Open Letter to the US Attorney General

Dear Mr. Sessions:

There must be a special place in hell for someone who tries to use the Bible to defend the indefensible. Demons are probably readying your room right now.

So, Mr. Sessions, you want to talk about what God wants? I’ll keep this simple so maybe you can follow it. The Bible can be boiled down to one basic idea:

Old Testament: Be nice to each other.

New Testament: I’m so serious about you guys being nice to each other, I’m sending my son to tell you in person.

This idea is repeated over and over again, from the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-37) to Peter’s vision telling him to take the Gospel to everyone (Acts 10:9-16) to Jesus telling the disciples not to keep the children away from him (Matthew 19:14).

Nowhere does the Bible say that people from other countries are any less valuable to God than American citizens. Seriously, dude. Go back to Sunday school.

And let’s talk about your rationale. It will be a deterrent, you say. It will stop people from trying to enter the U.S. illegally. Maybe, eventually, it will. If anyone ever makes it back to report what’s happening.

Listen up, moron: the people fleeing drug cartels and famine and war-ravaged countries aren’t exactly reading The Washington Post before they leave. They’re not watching CNN or NBC Nightly News. Think about it! They don’t have enough food or a safe place to sleep, and much less access to U.S. news channels.

They’re running from conditions so horrible they’re willing to risk their lives and the lives of their children to escape. They know they might not make it, but even that’s better than staying where they are. Finally, they arrive — they’re safe. They breathe a sigh of relief.

And then your guys show up. Their children are ripped from their arms. Parents are handcuffed and put in prison. Bail is set at an astronomical sum, and in U.S. dollars — which they don’t have.

How do you even sleep at night? You can bluster and justify all you want, but deep down, you have to know that what you’re doing is not only illegal, but also immoral. It goes against every code of ethics ever written. Nothing can make it right except stopping RIGHT NOW and working as hard to reunite these families as you’ve worked to separate them.

Then, the citizens of the world just might forgive you. I can’t speak for God, though. You’re gonna have to deal with him on your own.


Me, a middle-aged white woman born and raised in the South yet somehow still capable of seeing beyond your hate-filled, biased rhetoric.



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A Healthy Gut Equals a Healthy Life

11223679_10205080862836882_7786461231836108682_oWhen I was young, it was posited that “cleanliness is next to Godliness.” As it turns out, however, Western society may have taken the cleanliness thing just a little too far.

Recent research shows the best way to prevent allergies is to expose your children to allergens at a young age, not protect them as was once thought. Get a dog. Get a cat. Let your children play outside in the dirt. For more information, read this WebMD article:

Anti-microbial soaps actually do more harm than good — and have contributed to the rise of antibiotic-resistant organisms. Even the FDA says to skip it and just use regular soap (

Putting chlorine in city water supplies has eradicated many water-borne illnesses, but also has been liked to certain cancers (

There is such a thing as too much cleanliness — especially when it comes to our guts. One of the benefits of breast-feeding, even if you only do it for the first day of your baby’s life, is that breast milk populates an infant’s gut with intestinal microflora — or beneficial gut bacteria, according to the NIH ( These beneficial gut bacteria protect infants from such illnesses as gastroenteritis, respiratory tract infections, ear infections, urinary tract infections, neonatal septicaemia, and necrotizing enterocolitis.

A pediatric gastroenterologist once told me that Crohn’s Disease is known as the white bread disease among doctors in the field. Essentially, we’ve cleaned our food supply, and therefore our guts, to the point that our bodies are rebelling. The Western diet, processed and cleansed, doesn’t provide us with a wide enough range of intestinal bacteria.

In addition, glyphosate-based herbicides, used world-wide, have been shown to damage human cells at low levels ( And the danger of glyphosate, in particular, is that it can’t be washed off the surface of foods — it’s absorbed by the plant and becomes part of it. Animals are also fed grains treated with glyphosate, giving omnivores such as humans a double dose of the poison.

So what to do? We certainly don’t want to stop chlorinating our water, taking us back to the days of widespread cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. And while glyphosate can be avoided by buying organic and non-GMO foods, it can’t be completely eradicated from our diets due to incidental exposure from wind blowing the pesticide as it’s applied and water runoff from treated fields.

What’s wrong with GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms? Mother Nature has been genetically modifying plants for eons. It’s called evolution. The problem is that modern GMOs have been modified specifically to withstand glyphosate. So in order to avoid glyphosate in your diet, you’ll have to avoid GMO foods.

Here are my suggestions, gleaned from reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, discussions with dietitians, and personal experience:

  1. Buy organic. Produce, meats, eggs, milk, butter, sugar, everything.
  2. If you can’t buy organic, buy non-GMO.
  3. Avoid processed foods. As Michael Pollan says, shop the outside edges of the grocery store and avoid the center aisles.
  4. Buy a filter pitcher and filter your drinking water.
  5. Take a high-quality probiotic.

This last one is especially important. Some of us need to repopulate our guts with beneficial bacteria. Some of us need backup for when we eat fast food or a doughnut from the box someone brought to work (yes, guilty as charged). Lack of varied intestinal microflora has been implicated in inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s and autism, meaning your gut health also affects your brain health (

Yes, organic food is more expensive. Yes, a high-quality probiotic is expensive. However, doctor visits, prescription medications, and missing work because you’re sick are even more expensive. Not to mention, feeling tired and run-down all the time negatively affects both your quality of life and your mental health.

I’m not telling you this because I’ve always been a clean eater. No, I used to think the saying “You are what you eat” was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. I figured as long as I exercised and burned off the calories, I was good. So I ran road races and ate what I wanted — fast food, sugary desserts, sodas. I thought the whole organic/non-GMO movement was just a way to get me to spend more money at the grocery store.

As I’ve aged, however, my body has let me know that those foods make it unhappy. Very unhappy. I’ve discovered that having achy joints, an upset stomach, and depression isn’t worth the pleasure of McDonald’s fries and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I’ve found that organic foods and a good probiotic make me feel better, both physically and mentally.

I’ve been slow to embrace eating an all-organic non-GMO diet, and even slower to agree with my doctor that yes, maybe I could benefit from a probiotic. I haven’t gone crazy with my new lifestyle, and I don’t think I’ll ever be a vegetarian, much less a vegan.

However, I’ve discovered that science is right and I was wrong, and you are, truly, what you eat. Bottom line, your gut health affects your entire body. Eating organic and taking a probiotic is a small price to pay for good health. I’m willing to pay it. Are you?





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How do you tell your 12-year-old son that his best friend has died?

When we left Florence the day after Christmas, Colin was doing better. They were weaning him off the ventilator. He was responding to his parents and siblings with smiles and nods. I thought that he might actually beat the odds.

The weekend before Colin got sick, he’d stayed with us. I had noticed, at one point, that he seemed paler than usual. However, he’d behaved normally, rollerskating on Friday night and throwing popcorn at the screen on Saturday during the love scenes of the latest Twilight movie, which he and Ben were required to attend because I’d promised Ben’s sister I’d take her and a friend.

As usual, Colin and Ben had alternated between playing outside and coming in to play video games. Colin’s energy level seemed normal to me, and I was paying attention because his pallor worried me. It was winter, and he was fair skinned, I told myself. Nothing to worry about. But I was wrong.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, Colin had leukemia. When his mom took him for his annual checkup, the doctor gave him a chicken pox booster — recommended at age 12. But because of the as-yet-undiagnosed leukemia, the vaccination overwhelmed his system, throwing him into an extremely rare illness, hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH. Basically, in HLH, your immune system goes into overdrive, and begins attacking your organs as well as the virus it’s actually after.

But HLH starts slowly. After spending the weekend with us, Colin wasn’t at school on Monday. Via computer, Colin told Ben he had chicken pox. He sent Ben a photo of a few welts. Okay, sometimes a booster will do that. It’s rare, but it happens. I still didn’t worry.

Then Colin went into the hospital. Doctors at McLeod were stymied. His condition worsened. He was transferred to Columbia and placed on a ventilator. The doctors in Columbia finally diagnosed him with HLH. Now, I worried. As a nurse, I knew the odds. I also knew that Colin’s mom, a Pediatric Intensive Care nurse, knew the odds.

But the news was good. They were treating him with chemotherapy. Colin’s condition began improving. They began weaning him off the ventilator. He began responding to his parents and siblings when they spoke to him.

So I thought it was safe to follow through on our after-Christmas plans of a mountain trip. We made it as far as Rock Hill. On Dec. 27, my phone rang. Colin’s dad was on the other end. Colin hadn’t beaten the odds after all.

So how do you tell your 12-year-old that his best friend has died? Colin, the person who got his sense of humor. Colin, the person who said he’d go to IB with him. Colin, his wingman on the soccer field. Colin, his best friend in the whole world.

You go into his room, and you say, “Ben, I need to tell you something.” Then, because there’s no way to soften the blow, you say, “Ben, Colin has died.”

And you hold him in your arms while you both cry.

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Rainbow Risks

There’s always a fad: pet rocks, mood rings, troll dolls, Cabbage Patch dolls … the list goes on. And your kids always want whatever it is.

About 2000 or so, Rainbow flip-flops made it from California to South Carolina and became the latest thing. My children begged for them, but I refused to spend $20 apiece on three pairs of flip-flops that they’d outgrow in a few months.

One late August afternoon, I’d picked them up from after-school care and we were driving home. School had started, summer was ending, and a store we were driving past was advertising a sale on Rainbows. Unfortunately for me, Adam could read.

“Hey, Mom!” he said. “They’re on sale!”

I was in nursing school and I must have been especially tired that day, because I caved. Pulling in to the parking lot, I said, “We’re buying the flip-flops and nothing else.”

As we entered said establishment, I noticed a young man sitting on a bench out front. Tattoos covered each arm, and his facial piercings were numerous. This should have alerted me, but as I said, I was tired.

We entered what appeared to be a surf shop — t-shirts and flip-flops, in-line skates, skateboards, and surfboards surrounded us. They had children’s Rainbows, and we found the correct sizes.

Adam, about 8 years old, wandered back into the t-shirts.

“Hey, Mom, look at this!” he called, holding up a shirt that was entirely inappropriate for his younger siblings to see.

“Adam, put it back,” I said, herding Mary and Ben to the cash register to pay for the three pairs of still-much-too-expensive-but-at-least-on-sale shoes. As I focused on getting out the credit card and signing my name, Mary, age 5, and Ben, age 4, stared into the glass display case in front of us.

“Mom, what’s that?” Ben asked, pointing at something in the display case.

I realized, much too late, that the case displayed rubber body parts with piercings. And there, among the ears and the noses and the eyebrows, was a breast with a nipple ring. Which, naturally, was what Ben was pointing at.

“Let’s go,” I said, snatching the bag from the cashier’s hand and hustling Mary and Ben outside. Adam finally tore himself away from the t-shirts and followed us.

Yes, they got their Rainbows, along with an education in body piercings and, um, highly inappropriate t-shirts.

I think now about how we must have looked to the people who worked at the surf shop — young suburban mom, Toyota minivan, three young kids — wandering into the land of body piercings and sex wax.

As I said, I was tired. And the shoes were on sale.


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First Love

One of my earliest memories is of wading in the ocean. We were in Wilmington, N.C., to visit some elderly relatives of my mother’s. For whatever reason, we had some down time, so my parents took my brother Rusty and me to the beach to entertain us.

It wasn’t summer, and Rusty and I were dressed in our Sunday best to meet the old ladies. It was probably cold, but I didn’t notice. All I remember is I had to get in the water.

“Don’t get your clothes wet!” my mother admonished. Really, I didn’t mean to! But I couldn’t resist the ebb and flow of the waves. The sound, the movement, the water crashing on the sand, curling into it, then flattening out, receding, only to do it again. And again. I loved it.

I don’t remember meeting the old ladies that day, although I’m sure we did. All I have is that little snippet of time we spent at the ocean.

Looking back, I’m surprised at my love of water. My mother tells me that as a toddler, living in land-locked northern Alabama, I would wake up terrified, screaming about “sharps” under my bed. Now, I wonder how I even knew sharks existed. There was no Discovery Channel. We didn’t even have a TV. “Jaws” hadn’t yet been written.

We lived in the middle of nowhere, and my only social outings were Sunday School and church (my dad was the minister for three small Presbyterian churches in Sumter County, Alabama. Seriously — the middle of nowhere). I don’t remember sharks being the topic of any Sunday School lessons. My parents read Dr. Seuss and Madeline to me in the evenings. But somehow, sharks swam through my nightmares.

When I was six, my family moved from Alabama to John’s Island, S.C. The manse was fronted by Bohicket Road and backed by Bohicket Creek. My dad built a dock. My mom decided Rusty and I needed to learn to swim. She signed us up for lessons at the Y in Charleston.

The high school students teaching the lessons were clueless. I’m sure they were just doing what they’d been taught, but their approach wasn’t reassuring. They took us by the hands, and had us put our heads in the water and kick. The scariest part? As they walked backwards, pulling us with them, they took us into water that was over our heads. Yes, they could stand up in it, but we knew we couldn’t.

At the end of the first lesson, they had us jump off the diving board into the deep end. I was 8, and Rusty was 6. We were both smart enough to know that was a really bad idea for someone who couldn’t swim. We also didn’t know our instructors well enough to trust them to catch us.

I jumped anyway — hey, oldest child, can’t disappoint authority figures, even if it kills me!

But Rusty refused. He also refused to enter the water again, screaming every time anyone tried to pick him up and move him toward the edge of the pool. Both of our parents began to attend our lessons, in an effort to reassure him. It didn’t work.

Eventually, my mother made some inquiries and found a retired Marine sergeant who taught swim lessons in a backyard pool. He was calm, he was competent, and he was patient. By the end of the summer, both Rusty and I could swim and dive.

In spite of that less-than-reassuring introduction to swimming and my early fear of sharks, I was never afraid of the ocean. I loved our summer trips to Hilton Head with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on my father’s side. I loved camping at Edisto Beach State Park with my parents and siblings as a child, and looking for shark’s teeth on that same beach as a teenager.

I remember running into the waves, ignoring my parents’ directives not to go past my knees. I loved the energy, the sound, the smell of the salt water.

I no longer live on the coast, but I find I need to return regularly to recharge, listen to the waves, and reconnect with my first love — the ocean.

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My heart is shattered broken into a million tiny pieces
Scattered on the floor as I gather them
Fingers bleed red drops into glittering chaos
Lives lost to hatred a city struggles
To forgive
A flag inflames danger comes
From within
We raised him we nurtured him his hatred
Is our own we are all guilty
As I mourn strangers dissect me tell me
Who I am what I think
My heart can be mended but
Nine pieces are missing
And home isn’t home any more

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Eat, Prey, Blood

Chapter Twelve

He didn’t mean the school library. He took me to the city library. The building was even more ancient than the school, at least 800 years old. The stained glass windows made it look like a cathedral inside. As it had been part of a cathedral originally, I suppose that wasn’t so surprising.

We went downstairs, to the rare books room. Marc showed his ID, and the librarian unlocked the door and let us in.

He took down a large leather-bound volume, hand-written and hand-illustrated. He handed me a pair of white cotton gloves. I looked at him, my eyebrows raised.

“We wear gloves so that the oils from our skin don’t touch the pages as it speeds disintegration,” he said. I put them on.

I turned the pages slowly, watching the history of vampires in Europe unfold in front of me. The book was mostly drawings, with the occasional phrase in Latin, which Marc translated for me. The most important part was the prophecy, which strangely enough, was written in English.

I looked a question at Marc. He shrugged.

“No one knows when this book was written, or by whom,” he said.

“Then why does everyone take it so seriously?” I asked.

“Read it.”

Child of Darkness, Child of Light;
One consumes, one burns bright.
Fates intertwine, paths cross at last;
Reshape the future from the past.

“Huh. That doesn’t sound so bad,” I said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that a Stregoni-Garda child will end the Velathri’s rule. In fact, it doesn’t even mention the Velathri.”

“That’s not how the Velathri have chosen to interpret it,” Marc said. “One thing that’s clear, though, is that this person brings change to the established order.”

“So they’ve killed all these children based on their interpretation of some ancient rhyme,” I said. “What if they’re wrong?”

“They don’t really care. As long as they’re in power, and remain in power, they don’t care who they hurt. Or kill,” Marc said. “Either way, it’s worked so far.”

I thought of the children who had died. I thought of Marc’s parents, and my grandparents. More than ever, I appreciated my parents’ efforts to keep me safe. And I decided that I couldn’t let more people die. I might not be the answer to the prophecy. In fact, I really didn’t think I was. But I refused to let these guys kill more kids. Starting with me.

I turned to Marc. “So what do I do?”

“First? Learn to fight. Ready to go back to work?”

Back to the gym we went. We spent another two hours sparring before we stopped for the day.

“Keep it up,” Marc said, “And you just might survive.”

“Gee, thanks,” I said, wiping my face with a towel.

“Tomorrow, we move to the dagger and the staff.”

“The what and the what?”

“You need to know how to fight up close. That’s the dagger. And you need to know how to grab whatever’s at hand – that’s the staff. Don’t think you’ll always have a sword when you need it,” Marc said.

We walked back toward my dad’s house in silence. As we walked past a tourist information office, Marc stopped.

“Let’s go in here,” he said. “We need a map of the original city walls for you.”

Inside the small office, Marc looked carefully at the maps.

“Here,” he said, pulling one out of the pile. He paid the woman sitting behind the counter, and we continued our walk around the city’s center – where the original city walls had once stood. My dad’s house backed up to the boundary I couldn’t safely cross.

At the front door, Marc bowed, kissing my hand.

“I thought we were dispensing with the niceties,” I said.

“Touche,” he laughed. “See you tomorrow.”

“Katie?” my dad said as I entered the house. He’d gotten back before I had. That was a first.

“It’s me!” I called as I walked down the hallway to my room. “I’m going to shower and change, okay?” I asked.

“Sure, fine,” he called.

I took off the black outfit and took a hot shower. I put on the t-shirt and shorts I’d started out in that morning, and headed to the kitchen. Johan and his parents were sitting at the table.

Oh. This was not how I’d envisioned my reunion with Johan. And I hadn’t even had time to think about our relationship, or how it might be changing. I was make-up free, with wet hair curling around my shoulders. But he didn’t seem to mind.

“Katie,” he said, standing up and reaching for me. I ran into his hug. It felt so comfortable, so familiar to be in his arms. I leaned my head on his shoulder, so happy and relieved to see him I didn’t even think about the fact that my dad and Johan’s parents were in the room.


I jumped back, letting go of Johan so fast I stumbled.


“How was your training?” Dad asked, looking from Johan to me. Johan’s face flamed red, and I’m sure mine did the same.

I tried to gather my thoughts.

“Fine,” I said. “I learned a lot.”

I didn’t feel it was necessary to tell him that I’d learned he was still keeping secrets from me. I was grateful to Marc for telling me the truth, even if it had been hard to hear.

“Great,” Dad said, still eyeing Johan. “Dinner’s ready.”

We sat down to another of my grandmother’s recipes … shrimp scampi, Italian style. Everyone enjoyed it, although everyone except me drank “tomato juice” with their meal.

“Um, so where’s Mom? And Claire? And her parents … um, I mean Adam and Ariel?” I asked as we cleaned up the kitchen.

“They’re on their way,” Edward said. I didn’t miss the sympathetic look Juliana gave me.

“What are you not telling me?”

Juliana raised her eyebrows and turned toward my dad.

Dad sighed. “We’re not sure what’s happening,” he said. “Your mother should have already been here. I can’t imagine what’s keeping her.”

“Can’t you?” Edward asked sharply.

“Yes, she is Garda, but Katie is her daughter,” Dad said, his own voice tense.

Adam turned to me. “Adam, Ariel, and Claire took the other book to Rome for safekeeping. We think your mother may have gone with them.”

“But weren’t we supposed to bring both books here?” I asked. “And why Rome?”

“Because that’s where the Garda Council is located,” Dad answered.

“Really?” I asked. “What about Ireland?”

“The Council moved from Ireland to Rome at the height of the Roman Empire,” Dad answered. “They felt it was important to be at the center of civilization.”

I thought for a minute. “So why would they take the book to the Council, rather than bringing it here?”

Dad sighed. “Because, Katie, the Council is rethinking its treaty with the Stregoni Benefici.”

“Oh. And what does that mean?”

“It means that if there is a war between the Velathri and the Stregoni Benefici, the Garda will sit it out.”

“That’s bad, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Katie, very bad. One of the reasons there hasn’t been all-out war before this was that with the Garda as our allies, the balance of power was in our favor. The Velathri weren’t willing to take us on with such powerful beings fighting with us.”

“So … what changed?”

“Fergus the Fierce is missing.”

“Um, wouldn’t he be dead by now?” I asked, confused. I thought the story Dad had told me happened hundreds of years ago.

“Katie, vampires don’t die of old age,” my dad said.

“Oh, right.” I thought for a minute. “So do you think someone – or something – killed him?”

“We hope not,” Adam answered. “We hope he’s in hiding. But right now, we don’t know. And the Garda don’t know, either. As they made original agreement with him, they’re reconsidering it now that he’s missing.”

“And what about the book?” I asked.

“I’m not sure what they plan to do with that. One of us will have to travel to Rome to speak with them,” Dad said.

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” Juliana said. “I’ve been friends with Libby since before Katie and Johan were born. I need to find out about the book, but I also need to make sure she’s safe.”

“Johan and I will stay here,” Edward said.

I looked around at my dad’s small house. “Where will everyone sleep?”

Edward laughed. “We own the house next door. We’re not moving in with you!”

Whew. That was good. Five people in this house would be close quarters. There were the two bedrooms downstairs, and a large room upstairs that was part library, part archaeologist’s workroom. It used to be my grandmother’s sewing room, but now was my dad’s home office.

And then there was the one bathroom. There were some modern American conveniences I missed … like multiple bathrooms in a house. Dishwashers. Air conditioning.

“Johan will take classes with you, and I’ll help your dad on his dig,” Edward said.

“Um, what exactly are you looking for?” I asked. “You already found the two books.”

Dad looked uncomfortable. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to go there.

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Dad?”

“There’s supposed to be a third book,” Dad said. “The book you have gives a history of fairies in Ireland. The book Claire has is a history of vampires. There have been rumors throughout time of a third book, which outlines a new order.”

“Tell me the whole story, Dad. I can handle it.”

“Okay. Legend has it that the third book, when joined with the other two on a specific date, will give us the ability to create a new world order – one where the Velathri don’t rule all magical creatures by fear, one where children of fairies and vampires don’t have to be hidden to survive to adulthood, one where werewolves and witches and fairies don’t have to hide, living in forests and small villages and underground, so the Velathri don’t hunt them down and kill them.”

“I thought the books were all in Pompeii at the same time,” I said.

“They were,” Dad answered. “But I guess it wasn’t time yet.”

“You know the date?”

“Again, it’s just legend. But the date predicted is the summer solstice the year the new leader turns 17.”

“Who’s the new leader?”

“That’s not clear,” Dad said, grimacing. “The Velathri think it has something to do with the rhyme Marc showed you today, and that’s why they’ve worked so hard to make sure the children of fairies and vampires don’t survive. Sadly, those children might have united us even without a third book, if they’d been allowed to live.”

“So the Tuatha didn’t – don’t – trust vampires. And apparently for good reason,” I said.

My dad nodded.

“So … why are they okay with you having the books?”

“I have the skills to find the books, and I promised to make copies, so each group – Garda, Tuatha, Velathri, and Stregoni – have a set,” Dad said. “This means power is balanced, and no one group has an advantage. But the Garda apparently have decided to take things into their own hands.”

“It’s okay, though, right?” I said. “You were going to give them the book anyway.”

“It’s not okay,” Edward said. “Your dad still needs to make copies. And we’re still looking for the third book.”

“I contacted the Velathri as soon as I found the first book,” Dad said. “I asked permission to have copies printed before returning it to them. I received permission last week, which is why I asked Claire to bring it to Italy.”

“You asked their permission? Why?” My brows drew together as I tried to figure that one out.

Dad sighed. “Because, Katie, the Velathri are, for lack of a better word, our bosses.”

“But … I thought you were here to control them. To keep them from harming humans.”

“In a way. The Velathri make the rules. And they are very strict about enforcing them. The Stregoni Benifici are here make sure the Velathri follow the rules.”

I stared at him blankly.

He looked thoughtful.

“Okay. Let me try to explain in human terms. I guess you could say we’re kind of like game wardens. We protect the game in our forests from hunters, but we still answer to the government that appointed us, even if members of that government are hunters themselves. Does that make sense?”

Wow. This was all more complicated than I’d thought.

Suddenly, I remembered something. I thought back to the conversation in my mom’s kitchen the last night we spent in Charleston. It was only three days ago, but it felt like a lifetime.

“Wait. Adam and Ariel didn’t know Claire had the book until three days ago,” I said. “She had hidden it in her closet.”

“Hmmm. I wonder if Adam and Ariel took it from her,” Edward said.

“Why didn’t they take the book I have, too?” I asked.

“Because it has a spell on it,” Juliana said, smiling. “Remember? It chose you. If they’d taken it, it would have just disappeared and reappeared somewhere else.”

I jumped up. “Let me give it to you now, Dad,” I said. “I really don’t like having it in my backpack, even if we are inside the city walls.”

I went to my room and dug the book out of the bottom of my backpack. I looked down at the book in my hand as I handed it to Dad. Such a small thing to cause so much trouble.

“So we have the Garda’s book, and they have the Velathri’s book. This feels like a stand-off.”

Dad frowned. “Both the Garda and the Velathri agreed. I don’t understand what’s happening now.”

I was relieved to have the book out of my possession.

“Why didn’t you ask me for it earlier?” I asked Dad.

“Because,” he smiled. “The spell means you have to give it to me freely, without prompting. Otherwise, it just disappears again.”

“Even if you’re the rightful owner?”

“Even if I’m the rightful owner.”

“So who put the spell on it?”

“A woman I know here in town.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Her name wouldn’t be Natalia, would it?” I asked.

My dad raised his eyebrows. “How do you know Natalia?”

“She stopped and said ‘Hi’ today when Marc and I were eating lunch at the plaza,” I said. “She seemed to know you really well.”

“Who’s Marc?” Johan said at the same time my dad said, “Not really.”

“Marc is my – I guess our – tutor,” I said to Johan.

“Why were you eating lunch together?” he asked.

I stared at him. “Because it was lunch time.”

But I had more important things to worry about than Johan suddenly thinking he owned me. I turned back to my dad.

“Really?” I asked him, going back to Natalia.

“Really,” he said. “I asked her to cast a spell that would keep the book out of the wrong hands. And of course I paid her. Witches don’t work for free. I didn’t mention you. I didn’t say I was taking the book to Charleston. I have no idea how she bound it to you.”

“She almost got me killed,” I said. “The Velathri would have never even noticed me if I hadn’t been carrying the book.”

“Tony,” Juliana said gently. “You should have known better than to trust a witch. Their ‘help’ always comes with conditions. You know that.”

Dad looked frustrated. “I had no idea she even knew Katie existed. Natalia has only recently moved here, and it’s been seven years since Katie visited Montepulciano. I’ve been careful not to return, too, until last year.”

“I wonder where the witch got her information,” Adam said thoughtfully. “I think it’s more important than ever that Juliana find out what the Garda are thinking.”

“Then,” Juliana said, standing up, “I need to go home and get ready. I have to leave early tomorrow to catch the train to Rome.”

Edward and Johan stood, too. “We should all go,” Edward said.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Johan whispered as he passed me.

I smiled, but didn’t answer. If he was worried about Marc now, just wait until he saw him. Tomorrow should be interesting.

I stood up to go to my room.

“Wait, Katie,” my dad said. “I have something for you.”

I waited while he went into his bedroom, returning with a black case in his hands.

I stared. “Is that … what I think it is?”

“Yes, it’s a laptop,” he said, smiling. “I know you had to leave your computer in Charleston, and I thought you might miss it.”

“Wow, thanks, Dad,” I breathed. “It’s perfect.”

I opened the case, pulling out the silver laptop. I couldn’t believe it. The desktop in my bedroom in Charleston was old and slow. Using this would feel like driving a Ferrari after a VW Beetle.

“There’s wireless upstairs, in my study. I’ve already downloaded the software you need,” Dad said. “All you have to do is turn it on.”

“This is great,” I smiled, kissing him on the cheek. “I’m going to go use it right now!”

“Don’t stay up all night,” Dad said, smiling. “Remember you have training in the morning.”

“Right, Dad, no problem!” I answered over my shoulder as I bounced down the hall to my room. My own laptop. And the first thing I planned to do was a little research … on my own mother.

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