Morrigans cross, p.17
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.17

         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts
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  “Because they’re demons.”

  “So is he.” Hoyt laid a hand on the back of Cian’s chair.

  “But he fights with us. He doesn’t threaten Geall.”

  “Geall. You think of Geall, and you,” he said to Moira, “of your mother. King’s here with us because he follows Cian, and in my way, so do I. Cian, why are you here?”

  “Because I don’t follow. You or her.”

  “Why are you here, Glenna?”

  “I’m here because if I didn’t fight, if I didn’t try, everything we have and are and know, every one of us, could be lost. Because what’s inside me demands that I be here. And above all, because good needs soldiers against evil.”

  Oh aye, this was a woman, he thought. She put shame to all of them. “The answer. The single one there is, and she’s the only one who knew it. We’re needed. Stronger than valor or vengeance, loyalty or pride. We’re needed. Can we stand with each other and do this thing? Not in a thousand years and with a thousand more of us to fight. We’re the six, the beginning of it. We can’t be strangers any longer.”

  He stepped away from Cian’s chair as he reached in his pocket. “Glenna said make a symbol and a shield, a sign of common purpose. That unity of purpose made the strongest magic I’ve ever known. Stronger than I could hold,” he said with a glance at Cian. “I believe they can help protect us, if we remember a shield needs a sword, and we use both with one purpose.”

  He drew the crosses out so the silver glinted in the light. He stepped to King, offered one. “Will you wear it?”

  King set his drink aside, took the cross and chain. He studied Hoyt’s face as he looped it around his neck. “You could use some ice on that eye.”

  “I could use a great deal. And you?” He held a cross out to Moira.

  “I’ll work to be worthy of it.” She sent Glenna a look of apology. “I’ve done poorly tonight.”

  “So have we all,” Hoyt told her. “Larkin?”

  “Not just of Geall,” Larkin said as he took the cross. “Or no longer.”

  “And you.” Hoyt started to hand Glenna a cross, then stepped closer, looked into her eyes as he put it around her neck himself. “I think tonight you put us all to shame.”

  “I’ll try not to make a habit of it. Here.” She took the last cross, put the chain over his head. Then gently, very gently touched her lips to his battered cheek.

  At last, he turned and walked back to Cian.

  “If you’re about to ask if I’d wear one of those, you’re wasting your breath.”

  “I know you can’t. I know you’re not what we are, and still I’m asking you to stand with us, for this purpose.” He held out a pendant, in the shape of a pentagram much like Glenna’s. “The stone in the center is jasper, like the ones in the crosses. I can’t give you a shield, not yet. So I’m offering you a symbol. Will you take it?”

  Saying nothing, Cian held out a hand. When Hoyt poured pendant and chain into it, Cian shook it lightly, as if checking the weight. “Metal and stone don’t make an army.”

  “They make weapons.”

  “True enough.” Cian slipped the chain over his head. “Now if the ceremony’s finished, could we bloody well get to work?”

  Chapter 12

  Seeking solitude and occupation, Glenna poured a glass of wine, got out a pad of paper and a pencil and sat down at the kitchen table.

  An hour, she thought, of quiet, where she could settle down, make some lists. Then maybe she would sleep.

  When she heard someone approaching, her back went up. In a house this size, couldn’t everyone find some place else to be?

  But King came in, and stood, shifting his weight, digging his hands into his pockets.

  “Well?” was all she said.

  “Ah, sorry about breaking Hoyt’s face.”

  “It’s his face, you should apologize to him.”

  “We know where we stand. Just wanted to clear it with you.” When she said nothing, he scratched the top of his head through his thick hair, and if a man of six six and two hundred and seventy pounds could squirm, King squirmed.

  “Listen, I run up, and that light’s blasting, and he’s lying there bleeding and burning. Guy’s my first sorcerer,” King continued after another pause. “I’ve only known him like a week. I’ve known Cian since…a really long time, and I owe him pretty much everything.”

  “So when you found him hurt, naturally you assumed his brother tried to kill him.”

  “Yeah. Figured you had a part in it, too, but I couldn’t beat the hell out of you.”

  “I appreciate the chivalry.”

  The sting in her tone made him wince. “You sure got a way of cutting a man down to size.”

  “It would take a chain saw to cut you down to size. Oh, stop looking so pitiful and guilty.” With a sigh, she scooped back her hair. “We screwed up, you screwed up, and we’re all goddamn sorry about it. I suppose you want some wine now. Maybe a cookie.”

  He had to grin. “I’ll take a beer.” He opened the refrigerator, got one out. “I’ll pass on the cookie. You’re a butt-kicker, Red. Quality I admire in a woman—even if it’s my butt getting the boot.”

  “I never used to be. I don’t think.”

  She was also pretty and pale, and had to be dog tired. He’d worked her, all of them, damned hard that afternoon, and Cian had put them through the wringer tonight.

  Sure she’d bitched a little, King thought now. But not nearly as much as he’d expected. And when it came down to it, Hoyt was right. She’d been the only one who’d known the answer to what the hell they were doing here.

  “That stuff Hoyt was talking about, what you said, it makes a lot of sense. We don’t straighten up, we’re easy pickings.” He popped the cap off the beer, swallowed half the bottle in one long gulp. “So I will if you will.”

  She looked at the enormous hand he held out, then placed hers in it. “I think Cian’s lucky to have someone who’ll fight for him. Who’d care enough to.”

  “He’d do the same for me. We go back.”

  “That kind of friendship usually takes time to form, to solidify. We’re not going to have that kind of time.”

  “Guess we’d better take some shortcuts then. We cool now?”

  “I’d say we’re cool now.”

  He polished off the beer, then dumped the empty bottle in a can under the sink. “Heading up. You ought to do the same. Get some sleep.”

  “I will.”

  But when he left her alone, she was bruised and tired and restless, so Glenna sat alone in the kitchen with her glass of wine and the lights on full to beat back the dark. She didn’t know the time and wondered if it mattered any longer.

  They were all becoming vampires—sleeping through most of the day, working through most of the night.

  She fingered the cross around her neck as she continued to write her list. And she felt the press of the night against her shoulder blades like cold hands.

  She missed the city, she decided. No shame in admitting it. She missed the sounds of it, the colors, the constant thrum of traffic that was a heartbeat. She yearned for its complexity and simplicity. Life was just life there. And if there was death, if there was cruelty and violence, it was all so utterly human.

  The image of the vampire on the subway flashed into her mind.

  Or she’d once had the comfort of believing it was human.

  Still, she wanted to get up in the morning and wander down to the deli for fresh bagels. She wanted to set her easel in the slash of morning light and paint, and have her strongest concern be how she was going to pay her Visa bill.

  All of her life the magic had been in her, and she’d thought she’d valued and respected it. But it had been nothing to this, to know that it was in her for this reason, for this purpose.

  That it could very well be the death of her.

  She picked up her wine, then jolted when she saw Hoyt standing in the doorway.

Not a good idea to go creeping around in the dark, considering the situation.”

  “I wasn’t sure I should disturb you.”

  “Might as well. Just having my own private pity party. It’ll pass,” she said with a shrug. “I’m a little homesick. Small potatoes compared to how you must feel.”

  “I stand in the room I shared with Cian when we were boys and feel too much, and not enough.”

  She rose, got a second glass, poured wine. “Have a seat.” She sat down again, set the wine on the table. “I have a brother,” she told him. “He’s a doctor, just starting. He has a whiff of magic, and he uses it to heal. He’s a good doctor, a good man. He loves me, I know, but he doesn’t understand me very well. It’s hard not to be understood.”

  How could it be, he wondered, that there had never been a woman in his life other than family he could speak to about anything that truly mattered. And now, with Glenna, he knew he could, and would, talk with her of anything. And everything.

  “It troubles me, the loss of him, of what we were to each other.”

  “Of course it does.”

  “His memories of me—Cian’s—are faded and old while mine are fresh and strong.” Hoyt lifted his glass. “Yes, it’s difficult not to be understood.”

  “What I am, what’s in me, I used to feel smug about it. Like it was a shiny prize I held in my hands, just for me. Oh, I was careful with it, grateful for it, but still smug. I don’t think I ever will be again.”

  “With what we touched tonight, I’m doubting either of us could be smug again.”

  “Still, my family, my brother, didn’t understand—not fully—that smugness or that prize. And they won’t understand—not fully—the price I’m paying for it now. They can’t.”

  She reached out, laid a hand over Hoyt’s. “He can’t. So, while our circumstances may be different, I understand the loss you’re talking about. You look terrible,” she said more lightly. “I can help ease that bruising a little more.”

  “You’re tired. It can wait.”

  “You didn’t deserve it.”

  “I let it take control. I let it fly out of me.”

  “No, it flew away from us. Who can say if it wasn’t meant to.” She’d bundled her hair up to train, to work, and now pulled out the pins so it fell, messily, just short of her shoulders.

  “Look, we learned, didn’t we? We’re stronger together than either of us could have anticipated. What we’re responsible for now is learning how to control it, channel it. And believe me, the rest of them will have more respect now, too.”

  He smiled a little. “That sounds a bit smug.”

  “Yeah, I guess it does.”

  He drank some wine and realized he was comfortable for the first time in hours. Just sitting in the bright kitchen with night trapped outside the glass, with Glenna to talk with.

  Her scent was there, just on the edges of his senses. That earthy, female scent. Her eyes, so clear and green, showed some light bruising of fatigue on the delicate skin beneath them.

  He nodded toward the paper. “Another spell?”

  “No, something more pedestrian. Lists. I need more supplies. Herbs and so forth. And Moira and Larkin need clothes. Then we need to work out some basic household rules. So far it’s been up to me and King for the most part. The cooking, that is. A household doesn’t run itself, and even when you’re preparing for war, you need food and clean towels.”

  “There are so many machines to do the work.” He glanced around the kitchen. “It should be simple enough.”

  “You’d think.”

  “There used to be an herb garden. I haven’t walked the land, not really.” Put it off, he admitted. Put off seeing the changes, and what remained the same. “Cian might have had one planted. Or I could bring it back. The earth remembers.”

  “Well, that can go on the list for tomorrow. You know the woods around here. You should be able to tell me where to find the other things I need. I can go out in the morning and harvest.”

  “I knew them,” he said half to himself.

  “We need more weapons, Hoyt. And eventually more hands to wield them.”

  “There will be an army in Geall.”

  “We hope. I know a few like us, and Cian—it’s likely he knows some like him. We may want to start enlisting.”

  “More vampyres? Trusting Cian’s been difficult enough. As for more witches, we’re still learning each other, as we learned tonight. We were to start with those we have. We’ve barely begun. But weapons. We can make them as we made the crosses.”

  She picked up her wine again, drank, breathed out slowly. “Okay. I’m game.”

  “We’ll take them with us when we go to Geall.”

  “Speaking of. When and how?”

  “How? Through the Dance. When? I can’t know. I have to believe we’ll be told when it’s time. That we’ll know when it’s time.”

  “Do you think we’ll ever be able to get back? If we live? Do you think we’ll be able to get back home?”

  He looked over at her. She was sketching, her eyes on her pad, her hand steady. Her cheeks were pale, he noted, from fatigue and stress. Her hair was bright and bold, swinging forward as she dipped her head.

  “Which disturbs you most?” he wondered. “Dying or not seeing your home again?”

  “I’m not entirely sure. Death is inevitable. None of us get out of that one. And you hope—or I have—that when the time comes you’ll have courage and curiosity, and so face it well.”

  Absently, she tucked her hair behind her ear with her left hand while her right continued to sketch. “But that’s always been in the abstract. Until now. It’s hard to think about dying, harder to think about it knowing I might not see home again, or my family. They won’t understand what happened to me.”

  She glanced up. “And I’m preaching to the choir.”

  “I don’t know how long they lived. How they died. How long they looked for me.”

  “It would help to know.”

  “Aye, it would.” He shook it off, angled his head. “What do you draw there?”

  She pursed her lips at the sketch. “It seems to be you.” She turned it around, nudged it toward him.

  “Is this how you see me?” His voice sounded puzzled, and not entirely pleased. “So stern.”

  “Not stern. Serious. You’re a serious man. Hoyt McKenna.” She printed the name on the sketch. “That’s how it would be written and said today. I looked it up.” She signed the sketch with a quick flourish. “And your serious nature is very attractive.”

  “Serious is for old men and politicians.”

  “And for warriors, for men of power. Knowing you, being attracted to you, makes me realize what I knew before you were boys. Apparently, I like much older men these days.”

  He sat, looking at her, with the sketch and the wine between them. With worlds between them, he told himself. And still he’d never felt closer to anyone. “To sit here like this with you, in the house that’s mine, but not, in a world that’s mine, but not, you’re the single thing I want.”

  She rose, moved to him, put her arms around him. He rested his head just under her breasts, listened to her heart.

  “Is it comfort?” she asked.

  “Yes. But not only that. I have such a need for you. I don’t know how to hold it inside me.”

  She lowered her head, closing her eyes as she rested her cheek on his hair. “Let’s be human. For what’s left of tonight, let’s be human, because I don’t want to be alone in the dark.” She framed his face, lifted it to hers. “Take me to bed.”

  He took her hands as he got to his feet. “Such things haven’t changed in a millennium, have they?”

  She laughed. “Some things never change.”

  He kept her hand in his as they walked from the kitchen. “I haven’t bedded many women—being a serious man.”

  “I haven’t been bedded by many men—being a sensible woman.” At the door to her room she turned to him with a qu
ick, wicked smile. “But I think we’ll manage.”

  “Wait.” He brought her to him before she could open the door, and laid his lips on hers. She felt warmth, and an underlying shimmer of power.

  Then he opened the door.

  He’d lighted the candles, she saw. Every one of them, so the room was full of gilded light and soft scent. The fire burned as well, a low red simmer.

  It touched a place in her heart even as it rippled anticipation over her skin.

  “A very nice start. Thank you.” She heard the click of the key in the lock, pressed a hand to her heart. “I’m nervous. All of a sudden. I’ve never been nervous about being with someone. Not even that first time. That smugness again.”

  He didn’t mind her nerves. In fact, they added an edge to his own arousal. “Your mouth. This fullness here.” He traced a fingertip over her bottom lip. “I can taste it in my sleep. You distract me, even when you’re not with me.”

  “That annoys you.” She reached up to link her arms around his neck. “I’m so glad.”

  She eased toward him, watching his gaze drop to her mouth, linger before it came back to hers. Felt his breath mix with her breath, and his heart beat against her heart. They held there, one endless moment, then their lips met. And they sank into each other.

  Nerves fluttered in her belly again, a dozen velvet wings that swept against desire. And still that shimmer of power was like a hum in the air.

  Then his hands were in her hair, sweeping it back from her face in a gesture of urgency that had her shuddering in anticipation of what was to come. And his mouth left hers to roam her face, to find that throbbing pulse in her throat.

  She could drown him. He knew it even as he took more. This outrageous need for her could take him under, somewhere he’d never been. He knew, wherever that was, he would take her with him.

  He molded the shape of her with his hands, steeped himself in it. She found his mouth again, avidly. He heard the shudder of her breath as she stepped back. The candlelight washed over her as she reached up, began to unbutton her shirt.

  She wore something white and lacy beneath it that seemed to hold her breasts like an offering. There was more white lace when her pants slid down her hips, an alluring triangle that rode low on her belly, high on her legs.

  “Women are the canniest creatures,” he mused out loud, and reached out to skim a fingertip over the lace. When she trembled, he smiled. “I like these clothes. Are you always wearing these under the others?”

  “No. It depends on my mood.”

  “I like this mood.” He took his thumbs, brushed them up over the lace on her breasts.

  Her head fell back. “Oh God.”

  “That pleasures you. What of this?” He did the same with the lace that sat snug below her belly, and watched the arousal slide over her face.

  Soft skin, delicate and smooth. But there was muscle under it. Fascinating. “Just let me touch. Your body is beautiful. Just let me touch.”

  She reached back, gripped the bedpost. “Help yourself.”

  His fingers skimmed over her, made her skin quiver. Then pressed and made her moan. She could feel her own bones going to liquid, and her muscles to putty as he explored her. She gave herself to it, to the slow, enervating pleasure that was both triumph and surrender.

  “Is this the fastener then?”

  She opened heavy eyes as he fiddled with the front hook of her bra. But when she started to undo it, he brushed her hands aside.

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