Morrigans cross, p.26
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.26

         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts
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  It howled, but there seemed to be more pleasure than pain in it. It turned, lifted its sword high. Both Moira and Larkin charged, but Glenna saw her death. They were too far away, and she had nothing left.

  Then Hoyt sliced his sword through its neck. Blood splattered her face before there was dust.

  “Fairly pitiful, but effective enough all in all.” Cian wiped his hands. “Now pair off. Playtime’s over.”

  “You knew they were out there.” Moira’s hand, still holding the stake, trembled. “You knew.”

  “Well, of course, I knew they were out there. If you’d use your brains, or at least some of your senses, you’d have known it as well.”

  “You’d have let them kill us.”

  “More to the point, you nearly let them kill you. You.” He gestured at Moira. “Stood there, letting the fear soak you, scent you. You.” And now Larkin. “You charged in without using your head, and nearly lost it for the trouble. As for you,” he said to Hoyt. “Protecting the womenfolk may be chivalrous, but you’ll both die—with your honor intact, of course. While Red, at least, used her head initially—and the power your bloody gods gave her—she then fell apart, and stood meekly waiting to be dead.”

  He stepped forward. “So, we’ll work on your weaknesses. Which are legion.”

  “I’ve had enough.” Glenna’s voice was hardly more than a whisper. “Enough of blood and death, enough for one night. Enough.” She dropped the stake and walked out.

  “Leave her be.” Cian waved a hand when Hoyt turned to follow. “For Christ’s sake, an ounce of brain would tell you she wants only her own company—and a strong, dramatic exit like that deserves to stand. Let her have it.”

  “He’s right.” Moira spoke quickly. “As much as it pains me to say it. She needs the quiet.” She walked over to pick up the sword that had been knocked out of her hand. “Weaknesses.” She nodded her head, faced Cian. “Very well then. Show me.”

  Chapter 18

  Hoyt expected to find her in bed when he came in. He’d hoped she’d be sleeping, so that he could put her under more deeply and work on her injuries.

  But she was standing by the window in the dark.

  “Don’t turn on the light,” she said with her back to him. “Cian was right, there are more outside still. If you pay attention, you can sense them. They move like shadows, but there’s movement—more a sense of movement. They’ll go soon, I think. To whatever hole they burrow in during the day.”

  “You should rest.”

  “I know you say that because you’re concerned, and I’m calm enough now not to take your head off for it. I know I behaved poorly upstairs. I don’t really care.”

  “You’re tired, as I am. I want to wash, and I want to sleep.”

  “You have your own room. And that was uncalled for,” she continued before he could speak. Now she turned. Her face seemed very pale in the dark, pale against the dark robe she wore. “I’m not as calm as I thought. You had no right, no right, to stand in front of me up there.”

  “Every right. Love gives me the right. And even without that, if a man doesn’t shield a woman from harm—”

  “Stop right there.” She held up a hand, palm out, as if to block his words. “This isn’t about men and women. It’s about humans. The seconds you took to think of me, to worry for me could have cost you your life. We can’t spare it, neither of us. Any of us. If you don’t trust that I can defend myself—that all of us can, we’re nowhere.”

  That her words made sense didn’t matter a whit as far as he was concerned. He could still see the way that monster had leaped on her. “And where would you be if I hadn’t destroyed that thing?”

  “Different. A different matter.” She moved closer now so that he could scent her, the lotions she used on her skin. So utterly female.

  “This is foolishness, and a waste of time.”

  “It’s not foolish to me, so listen up. Fighting with and protecting fellow soldiers is one thing, a vital thing. We all have to be able to count on each other. But to brush me back from battle is another. You have to understand and accept the difference.”

  “How can I, when it’s you, Glenna? If I lost you—”

  “Hoyt.” She gripped his arms, a kind of impatient comfort. “Any or all of us might die in this. I’m fighting to understand and accept that. But if you die, I won’t live with the responsibility of knowing it was for me. I won’t do it.”

  She sat on the side of the bed. “I killed tonight. I know how it feels to end something. To use my power to do that, something I never thought I’d do, need to do.” She held out her hands to study them. “I did it to save another human being, and still it weighs on me. I know that if I’d done it with stake or sword I’d accept it more easily. But I used magic to destroy.”

  She lifted her face to his, and the sorrow was deep in her eyes. “This gift was always so bright, and now there’s a darkness in it. I have to understand and accept that, too. And you have to let me.”

  “I accept your power, Glenna, and what you can and will do with it. I think all of us would be better served by it if you worked solely on the magicks.”

  “And left the bloody work to you? Off the front line, out of harm’s way, stirring my cauldron?”

  “Twice this night I nearly lost you. So you’ll do as I say.”

  It took a moment to find her voice. “Well, in a pig’s eye. Twice this night I faced death, and I survived.”

  “We’ll discuss this further tomorrow.”

  “Oh no, oh no, we won’t.” She flicked out a hand, slammed the door to the bathroom inches before he reached it.

  He whirled back, a man obviously at the end of his tether. “Don’t slap your power out at me.”

  “Don’t slap your manhood out at me. And that didn’t come out the way I meant it.” Because there was laughter tickling the back of her throat right along with the temper, she took a breath. “I won’t snap to, Hoyt, when you order it, any more than I expect you will for me. You were frightened for me, and oh boy, do I understand that, because I was frightened for me. And for you, for all of us. But we have to get past it.”

  “How?” he demanded. “How is that done? This love is new for me, this need and this terror that goes with it. When we were called for this, I thought it would be the hardest thing I’d ever done. But I was wrong. Loving you is harder, loving you and knowing I could lose you.”

  All of her life, she thought, she’d waited to be loved like this. What human didn’t? “I never knew I could feel so completely for anyone. This is new for me, too, hard and scary and new. And I wish I could say you won’t lose me. I wish I could. But I know the stronger I am, the better chance I have of staying alive. The stronger each one of us is, the better chance we have of surviving this. Of winning.”

  She stood again. “I looked at King tonight, a man I’d come to like quite a lot. I looked at what they’d made of him. What they made of him wanted my blood, my death, would have rejoiced in it. Seeing that, knowing that, hurt beyond the believing of it. He was a friend. He became a friend so quickly.”

  Her voice trembled, so that she had to turn away, move back to the window and the dark. “There was a part of me, even as I tried to save myself, that saw what he had been—the man who’d cooked with me, sat with me, laughed with me. I couldn’t use my powers against him, couldn’t pull it out of me to do that. If Cian hadn’t…” She turned back now, straight and slim.

  “I won’t be weak again. I won’t hesitate a second time. You have to trust me for that.”

  “You called out for me to run. Would you say that was putting yourself in front of me in battle?”

  She opened her mouth, closed it again. Cleared her throat. “Seemed like the thing to do at the time. All right, all right. Point made and taken. We’ll both work on it. And I’ve some ideas on weaponry that might be helpful. But before we put this, and ourselves to bed, I want to cover one more thing.”

  “I don’t find myself at all surp
rised.”

  “Fighting with your brother over me isn’t something I appreciate or consider flattering.”

  “It wasn’t only about you.”

  “I know that. But I was the catalyst. And I’m going to have a word with Moira about it, too. Of course, her idea of distracting Cian from us changed the entire scope of things.”

  “It was madness for him to bring those things into the house. His own temper and arrogance could have cost us lives.”

  “No.” She spoke quietly now, and with absolute certainty. “He was right to do it.”

  Stunned, he gaped at her. “How can you say so? How can you defend him?”

  “He made a very big and illuminating point, one we won’t be able to forget. We won’t always know when they’ll come, and we have to be ready to kill or be killed every minute, every day. We weren’t, not really. Even after King, we weren’t. If there’d been more of them, the odds more even, it might’ve been a very different story.”

  “He stood by, did nothing.”

  “Yes, he did. Another point. He’s the strongest of us, and the smartest in these circumstances. It’s up to us to work toward closing that gap. I have some ideas, at least for the two of us.”

  She came to him, rising on her toes to brush her lips over his cheek. “Go ahead, wash up. I want to sleep on it. I want to sleep with you.”

  She dreamed of the goddess, of walking through a world of gardens, where birds were bright as the flowers, and the flowers like jewels.

  From a high black cliff, water the color of liquid sapphire tumbled down to strike a pool clear as glass where gold and ruby fish darted.

  The air was warm and heavy with fragrance.

  Beyond the gardens was a silver sickle of beach where the turquoise water lapped its edges gently as a lover. There were children building sparkling castles of sand, or splashing in the foamy surf. Their laughter carried on the air like the birdsong.

  Rising from the beach were steps of shimmering white with diamonds of ruby red along their edges. High above them were houses, painted in dreamy pastels, skirted with yet more flowers, with trees that dripped blossoms.

  She could hear music drifting down from the tall hill, the harps and flutes singing of joy.

  “Where are we?”

  “There are many worlds,” Morrigan told her as they walked. “This is just another. I thought you should see that you fight for more than yours, or his, or the world of your friends.”

  “It’s beautiful. It feels…happy.”

  “Some are, some are not. Some demand a hard life, full of pain and effort. But it is still life. This world is old,” the goddess said, her robes flowing as she opened her arms. “It earned this beauty, this peace, through that pain and that effort.”

  “You could stop what’s coming. Stop her.”

  Her bright hair dancing in the wind, she turned to Glenna. “I have done what I can to stop it. I have chosen you.”

  “It’s not enough. Already we’ve lost one of us. He was a good man.”

  “Many are.”

  “Is this how fate and destiny work? The higher powers? So coldly?”

  “The higher powers bring laughter to those children, they bring the flowers and the sun. Love and pleasures. And yes, death and pain. It must be so.”

  “Why?”

  Morrigan turned, smiled. “Or it would all mean so little. You are a gifted child. But the gift has weight.”

  “I used that gift to destroy. All of my life I’ve believed, been taught, I knew what I had, what I was, could never harm. But I used it to harm.”

  Morrigan touched Glenna’s hair. “This is the weight, and it must be carried. You were charged to strike at evil with it.”

  “I won’t be the same again,” Glenna stated, looking out to sea.

  “No, not the same. And you’re not ready. None of you. You’re not yet whole.”

  “We lost King.”

  “He isn’t lost. He’s only moved to a different world.”

  “We’re not gods, and we grieve for the death of a friend. The cruelty of it.”

  “There will be more death, more grieving.”

  Glenna closed her eyes. It was harder, even harder, to speak of death when she looked at such beauty. “We’re just full of good news today. I want to go back.”

  “Yes, you should be there. She’ll bring blood, and another kind of power.”

  “Who will?” Fear had Glenna jerking back. “Lilith? Is she coming?”

  “Look there.” Morrigan pointed to the west. “When the lightning strikes.”

  The sky went black, and the lightning arrowed out of the sky to strike the heart of the sea.

  When she whimpered, turned, Hoyt’s arms came around her.

  “It’s dark.”

  “Nearly dawn.” He touched his lips to her hair.

  “A storm’s coming. She’s coming with it.”

  “Did you dream?”

  “Morrigan took me.” She pressed closer. He was warm. He was real. “Some place beautiful. Perfect and beautiful. Then the dark came, and the lightning struck the water. I heard them growling in the dark.”

  “You’re here now. Safe.”

  “None of us are.” Her mouth lifted, met his desperately. “Hoyt.”

  She rose above him, slim and fragrant. White skin against pearled shadows. She took his hands, pressed them to her breasts. Felt his fingers cup her.

  Real and warm.

  As her heartbeat quickened, the candles around the room began to flicker. In the hearth, the fire woke to simmer.

  “There’s a power in us.” She lowered to him, her lips racing over his face, down his throat. “See it. Feel it. What we make together.”

  Life, was all she could think. Here was life, hot and human. Here was a power that could strike back the icy fingers of death.

  She rose up again, taking him into her, strong and deep. Then bowing back as the thrill washed through her like wine.

  He wrapped around her, coming to her so his mouth could take her breast, so he could taste the pounding of her heart. Life, he thought as well. Here was life.

  “All that I am.” Already breathless, he feasted on her. “This is more. From the first moment, for the rest of time.”

  She took his face, watched herself in his eyes. “In any world. In all of them.”

  It poured through her, so fast, so hot, she cried out.

  Dawn broke quietly while their passion raged.

  “It’s the fire,” Glenna told him.

  They were in the tower, sitting over coffee and scones. She had the door firmly locked, and had added a charm to make certain no one and nothing entered until she was finished.

  “It’s exciting.” His eyes were still sleepy, his body relaxed.

  Sex, Glenna thought, could work wonders. She was feeling pretty damn good herself.

  “Wake-up sex agrees with you, but I’m not talking about that kind of fire. Or not exclusively. Fire’s a weapon, a big one, against what we’re fighting.”

  “You killed one with it last night.” He poured more coffee. He was, he realized, developing quite a taste for it. “Effective, and quick, but also—”

  “A little unpredictable, yes. If the aim’s off, or one of our own is too close—or steps or is shoved in the line, it would be extremely tragic. But…” She tapped her fingers against her cup. “We learn to control it, to channel it. That’s what we do, after all. Practice, practice. And more, we can use it to enhance the other weapons. The way you did last night, with the fire on the sword.”

  “I’m sorry?”

  “The fire on your sword when you clashed with Cian.” She lifted her eyebrows at his blank expression. “You didn’t call it, it just came. Passion—in that case anger. Passion, when we’re making love. A flame shot down your sword last night, just for an instant. A flaming sword.”

  She pushed up from the table to pace around the room. “We haven’t been able to do anything about creating a protected zone aro
und the house.”

  “We may yet find the way.”

  “Tricky, since we have a vampire on the premises. We can’t set down a spell to repel vampires without repelling Cian. But yes, in time—if we have the time—we may find a way around that. In the meantime, the fire’s not only effective, it’s beautifully symbolic. And you bet your gorgeous ass, it’ll put the fear of the gods into the enemy.”

  “Fire takes focus and concentration. A little difficult when you’re fighting for your life.”

  “We’ll work on it until it isn’t so difficult. You wanted me to work more on magic, and in this case I’m willing. It’s time to make ourselves a serious arsenal.”

  She came back, sat on the table. “When it’s time to take this war to Geall, we’re going loaded.”

  She spent the day at it, with him and without him. She buried herself in her own books, and the ones she dragged up from Cian’s library.

  When the sun set, she lit candles for work light and ignored Cian’s banging on the door. She closed her ears to his curses, and his shouts that it was bloody well time for training.

  She was training.

  And she’d come out when she was damn good and ready.

  The woman was young, and fresh. And very, very alone.

  Lora watched from the shadows, gleefully pleased with her luck. To think she’d been annoyed when Lilith had sent her out with a trio of foot soldiers on a simple scouting mission. She’d wanted to hit one of the outlying pubs, have some fun, have a feast. How long did Lilith expect them to keep to the caves, lying low, picking off the occasional tourist?

  The most fun she’d had in weeks had been smacking that witch around, and stealing the black man right from under the noses of that tedious, holy brigade.

  She wished they could have based somewhere, anywhere but in this dreary place. Somewhere like Paris or Prague. Somewhere so full of people she could pluck them like plums. Somewhere full of sound and heartbeats, and the smell of flesh.

  She would swear there were more cows and sheep than people in this stupid country.

  It was boring.

  But now, there was this interesting possibility.

  So pretty. So unfortunate.

  This one would be a good candidate for the change as well as a quick snack. It would be fun to have a new companion, a woman particularly. One she could train, and play with.

  A new toy, she decided, to stave off this endless ennui, at least until the real fun began.

  Where, she wondered, had the pretty thing been going after dark in her little car? Such bad luck to have a puncture on this quiet country road.

  Nice coat, too, Lora thought as she watched the woman haul out the jack and spare. They were close enough to the same size that she could have the coat as well as what was in it.

  All that lovely warm blood.

  “Bring her to me.” She gestured at the three who stood with her.

  “Lilith said we weren’t to feed until—”

 
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