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Blue Smoke
Author: Nora Roberts

PROLOGUE

Fire became in heat and smoke and light. Like some preternatural beast clawing its way from the womb, it burst to life with a cackle that rose to a roar.

And changed everything in one magnificent instant.

Like that beast, it slithered, snaked its way over wood, and scored what had been clean and bright with its black and powerful fingers.

It had eyes, red and all seeing, and a mind so brilliant, so complete, it memorized everything in its orbit.

He saw it as a kind of entity, a gilded, crimson god that existed only to destroy. And it took what it wanted without remorse, without mercy. With such ardor.

Everything fell before it, kneeling supplicants that worshipped even as they were consumed.

But he had made it, created it. So he was the god of fire. More powerful than the flames, more canny than the heat, more stunning than the smoke.

It hadn’t lived until he gave it breath.

Watching it become, he fell in love.

The light flickered over his face, danced in his fascinated eyes. He took a beer, savored its sharp coolness in his throat as his skin streamed with the heat.

There was excitement in his belly, wonder in his mind. Possibilities flashing through his imagination as the fire streaked up the walls.

It was beautiful. It was strong. It was fun.

Watching it become, he became. And his destiny was scored into him, branding heart and soul.

1

BALTIMORE, 1985

Catarina Hale’s childhood ended on a steamy August night a few hours after the Orioles demolished the Rangers at Memorial Stadium, kicking their Texas butts—as her dad said—nine to one. Her parents had taken a rare night off to haul the whole family to the game, which made the win all the sweeter. Most nights one of them, often both, put in long hours at Sirico’s, the pizzeria they’d taken over from her mother’s father. And the place where, eighteen years before, her parents had met. Her mother, a young, vibrant eighteen—so the story went—when the twenty-year-old Gibson Hale had swaggered in for a slice.

Went in for pizza, he liked to say, and got myself an Italian goddess.

Her father talked weird that way, a lot. But Reena liked to hear it.

Got himself a pizzeria, too, ten years later when Poppi and Nuni decided it was time to put their traveling shoes on. Bianca, the youngest of five and their only daughter, took it over with her Gib as none of her brothers wanted the place.

Sirico’s had stood in the same spot in Baltimore’s Little Italy for over forty-three years. Which was even older than Reena’s father, a fact that amazed her. Now her father—who didn’t have even a single drop of Italian blood in his whole body—ran the place, along with her mother—who was Italian all the way through to the bone.

Sirico’s was almost always busy, and a lot of work, but Reena didn’t mind, even when she had to help. Her older sister, Isabella, complained because sometimes she had to work there on Saturday nights instead of going out on a date, or with her friends. But Bella complained almost all the time anyway.

She especially complained that their oldest sister, Francesca, had her own bedroom on the third floor while she had to share with Reena. Xander got his own room, too, because he was the only boy even though he was the youngest.

Sharing with Bella had been okay, it had even been fun until Bella got to be a teenager and decided she was too old to do anything but talk about boys or read fashion magazines or play with her hair.

Reena was eleven and five-sixths. The five-sixths was an essential addition because it meant she had only fourteen months until she was a teenager. This was currently her most fervent ambition, overtaking previous ambitions such as becoming a nun or marrying Tom Cruise.

On this hot and heavy August night when Reena was eleven and five-sixths, she awoke in the dark with hard, cramping pains in her belly. She curled up, trying to make herself into a ball and biting her lip to hold back a moan. Across the room, as far as could be managed now that Bella was fourteen and more interested in having big hair than in being a big sister, Bella snored gently.

Reena rubbed at the ache and thought of the hot dogs and popcorn and candy she’d gobbled up at the ball game. Her mother told her she’d be sorry.

Couldn’t her mother be wrong, even once?

She tried to offer it up, like the nuns were always saying, so some poor sinner could benefit from her bellyache. But it just hurt!

Maybe it wasn’t from the hot dogs. Maybe it was from when Joey Pastorelli hit her in the stomach. He’d gotten in bad trouble for it. For knocking her down and ripping her shirt and calling her a name she didn’t understand. Mr. Pastorelli and her father had gotten into a fight when her dad went to his house to “discuss the situation.”

She’d heard them yelling at each other. Her father never yelled—well, hardly ever yelled. Her mother was the yeller because she was one hundred percent Italian and had a temper.

But boy had he yelled at Mr. Pastorelli. And he’d hugged her so hard when he got home.

And they’d gone to the ball game.

Maybe she was being punished for being glad Joey Pastorelli was going to get punished. And being a little glad he’d knocked her down and torn her shirt because then they’d gone to the game and watched the O’s stomp all over the Rangers.

Or maybe she had internal injuries.

She knew you could get internal injuries and even die because she’d seen it on Emergency!, one of her and Xander’s favorite shows.

The thought brought on another vicious cramp that had her eyes welling with tears. She started to get out of bed—she wanted her mother—and felt something wet between her thighs.

Sniffling, embarrassed she might have wet her pants like a baby, she crept out of the bedroom, down the hall toward the bathroom. She stepped inside the room with its pink tub and tiles and pulled up her Ghostbusters T-shirt.

Hot waves of fear rolled through her as she stared at the blood on her thighs. She was dying. Her ears began to ring. When the next cramp seized her belly, she opened her mouth to scream.

And understood.

Not dying, she thought. Not suffering from internal injuries. She had her period. She was having her first period.

Her mother had explained it all, about the eggs, and cycles and about becoming a woman. Both her sisters had periods every month, and so did her mother.

There was Kotex in the cabinet under the sink. Mama had shown her how to use it, and she’d locked herself in one day to practice. She cleaned herself up and tried not to be a sissy about it. It wasn’t the blood that bothered her so much, but where it came from was pretty gross.

   
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