Morrigans cross, p.14
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.14

         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts
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  Hoyt sprang out of a sound sleep to find his arms full of naked, weeping woman. He could barely see her in the dim, predawn light, but he knew her scent, her shape.

  “What? What’s happened?” He started to shove her aside, to reach for the sword beside his bed. But she clung to him like ivy on an oak.

  “Don’t. Don’t go. Hold on. Please, please, hold on.”

  “You’re like ice.” He dragged up the blanket, trying to find warmth for her, trying to find his wits. “Have you been outside? Bloody hell. Have you done some spell?”

  “No, no, no.” She burrowed into him. “She came. She came. Into my head, into my dream. Not a dream. It was real. It had to be real.”

  “Stop. Stop this.” He took a firm grip on her shoulders. “Glenna!”

  Her head jerked back, her breath came shuddering out. “Please. I’m so cold.”

  “Then hush now, hush.” His tone and his touch gentled while he brushed tears from her cheeks. He wrapped her more fully in the blanket, then pulled her close. “It was a dream, a nightmare. Nothing more.”

  “It wasn’t. Look at me.” She tilted her head up so he could see her eyes. “It wasn’t just a dream.”

  No, he realized. He could see it hadn’t been only a dream. “Then tell me.”

  “She was inside my head. Or…she pulled some part of me outside myself. The way it was when you were in the woods, hurt, with wolves outside your circle. Just as real as that. You know that was real.”

  “Aye, it was real.”

  “I was running,” she began, and told him all of it.

  “She tried to lure you. Now think. Why would she do so unless she knew you were strong, unless she knew you could hurt her?”

  “I died.”

  “You didn’t, no, you didn’t. You’re here. Cold.” He rubbed her arms, her back. Would he ever be able to warm her again? “But alive, and here. Safe.”

  “She was beautiful. Alluring. I don’t go for women, if you understand, but I was drawn to her. And part of it was sexual. Even in fear, I wanted her. The idea of her touching me, taking me, was compelling.”

  “It’s a kind of trance, nothing more. And you didn’t allow it. You didn’t listen, you didn’t believe.”

  “But I did listen, Hoyt. And some part of me did believe. Some part of me wanted what she offered. So much wanted. To live forever, with all that power. I thought, inside me, I thought, yes, oh yes, why shouldn’t I have it? And turning away from it—I nearly didn’t—because turning away from it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

  “Yet you did.”

  “This time.”

  “Every time.”

  “They were your cliffs. I felt you there. I felt you there, but I couldn’t reach you. I was alone, more alone than I’ve ever been. Then I was falling, and I was even more alone.”

  “You’re not alone. Here.” He pressed his lips to her forehead. “You’re not alone, are you?”

  “I’m not a coward, but I’m afraid. And the dark…” She shuddered, looked around the room. “I’m afraid of the dark.”

  He cast his mind toward the bedside candle, toward the logs in the hearth, set them all burning. “Dawn’s coming. Here, see.” He gathered her into his arms, got out of bed with her to carry her to the window. “There now, look east. The sun’s rising.”

  She saw the light of it, a gilding low in the sky. The cold ball inside her began to ease. “Morning,” she murmured. “It’s nearly morning.”

  “You won the night, and she lost it. Come, you need more sleep.”

  “I don’t want to be alone.”

  “You won’t be.”

  He took her back to bed, drew her against him. Because she still trembled, because he could, he passed his hand over her head. And sent her gently into slumber.

  Chapter 10

  She woke with sunlight sliding over her face, and she woke alone.

  He’d snuffed the candles out, but left the fire burning low. Kind of him, she thought as she sat up, drawing the blanket over her shoulders. He’d been very kind and very gentle, and had given her exactly the comfort and security she’d needed.

  Still, the wave of embarrassment came first. She’d run to him like a hysterical child fleeing from the monster in the closet. Sobbing, shaking and incoherent. She hadn’t been able to handle it, and had looked for someone—for him—to save her. She prided herself on her courage and her wits, and she hadn’t been able to stand up to her first showdown with Lilith.

  No spine, she thought in disgust, and no real magic. Fear and temptation had smothered them. No, worse, she thought, fear and temptation had frozen them inside her, deep, where she hadn’t been able to reach. Now, in the light of day, she could see how foolish she’d been, how stupid, how easy. She’d done nothing to protect herself before, during or after. She’d run through the caves, through the woods, on the cliffs because they’d wanted her to run, and she’d let terror block out everything but the desperate need to escape.

  It wasn’t a mistake she’d make again.

  She wasn’t going to sit here wallowing either, not over something that was done.

  She got up, wrapped herself in the blanket, then peeked out into the corridor. She saw no one, heard nothing, and was grateful. She didn’t want to talk to anyone until she’d put herself back together.

  She showered, dressed, then took a great deal of care with her makeup. She hung amber drops at her ears for strength. And when she made the bed, she put amethyst and rosemary under her pillow. After choosing a candle from her supplies, she set it beside the bed. When she prepared for sleep that night, she would consecrate the candle with oil to repel Lilith and those like her from her dreams.

  She would also make a stake, and get a sword from the weapons supply. She wouldn’t be defenseless and open again.

  Before she left the room she took a long look at herself in the mirror. She looked alert, she decided, and capable.

  She would be strong.

  Because she considered it the heart of any home, she went to the kitchen first. Someone had made coffee, and by process of elimination, she figured it had been King. There was evidence someone had eaten. She could smell bacon. But there was no one around, and no dishes in the sink.

  It was some small comfort to know whoever had eaten—or at least whoever had cooked—had also tidied up. She didn’t like to live in disorder, but neither would she care to be in charge of all things domestic.

  She poured herself a cup from the pot, toyed with making some breakfast. But there was enough of the dream left in her that the sensation of being alone in the house was uncomfortable.

  Her next choice was the library, which she thought of as the main artery of the heart. And there, with some relief, she found Moira.

  Moira sat on the floor in front of the fire, surrounded by books. Even now she was hunched over one like a student cramming for an exam. She wore a tunic the color of oatmeal with brown pants and her riding boots.

  She looked up as Glenna entered, offered a shy smile. “Good morning to you.”

  “Good morning. Studying?”

  “I am.” The shyness faded so those gray eyes shined. “This is the most marvelous room, isn’t it? We have a great library in the castle at home, but this rivals it.”

  Glenna crouched, tapped a finger on a book thick as a beam. Carved into its scrolled leather cover was a single word.

  VAMPYRE.

  “Boning up?” she asked. “Studying the enemy?”

  “It’s wise to know all you can about whatever you can. Not all the books I’ve read so far agree on all things, but there are some elements on which they do.”

  “You could ask Cian. I imagine he could tell you whatever you wanted to know.”

  “I like to read.”

  Glenna only nodded. “Where did you get the clothes?”

  “Oh. I went out this morning, early, found my pack.”

  “Alone?”

  “I was safe enough, as I kept to the br
ight path. They can’t come out in the sunlight.” She looked toward the windows. “There was nothing left of the ones that attacked us last night. Even the ash was gone.”

  “Where is everyone else?”

  “Hoyt went up to his tower to work, and King said he would go into the town for supplies now that there are more of us. I’ve never seen a man so big. He cooked food for us, and there was juice from a fruit. Orange. It was wonderful. Do you think I could take some of the seeds of the orange when we go back to Geall?”

  “I don’t see why not. And the others?”

  “Larkin, I imagine, is still sleeping. He tends to avoid the mornings as if they were the plague. The vampyre is in his room, I would think.” Moira rubbed her finger over the carved word on the book. “Why does he stand with us? I can find nothing in the books to explain it.”

  “Then I guess you can’t find out everything from books. Is there anything else you need for now?”

  “No. Thanks.”

  “I’m going to grab something to eat, then go up to work. I imagine whenever King gets back, we’ll start whatever torture session he has in mind.”

  “Glenna…I wanted to thank you for last night. I was so tired, and upset. I feel so out of my place.”

  “I know.” Glenna put her hand over Moira’s. “I think in a way, we all do. Maybe that’s part of the plan, taking us out of our place, putting us together so we find ourselves, what there is in us—individually and together—to fight this thing.”

  She rose. “Until it’s time to move, we’re going to have to make this our place.”

  She left Moira to the books and returned to the kitchen. There she found what was left of a loaf of brown bread and slathered butter on a slice. Damned if she’d worry about calories at this point. She nibbled on it as she climbed the stairs to the tower.

  The door was closed. She nearly knocked before she reminded herself it was her work area, too, and no longer Hoyt’s solitary domain. So she balanced the slice of bread on the mug of coffee, unlatched the door.

  He wore a shirt the color of faded denim with black jeans and scarred boots, and still managed to look like a sorcerer. It wasn’t just the rich and flowing black hair, she thought, or those intense blue eyes. It was the power that fit him more truly than the borrowed clothes.

  Irritation crossed his face first when he glanced at her. She wondered if it was habitual, that quick annoyance at being interrupted or disturbed. Then it cleared, and she found herself being carefully studied.

  “So, you’re up then.”

  “Apparently.”

  He went back to work, pouring some port-colored liquid from a kind of beaker into a vial. “King went for provisions.”

  “So I’m told. I found Moira in the library, reading, from the looks of it, every book in there.”

  So, it was going to be awkward, she realized as he continued to work in silence. Better to get past that. “I was going to apologize for disturbing you last night, but that’s just an indulgence on my part.” She waited, one beat, then two before he stopped to look over at her. “So you could tell me not to worry about it, that of course it was all right. I was frightened and upset.”

  “That would be true enough.”

  “It would, and since we both know all that, indulgent. So I won’t apologize. But I will thank you.”

  “It’s of no matter.”

  “It is, for me, on several levels. You were there when I needed you, and you calmed me down. Made me feel safe. You showed me the sun.” She set the mug down so her hands would be free as she crossed to him.

  “I jumped into your bed in the middle of the night. Naked. I was vulnerable, hysterical. I was defenseless.”

  “I don’t think the last is true.”

  “At that moment it was. It won’t be again. You could have had me. We both know that.”

  There was a long beat of silence that acknowledged the simple truth more truly than any words. “And what manner of man would I be to have taken you at such a time? To have used your fear for my own needs?”

  “A different one from what you are. I’m grateful to the one you are.” She skirted the worktable, rose to her toes to kiss both of his cheeks. “Very. You gave me comfort, Hoyt, and you gave me sleep. And you left the fire burning. I won’t forget it.”

  “You’re better now.”

  “Yes. I’m better now. I was caught off guard, and I won’t be the next time. I wasn’t prepared for her, and I will be the next time. I didn’t take precautions, even the simplest ones because I was tired.” She wandered to the fire he kept burning low. “Sloppy of me.”

  “Aye. It was.”

  She cocked her head, smiled at him. “Did you want me?”

  He got busy again. “That’s not to the point.”

  “I’ll take that as a yes, and promise the next time I jump into your bed, I won’t be hysterical.”

  “The next time you jump into my bed, I won’t give you sleep.”

  She choked out a laugh. “Well, just so we understand each other.”

  “I don’t know that I understand you at all, but that doesn’t stop the wanting of you.”

  “It’s mutual, on both counts. But I think I’m beginning to understand you.”

  “Did you come here to work, or just to distract me?”

  “Both, I guess. Since I’ve accomplished the latter, I’ll ask what you’re working on there.”

  “A shield.”

  Intrigued she moved closer. “More science than sorcery.”

  “They’re not exclusive, but joined.”

  “Agreed.” She sniffed at the beaker. “Some sage,” she decided, “and clove. What have you used for binding?”

  “Agate dust.”

  “Good choice. What sort of shield are you after?”

  “Against the sun. For Cian.”

  She flicked her gaze to his, but he didn’t meet it. “I see.”

  “We risk attack if we go out at night. He dies if he exposes himself to sunlight. But if he had a shield, we could work and train more efficiently. If he had a shield, we could hunt them by day.”

  She said nothing for a moment. Yes, she was beginning to understand him. This was a very good man, one who held himself to high standards. So he could be impatient, irritable, even autocratic.

  And he loved his brother very much.

  “Do you think he misses the sun?”

  Hoyt sighed. “Wouldn’t you?”

  She touched a hand to his arm. A good man, she thought again. A very good man who would think of his brother. “What can I do to help?”

  “Maybe I begin to understand you as well.”

  “Is that so?”

  “You have an open heart.” Now he looked at her. “An open heart and a willing mind. They’re difficult to resist.”

  She took the vial from him, set it down. “Kiss me, would you? We both want that, and it makes it hard to work. Kiss me, Hoyt, so we settle down.”

  There might have been amusement, just a sprinkle of it in his voice. “Kissing will settle us down?”

  “Won’t know unless we try.” She laid her hands on his shoulders, let her fingers play with his hair. “But I know, right this minute, I can’t think of anything else. So do me a favor. Kiss me.”

  “A favor then.”

  Her lips were soft, a yielding warmth under his. So he was gentle, holding her, tasting her the way he’d yearned to the night before. He stroked a hand down her hair, down the length of her back so the feel of her mingled in his senses with her flavor and her scent.

  What was inside him opened, and eased.

  She skimmed her fingers over the strong edge of his cheekbone and gave herself completely to the moment. To the comfort and the pleasure, and the shimmer of heat flowing under both.

  When their lips parted, she pressed her cheek to his, held there a moment. “I feel better,” she told him. “How about you?”

  “I feel.” He stepped back, then brought her hand to his lips. “And I s
uspect that I’ll be needing to be settled again. For the good of the work.”

  She laughed, delighted. “Anything I can do for the cause.”

  They worked together for more than an hour, but each time they exposed the potion to sunlight, it boiled.

  “A different incantation,” Glenna suggested.

  “No. We need his blood.” He looked at her over the beaker. “For the potion itself, and to test it.”

  Glenna considered. “You ask him.”

  There was a thud at the door, then King pushed it open. He wore camo pants and an olive green T-shirt. He’d tied his dreadlocks back into a thick, fuzzy tail. And looked, Glenna thought, like an army all by himself.

  “Magic hour’s over. Fall in outside. Time to get physical.”

  If King hadn’t been a drill sergeant in another life, karma was missing a step. Sweat dripped into Glenna’s eyes as she attacked the dummy Larkin had fashioned out of straw and wrapped in cloth. She blocked with her forearm as she’d been taught, then plunged the stake into the straw.

  But the dummy kept coming, flying on the pulley system King had rigged, and knocked her flat on her back.

  “And you’re dead,” he announced.

  “Oh, bullshit. I staked it.”

  “Missed the heart, Red.” He stood over her, huge and pitiless. “How many chances you figure you’re going to get? You can’t get the one in front of you, how are you going to get the three coming at your back?”

  “All right, okay.” She got up, brushed herself off. “Do it again.”

  “That’s the spirit.”

  She did it again, and again, until she despised the straw dummy as much as she had her tenth-grade history teacher. Disgusted, she swung around, picked up a sword with both hands, and hacked the thing to pieces.

  When she was done, there was no sound but her own labored breathing and Larkin’s muffled laugh.

  “Okay.” King rubbed his chin. “Guess he’s pretty damn dead. Larkin, you want to put together another one? Let me ask you something, Red.”

  “Ask away.”

  “How come you didn’t just tear into the dummy with magic?”

  “Magic takes focus and concentration. I think I could use some in a fight—I think I could. But most of me is channelled into handling the sword or the stake, particularly since I’m not used to handling either. If I wasn’t centered, I could just send my own weapon flying out of my hand, missing the mark. It’s something I’ll work on.”

 
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