Morrigans cross, p.9
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.9
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         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts

  She tossed the passport down. “I hope that plane of yours has plenty of cargo space, because I’m loaded.”

  “We’ll manage. I’ve calls to make, and packing of my own to see to.”

  “Wait. We don’t have a place to stay.”

  “It won’t be a problem,” he said as he left the room. “I’ve something that will suit.”

  Glenna blew out a breath, looked back at the pot on the stove. “Well, at least we’ll get in a good meal first.”

  It wasn’t a simple matter, even with Cian’s money and connections laying a path. The luggage and cargo had to be transported the ordinary and laborious way this time. She could see all three of the men she’d hooked her fate with looking for a way to cut down on her load. She cut that route off with a firm: It all goes—and left it at that.

  She had no idea what Cian had in the single suitcase or the two large metal chests he packed.

  She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

  She couldn’t imagine what they must have looked like, the two tall, dark men, the enormous black man, and the redhead with enough luggage to resink the Titanic.

  She enjoyed the privilege of being female, and left it to the men to do the loading, while she explored Cian’s sleek and elegantly appointed private jet.

  He wasn’t afraid of color, or of spending his money, she had to give him credit for that. The seats were a deep, rich blue in buttery leather, and generous enough to be comfortable for even a man of King’s proportions. The carpet was thick enough to sleep on.

  It boasted a small, efficient conference room, two sophisticated bathrooms, and what she initially took to be a cozy bedroom. More than that, she realized when she noted it had no windows, no mirrors, and its own half bath. A safe room.

  She wandered into the galley, approved it, and appreciated the fact that Cian had already called ahead to have it stocked. They wouldn’t starve on the flight to Europe.

  Europe. She trailed her finger over one of the fully reclining seats. She’d always planned to go, to spend as much as a month. Painting, taking photographs, exploring. Visiting the ancient sites, shopping.

  Now she was going, and getting there well above the first-class level. But she wouldn’t be wandering the hills and the sacred grounds at her leisure.

  “Well, you wanted adventure in your life,” she reminded herself. “Now you’ve got it.” She closed a hand around the pendant she wore and prayed she’d have not only the strength but also the wits to survive it.

  She was seated when the men boarded, and making a show out of enjoying a glass of champagne.

  “I popped the cork,” she said to Cian. “I hope you don’t mind. It seemed appropriate.”

  “Sláinte.” He moved directly to the cockpit.

  “Want the two-dollar tour?” she asked Hoyt. “Want to look around?” she explained. “I imagine King’s flown in this little beauty before and is thoroughly jaded.”

  “Beats the hell out of commercial,” King agreed, and got himself a beer in lieu of champagne. “The boss knows how to handle this bird.” He gave Hoyt a slap on the shoulder. “No worries.”

  Because he looked far from convinced, Glenna rose and poured another glass of champagne. “Here, drink, relax. We’re going to be in here all night.”

  “In a bird made out of metal and cloth. A flying machine.” Hoyt nodded, and because it was in his hand, sipped the bubbling wine. “It’s a matter of science and mechanics.”

  He’d spent two full hours reading of the history and technology of aircraft. “Aerodynamics.”

  “Exactly.” King tapped the beer bottle to Hoyt’s glass, then Glenna’s. “Here’s to kicking some ass.”

  “You look like you’re looking forward to it,” Glenna commented.

  “Damn straight. Who wouldn’t? We get to save the frigging world. The boss? He’s been restless the last few weeks. He gets restless, I get restless. Ask me, this is just what the doctor ordered.”

  “And dying doesn’t worry you?”

  “Everybody dies.” He glanced toward the cockpit. “One way or another. ’Sides, a big bastard like me doesn’t go down easy.”

  Cian strolled in. “We’re cleared, boys and girls. Have a seat, strap in.”

  “Got your back, Captain.” King followed Cian back into the cockpit.

  Glenna sat, offered a smile as she patted the seat beside hers. She was prepared to soothe Hoyt through his first flight. “You’ll need your seat belt. Let me show you how it works.”

  “I know how it works. I read of it.” He studied the metal for a moment, then locked the pieces together. “In the event there is turbulence. Pockets of air.”

  “You’re not the least bit nervous.”

  “I came through a time portal,” he reminded her. He began to play with the control panel, amusement crossing his face when the back reclined, came up again. “I think I’ll be enjoying this trip. Bloody shame it’s got to be done over water.”

  “Oh, I nearly forgot.” She dug into her purse, pulled out a vial. “Drink this. It’ll help. Drink it,” she repeated when he frowned at the vial. “It’s herbs and some powdered crystals. Nothing harmful. It may help the queasiness.”

  The reluctance was clear on his face, but he downed it. “You have a heavy hand with the cloves.”

  “You can thank me when you don’t have to use the barf bag.”

  She heard the engines hum, felt the vibration beneath her. “Spirits of the night, give us wings to take this flight. Hold us safe within your hand until we touch upon the land.” She slid her eyes to Hoyt. “It never hurts.”

  He wasn’t ill, but she could see that her potion and his will were fighting a hard battle to keep his system steady. She made him tea, brought him a blanket, then reclined his seat, brought up the footrest herself.

  “Try to sleep a little.”

  Too ill to argue, he nodded, closed his eyes. When she was sure he was as comfortable as she could make him, she moved forward to join the others in the cockpit.

  There was music playing. Nine Inch Nails, she recognized. In the copilot’s seat, King had kicked back and was snoring along with the beat. Glenna looked through the windscreen and felt her heart do a little dance of its own.

  There was nothing but the black.

  “I’ve never been in a cockpit before. Awesome view.”

  “I can kick that one out of here if you want his seat for a bit.”

  “No. I’m fine. Your brother’s trying to sleep. He’s not feeling very well.”

  “He used to turn green crossing the Shannon. I imagine he’s sick as a dog by now.”

  “No, just queasy. I gave him something at takeoff, and he’s got an iron will to add to it. Do you want anything?”

  He glanced back. “Aren’t you the helpful one?”

  “I’m too revved up to sleep, too restless to sit. So, coffee, tea, milk?”

  “I wouldn’t mind the coffee. Thanks for that.”

  She brewed a short pot, brought him a mug of it. Then stood behind him, staring out into the night sky. “What was he like as a boy?”

  “As I told you.”

  “Did he ever doubt his power? Ever wish he hadn’t been given the gift?”

  It was a strange sensation, having a woman question him about another man. Generally if they weren’t talking about themselves they were asking about him, trying to nudge aside what some of them saw as a curtain of mystery.

  “Not that he ever told me. And he would have,” Cian said after a moment. “We were close enough in those days.”

  “Was there someone—a woman, a girl—for him back there?”

  “No. He looked, and he touched, and he had a few. He’s a sorcerer not a priest. But he never told me of one special to him. I never saw him look at any of the girls as he looks at you. To your peril, Glenna, I’d be saying. But mortals are fools when it comes to love.”

  “And I’d say if you can’t love when you’re facing death, then death’s not worth fighting. Lili
th had a child with her. Did he tell you that?”

  “He didn’t, no. You need to understand there’s no sentiment there, no softness. A child is just easy prey, and a sweet meal.”

  Her stomach turned, but she kept her voice even. “Eight or ten years old, I’d say,” she continued. “In the bed with her, in those caves. She’d made him like her. She’d made that child like her.”

  “That shocks and angers you, well, that’s fine then. Shock and anger can be strong weapons in the right hand. But remember this. If you see that child, or one like him, put your pity away, because he’ll kill you without thought or mercy unless you kill him first.”

  She studied Cian now, that profile that was so like his brother’s, yet so completely his own. She wanted to ask if he’d ever turned a child, or fed on one. But she was afraid the answer might be unforgivable, and she needed him.

  “Could you do that, destroy a child whatever he’d become?”

  “Without thought or mercy.” He glanced at her, and she saw he’d known the other question running in her mind. “And you’re no good to us or yourself if you can’t do the same.”

  She left him then without a word and went back to stretch out beside Hoyt. Because the conversation with Cian had chilled her, she pulled her own blanket up to her throat, curled toward Hoyt’s body heat.

  And when she slept, finally slept, she dreamed of children, with sunny hair and bloody fangs.

  She woke with a start to find Cian leaning over her. A scream clawed up to her throat until she realized he was shaking Hoyt awake.

  She pushed at her hair, skimmed her fingers over her face for a quick glamour. They were speaking in low tones and, she realized, in Irish.

  “English, please. I can’t follow that much, especially with the accents.”

  Both turned vibrant blue eyes on her, and Cian straightened as she brought her chair up. “I’m telling him we’ve about an hour flight time left.”

  “Who’s flying the plane?”

  “King’s got it for the moment. We’ll be landing at dawn.”

  “Good. Great.” She barely stifled a yawn. “I’ll throw some coffee and breakfast together so…Dawn?”

  “Aye, dawn. I need a good cloud cover. Rain would be a bonus. Can you do this? Otherwise King will land it. He’s capable, and I’ll be spending the rest of the flight and the day in the back of the plane.”

  “I said I could do it, and I will.”

  “We can do it,” Glenna corrected.

  “Well, be quick about it, will you? I’ve been singed a time or two and it’s unpleasant.”

  “You’re welcome,” she muttered when he left them. “I’ll get a few things from my travel case.”

  “I don’t need them.” Hoyt brushed her aside, got up to stand in the aisle. “This time, it’ll be my way. He’s my brother, after all.”

  “Your way then. How can I help?”

  “Call the vision to your mind. Clouds and rain. Rain and clouds.” He retrieved his staff. “See it, feel it, smell it. Thick and steady, with the sun trapped behind the gloom. Dusky light, light without power or harm. See it, feel it, smell it.”

  He held his staff in both hands, braced his legs apart for balance, then raised it.

  “I call the rain, the black clouds that cover the sky. I call the clouds, fat with rain that streams from the heavens. Swirl and close and lay thick.”

  She felt it spin, spin out from him, spin out to the air. The plane shook, bucked, trembled, but he stood as if he stood on a floor of granite. The tip of the staff glowed blue.

  He turned to her, nodded. “That should do it.”

  “Well. Okay then. I’ll make coffee.”

  They landed in gloom with the rain like a gray curtain. A little overdone, in Glenna’s opinion, and it was going to be a miserable drive from the airport to wherever the hell they were going.

  But she stepped off the plane and onto Ireland, and there it was. A connection, instant and surprising even to her. She had a quick sense of memory of a farm—green hills, stone fences and a white house with clothes flapping on a line in a brisk wind. There was a garden in the dooryard with dahlias big as dinner plates and calla lilies white as wishes.

  It was gone almost as quickly as it had come. She wondered if it was her memory from another time, another life, or simply a call through her blood. Her grandmother’s mother had come from Ireland, from a farm in Kerry.

  She had brought her linens and her best dishes—and her magic—to America with her.

  She waited for Hoyt to deplane. This would always be home for him, she saw it now in the pleasure that ran over his face. Whether it was a busy airport or an empty field, this was his place. And part, very much a part, she understood now, of what he would die to save.

  “Welcome home.”

  “It looks nothing like it did.”

  “Parts of it will.” She took his hand and squeezed. “Nice job with the weather, by the way.”

  “Well, that at least, is familiar.”

  King trotted over, wet as a seal. His thick dreads dripped rain. “Cain’s arranging for most of the stuff to be delivered by truck. Take what you can carry, or have to have right now. The rest’ll be along in a couple hours.”

  “Where are we going?” Glenna demanded.

  “He’s got a place here.” King shrugged. “So that’s where we’re going.”

  They had a van, and even then it was a tight squeeze. And, Glenna discovered, another sort of adventure altogether to sweep along through the pouring rain on wet roads, many of which seemed as narrow as a willow stem.

  She saw hedgerows ripe with fuchsia, and those hills of wet emerald rolling up and back into the dull gray sky. She saw houses with flowers blooming in dooryards. Not the one of her quick image, but close enough to make her smile.

  Something here had belonged to her once. Now maybe it would again.

  “I know this place,” Hoyt murmured. “I know this land.”

  “See.” Glenna patted his hand. “I knew some of it would be the same for you.”

  “No, this place, this land.” He pushed up to grab Cian by the shoulder. “Cian.”

  “Mind the driver,” Cian ordered and shook off his brother’s hand before turning between the hedgerows and onto a narrow spit of a land that wound back through a dense forest.

  “God,” Hoyt breathed. “Sweet God.”

  The house was stone, alone among the trees, and quiet as a tomb. Old and wide, with the jut of a tower and the stone aprons of terraces. In the gloom, it looked deserted and out of its time.

  And still there was a garden outside the door, of roses and lilies and the wide plates of dahlia. Foxglove sprang tall and purple among the trees.

  “It’s still here.” Hoyt spoke in a voice thick with emotion. “It survived. It still stands.”

  Understanding now, Glenna gave his hand another squeeze. “It’s your home.”

  “The one I left only days ago. The one I left nearly a thousand years ago. I’ve come home.”

  Chapter 7

  It wasn’t the same. The furnishings, the colors, the light, even the sound his footsteps made crossing the floor had changed, turning the familiar into the foreign. He recognized a few pieces—some candlestands and a chest. But they were in the wrong places.

  Logs had been set in the hearth, but were yet unlit. And there were no dogs curled up on the floor or thumping their tails in greeting.

  Hoyt moved through the rooms like a ghost. Perhaps that’s what he was. His life had begun in this house, and so much of it had been woven together under its roof or on its grounds. He had played here and worked here, eaten and slept here.

  But that was hundreds of years in the past. So perhaps, in a very true sense, his life had ended here as well.

  His initial joy in seeing the house dropped away with a weight of sadness for all that he’d lost.

  Then he saw, encased in glass on the wall, one of his mother’s tapestries. He moved to it, touched his fing
ers to the glass as she came winging back to him. Her face, her voice, her scent were as real as the air around him.

  “It was the last she’d finished before…”

  “I died,” Cian finished. “I remember. I came across it in an auction. That, and a few other things over time. I was able to acquire the house oh, about four hundred years ago now, I suppose. Most of the land as well.”

  “But you don’t live here any longer.”

  “It’s a bit out of the way for me, and not convenient to my work or pleasures. I have a caretaker whom I’ve sent off until I order him back. And I generally come over once a year or so.”

  Hoyt dropped his hand, turned. “It’s changed.”

  “Change is inevitable. The kitchen’s been modernized. There’s plumbing and electricity. Still it’s drafty for all that. The bedrooms upstairs are furnished, so take your choices. I’m going up to get some sleep.”

  He started out, glanced back. “Oh, and you can stop the rain if you’ve a mind to. King, give me a hand will you, hauling some of this business up?”

  “Sure. Very cool digs, if you don’t mind a little spooky.” King hauled up a chest the way another man might have picked up a briefcase, and headed up the main stairs.

  “Are you all right?” Glenna asked Hoyt.

  “I don’t know what I am.” He went to the window, drew back heavy drapes to look out on the rain-drenched forest. “It’s here, this place, the stones set by my ancestors. I’m grateful for that.”

  “But they’re not here. The family you left behind. It’s hard what you’re doing. Harder for you than the rest of us.”

  “We all share it.”

  “I left my loft. You left your life.” She stepped to him, brushed a kiss over his cheek. She had thought to offer to fix a hot meal, but saw that what he needed most just then was solitude.

  “I’m going up, grab a room, a shower and a bed.”

  He nodded, continued to stare out the window. The rain suited his mood, but it was best to close the spell. Even when he had, it continued to rain, but in a fine, misty drizzle. The fog crawled across the ground, twined around the feet of the rose bushes.

  Could they be his mother’s still? Unlikely, but they were roses, after all. That would have pleased her. He wondered if in some way having her sons here again, together, would please her as well.

  How could he know? How would he ever know?

  He flashed fire into the hearth. It seemed more like home with the fire snapping. He didn’t choose to go up, not yet. Later, he thought, he’d take his case up to the tower. He’d make it his own again. Instead he dug out his cloak, swirled it on and stepped out into the thin summer rain.

  He walked toward the stream first where the drenched foxgloves swayed their heavy bells and the wild orange lilies Nola had particularly loved spread like spears of flame. There should be flowers in the house, he thought. He’d have to gather some before dusk. There had always been flowers in the house.

  He circled around, drawing in the scent of damp air, wet leaves, roses. His brother kept the place tended; Hoyt couldn’t fault him for that. He saw the stables were still there—not the same, but in the same spot. They were larger than they’d been, with a jut to one side that boasted a wide door.

  He found it locked, so opened it with a focused thought. It opened upward to reveal a stone floor and some sort of car. Not like the one in New York, he noted. Not like the cab, or the van they had traveled in from the airport. This was black and lower to the ground. On its hood was a shining silver panther. He ran his hands over it.

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