Morrigans cross, p.20
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.20

         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts
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  and called Hoyt’s Dance.”

  Hoyt didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or flattered. “It’s the Dance of the Gods, and it was here long before me.”

  “So goes truth, particularly when fantasy’s shinier. The caves beneath the cliffs where you tossed me into the sea? It’s said you lie there, deep beneath the rock, guarded by faeries, under the land where you would stand to call the lightning and the wind.”

  “Foolishness.”

  “An amusing claim to fame.”

  For a time they said nothing, just stood, two men of striking physical similarity, in a rainy world of the dead.

  “If I’d gone with you that night, as you asked me, ridden out with you, to stop as you said at the pub in the village. A drink and a tumble…” Hoyt’s throat went hot as he remembered it. “But I had work on my mind and didn’t want company. Not even yours. I had only to go, and none of this would be.”

  Cian slicked back his dripping hair. “You take a lot on yourself, don’t you? But then, you always did. If you’d gone, it’s likely she’d have had us both—so it’s true enough, none of this would be.”

  What he saw on Hoyt’s face brought the fury rushing back into him. “Do I ask for your guilt? You weren’t my keeper then or now. I stand here as I did centuries ago, and barring bad luck—or my own idiocy in letting you drag me into this thing and the serious risk of a stake through the heart, I’ll stand here again centuries after. And you, Hoyt, food for the worms. So which of us has destiny smiled on?”

  “What is my power if I can’t change that one night, that one moment? I’d have gone with you. I’d have died for you.”

  Cian’s head whipped up, and on his face was the same hot temper it had held in battle. “Don’t put your death, or your regrets, on me.”

  But there was no answering anger in Hoyt. “And you would have died for me. For any one of them.” He spread his arms to encompass the graves.

  “Once.”

  “You are half of me. Nothing you are, nothing that was done changes that. You know it as I know it. Even more than blood, more than bone. We are, beneath all that, what we ever were.”

  “I can’t exist in this world feeling this.” Emotion swirled now, into his face, his voice. “I can’t grieve for what I am, or for you. Or for them. And damn you, goddamn you for bringing me back to it.”

  “I love you. It’s bound in me.”

  “What you love is gone.”

  No, Hoyt thought, he was looking at the heart of what he’d loved. He could see it in the roses his brother had planted over their mother’s grave.

  “You’re standing here with me and the spirits of our family. You’re not so changed, Cian, or you would not have done this.” He touched the petals of a rose. “You could not have done it.”

  Cian’s eyes were suddenly ageless, filled with the torment of centuries. “I’ve seen death. Thousands upon thousands. Age and sickness, murder and war. I didn’t see theirs. And this was all I could do for them.”

  When Hoyt moved his hand, the petals of an overblown rose spilled down and scattered on his mother’s grave. “It was enough.”

  Cian looked down at the hand Hoyt held out to him. He sighed once, deeply. “Well, damn to us both then,” he said and clasped hands with his brother. “We’ve been out long enough, no point in tempting fate any longer. And I want my bed.”

  They started back the way they’d come.

  “Do you miss the sun?” Hoyt wondered. “Walking in it, feeling it on your face?”

  “They’ve found it gives you cancer of the skin.”

  “Huh.” Hoyt considered it. “Still, the warmth of it on a summer morning.”

  “I don’t think about it. I like the night.”

  Perhaps it wasn’t the time to ask Cian to allow him to do a little experimental bloodletting.

  “What do you do in these businesses of yours? And with your leisure? Do you—”

  “I do as I please. I like to work; it’s satisfying. And makes play more appealing. And it’s not possible to catch up on several centuries during a morning’s walk in the rain, even if I were inclined.” He rested the sword on his shoulder. “But likely you’ll catch your death from it, and spare me the questions in any case.”

  “I’m made of stronger stuff than that,” Hoyt said, cheerfully now, “as I proved when I bashed your face not long ago. You’ve a fine bruise on your jaw.”

  “It’ll be gone quicker than yours, unless the witch intervenes again. In any case, I was holding back.”

  “Bollocks to that.”

  The shadows that always fell on him when he visited that graveyard began to lift. “If I’d come at you full, we’d be digging your grave back there.”

  “Let’s go again, then.”

  Cian slanted Hoyt a look. Memories, the pleasure of them so long suppressed, crept back on him. “Another time. And when I’m finished pounding you, you won’t be up to romping with the redhead.”

  Hoyt grinned. “I’ve missed you.”

  Cian stared ahead as the house peeked through the trees. “The bloody hell of it is I’ve missed you, too.”

  Chapter 14

  With a crossbow armed and ready by her side, Glenna kept watch from the tower window. She’d considered the fact that she’d had very little practice with that particular weapon, and that her aim could be called into serious question.

  But she couldn’t just sit up there, unarmed and wringing her hands like some helpless female. If the damn sun would come out, she wouldn’t have to worry. More than that, she thought with a little hiss, if the McKenna boys hadn’t wandered off—obviously to snarl at each other in private—she wouldn’t have these images in her head of them being ripped to pieces by a pack of vampires.

  Pack? Herd? Gang?

  What did it matter? They still had fangs and a bad attitude.

  Where had they gone? And why had they been out, exposed and vulnerable, so long?

  Maybe the pack/herd/gang had already ripped them to shreds and dragged their mutilated bodies off to…And oh, God, she wished she could turn off the video in her head for five damn minutes.

  Most women just worried about their man getting mugged or run over by a bus. But oh no, she had to get herself tangled up with a guy at war with blood-sucking fiends.

  Why couldn’t she have fallen for a nice accountant or stockbroker?

  She had thought of using her skill and the crystal to look for them. But it seemed…intrusive, she decided. And rude.

  But if they weren’t back in ten minutes, she was going to say screw manners and find them.

  She hadn’t thought through, not completely, the emotional turmoil Hoyt was experiencing, what he missed, and what he risked. More than the rest of them, she decided. She was thousands of miles away from her family, but not hundreds of years. He was in the home where he’d grown up, but it was no longer his home. And every day, every hour, was another reminder of that.

  Bringing back his mother’s herb garden had hurt him. She should have thought of that, too. Kept her mouth shut about what she’d needed and wanted. Just made a damn list and gone out to find or buy supplies.

  She glanced back at some of the herbs she’d already bundled and hung to dry. Small things, everyday things could cause the most pain.

  Now he was out there somewhere, in the rain, with his brother. The vampire. She didn’t believe Cian would attack Hoyt—or didn’t want to believe it. But if Cian were angry enough, pushed hard enough, could he control what must be natural urges?

  She didn’t know the answer.

  Added to that, no one could be sure more of Lilith’s forces were not out and about, just waiting for another chance.

  It was probably silly to worry. They were two men of considerable power, men who knew the land. Neither of them were solely dependent on swords and daggers. Hoyt was armed, and he wore one of the crosses they’d conjured, so he was hardly defenseless.

  And it proved a point, didn’t it, the two of the
m being out, moving freely? It proved they wouldn’t be held under siege.

  No one else was worried, particularly. Moira was back in the library, studying. Larkin and King were in the training area doing a weapon inventory. She was, undoubtedly, worked up about nothing.

  Where the hell were they?

  As she continued to scan, she spotted movement. Just shadows in the gloom. She grabbed the crossbow, ordered her fingers to stop shaking as she positioned it and herself in the narrow window.

  “Just breathe,” she told herself. “Just breathe. In and out, in and out.”

  That breath came out on a whoosh of relief when she saw Hoyt, Cian beside him. Trooping along, she noted, dripping wet, as if they had all the time in the world, and not a care in it.

  Her brows drew together as they came closer. Was that blood on Hoyt’s shirt, and a fresh bruise spreading under his right eye?

  She leaned out, bumped the stone sill. And the arrow shot out of the bow with a deadly twang. She actually squealed. She’d hate herself for it later, but the purely female sound of shock and distress ripped out of her as the arrow sliced air and rain.

  And landed, just a few inches short of the toe of Hoyt’s boot.

  Their swords were out, a blur of steel, as they pivoted back-to-back. Under other circumstances she would have admired the move, the sheer grace and rhythm of it, like a dance step. But at the moment, she was caught between mortification and horror.

  “Sorry! Sorry!” She leaned out farther, waved her arm frantically as she shouted. “It was me. It got away from me. I was just…” Oh hell with it. “I’m coming down.”

  She left the weapon where it was, vowing to take a full hour of practice with it before she shot at anything but a target again. Before she set off in a run, she heard the unmistakable sound of male laughter. A quick glance showed her it was Cian, all but doubled over with it. Hoyt simply stood, staring up at the window.

  As she swung down the stairs, Larkin came out of the training room. “Trouble?”

  “No, no. Nothing. Everything’s fine. It’s nothing at all.” She could actually feel the blood rise up to heat her cheeks as she dashed for the main floor.

  They were coming in the front door, shaking themselves like wet dogs as she sprinted down the last steps.

  “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

  “Remind me not to piss you off, Red,” Cian said easily. “You might aim for my heart and shoot me in the balls.”

  “I was just keeping watch for you, and I must’ve pulled the trigger by mistake. Which I wouldn’t have done if the two of you hadn’t been gone so damn long and had me so worried.”

  “That’s what I love about women.” Cian slapped his brother’s shoulder. “They damn near kill you, but in the end it’s your own fault. Good luck with that. I’m going to bed.”

  “I need to check your burns.”

  “Nag, nag, nag.”

  “And what happened? Were you attacked? Your mouth’s bleeding—yours, too,” she said to Hoyt. “And your eye’s damn near swollen shut.”

  “No, we weren’t attacked.” There was a world of exasperation in his voice. “Until you nearly shot me in the foot.”

  “Your faces are all banged up, and your clothes are filthy—ripped. If you weren’t…” It came to her, when she saw the expressions on their faces. She had a brother of her own, after all. “You punched each other? Each other?”

  “He hit me first.”

  She gave Cian a look that would have withered stone. “Well, that’s just fine, isn’t it? Didn’t we go through all this yesterday? Didn’t we talk about infighting, how destructive and useless it is?”

  “I guess we’re going to bed without our supper.”

  “Don’t get smart with me.” She jabbed a finger into Cian’s chest. “I’m here worried half sick, and the two of you are out there wrestling around like a couple of idiot puppies.”

  “You nearly put an arrow in my foot,” Hoyt reminded her. “I think we’re quits on foolish behavior for one day.”

  She only hissed out a breath. “Into the kitchen, both of you. I’ll do something about those cuts and bruises. Again.”

  “I’m having my bed,” Cian began.

  “Both of you. Now. You don’t want to mess with me at the moment.”

  As she sailed off, Cian rubbed a finger gently on his split lip. “It’s been a long while, but I don’t recall you having a particular fondness for bossy women.”

  “I didn’t, previously. But I understand them well enough to know we might as well be after letting her have her way on this. And the fact is, my eye’s paining me.”

  When they came in, Glenna was setting what she needed out on the table. She had the kettle on the boil, and her sleeves rolled up.

  “Do you want blood?” she said to Cian, with enough frost in the words to have him clearing his throat.

  It amazed him that he actually felt chagrined. It was a sensation he hadn’t felt in…too long to remember. Obviously living so closely with humans was a bad influence.

  “The tea you’re making will do, thanks.”

  “Take off your shirt.”

  There was a smart comment on the tip of his tongue, she could all but see it. He proved himself a wise man by swallowing it.

  He stripped it off, sat.

  “I’d forgotten about the burns.” Hoyt examined them now. There was no longer any blistering, and they’d gone down to a dull, ugly red. “If I’d remembered,” he said as he sat across from Cian, “I’d have put more blows into your chest.”

  “Typical,” Glenna said under her breath, and was ignored.

  “You don’t fight altogether the way you used to. You use your feet more, and elbows.” And Hoyt could still feel the aching result of them. “Then there’s that leaping off the ground.”

  “Martial arts. I have black belts in several of them. Master status,” Cian explained. “You need to put more time into training.”

  Hoyt rubbed his sore ribs. “And so I will.”

  Weren’t they chummy all of a sudden? Glenna thought. What was it about men that made them decide to be pals after they’d smashed their fists into each other’s faces?

  She poured hot water into the pot, and while it steeped came to the table with her salve.

  “I would’ve said three weeks to heal with what I can do, considering the extent of the burns.” She sat, slicked salve on her fingers. “I’m amending that to three days.”

  “We can be hurt, and seriously. But unless it’s a killing blow, we heal—and quickly.”

  “Lucky for you, especially as you’ve got a mass of nice bruising to go with the burns. But you don’t regenerate,” she continued as she applied the salve. “If, say, we were to cut off one of their arms, it wouldn’t grow back.”

  “There’s a gruesome and interesting thought. No. I’ve never heard of anything like that happening.”

  “Then if we can’t get to the heart or the head, we can go for a limb.”

  She went to the sink to wash the salve from her hands, and make cold packs for the bruising. “Here.” She handed one to Hoyt. “Hold that on your eye.”

  He sniffed at it, then complied. “You shouldn’t have worried.”

  Cian winced. “Bad tact. Wiser to say: ‘Ah, my love, we’re sorry we worried you. We were selfish and inconsiderate, should likely be flogged for it. We hope you’ll forgive us.’ Thicken the brogue a bit as well. Women are fools for brogues.”

  “Then kiss her feet, I suppose.”

  “Actually, you aim for the ass. Ass kissing is a tradition that never goes out of style. You’ll need patience with him, Glenna. Hoyt’s still working on the learning curve.”

  She brought the tea to the table, then surprised them both when she laid a hand on Cian’s cheek. “And you’re going to teach him how to deal with the modern woman?”

  “Well, he’s a bit pitiful, is all.”

  Her lips curved as she lowered her head, brushed them over Cian’s. “You
re forgiven. Drink your tea.”

  “Just that easy?” Hoyt complained. “He gets a pat on the cheek and a kiss with it? You didn’t nearly put an arrow into him.”

  “Women are a constant mystery.” Cian spoke quietly. “And one of the wonders of the world. I’ll take this up with me.” He got to his feet. “I’m wanting some dry clothes.”

  “Drink all of it.” Glenna spoke without turning as she took up another bottle. “It’ll help.”

  “I will then. Let me know if he doesn’t learn fast enough to suit you. I wouldn’t quibble with being second choice.”

  “That’s just his way,” Hoyt told her when Cian left the room. “A kind of teasing.”

  “I know. So you made friends again while you were bloodying each other.”

  “It’s true enough I hit him first. I spoke to him of our mother, and the garden, and he was cold. Even though I could see what was under that cold, I…well, I lashed out, and…After, he took me to where our family’s buried. And there you have it.”

  She turned now, and all the pity in her heart swirled into her eyes. “It must’ve been hard for both of you to be there.”

  “It makes it real to me, that as I sit here now, they’re gone. It didn’t seem real before. Not solid and real.”

  She moved to him, dabbed her tincture on his facial bruises. “And for him, to have lived all this time with no family at all. Another cruelty of what was done to him. To all of them. We don’t think of that do we, when we talk about war, and how to destroy them? They were people once, just like Cian.”

  “They mean to kill us, Glenna. Every one of us that has a heartbeat.”

  “I know. I know. Something drained them of humanity. But they were human once, Hoyt, with families, lovers, hopes. We don’t think of that. Maybe we can’t.”

  She brushed the hair back from his face. A nice accountant, she thought again. A stockbroker. How ridiculous, how ordinary. She had, right here, the amazing.

  “I think fate put Cian here, this way, so we understand there’s a weight to what we’re doing. So that we know, at the end of the day, we’ve done what we had to do. But not without cost.”

  She stepped back. “That’ll have to do. Try to keep your face from walking into any more fists.”

  She started to turn, but he took her hand, rising as he drew her back to him. His lips took hers with utter tenderness.

  “I think fate put you here, Glenna, to help me understand it’s not just death and blood and violence. There’s such beauty, such kindness in the world. And I have it.” He wrapped his arms around her. “I have it here.”

  She indulged herself, letting her head rest on his shoulder. She wanted to ask what they’d have when it was over, but she knew it was important, even essential, to take each day as it came.

  “We should work.” She drew back. “I’ve got some ideas about creating a safe zone around the house. A protected area where we can move around more freely. And I think Larkin’s right about sending out scouts. If we can get to the caves during the day, we might be able to find something out. Even set traps.”

  “Your mind’s been busy.”

  “I need to keep it that way. I’m not as afraid if I’m thinking, if I’m doing.”

  “Then we work.”

  “Moira might be able to help once we have a start,” Glenna added as they left the kitchen. “She’s reading everything she can get her hands on, so she’d be our prime data source—information,” she explained. “And she has some power. It’s raw
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