Morrigans cross, p.31
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.31

         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts
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  her wedding night.

  She was in her robe, brushing her fingers over the skirt of the dress that hung outside the wardrobe when someone knocked.

  “Yes, come in. Unless you’re Hoyt.”

  “Not Hoyt.” Blair came in carrying a bottle of champagne nestled in an ice bucket. Behind her, Moira brought in three flutes.

  “Compliments of our host,” Blair told her. “I gotta say, he’s got some class for a vampire. This is prime bubbly we got here.”

  “Cian sent champagne?”

  “Yep. And I’m going to get down to popping this cork before we suit you up.”

  “I have a wedding party. Oh, you should have dresses. I should’ve thought of it.”

  “We’re fine. Tonight’s all about you.”

  “I’ve never had champagne. Blair says I’ll like it.”

  “Guaranteed.” Blair gave Moira a quick wink then popped the cork. “Oh, I got something for you. It’s not much, seeing as I don’t have your style with on-line shopping, but anyway.” She dug into her pocket. “I didn’t have a box either.”

  She put the pin in Glenna’s hand. “It’s a claddaugh. Traditional Irish symbol. Friendship, love, loyalty. I’d’ve gone for the toaster or salad bowl, but time was limited. And I didn’t know where you’d registered.”

  Another circle, Glenna thought. Another symbol. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.” She turned, pinned it to the ribbon trailing from her bouquet. “Now I’ll carry both of your gifts with me.”

  “I love sentiment. Especially with champagne.” Blair poured three glasses, passed them around. “To the bride.”

  “And her happiness,” Moira added.

  “And to the continuity represented by what we do tonight. To the promise of the future it represents. I’m going to get all the teary stuff out before I do my makeup.”

  “Good plan,” Blair agreed.

  “I know what I found with Hoyt is right, is mine. I know what we’re promising each other tonight is right, is ours. But having you here with me, that’s right, too. And it’s special. I want you to know it’s very special to me, having you share this.”

  They touched glasses, drank, and Moira closed her eyes. “Blair was right. I do like it.”

  “Told ya. Okay, Moira, let’s you and me make ourselves a bride.”

  Outside the rain splashed down and fog billowed. But in the house was candlelight and the scent of flowers.

  Glenna stepped back from the mirror. “Well?”

  “You look like a dream,” Moira stated. “Like a goddess in a dream.”

  “My knees are shaking. I bet goddesses don’t get shaky knees.”

  “Take a couple of deep breaths. We’ll go down, make sure everything’s set up. Including the lucky guy. You’re going to blow his socks off.”

  “Why would she—”

  “You know, sweetie,” Blair said to Moira as they started for the door. “You’re too literal. Start studying contemporary slang while you’re buried in books.” She pulled open the door, stopped short when she saw Cian. “This is girl territory.”

  “I’d like a moment with my…future sister-in-law.”

  “It’s all right, Blair. Cian. Please come in.”

  He stepped inside, sent Blair a mild look over his shoulder, then shut the door in her face. Then he turned and took a long look at Glenna. “Well now, you’re a vision, aren’t you? Truly. My brother’s fortune leaps and bounds.”

  “You probably think this is foolish.”

  “You’d be wrong. While it may be something I think of as particularly human, it’s not one of the things I think of as foolish. Though there are many of those.”

  “I love your brother.”

  “Yes, a blind man could see that.”

  “Thank you for the champagne. For thinking of it.”

  “My pleasure. Hoyt’s ready for you.”

  “Oh boy.” She pressed a hand to her jumpy belly. “I hope so.”

  Cian smiled at that, stepped closer. “I have something for you. A wedding gift. I thought to put it in your hand as I assume, at least for now, you’d be in charge of the paperwork.”

  “Paperwork?”

  He handed her a thin leather portfolio. After opening it, she sent him a puzzled look. “I don’t understand.”

  “It should be clear enough. It’s the deed to this house, the land. It’s yours.”

  “Oh, but we can’t. When he asked if we could stay, he only meant—”

  “Glenna, I only make grand gestures once every few decades, if the whim happens to strike me. Take it when it’s offered. It’s more to him than it could ever be to me.”

  Her throat had filled so she had to wait to speak. “I know what it means to me. It will mean a great deal more to him. I wish you’d give it to him yourself.”

  “Take it,” was all he said, then turned to the door.

  “Cian.” She set the folder aside, picked up her bouquet. “Would you walk me down? Would you take me to Hoyt?”

  He hesitated, then opened the door. Then held out a hand to her.

  She heard music as they started down.

  “Your handmaidens have been busy. I expected it of the little queen—a lot of sentiment there. But the hunter surprised me.”

  “Am I shaking? I feel like I’m shaking.”

  “No.” He tucked her hand into his arm. “You’re steady as a rock.”

  And when she stepped into the room filled with candles and flowers, when she saw Hoyt standing in front of the low, gold flames of the fire, she felt steady.

  They crossed the room to each other. “I’ve waited for you,” Hoyt whispered.

  “And I for you.”

  She took his hand, scanned the room. It was, as was traditional, madly decked with flowers. The circle had been formed, and the candles lighted, but for the ones they would light during the ritual. The willow wand lay on the table that served as altar.

  “I made this for you.” He showed her a thick ring of silver, deeply etched.

  “One mind,” she said, and drew the one she’d made him from her thumb.

  They joined hands, walked to the altar. Touched fingers to the candles to light them. After slipping their rings onto the willow wand, they turned to face the others.

  “We ask you to be our witnesses at this sacred rite,” Hoyt began.

  “To be our family as we become one.”

  “May this place be consecrated for the gods. We are gathered here in a ritual of love.”

  “Beings of the Air be with us here, and with your clever fingers tie closely the bonds between us.” Glenna looked into his eyes as she spoke the words.

  “Beings of the Fire be with us here…”

  And they continued through Water, through Earth, the blessed goddess and laughing god. Her face was luminous as they spoke, as they lit incense, then a red candle. They sipped wine, scattered salt.

  She and Hoyt held the wand with the rings gleaming on it between them.

  The light grew warmer, brighter as they spoke to each other, the rings under their hands sparkling wildly.

  “It is my wish to become one with this man.” She slipped the ring from the wand and onto his finger.

  “It is my wish to become one with this woman.” He mirrored her gesture.

  They took the cord from the altar, draped it over their joined hands.

  “And so the binding is made,” they said together. “Then, as the goddess and the god and the old ones—”

  A scream from outside shattered the moment like a rock through glass.

  Blair leaped to a window, yanked back the drape. Even her nerves jolted at the vampire’s face only inches away behind the glass. But it wasn’t that which turned her blood cold; it was what she saw beyond it.

  She looked over her shoulders at the others, and said: “Oh, shit.”

  There were at least fifty, probably more, still in the forest or hidden nearby. Three cages sat on the grass, their occupants bloodied and shackled—and sc
reaming now as they were dragged out.

  Glenna shoved her way by to see, then groped behind her for Hoyt’s hand. “The blonde one. That’s the one who came to the door. When King—”

  “Lora,” Cian said. “One of Lilith’s favorites. I had an…incident with her once.” He laughed when Lora hoisted a white flag. “And if you believe that, I’ve all manner of bridges you can buy.”

  “They have people out there,” Moira added. “Injured people.”

  “Weapons,” Blair began.

  “Best wait—and see how best to use them.” Cian stepped away, and walked to the front door. Wind and rain sliced in when he opened it. “Lora,” he called out, almost conversationally. “Why you’re good and soaked, aren’t you now? I’d ask you and your friends in, but I still have my sanity and my standards.”

  “Cian, it’s been too long. Did you like my present, by the way? I didn’t have time to wrap him.”

  “Taking credit for Lilith’s work? That’s just sad. And you should tell her she’ll pay dearly for it.”

  “Tell her yourself. You and your humans have ten minutes to surrender.”

  “Oh? All of ten?”

  “In ten minutes, we’ll kill the first of these.” She grabbed one of the prisoners by the hair. “Pretty, isn’t she? Only sixteen. Old enough to know better than to go walking along dark roads.”

  “Please.” The girl wept, and the blood on her neck showed that something had already tasted her. “Please, God.”

  “They’re always calling for God.” With a laugh, Lora threw the girl facedown on the sodden grass. “He never comes. Ten minutes.”

  “Close the door,” Blair said quietly from behind him. “Close it. Okay, give me a minute. One minute to think.”

  “They’ll kill them regardless,” Cian pointed out. “Bait is all they are.”

  “That’s not the issue,” Glenna snapped. “We have to do something.”

  “We fight.” Larkin drew one of the swords they’d stocked in an umbrella stand near the door.

  “Hold your water,” Blair ordered.

  “We don’t surrender, not to the likes of them.”

  “We fight,” Hoyt agreed. “But not on their terms. Glenna, the shackles.”

  “Yes, I can work that. I’m sure I can.”

  “We need more weapons from upstairs,” Hoyt began.

  “I said hold it.” Blair grabbed his arm. “You’ve been in a couple of skirmishes with vampires. That doesn’t prepare you. We’re not just charging out there and getting cut down like meat. You can work the shackles?”

  Glenna drew a breath. “Yes.”

  “Good. Moira, you’re upstairs, bows. Cian, they’ve probably got guards around the house. Pick a door, start taking them out, quiet as you can manage. Hoyt’s with you.”

  “Wait.”

  “I know how to do this,” she told Glenna. “Are you ready to use that ax?”

  “I guess we’ll find out.”

  “Get it. You’re up with Moira. They’ll have archers too, and they see a hell of lot better in the dark than we do. Larkin, you and me, we’re going to create a diversion. Moira, you don’t start picking them off until you get the signal.”

  “What signal?”

  “You’ll know it. One more thing. Those three out there, they’re already gone. All we can do is make a statement. You have to accept that chances are slim to none when it comes to saving any of them.”

  “We have to try,” Moira insisted.

  “Yeah, well, that’s what we’re here for. Let’s go.”

  “Is that one of your trick swords?” Cian asked Hoyt as they approached the east door.

  “It is.”

  “Then keep it well away from me.” He touched his finger to his lips, eased open the door. For a moment, there was no sound, no movement but the rain. Then Cian was out, a blur of dark in the dark.

  Even as he stepped out to follow, he saw Cian snap two necks and behead a third. “On your left,” Cian said quietly.

  Hoyt pivoted and met what came at him with steel, and with fire.

  Upstairs, Glenna knelt within the circle she’d cast and chanted. The silver around her throat, on her finger glowed brighter with every heartbeat. Moira crouched to the side of the open doorway, a quiver at her back, a bow in her hand.

  Moira glanced back at her. “The shackles.”

  “No, that was for something else. I’ll start that now.”

  “What was it…Oh.” Moira looked back into the dark, but now thanks to Glenna, with the vision of a cat. “Oh aye, that’s a right good one. They’ve archers back in the trees. I only see six. I can take six.”

  “Don’t go outside. Don’t go out until I’m done here.” Glenna fought to clear her mind, calm her heart, and call the magic.

  Out of the dark, like vengeance, came a gold horse. And the rider on its back wielded death.

  With Larkin at a gallop, Blair swung the torch, striking three that burst into flames and took two more into the blaze with them. Then she heaved it, spinning destruction through the air, and flashed a fiery sword.

  “It’s now, Glenna!” Moira let the first arrow fly. “It’s now!”

  “Yes, I’ve got it. I’ve got it.” She grabbed the ax, and a dagger, at a run.

  Moira’s arrows were winging as they both sprinted into the rain. And the things that were waiting rushed them.

  Glenna didn’t think, only acted, only felt. She let her body move into that dance of life and death, striking, blocking, thrusting. Fire rippled over the blades as she swung.

  There were screams, such horrible screams. Human, vampire, how could she tell? She smelled blood, tasted it; knew some of it was her own. Her heart beat, a war drum in her chest so she barely registered the arrow that whizzed by her head as she plunged fire into what leaped at her.

  “They’ve hit Larkin. They’ve hit him.”

  At Moira’s shout, Glenna saw the arrow in the foreleg of the horse. But it ran still like a demon with Blair raging destruction from its back.

  Then she saw Hoyt fighting fang and sword to get to one of the prisoners.

  “I have to go help. Moira, there are too many down there.”

  “Go. I’ve got this. I’ll lower the odds, I promise you.”

  She charged down, screaming to draw some away from Hoyt and Cian.

  She thought it would be a blur, just madness rushing over her, and through her. But it was clear in every detail. The faces, the sounds, the scents, the feel of warm blood and cold rain running over her. The red eyes, the terrible hunger in them. And the horrible flash and screaming when fire took them.

  She saw Cian break off the end of an arrow that had found his thigh, and plunge it into the heart of an enemy. She saw the ring she’d put on Hoyt’s finger burn like another fire as he took two with one blow.

  “Get them inside,” he shouted to her. “Try to get them inside.”

  She rolled over the wet grass toward the girl Lora had tormented. She half expected to find her dead. Instead she found her showing fangs in a grin.

  “Oh God.”

  “Didn’t you hear her? He doesn’t come.”

  She pounced, knocking Glenna onto her back, then threw back her head with the joy of the kill. Blair’s sword cut it off.

  “You’d be surprised,” Glenna returned.

  “Inside,” Blair shouted. “Back in. That’s enough of a goddamn statement.” She reached down to help Glenna mount behind her.

  They left the field flaming, and covered with dust.

  “How many did we kill?” Larkin demanded as he collapsed on the floor. Blood ran down his leg to puddle on the wood.

  “At least thirty—damn good ratio. You’ve got some speed, Golden Boy.” Blair looked straight into his eyes. “Winged you a little.”

  “It’s not altogether too bad. It just—” He didn’t scream when she yanked the arrow out. He didn’t have the breath to scream. When he got it back, all he could manage was a stream of shaky curses.
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  “You next,” she said to Cian, nodding at the broken arrow protruding from his thigh.

  He simply reached down, yanked it out himself. “Thanks all the same.”

  “I’ll get supplies. Your leg’s bleeding,” Glenna told Blair.

  “We’re all banged up some. But we’re not dead. Well.” She sent Cian a cocky grin. “Most of us.”

  “That never gets tired, does it?” Cian speculated and went for the brandy.

  “They weren’t human. In the cages.” Moira held her shoulder where the tip of an arrow had grazed it.

  “No. I couldn’t tell from in here. Too many of them to separate the scents. It was smart.” Blair nodded, a grim acknowledgment. “A good way to engage us and not waste any of their food supply. Bitch has a brain.”

  “We didn’t get Lora.” With his breath still heaving out of his lungs, Hoyt eased down. He had a gash on his side, another on his arm. “I saw her when we were fighting our way back into the house. We didn’t get her.”

  “She’s going to be mine. My very special friend.” Blair pursed her lips when Cian offered her a brandy. “Thanks.”

  Standing in the center of them on shaky knees, Glenna took stock. “Blair, get Larkin’s tunic off. I need to see the wound. Moira, how bad is your wound?”

  “More a scratch, really.”

  “Then get some blankets from upstairs, some towels. Hoyt.” Glenna moved to him, knelt, then just took his hands and buried her face in them. However much she wanted to fall apart, it wasn’t time. Not time yet. “I felt you with me. I felt you with me every moment.”

  “I know. You were with me. A ghrá.” He lifted her head, pressed his lips to hers.

  “I wasn’t scared, not while it was happening. I couldn’t think to be scared. Then I reached that girl, that young girl, and saw what she was. I couldn’t even move.”

  “It’s done. For tonight it’s done. And we proved a match for them.” He kissed her again, long, deep. “You were magnificent.”

  She laid a hand over the wound on his side. “I’d say we all were. And we proved more than being able to hold our own. We’re a unit now.”

  “The circle is cast.”

  She let out a long sigh. “Well, it wasn’t the handfasting celebration I was looking for.” She struggled to smile. “But at least we…No, no, damn it, we didn’t. We didn’t finish. Just hold everything.” She shoved at her dripping hair. “I will not let those monsters ruin this for us.” She gripped his hand as Moira rushed down with arms loaded with towels and blankets. “Are you all listening? You’re still witnesses.”

  “We got it,” Blair said as she cleansed Larkin’s wound.

  “Your head’s bleeding.” Cian passed Moira a damp cloth. “Go right ahead,” he told Glenna.

 
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