"Better watch out. There are worse things I could call you."
"Sure, like witch!"
Arriving at his backyard gate, he gave her the exasperated parent look she'd rarely seen since she'd grown up. "There's nothing shameful about being called a witch." He rested his hand on the gate, above which dangled an old brass plate inscribed with their family name in a flowery script. "Especially when it's true."
"True for Julian 'Tony' Giardani." Scowling, she put her hands on her hips. "You've called yourself a witch for as long as I can remember, you've taught me to respect your Goddess, but you've never tried to push your witch stuff onto me before."
Until recently, he'd never been one for mood swings either, had always seemed steady as a rock. Except for the first year or two after her mother's death, long ago, Julia had rarely seen him down--let alone anxious and vulnerable like this. His eyes looked troubled again, his normally robust complexion much too pale. "I knew the witch element of the family's story would hit you like a bomb." The lines in his face seemed deeper than they had only moments before. "I've wanted to tell you what I've managed to learn about this for years, but couldn't, and I'm not sure what will help you most right now."
She'd never seen him indecisive before, either. It chilled her to the bone. "Is this so-called legacy material, Dad, or just some quaint family customs?"
"The legacy's important, Julia, there's nothing quaint about it. It's genetic, apparently lays dormant until triggered from within." He stared at her in that intense, assessing way he'd developed only lately, then opened the gate and walked under the rose arbor. "As the last female in the Giardani line, the family gifts and their age-old responsibility have finally passed to you."
Frowning, Julia followed him. "Earlier you said you've noticed some change in me. Is that why you were finally able to tell me about this?"
"Yep. Until I noticed that change, I was sworn to silence." His backyard was large for this part of Berkeley, the landscaping old-fashioned and lush, the craggy stone wall built by his own hands. He hesitated on the patio, stared at the bench he'd later added in one corner. "These last few weeks have been great, Lady, with you puttering around here like old times."
There it was again, that new telltale catch in his voice. It had opened the well of her anxiety, forced her to face the fact he wouldn't live forever. She'd curbed her independent streak, spent more time with him, even asked his advice a few times. "I enjoyed myself, too." Beneath the bench, the violets Julia planted the month before had bloomed.
He glanced down at the tiny purple flowers. "It's not the garden I've loved watching blossom," he said gruffly. "It's you. I always knew you would."
"Thanks." The breeze blew a lock of his hair across his cheek. She tucked it behind his ear. "I think."
"Trust me." Still tense but clearly happy again, he led her indoors. Delicious aromas hit her the instant she entered the kitchen.
Her stomach growled.
He chuckled. "We'd best have dinner before we talk."
"Not on your life."
"I have a few presents for you, first."
"You've got to be joking."
"Honestly, Kiddo." He gave her a look her Italian-born grandmother used to say reminded her of folleti, those cute little sprites from Tuscan fairy tales. He put on his glasses, raised an eyebrow as he gave her outfit a penetrating gaze. "You really need those presents."
She glanced down at her soft, faded jeans, tugged at the hem of her baggy and equally faded gold flannel shirt, an old favorite she'd pulled on over a newer beige turtleneck. Her usual style. He knew she worked with homeless kids and their struggling parents. Dressing like a fashion plate was out of the question. "You've never cared how I dressed before."
Excerpted from The Giuliana Legacy by Alexis Masters. Copyright 2001. Reproduced with the permission of the author. All rights reserved.
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