Morrigans cross, p.6
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.6
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         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts

  senses. He saw through dazzled eyes, his brother with his arms full of struggling woman.

  His woman, he realized with yet another jolt. The witch from his dream was half-naked and using language he’d rarely heard even in the seediest public house.

  “Is this how you pay someone back for helping you?” She shoved at the curtain of her hair and aimed those sharp green eyes at him. She shifted them, scanned them up and down King, snarled.

  “Come on then,” she demanded. “I can take all three of you.”

  As she was currently over Cian’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes, Hoyt wasn’t certain how she intended to see the threat through. But witches were tricky.

  “You’re real then,” he stated softly. “Did you follow me?”

  “Don’t flatter yourself, asshole.”

  Cian shifted her, effortlessly. “Yours?” he said to Hoyt.

  “I couldn’t say.”

  “Deal with it.” Cian dropped Glenna back on her feet, caught the fist aimed at his face just before it connected. “Do your business,” he told her. “Quietly. Then take off. Keep a lid on the magic. Both of you. King.”

  He walked off. After a grin and a shrug, King trailed after him.

  Glenna smoothed down her dress, shook back her hair. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”

  “My ribs still pain me a little, but I’m largely healed. Thank you for your help.”

  She stared at him, then huffed out a breath. “Here’s how this is going to work. We’re going to sit down, you’re going to buy me a drink. I need one.”

  “I…I have no coin in these pants.”

  “Typical. I’ll buy.” She hooked an arm through his to make sure she didn’t lose him again, then began to wind through the crowd.

  “Did my brother hurt you?”


  He had to shout. How could anyone have a conversation in such noise? There were too many people in this place. Was it some sort of festival?

  There were women writhing in what must have been some sort of ritual dance, and wearing even less than the witch. Others sat at silver tables and watched or ignored, drank from clear tankards and cups.

  The music, he thought, came from everywhere at once.

  “I asked if my brother hurt you.”

  “Brother? That fits. Bruised my pride for the most part.”

  She chose the stairs, moving up where the noise wasn’t quite so horrific. Still clinging to his arm, she looked right, left, then moved toward a low seat with a candle flickering on the table. Five people were jammed around it, and all seemed to be talking at once.

  She smiled at them, and he felt her power hum. “Hi. You really need to get home now, don’t you?”

  They got up, still chattering, and left the table littered with those clear drinking vessels, some nearly full.

  “Sorry to cut their evening short, but I think this takes precedence. Sit down, will you?” She dropped down, stretched out long, bare legs. “God, what a night.” She waved a hand in the air, fingered her pendant with the other as she studied his face. “You look better than you did. Are you healed?”

  “Well enough. What place are you from?”

  “Right to business.” She glanced over at the waitress who came to their table to clear it. “I’ll have a Grey Goose martini, straight up, two olives. Dry as dust.” She cocked a brow at Hoyt. When he said nothing, she held up two fingers.

  She tucked her hair behind one ear as she leaned toward him. There were silver coils dangling from her ear in a Celtic knot pattern.

  “I dreamed of you before that night. Twice before I think,” she began. “I try to pay attention to my dreams, but I could never hold on to these, until the last one. I think in the first, you were in a graveyard, and you were grieving. My heart broke for you, I remember feeling that. Odd, I remember more clearly now. The next time I dreamed of you, I saw you on a cliff, over the sea. I saw a woman with you who wasn’t a woman. Even in the dream I was afraid of her. So were you.”

  She sat back, shuddering once. “Oh yes, I remember that now. I remember I was terrified, and there was a storm. And you…you struck out at her. I pushed—I remember I pushed what I had toward you, to try to help. I knew she was…she was wrong. Horribly wrong. There was lightning and screams—” She wished actively for her drink. “I woke up, and for an instant, the fear woke with me. Then it all faded.”

  When he still said nothing, she drew in a breath. “Okay, we’ll stick with me for a while. I used my scrying mirror, I used my crystal, but I couldn’t see clearly. Only in sleep. You brought me to that place in the woods, in the circle. Or something did. Why?”

  “It was not my work.”

  “It wasn’t mine.” She tapped nails painted red as her lips on the table. “You have a name, handsome?”

  “I’m Hoyt Mac Cionaoith.”

  Her smile turned her face into something that all but stopped his heart. “Not from around here, are you?”


  “Ireland, I can hear that. And in the dream we spoke Gaelic, which I don’t—not really. But I think it’s more than where. It’s when, too, isn’t it? Don’t worry about shocking me. I’m immune tonight.”

  He waged an internal debate. She’d been shown to him, and she had come within the circle. Nothing that meant harm to him should have been able to come within his protective ring. While he had been told to seek a witch, she was nothing, nothing that he’d expected.

  Yet she’d worked to heal him, and had stayed with him while the wolves had stalked his ring. She’d come to him now for answers, and perhaps for help.

  “I came through the Dance of the Gods, nearly a thousand years in time.”

  “Okay.” She whistled out a breath. “Maybe not completely immune. That’s a lot to take on faith, but with everything that’s been going on, I’m willing to take the leap.” She lifted the glass the waitress set down, drank immediately. “Especially with this to cushion the fall. Run a tab, will you?” Glenna asked and took a credit card out of her purse.

  “Something’s coming,” she said when they were alone again. “Something bad. Big, fat evil.”

  “You don’t know.”

  “I can’t see it all. But I feel it, and I know I’m connected with you on this. Not thrilled about that at this point.” She drank some more. “Not after what I saw on the subway.”

  “I don’t understand you.”

  “Something very nasty in a designer suit,” she explained. “It said she would feed on me. She—the woman on the cliff, I think. I’m going out on a limb here, a really shaky one. Are we dealing with vampires?”

  “What is the subway?”

  Glenna pressed her hands to her eyes. “Okay, we’ll spend some time later bringing you up to date on current events, modes of mass transportation and so on, but right now, I need to know what I’m facing. What’s expected of me.”

  “I don’t know your name.”

  “Sorry. Glenna. Glenna Ward.” She held a hand out to him. After a brief hesitation, he took it. “Nice to meet you. Now, what the hell is going on?”

  He began, and she continued to drink. Then she held up a hand, swallowed. “Excuse me. Are you saying your brother—the guy who manhandled me, is a vampire?”

  “He doesn’t feed on humans.”

  “Oh good. Great. Points for him. He died nine hundred and seventy-odd years ago, and you’ve come here and now from there and then to find him.”

  “I am charged by the gods to gather an army to fight and destroy the army the vampyre Lilith is making.”

  “Oh God. I’m going to need another drink.”

  He started to offer her his, but she waved him away and signaled the waitress. “No, go ahead. You’re going to need it, too, I imagine.”

  He took a testing sip, blinked rapidly. “What is this brew?”

  “Vodka martini. You should like vodka,” she said absently. “Seems to me they make it from potatoes.”

  She ordered
another drink and some bar food to counteract the alcohol. Calmer now, she listened to the whole of it without interrupting.

  “And I’m the witch.”

  There wasn’t just beauty here, he realized. There wasn’t just power. There was a seeking and a strength. Some he would seek, he remembered the goddess saying. And some would seek him.

  So she had.

  “I have to believe you are. You, my brother and I will find the others and begin.”

  “Begin what? Boot camp? Do I look like a soldier to you?”

  “You don’t, no.”

  She propped a chin on her fist. “I like being a witch, and I respect the gift. I know there’s a reason this runs in my blood. A purpose. I didn’t expect it to be this. But it is.” She looked at him then, fully. “I know, the first time I dreamed of you that it was the next step in that purpose. I’m terrified. I’m so seriously terrified.”

  “I left my family to come here, to do this thing. I left them with only the silver crosses and the word of the goddess that they would be protected. You don’t know fear.”

  “All right.” She reached out, laid a hand on his in a kind of comfort he sensed was innate in her. “All right,” she repeated. “You’ve got a lot at stake. But I’ve got a family, too. They’re upstate. I need to make sure they’re protected. I need to make sure I live to do what I’m meant to do. She knows where I am. She sent that thing to scare me off. I’m guessing she’s a lot more prepared than we are.”

  “Then prepared is what we’ll get. I have to see what you’re capable of.”

  “You want me to audition? Listen, Hoyt, your army so far consists of three people. You don’t want to insult me.”

  “We have four with the king.”

  “What king?”

  “The black giant. And I don’t like working with witches.”

  “Really?” She drew out the word as she leaned toward him. “They burned your kind just as hot as mine. We’re kissing cousins, Merlin. And you need me.”

  “It may be that I do. The goddess didn’t say I had to like it, did she? I have to know your strengths and your weaknesses.”

  “Fair enough,” she said with a nod. “And I have to know yours. I already know you couldn’t heal a lame horse.”

  “That’s false.” And this time insult edged his voice. “It happens I was wounded, and unable to—”

  “Mend a couple of broken ribs and a gash on your own palm. So, you won’t be in charge of injuries if and when we manage to build this army.”

  “It’s welcome you are to the task,” he snapped. “And building the army is what we’ll do. It’s my destiny.”

  “Let’s hope it’s my destiny to get home in one piece.” She signed the check, picked up her purse.

  “Where are you going?”

  “Home. I have a lot to do.”

  “That’s not the way. We must stay together now. She knows you, Glenna Ward. She knows all of us. It’s safer we are, and stronger together.”

  “That may be, but I need things from my home. I have a lot to do.”

  “They’re night creatures. You’ll wait until sunrise.”

  “Orders already?” She tried for flip, but the image of what had circled her in the subway came to her, very clearly.

  Now he gripped her hand, held her in her seat and felt the clash of their emotions in the heat that vibrated between their palms. “Is this a game to you then?”

  “No. I’m scared. A few days ago I was just living my life. My terms. Now I’m being hunted, and I’m supposed to fight some apocalyptic battle. I want to go home. I need my own things. I need to think.”

  “It’s fear that makes you vulnerable and foolish. Your things will be there in the morning just as they are now.”

  He was right, of course. Added to it, she wasn’t sure she had the bravado or the courage to step back outside into the night. “And just where am I supposed to stay until sunrise?”

  “My brother has an apartment upstairs.”

  “Your brother. The vampire.” She flopped back against her seat. “Isn’t that cozy?”

  “He won’t harm you. You have my word on it.”

  “I’d rather have his, if you don’t mind. And if he tries…” She held her palm up on the table, focused on it. A small ball of flame kindled just above her hand. “If the books and movies have it right, his type doesn’t do well with fire. If he tries to hurt me, I’ll torch him, and your army’s down by one.”

  Hoyt merely laid his hand over hers, and the flame became a ball of ice. “Don’t pit your skills against mine, or threaten to harm my family.”

  “Nice trick.” She dumped the ice in her empty glass. “Let’s put it this way. I have a right to protect myself, from anyone or anything who tries to hurt me. Agreed?”

  “Agreed. It will not be Cian.” Now he rose, offered his hand. “I will pledge this to you, here and now. I will protect you, even from him, if he means you harm.”

  “Well then.” She put her hand in his, got to her feet. She felt it, knew he did by the way his pupils dilated. The magic, yes, but more. “I guess we’ve got our first deal.”

  As they went down, turned toward the elevator, Cian cut across their path. “Hold it. Where do you think you’re taking her?”

  “I’m going with him,” Glenna corrected, “not being taken.”

  “It’s not safe for her to go out. Not until daylight. Lilith already sent a scout after her.”

  “Check the magic at the door,” Cian told Glenna. “She can have the spare room tonight. Which means you get the couch, unless she wants to share.”

  “He can have the couch.”

  “Why do you insult her?” Temper sizzled in the words. “She’s been sent; she’s come here at risk.”

  “I don’t know her,” Cian said simply. “And from now on, I expect you to check with me before you invite anyone into my home.” He punched in the code for the elevator. “Once you’re up, you stay up. I’m locking the elevator behind you.”

  “What if there’s a fire?” Glenna said sweetly, and Cian merely smiled.

  “Then I guess you’d better open a window, and fly.”

  Glenna stepped into the elevator when the doors opened, then laid a hand on Hoyt’s arm. Before the doors shut, she flashed Cian that smile again. “Better remember who you’re dealing with,” she told him. “We may do just that.”

  She sniffed when the doors shut. “I don’t think I like your brother.”

  “I’m not very pleased with him myself at the moment.”

  “Anyway. Can you fly?”

  “No.” He glanced down at her. “Can you?”

  “Not so far.”

  Chapter 5

  The voices woke her. They were muted and muffled so that at first she feared she was having another vision. However much she might have prized her art, she also valued sleep—especially after a night of martinis and strange revelations.

  Glenna groped for a pillow to put over her head.

  Her attitude toward Cian had leveled a bit after she’d gotten a look at the guest room. It boasted a sumptuous bed with lovely soft sheets and enough pillows to satisfy even her love of luxury.

  It hadn’t hurt that the room was spacious, decked out with antiques and painted the soft, warm green of forest shadows. The bath had been a killer, too, she recalled as she snuggled in. An enormous jet tub in gleaming white dominated a room nearly half the size of her entire loft, with that same rich green for the acre of counters. But it was the wide bowl of sink in hammered copper that had made her purr with delight.

  She’d nearly given in to the temptation to wallow in the tub, indulge herself with some of the bath salts and oils housed in heavy crystal jars and arranged with fat, glossy candles on the counter. But images of movie heroines attacked while bathing had her putting that idea on hold.

  All and all, the vampire’s pied-à-terre—she could hardly call such luxury a den—made mincemeat of her little loft in the West Village.

p; Though she admired the vampire’s taste, it didn’t stop her from putting a protective charm on the bedroom door in addition to turning the lock.

  Now, she rolled over, shucked the pillow to stare at the ceiling in the dim light of the lamp she’d left on low through the night. She was sleeping in a vampire’s guest room. She’d displaced a twelfth-century sorcerer to the sofa. A gorgeous and serious-minded type who was on a mission, and expected her to join in his battle against an ancient and powerful vampire queen.

  She’d lived with magic all of her life, was gifted with skills and knowledge most people never dreamed existed in reality. And still, this was one for the books.

  She liked her life the way it was. And knew, without a doubt, that she would never have it quite that way again. Knew, in fact, she might lose that life altogether.

  But what were her choices? She couldn’t very well do nothing, couldn’t put a pillow over her head and hide for the rest of her life. It knew her, and had already sent an emissary.

  If she stayed, pretended none of it had ever happened, it could come for her, any time, anywhere. And she’d be alone.

  Would she fear the night now? Would she glance over her shoulder every time she was outside after sunset? Would she wonder if a vampire only she could see would slink onto the subway the next time she rode uptown?

  No, that was no way to live at all. The only way to live—the only real choice—was to face the problem, and handle the fear. And to do just that along with joining her powers and resources to Hoyt’s.

  Knowing sleep was no longer possible, she glanced at the clock, rolled her eyes at the early hour. Then resigned, she climbed out of bed.

  In the living room, Cian ended his night with a brandy, and an argument with his brother.

  He had, on occasion, returned to his living quarters at dawn with the sensation of loneliness, a kind of hollowness. He took no woman in the daylight, even with the drapes closed. Sex was, in Cian’s mind, a position of vulnerability as well as power. He didn’t choose to share that vulnerability when the sun was up.

  It was rare for him to have company after sunrise and before dusk. And those hours were often long and empty. But he’d discovered on stepping into his own apartment and finding his brother there, he preferred the long and empty to the crowded and demanding.

  “You expect her to stay here until you decide your next move. And I’m telling you that isn’t possible.”

  “How would she be safe otherwise?” Hoyt argued.

  “I don’t believe her safety is on my list of immediate concerns.”

  How much had his brother changed, Hoyt thought in disgust, that he wouldn’t immediately stand for a woman, for an innocent? “We’re all at risk now, everything’s at risk now. We have no choice but to stay together.”

  “I have a choice, and it isn’t sharing my quarters with a witch, or with you, for that matter,” he added, gesturing with the snifter. “I don’t allow anyone in here during the day.”

  “I was here through yesterday.”

  “An exception.” Cian got to his feet. “And one I’m already regretting. You’re asking far too much from one who cares far too little.”

  “I haven’t begun to ask yet. I know what must be done. You spoke of survival. And it’s yours at risk now, as much as hers. As mine.”

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