Morrigans cross, p.8
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.8

         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts
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  richly patterned rug in the room’s center. “Roll that up, will you?”

  “It’s a dangerous step you’re after taking here. We should take a moment to think.”

  “We can think while you’re rolling up the rug. I have everything we need for a locator spell, everything we need for protection. We can blind her to us while we look.”

  He did as she asked and found the painted pentagram under the rug. He could admit that taking a step, any step, felt right and good. But he’d have preferred, very much, to take it alone.

  “We don’t know if she can be blinded. She’s fed on magic blood, and likely more than once. She’s very powerful, and very sly.”

  “So are we. You’re talking about going into battle within three months. When do you intend to start?”

  He looked at her, nodded. “Here and now then.”

  She laid the crystal in the center of the pentagram, and retrieved two athames from her chest. She placed these in the circle, then gathered candles, a silver bowl, crystal wands.

  “I won’t be needing all these tools.”

  “Fine for you, but I prefer using them. Let’s work together, Merlin.”

  He lifted an athame to study its carving as she ringed the pentagram with candles. “Will it bother you if I work skyclad?”

  “Aye,” he said without looking up.

  “All right, in the spirit of compromise and teamwork, I’ll keep my clothes on. But they’re restricting.”

  She removed the band from her hair, filled the silver bowl with water from a vial and sprinkled herbs on it. “Generally I invoke the goddesses when casting the circle, and it seems most appropriate for this. Suit you?”

  “Well enough.”

  “You’re a real chatterbox, aren’t you? Well. Ready?” At his nod she walked to the opposite curve from him. “Goddesses of the East, of the West, of the North of the South,” she began, moving around the circle as she spoke. “We ask your blessing. We call to you to witness and to guard this circle, and all within it.”

  “Powers of Air, and Water, of Fire and of Earth,” Hoyt chanted. “Travel with us now as we go between worlds.”

  “Night and day, day and night, we call you to this sacred rite. We cast this circle, one times three. As we will, so mote it be.”

  Witches, he thought. Always rhyming. But he felt the air stir, and the water in the bowl rippled as the candles leaped to flame.

  “It should be Morrigan we call on,” Glenna said. “She was the messenger.”

  He started to do so, then decided he wanted to see what the witch was made of. “This is your sacred place. Ask for guidance, and cast your spell.”

  “All right.” She laid down the sacred knife, lifted her hands, palms up. “On this day and in this hour, I call upon the sacred power of Morrigan the goddess and pray she grant to us her grace and prowess. In your name, Mother, we seek the sight, ask you to guide us into the light.”

  She bent, lifted the crystal into her hands. “Within this ball we seek to find the beast who hunts all mankind, while her eyes to us are blind. Make keen our vision, our minds, our hearts so the clouds within this ball will part. Shield us and show us what we seek to see. As we will, so mote it be.”

  Mists and light swirled within the glass. For an instant he thought he could see worlds inside it. Colors, shapes, movement. He heard it beat, as his heart beat. As Glenna’s heart beat.

  He knelt as she did. And saw, as she did.

  A dark place, mazed with tunnels and washed by red light. He thought he heard the sea, but couldn’t be sure if it was within the glass or just the roaring of power in his own head.

  There were bodies, bloodied and torn and stacked like cordwood. And cages where people wept or screamed, or simply sat with dull and deadened eyes. Things moved within the tunnels, dark things that barely stirred the air. Some crawled up the walls like bugs.

  There was horrible laughter, high, hideous shrieking.

  He traveled with Glenna through those tunnels where the air stank of death and blood. Down, deep down in the earth, where the stone walls dripped with wet and worse. To a door scribed with ancient symbols of black magicks.

  He felt the breath go cold in his body as they passed through.

  She slept on a bed fit for a queen, four-posted and wide with sheets that had the sheen of silk and were white as ice. Droplets of blood stained them.

  Her breasts were bare above the sheets, and the beauty of her face and form were undiminished since last he’d seen her.

  Beside her was the body of a boy. So young, Hoyt thought with a terrible pity. No more than ten years, so pale in death with his cornsilk hair falling over his brow.

  Candles were guttering, sending wavering light to flicker over her flesh, and his.

  Hoyt gripped the athame, lifted it over his head.

  And her eyes opened, stared into his. She screamed, but he heard no fear in it. Beside her the boy opened his eyes, bared fangs and leaped up to skuddle along the ceiling like a lizard.

  “Closer,” she crooned. “Come closer, sorcerer, and bring your witch. I’ll make a pet of her once I drain you dry. Do you think you can touch me?”

  As she leaped off the bed, Hoyt felt himself flying backward, tearing through air so cold it was shards of ice in his throat.

  Then he was sitting within the circle, staring into Glenna’s eyes. Hers were dark and wide. There was blood dripping from her nose.

  She stanched it with a knuckle while she struggled to get her breath.

  “First part worked,” she managed. “The blinded part didn’t take very well, obviously.”

  “She has power as well. She’s not without skill.”

  “Have you ever felt anything like that?” she asked him.

  “No.”

  “Neither have I.” She allowed herself one hard shudder. “We’re going to need a bigger circle.”

  Chapter 6

  Before she packed, Glenna took the time to cleanse the entire loft. Hoyt didn’t disagree. She wanted no trace of what they’d touched on, no echoes, no dregs of that darkness in her home.

  In the end, she put her tools and books back in the chest. After what she’d seen, what she’d felt, she wasn’t going to risk the pick and choose. She was taking the whole lot, along with her travel case, most of her crystals, some basic art supplies, cameras, and two suitcases.

  She cast one longing look at the easel standing near the window, and the barely started painting resting on it. If she came back—no when, she corrected. When she came back, she would finish it.

  She stood beside Hoyt, studying the pile of belongings as he did.

  “No comments?” she asked. “No arguments or sarcastic remarks about how I intend to travel?”

  “To what end?”

  “A wise stand. Now there’s the little matter of getting all this out of here, uptown and into your brother’s place. At which time, I doubt he’ll be as wise as you. But first things first.” She toyed with her pendant as she considered. “Do we haul it all by hand, or try a transportation spell? I’ve never done anything of this scope.”

  He sent her a bland look. “We’d need three of your cabs and most of what we have left of the day to deal with all of this.”

  So, he considered the situation as well. “Visualize Cian’s apartment,” he ordered. “The room where you slept.”

  “All right.”

  “Concentrate. Bring it fully into your mind, the details, the shape, the structure.”

  She nodded, closed her eyes. “I am.”

  He chose the chest first as he sensed it held the most power. Its magic would aid him in the task. He circled it three times, then reversed, circled again while he said the words, while he opened himself to the power.

  Glenna struggled to fix her focus. There was something deeper, richer about his voice, something erotic in the way it spoke the ancient tongue. She felt the heat of what he stirred on her skin, and in her blood. Then a swift and solid punch of air.
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  When she opened her eyes, the chest was gone.

  “I’m impressed.” More honestly, she was amazed. She was capable, with considerable preparation and effort, of transporting small, simple objects some distance. But he’d simply and efficiently poofed a two-hundred-pound chest.

  She could picture him now, in billowing robes on the cliff he’d spoken of in Ireland. Challenging the storm, charging himself with it. And facing what no man should have to face, with faith and with magic.

  Her belly tightened with sheer and simple lust.

  “Was that Gaelic you were speaking?”

  “Irish,” he said, so obviously distracted, she didn’t speak again.

  Once more he circled, focusing now on the cases that contained her photography and art equipment. She nearly yipped a protest, then reminded herself to have faith. Calling on it, she closed her eyes again, brought the guest room back into her mind. Gave him what she could of her own gift.

  It took him fifteen minutes to accomplish what she was forced to admit would have taken her hours, if she could have managed it at all.

  “Well that was…that was something.” The magic was still on him, turning his eyes opaque, rippling through the air between them. She felt it like a ribbon wound around both of them, tying them together. Her own arousal was so keen, she had to step back, deliberately break the bond between them.

  “No offense, but are you sure they’re where we want them?”

  He continued to stare at her with those fathomless blue eyes until the heat in her belly grew so strong she wondered it didn’t shoot fire from her fingertips.

  It was nearly too much, this pressure, this need, the mad beat of it at every pulse. She started to step back again, but he simply lifted a hand and stopped her in her tracks.

  She felt the pull, from him, to him, with just enough play for her to resist, to snap that lead and escape. Instead she stood, kept her eyes locked with his as he closed the distance between them with one easy stride.

  Then there was nothing easy.

  He yanked her to him so that her breath expelled on a quick hitching gasp, and that gasp ended on a moan when their mouths met. The hot, drugging kiss spun through her head, through her body, sizzling in her blood when she clung to him.

  Candles she’d left in the room flashed into flame.

  At once aggressive and desperate, she dug her hands into his shoulders and plunged headfirst into the storm of sensation. This, this was what she’d craved from the first moment she’d seen him in dreams.

  She felt his hands on her hair, her body, her face, and everywhere he touched quivered. No dream now, just need and heat and flesh.

  He couldn’t stop himself. She was like a feast after the fast, and all he wanted was to gorge. Her mouth was full and soft, and fit so truly to his it was as if the gods had formed it for only that purpose. The power he’d wielded had snapped back on him, inciting an impossible hunger that ached in his belly, in his loins, in his heart and cried out to be sated.

  Something burned between them. He’d known it from the first instant, even ill with fever and pain while the wolves stalked beyond his fire. And he feared it nearly as much as he feared what they were fated to face together.

  He drew her back, shaken to the bone. What they’d stirred was alive on her face, sultry and tempting. If he accepted and took, what price would they both pay for it?

  There was always a price.

  “I apologize. I…I was caught on the tail of the spell.”

  “Don’t apologize. It’s insulting.”

  Women, was all he could think. “Touching you in that way isn’t?”

  “If I hadn’t wanted you to touch me that way, I’d have stopped you. Oh, don’t flatter yourself,” she snapped out when she read the expression on his face. “You may be stronger, physically, magically, but I can handle myself. And when I want an apology, I’ll ask for one.”

  “I can’t find my balance in this place, or with you.” Frustration rippled out from him now, as the magic had. “I’m not liking it, or what I’m feeling for you.”

  “That’s your problem. It was just a kiss.”

  He caught her arm before she could turn away. “I don’t believe, even in this world, that was just a kiss. You’ve seen what we have to face. Desire is a weakness, one we can’t risk. Everything we have must be charged toward what we have to do. I won’t risk your life or the fate of the world for a few moments of pleasure.”

  “I can promise it would be more than a few. But there’s no point in arguing with a man who sees desire as a weakness. Let’s chalk it up to the moment, and move on.”

  “I’m not after hurting you,” he began with some regret, and she aimed a single, quelling look.

  “Apologize again, and you’re on your ass.” She picked up her keys, her purse. “Put out the candles, would you, and let’s go. I want to make sure my things arrived safely, and we’ve got to arrange for flights to Ireland. And figure out how to smuggle you out of the country.”

  She grabbed sunglasses from a table, put them on. A great deal of her irritation faded at the baffled expression on his face. “Shades,” she explained. “They cut the glare of the sun, and in this case are a sexy fashion statement.”

  She opened the iron gate, then turned, looked back at her loft, her things. “I have to believe I’ll come back here. I have to believe I’ll see all this again.”

  She stepped inside, pushed the button for the ground floor. And left behind much that she loved.

  When Cian came out of his room, Glenna was in the kitchen cooking. On their return, Hoyt had taken himself off to the study adjoining the living room, hauling his books with him. Now and again, she felt something ripple out, and assumed he was practicing some spells.

  It kept him out of her hair. But it didn’t keep him out of her head.

  She was careful with men. Enjoying them, certainly, but she didn’t share herself recklessly. Which is exactly what she’d done with Hoyt, and she couldn’t deny it. It had been reckless, impulsive and apparently a mistake. And though she’d said it had been just a kiss, it had been as intimate an act as she’d ever experienced.

  He wanted her, there was no question of that. But he didn’t choose to want her. Glenna preferred to be chosen.

  Desire wasn’t a weakness, not in her mind—but it was a distraction. He was right in that they couldn’t afford distractions. That strength of character and good solid sense were two of his appealing traits. But considering her own jumpy system, they were equally irritating ones.

  So she cooked, because it kept her busy and settled her down.

  When Cian came in looking sleek and sleepy, she was briskly chopping vegetables.

  “Mi casa is, apparently, su casa.”

  She kept right on chopping. “I brought some perishables—among other things—from home. I don’t know if you eat.”

  He looked dubiously at the raw carrots and leafy greens. “One of the advantages of my fate is I don’t have to eat my vegetables like a good lad.” But he’d scented what was on the stove, and moved to it to sniff at the spicy tomato sauce simmering. “On the other hand, this looks appealing.”

  He leaned back on the counter to watch her work. “So do you.”

  “Don’t waste your questionable charm on me. Not interested.”

  “I could work on that, just to get under Hoyt’s skin. Might be entertaining. He tries not to watch you. He fails.”

  Her hand hesitated, then she brought down the knife again. “I’m sure he’ll succeed eventually. He’s a very determined man.”

  “Always was, if memory serves. Sober and serious, and as trapped by his gift as a rat in a cage.”

  “Do you see it that way?” She set down the knife, turned to him. “As a trap. It’s not, not for him, not for me. It’s a duty, yes. But it’s a privilege and a joy as well.”

  “We’ll see how joyful you are when you’re in Lilith’s path.”

  “Been there. We did a locator spell
at my place. She’s holed up in a cave with a series of tunnels. Near the sea, I think. Near, I think, that cliffside where Hoyt faced her. She gave us a good solid blast. We won’t be so easy to push next time.”

  “You’re mad as Fat Tuesday, the pair of you.” He opened his cold box, took out a bag of blood. His face tightened at the small sound Glenna couldn’t quite smother. “You’ll have to get used to it.”

  “You’re right. I will.” She watched him pour the contents in a thick glass, then set it in the microwave to heat. This time it was a snicker she couldn’t smother. “Sorry. But it’s just so damn odd.”

  He studied her, obviously saw no rancor, and relaxed. “Want some wine?”

  “Sure, thanks. We need to go to Ireland.”

  “So I’m told.”

  “No. Now. As soon as it can be arranged. I’ve got a passport, but we have to figure out how to get Hoyt out of this country and into another. And we’ll need a place to set up, to stay and to, well, train and practice.”

  “Peas in a pod,” Cian muttered, pouring her a glass of wine. “It’s not a simple matter, you know, to delegate responsibilities for my businesses, particularly since the man I trust to run the club downstairs is bound and determined to join Hoyt’s holy army.”

  “Look, I spent a lot of my time today packing, transferring my rather limited funds so I could pay the rent on my place through October, cancelling appointments and handing off a couple of what would be fairly lucrative jobs to an associate. You’ll just have to manage.”

  He retrieved his own glass. “And what is it you do? These fairly lucrative jobs?”

  “Greeting card art, of the mystical variety. I paint. And do some photography.”

  “You any good?”

  “No, I suck. Of course I’m good. The paying photography is mostly weddings. More arty stuff for my own pleasure and the occasional sale. I’m adaptable at keeping the wolf from the door.” She lifted her wine. “How about you?”

  “Can’t survive a millennium otherwise. So, we’ll leave tonight.”

  “Tonight? We can’t possibly—”

  “Adapt,” he said simply and drank.

  “We need to check on flights, buy tickets—”

  “I have my own plane. I’m a licensed pilot.”

  “Oh.”

  “A good one,” he assured her. “I’ve several decades of air time, so you needn’t worry on that score.”

  Vampires who drank blood out of pricey stemware and owned planes. No, what did she have to worry about? “Hoyt doesn’t have any identification, no passport, no papers. I can work a charm to get him through Customs, but—”

  “No need.” He crossed the room, opened a panel on the wall she hadn’t detected, and revealed a safe.

  Once he’d unlocked it, he took out a lock box, and coming back set it on the counter and flipped the combination. “He can take his choice,” Cian said and pulled out a half a dozen passports.

  “Well, wow.” She plucked one, opened it, studied the picture. “Handy you look so much alike. The serious lack of mirrors in this place tells me the lore about no reflections hangs true. No problem being photographed?”

  “If you’re using a reflector camera, you’d have a moment, when the mirror engages when you’d be very puzzled. Then it disengages as you shoot—and there I am.”

  “Interesting. I brought my cameras. I’d like to try some pictures, when there’s time.”

  “I’ll think about it.”

 
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