Morrigans cross, p.18
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.18

         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts
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  “I’ll figure it out on my own in a minute. Ah yes, there it is.” As he unhooked it, her breasts spilled out and into his hands. “Clever. Beautiful.” He lowered his head to them, tasted soft, warm flesh.

  He wanted to savor; he wanted to rush.

  “And the other part? Where is the fastener?” He ran his hands down her.

  “They don’t—” And over her. Her breath caught, a half cry as her fingers dug into his shoulders.

  “Aye, look at me. Just like that.” He skimmed his hands over the lace, under it. “Glenna Ward, who is mine tonight.”

  And she came where she stood, her body exploding and her eyes trapped by his.

  Her head went limp on his shoulder as she shuddered, shuddered. “I want you on me, I want you in me.” She dragged at the sweatshirt he wore, drawing it up and away. Now she found muscle and flesh with her hands, with her lips. Now the power seeped back into her as she pulled him with her onto the bed.

  “Inside me. Inside me.”

  Her mouth crushed hungrily to his, hips arching and offering. He fought with the rest of his clothes, struggled to devour more of her as the heat pumped off them both.

  When he plunged into her, the fire roared, and the candle flames shot up like arrows.

  Passion and power whipped through them, spurring them on toward madness. Still she locked herself around him, stared at him even as tears glazed her eyes.

  A wind stirred her hair, bright as fire against the bed. He felt her gather beneath him, tighten like a bow. When the light burst through him, he could only breathe her name.

  She felt alight, as if whatever they had ignited between them burned still. She wondered she didn’t see beams of its gilded light shooting out of her fingertips.

  In the hearth, the fire had settled down to a quiet simmer; another afterglow. But the heat that had bloomed from it, and from them, dewed her skin. Even now her heart moved at a gallop.

  His head rested there, on her heart, and her hand on his head.

  “Have you ever…”

  His lips brushed her breast, lightly. “No.”

  She combed her fingers through his hair. “Neither have I. Maybe it was because it was the first time, or because some of what we made earlier was still stored up.”

  We’re stronger together. Her own words echoed in her mind.

  “Where do we go from here?”

  When he lifted his head, she shook hers. “An expression,” she explained. “And it doesn’t matter now. Your bruises are gone.”

  “I know. Thank you.”

  “I don’t know that I did it.”

  “You did. You touched my face when we joined.” He took her hand, brought it to his lips. “There’s magic in your hands, and in your heart. And still your eyes are troubled.”

  “Just tired.”

  “Do you want me to leave you?”

  “No, I don’t.” And wasn’t that the problem? “I want you to stay.”

  “Here then.” He shifted, bringing her with him, tucking up sheet and blanket. “I have a question.”


  “You have a brand, here.” He traced his fingers over the small of her back. “A pentagram. Are witches marked so in this time?”

  “No. It’s a tattoo—my choice. I wanted to wear a symbol of what I am, even when I was skyclad.”

  “Ah. I mean no disrespect to your purpose, or your symbol, but I found it…alluring.”

  She smiled to herself. “Good. Then it performed its secondary purpose.”

  “I feel whole again,” he said. “I feel myself again.”

  “So do I.”

  But tired, he thought. He could hear it in her voice. “We’ll sleep awhile.”

  She tilted her head up so their eyes met. “You said when you took me to bed you wouldn’t give me any sleep.”

  “This once.”

  She rested her head on his shoulder, but didn’t close her eyes, even when he dimmed the candles. “Hoyt. Whatever happens, this was precious.”

  “For me as well. And for the first time, Glenna, I believe not only that we must win, but that we can. I believe that because you’re with me.”

  Now she closed her eyes for just a moment, on the pang just under her heart. He spoke of war, she thought. And she’d spoken of love.

  She woke to rain, and his warmth. Glenna lay, listening to the patter, absorbing the good, natural feel of a man’s body beside hers.

  She’d had to lecture herself during the night. What she had with Hoyt was a gift, one that should be treasured and appreciated. There was no point in cursing because it wasn’t enough.

  And what good did it do to question why it had happened? To wonder if whatever was driving them to the battleground had brought them together, had ignited that passion and need, and yes, love, because they were stronger with it?

  It was enough to feel; she’d always believed that. And only doubted it now because she felt so much.

  It was time to go back to being practical, to enjoy what she had when she had it. And to do the job at hand.

  She eased away from him, started to get out of bed. His hand closed around her wrist.

  “It’s early, and raining. Come, stay in bed.”

  She looked over her shoulder. “How do you know it’s early. There’s no clock in here. Got a sundial in your head?”

  “Sure a lot of good it would do as it’s pouring rain. Your hair’s like the sun. Come back to bed.”

  He didn’t look so serious now, she noted, not with his eyes sleepy and his face shadowed by a night’s growth of beard. What he looked was edible.

  “You need a shave.”

  He rubbed a hand over his face, felt the stubble. Rubbed his hand over again, and the stubble was gone. “Is that better for you, a stór?”

  She reached over, flicked a finger down his cheek. “Very smooth. You could use a decent haircut.”

  He frowned, scooped a hand through his hair. “What would be wrong with my hair?”

  “It’s gorgeous, but it could use a little shaping. I can take care of that for you.”

  “I think not.”

  “Oh, don’t trust me?”

  “Not with my hair.”

  She laughed and rolled over to straddle him. “You trust me with other, and more sensitive parts of you.”

  “A different matter entirely.” His hands walked up and cupped her breasts. “What’s the name of the garment you wore over your lovely breasts last night?”

  “It’s called a bra, and don’t change the subject.”

  “Sure I’m happier discussing your breasts than my hair.”

  “Aren’t you cheerful this morning.”

  “You put a light in me.”

  “Sweet talker.” She picked up a hank of his hair. “Snip, snip. You’ll be a new man.”

  “You seem to like the man I am well enough.”

  Her lips curved as she lifted her hips. And lowered them to take him into her. The candles that had guttered out sparked. “Just a trim,” she whispered, leaning over him to rub her lips to his. “After.”

  He learned the considerable pleasure of showering with a woman, then the fascinating pleasure of watching one dress.

  She rubbed creams into her skin, and different ones over her face.

  The bra, and what she called panties, were blue today. Like a robin’s egg. Over these she pulled rough pants and the short, baggy tunic she called a sweatshirt. On it were words that spelled out WALKING IN A WICCAN WONDERLAND.

  He thought the outer clothes made what she wore beneath a kind of marvelous secret.

  He felt relaxed and very pleased with himself. And balked when she told him to sit on the lid of the toilet. She picked up scissors, snapped them together.

  “Why would a man of sense allow a woman to come near him with a tool like that?”

  “A big, tough sorcerer like you shouldn’t be afraid of a little haircut. Besides, if you don’t like it when I’m done, you can change it back.”

/>   “Why are women always after fiddling with a man?”

  “It’s our nature. Indulge me.”

  He sighed, and sat. And squirmed.

  “Be still, and it’ll be done before you know it. How do you suppose Cian deals with grooming?”

  He rolled his eyes up, over, to try to see what she was doing to him. “I wouldn’t know.”

  “No reflection must make it a chore. And he always looks perfect.”

  Now Hoyt slid his eyes toward hers. “You like the way he looks, do you?”

  “You’re almost mirror images, so it’s obvious I do. He has that slight cleft in his chin and you don’t.”

  “Where the faeries pinched him. My mother used to say.”

  “Your face is a little leaner, and your eyebrows have more of an arch. But your eyes, those mouths and cheekbones—the same.”

  He watched hair fall into his lap, and inside the mighty sorcerer, his belly trembled. “Jesus, woman, are you shearing me bald?”

  “Lucky for you I like long hair on a man. At least I do on you.” She dropped a kiss on the top of his head. “Yours is like black silk, with just a little wave. You know, in some cultures, when a woman cuts a man’s hair it’s a vow of marriage.”

  His head jerked, but she’d anticipated the reaction and moved the scissors. Her laugh, full of fun and teasing, echoed off the bathroom walls. “Joking. Boy, are you easy. Almost done.”

  She straddled his legs, standing with hers apart, and her breasts close to his face. He began to think a haircut wasn’t such a hardship after all.

  “I liked the feel of a woman.”

  “Yes, I seem to recall that about you.”

  “No, what I’m meaning is I liked the feel of a woman when I had one. I’m a man, have needs like any other. But it never occupied so much of my mind as it does with you.”

  She set the scissors aside, then combed her fingers through his damp hair. “I like occupying your mind. Here, have a look.”

  He stood, studied himself in the mirror. His hair was shorter, but not unreasonably. He supposed it fell in a more pleasing shape—though it had seemed fine to him before she’d gone after it.

  Still, she hadn’t sheared him like a sheep, and it pleased her.

  “It’s well enough, thank you.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  He finished dressing, and when they went downstairs they found all but Cian in the kitchen.

  Larkin was scooping up scrambled eggs. “Good morning to you. The man here has a magician’s hands with eggs.”

  “And my shift at the stove’s over,” King announced. “So if you want breakfast, you’re on your own.”

  “That’s something I wanted to talk about.” Glenna opened the refrigerator. “Shifts. Cooking, laundry, basic housekeeping. It needs to be spread out among all of us.”

  “I’m happy to help,” Moira put in. “If you’ll show me what to do and how to do it.”

  “All right, watch and learn. We’ll stick with the bacon and eggs for this morning.” She got to work on it with Moira watching her every move.

  “I wouldn’t mind more, while you’re about it.”

  Moira glanced at Larkin. “He eats like two horses.”

  “Hmm. We’re going to need regular supplies.” She spoke to King now. “I’d say that falls to you or me, as these three can’t drive. Both Larkin and Moira are going to need clothes that fit. If you draw me a map, I can make the next run.”

  “There’s no sun today.”

  Glenna nodded at Hoyt. “I have protection, and it may clear up.”

  “The household needs to run, as you said, so you can draw up your plans. We’ll follow them. But as to other matters, you have to follow. I think no one goes out alone, out of doors, into the village. No one goes out unarmed.”

  “Are we to be under siege then, held in by a shower of rain?” Larkin stabbed the air with his fork. “Isn’t it time we showed them we won’t let them set the terms?”

  “He has a point,” Glenna agreed. “Cautious but not cowed.”

  “And there’s a horse in the stable,” Moira added. “He needs to be tended.”

  The fact was Hoyt had intended to do so himself, while the others were busy elsewhere. He wondered now if what he’d told himself was responsibility and leadership was just another lack of trust.

  “Larkin and I will tend to the horse.” He sat when Glenna put plates on the table. “Glenna needs herbs and so do I, so we’ll deal with that as well. Cautious,” he repeated. And began to devise how it could be done while he ate.

  He strapped on a sword. The rain was a fine drizzle now, the sort he knew could last for days. He could change that. He and Glenna together could bring out sun bright enough to blast the sky.

  But the earth needed rain.

  He nodded to Larkin, opened the door.

  They moved out together, splitting right and left, back-to-back to gauge the ground.

  “Be a miserable watch in this weather if they just sit and wait,” Larkin pointed out.

  “We’ll stay close together in any case.”

  They crossed the ground, searching for shadows and movement. But there was nothing but the rain, the smell of wet flowers and grass.

  When they reached the stables, the work was routine for both of them. Mucking out, fresh straw, grain and grooming. Comforting, Hoyt thought, to be around the horse.

  Larkin sang as he worked, a cheery air.

  “I’ve a chestnut mare at home,” he told Hoyt. “She’s a beauty. It seemed we couldn’t bring the horses through the Dance.”

  “I was told to leave my own mare behind. Is it true about the legend? The sword and the stone, and the one who rules Geall? Like the legend of Arthur?”

  “It is, and some say it was fashioned from it.” As he spoke, Larkin poured fresh water in the trough. “After the death of the king or queen, the sword is placed back in the stone by a magician. On the day after the burial, the heirs then come, one by one, and try to take it out again. Only one will succeed, and rule all of Geall. The sword is kept in the great hall for all to see, until that ruler dies. And so it is repeated, generation after generation.”

  He wiped his brow. “Moira has no brothers, no sisters. She must rule.”

  Intrigued, Hoyt stopped to glance over. “If she fails, would it come to you?”

  “Spare me from that,” Larkin said with feeling. “I’ve no wish to rule. Bloody nuisance if you’re asking me. Well, he’s set, isn’t he?” He rubbed the stallion’s side. “You’re a handsome devil, that’s the truth. He needs exercise. One of us should ride him out.”

  “Not today, I think. But you’re right in that. He needs a run. Still, he’s Cian’s, so it’s for him to say.”

  They moved to the door, and as before, stepped out together. “That way.” Hoyt gestured. “There was an herb garden, and may still be. I haven’t walked that way as yet.”

  “Moira and I have. I didn’t see one.”

  “We’ll have a look.”

  It sprang off the roof of the stables, so quickly Hoyt had no chance to draw his sword. And the arrow struck it dead in the heart while it was still in the air.

  Ash flew as a second leaped. And a second arrow shot home.

  “Would you let us have one for the sport of it!” Larkin shouted to Moira.

  She stood in the kitchen doorway, a third arrow already notched. “Then take the one coming from the left.”

  “For me,” Larkin shouted at Hoyt.

  It was twice his size, and Hoyt started to protest. But Larkin was already charging. Steel struck steel. It clashed and it rang. Twice he saw the thing step back when Larkin’s cross glinted at him. But he had a reach, and a very long sword.

  When Hoyt saw Larkin slip on the wet grass, he lunged forward. He swung the sword at the thing’s neck—and met air.

  Larkin leaped up, flipped the wooden stake up, caught it neatly. “I was just throwing him off balance.”

  “Nicely done.”
  “There may be more.”

  “There may be,” Hoyt agreed. “But we’ll do what we came to do.”

  “I’ve got your back then, if you’ve mine. God knows Moira’s got them both. This hurt it,” he added, touching the cross. “Gave it some trouble anyway.”

  “They may be able to kill us, but they won’t be able to turn us while we wear them.”

  “Then I’d say that’s a job well done.”

  Chapter 13

  There was no herb garden with its creeping thyme and fragrant rosemary. The pretty knot garden his mother had tended was now a gently rolling span of cropped green grass. It would be a sunny spot when the sky cleared, he knew. His mother had chosen it, though it hadn’t been just outside the kitchen as was more convenient, so her herbs could bask in the light.

  As a child he’d learned of them from her, of their uses and their beauty while sitting by her as she weeded and clipped and harvested. She’d taught him their names and their needs. He’d learned to identify them by their scents and the shapes of the leaves, by the flowers that bolted from them if she allowed it.

  How many hours had he spent there with her, working the earth, talking or just sitting in silence to enjoy the butterflies, the hum of bees?

  It had been their place, he thought, more than any other.

  He’d grown to a man and had found his place on the cliff in what was now called Kerry. He’d built his stone cabin, and found the solitude he’d needed for his own harvest, for his magic.

  But he’d always come back home. And had always found pleasure and solace with
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