Morrigans cross, p.7
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.7
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         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts

  “More, as your redhead might take it into her head to stake me while I sleep.”

  “She isn’t my…” Frustrated, Hoyt waved that off. “I would never let her harm you. I swear it to you. In this place, at this time, you’re my only family. My only blood.”

  Cian’s face went blank as stone. “I have no family. No blood but my own. The sooner you come to that, Hoyt, accept that, the better you’ll be for it. What I do, I do for myself, not for you. Not for your cause, but for me. I said I’d fight with you, and so I will. But for my own reasons.”

  “What are they then? Give me that at least.”

  “I like this world.” Cian eased down on the arm of a chair as he sipped brandy. “I like what I’ve carved out of it, and I intend to keep it, and on my own terms—not on Lilith’s whimsy. That’s worth the fight to me. Added to it, a few centuries of existence has its eras of boredom. I seem to be in one. But I have limits. Having your woman tucked up in my quarters goes beyond them.”

  “She’s hardly my woman.”

  A lazy smile curved Cian’s mouth. “If you don’t make her so, you’re even slower than I remember in that area.”

  “This isn’t sport, Cian. It’s a fight to the death.”

  “I know more of death than you will ever know. More of blood and pain and cruelty. For centuries I’ve watched mortals, again and again, teeter close to their own extinction, by their own hand. If Lilith were more patient, she could simply wait them out. Take your pleasures where you find them, brother, for life is long and often tedious.”

  He toasted with his glass. “Another reason I’ll fight. It’s something to do.”

  “Why not join with her then?” Hoyt spat out. “With the one who made you what you are.”

  “She made me a vampire. I made myself what I am. As for why I align with you and not with her? I can trust you. You’ll keep your word, for that’s the way you’re made. She never will. It’s not her nature.”

  “And what of your word?”

  “Interesting question.”

  “I’d like the answer to it.” Glenna spoke from the doorway. She wore the black silk robe she’d found hanging in the closet with a number of other pieces of intimate female attire. “You two can squabble all you like, it’s what men do, and siblings. But since my life’s on the line, I want to know who I can count on.”

  “I see you made yourself at home,” Cian commented.

  “Do you want it back?”

  When she angled her head, reached for the tie, Cian grinned. Hoyt flushed.

  “Don’t be encouraging him,” Hoyt said. “If you’d excuse us for a moment—”

  “No, I won’t. I want the answer to your question. And I want to know if your brother gets a little peckish, is he going to look to me as a snack?”

  “I don’t feed on humans. Particularly witches.”

  “Because of your deep love of humanity.”

  “Because it’s troublesome. If you feed, you have to kill or word gets around. If you change the prey, you’re still risking exposure. Vampires gossip, too.”

  She thought it over. “Sensible. All right, I prefer sensible honesty to lies.”

  “I told you he wouldn’t harm you.”

  “I wanted to hear it from him.” She turned back to Cian. “If you’re concerned about me going after you, I’d give you my word—but why should you trust it?”

  “Sensible,” Cian returned.

  “But your brother’s already told me he’d stop me if I tried. He may find that more difficult than he believes, but…it would be stupid of me to try to kill you, and alienate him, given the situation we’re in. I’m afraid, but I’m not stupid.”

  “I’d have to take your word for that as well.”

  Idly, she fingered the sleeve of her robe and sent him a mildly flirtatious smile. “If I’d intended to kill you, I’d have already tried a spell. You’d know if I had. You’d feel it. And if there’s no more trust than this between the three of us, we’re doomed before we start.”

  “There you have a point.”

  “What I want now is a shower, and some breakfast. Then I’m going home.”

  “She stays.” Hoyt stepped between them. When Glenna started to step forward, he merely lifted a hand, and the force of his will knocked her back to the doorway.

  “Just one damn minute.”

  “Be silent. None of us leaves this place alone. None of us. If we’re to band together we start now. Our lives are in each other’s hands, and a great deal more than our own lives.”

  “Don’t flick your power at me again.”

  “Whatever I have to do, I’ll do. Understand me.” Hoyt shifted his gaze between them. “Both of you. Dress yourself,” he ordered Glenna. “Then we’ll go get whatever it is you think you need. Be quick about it.”

  In answer, she stepped back, slammed the door.

  Cian let out a short laugh. “You certainly know how to charm the ladies. I’m going to bed.”

  Hoyt stood alone in the living room and wondered why the gods thought he could save worlds with two such creatures at his side.

  She didn’t speak, but a man who has sisters knows women often use silence as a weapon. And her silence flew around the room like barbs as she filled some sort of carafe with water from the silver pipe in Cian’s kitchen.

  Women’s fashion might have changed radically in nine hundred years, but he believed their inner workings were very much the same.

  And still, much of those remained a mystery to him.

  She wore the same dress as the night before, but had yet to don her shoes. He wasn’t certain what weakness it spoke to in him that the sight of her bare feet should bring on an unwelcomed tinge of arousal.

  She shouldn’t have flirted with his brother, he thought with considerable resentment. This was a time of war, not dalliance. And if she intended to stroll about with her legs and arms exposed, she’d just have to…

  He caught himself. He had no business looking at her legs, did he? No business thinking of her as anything but a tool. It didn’t matter that she was lovely. It didn’t matter that when she smiled it started something like a low fire in the center of his heart.

  It didn’t matter—couldn’t—that when he looked at her, he wanted to touch.

  He busied himself with books, returned her silence with his own and lectured himself on proper behavior.

  Then the air began to simmer with some seductive aroma. He shot her a glance, wondering if she was trying some of her women’s magic. But her back was to him as she rose on the toes of those lovely bare feet to take a cup from a cupboard.

  It was the carafe, he realized, filled now with black liquid, and steaming with an alluring scent.

  He lost the war of silence. In Hoyt’s experience, men always did.

  “What are you brewing?”

  She simply poured the black liquid from carafe to cup, then turned, watching him with chilly green eyes over the rim as she sipped.

  To satisfy himself, he got up, walked into the kitchen and took a second cup down. He poured the liquid as she had, sniffed—detected no poisons—then sipped.

  It was electric. Like a quick jolt of power, both strong and rich. Potent, like the drink—the martini—from the night before. But different.

  “It’s very good,” he said then took a deeper drink.

  In response, she skirted around him, crossed the room and went back through the doorway of the guest room.

  Hoyt lifted his gaze to the gods. Would he be plagued by bad tempers and sulks from both this woman and his brother? “How?” he asked. “How am I to do what must be done if already we fight among ourselves?”

  “While you’re at it, why don’t you ask your goddess to tell you what she thinks about you slapping at me that way.” Glenna came back in, wearing the shoes, and carrying the satchel he’d seen her with the evening before.

  “It’s a defense against what seems to be your argumentative nature.”

  “I like to argu
e. And I don’t expect you to flick at me whenever you don’t like what I have to say. Do it again, and I’ll hit back. I have a policy against using magic as a weapon. But I’ll break it in your case.”

  She had the right of it, which was only more annoying. “What is this brew?”

  She heaved a breath. “It’s coffee. You’ve had coffee before, I imagine. The Egyptians had coffee. I think.”

  “Not the like of this,” he replied.

  And because she smiled, he assumed the worst of it was over. “I’m ready to go, as soon as you apologize.”

  He should have known better. Such was the way of females. “I’m sorry I was forced to use my will to stop you from arguing the morning away.”

  “So, you can be a smart-ass. This once, I’ll accept that. Let’s get moving.” She walked to the elevator, pushed its button.

  “Is it the fashion for women of this time to be aggressive and sharp-tongued, or is it only you?”

  She glanced back at him over her shoulder. “I’m the only one you have to worry about right now.” She stepped into the elevator, held the door. “Coming?”

  She’d worked out a basic strategy. First, she was going to have to spring for a cab. Whatever the conversation, however strangely Hoyt might behave, a New York City cabbie would have seen and heard it all before.

  Added to that, her courage wasn’t quite back up to the level to let her ride the subway again.

  As she’d anticipated, the minute they were out of the building, Hoyt stopped. And stared. He looked everywhere, up, down, right, left. He studied the traffic, the pedestrians, the buildings.

  No one would pay any attention to him, and if they did, they’d mark him as a tourist.

  When he opened his mouth to speak, she tapped a finger on her lips. “You’re going to have a million questions. So why don’t you just line them up and file them? We’ll get to them all eventually. For now, I’m going to hail us a cab. Once we’re inside, try not to say anything too outrageous.”

  Questions might have been scrambling in his mind like ants, but he cloaked himself in dignity. “I’m not a fool. I know very well I’m out of place here.”

  No, he wasn’t a fool, Glenna thought as she stepped to the curb, held up a hand. And he was no coward either. She’d expected him to gawk, but with having the rush and noise and crowds of the city thrust on him, she’d also expected to see some fear, and there was none. Just curiosity, a dose of fascination and a bit of disapproval.

  “I don’t like the way the air smells.”

  She nudged him back when he joined her at the curb. “You get used to it.” When a cab cruised up to the curb, she whispered to Hoyt as she opened the door. “Get in the way I do, and just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

  Inside, she reached over him to pull the door shut and gave the cabbie her address. When the cabbie shot back out into traffic, Hoyt’s eyes widened.

  “I don’t know that much about it,” she said under the Indian music pumping from the cabbie’s radio. “It’s a cab, a kind of car. It runs on a combustible engine, fueled by gasoline, and oil.”

  She did her best to explain traffic lights, crosswalks, skyscrapers, department stores and whatever else came to mind. She realized it was like seeing the city for the first time herself, and began to enjoy it.

  He listened. She could all but see him absorbing and tucking all the information, the sights, the sounds, the smells, away in some internal data bank.

  “There are so many.” He said it quietly, and the troubled tone had her looking over at him. “So many people,” he repeated, staring out the side window. “And unaware of what’s coming. How will we save so many?”

  It struck her then, a sharp, weighted spear in the belly. So many people, yes. And this was just part of one city in just one state. “We can’t. Not all. You never can.” She reached for his hand, gripped it tight. “So you don’t think of the many, or you’ll go crazy. We just take it one at a time.”

  She took out the fare when the cab pulled over—which made her think of finances, and how she’d handle that little problem over the next few months. She reached for Hoyt’s hand again when they were on the sidewalk.

  “This is my building. If we see anyone inside, just smile and look charming. They’ll just think I’m bringing home a lover.”

  Shock rippled over his face. “Do you?”

  “Now and again.” She unlocked the door, then squeezed with him into the tiny anteroom to call for the elevator. With an even tighter squeeze, they started up.

  “Do all buildings have these…”

  “Elevators. No, but a lot of them do.” When they reached her apartment, she pulled open the iron gate, stepped inside.

  It was a small space, but the light was excellent. Her walls were covered with her paintings and her photographs, and were painted the green of minced onions to reflect the light. Rugs she’d woven herself dotted the floor with bold tones and patterns.

  It was tidy, which suited her nature. Her convertible bed was made up as a sofa for the day, plumped with pillows. The kitchen alcove sparkled from a recent scrubbing.

  “You live alone. With no one to help you.”

  “I can’t afford help, and I like living alone. Staff and servants take money, and I don’t have enough of it.”

  “Have you no men in your family, no stipend or allowance?”

  “No allowance since I was ten,” she said dryly. “I work. Women work just as men do. Ideally, we don’t depend on a man to take care of us, financially or otherwise.”

  She tossed her purse aside. “I make my living such as it is selling paintings and photographs. Painting, for the most part for greeting cards like notes, letters, messages people send each other.”

  “Ah, you’re an artist.”

  “That’s right,” she agreed, amused that her choice of employment, at least, seemed to meet with his approval. “The greeting cards, those pay the rent. But I sell some of the artwork outright now and then. I like working for myself, too. I make my own schedule, which is lucky for you. I don’t have anyone to answer to, so I can take time to do, well, what has to be done.”

  “My mother is an artist, in her way. Her tapestries are beautiful.” He stepped up to a painting of a mermaid, rising up out of a churning sea. There was power in the face, a kind of knowledge that he took as inherently female. “This is your work?”

  “Yes.”

  “It shows skill, and that magic that moves into color and shape.”

  More than approval, she decided. Admiration now, and she let it warm her. “Thanks. Normally, that kind of thumbnail review would make my day. It’s just that it’s a very strange day. I need to change my clothes.”

  He nodded absently, moved to another painting.

  Behind him, Glenna cocked her head, then shrugged. She went to the old armoire she used as a closet, chose what she wanted, then carried it into the bathroom.

  She was used to men paying a little more attention, she realized as she stripped out of the dress. To the way she looked, the way she moved. It was lowering to be so easily dismissed, even if he did have more important things on his mind.

  She changed into jeans and a white tank. Letting the subtle glamour she’d been vain enough to use that morning fade, she did her makeup, then tied her hair back into a short tail.

  When she came back, Hoyt was in her kitchen, fiddling with her herbs.

  “Don’t touch my stuff.” She slapped his hand away.

  “I was only…” He trailed off, then looked deliberately over her shoulder. “Is this what you wear in public?”

  “Yes.” She turned, and just as deliberately invaded his space. “Problem?”

  “No. You don’t wear shoes?”

  “Not around the house, necessarily.” His eyes were so blue, she thought. So sharp and blue against those thick black lashes. “What do you feel when we’re like this? Alone. Close.”

  “Unsettled.”

  “That’s the nicest thing you’ve s
aid to me so far. I mean, do you feel something? In here.” She laid a fist on her belly, kept her eyes locked on his. “A kind of reaching. I’ve never felt it before.”

  He felt it, and a kind of burn in and under his heart as well. “You haven’t broken your fast,” he managed, and stepped carefully back. “You must be hungry.”

  “Just me then,” she murmured. She turned to open a cupboard. “I don’t know what I’m going to need, so I’m going to take whatever feels right. I’m not traveling light. You and Cian have to deal with that. We should probably leave as soon as possible.”

  He’d lifted a hand, was on the point of touching her hair, something he’d wanted to do since he’d first seen her. Now he dropped it. “Leave?”

  “You don’t expect to sit around in New York and wait for the army to come to you? The portal’s in Ireland, and we have to assume the battle’s to take place in Ireland, or some mystical facet thereof. We need the portal, or at some point we will. So we need to go to Ireland.”

  He simply stared at her as she loaded bottles and vials into a case not dissimiliar from his own. “Aye, you’re right. Of course, you’re right. We need to start back. A voyage will take much of the time we have. Oh, Jesus, I’ll be sick as six dogs sailing home.”

  She looked over. “Sailing? We don’t have time for the Queen Mary, sweetie. We’ll fly.”

  “You said you couldn’t.”

  “I can, if it’s in a plane. We’ll have to figure out how to get you a ticket. You don’t have ID, you don’t have a passport. We can do a charm on the ticket agent, the custom’s agent.” She brushed it away. “I’ll work it out.”

  “A plain what?”

  She focused on him, then leaned back against the counter and laughed until her sides ached. “I’ll explain later.”

  “It’s not my purpose to amuse you.”

  “No, it wouldn’t be. But it’s a nice side pocket. Oh hell, I don’t know what to take, what not to take.” She stepped back, rubbed her hands over her face. “It’s my first apocalypse.”

  “Herbs, flowers and roots grow in Ireland, and quite well.”

  “I like my own.” Which was foolish, and childish. But still…“I’ll just take what I consider absolutely essential in this area, then start on books, clothes and so on. I have to make some calls, too. I’ve got some appointments that I need to cancel.”

  With some reluctance, she closed her already loaded case and left it on the counter. She crossed to a large wooden chest in the far corner of the room, and unlocked it with a charm.

  Curiosity piqued, Hoyt moved over to study the contents over her shoulder. “What do you keep here?”

  “Spell books, recipes, some of my more powerful crystals. Some were handed down to me.”

  “Ah, then, you’re a hereditary witch.”

  “That’s right. The only one of my generation who practices. My mother gave it up when she married. My father didn’t like it. My grandparents taught me.”

  “How could she give up what’s inside her?”

  “A question I’ve asked her many times.” She sat back on her heels, touching what she could take, and what she couldn’t. “For love. My father wanted a simple life, she wanted my father. I couldn’t do it. I don’t think I could love enough to give up what I am. I’d need to be loved enough to be accepted for what I am.”

  “Strong magic.”

  “Yeah.” She took out a velvet sack. “This is my prize.” From it she lifted the ball of crystal he’d seen her with in the vision. “It’s been in my family a long time. Over two hundred and fifty years. Chump change to a man of your years, but a hell of a run to me.”

  “Strong magic,” he repeated, for when she held it in her hands, he could see it pulse, like a heart beating.

  “You’re right about that.” She looked at him over the orb with eyes that had gone suddenly dark. “And isn’t it time we used some? Isn’t it time we do what we do, Hoyt? She knows who I am, where I am, what I am. It’s likely she knows the same about you, about Cian. Let’s make a move.” She held the crystal aloft. “Lets find out where she’s hiding.”

  “Here and now?”

  “Can’t think of a better time or place.” She rose, jutted her chin toward the
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