Island of glass, p.24
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       Island of Glass, p.24
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         Part #3 of The Guardians series by Nora Roberts
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  She’d asked for nothing, he thought. And what was he supposed to do with that? “No.”

  “Then leave it. Just leave it. I told you because whatever else I weighed in, I don’t like regrets. I’m not going to regret telling you what I feel. Don’t make me feel less for feeling it.”

  He let her go—that was best for both of them. But he knew in three centuries, with all he’d done, all he’d experienced, she was the only woman who’d managed to turn him inside out.

  • • •

  She slept well. She’d said her piece, Riley thought, solved the internal issue nagging at her by saying it. So she’d thrown off that weight and worry.

  He hadn’t hurt her, and she’d expected him to. After all, she’d never been in love before. In lust, in fairly serious like, but she’d never slipped over that very essential line.

  No, he hadn’t hurt her, Riley considered as she dressed for a rugged cliff climb. She was a smart, educated woman, reasonably attractive, healthy, well traveled. If Doyle couldn’t see and accept love from her, that was absolutely his loss.

  She’d never dreamed of weddings and marriage and happy-ever-after. Not that she stood against any of that. But she led a full and interesting life—even before waging war against a god. If she survived that war, she fully intended to continue leading a full and interesting life.

  Doyle could be a part of it, or not. Choice entirely his.

  But the priority of now outweighed the priority of maybe later. She strapped on her guns—don’t leave home without them—clipped on her knife sheath, and took the back stairs to the kitchen.

  Coffee—number one priority—scented the air, along with grilling meat, toasted bread.

  “Omelettes,” Sasha told Riley as she skillfully folded one in the pan. “Loaded. Annika set the table before I got down so Sawyer could take her down for a quick swim.”

  She’d built a cave out of napkins, Riley noted, set it on a stand above a flowing blue napkin obviously representing the sea. Inside the cave she’d placed six figures made out of pipe cleaners. They circled a dragon made of the same that held a small white stone.

  “Let’s consider that a prophecy.” Riley poured coffee, and decided to take advantage of the moment. “I told Doyle I’m in love with him.”

  “Oh!” Quickly, Sasha slid the omelette onto a platter. Her smile faded. “Oh.”

  “Listen, I didn’t expect him to sweep me up like the studly hero in a novel. I just needed to say it so thinking about saying it—or not—wasn’t clogging up my brain. I did, so it’s clear.”

  “What did he say?”

  “Not much, but one of the standouts was how I must be conflating—conflating—sex and all the wedding talk. That was insulting.”

  “Yes, it really is. To your emotions and your intellect.”

  “Boom.” Riley tapped a finger on Sasha’s shoulder. “Mostly he was stunned and annoyed—more heavy on the stunned. I’m not going to hold the stunned against him. We had a deal.”

  “Oh, for—”

  “We did,” Riley insisted. “I reneged.”

  Sasha made a ppfft sound. “As if you can make a deal about love.”

  “I get that. But I didn’t get that when I made the deal. It’s my first time in the arena.” With a shrug, she hooked her thumb in her front pocket. “Anyway, by the time we’d finished up I felt sorry for him because of what he doesn’t get. Love’s precious, isn’t it? It’s not something you can find by digging, searching, reading. It just is, or it just isn’t.”

  “Sorry for him, my ass.”

  On a laugh, Riley drank coffee. “No, really. And I didn’t tell you so you’d be pissed at him.”

  “You’re my friend. You’re the first real friend I’ve ever had. What kind of friend would I be if I wasn’t pissed at him? Of course I’m pissed at him. The jerk.”

  “Appreciate it. But if you can’t make a deal not to fall in love, you can’t make one to, can you? It just is, or it just isn’t,” Riley repeated. “I’m okay. More, a lot more important, we’ve got to hang together. No internal conflicts, especially today.”

  “I can be pissed at him and hang together with him.” Scowling, Sasha poured beaten egg into the pan.

  “Reverse the order. Hang together first.”

  “For you.” Sasha added grilled bacon and peppers, shredded cheese. “I’ll do that for you.”

  “I love you. I don’t think about saying it very often. Today’s a good day to say it.”

  “I love you, too.”

  Riley heard feet on the stairs. “You’re going to tell Bran—no problem. Maybe just wait on that until after we get back. With the star.”

  “I can do that.”

  It wasn’t Bran, but Doyle, and Riley gauged her reaction. She concluded she hit borderline amusement to see the big, sword-wielding immortal looking awkward and braced for female ire.

  Maybe the reaction was small of her, but she didn’t mind being small.

  “We’re fueling up on loaded omelettes before the climb.” Riley spoke very casually, topped off her coffee. “According to Annika”—she gestured toward the table with her mug—“we make it just fine.”

  “Good.”

  He glanced back, his relief just visible enough to tip Riley over the borderline into full amusement when Bran came down.

  “Ah, just the man I wanted to see. I want to get the rope from the garage. We’ve time for that, Sasha?”

  “You’ve got ten minutes.”

  “Time enough. Give me a hand, will you, Doyle?”

  Riley held her snicker until they’d gone out.

  In the garage, Bran lifted a coil of sturdy rope from its hook on the wall. “Well, now I know why I felt I had to have all this.” He passed it to Doyle, lifted off a second coil.

  “It’s more than enough for this. The cave’s about fifteen feet down.”

  “I could get us there without the rope,” Bran considered. “Though I’d feel better about it if I’d been there first myself. It’s orienting, really. Sawyer could do the same, once he logged it, but. . .”

  “You have the rope,” Doyle finished. “And think there’s a reason for that.”

  “Tied together, rather than me taking us down one or two at a time. I think it has to be tied together, yes.” Bran angled his head. “Are you worried then?”

  “No. No, it’s a tricky climb, but nothing this lot can’t handle.”

  “What then?”

  “It’s nothing. It’s other. It isn’t relevant.” Bollocks. “Riley says she’s in love with me.”

  Bran merely nodded. “Then you’re a fortunate man.”

  “That might be, if I were just a man. And even then, we’ve got more pressing matters. If she’s pissed off at me because I didn’t—couldn’t—” He broke off with a curse. “If she’s distracted by what she thinks she feels . . .”

  “I’d say Riley knows herself very well. That’s one. And to add, she didn’t seem pissed or distracted just now to me.”

  “She’s canny,” Doyle contested, and made Bran smile.

  “That she is. And still from where I’m standing it’s yourself who seems distracted and pissed. You have feelings for her.”

  “Of course I do. We’re sleeping together.”

  “To borrow from Sawyer, just let me say: Dude.”

  That surprised a laugh out of Doyle. “All right, no, I haven’t had feelings for every woman I’ve slept with. But we’re part of a unit, we’re connected.” He studied the rope. “Tied together.”

  “I’m a man in love, and that love increases every day. It’s amazing to me. So I’ve seen your struggle. We’re connected—tied together—so I’d wish you happy, as I’ve seen, clear enough, she adds to you, and you to her. But it’s for you to know, you to decide.”

  “There’s nothing more to know, and no decision to make. And more pressing matters to deal with.” Doyle took the last coil of rope off the wall.

  • • •

  Once they
d eaten, they stood at the seawall.

  Sasha looked over and down, paled. “It’s a long drop.”

  “Mister Wizard isn’t going to let you fall.” Expertly, Riley looped rope around Sasha’s waist. “Plus, as discussed, Sawyer, Doyle, and I all have rock-climbing experience. All you have to do is watch your step, follow our lead.”

  “And don’t look down,” Sasha said.

  “If the bow feels awkward, leave it here. You can take one of my guns. You’re a better than decent shot.”

  “I’m better with the bow. I can handle it.”

  Riley secured a knot. She might have wished for some sturdy carabiners, a couple of belay devices, and some good harnesses, but you couldn’t have everything. And the rope was first-rate.

  She measured a length, moved to secure Bran.

  “She’ll be fine,” Riley said quietly, “but if she gets jiggly, talk to her. That’ll calm her down.”

  She shifted her gaze, noted Doyle looped Sawyer in beside Annika. Satisfied, she began securing herself.

  “Let me check that.” Doyle moved to her.

  She took a mental survey as his hands brushed here, there. Yeah, she could handle it.

  “The first real climb for me was in Arizona, studying the Ancestral Puebloans. Hot and dry,” she added, glancing up to the soft blue of the morning sky. “Windless.” She looked back at him, met his eyes. “Sasha’s jittery, but she’ll handle it.”

  “Okay. Secure the end.”

  He waited while Riley wound the rope around a tree trunk, tied it off.

  “Want to check it?”

  Doyle shook his head. As in most things, she knew what she was doing.

  Though he didn’t need the rope, he used it. And took the lead by vaulting over the wall. With her usual enthusiasm, Annika leaped over with him.

  “Easy,” Sawyer warned, and landed on the narrow edge of soft sod. “Not everybody has your balance.”

  “He means me.” Sasha swung over. “I’ve got it. Don’t worry.”

  Riley waited, let Doyle start the climb down, then rolled over the wall.

  She considered the first five feet the kiddie slope, and would have enjoyed the challenge to come—along with the crash and spume of waves, the light swirl of wind, the feel of the cliff face—if she wasn’t worried about Sasha.

  “Doing great!” she called out as Sasha carefully lowered a few more inches, with Sawyer advising her to ease right, plant this foot.

  It surprised everyone when ten feet down it was Annika who lost her handhold as a rock gave way under her fingers. She teetered, nearly overbalanced. Riley braced, dragged up slack, then breathed again when Sawyer pulled Annika back.

  “I’m apology!” she shouted. “I mean sorry.”

  “Climb now,” Riley called back. “Swim later.”

  With her own heart drumming still, Riley continued down.

  She looked up once, saw the ravens perched on the wall above.

  “Fire in the hole.” She let go with one hand, toes digging in hard, pulled her gun. She managed to hit two before the others took wing.

  Below, Sasha lowered to the ledge. “She’s watching. I can feel it.”

  “Nearly there.” Doyle gestured. “Just watch your footing.”

  Even as Riley reached the ledge, she saw him ease into the cave. Getting back up again was bound to be more complicated. So she’d think about it later.

  She moved carefully over the ledge, followed the others into the cave.

  “Tight fit.” She squeezed in between Sasha and Annika.

  “It’s pure, like the boy. Can you feel it?” Sasha wondered.

  It echoed with the sea, smelled of sea and earth, and when Bran held his hand over a rock, Riley saw the old wax pooled there liquefy and glow so the cave washed with soft gold light.

  “I’d’ve made a fort in here,” Sawyer commented as he looked around. “Irish cave version of a tree house. What kid could resist it?”

  “It was for him, the boy, the boy who dreamed of being a man. It is for him, the man who remembers the boy.” Sasha reached out, laid a hand on Doyle’s back. “It waits, and its time is now. The time of the six. Of the guardians. See the name, read the name, speak the name.”

  He saw the name he’d carved into stone so long ago, above the dragon symbol. He read the name, his own name, so it etched in his mind as it did on the wall.

  And he spoke the name.

  “Doyle Mac Cleirich.”

  The light changed, burned from warm gold to ice white, and with it the air went cold as winter.

  The name, his name, blazed in the rock, each letter spilling fire. The dragon roared with it.

  Heart at a gallop, blood all but singing, Doyle dropped to his knees, reached into the flame. And from the mouth of the dragon took the star.

  It blazed like the fire—but pure and white, blinding bright. Cupped in his palm, its power sprang free.

  “It’s not cold.” Doyle stared at the beauty in his hand. “Not now. It’s warm.”

  And so was the air.

  “We have it.” He pushed to his feet, turned, held it for the others to see. “We have the last star.”

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  As he spoke, the ground shook. Loose rocks tumbled in front of the mouth of the cave, fell into the sea.

  “I’d say she knows.” Riley tried to angle around, face the mouth of the cave. A beam from Annika’s bracelet struck the first bat that swooped in.

  “I’d say that’s our cue to get the hell out of here.”

  “But not the way we came in.” Sawyer pulled out his compass. “Hold on.”

  The shift shot them into the light, the wind. Riley heard a hammerblow of thunder, saw something streak and flash. Then she felt herself falling helplessly, tumbling.

  Not thunder now, she realized, but the waves crashing on rock. And she fell straight toward them.

  The cold, the wet slashed across her face. Her hand groped for her knife. Cut the rope, cut the rope before she dragged the others with her.

  Then her body jerked as that rope snapped taut. She flew up again, fighting to breathe, and landed in a wet, boneless heap on the lawn.

  “Anni, everybody. Is everybody all right?” Sawyer’s hoarse voice clawed through her stunned mind. “Sash— Jesus, Riley.”

  She waved away the hands that tugged at her. “Okay, not hurt. What the hell, Sawyer?”

  “Inside! We can’t risk the star in a fight.” Doyle scooped Riley up. “Run,” he ordered, and charged for the house as what had poured into the cave poured over the seawall.

  Ignoring, for the moment, the indignity of being tossed over Doyle’s shoulder, Riley reached back for her gun. “We’re secured to the damn tree.”

  “Not anymore.”

  She got off a few rounds before Doyle shoved into the house.

  He swung her off his shoulder, dumped her onto the kitchen island so they were eye to eye. “Are you hurt?”

  “No. I’m wet.” She shoved him back. “Again, what the hell, Sawyer?”

  “She walloped us. Best I can say.” He shoved his gun back in his holster. “Knocked me off balance. I lost my grip, so to speak, for a couple seconds.”

  “I was falling, toward the rocks.” Riley pushed at her dripping hair. “I think I almost hit.”

  “Would have,” Doyle told her. “Without the rope to haul you back.”

  “I don’t know what she threw at me,” Sawyer added, “but I bet she’s been waiting to do just that. I’m sorry. I lost it.”

  “Not your fault, and you got it back.” Steadier, Riley looked to the window into the deep gloom, the lash of rain. “The storm.”

  “No.” With a shove at her wind-ravaged hair, Sasha shook her head. “That’s just anger. She’s gathering more. Right now, Riley needs dry clothes, and as grateful as I am for the ropes, they have to go.”

  Bran merely waved a hand, whisked them away.

  “Dry clothes can wait. I want another look at the star.”
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  Once again, Bran waved a hand. Riley let out a sigh as her clothes, her hair, even her boots went warm and dry. “Gratitude.”

  “My pleasure. We’ll take the star upstairs, with the others. Secure it.”

  “We’ve got no place to put it yet,” Sawyer reminded him.

  “We do.” Bran slid an arm around Sasha. “Our fáidh painted until nearly half two this morning.”

  “You didn’t tell us,” Annika said.

  “Bran and I talked about it, after I’d finished. We both thought we should focus on getting the star. Until we did . . .”

  “What did you paint?” Riley hopped down from the counter. “Let’s go see. And . . .” She wiggled her hand at Doyle.

  He drew the star from his pocket, offered it.

  “Weight and heat without mass. It’s just amazing. And the light. Clear and pure as Arctic ice. It pulses,” she murmured as they walked upstairs. “Like a heartbeat.”

  She looked at Doyle, grinned. “We did it.”

  He pushed her back against the wall, and with the star pumping between them, kissed her like a man possessed.

  “I saw you fall. You were no more than a foot away from the rocks when I—we—managed to drag you back. You were going to cut the rope. You were going for your knife.”

  “Of course I was going to cut the rope. I thought I’d gotten knocked loose, and I’d drag everybody down with me. You’d have done exactly the same.”

  “I don’t die,” he reminded her, and walked away.

  She looked down at the star, hissed out a breath, and stalked after him. “Is this really the time for attitude? We’ve just found the last star. We have in our possession something no one ever has but the gods. We—”

  “Looking to put them in a museum with a plaque?”

  She flinched—something he’d never once seen her do no matter the threat. Hurt looked out of her eyes at him, and that, too, was new. “That’s not right.”

  “No, it’s not. It’s not. I apologize. I’m sorry.” He paced two steps away, paced back. “Very sorry. That was stupid and undeserved.”

  She nodded slowly. “Bygones.”

  “Riley.” He took her arm before she could walk away. “I saw you die in my head, saw you crushed on the rocks. In my head. It . . . screwed with my mood,” he decided.

  “Still here. So adjust. The others are waiting for us, and the star.”

 
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