Selena reached out and touched Rue’s shoulder. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Right up until I went looking for you and Clover.’

Rue gazed up at the building. ‘It’s so beautiful. I would never have wanted to leave.’

Selena laughed and put an arm around Rue’s shoulders. ‘I never thought I was going to, until I did. And look what I ended up with.’

But Rue shook her head, still gazing around, flabbergasted. ‘I don’t know how you could leave this behind, even so.’

‘It was my path, Rue,’ Selena said.

‘And it brought you two together,’ Grainne added, Teresa and Ambrose nodding beside her. ‘That counts for a lot.’

Rue drew in a breath, closing her eyes. She could smell the woods, she thought. They smelt differently than she was used to. For a moment, images swam before her closed eyes and she tried to reach for them, but they slipped out of reach, back into the realm of dreams. Dancing, she thought. Dancing with the trees.

She shook herself slightly and smiled self-consciously. ‘I just can’t believe I’m here.’

‘Selena tells me you’ve been here before, apparently,’ Grainne said, watching the young woman with frank interest. She was very used to the idea of walking with past lives, and couldn’t help but wonder why Rue’s was pushing through so strongly to the present.

Still, that was why the girl had come here to Wilde Grove, after all. To discover the reason behind it.

Grainne knew there would be a reason. It was fascinating, she thought, how things worked, how the world was organised. This girl had been born so far away, and yet…

And yet, Grainne thought, glancing at Selena and nodding. She could well understand why Selena was bringing her back to the Grove.

Rue was from here. The Grove was her history, and perhaps – for who knew? Grainne could not always tell what would come – her future as well.

When Rue’s gaze finally returned from taking in the sight of the house, Grainne stepped over and hugged Rue, then held her at arm’s length and openly examined her, still smiling. ‘Selena’s told us so much about you,’ she said. ‘I’m very glad to be meeting you.’

Rue swallowed and resisted the urge to put her fingers to the spot where Grainne had touched her arm. Her legs trembled slightly. The way Grainne had looked at her…Rue closed her eyes for a moment. There’d been a lot of speculation in that look.

And yet, Rue didn’t feel as though she’d been judged, like a fish on the end of someone’s line, to see if she was the right sort, the correct length and weight, or if she was best thrown back. She’d felt interest in Grainne’s look, interest and a wondering. Rue drew in a quiet breath and let it out slowly.

‘Where’s Morghan?’ Selena asked.

‘She’s with one of her clients, unfortunately,’ Grainne answered. ‘She wanted to be here, and I’m sure she’ll hurry back as soon as she can.’

Selena nodded. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘She told me she was working at the hospice now, and privately with people too, helping them pass over.’

Grainne nodded and laughed. ‘She needed something to do with those prodigious gifts of hers, now that I don’t require them anymore.’

Rue listened to the conversation and wondered what Grainne meant. How had she needed Morghan’s ability to help people die peacefully? Rue decided there was no way she was going to ask, though. Even if she could get her tongue unstuck. Grainne made her feel tongue-tied and shy.

‘Let’s get you settled, shall we?’ Ambrose said, a suitcase in each hand.

‘For certain,’ Grainne echoed. ‘And Mrs Parker and I have made some refreshments for you, to help you settle in.’ She looked at Selena. ‘I’m glad you’re staying here at Hawthorn House with us. There’s plenty enough room for you, and I would feel rather odd, with you coming back but not being at the big house.’ She laughed and shook her head, looked over at the others.

‘Do you remember the trouble we had, getting Morghan to move in?’

Teresa smiled. ‘She would still be at Blackthorn House if you hadn’t taken matters into your own hands.’

Grainne looked back at Selena. ‘It was hard for her, your going.’

Rue shifted on her feet. Her heart thudded in her chest at the thought of meeting Morghan. She wasn’t quite sure why – after all, could Morghan Wilde be that different than Selena?

She glanced at Selena, who was saying something to Grainne, and turning to follow her and Ambrose and Teresa into the house.

Selena, when she closed her eyes and felt around for it, was motherly, safe, and so very much loved.

The love was old too, Rue thought, standing in the driveway suddenly unaware that the others had gone inside and she was still standing there.

The love was so very old. She shifted her thoughts to Morghan, and another feeling drifted towards consciousness.

It was love but coloured with something else too. Rue squeezed her eyes shut tighter and reached for it. Respect, perhaps? Awe.

She didn’t know. Swimming back to the present, Rue opened her eyes with a shock, and shook her head.

Someone was watching her.

Rue blinked at the girl, who stared back at her, her eyes pale and searching, twigs in her hair.

And on her shoulder, a great owl, face round, eyes golden.

‘Everyone’s gone inside,’ the girl said. ‘What were you doing?’

Rue fumbled for words, didn’t find any.

‘Perhaps you were falling asleep,’ Clarice said. ‘Mum said you’d be tired when you got here. That you’re coming from the other side of the world.’

Rue stared at her. ‘Is that an owl?’ she asked.

‘Her name’s Sigil,’ Clarice said. She glanced at the house. ‘She’s not supposed to be allowed inside – we have an owlery for her – but sometimes I smuggle her into my room.’

Grainne reappeared at the door. ‘Oh, there you are. Rue, has Clarice introduced herself?’

‘She’s introduced her owl,’ Rue said and relaxed into a sudden grin. ‘It’s amazing – having your own owl.’

Clarice nodded gravely. ‘Uncle Ambrose got her for me.’

‘Yes,’ Grainne said. ‘He was very naughty, wasn’t he?’

Clarice shook her head and lifted a hand to pat the bird who stood perched on her shoulder as if this were the most normal thing in the world.

‘May I pat her, do you think?’ Rue asked. She shook her head. ‘Clover would adore this.’

‘Clover’s your sister, isn’t she?’ Clarice asked, turning slightly so Rue could reach Sigil. ‘Why didn’t she come with you?’

‘She’s only ,’ Rue said, gingerly touching the owl’s feathers. They were soft, and this took Rue by surprise. The owl turned her head and looked at Rue, great round eyes blinking slowly.

‘She still could have come,’ Clarice insisted.

Rue was embarrassed. Her father had insisted that Clover not go too, and Selena had decided that Clover would be just fine staying home with Tara, Dandy, and Damien. And Natalie, who was at the house all the time. She’d said that maybe it was even better that way, that this trip was for Rue. They could always go again when Clover was older. Rue had flushed and not known what to say when Selena had announced her decision.

She’d felt honoured, and guilty.

‘Her feathers are so soft,’ she said to Clarice. ‘Can she fly?’

‘Of course,’ Clarice said, then closed her mouth at her mother’s narrow eyed look and nodded instead. ‘She goes hunting in the evenings. She’s supposed to be sleeping in the owlery now, but I wanted her to meet you.’

Rue smiled. ‘She’s wonderful,’ she said. ‘What’s an owlery?’

Clarice brightened. ‘You wanna see?’ She looked at Grainne. ‘Can I show her?’

‘Rue would probably like to wash and have something to eat,’ Grainne said.

But Rue shook her head. ‘I’d love to see the owlery,’ she said. ‘If that’s okay?’

‘Oh,’ Grainne laughed. ‘Go on, then.’

Rue followed Clarice around the big house, bemused. Just wait, she thought, until she told Ebony and the others about the girl who looked more Fae than human, and her owl.

She shook her head. This trip was already promising to blow her mind.