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While the others had chatted easily during the ride, Kate had been almost completely silent. The truth was, she was excited about the retreat.

But she also couldn't help but think about the fact that she was going to see Tyler for the first time since she'd discovered that he and Annie had basically fooled around behind her back. She'd accepted that she and Tyler were probably never going to be a couple again and she'd been able to slowly mend her friendship with Annie, but the wound was still tender. She couldn't deny that.Sensing Kate's hesitance, Annie and Cooper settled into an uneasy silence. But Sophia, who knew nothing about what had happened among Kate, Tyler, and Annie, continued to talk.

“I love these retreats,” she said. “It's nice to just get away from everything and spend time with other witches. It really brings you closer together. A lot of the people who will be here are friends I see only a couple of times a year.”The girls listened as Sophia talked, each of them lost in private thoughts. The fact was, it was a difficult time for each of them. While they were all looking forward to a week in the hotel, they also knew that there were going to be challenges involved with being there. As they drew closer and closer to their destination, they couldn't help but think about what was awaiting them there.

Kate and Cooper, in particular, were relieved to be going on the trip. Mr. and Mrs. Morgan had only reluctantly allowed their daughter to resume attending the weekly Wicca study group, and she'd been sure that they would say no to the trip to the mountains. When asking their permission to go, Kate had tried to make it sound more like a ski trip than a week of ritual and magic. Even so, they had been less than thrilled by her request. To her surprise, however, they'd ultimately agreed that she could go, but only after several long phone calls to Sophia and several anxious days of waiting on Kate's part. Even then, Kate had expected them to retract their permission up until the moment the car had pulled away from their house and she could breathe a sigh of relief.

As for Cooper, her mother was also hesitant about her involvement in the Craft. There had long been an uneasy truce between them regarding the subject, and since Mr. Rivers had moved out of the house, they hadn't spoken about the topic at all. Mrs. Rivers never asked her daughter about class, and Cooper never brought it up. When it came time to mention the trip, Cooper had asked her father's permission first. His reply -- “As long as it's okay with your mother” -- had both irritated and worried her. She knew that her father was worried about doing anything that might upset the fragile relationship that existed between the three of them because of the separation, but she'd been afraid that perhaps her mother would use the opportunity to make a statement regarding her feelings about witchcraft by denying Cooper permission to go. But when Cooper had mentioned it one morning as her mother was leaving for work she had simply said, “It's up to you. If you want to go, go.” While not the enthusiastic support Cooper would have liked, she'd been happy just to have avoided a fight about the matter.

Sophia turned the car onto an even narrower road. It seemed to lead straight into a forest, and the arms of the trees met overhead as they drove through what felt like a tunnel made of shadows and light as the afternoon sun filtered down through the branches of pine. Then they shot out into daylight again, and the girls gasped in unison as they saw what was in front of them.

“Is that it?” Kate asked, her voice filled with awe.

“That's it,” confirmed Sophia.

“Wow,” Cooper said simply.

“Double wow,” echoed Annie.

Before them sat a huge, old hotel. It was situated in the center of a ring of snowy mountains, the tops of which rose up around it. The hotel itself was enormous, an elaborate Victorian building with ornate carvings, several tower rooms with pointed roofs, and stained-glass windows looking out at them like multicolored eyes. Two wings of rooms stretched out on either side of the main building, and smoke puffed gently from several chimneys.

“It's beautiful,” Annie said as Sophia pulled the SUV up to the front and parked it beside some other cars that were already there.

“Wait until you see the inside,” said Sophia. “Come on.”

They got out and retrieved their bags from the back of the car. Then they walked up the neatly shoveled path to the front steps of the hotel and went through the door. Once inside, the girls set down their bags and looked around in awe.

The lobby of the hotel was done in red. Almost everything was red, from the deep red of the walls to the red velvet upholstery on the couches and chairs that were arranged in comfortable groups all around the enormous room. A huge chandelier, its hundreds of individual crystals sparkling with light, hung from the ceiling over their heads, and classical music floated softly through the air.

“Look at that tree,” Annie said, nodding at an enormous pine tree that stood in the center of the lobby. Its spreading branches were strung with what seemed to be thousands of white lights, and ornaments of all kinds hung from it.

“That's the Yule tree,” Sophia told them. “The ornaments on it have been used since the hotel opened. Every year they add some new ones, but some of those are almost a hundred and fifty years old.”

“Sophia!”

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