Morrigans cross, p.5
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.5

         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts
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  “So when do we leave?” King twisted off the cap, took a long slug.

  “You don’t. I told you before, when it was time for me to leave, I’ll give you controlling interest in the club. Apparently, that time’s come.”

  King simply turned to Hoyt. “You raising an army, General?”

  “Hoyt. I am, yes.”

  “You just got your first recruit.”

  “Stop.” Cian strode around the counter that separated the kitchen. “This isn’t for you. You don’t know anything about this.”

  “I know about you,” King returned. “I know I like a good fight, and I haven’t had one in a while. You’re talking major battle, good against evil. I like to pick my side from the get.”

  “If he’s a king, why should he take orders from you?” Hoyt put in, and the black giant laughed so hard and long, he had to sit on the sofa.

  “Gotcha.”

  “Misplaced loyalty will get you killed.”

  “My choice, brother.” King tipped the bottle toward Cian. Once again, something silent and strong passed between them with no more than a look. “And I don’t figure my loyalty’s misplaced.”

  “Hoyt, go somewhere else.” Cian jerked a thumb toward his bedroom. “Go in there. I want a word in private with this idiot.”

  He cared, Hoyt thought as he obliged. Cian cared about this man, a human trait. Nothing he’d read had indicated vampyres could have true feelings toward humans.

  He frowned as he scanned the bedroom. Where was the coffin? The books had said the vampyre slept in the earth of his grave, in a coffin, by day. What he saw here was an enormous bed, one with ticking as soft as clouds and covered with smooth cloth.

  He heard the raised voices outside the door, but set about exploring his brother’s personal room. Clothes enough for ten men, he decided when he found the closet. Well, Cian had always been vain.

  But no looking glass. The books said the vampyre cast no reflection.

  He wandered into the bathroom, and his jaw dropped. The expansive privy Cian had showed him before retiring had been amazing and was nothing to this. The tub was large enough for six, and there was a tall box of pale green glass.

  The walls were marble, as was the floor.

  Fascinated, he stepped into the box, began to play with the silver knobs that jutted out of the marble. And yipped in shock when a shower of cold water spurted out of many flatheaded tubes.

  “Around here, we take our clothes off before getting in the shower.” Cian came in, shut the water off with one violent twist of the wrist. Then he sniffed the air. “On second thought, clothed or otherwise, you could sure as hell use one. You’re fucking rank. Clean up,” he ordered. “Put on the clothes I’ve tossed out on the bed. I’m going to work.”

  He strode out, leaving Hoyt to fumble through on his own.

  He discovered, after some time and chill that the temperature of the water could be adjusted. He scalded himself, froze, but eventually found the happy medium.

  His brother must have been telling pure truth when he spoke of his wealth, for here was luxury never imagined. The scent of the soap seemed a bit female, but there was nothing else.

  Hoyt wallowed in his first twenty-first-century shower, and wondered if he might find a way to duplicate it, by science or magic, once he returned home.

  The cloths hanging nearby were as soft as the bed had been. He felt decadent using one to dry his skin.

  He didn’t care for the clothes, but his own were soaked. He debated going out and getting the spare tunic out of his case, but it seemed best to follow Cian’s advice in wardrobe.

  It took him twice as long to dress as it would have. The strange fastenings nearly defeated him. The shoes had no laces, but simply slipped on the foot. He was forced to admit that they were quite comfortable.

  But he wished there was a bloody looking glass so he could see himself. He stepped out, then came up short. The black king was still on the sofa, drinking from the glass bottle.

  “That’s an improvement,” King observed. “You’ll probably pass if you keep your mouth mostly shut.”

  “What is this fastening here?”

  “It’s a zipper. Ah, you’re going to want to keep that closed, friend.” He pushed to his feet. “Cain’s gone on down to the club. It’s after sunset. He fired me.”

  “You’re burned? I have salve.”

  “No. Shit. He terminated my employment. He’ll get over it. He goes, I go. He don’t have to like it.”

  “He believes we’ll all die.”

  “He’s right—sooner or later. You ever see what a vamp can do to a man?”

  “I saw what one did to my brother.”

  King’s odd eyes went grim. “Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Well, it’s this way. I don’t figure to sit around and wait for one to do it to me. He’s right, there’s been rumbling. There’s going to be a fight, and I’m going to be in it.”

  A giant of a man, Hoyt thought, of fearsome face and great strength. “You are a warrior.”

  “Bet your ass. I’ll kick some vampire ass in this, believe me. But not tonight. Why don’t we go on down, see what’s jumping. That’ll piss him off.”

  “To his…” What had Cian called it. “His club?”

  “You got it. He calls it Eternity. I guess he knows something about that.”

  Chapter 4

  She was going to find him. If a man was going to drag her into his dreams, push her into out-of-body experiences and generally haunt her thoughts, she was going to track him down and find out why.

  For days now she had felt as if she stood on the edge of some high, shaky cliff. On one side there was something bright and beautiful, and on the other a cold and terrifying void. But the cliff itself, while a little unstable, was the known.

  Whatever was brewing inside her, he was part of it, that she knew. Not of this time, not of this place. Guys just didn’t ride around on horses wearing cloaks and tunics in twenty-first-century New York as a rule.

  But he was real; he was flesh and blood and as real as she was. She’d had that blood on her hands, hadn’t she? She’d cooled that flesh and watched him sleep off the fever. His face, she thought, had been so familiar. Like something she remembered, or had caught a glimpse of in dreams.

  Handsome, even in pain, she mused as she sketched it. Lean and angular, aristocratic. Long narrow nose, strong, sculpted mouth. Good, slashing cheekbones.

  His image came true on paper as she worked, first in broad strokes, then in careful detail. Deep-set eyes, she remembered, vividly blue and intense with an almost dramatic arch of brows over them. And the contrast of that black hair, those black brows and wild blue eyes against his skin just added more drama.

  Yes, she thought, she could see him, she could sketch him, but until she found him, she wouldn’t know whether she should jump off the edge of that cliff or scramble back from it.

  Glenna Ward was a woman who liked to know.

  So, she knew his face, the shape and feel of his body, even the sound of his voice. She knew, without question, he had power. And she believed he had answers.

  Whatever was coming, and every portent warned her it was major, he was tied to it. She had a part to play, had known almost since her first breath that she had a part to play. She had a feeling that she was about to take on the role of her lifetime. And the wounded hunk with the clouds of magic and trouble all around him was slated to costar.

  He’d spoken Gaelic, Irish Gaelic. She knew some of it, used the language occasionally in spells, and could even read some in a very rudimentary fashion.

  But oddly enough, she’d not only understood everything he’d said in the dream—experience, vision, whatever—she’d been able to speak it herself, like a native.

  So somewhere in the past—the good, long past, she determined. And possibly somewhere in Ireland.

  She’d done scrying spells and locator spells, using the bloodied bandage she’d brought back with her from that strange and intense visit
to…wherever she’d been. His blood and her own talent would lead her to him.

  She’d expected it to be a great deal of work and effort. Doubled by whatever work and effort would be involved in transporting herself—or at least her essence—to his time and place.

  She was prepared to do just that, or at least try. She sat within her circle, the candles lit, the herbs floating on the water in her bowl. Once more she searched for him, focusing on the sketch of his face and holding the cloth she’d brought back with her.

  “I seek the man who bears this face, my quest to find his time, his place. I hold his blood within my hand, and with its power I demand. Search and find and show to me. As I will, so mote it be.”

  In her mind she saw him, brow furrowed as he buried himself in books. Focusing, she drew back, saw the room. Apartment? Dim light, just slanting over his face, his hands.

  “Where are you?” she asked softly. “Show me.”

  And she saw the building, the street.

  The thrill of success mixed with absolute bafflement.

  The last thing she’d expected was to learn he was in New York, some sixty blocks away, and in the now.

  The fates, Glenna decided, were in an all-fired hurry to get things started. Who was she to question them?

  She closed the circle, put away her tools and tucked the sketch in her desk drawer. Then she dressed, puzzling over her choices for a bit. What exactly did a woman wear when she went to meet her destiny? Something flashy, subdued, businesslike? Something exotic?

  In the end she settled on a little black dress she felt could handle anything.

  She traveled uptown by subway, letting her mind clear. There was a drumming in her heart, an anticipation that had been building in her over the past weeks. This, she thought, was the next step to whatever was waiting.

  And whatever it was, whatever was coming, whatever would happen next, she wanted to be open to it.

  Then she’d make her decisions.

  The train was crowded, so she stood, holding the overhead hook and swaying slightly with the movement of the car. She liked the rhythm of the city, its rapid pace, its eclectic musics. All the tones and hues of it.

  She’d grown up in New York, but not in the city. The small town upstate had always seemed too limited to her, too closed-in. She’d wanted more, always. More color, more sound, more people. She’d spent the last four of her twenty-six years in the city.

  And all of her life exploring her craft.

  Something in her blood was humming now, as if it knew—some part of her knew—she’d been preparing all of her life for these next hours.

  At the next station, people filed on, people filed off. She let the sound of them flow over her as she brought the image of the man she sought back into her head.

  Not the face of a martyr, she thought. There’d been too much power on him for that. And too much annoyance in him. She’d found it, she could admit, a very interesting mix.

  The power of the circle he’d cast had been strong, and so had been whatever hunted him. They chased her dreams, too, those black wolves that were neither animal nor human, but something horribly of both.

  Idly, she fingered the pendant she wore around her neck. Well, she was strong, too. She knew how to protect herself.

  “She will feed on you.”

  The voice was a hiss rippling over the back of her neck, icing her skin. Then what spoke moved, seemed to glide and float in a circle around her, and the cold from it had the breath that trembled from between her lips frosting the air.

  The other passengers continued to sit or stand, read or chat. Undisturbed. Unaware of the thing that slithered around their bodies like a snake.

  Its eyes were red, its eye teeth long and sharp. Blood stained them, dripped obscenely from its mouth. Inside her chest, Glenna’s heart tightened like a fist and began to beat, beat, beat against her ribs.

  It had human form, and worse, somehow worse, wore a business suit. Blue pinstripes, she noted dully, crisp white shirt and paisley tie.

  “We are forever.” It swiped a bloody hand over the cheek of a woman who sat reading a paperback novel. Even while red stained her cheek, the woman turned the page and continued to read.

  “We will herd you like cattle, ride you like horses, trap you like rats. Your powers are puny and pathetic, and when we’re done with you, we’ll dance on your bones.”

  “Then why are you afraid?”

  It peeled back its lips in a snarl, and it leaped.

  Glenna choked on a scream, stumbled back.

  As the train streaked through a tunnel, the thing vanished.

  “Watch it, lady.” She got an impatient elbow and mutter from the man she’d fallen into.

  “Sorry.” She gripped the hook again with a hand gone slick with sweat.

  She could still smell the blood as she rode the last blocks uptown.

  For the first time in her life, Glenna actively feared the dark, the streets, the people who passed by. She had to struggle to not run when the train stopped. Had to suppress the urge to shove and push her way off and race across the platform to the steps leading up.

  She walked quickly, and even with the city noises she heard the rapid clip of her heels on the sidewalk and the fearful wheeze of her own breath.

  There was a line snaking out from the entrance of the club called Eternity. Couples and singles crammed together hoping to get the signal to go inside. Rather than wait, she walked up to the man on the door. She flashed a smile, did a quick charm.

  He passed her through without checking his list or her ID.

  Inside was music, blue light and the throb of excitement. For once the press of humanity, the pulse and beat didn’t excite her.

  Too many faces, she thought. Too many heartbeats. She wanted only one, and the prospect of finding him among so many suddenly seemed impossible. Every bump and jostle as she worked her way into the club jolted through her. And her own fear shamed her.

  She wasn’t defenseless; she wasn’t weak. But she felt both. The thing on the train had been every nightmare. And that nightmare had been sent to her.

  For her.

  It had known her fear, she thought now. And it had played with it, taunted her until her knees were water and the screams inside her had slashed her mind like razors.

  She’d been too shocked, too frightened to reach for the only weapon she held. Magic.

  Now anger began to eke through the terror.

  She’d told herself she was a seeker, a woman who took risks, valued knowledge. A woman who possessed defenses and skills most couldn’t imagine. Yet here she was quivering at the first real whiff of danger. She stiffened her spine, evened her breathing, then headed straight for the huge circular bar.

  Halfway across the silver span of the floor she saw him.

  The flood of relief came first, then the pride that she’d succeeded in this initial task so quickly. A trickle of interest worked its way through as she veered in his direction.

  The guy cleaned up very well.

  His hair was carelessly styled rather than ragged, a shining black and shorter than it had been during their first meeting. Then again, he’d been wounded, troubled and in a hell of a fix. He wore black, and it suited him. Just as the watchful, slightly irritable look in those brilliant eyes suited him.

  With a great deal of her confidence restored, she smiled and stepped into his path.

  “I’ve been looking for you.”

  Cian paused. He was accustomed to women approaching him. Not that he couldn’t get some enjoyment from it, particularly when the woman was exceptional as this one was. There was a spark in her eyes, jewel green, and a flirtatious hint of amusement. Her lips were full, sensuous and curved; her voice low and husky.

  Her body was a good one, and poured into a little black dress that showed a great deal of milky skin and strong muscle tone. He might have amused himself with her for a few moments, but for the pendant she wore.

  Witches, and worse, thos
e who played at witchcraft, could be troublesome.

  “I enjoy being looked for by beautiful women when I have time to be found.” He would have left it at that, moved on, but she touched his arm.

  He felt something. And apparently so did she, for her eyes narrowed, and the smile faded.

  “You’re not him. You only look like him.” Her hand tightened on his arm, and he sensed power seeking. “But that’s not completely true either. Damn it.” She dropped her hand, shook back her hair. “I should’ve known it wouldn’t be so easy.”

  This time he took her arm. “Let’s get you a table.” In a dark, quiet corner, Cian thought. Until he knew who or what she was.

  “I need information. I need to find someone.”

  “You need a drink,” Cian said pleasantly, and steered her quickly through the crowd.

  “Look, I can get my own drink if I want one.” Glenna considered causing a scene, but decided it would probably get her tossed out. She considered a push of power, but knew from experience that depending on magic for every irritation led to trouble.

  She glanced around, gauging the situation. The place was stacked with people on every level. The music was a throb, heavy on the bass with the female singer purring out the lyrics in a sensual and feline voice.

  Very public, very active, Glenna decided with a lot of chrome and blue lighting slicking class over sex. What could he possibly do to her under the circumstances?

  “I’m looking for someone.” Conversation, she told herself. Keep it conversational and friendly. “I thought you were him. The light in here isn’t the best, but you look enough alike to be brothers. It’s very important I find him.”

  “What’s his name? Maybe I can help you.”

  “I don’t know his name.” And the fact that she didn’t made her feel foolish. “And okay, I know how that sounds. But I was told he was here. I think he’s in trouble. If you’d just—” She started to shove at his hand, found it hard as stone.

  What could he do to her in these circumstances? she thought again. Almost any damn thing. With the first fresh flicker of panic tickling her throat, she closed her eyes and reached for power.

  His hand flinched on her arm, then his grip tightened. “So, you’re a real one,” he murmured, and turned those eyes—as steely as his grip—on her. “I think we’ll take this upstairs.”

  “I’m not going anywhere with you.” Something akin to the fear she’d felt on the subway worked its way into her. “That was low wattage. Believe me, you don’t want me to up the amps.”

  “Believe me.” And his voice was silky. “You don’t want to piss me off.”

  He pulled her behind the curve of open, spiral stairs. She planted her feet, prepared to defend herself by any and all means at her disposal. She brought the four-inch spike of her heel down on his instep, slammed a back-fist into his jaw. Rather than wasting her breath on a scream, she began an incantation.

  Her breath whooshed out when he lifted her off her feet as if she weighed nothing. Her only satisfaction came from the fact that in thirty seconds, when she finished the spell, he’d be flat on his ass.

  That didn’t stop her from fighting. She reared back, elbows and feet, and sucked in a breath to add a scream after all.

  And the doors on what she saw was a private elevator whisked open.

  There he was, flesh and blood. And so like the man currently heaving her over his shoulder she decided she could hate him, too.

  “Put me down, you son of a bitch, or I’ll turn this place into a moon crater.”

  When the doors of the transportation box opened, Hoyt was assaulted with noise and smells and lights. They all slammed into his system, stunning his
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