Morrigans cross, p.21
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.21

         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts
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  and untrained, but it’s there.”

  While Glenna and Hoyt closed themselves in the tower and the house was quiet, Moira pored over a volume on demon lore in the library. It was fascinating, she thought. So many different theories and legends. She considered it her task to pick them apart for truth.

  Cian would know it, or some of it, she concluded. Centuries of existence was plenty of time to learn. And anyone who filled such a room with books sought and respected knowledge. But she wasn’t ready to ask him—wasn’t sure she would ever be.

  If he wasn’t like the creatures she read of, those that sought human blood night after night—and thirsted not just for that blood, but the kill—what was he? Now he prepared to make war against what he was, and she didn’t understand it.

  She needed to learn more, about what they fought, about Cian, about all the others. How could you understand, and then trust, what you didn’t know?

  She made notes, copious notes, on the paper she’d found in one of the drawers of the big desk. She loved the paper, and the writing instrument. The pen, she corrected, that held the ink inside its tube. She wondered if she could smuggle some of the paper and pens back to Geall.

  She closed her eyes. She missed home, and the missing was like a constant ache in her belly. She’d written down her wish, sealed the paper, and would leave it among her things for Larkin to find if it came to pass.

  If she died on this side, she wanted her body taken back to Geall for burial.

  She continued to write with thoughts circling in her head. There was one she kept coming back to, nibbling at. She would have to find a way to ask Glenna if it could be done—if the others would agree to it, if it could.

  Was there a way to seal off the portal, to close the door to Geall?

  With a sigh, she looked toward the window. Was it raining in Geall now, too, or was the sun shining on her mother’s grave?

  She heard footsteps approach, and danced her fingers over the hilt of her dagger. She let them fall away when King came in. For reasons she couldn’t name, she felt easier with him than the others.

  “Got something against chairs, Shorty?”

  Her lips twitched. She liked the way words rumbled out of him, like rocks down a stony hill. “No, but I like sitting on the floor. Is it time for more training?”

  “Taking a break.” He sat in a wide chair, a huge mug of coffee in his hand. “Larkin could go all damn day. Up there now, practicing some katas.”

  “I like the katas. It’s like dancing.”

  “Just make sure you’re doing the leading if you’re dancing with a vampire.”

  Idly, she turned the page of a book. “Hoyt and Cian fought.”

  King took a drink. “Oh yeah? Who won?”

  “I think neither. I saw them coming back, and from their faces and limps, it seemed to be a draw.”

  “How do you know they were fighting with each other? Maybe they were attacked.”

  “No.” She traced her fingers over words. “I hear things.”

  “You got big ears, Shorty.”

  “So my mother always said. They made peace between them—Hoyt and his brother.”

  “That eliminates a complication—if it lasts.” Given their personalities, King figured a full truce between the brothers had the life expectancy of a fruit fly. “What do you expect to find out in all these books?”

  “Everything. Sooner or later. Do you know how the first vampyre came to be? There are different versions in the books.”

  “Never thought about it.”

  “I did—do. One is like a love story. Long ago, when the world was young, demons were dying out. Before, long before that, there were more. Scores of them, walking the world. But man grew stronger and smarter, and the time of the demons was passing.”

  Because he was a man who enjoyed stories, he settled back. “Kind of an evolution.”

  “A change, yes. Many demons went beneath the world, to hide or to sleep. There was more magic then, because people didn’t turn from it. Man and the faeries forged an alliance to wage war on the demons, to drive them under for once and all. There was one who was poisoned, and slowly dying. He loved a mortal woman, and this was forbidden even in the demon world.”

  “So man doesn’t have a lock on bigotry. Keep going,” he said when she paused.

  “So the dying demon took the mortal woman from her home. He was obsessed with her, and his last wish was to mate with her before his end.”

  “Not so different from men in that area then.”

  “I think, perhaps, all living creatures crave love and pleasure. And this physical act that represents life.”

  “And guys want to get off.”

  She lost her rhythm. “Get off what?”

  He nearly spewed coffee, choked instead. He waved a hand at her as his laugh rumbled out. “Don’t mind me. Finish the story.”

  “Ah…Well, he took her deep into the forest and had his way with her, and she, like a woman under a spell, wanted his touch. To try to save his life, she offered her blood to him. So she was bitten, and drank his blood in turn, as this was another kind of mating. She died with him, but she did not cease to exist. She became the thing we call vampyre.”

  “A demon for love.”

  “Aye, I suppose. In vengeance against men, she hunted them, fed from them, changed them, to make more of her kind. And still she grieved for her demon lover, and killed herself with sunlight.”

  “Doesn’t quite hit Romeo and Juliet, does it?”

  “A play. I saw the book of it here, on the shelf. I haven’t yet read it.” It would take years to read all the books in such a room she thought as she toyed with the end of her braid.

  “But I read another tale of the vampyre. It tells of a demon, mad and ill from a spell even more evil than it, thirsting wildly for human blood. He fed, and the more he fed, the more mad he became. He died after mixing his blood with a mortal, and the mortal became vampyre. The first of its kind.”

  “I guess you like the first version better.”

  “No, I like truth better, and I think the second is the truth. What mortal woman would love a demon?”

  “Led a sheltered life back in your world, haven’t you? Where I come from people fall for monsters—or what others consider monsters—all the time. Ain’t no logic with love, Shorty. It just is.”

  She tossed her braid behind her back in a kind of shrug. “Well, if I love, I won’t be stupid about it.”

  “Hope I’m around long enough to see you eat those words.”

  She closed the book, drew up her legs. “Do you love someone?”

  “A woman? Been close a few times, and that’s how I know I didn’t make it all the way to the bull’s-eye.”

  “How do you know?”

  “When you hit the center, Shorty, you’re down for the count. But it’s fun shooting for it. Gonna take a special woman to get past this.” He tapped a finger to his face.

  “I like your face. It’s so big and dark.”

  He laughed so hard he nearly spilled his coffee. “You got that one right.”

  “And you’re strong. You speak well and you cook. You have loyalty to your friends.”

  That big dark face softened. “Want to apply for the position of love of my life?”

  She smiled back at him, at ease. “I’m thinking I’m not your bull’s-eye. If I’m to be queen, I must marry one day. Have children. I hope it won’t be only duty, but that I find what my mother found in my father. What they found in each other. I’d want him to be strong, and loyal.”

  “And handsome.”

  She moved her shoulders, because she did hope that as well. “Do women here only look for beauty?”

  “Couldn’t say, but it don’t hurt. Guy looks like Cian, for instance, he’s got to beat them off with sticks.”

  “Then why is he lonely?”

  He studied her over the rim of his mug. “Good question.”

  “How did you come to meet him?”

/>   “He saved my life.”

  Moira wrapped her arms around her legs and settled in. There was little she liked more than a story. “How?”

  “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bad neighborhood in East L.A.” He drank again, lifted a shoulder in a half shrug. “See, my old man took off before I was born, and my old lady had what we’ll call a little problem with illegal substances. OD’d. Overdosed. Took too much of some bad shit.”

  “She died.” Everything in her mourned for him. “I’m sorry.”

  “Bad choices, bad luck. You gotta figure some people come into the world set on tossing their life into the shitter. She was one of them. So I’m on the street, doing what I can to get by, and keep out of the system. I’m heading to this place I know. It’s dark, steaming hot. I just wanted a place to sleep for the night.”

  “You had no home.”

  “I had the street. A couple of guys were hanging out on the stoop, probably waiting to make a score. I got my bad attitude on. Need to get by them to get where I want to go. Car rolls up, blasts at them. Drive-by,” he said. “Like an ambush. I’m caught in it. Bullet grazes my head. More coming, and I know I’m going to be dead. Somebody grabs me, pulls me back. Things got blurry, but it felt like I was flying. Then I was someplace else.”

  “Where?”

  “Fancy hotel room. I’d never seen anything like it outside of movies.” He crossed his big, booted feet as he remembered. “Big-ass bed, big enough for ten people, and I’m lying on it. Head hurts like a mother, which is why I don’t figure I’m dead and this is heaven. He comes out of the bathroom. Got his shirt off, and a fresh bandage on his shoulder. Got himself shot dragging me out of the cross fire.”

  “What did you do?”

  “Nothing much, guess I was in shock. He sits down, studies me like I’m a frigging book. ‘You’re lucky,’ he said, ‘and stupid.’ He’s got that accent. I’m figuring he must be some rock star or something. The way he looks, the fancy voice, the fancy room. Truth is, I thought he was a perv, and he was going to want me to…Let’s just say I was scared shitless. I was eight.”

  “You were a child?” Her eyes widened. “You were just a child?”

  “I was eight,” he repeated. “Grow up like I did, you aren’t a kid long. He asks me what the hell I was doing out there, and I give him some sass. Trying to get some of my own back. He asks if I’m hungry, and I shoot back something like I ain’t going to…perform any sexual favors for a goddamn meal. Orders a steak dinner, a bottle of wine, some soda pop. And he tells me he isn’t interested in buggering young boys. If I’ve got someplace I’d rather be, I should go there. Otherwise I can wait for the steak.”

  “You waited for the steak.”

  “Fucking A.” He gave her a wink. “That was the start of it. He gave me food, and a choice. I could go back to where I’d been—no skin off his—or I could work for him. I took the job. Didn’t know the job meant school. He gave me clothes, an education, self-respect.”

  “Did he tell you what he was?”

  “Not then. Not long after though. I figured he was whacked, but I didn’t much care. By the time I realized he was telling the truth, literal truth, I would’ve done anything for him. The man I was setting to be died on the street that night. He didn’t turn me,” King said quietly. “But he changed me.”

  “Why? Did you ever ask him why?”

  “Yeah. That’d be for him to tell.”

  She nodded. The story itself was enough to think about.

  “Break’s about over,” he announced. “We can get an hour’s workout in. Toughen up that skinny ass of yours.”

  She grinned. “Or we could work with the bow. Improve that poor aim of yours.”

  “Come on, smart-ass.” He frowned, glanced toward the doorway. “You hear something?”

  “Like a knocking?” She shrugged, and because she tarried to straighten the books, was several paces behind him out of the room.

  Glenna trotted down the steps. What little progress they were making she could leave to Hoyt for the time being. Someone had to see about the evening meal—and since she’d put her name on the list, she was elected. She could toss together a marinade for some chicken, then go back up for another hour.

  A good meal would set the tone for a team meeting.

  She’d just drop by the library, yank Moira away from the books for a cooking lesson while she was at it. Maybe it was sexist to put the only other woman next on the KP list, but she had to start somewhere.

  The knock on the door made her jolt, then pass a nervous hand through her hair.

  She nearly called up the stairs for Larkin or King, then shook her head. Talk about sexist. How was she going to fare in serious battle if she couldn’t even open the door herself on a rainy afternoon?

  It could be a neighbor, dropping by to pay a courtesy call. Or Cian’s caretaker, stopping by to make sure they had everything they needed.

  And a vampire couldn’t enter the house, couldn’t step over the threshold, unless she asked it in.

  A highly unlikely event.

  Still, she looked out the window first. She saw a young woman of about twenty—a pretty blonde in jeans and a bright red sweater. Her hair was pulled back into a tail that swung out of the back of a red cap. She was holding a map—seemed to be puzzling over it as she chewed on a thumbnail.

  Someone’s lost, Glenna thought, and the sooner she got her on her way and away from the house, the better for everyone.

  The knock sounded again as she turned from the window.

  She opened the door, careful to keep to her side of the threshold.

  “Hello? Need some help?”

  “Hello. Thank you, yes.” There was relief, and a heavy dose of French in the woman’s voice. “I am, ah, lost. Excusezmoi, my English, is not so good.”

  “That’s okay. My French is fairly nonexistent. What can I do for you?”

  “Ennis? S’il vous plaît? May you tell me how the road it goes to Ennis?”

  “I’m not sure. I’m not from around here myself. I can look at the map.” Glenna watched the woman’s eyes as she held out a hand for it—her fingertips on her side of the door. “I’m Glenna. Je suis Glenna.”

  “Ah, oui. Je m’apelle Lora. I am in holiday, a student.”

  “That’s nice.”

  “The rain.” Lora held out a hand so rain drops splattered it. “I am lost in it, I think.”

  “Could happen to anyone. Let’s have a look at your map, Lora. Are you by yourself?”

  “Pardon?”

  “Alone? Are you alone?”

  “Oui. Mes amies—my friends—I have friends in Ennis, but I turn bad. Wrong?”

  Oh no, Glenna thought. I really don’t think so. “I’m surprised you could see the house from the main road. We’re so far back.”

  “Sorry?”

  Glenna smiled brilliantly. “I bet you’d like to come in, have a nice cup of tea while we figure out your route.” She saw the light come into the blonde’s baby blue eyes. “But you can’t, can you? Just can’t step through the door.”

  “Je ne comprendrez pas.”

  “Bet you do, but in case my Spidey sense is off today, you need to go back to the main road, turn left. Left,” she repeated and started to gesture.

  King’s shout behind her had her spinning around. Her hair swung, the tips of it going beyond the doorway. There was an explosion of pain as her hair was viciously yanked, as her body flew out of the house and hit the ground with a bone-wracking thud.

  There were two more, and they came out of nowhere. Instinct had Glenna reaching for her cross with one hand, kicking out blindly with her feet. Movement was a blur, and she tasted blood in her mouth. She saw King slicing at one with a knife, holding it off while he shouted at her to get up, to get into the house.

  She stumbled to her feet in time to see them surround him, closing in. She heard herself screaming, and thought—hoped—she heard answering shouts from the house. But they would
be too late. The vampires were on King like dogs.

  “French bitch,” Glenna spat out, and charged the blonde.

  Her fist cracked bone, and there was satisfaction in that, and the sudden spurt of blood. Then she was once more hurdling back, and this time when she hit, her vision went gray.

  She felt herself being dragged, struggled. It was Moira’s voice buzzing in her ear.

  “I have you. I have you. You’re back inside. Lie still.”

  “No. King. They’ve got King.”

  Moira was already dashing out, dagger drawn. As Glenna pushed herself up, Larkin vaulted over her and through the door.

  Glenna gained her knees, then swayed to her feet. Sickness burned its acrid taste at the base of her throat as she once more stumbled to the door.

  So fast, she thought dully, how could anything move that fast? As Moira and Larkin gave chase, they bundled the still struggling King into a black van. They were gone before she got out of the house.

  Larkin’s body shimmered, shuddered, and became a cougar. The cat flashed after the van and out of sight.

  Glenna went to her knees on the wet grass, and retched.

  “Get inside.” Hoyt grabbed her arm with his free hand. In his other was a sword. “Inside the house. Glenna, Moira, get inside.”

  “It’s too late,” Glenna cried, while tears of horror spilled out of her eyes. “They have King.” She looked up, saw Cian standing behind Hoyt. “They took him. They took King.”

  Chapter 15

  “In the house,” Hoyt repeated. As he started to drag Glenna inside, Cian shoved past him and flew toward the stables.

  “Go with him.” Glenna struggled past the tears and pain. “Oh, God, go with him. Hurry.”

  Leaving her, shaking and bleeding, was the hardest thing he’d ever done.

  The door where the black machine sat was open. His brother tossed weapons carelessly inside.

  “Will this catch them?” Hoyt demanded.

  Cian barely spared him a glance with eyes rimmed red. “Stay with the women. I don’t need you.”

  “Need or not, you have me. How the bloody hell do I get inside this thing?” He fought with the door, and when it opened, folded himself inside it.

  Cian said nothing, only got behind the wheel. The machine let out a vicious roar, seemed to quiver like a stallion poised to run. And then they were flying. Stones and sod spewed into the air like missiles. Hoyt caught a glimpse of Glenna in the doorway, holding the arm he feared might be broken.

  He prayed to all the gods he’d see her again.

  She watched him go, and wondered if she’d sent her lover to his death. “Get all the weapons you can carry,” she told Moira.

  “You’re hurt. Let me see to you.”

  “Get the weapons, Moira.” She turned, her face fierce and bloodied. “Or do you intend for us to stay here like children while the men do the fighting?”

  Moira nodded. “Do you want blade or bow?”

  “Both.”

 
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