Sol in Cancer
The signe of the Crabbe pertains to houses, lands, treasures, and whatever is hidden. It is the fourth house of the Zodiak. It signifies death and the end of thinges.
—Anonymous English Commonplace Book, c. 1590,
Gonçalves MS 4890, f. 8r
Ghosts didn’t have much substance. All they were composed of was memories and heart. Atop one of Sept-Tours’ round towers, Emily Mather pressed a diaphanous hand against the spot in the center of her chest that even now was heavy with dread.
Does it ever get easier? Her voice, like the rest of her, was almost imperceptible. The watching? The waiting? The knowing?
Not that I’ve noticed, Philippe de Clermont replied shortly. He was perched nearby, studying his own transparent fingers. Of all the things Philippe disliked about being dead—the inability to touch his wife, Ysabeau; his lack of smell or taste; the fact that he had no muscles for a good sparring match—invisibility topped the list. It was a constant reminder of how inconsequential he had become.
Emily’s face fell, and Philippe silently cursed himself. Since she’d died, the witch had been his constant companion, cutting his loneliness in two. What was he thinking, barking at her as if she were a servant?
Perhaps it will be easier when they don’t need us anymore, Philippe said in a gentler tone. He might be the more experienced ghost, but it was Emily who understood the metaphysics of their situation. What the witch had told him went against everything Philippe believed about the afterworld. He thought the living saw the dead because they needed something from them: assistance, forgiveness, retribution. Emily insisted these were nothing more than human myths, and it was only when the living moved on and let go that the dead could appear to them.
This information made Ysabeau’s failure to notice him somewhat easier to bear, but not much.
“I can’t wait to see Em’s reaction. She’s going to be so surprised.” Diana’s warm alto floated up to the battlements.
Diana and Matthew, Emily and Philippe said in unison, peering down to the cobbled courtyard that surrounded the château.
There, Philippe said, pointing at the drive. Even dead, he had vampire sight that was sharper than any human’s. He was also still handsomer than any man had a right to be, with his broad shoulders and devilish grin. He turned the latter on Emily, who couldn’t help grinning back. They are a fine couple, are they not? Look how much my son has changed.
Vampires weren’t supposed to be altered by the passing of time, and therefore Emily expected to see the same black hair, so dark it glinted blue; the same mutable gray-green eyes, cool and remote as a winter sea; the same pale skin and wide mouth. There were a few subtle differences, though, as Philippe suggested. Matthew’s hair was shorter, and he had a beard that made him look even more dangerous, like a pirate. She gasped.
Is Matthew . . . bigger?
He is. I fattened him up when he and Diana were here in 1590. Books were making him soft. Matthew needed to fight more and read less. Philippe had always contended there was such a thing as too much education. Matthew was living proof of it.
Diana looks different, too. More like her mother, with that long, coppery hair, Em said, acknowledging the most obvious change in her niece.
Diana stumbled on a cobblestone, and Matthew’s hand shot out to steady her. Once, Emily had seen Matthew’s incessant hovering as a sign of vampire overprotectiveness. Now, with the perspicacity of a ghost, she realized that this tendency stemmed from his preternatural awareness of every change in Diana’s expression, every shift of mood, every sign of fatigue or hunger. Today, however, Matthew’s concern seemed even more focused and acute.
It’s not just Diana’s hair that has changed. Philippe’s face had a look of wonder. Diana is with child—Matthew’s child.
Emily examined her niece more carefully, using the enhanced grasp of truth that death afforded. Philippe was right—in part. You mean “with children.” Diana is having twins.
Twins, Philippe said in an awed voice. He looked away, distracted by the appearance of his wife. Look, here are Ysabeau and Sarah with Sophie and Margaret.
What will happen now, Philippe? Emily asked, her heart growing heavier with anticipation.
Endings. Beginnings, Philippe said with deliberate vagueness. Change.
Diana has never liked change, Emily said.
That is because Diana is afraid of what she must become, Philippe replied.
Marcus Whitmore had faced horrors aplenty since the night in 1781 when Matthew de Clermont made him a vampire. None had prepared him for today’s ordeal: telling Diana Bishop that her beloved aunt, Emily Mather, was dead.
Marcus had received the phone call from Ysabeau while he and Nathaniel Wilson were watching the television news in the family library. Sophie, Nathaniel’s wife, and their baby, Margaret, were dozing on a nearby sofa.
“The temple,” Ysabeau had said breathlessly, her tone frantic. “Come. At once.”
Marcus had obeyed his grandmother without question, only taking time to shout for his cousin, Gallowglass, and his Aunt Verin on his way out the door.
The summer half-light of evening had lightened further as he approached the clearing at the top of the mountain, brightened by the otherworldly power that Marcus glimpsed through the trees. His hair stood at attention at the magic in the air.
Then he scented the presence of a vampire, Gerbert of Aurillac. And someone else—a witch.
A light, purposeful step sounded down the stone corridor, drawing Marcus out of the past and back into the present. The heavy door opened, creaking as it always did.
“Hello, sweetheart.” Marcus turned from the view of the Auvergne countryside and drew a deep breath. Phoebe Taylor’s scent reminded him of the thicket of lilac bushes that had grown outside the red-painted door of his family’s farm. Delicate and resolute, the fragrance had symbolized the hope of spring after a long Massachusetts winter and conjured up his long-dead mother’s understanding smile. Now it only made Marcus think of the petite, iron-willed woman before him.
“Everything will be all right.” Phoebe reached up and straightened his collar, her olive eyes full of concern. Marcus had taken to wearing more formal clothes than concert T-shirts around the same time he’d started to sign his letters Marcus de Clermont instead of Marcus Whitmore—the name she’d first known him by, before he had told her about vampires, fifteen-hundred-year-old fathers, French castles full of forbidding relatives, and a witch named Diana Bishop. It was, in Marcus’s opinion, nothing short of miraculous that Phoebe had remained at his side.
“No. It won’t.” He caught one of her hands and planted a kiss on the palm. Phoebe didn’t know Matthew. “Stay here with Nathaniel and the rest of them. Please.”
“For the final time, Marcus Whitmore, I will be standing beside you when you greet your father and his wife. I don’t believe we need discuss it further.” Phoebe held out her hand. “Shall we?”
Marcus put his hand in Phoebe’s, but instead of following her out the door as she expected, he tugged her toward him. Phoebe came to rest against his chest, one hand clasped in his and the other pressed to his heart. She looked at him with surprise.
“Very well. But if you come down with me, Phoebe, there are conditions. First, you are with me or with Ysabeau at all times.”
Phoebe opened her mouth to protest, but Marcus’s serious look silenced her.
“Second, if I tell you to leave the room, you will do so. No delay. No questions. Go straight to Fernando. He’ll be in the chapel or the kitchen.” Marcus searched her face and saw a wary acceptance. “Third, do not, under any circumstances, get within arm’s reach of my father. Agreed?”
Phoebe nodded. Like any good diplomat, she was prepared to follow Marcus’s rules—for now. But if Marcus’s father was the monster some in the house seemed to think he was, Phoebe would do what she must.
Fernando Gonçalves poured beaten eggs into the hot skillet, blanketing the browned potatoes already in the pan. His tortilla españolawas one of the few dishes Sarah Bishop would eat, and today of all days the widow needed sustenance.
Gallowglass sat at the kitchen table, picking drops of wax out of a crack in the ancient boards. With his collar-length blond hair and muscular build, he looked like a morose bear. Tattoos snaked around his forearms and biceps in bright swirls of color. Their subject matter revealed whatever was on Gallowglass’s mind at the moment, for a tattoo lasted only a few months on a vampire. Right now he seemed to be thinking about his roots, for his arms were covered with Celtic knotwork, runes, and fabulous beasts drawn from Norse and Gaelic myths and legends.
“Stop worrying.” Fernando’s voice was as warm and cultured as sherry aged in oak barrels.
Gallowglass looked up for a moment, then returned his attention to the wax.
“No one will prevent Matthew from doing what he must, Gallowglass. Avenging Emily’s death is a matter of honor.” Fernando turned off the heat and joined Gallowglass at the table, bare feet moving silently across the flagstone floors. As he walked, he rolled down the sleeves of his white shirt. It was pristine, in spite of the hours he’d spent in the kitchen that day. He tucked the shirt into the waistband of his jeans and ran his fingers through his dark, wavy hair.
“Marcus is going to try to take the blame, you know,” Gallowglass said. “But Emily’s death wasn’t the boy’s fault.”
The scene on the mountain had been oddly peaceful, considering the circumstances. Gallowglass had arrived at the temple a few moments after Marcus. There had been nothing but silence and the sight of Emily Mather kneeling inside a circle marked out with pale rocks. The witch Peter Knox had been with her, his hands on her head and a look of anticipation—even hunger—on his face. Gerbert of Aurillac, the de Clermonts’ nearest vampire neighbor, was looking on with interest.
“Emily!” Sarah’s anguished cry had torn through the silence with such force that even Gerbert stepped back.
Startled, Knox released Emily. She crumpled to the ground, unconscious. Sarah beat the other witch back with a single, powerful spell that sent Knox flying across the clearing.
“No, Marcus didn’t kill her,” Fernando said, drawing Gallowglass’s attention. “But his negligence—”
“Inexperience,” Gallowglass interjected.
“Negligence,” Fernando repeated, “did play a role in the tragedy. Marcus knows that and accepts responsibility for it.”
“Marcus didn’t ask to be in charge,” Gallowglass grumbled.
“No. I nominated him for the position, and Matthew agreed it was the right decision.” Fernando pressed Gallowglass’s shoulder briefly and returned to the stove.
“Is that why you came? Because you felt guilty about refusing to lead the brotherhood when Matthew asked for your help?” No one had been more surprised than Gallowglass when Fernando turned up at Sept-Tours. Fernando had avoided the place ever since Gallowglass’s father, Hugh de Clermont, died in the fourteenth century.
“I am here because Matthew was there for me after the French king executed Hugh. I was alone in all the world then, except for my grief.” Fernando’s tone was harsh. “And I refused to lead the Knights of Lazarus because I am not a de Clermont.”
“You were Father’s mate!” Gallowglass protested. “You are as much a de Clermont as Ysabeau or her children!”
Fernando carefully shut the oven door. “I am Hugh’s mate,” he said, his back still turned. “Your father will never be past tense to me.”
“Sorry, Fernando,” Gallowglass said, stricken. Though Hugh had been dead for nearly seven centuries, Fernando had never recovered from the loss. Gallowglass doubted he ever would.
“As for my being a de Clermont,” Fernando continued, still staring at the wall over the stove, “Philippe disagreed.”
Gallowglass resumed his nervous picking at the wax. Fernando poured two glasses of red wine and carried them to the table.
“Here,” he said, thrusting one at Gallowglass. “You’ll need your strength today, too.”
Marthe bustled into the kitchen. Ysabeau’s housekeeper ruled over this part of the château and was not pleased to see intruders in it. After giving Fernando and Gallowglass sour looks, she sniffed and wrested the oven door open.
“That is my best pan!” she said accusingly.
“I know. That’s why I’m using it,” Fernando replied, taking a sip of wine.
“You do not belong in the kitchen, DomFernando. Go upstairs. Take Gallowglass with you.” Marthe took a packet of tea and a teapot from the shelf by the sink. Then she noticed the towel-wrapped pot sitting on a tray next to cups, saucers, milk, and sugar. Her frown deepened.
“What is wrong with my being here?” Fernando demanded.
“You are not a servant,” Marthe said. She picked the lid off the top of the pot and sniffed suspiciously at its contents.
“It’s Diana’s favorite. You told me what she liked, remember?” Fernando smiled sadly. “And everyone in this house serves the de Clermonts, Marthe. The only difference is that you, Alain, and Victoire are paid handsomely to do so. The rest of us are expected to be grateful for the privilege.”
“With good reason. Other manjasang dream of being part of this family. See that you remember that in future—and the lemon, Dom Fernando,” Marthe said, placing emphasis on his lordly title. She picked up the tea tray. “By the way, your eggs are burning.”
Fernando leaped up to rescue them.
“As for you,” Marthe said, fixing her black eyes on Gallowglass, “you did not tell us everything you should have about Matthew and his wife.”
Gallowglass looked down into his wine with a guilty expression.
“Madame your grandmother will deal with you later.” On that bone-chilling note, Marthe stalked out of the room.
“What have you done now?” asked Fernando, putting his tortilla—which was not ruined, Alhamdulillah—on the stove. Long experience had taught him that whatever the mess, Gallowglass had made it with good intentions and complete disregard for possible disaster.
“Weeell,” Gallowglass said, drawing out the vowels as only a Scot could, “I might have left one or two things out of the tale.”
“Like what?” Fernando said, catching a whiff of catastrophe among the kitchen’s homely scents.
“Like the fact that Auntie is pregnant—and by none other than Matthew. And the fact that Granddad adopted her as a daughter. Lord, his blood vow was deafening.” Gallowglass looked reflective. “Do you think we’ll still be able to hear it?”
Fernando stood, openmouthed and silent.
“Don’t look at me that way. It didn’t seem right to share the news about the babe. Women can be funny about such things. And Philippe told Auntie Verin about the blood vow before he died in 1945, and she never said a word either!” Gallowglass said defensively.
A concussion tore the air, as if a silent bomb had been detonated. Something green and fiery streaked past the kitchen window.
“What the hell was that?” Fernando flung the door open and shielded his eyes against the bright sunlight.
“One pissed-off witch, I imagine.” Gallowglass’s tone was glum. “Sarah must have told Diana and Matthew the news about Emily.”
“Not the explosion. That!” Fernando pointed to Saint-Lucien’s bell tower, which was being circled by a winged, two-legged, fire-breathing creature. Gallowglass rose for a better look.
“That’s Corra. She goes where Auntie goes,” Gallowglass said matter-of-factly.
“But that’s a dragon.” Fernando turned wild eyes on his stepson.
“Bah! That’s no dragon. Can’t you see she’s only got two legs? Corra is a firedrake.” Gallowglass twisted his arm to show off a tattoo of a winged creature that strongly resembled the airborne beast. “Like this. I might have left out one or two details, but I did warn everybody that Auntie Diana wasn’t going to be the same witch she was before.”
“It’s true, honey. Em is dead.” The stress of telling Diana and Matthew was clearly too much for her. Sarah could have sworn that she saw a dragon. Fernando was right. She needed to cut back on the whiskey.
“I don’t believe you.” Diana’s voice was high and sharp with panic. She searched Ysabeau’s grand salon as though she expected to find Emily hiding behind one of the ornate settees.
“Emily’s not here, Diana.” Matthew’s hushed voice was infused with regret and tenderness as he stepped before her. “She’s gone.”
“No.” Diana tried to push past him and continue her search, but Matthew drew her into his arms.
“I’m so sorry, Sarah,” Matthew said, holding Diana tight to his body.
“Don’t say you’re sorry!” Diana cried, struggling to free herself from the vampire’s unbreakable hold. She pounded on Matthew’s shoulder with her fist. “Em isn’t dead! This is a nightmare. Wake me up, Matthew—please! I want to wake up and find we’re still in 1591.”
“This isn’t a nightmare,” Sarah said. The long weeks had convinced her that Em’s death was horribly real.
“Then I took a wrong turn—or tied a bad knot in the timewalking spell. This can’t be where we were supposed to end up!” Diana was shaking from head to toe with grief and shock. “Em promised she would never leave without saying good-bye.”
“Em didn’t have time to say good-bye—to anyone. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t love you.” Sarah reminded herself of this a hundred times a day.
“Diana should sit,” Marcus said, pulling a chair closer to Sarah. In many ways Matthew’s son looked like the same twenty-something surfer who had walked into the Bishop house last October. His leather cord, with its strange assortment of objects gathered over the centuries, was still tangled in the blond hair at the nape of his neck. The Converse sneakers he loved remained on his feet. The guarded, sad look in his eyes was new, however.
Sarah was grateful for the presence of Marcus and Ysabeau, but the person she really wanted at her side at this moment was Fernando. He’d been her rock during this ordeal.
“Thank you, Marcus,” Matthew said, settling Diana in the seat. Phoebe tried to press a glass of water into Diana’s hand. When Diana just stared at it blankly, Matthew took it and placed it on a nearby table.
All eyes alighted on Sarah.
Sarah was no good at this kind of thing. Diana was the historian in the family. She would know where to start and how to string the confusing events into a coherent story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and perhaps even a plausible explanation of why Emily had died.
“There’s no easy way to tell you this,” Diana’s aunt began.
“You don’t have to tell us anything,” Matthew said, his eyes filled with compassion and sympathy. “The explanations can wait.”
“No. You both need to know.” Sarah reached for the glass of whiskey that usually sat at her side, but there was nothing there. She looked to Marcus in mute appeal.
“Emily died up at the old temple,” Marcus said, taking up the role of storyteller.
“The temple dedicated to the goddess?” Diana whispered, her brow creasing with the effort to concentrate.
“Yes,” Sarah croaked, coughing to dislodge the lump in her throat. “Emily was spending more and more time up there.”
“Was she alone?” Matthew’s expression was no longer warm and understanding, and his tone was frosty.
Silence descended again, this one heavy and awkward.
“Emily wouldn’t let anyone go with her,” Sarah said, steeling herself to be honest. Diana was a witch, too, and would know if she strayed from the truth. “Marcus tried to convince her to take someone with her, but Emily refused.”
“Why did she want to be alone?” Diana said, picking up on Sarah’s own uneasiness. “What was going on, Sarah?”
“Since January, Em had been turning to the higher magics for guidance.” Sarah looked away from Diana’s shocked face. “She was having terrible premonitions of death and disaster and thought they might help her figure out why.”
“But Em always said higher magics were too dark for witches to handle safely,” Diana said, her voice rising again. “She said any witch who thought she was immune to their dangers would find out the hard way just how powerful they were.”
“She spoke from experience,” Sarah said. “They can be addictive. Emily didn’t want you to know she’d felt their lure, honey. She hadn’t touched a scrying stone or tried to summon a spirit for decades.”
“Summon spirits?” Matthew’s eyes narrowed into slits. With his dark beard, he looked truly terrifying.
“I think she was trying to reach Rebecca. If I’d realized how far she’d gone in her attempts, I would have tried harder to stop her.” Sarah’s eyes brimmed with tears. “Peter Knox must have sensed the power Emily was working with, and the higher magics have always fascinated him. Once he found her—”
“Knox?” Matthew spoke softly, but the hairs on the back of Sarah’s neck rose in warning.
“When we found Em, Knox and Gerbert were there, too,” Marcus explained, looking miserable at the admission. “She’d suffered a heart attack. Emily must have been under enormous stress trying to resist whatever Knox was doing. She was barely conscious. I tried to revive her. So did Sarah. But there was nothing either of us could do.”
“Why were Gerbert and Knox here? And what in the world did Knox hope to gain from killing Em?” Diana cried.
“I don’t think Knox was trying to kill her, honey,” Sarah replied. “Knox was reading Emily’s thoughts, or trying his best to. Her last words were, ‘I know the secret of Ashmole 782, and you will never possess it.’”
“Ashmole 782?” Diana looked stunned. “Are you sure?”
“Positive.” Sarah wished her niece had never found that damned manuscript in the Bodleian Library. It was the cause of most of their present problems.
“Knox insisted that the de Clermonts had missing pages from Diana’s manuscript and knew its secrets,” Ysabeau chimed in. “Verin and I told Knox he was mistaken, but the only thing that distracted him from the subject was the baby. Margaret.”
“Nathaniel and Sophie followed us to the temple. Margaret was with them,” Marcus explained in answer to Matthew’s astonished stare. “Before Emily fell unconscious, Knox saw Margaret and demanded to know how two daemons had given birth to a baby witch. Knox invoked the covenant. He threatened to take Margaret to the Congregation pending investigation into what he called ‘serious breaches’ of law. While we were trying to revive Emily and get the baby to safety, Gerbert and Knox slipped away.”
Until recently Sarah had always seen the Congregation and the covenant as necessary evils. It was not easy for the three otherworldly species—daemons, vampires, and witches—to live among humans. All had been targets of human fear and violence at some point in history, and creatures had long ago agreed to a covenant to minimize the risk of their world’s coming to human attention. It limited fraternization between species as well as any participation in human religion or politics. The nine-member Congregation enforced the covenant and made sure that creatures abided by its terms. Now that Diana and Matthew were home, the Congregation could go to hell and take their covenant with them as far as Sarah was concerned.
Diana’s head swung around, and a look of disbelief passed over her face.
“Gallowglass?” she breathed as the salon filled with the scent of the sea.
“Welcome home, Auntie.” Gallowglass stepped forward, his golden beard gleaming where the sunlight struck it. Diana stared at him in astonishment before a sob broke free.
“There, there.” Gallowglass lifted her into a bear hug. “It’s been some time since the sight of me brought a woman to tears. Besides, it really should be me weeping at our reunion. As far as you’re concerned, it’s been only a few days since we spoke. By my reckoning it’s been centuries.”
Something numinous flickered around the edges of Diana’s body, like a candle slowly catching light. Sarah blinked. She really was going to have to lay off the booze.
Matthew and his nephew exchanged glances. Matthew’s expression grew even more concerned as Diana’s tears increased and the glow surrounding her intensified.
“Let Matthew take you upstairs.” Gallowglass reached into a pocket and pulled out a crumpled yellow bandanna. He offered this to Diana, carefully shielding her from view.
“Is she all right?” Sarah asked.
“Just a wee bit tired,” Gallowglass said as he and Matthew hustled Diana off toward Matthew’s remote tower rooms.
Once Diana and Matthew were gone, Sarah’s fragile composure cracked, and she began to weep. Reliving the events of Em’s death was a daily occurrence, but having to do so with Diana was even more painful. Fernando appeared, his expression concerned.
“It’s all right, Sarah. Let it out,” Fernando murmured, drawing her close.
“Where were you when I needed you?” Sarah demanded as her weeping turned to sobs.
“I’m here now,” Fernando said, rocking her gently. “And Diana and Matthew are safely home.”
“I can’t stop shaking.” Diana’s teeth were chattering, and her limbs were jerking as if pulled by invisible strings. Gallowglass pressed his lips together, standing back while Matthew wrapped a blanket tight around his wife.
“That’s the shock, mon coeur,” Matthew murmured, pressing a kiss to her cheek. It wasn’t just the death of Emily but the memories of the earlier, traumatic loss of her parents that were causing her distress. He rubbed her arms, the blanket moving against her flesh. “Can you get some wine, Gallowglass?”
“I shouldn’t. The babies . . .” Diana began. Her expression turned wild and her tears returned. “They’ll never know Em. Our children will grow up not knowing Em.”
“Here.” Gallowglass thrust a silver flask in Matthew’s direction. His uncle looked at him gratefully.
“Even better,” Matthew said, pulling the stopper free. “Just a sip, Diana. It won’t hurt the twins, and it will help calm you. I’ll have Marthe bring up some black tea with plenty of sugar.”
“I’m going to kill Peter Knox,” Diana said fiercely after she’d taken a sip of whiskey. The light around her grew brighter.
“Not today you’re not,” Matthew said firmly, handing the flask back to Gallowglass.
“Has Auntie’s glaem been this bright since you returned?” Gallowglass hadn’t seen Diana Bishop since 1591, but he didn’t recall it being this noticeable.
“Yes. She’s been wearing a disguising spell. The shock must have knocked it out of place,” Matthew said, lowering her onto the sofa. “Diana wanted Emily and Sarah to enjoy the fact that they were going to be grandmothers before they started asking questions about her increased power.”
Gallowglass bit back an oath.
“Better?” Matthew asked, drawing Diana’s fingers to his lips.
Diana nodded. Her teeth were still chattering, Gallowglass noted. It made him ache to think about the effort it must be taking for her to control herself.
“I am so sorry about Emily,” Matthew said, cupping her face between his hands.
“Is it our fault? Did we stay in the past too long, like Dad said?” Diana spoke so softly it was hard for even Gallowglass to hear.
“Of course not,” Gallowglass replied, his voice brusque. “Peter Knox did this. Nobody else is to blame.”
“Let’s not worry about who’s to blame,” Matthew said, but his eyes were angry.
Gallowglass gave him a nod of understanding. Matthew would have plenty to say about Knox and Gerbert—later. Right now he was concerned with his wife.
“Emily would want you to focus on taking care of yourself and Sarah. That’s enough for now.” Matthew brushed back the coppery strands that were stuck to Diana’s cheeks by the salt from her tears.
“I should go back downstairs,” Diana said, drawing Gallowglass’s bright yellow bandanna to her eyes. “Sarah needs me.”
“Let’s stay up here a bit longer. Wait for Marthe to bring the tea,” Matthew said, sitting down next to her. Diana slumped against him, her breath hiccupping in and out as she tried to hold back the tears.
“I’ll leave you two,” Gallowglass said gruffly.
Matthew nodded in silent thanks.
“Thank you, Gallowglass,” Diana said, holding out the bandanna.
“Keep it,” he said, turning for the stairs.
“We’re alone. You don’t have to be strong now,” Matthew murmured to Diana as Gallowglass descended the twisting staircase.
Gallowglass left Matthew and Diana twined together in an unbreakable knot, their faces twisted with pain and sorrow, each giving the other the comfort they could not find for themselves.
I should never have summoned you here. I should have found another way to get my answers. Emily turned to face her closest friend. You should be with Stephen.
I’d rather be here with my daughter than anywhere else, Rebecca Bishop said. Stephen understands. She turned back to the sight of Diana and Matthew, still locked in their sorrowful embrace.
Do not fear. Matthew will take care of her, Philippe said. He was still trying to figure out Rebecca Bishop—she was an unusually challenging creature, and as skilled at keeping secrets as any vampire.
They’ll take care of each other, Rebecca said, her hand over her heart, just as I knew they would.
Matthew raced down the curving stone staircase that wound between his tower rooms at Sept-Tours and the main floor of the château. He avoided the slippery spot on the thirtieth tread and the rough patch on the seventeenth where Baldwin’s sword had bashed the edge during one of their arguments.
Matthew had built the tower addition as his private refuge, a place apart from the relentless busyness that always surrounded Philippe and Ysabeau. Vampire families were large and noisy, with two or more bloodlines coming uncomfortably together and trying to live as one happy pack. This seldom happened with predators, even those who walked on two legs and lived in fine houses. As a result, Matthew’s tower was designed primarily for defense. It had no doors to muffle a vampire’s stealthy approach and no way out except for the way you came in. His careful arrangements spoke volumes about his relationships with his brothers and sisters.
Tonight his tower’s isolation seemed confining, a far cry from the busy life he and Diana had created in Elizabethan London, surrounded by family and friends. Matthew’s job as a spy for the queen had been challenging but rewarding. From his former seat on the Congregation, he had managed to save a few witches from hanging. Diana had begun the lifelong process of growing into her powers as a witch. They’d even taken in two orphaned children and given them a chance at a better future. Their life in the sixteenth century had not always been easy, but their days had been filled with love and the sense of hope that followed Diana wherever she went. Here at Sept-Tours, they seemed surrounded on all sides by death and de Clermonts.
The combination made Matthew restless, and the anger he kept so carefully in check whenever Diana was near him was dangerously close to the surface. Blood rage—the sickness that Matthew had inherited from Ysabeau when she’d made him—could take over a vampire’s mind and body quickly, leaving no room for reason or control. In an effort to keep the blood rage in check, Matthew had reluctantly agreed to leave Diana in Ysabeau’s care while he walked around the castle grounds with his dogs, Fallon and Hector, trying to clear his head.
Gallowglass was crooning a sea chantey in the château’s great hall. For reasons Matthew couldn’t fathom, every other verse was punctuated by expletives and ultimatums. After a moment of indecision, Matthew’s curiosity won out.
“Fucking firedrake.” Gallowglass had one of the pikes down from the cache of weapons by the entrance and was waving it slowly in the air. “‘Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain.’ Get your arse down here, or Granny will poach you in white wine and feed you to the dogs. ‘For we’ve received orders for to sail for old England.’ What are you thinking, flying around the house like a demented parakeet?‘And we may never see you fair ladies again.’”
“What the hell are you doing?” Matthew demanded.
Gallowglass turned wide blue eyes on Matthew. The younger man was wearing a black T-shirt adorned with a skull and crossbones. Something had slashed the back, rending it from left shoulder to right hip. The holes in his nephew’s jeans looked to be the result of wear, not war, and his hair was shaggy even by Gallowglassian standards. Ysabeau had taken to calling him “Sir Vagabond,” but this had done little to improve his grooming.
“Trying to catch your wife’s wee beastie.” Gallowglass made a sudden upward thrust with the pike. There was a shriek of surprise, followed by a hail of pale green scales that shattered like isinglass when they hit the floor. The blond hair on Gallowglass’s forearms shimmered with their iridescent green dust. He sneezed.
Corra, Diana’s familiar, was clinging to the minstrels’ gallery with her talons, chattering madly and clacking her tongue. She waved hello to Matthew with her barbed tail, piercing a priceless tapestry depicting a unicorn in a garden. Matthew winced.
“I had her cornered in the chapel, up by the altar, but Corra is a cunning lass,” Gallowglass said with a touch of pride. “She was hiding atop Granddad’s tomb, her wings spread wide. I mistook her for an effigy. Now look at her. Up in the rafters, vainglorious as the devil and twice as much trouble. Why, she’s put her tail through one of Ysabeau’s favorite draperies. Granny is going to have a stroke.”
“If Corra is anything like her mistress, cornering her won’t end well,” Matthew said mildly. “Try reasoning with her instead.”
“Oh, aye. That works very well with Auntie Diana.” Gallowglass sniffed. “Whatever possessed you to let Corra out of your sight?”
“The more active the firedrake is, the calmer Diana seems,” Matthew said.
“Perhaps, but Corra is hell on the decor. She broke one of Granny’s Sèvres vases this afternoon.”
“So long as it wasn’t one of the blue ones with the lion heads that Philippe gave her, I shouldn’t worry.” Matthew groaned when he saw Gallowglass’s expression. “Merde.”
“That was Alain’s response, too.” Gallowglass leaned on his pike.
“Ysabeau will have to make do with one less piece of pottery,” Matthew said. “Corra may be a nuisance, but Diana is sleeping soundly for the first time since we came home.”
“Oh, well, that’s all right, then. Just tell Ysabeau that Corra’s clumsiness is good for the grandbabies. Granny will hand over her vases as sacrificial offerings. Meanwhile I’ll try to keep the flying termagant entertained so Auntie can sleep.”
“How are you going to do that?” Matthew asked with skepticism.
“Sing to her, of course.” Gallowglass looked up. Corra cooed at his renewed attention, stretching her wings a bit farther so that they caught the light from the torches stuck into brackets along the walls. Taking this as an encouraging sign, Gallowglass drew a deep breath and began another booming ballad.
“‘My head turns round, I’m in a flame, / I love like any dragon. / Say would you know my mistress’s name?’”
Corra clacked her teeth in approval. Gallowglass grinned and began to move the pike like a metronome. He waggled his eyebrows at Matthew before singing his next lines.
“‘I sent her trinkets without end,
Gems, pearls, to make her civil,
Till having nothing more to send,
I sent her—to the devil.’”
“Good luck,” Matthew murmured, sincerely hoping that Corra didn’t understand the lyrics.
Matthew scanned the nearby rooms, cataloging their occupants. Hamish was in the family library doing paperwork, based on the sound of pen scratching against paper and the faint scent of lavender and peppermint he detected. Matthew hesitated for a moment, then pushed the door open.
“Time for an old friend?” he asked.
“I was beginning to think you were avoiding me.” Hamish Osborne put down his pen and loosened his tie, which was covered in a summery floral print most men wouldn’t have had the courage to wear. Even in the French countryside, Hamish was dressed as if for a meeting with members of Parliament in a navy pin-striped suit with a lavender shirt. It made him look like a dapper throwback to Edwardian days.
Matthew knew that the daemon was trying to provoke an argument. He and Hamish had been friends for decades, ever since the two of them were at Oxford. Their friendship was based on mutual respect and had been kept strong because of their compatible, razor-sharp intellects. Between Hamish and Matthew, even simple exchanges could be as complicated and strategic as a chess game between two masters. But it was too soon in their conversation to let Hamish put him at a disadvantage.
“How is Diana?” Hamish had noted Matthew’s deliberate refusal to take the bait.
“As well as can be expected.”
“I would have asked her myself, of course, but your nephew told me to go away.” Hamish picked up a wineglass and took a sip. “Wine?”
“Did it come from my cellar or Baldwin’s?” Matthew’s seemingly innocuous question served as a subtle reminder that now that he and Diana were back, Hamish might have to choose between Matthew and the rest of the de Clermonts.
“It’s claret.” Hamish swirled the contents in the glass while he waited for Matthew’s reaction. “Expensive. Old. Fine.”
Matthew’s lip curled. “Thank you, no. I’ve never had the same fondness for the stuff as most of my family.” He’d rather fill the fountains in the garden with Baldwin’s store of precious Bordeaux than drink it.
“What’s the story with the dragon?” A muscle in Hamish’s jaws twitched, whether from amusement or anger, Matthew couldn’t tell. “Gallowglass says Diana brought it back as a souvenir, but nobody believes him.”
“She belongs to Diana,” Matthew said. “You’ll have to ask her.”
“You’ve got everybody at Sept-Tours quaking in their boots, you know.” With this abrupt change of topic, Hamish approached. “The rest of them haven’t realized yet that the most terrified person in the château is you.”
“And how is William?” Matthew could make a dizzying change in subject as effectively as any daemon.
“Sweet William has planted his affections elsewhere.” Hamish’s mouth twisted, and he turned away, his obvious distress bringing their game to an unexpected close.
“I’m so sorry, Hamish.” Matthew had thought the relationship would last. “William loved you.”
“Not enough.” Hamish shrugged but couldn’t hide the pain in his eyes. “You’ll have to pin your romantic hopes on Marcus and Phoebe, I’m afraid.”
“I’ve barely spoken to the girl,” Matthew said. He sighed and poured himself a glass of Baldwin’s claret. “What can you tell me about her?”
“Young Miss Taylor works at one of the auction houses in London—Sotheby’s or Christie’s. I never can keep them straight,” Hamish said, sinking into a leather armchair in front of the cold fireplace. “Marcus met her when he was picking up something for Ysabeau. I think it’s serious.”
“It is.” Matthew took his wine and prowled along the bookshelves that lined the walls. “Marcus’s scent is all over her. He’s mated.”
“I suspected as much.” Hamish sipped and watched his friend’s restless movements. “Nobody has said anything, of course. Your family really could teach MI6 a thing or two about secrets.”
“Ysabeau should have stopped it. Phoebe is too young for a relationship with a vampire,” Matthew said. “She can’t be more than twenty-two, yet Marcus has entangled her in an irrevocable bond.”
“Oh, yes, forbidding Marcus to fall in love would have gone down a treat,” Hamish said, his Scots burr increasing with his amusement. “Marcus is just as pigheaded as you are when it comes to love, it turns out.”
“Maybe if he’d been thinking about his job as the leader of the Knights of Lazarus—”
“Stop right there, Matt, before you say something so unfair I might never forgive you for it.” Hamish’s voice lashed at him. “You know how difficult it is to be the brotherhood’s grand master. Marcus was expected to fill some pretty big shoes—and vampire or not, he isn’t much older than Phoebe.”
The Knights of Lazarus had been founded during the Crusades, a chivalric order established to protect vampire interests in a world that was increasingly dominated by humans. Philippe de Clermont, Ysabeau’s mate, had been the first grand master. But he was a legendary figure, not just among vampires but among other creatures as well. It was an impossible task for any man to live up to the standard he’d set.
“I know, but to fall in love—” Matthew protested, his anger mounting.
“Marcus has done a brilliant job, no buts about it,” Hamish interrupted. “He’s recruited new members and overseen every financial detail of our operations. He demanded that the Congregation punish Knox for his actions here in May and has formally requested the covenant be revoked. Nobody could have done more. Not even you.”
“Punishing Knox doesn’t begin to address what happened. He and Gerbert violated my home. Knox murdered a woman who was like a mother to my wife.” Matthew gulped down his wine in an effort to drown his anger.
“Emily had a heart attack,” Hamish cautioned. “Marcus said there’s no way to know the cause.”
“I know enough,” Matthew said with sudden fury, hurling his empty glass across the room. It smashed against the edge of one of the bookshelves, sending shards of glass into the thick carpet. Hamish’s eyes widened. “Our children will never have the chance to know Emily now. And Gerbert, who’s been on intimate terms with this family for centuries, stood by and watched Knox do it, knowing that Diana was my mate.”
“Everyone in the house said you wouldn’t let Congregation justice take its course. I didn’t believe them.” Hamish didn’t like the changes he was seeing in his friend. It was as though being in the sixteenth century had ripped the scab off some old, forgotten wound.
“I should have dealt with Gerbert and Knox after they helped Satu Järvinen kidnap Diana and held her at La Pierre. If I had, Emily would still be alive.” Matthew’s shoulders stiffened with remorse. “But Baldwin forbade it. He said the Congregation had enough trouble on its hands.”
“You mean the vampire murders?” Hamish asked.
“Yes. He said if I challenged Gerbert and Knox, I would only make matters worse.” News of these murders—with the severed arteries, the absence of blood evidence, the almost animalistic attacks on human bodies—had been in newspapers from London to Moscow. Every story had focused on the murderer’s strange method of killing and had threatened to expose vampires to human notice.
“I won’t make the mistake of remaining silent again,” Matthew continued. “The Knights of Lazarus and the de Clermonts might not be able to protect my wife and her family, but I certainly can.”
“You’re not a killer, Matt,” Hamish insisted. “Don’t let your anger blind you.”
When Matthew turned black eyes to him, Hamish blanched. Though he knew that Matthew was a few steps closer to the animal kingdom than most creatures who walked on two legs, Hamish had never seen him look quite so wolflike and dangerous.
“Are you sure, Hamish?” Matthew’s obsidian eyes blinked, and he turned and stalked from the room.
Following the distinctive licorice-root scent of Marcus Whitmore, mixed tonight with the heady aroma of lilacs, Matthew was easily able to track his son to the family apartments on the second floor of the château. His conscience pricked at the thought of what Marcus might have overheard during this heated exchange, given his son’s keen vampire hearing. Matthew pressed his lips together when his nose led him to a door just off the stairs, and he tamped down the flicker of anger that accompanied his realization that Marcus was using Philippe’s old office.
Matthew knocked and pushed at the heavy slab of wood without waiting for a response. With the exception of the shiny silver laptop on the desk where the blotter used to be, the room looked exactly as it had on the day Philippe de Clermont died in 1945. The same Bakelite telephone was on a table by the window. Stacks of thin envelopes and curling, yellowed paper stood at the ready for Philippe to write to one of his many correspondents. Tacked to the wall was an old map of Europe, which Philippe had used to track the positions of Hitler’s army.
Matthew closed his eyes against the sudden, sharp pain. What Philippe had not foreseen was that he would fall into the Nazis’ hands. One of the unexpected gifts of their timewalk had been the chance to see Philippe again and be reconciled with him. The price Matthew had to pay was the renewed sense of loss as he once more faced a world without Philippe de Clermont in it.
When Matthew’s eyes opened again, he was confronted with the furious face of Phoebe Taylor. It took only a fraction of a second for Marcus to angle his body between Matthew and the warmblooded woman. Matthew was gratified to see that his son hadn’t lost all his wits when he took a mate, though if Matthew had wanted to harm Phoebe, the girl would already be dead.
“Marcus.” Matthew briefly acknowledged his son before looking beyond him. Phoebe was not Marcus’s usual type at all. He had always preferred redheads. “There was no time for a proper introduction when we first met. I’m Matthew Clairmont. Marcus’s father.”
“I know who you are.” Phoebe’s proper British accent was the one common to public schools, country houses, and decaying aristocratic families. Marcus, the family’s democratic idealist, had fallen for a blueblood.
“Welcome to the family, Miss Taylor.” Matthew bowed to hide his smile.
“Phoebe, please.” Phoebe stepped around Marcus in a blink, her right hand extended. Matthew ignored it. “In most polite circles, Professor Clairmont, this is where you would take my hand and shake it.” Phoebe’s expression was more than a little annoyed, her hand still outstretched.
“You’re surrounded by vampires. Whatever made you think you would find civilization here?” Matthew studied her with unblinking eyes. Uncomfortable, Phoebe looked away. “You may think my greeting unnecessarily formal, Phoebe, but no vampire touches another’s mate—or even his betrothed—without permission.” He glanced down at the large emerald on the third finger of her left hand. Marcus had won the stone in a card game in Paris centuries ago. Then and now it was worth a small fortune.
“Oh. Marcus didn’t tell me that,” Phoebe said with a frown.
“No, but I did give you a few simple rules. Perhaps it’s time to review them,” Marcus murmured to his fiancée. “We’ll rehearse our wedding vows while we’re at it.”
“Why? You still won’t find the word ‘obey’ in them,” Phoebe said crisply.
Before the argument could get off the ground, Matthew coughed again.
“I came to apologize for my outburst in the library,” Matthew said. “I am too quick to anger at the moment. Forgive me for my temper.”
It was more than temper, but Marcus—like Hamish—didn’t know that.
“What outburst?” Phoebe frowned.
“It was nothing,” Marcus responded, though his expression suggested otherwise.
“I was also wondering if you would be willing to examine Diana? As you no doubt know, she is carrying twins. I believe she’s in the beginning of her second trimester, but we’ve been out of reach of proper medical care, and I’d like to be sure.” Matthew’s proffered olive branch, like Phoebe’s hand, remained in the air for several long moments before it was acknowledged.
“Of c-course,” Marcus stammered. “Thank you for trusting Diana to my care. I won’t let you down. And Hamish is right,” he added. “Even if I’d performed an autopsy on Emily—which Sarah didn’t want—there would have been no way to determine if she was killed by magic or by natural causes. We may never know.”
Matthew didn’t bother to argue. He would find out the precise role that Knox had played in Emily’s death, for the answer would determine how quickly Matthew killed him and how much the witch suffered first.
“Phoebe, it has been a pleasure,” Matthew said instead.
“Likewise.” The girl lied politely and convincingly. She would be a useful addition to the de Clermont pack.
“Come to Diana in the morning, Marcus. We’ll be expecting you.” With a final smile and another shallow bow to the fascinating Phoebe Taylor, Matthew left the room.
Matthew’s nocturnal prowl around Sept-Tours had not lessened his restlessness or his anger. If anything, the cracks in his control had widened. Frustrated, he took a route back to his rooms that passed by the château’s keep and the chapel. Memorials to most of the departed de Clermonts were there—Philippe; Louisa; her twin brother, Louis; Godfrey; Hugh—as well as some of their children and beloved friends and servants.
“Good morning, Matthew.” The scent of saffron and bitter orange filled the air.
Fernando. After a long pause, Matthew forced himself to turn.
Usually the chapel’s ancient wooden door was closed, as only Matthew spent time there. Tonight it stood open in welcome, and the figure of a man was silhouetted against the warm candlelight inside.
“I hoped I might see you.” Fernando swept his arm wide in invitation.
Fernando watched as his brother-in-law made his way toward him, searching his features for the warning signs that Matthew was in trouble: the enlargement of his pupils, the ripple in his shoulders reminiscent of a wolf’s hackles, a roughness deep in his throat.
“Do I pass inspection?” Matthew asked, unable to keep the defensive note from his tone.
“You’ll do.” Fernando closed the door firmly behind them. “Barely.”
Matthew ran his fingers lightly along Philippe’s massive sarcophagus in the center of the chapel and moved restlessly around the chamber while Fernando’s deep brown eyes followed him.
“Congratulations on your marriage, Matthew,” Fernando said. “Though I haven’t met Diana yet, Sarah has told me so many stories about her that I feel we are very old friends.”
“I’m sorry, Fernando, it’s just—” Matthew began, his expression guilty.
Fernando stopped him with a raised hand. “There is no need for apology.”
“Thank you for taking care of Diana’s aunt,” Matthew said. “I know how difficult it is for you to be here.”
“The widow needed somebody to think of her pain first. Just as you did for me when Hugh died,” Fernando said simply.
At Sept-Tours everybody from Gallowglass and the gardener to Victoire and Ysabeau referred to Sarah by her status relative to Emily rather than by her name, when she was not in the room. It was a title of respect as well as a constant reminder of Sarah’s loss.
“I must ask you, Matthew: Does Diana know about your blood rage?” Fernando kept his voice low. The chapel walls were thick, and not much sound escaped, but it was wise to take precautions.
“Of course she knows.” Matthew dropped to his knees in front of a small pile of armor and weapons arranged in one of the chapel’s carved niches. The space was big enough to hold a coffin, but Hugh de Clermont had been burned at the stake, leaving no body to bury. Matthew had created a memorial to his favorite brother out of painted wood and metal instead: his shield, his gauntlets, his mail hauberk and coat of plates, his sword, his helm.
“Forgive me for insulting you with the suggestion that you would keep something so important from one you love.” Fernando boxed him on the ear. “I’m glad you told your wife, but you deserve a whipping for not telling Marcus or Hamish—or Sarah.”
“You’re welcome to try.” Matthew’s response carried a threat that would drive off any other member of his family—but not Fernando.
“You’d like a straightforward punishment, wouldn’t you? But you aren’t getting off so easy. Not this time.” Fernando knelt beside him.
There was a long silence while Fernando waited for Matthew to lower his guard.
“The blood rage. It’s gotten worse.” Matthew hung his head over his clasped hands in an attitude of prayer.
“Of course it has. You’re mated now. What did you expect?”
The chemical and emotional responses that accompanied mating were intense, and even perfectly healthy vampires found it difficult to let their mates out of their sight. On those occasions when being together was impossible, it led to irritation, aggression, anxiety, and, in rare cases, madness. For a vampire with blood rage, both the mating impulse and the effects of separation were heightened.
“I expected to handle it.” Matthew’s forehead lowered until it was resting on his fingers. “I believed that the love I felt for Diana was stronger than the disease.”
“Oh, Matthew. You can be more idealistic than Hugh on even his sunniest days.” Fernando sighed and put a comforting hand on Matthew’s shoulder.
Fernando always lent comfort and assistance to those who needed it—even when they didn’t deserve it. He had sent Matthew to study with the surgeon Albucasis, back when he was trying to overcome the deadly rampages that marked his first centuries as a vampire. It was Fernando who kept Hugh—the brother whom Matthew had worshipped—safe from harm as he made his way from battlefield to book and back to the battlefield again. Without Fernando’s care Hugh would have shown up to fight with nothing but a volume of poetry, a dull sword, and one gauntlet. And it was Fernando who told Philippe that ordering Matthew back to Jerusalem would be a terrible mistake. Unfortunately, neither Philippe nor Matthew had listened to him.
“I had to force myself to leave her side tonight.” Matthew’s eyes darted around the chapel. “I can’t sit still, I want to kill something—badly—and even so it was almost impossible for me to venture beyond the sound of her breathing.”
Fernando listened in silent sympathy, though he wondered why Matthew sounded surprised. Fernando had to remind himself that newly mated vampires often underestimated how strongly the bond could affect them.
“Right now Diana wants to stay close to Sarah and me. But when the grief over Emily’s death has subsided, she’s going to want to resume her own life,” Matthew said, clearly worried.
“Well, she can’t. Not with you standing by her elbow.” Fernando never minced words with Matthew. Idealists like him needed plain speech or they lost their way. “If Diana loves you, she’ll adapt.”
“She won’t have to adapt,” Matthew said through gritted teeth. “I won’t take her freedom—no matter what it costs me. I wasn’t with Diana at every moment in the sixteenth century. There’s no reason for that to change in the twenty-first.”
“You managed your feelings in the past because whenever you weren’t at her side, Gallowglass was. Oh, he told me all about your life in London and Prague,” Fernando said when Matthew turned a startled face his way. “And if not Gallowglass, Diana was with someone else: Philippe, Davy, another witch, Mary, Henry. Do you honestly think that mobile phones are going to give you a comparable sense of connection and control?”
Matthew still looked angry, the blood rage just beneath the surface, but he looked miserable, too. Fernando thought it was a step in the right direction.
“Ysabeau should have stopped you from getting involved with Diana Bishop as soon as it was clear you were feeling a mating bond,” Fernando said sternly. Had Matthew been his child, Fernando would have locked him in a steel tower to prevent it.
“She did stop me.” Matthew’s expression grew even more miserable. “I wasn’t fully mated to Diana until we came to Sept-Tours in 1590. Philippe gave us his blessing.”
Fernando’s mouth filled with bitterness. “That man’s arrogance knew no bounds. No doubt he planned to fix everything when you returned to the present.”
“Philippe knew he wouldn’t be here,” Matthew confessed. Fernando’s eyes widened. “I didn’t tell him about his death. Philippe figured it out for himself.”
Fernando swore a blistering oath. He was sure that Matthew’s god would forgive the blasphemy, since it was so richly deserved in this case.
“And did your mating with Diana take place before or after Philippe marked her with his blood vow?” Even after the timewalking, Philippe’s blood vow was audible and, according to Verin de Clermont and Gallowglass, still deafening. Happily, Fernando was not a full-blooded de Clermont, so Philippe’s bloodsong registered as nothing more than a persistent hum.
“Of course. Philippe’s blood vow ensured her safety. ‘Noli me tangere,’” Fernando said with a shake of his head. “Gallowglass was wasting his time watching Diana so closely.”
“‘Touch me not, for Caesar’s I am,’” Matthew echoed softly. “It’s true. No vampire meddled with her after that. Except Louisa.”
“Louisa was as mad as a March hare to ignore your father’s wishes on this,” Fernando commented. “I take it that’s why Philippe sent Louisa packing to the outer reaches of the known world in 1591.” The decision had always seemed abrupt, and Philippe hadn’t stirred a finger to avenge her later death. Fernando filed away the information for future consideration.
The door swung open. Sarah’s cat, Tabitha, shot into the chapel in a streak of gray fur and feline indignation. Gallowglass followed her, bearing a pack of cigarettes in one hand and a silver flask in the other. Tabitha wound her way around Matthew’s legs, begging for his attention.
“Sarah’s moggy is nearly as troublesome as Auntie’s firedrake.” Gallowglass thrust the flask in Matthew’s direction. “Have some. It’s not blood, but it’s none of Granny’s French stuff either. What she serves makes fine cologne, but it’s no good for anything else.”
Matthew refused the offering with a shake of the head. Baldwin’s wine was already souring his stomach.
“And you call yourself a vampire,” Fernando scolded Gallowglass. “Driven to drink by um pequeno dragão.”
“You try taming Corra if you think it’s so bloody easy.” Gallowglass removed a cigarette from his pack and put it to his lips. “Or we can vote on what to do with her.”
“Vote?” Matthew said, incredulous. “Since when did we vote in this family?”
“Since Marcus took over the Knights of Lazarus,” Gallowglass replied, drawing a silver lighter from his pocket. “We’ve been choking on democracy since the day you left.”
Fernando looked at him pointedly.
“What?” Gallowglass said, swinging the lighter open.
“This is a holy place, Gallowglass. And you know how Marcus feels about smoking when there are warmbloods in the house,” Fernando said reprovingly.
“And you can imagine my own thoughts on the matter, with my pregnant wife upstairs.” Matthew snatched the cigarette from Gallowglass’s mouth.
“This family was more fun when we had fewer medical degrees,” Gallowglass said darkly. “I remember the good old days, when we sewed ourselves up if we were wounded in battle and didn’t give a tinker’s dam about our iron levels and vitamin D.”
“Oh, yes.” Fernando held up his hand, displaying a ragged scar. “Those days were glorious indeed. And your skills with the needle were legendary, Bife.”
“I got better,” Gallowglass said defensively. “I was never as good as Matthew or Marcus, of course. But we can’t all go to university.”
“Not so long as Philippe was head of the family,” Fernando murmured. “He preferred that his children and grandchildren wield swords rather than ideas. It made you all so much more pliable.”
There was a grain of truth in the remark, and an ocean of pain behind it.
“I should get back to Diana.” Matthew rocked to his feet and rested his hand on Fernando’s shoulder for a brief moment before turning to leave.
“Waiting will not make it any easier to tell Marcus and Hamish about the blood rage, my friend,” Fernando warned, stopping him.
“I thought after all these years my secret was safe,” Matthew said.
“Secrets, like the dead, do not always stay buried,” Fernando said sadly. “Tell them. Soon.”
Matthew returned to his tower more agitated than when he’d left.
Ysabeau frowned at the sight of him.
“Thank you for watching Diana, Maman,” he said, kissing Ysabeau’s cheek.
“And you, my son?” Ysabeau put her palm to his cheek, searching as Fernando had for signs of blood rage. “Should I be watching over you instead?”
“I’m fine. Truly,” Matthew said.
“Of course,” Ysabeau replied. This phrase meant many things in his mother’s private lexicon. What it never meant was that she agreed with you. “I will be in my room if you need me.”
When the sound of his mother’s quiet footfalls had faded, Matthew flung wide the windows and pulled his chair close to the open casement. He drank in the intense summer scents of catchfly and the last of the gillyflowers. The sound of Diana’s even breathing upstairs blended into the other night songs that only vampires could hear—the clack of stag beetles locking horns as they competed for females, the loirs’ wheezing as they ran across the battlements, the high-pitched squeaks of the death’s-head hawkmoth, the scrabbling of pine martens climbing the trees. Based on the grunts and snuffles Matthew heard in the garden, Gallowglass had been no more successful catching the wild boar uprooting Marthe’s vegetables than he had been in catching Corra.
Normally Matthew relished this quiet hour equidistant from midnight and dawn when the owls had stopped their hooting and even the most disciplined early risers had not yet peeled back the bedcovers. Tonight not even the familiar scents and sounds of home could work their magic.
Only one thing could.
Matthew climbed the stairs to the tower’s top floor. There he looked down at Diana’s sleeping form. He smoothed her hair, smiling when his wife instinctively pressed her skull deeper into his waiting hand. Impossible as it was, they fit: vampire and witch, man and woman, husband and wife. The hard fist around his heart loosened a few precious millimeters.
Silently Matthew shucked off his clothes and slid into bed. The sheets were tangled around Diana’s legs, and he pulled the linen free, settling it over their bodies. Matthew tucked his knees behind Diana’s and drew her hips back into his. He drank in the soft, pleasing scent of her—honey and chamomile and willow sap—and feathered a kiss against her bright hair.
After only a few breaths, Matthew’s heart calmed and his restlessness seeped away as Diana provided the peace that was eluding him. Here, within the circle of his arms, was all that he had ever wanted. A wife. Children. A family of his own. He let the powerful rightness that he always felt in Diana’s presence sink into his soul.
“Matthew?” Diana asked sleepily.
“I’m here,” he murmured against her ear, holding her closer. “Go back to sleep. The sun hasn’t risen yet.”
Instead Diana turned to face him, burrowing into his neck.
“What is it, mon coeur?” Matthew frowned and pulled back to study her expression. Her skin was puffy and red from the crying, and the fine lines around her eyes were deepened by worry and grief. It destroyed him to see her this way. “Tell me,” he said gently.
“There’s no point. No one can fix it,” she said sadly.
Matthew smiled. “At least let me try.”
“Can you make time stand still?” Diana whispered after a moment of hesitation. “Just for a little while?”
Matthew was an ancient vampire, not a timewalking witch. But he was also a man, and he knew of one way to achieve this magical feat. His head told him that it was too soon after Emily’s death, but his body sent other, more persuasive messages.
He lowered his mouth deliberately, giving Diana time to push him away. Instead she threaded her fingers through his cropped hair, returning his kiss with an intensity that stole his breath.
Her fine linen shift had traveled with them from the past, and though practically transparent, it was still a barrier between their flesh. He lifted the cloth, exposing the soft swell of her belly where his children grew, the curve of her breasts that every day ripened with fertile promise. They had not made love since London, and Matthew noticed the additional tightness of Diana’s abdomen—a sign that the babies were continuing to develop—as well as the heightened blood flow to her breasts and her sex.
He took his fill of her with his eyes, his fingers, his mouth. But instead of being sated, his hunger for her only increased. Matthew lowered Diana back onto the bed and trailed kisses down her body until he reached the hidden places only he knew. Her hands tried to press his mouth more firmly against her, and he nipped her thigh in a silent reproach.
Once Diana began to fight his control in earnest, demanding softly that he take her, Matthew turned her in his arms and drew one cool hand down her spine.
“You wanted time to stand still,” he reminded her.
“It has,” Diana insisted, pressing against him in invitation.
“Then why are you rushing me?” Matthew traced the star-shaped scar between her shoulder blades and the crescent moon that swooped from one side of her ribs to the other. He frowned. There was a shadow on her lower back. It was deep within her skin, a pearly gray outline that looked a bit like a firedrake, its jaws biting into the crescent moon above, the wings covering Diana’s rib cage, and a tail that disappeared around her hips.
“Why have you stopped?” Diana pushed her hair out of her eyes and craned her neck over her shoulder. “I want time to stand still—not you.”
“There’s something on your back.” Matthew traced the firedrake’s wings.
“You mean something else?” she asked with a nervous laugh. She still worried that her healed wounds were blemishes.
“With your other scars, it reminds me of a painting in Mary Sidney’s laboratory, the one of the firedrake capturing the moon in its mouth.” He wondered if it would be visible to others or if only his vampire eyes could detect it. “It’s beautiful. Another sign of your courage.”
“You told me I was reckless,” Diana said breathlessly as his mouth descended to the dragon’s head.
“You are.” Matthew traced the swirling path of the dragon’s tail with his lips and tongue. His mouth drifted lower, deeper. “It drives me crazy.”
He battened his mouth on her, keeping Diana on the edge of desire, stopping his attentions to whisper an endearment or a promise before resuming, never allowing her to be swept away. She wanted satisfaction and the peace that came with forgetting, but he wanted this moment—filled with safety and intimacy—to last forever. Matthew turned Diana to face him. Her lips were soft and full, her eyes dreamy, as he slid slowly inside her. He continued his gentle movements until the upward tick in his wife’s heartbeat told him that her climax was near.
Diana cried his name, weaving a spell that put them in the center of the world.
Afterward they lay twined together in the final rose-tinged moments of darkness before dawn. Diana drew Matthew’s head to her breast. He gave her a questioning look, and his wife nodded. Matthew lowered his mouth to the silvery moon over a prominent blue vein.
This was the ancient way for a vampire to know his mate, the sacred moment of communion when thoughts and emotions were exchanged honestly and without judgment. Vampires were secretive creatures, but when a vampire took blood from his mate’s heart vein, there was a moment of perfect peace and understanding that quieted the constant, dull need to hunt and possess.
Diana’s skin parted underneath his teeth, and Matthew drank in a few precious ounces of her blood. With it came a flood of impressions and feelings: joy mixed with sorrow, delight in being back with friends and family tempered with grief, rage over Emily’s death held in check by Diana’s concern for him and their children.
“I would have spared you this loss if I could have,” Matthew murmured, kissing the mark his mouth left on her skin. He rolled them over so that he was on his back and Diana was draped over his recumbent form. She looked down into his eyes.
“I know. Just don’t ever leave me, Matthew. Not without saying good-bye.”
“I will never leave you,” he promised.
Diana touched her lips to Matthew’s forehead. She pressed them into the skin between his eyes. Most warmblooded mates could not share in the vampire’s ritual of togetherness, but his wife had found a way around the limitation, as she did with most obstacles in her path. Diana had discovered that when she kissed him just here, she also caught glimpses of his innermost thoughts and the dark places where his fears and secrets hid.
Matthew felt nothing more than a tingle of her power as she gave him her witch’s kiss and remained as still as possible, wanting Diana to take her fill of him. He forced himself to relax so that his feelings and thoughts could flow unimpeded.
“Welcome home, sister.” The unexpected scent of wood fires and saddle leather flooded the room, as Baldwin ripped the sheet from the bed.
Diana let out a startled cry. Matthew tried to pull her naked body behind him, but it was too late. His wife was already in the grip of another.
“I could hear my father’s blood vow halfway up the drive. You’re pregnant, too.” Baldwin de Clermont’s face was coldly furious under his fiery hair as his eyes dropped to Diana’s rounded belly. He twisted her arm so that he could sniff her wrist. “And only Matthew’s scent upon you. Well, well.”
Baldwin released Diana, and Matthew caught her.
“Get up. Both of you,” Baldwin commanded, his fury evident.
“You have no authority over me, Baldwin!” Diana cried, her eyes narrowing.
She couldn’t have calculated a response that would have angered Matthew’s brother more. Without warning, Baldwin swooped until his face was inches away. Only the firm pressure of Matthew’s hand around Baldwin’s throat kept the vampire from getting even closer.
“My father’s blood vow says I do, witch.” Baldwin stared into Diana’s eyes, trying to force her through sheer will to look away. When she did not, Baldwin’s eyes flickered. “Your wife lacks manners, Matthew. School her, or I will.”
“School me?” Diana’s eyes widened. Her fingers splayed, and the wind in the room circled her feet, ready to answer her call. High above, Corra shrieked to let her mistress know she was on the way.
“No magic and no dragon,” Matthew murmured against her ear, praying that just this once his wife would obey him. He didn’t want Baldwin or anyone else in the family to know how much Diana’s abilities had grown while they were in London.
Miraculously, Diana nodded.
“What is the meaning of this?” Ysabeau’s frosty voice cracked through the room. “The only excuse for your presence here, Baldwin, is that you have lost your senses.”
“Careful, Ysabeau. Your claws are showing.” Baldwin stalked toward the stairs. “And you forget: I’m the head of the de Clermont family. I don’t need an excuse. Meet me in the family library, Matthew. You, too, Diana.”
Baldwin turned to level his strange golden-brown eyes at Matthew.
“Don’t keep me waiting.”
The de Clermont family library was bathed in a gentle predawn light that made everything in it appear in soft focus: the edges of the books, the strong lines of the wooden bookcases that lined the room, the warm golden and blue hues of the Aubusson rug.
What it could not blunt was my anger.
For three days I had thought that nothing could displace my grief over Emily’s death, but three minutes in Baldwin’s company had proved me wrong.
“Come in, Diana.” Baldwin sat in a thronelike Savonarola chair by the tall windows. His burnished red-gold hair gleamed in the lamplight, its color reminding me of the feathers on Augusta, the eagle that Emperor Rudolf hunted with in Prague. Every inch of Baldwin’s muscular frame was taut with anger and banked strength.
I looked around the room. We were not the only ones to have been summoned to Baldwin’s impromptu meeting. Waiting by the fireplace was a waif of a young woman with skin the color of skim milk and black, spiky hair. Her eyes were deep gray and enormous, fringed with thick lashes. She sniffed the air as though scenting a storm.
“Verin.” Matthew had warned me about Philippe’s daughters, who were so terrifying that the family asked him to stop making them. But she didn’t look very frightening. Verin’s face was smooth and serene, her posture easy, and her eyes sparkled with energy and intelligence. Were it not for her unrelieved black clothing, you might mistake her for an elf.
Then I noticed a knife hilt peeking out from her high-heeled black boots.
“Wölfling,” Verin replied. It was a cold greeting for a sister to give her brother, but the look she gave me was even more frigid. “Witch.”
“It’s Diana,” I said, my anger flaring.
“I told you there was no way to mistake it,” Verin said, turning to Baldwin without acknowledging my reply.
“Why are you here, Baldwin?” Matthew asked.
“I wasn’t aware I needed an invitation to come to my father’s house,” he replied. “But as it happens, I came from Venice to see Marcus.”
The eyes of the two men locked.
“Imagine my surprise at finding you here,” Baldwin continued. “Nor did I expect to discover that your mate is now my sister. Philippe died in 1945. So how is it that I can feel my father’s blood vow? Smell it? Hear it?”
“Someone else can catch you up on the news.” Matthew took me by the hand and turned to go back upstairs.
“Neither of you is leaving my sight until I find out how that witch tricked a blood vow from a dead vampire.” Baldwin’s voice was low with menace.
“It was no trick,” I said, indignant.
“Was it necromancy, then? Some foul resurrection spell?” Baldwin asked. “Or did you conjure his spirit and force him to give you his vow?”
“What happened between Philippe and me had nothing to do with my magic and everything to do with his generosity.” My own anger burned hotter.
“You make it sound as though you knew him,” Baldwin said. “That’s impossible.”
“Not for a timewalker,” I replied.
“Timewalker?” Baldwin was stunned.
“Diana and I have been in the past,” Matthew explained. “In 1590, to be exact. We were here at Sept-Tours just before Christmas.”
“You saw Philippe?” Baldwin asked.
“We did. Philippe was alone that winter. He sent a coin and ordered me home,” Matthew said. The de Clermonts present understood their father’s private code: When a command was sent along with one of Philippe’s ancient silver coins, the recipient was to obey without question.
“December? That means we have to endure five more months of Philippe’s bloodsong,” Verin muttered, her fingers pinching the bridge of her nose as though her head ached. I frowned.
“Why five months?” I asked.
“According to our legends, a vampire’s blood vow sings for a year and a day. All vampires can hear it, but the song is particularly loud and clear to those who carry Philippe’s blood in their veins,” Baldwin said.
“Philippe said he wanted there to be no doubt I was a de Clermont,” I said, looking up at Matthew. All the vampires who had met me in the sixteenth century must have heard Philippe’s bloodsong and known I was not only Matthew’s mate but also Philippe de Clermont’s daughter. Philippe had been protecting me during every step of our journey through the past.
“No witch will ever be recognized as a de Clermont.” Baldwin’s voice was flat and final.
“I already am.” I held up my left hand so he could see my wedding ring. “Matthew and I are married as well as mated. Your father hosted the ceremony. If Saint-Lucien’s parish registers survive, you’ll find our wedding took place on the seventh of December, 1590.”
“What we will likely find, should we go to the village, is that a single page has been torn out of the priest’s book,” Verin said under her breath. “Atta always covered his tracks.”
“Whether you and Matthew are married is of no consequence, for Matthew is not a true de Clermont either,” Baldwin said coldly. “He is merely the child of my father’s mate.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I protested. “Philippe considered Matthew his son. Matthew calls you brother and Verin sister.”
“I am not that whelp’s sister. We share no blood, only a name,” Verin said. “And thank God for it.”
“You will find, Diana, that marriage and mating don’t count for much with most of the de Clermonts,” said a quiet voice with a marked Spanish or Portuguese accent. It came from the mouth of a stranger standing just inside the door. His dark hair and espresso-colored eyes set off his pale golden skin and light shirt.
“Your presence wasn’t requested, Fernando,” Baldwin said angrily.
“As you know, I come when I’m needed, not when I’m called.” Fernando bowed slightly in my direction. “Fernando Gonçalves. I am very sorry for your loss.”
The man’s name pricked at my memory. I’d heard it somewhere before.
“You’re the man Matthew asked to lead the Knights of Lazarus when he gave up the position of grand master,” I said, finally placing him. Fernando Gonçalves was reputed to be one of the brotherhood’s most formidable warriors. Judging by the breadth of his shoulders and his overall fitness, I had no doubt this was true.
“He did.” Like that of all vampires, Fernando’s voice was warm and rich, filling the room with otherworldly sound. “But Hugh de Clermont is my mate. Ever since he died alongside the Templars, I have had little to do with chivalric orders, for even the bravest knights lack the courage to keep their promises.” Fernando fixed his dark eyes on Matthew’s brother. “Isn’t that right, Baldwin?”
“Are you challenging me?” Baldwin said, standing.
“Do I need to?” Fernando smiled. He was shorter than Baldwin, but something told me he would not be easy to best in battle. “I would not have thought you would ignore your father’s blood vow, Baldwin.”
“We have no idea what Philippe wanted from the witch. He might have been trying to learn more about her power. Or she could have used magic to coerce him,” Baldwin said, his chin jutting out at a stubborn angle.
“Don’t be daft. Auntie didn’t use any magic on Granddad.” Gallowglass breezed into the room, as relaxed as if the de Clermonts always met at half past four in the morning to discuss urgent business.
“Now that Gallowglass is here, I’ll leave the de Clermonts to their own devices.” Fernando nodded to Matthew. “Call if you need me, Matthew.”
“We’ll be just fine. We’re family, after all.” Gallowglass blinked innocently at Verin and Baldwin as Fernando departed. “As for what Philippe wanted, it’s quite simple, Uncle: He wanted you to formally acknowledge Diana as his daughter. Ask Verin.”
“What does he mean?” Baldwin demanded of his sister.
“Atta summoned me a few days before he died,” Verin said, her voice low and her expression miserable. The word “Atta” was unfamiliar, but it was clearly a daughterly endearment. “Philippe was worried that you might ignore his blood vow. He made me swear to acknowledge it, no matter what.”
“Philippe’s oath was private—something between him and me. It doesn’t need to be acknowledged. Not by you or anyone else.” I didn’t want my memories of Philippe—or that moment—damaged by Baldwin and Verin.
“Nothing is more public than adopting a warmblood into a vampire clan,” Verin told me. She looked at Matthew. “Didn’t you take the time to teach the witch our vampire customs before you rushed into this forbidden affair?”
“Time was a luxury we didn’t have,” I replied instead. From the very beginning of our relationship, Ysabeau had warned me that I had a lot to learn about vampires. After this conversation, the topic of blood vows was moving to the head of my research agenda.
“Then let me explain it to you,” Verin said, her voice sharper than any schoolmarm’s. “Before Philippe’s bloodsong fades, one of his full-blooded children must acknowledge it. Unless that happens, you are not truly a de Clermont and no other vampire is obligated to honor you as such.”
“Is that all? I don’t care about vampire honor. Being Matthew’s wife is enough for me.” The more I heard about becoming a de Clermont, the less I liked it.
“If that were true, then my father wouldn’t have adopted you,” Verin observed.
“We will compromise,” Baldwin said. “Surely Philippe would be satisfied if, when the witch’s children are born, their names are listed among my kin on the de Clermont family pedigree.” His words sounded magnanimous, but I was sure there was some darker purpose to them.
“My children are not your kin.” Matthew’s voice sounded like thunder.
“They are if Diana is a de Clermont as she claims,” Baldwin said with a smile.
“Wait. What pedigree?” I needed to back up a step in the argument.
“The Congregation maintains official pedigrees of all vampire families,” Baldwin said. “Some no longer observe the tradition. The de Clermonts do. The pedigrees include information about rebirths, deaths, and the names of mates and their offspring.”
My hand automatically covered my belly. I wanted the Congregation to remain unaware of my children for as long as possible. Based on the wary look in Matthew’s eyes, he felt the same way.
“Maybe your timewalking will be enough to satisfy questions about the blood vow, but only the blackest of magics—or infidelity—can explain this pregnancy,” Baldwin said, relishing his brother’s discomfort. “The children cannot be yours, Matthew.”
“Diana is carrying my children,” Matthew said, his eyes dangerously dark.
“Impossible,” Baldwin stated flatly.
“True,” Matthew retorted.
“If so, they’ll be the most hated—and the most hunted—children the world has ever known. Creatures will be baying for their blood. And yours,” Baldwin said.
I registered Matthew’s sudden departure from my side at the same moment that I heard Baldwin’s chair break. When the blur of movement ceased, Matthew stood behind his brother with his arm locked around Baldwin’s throat, pressing a knife into the skin over his brother’s heart.
Verin looked down at her boot in amazement and found nothing but an empty scabbard. She swore.
“You may be head of the family, Baldwin, but never forget that I am its assassin,” Matthew growled.
“Assassin?” I tried to hide my confusion as another hidden side of Matthew was brought to light.
Scientist. Vampire. Warrior. Spy. Prince.
Matthew had told me he was a killer—repeatedly—but I had always considered this part and parcel of being a vampire. I knew he’d killed in self-defense, in battle, and to survive. I’d never dreamed that Matthew committed murder at his family’s behest.
“Surely you knew this?” Verin asked in a voice tinged with malice, her cold eyes studying me closely. “If Matthew weren’t so good at it, one of us would have put him down long ago.”
“We all have a role in this family, Verin.” Matthew’s voice dripped with bitterness. “Does Ernst know yours—how it begins between soft sheets and a man’s thighs?”
Verin moved like lightning, her fingers bent into lethal claws as she went for Matthew.
Vampires were fast, but magic was faster.
I pushed Verin against a wall with a blast of witchwind, keeping her away from my husband and Baldwin long enough for Matthew to exact some promise from his brother and release him.
“Thank you, ma lionne.” It was Matthew’s usual endearment when I’d done something brave—or incredibly stupid. He handed me Verin’s knife. “Hold on to this.”
Matthew lifted Verin to her feet while Gallowglass moved closer to stand at my elbow.
“Well, well,” Verin murmured when she was standing upright again. “I see why Atta was drawn to your wife, but I wouldn’t have thought you had the stones for such a woman, Matthew.”
“Things change,” Matthew said shortly.
“Apparently.” Verin gave me an appraising look.
“You’ll be keeping your promise to Granddad, then?” Gallowglass asked Verin.
“We’ll see,” she said cautiously. “I have months to decide.”
“Time will pass, but nothing will change.” Baldwin looked at me with barely concealed loathing. “Recognizing Matthew’s wife will have catastrophic consequences, Verin.”
“I honored Atta’s wishes while he lived,” Verin said. “I cannot ignore them now that he is dead.”
“We must take comfort from the fact that the Congregation is already looking for Matthew and his mate,” Baldwin said. “Who knows? They may both be dead before December.”
After giving us a final, contemptuous look, Baldwin stalked from the room. Verin stole an apologetic glance at Gallowglass and trailed after him.
“So . . . that went well,” Gallowglass muttered “Are you all right, Auntie? You’ve gone a bit shiny.”
“The witchwind blew my disguising spell out of place.” I tried to tug it around me again.
“Given what happened here this morning, I think you’d better keep it on while Baldwin is at home,” Gallowglass suggested.
“Baldwin cannot know of Diana’s power. I’d appreciate your help with that, Gallowglass. Fernando’s, too.” Matthew didn’t specify what form this assistance would take.
“Of course. I’ve been watching over Auntie her whole life,” Gallowglass said, matter-of-fact. “I’ll not be stopping now.”
At these words parts of my past that I had never understood slid into place like jagged puzzle pieces. As a child I’d often felt other creatures watching me, their eyes nudging and tingling and freezing my skin. One had been Peter Knox, my father’s enemy and the same witch who had come to Sept-Tours looking for Matthew and me only to kill Em. Could another have been this giant bear of a man, whom I now loved like a brother but had not even met until we traveled back to the sixteenth century?
“You were watching me?” My eyes filled, and I blinked back the tears.
“I promised Granddad I’d keep you safe. For Matthew’s sake.” Gallowglass’s blue eyes softened. “And it’s a good thing, too. You were a right hellion: climbing trees, running after bicycles in the street, and heading into the forest without a hint as to where you were going. How your parents managed is beyond me.”
“Did Daddy know?” I had to ask. My father had met the big Gael in Elizabethan London, when he’d unexpectedly run into Matthew and me on one of his regular timewalks. Even in modern-day Massachusetts, my father would have recognized Gallowglass on sight. The man was unmistakable.
“I did my best not to show myself.”
“That’s not what I asked, Gallowglass.” I was getting better at ferreting out a vampire’s half-truths. “Did my father know you were watching over me?”
“I made sure Stephen saw me just before he and your mother left for Africa that last time,” Gallowglass confessed, his voice little more than a whisper. “I thought it might help him to know, when the end came, that I was nearby. You were still such a wee thing. Stephen must have been beside himself with worry thinking about how long it would be before you were with Matthew.”
Unbeknownst to Matthew or me, the Bishops and the de Clermonts had been working for years, even centuries, to bring us safely together: Philippe, Gallowglass, my father, Emily, my mother.
“Thank you, Gallowglass,” Matthew said hoarsely. Like me, he was surprised by the morning’s revelations.
“No need, Uncle. I did it gladly.” Gallowglass cleared the emotion from his throat and departed.
An awkward silence fell.
“Christ.” Matthew raked his fingers through his hair. It was the usual sign he’d been driven to the end of his patience.
“What are we going to do?” I said, still trying to regain my equilibrium after Baldwin’s sudden appearance.
A gentle cough announced a new presence in the room and kept Matthew from responding.
“I am sorry to interrupt, milord.” Alain Le Merle, Philippe de Clermont’s onetime squire, stood in the doorway to the library. He was holding an ancient coffer with the initials P.C. picked out on the top in silver studs and a small ledger bound in green buckram. His salt-and-pepper hair and kind expression were the same as when I’d first met him in 1590. Like Matthew and Gallowglass, he was a fixed star in my universe of change.
“What is it, Alain?” Matthew asked.
“I have business with Madame de Clermont,” Alain replied.
“Business?” Matthew frowned. “Can it wait?”
“I’m afraid not,” Alain said apologetically. “This is a difficult time I know, milord,but Sieur Philippe was adamant that Madame de Clermont be given her things as soon as possible.”
Alain ushered us back up to our tower. What I saw on Matthew’s desk drove the events of the past hour completely from my mind and left me breathless.
A small book bound in brown leather.
An embroidered sleeve, threadbare with age.
Priceless jewels—pearls and diamonds and sapphires.
A golden arrowhead on a long chain.
A pair of miniatures, their bright surfaces as fresh as the day they were painted.
Letters, tied with a faded carnation ribbon.
A silver rat trap, tarnish clinging to the fine engraving.
A gilded astronomical instrument fit for an emperor.
A wooden box carved by a wizard out of a branch from a rowan tree.
The collection of objects didn’t look like much, but they held enormous significance, for they represented the past eight months of our lives.
I picked up the small book with a trembling hand and flipped it open. Matthew had given it to me soon after we’d arrived at his mansion in Woodstock. In the autumn of 1590, the book’s binding had been fresh and the pages creamy. Today the leather was speckled and the paper yellowed with age. In the past I’d tucked the book away on a high shelf in the Old Lodge, but a bookplate inside told me that it was now the property of a library in Seville. The call mark, “Manuscrito Gonçalves 4890,” was inked onto the flyleaf. Someone—Gallowglass, no doubt—had removed the first page. Once it had been covered with my tentative attempts to record my name. The blots from that missing leaf had seeped through to the page below, but the list I’d made of the Elizabethan coins in circulation in 1590 was still legible.
I flipped through the rest of the pages, remembering the headache cure I’d attempted to master in a futile attempt to appear a proper Elizabethan housewife. My diary of daily happenings brought back bittersweet memories of our time with the School of Night. I’d dedicated a handful of pages to an overview of the twelve signs of the zodiac, copied down a few more recipes, and scribbled a packing list for our journey to Sept-Tours in the back. I heard the gentle chime as past and present rubbed against each other, and I spotted the blue and amber threads that were barely visible in the corners of the fireplace.
“How did you get this?” I said, focusing on the here and now.
“Master Gallowglass gave it to Dom Fernando long ago. When he arrived at Sept-Tours in May, Dom Fernando asked me to return it to you,” Alain explained.
“It’s a miracle anything survived. How did you manage to keep all this hidden from me for so many years?” Matthew picked up the silver rat trap. He had teased me when I’d commissioned one of London’s most expensive clockmakers to make the mechanism to catch the rats prowling our attics in the Blackfriars. Monsieur Vallin had designed it to resemble a cat, with ears set on the crossbars and a little mouse perched on the fierce feline’s nose. Matthew deliberately sprang the mechanism, and the cat’s sharp teeth dug into the flesh of his finger.
“We did as we must, milord. We waited. We kept silent. We never lost faith that time would bring Madame de Clermontback to us.” A sad smile played at the corners of Alain’s mouth. “If only Sieur Philippe could have lived to see this day.”
At the thought of Philippe, my heart skittered. He must have known how badly his children would react to having me as a sister. Why had he put me in such an impossible situation?
“All right, Diana?” Matthew gently laid his hand over mine.
“Yes. Just a bit overwhelmed.” I took up the portraits of Matthew and me wearing fine Elizabethan clothing. Nicholas Hilliard had painted them at the Countess of Pembroke’s request. She and the Earl of Northumberland had given the tiny likenesses to us as wedding gifts. The two of them had been Matthew’s friends at first—along with the other members of the School of Night: Walter Raleigh, George Chapman, Thomas Harriot, and Christopher Marlowe. In time most of them became my friends, too.
“It was Madame Ysabeau who found the miniatures,” Alain explained. “She scoured the newspapers every day looking for traces of you—anomalies that stood out from the rest of the day’s events. When Madame Ysabeau saw these in an auction notice, she sent Master Marcus to London. It’s how he met Mademoiselle Phoebe.”
“This sleeve came from your wedding dress.” Matthew touched the fragile fabric, tracing the outlines of a cornucopia, the traditional symbol of abundance. “I will never forget the sight of you, coming down the hill to the village with the torches blazing and the children clearing the way through the snow.” His smile was full of love and a pleased pride.
“After the wedding many men in the village offered to pay Madame de Clermont court, should you tire of her.” Alain chuckled.
“Thank you for keeping all of these memories for me.” I looked down at the desk. “It’s much too easy to think I somehow imagined everything—that we were never really there in 1590. This makes that time seem real again.”
“Sieur Philippe thought you might feel that way. Alas, there are two more items that require your attention, Madame de Clermont.” Alain held out the ledger. A tied string kept it from being opened, and a blob of wax sealed the knot to the cover.
“What’s this?” I frowned and took the ledger. It was far thinner than the ones here in Matthew’s study that contained the financial records of the Knights of Lazarus.
“Your accounts, madame.”
“I thought Hamish was keeping my finances.” He’d left piles of documents for me, all of them awaiting my signature.
“Mr. Osborne took charge of your marriage settlement from milord. These are the funds you received from Sieur Philippe.” Alain’s attention lingered for a moment on my forehead, where Philippe had placed his blood to claim me as his daughter.
Curious, I cracked the seal and opened the covers. The little account book had been rebound periodically when more pages were required. The first entries were made on thick sixteenth-century paper and dated from the year 1591. One accounted for the deposit of the dowry that Philippe had provided when I married Matthew: 20,000 Venetian zecchini and 30,000 silver Reichsthaler.Every subsequent investment of that money—such as the rollover of any interest paid on the funds and the houses and land purchased with the proceeds—was meticulously accounted for in Alain’s neat hand. I flipped through to the final pages of the book. The last entry, made on sparkling white bond, was dated 4 July 2010, the day we had arrived back at Sept-Tours. My eyes popped at the amount indicated in the assets column.
“I am sorry it is not more,” Alain said hastily, mistaking my reaction for alarm. “I invested your money as I did my own, but the more lucrative, and therefore riskier, opportunities would have required Sieur Baldwin’s approval, and of course he could not know of your existence.”
“It’s more than I could ever imagine possessing, Alain.” Matthew had settled a substantial amount of property on me when he drew up our marriage agreement, but this was a vast sum. Philippe had wanted me to have financial independence like the rest of the de Clermont women. And as I had learned this morning, my father-in-law, whether dead or alive, got what he wanted. I put the ledger aside. “Thank you.”
“It was my pleasure,” Alain said with a bow. He drew something from his pocket. “Finally, Sieur Philippe instructed me to give you this.”
Alain handed me an envelope made from cheap, thin stock. My name was on the front. Though the poor adhesive had long since dried up, the envelope had been sealed with a swirl of black and red waxes. An ancient coin was embedded in it: Philippe’s special signal.
“Sieur Philippe worked on this letter for over an hour. He made me read it back to him when he finished, to be sure that it captured what he wanted to say.”
“When?” Matthew asked hoarsely.
“The day he died.” Alain’s expression was haunted.
The shaky handwriting belonged to someone too old or infirm to hold a pen properly. It was a vivid reminder of how much Philippe had suffered. I traced my name. When my fingertips reached the final letter, I dragged them across the surface of the envelope, pulling at the letters so that they unraveled. First there was a pool of black on the envelope, and then the ink resolved into the image of a man’s face. It was still beautiful, though ravaged with pain and marred by a deep, empty socket where once a tawny eye had shimmered with intelligence and humor.
“You didn’t tell me the Nazis had blinded him.” I knew that my father-in-law had been tortured, but I had never imagined his captors had inflicted this much damage. I studied the other wounds on Philippe’s face. Mercifully, there weren’t enough letters in my name to draw a detailed portrait. I touched my father-in-law’s cheek gently, and the image dissolved, leaving an ink stain on the envelope. With a flick of my fingers, the stain lifted into a small black tornado. When the whirling stopped, the letters dropped back into their proper place.
“Sieur Philippe often spoke with you about his troubles, Madame de Clermont,” Alain continued softly, “when the pain was very bad.”
“Spoke with her?” Matthew repeated numbly.
“Almost every day,” Alain said with a nod. “He would bid me to send everyone from that part of the château, for fear someone would overhear. Madame de Clermont brought Sieur Philippe comfort when no one else could.”
I turned the envelope over, tracing the raised markings on the ancient silver coin. “Philippe expected his coins to be returned to him. In person. How can I, if he’s dead?”
“Perhaps the answer is inside,” Matthew suggested.
I slid my finger under the envelope’s seal, freeing the coin from the wax. I carefully removed the fragile sheet of paper, which crackled ominously as it was unfolded.
Philippe’s faint scent of bay, figs, and rosemary tickled my nose.
Looking down at the paper, I was grateful for my expertise in deciphering difficult handwriting. After a close look, I began to read the letter aloud.
Do not let the ghosts of the past steal the joy from the future.
Thank you for holding my hand.
You can let go now.
Your father, in blood and vow,
P.S. The coin is for the ferryman. Tell Matthew I will see you safe on the other side.
I choked on the last few words. They echoed in the silent room.
“So Philippe does expect me to return his coin.” He would be sitting on the banks of the river Styx waiting for Charon’s boat to bring me across. Perhaps Emily waited with him, and my parents, too. I closed my eyes, hoping to block out the painful images.
“What did he mean, ‘Thank you for holding my hand’?” Matthew asked.
“I promised him he wouldn’t be alone in the dark times. That I’d be there, with him.” My eyes brimmed with tears. “How can I have no memory of doing so?”
“I don’t know, my love. But somehow you managed to keep your promise.” Matthew leaned down and kissed me. He looked over my shoulder. “And Philippe made sure he got the last word, as usual.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, wiping at my cheeks.
“He left written proof that he freely and gladly wanted you for his daughter.” Matthew’s long white finger touched the page.
“That is why Sieur Philippe wanted Madame de Clermont to have these as soon as possible,” Alain admitted.
“I don’t understand,” I said, looking at Matthew.
“Between the jewels, your dowry, and this letter, it will be impossible for any of Philippe’s children—or even the Congregation—to suggest he was somehow forced to bestow a blood vow on you,” Matthew explained.
“Sieur Philippe knew his children well. He often foresaw their future as easily as any witch,” Alain said, nodding. “I will leave you to your memories.”
“Thank you, Alain.” Matthew waited until the sound of Alain’s footsteps faded before saying anything more. He looked down at me with concern. “All right, mon coeur?”
“Of course,” I murmured, staring at the desk. The past was strewn across it, and a clear future was nowhere to be found.
“I’m going upstairs to change. I won’t be long,” Matthew said, giving me a kiss. “Then we can go down to breakfast.”
“Take your time,” I said, mustering what I hoped was a genuine smile.
Once Matthew was gone, I reached for the golden arrowhead that Philippe gave me to wear at my wedding. Its weight was comforting, and the metal warmed quickly to my touch. I slipped its chain over my head. The arrowhead’s point nestled between my breasts, its edges too soft and worn to nick my skin.
I felt a squirming sensation in the pocket of my jeans and drew out a clutch of silk ribbons. My weaver’s cords had come with me from the past, and unlike the sleeve from my wedding dress or the faded silk that bound my letters, these strands were fresh and shiny. They twined and danced around my wrists and one another like a handful of brightly colored snakes, merging into new colors for a moment before separating into their original strands and hues. The cords snaked up my arms and wormed their way into my hair as if they were looking for something. I pulled them free and tucked the silks away.
I was supposed to be the weaver. But would I ever comprehend the tangled web that Philippe de Clermont had been spinning when he made me his blood-sworn daughter?
Were you ever going to tell me you were the de Clermont family’s assassin?” I asked, reaching for the grapefruit juice.
Matthew looked at me in silence across the kitchen table where Marthe had laid out my morning meal. He had sneaked Hector and Fallon inside, and they were following our conversation—and my selection of foods—with interest.
“And Fernando’s relationship with your brother Hugh?” I asked. “I was raised by two women. You couldn’t possibly have been withholding that piece of information because you thought I might disapprove.”
Hector and Fallon looked to Matthew for an answer. When none was forthcoming, the dogs looked back at me.
“Verin seems nice,” I said, deliberately trying to provoke him.
“Nice?” Matthew beetled his eyebrows at me.
“Well, except for the fact she was armed with a knife,” I admitted mildly, pleased that my strategy had worked.
“Knives,” Matthew corrected me. “She had one in her boot, one in her waistband, and one in her bra.”
“Was Verin ever a Girl Scout?” It was my turn to lift my brows.
Before Matthew could answer, Gallowglass shot through the kitchen in a streak of blue and black, followed by Fernando. Matthew scrambled to his feet. When the dogs got up to follow, he pointed to the floor and they immediately sat down again.
“Finish your breakfast, then go to the tower,” Matthew ordered just before he vanished. “Take the dogs with you. And don’t come down until I come and get you.”
“What’s going on?” I asked Marthe, blinking at the suddenly vacant room.
“Baldwin is home,” she replied, as though this were a sufficient answer.
“Marcus,” I said, remembering that Baldwin had returned to see Matthew’s son. The dogs and I jumped up. “Where is he?”
“Philippe’s office.” Marthe frowned. “I do not think Matthew wants you there. There may be bloodshed.”
“Story of my life.” I was looking over my shoulder when I said it and ran smack into Verin as a result. A dignified older gentleman who had a tall, gaunt frame and kind eyes was with her. I tried to get around them. “Excuse me.”
“Where do you think you’re going?” Verin asked, blocking my way.
“Matthew told you to go to his tower.” Verin’s eyes narrowed. “He is your mate, and you’re supposed to obey him like a proper vampire wife.” Her accent was softly Germanic—not quite German, or Austrian, or Swiss, but something that borrowed from all three.
“What a pity for all of you that I’m a witch.” I stuck my hand out to the gentleman, who was watching our conversation with thinly veiled amusement. “Diana Bishop.”
“Ernst Neumann. I’m Verin’s husband.” Ernst’s accent placed his origins squarely in the neighborhood of Berlin. “Why not let Diana go after him, Schatz? That way you can follow. I know how you hate to miss a good argument. I will wait in the salon for the others.”
“Good idea, my love. They can hardly fault me if the witch escapes from the kitchen.” Verin regarded him with open admiration and gave him a lingering kiss. Though she looked young enough to be his granddaughter, it was obvious that she and Ernst were deeply in love.
“I have them occasionally,” he said with a definite twinkle in his eye. “Now, before Diana runs off and you give chase, tell me: Shall I take a knife or a gun with me in case one of your brothers goes on a rampage?”
Verin considered the matter. “I think Marthe’s cleaver should be sufficient. It was enough to slow down Gerbert, and his hide is far thicker than Baldwin’s—or Matthew’s.”
“You took a cleaver to Gerbert?” I liked Ernst more and more.
“That would be an exaggeration,” Ernst said, turning slightly pink with embarrassment.
“I fear that Phoebe is trying diplomacy,” Verin interrupted, turning me around and facing me in the direction of the tussle. “That never works with Baldwin. We must go.”
“If Ernst is taking a knife, I’m taking the dogs.” I clicked my fingers at Hector and Fallon and set off at a fast trot, the dogs following near my heels barking and wagging as though we were playing a grand game.
The second-floor landing that led to the family apartments was crowded with concerned onlookers when we arrived: Nathaniel, a round-eyed Sophie with Margaret in her arms, Hamish in a splendid silk paisley bathrobe and only one side of his face shaved, and Sarah, who appeared to have been woken up by the fracas. Ysabeau exuded ennuias if to say this sort of thing happened all the time.
“Everybody in the salon,” I said, drawing Sarah in the direction of the stairs. “Ernst will join you there.”
“I don’t know what set Marcus off,” Hamish said, wiping the shaving cream from his chin with a towel. “Baldwin called for him, and it all seemed fine at first. Then they started shouting.”
The small room that Philippe used to conduct his business was filled with vampires and testosterone as Matthew, Fernando, and Gallowglass all jostled for the best position. Baldwin sat in a Windsor chair that was tipped back so he could cross his feet on the desk. Marcus leaned on the other side of the desk, his color high. Marcus’s mate—for the petite young woman standing nearby was the one I dimly remembered from our first day back, Phoebe Taylor—was trying to referee the dispute between the head of the de Clermont family and the grand master of the Knights of Lazarus.
“This strange household of witches and daemons you’ve gathered must disband immediately,” Baldwin said, trying without success to rein in his temper. His chair dropped to the floor with a bang.
“Sept-Tours belongs to the Knights of Lazarus! I am the grand master, not you. I say what happens here!” Marcus shouted back.
“Leave it, Marcus.” Matthew had his son by the elbow.
“If you don’t do exactly what I say, there will be no Knights of Lazarus!” Baldwin stood, so that the two vampires were nose to nose.
“Stop threatening me, Baldwin,” Marcus said. “You aren’t my father, and you aren’t my master.”
“No, but I am the head of this family.” Baldwin’s fist met the wooden desk with a resounding crash. “You will listen to me, Marcus, or accept the consequences for your disobedience.”
“Why can’t the two of you sit down and talk about this reasonably?” Phoebe said, making a rather courageous effort to separate the two vampires.
Baldwin snarled at her in warning, and Marcus lunged for his uncle’s throat.
Matthew grabbed Phoebe and pulled her out of the way. She was shaking, though more from anger than fear. Fernando spun Marcus around and pinned his arms to his sides. Gallowglass clamped his hand on Baldwin’s shoulder.
“Do not challenge him,” Fernando said sharply, when Marcus tried to worm his way free. “Not unless you are prepared to walk out of this house and never return.”
After a few long moments, Marcus nodded. Fernando released him but remained close.
“These threats are absurd,” Marcus said in a slightly more measured tone. “The Knights of Lazarus and the Congregation have been in bed with each other for years. We oversee their financial affairs, not to mention help them enforce order among the vampires. Surely—”
“Surely the Congregation wouldn’t risk de Clermont family retaliation? Wouldn’t violate the sanctuary that has always been afforded to Sept-Tours?” Baldwin shook his head. “They already have, Marcus. The Congregation is not playing games this time. They’ve been looking for a reason to disband the Knights of Lazarus for years.”
“They’re doing so now because I brought official charges against Knox for Emily’s death?” Marcus asked.
“Only in part. It was your insistence on having the covenant set aside that the Congregation couldn’t stomach.” Baldwin thrust a roll of parchment at Marcus. Three wax seals hung from the bottom, swaying slightly due to the rough treatment. “We considered your request—again. It’s been denied. Again.”
That one word—“we”—solved a long-standing mystery. Since the covenant had been signed and the Congregation had been formed in the twelfth century, there had always been a de Clermont among the three vampires at the meeting table. Until now I had not known that creature’s present identity: Baldwin.
“It was bad enough that a vampire interfered in a dispute between two witches,” he continued. “Demanding reparations for Emily Mather’s death was foolish, Marcus. But continuing to challenge the covenant was unforgivably naïve.”
“What happened?” Matthew asked. He passed Phoebe into my care, though his look suggested he was none too happy to see me.
“Marcus and the other participants in his little rebellion called for an end to the covenant in April. Marcus declared that the Bishop family was under the direct protection of the Knights of Lazarus, thereby involving the brotherhood.”
Matthew looked at Marcus sharply. I didn’t know whether to kiss Matthew’s son for his efforts to protect my family or chide him for his optimism.
“In May . . . well, you know what happened in May,” Baldwin said. “Marcus characterized Emily’s death as a hostile act undertaken by members of the Congregation intent on provoking open conflict between creatures. He thought that the Congregation might want to reconsider his earlier request to abandon the covenant in exchange for a truce with the Knights of Lazarus.”
“It was an entirely reasonable request.” Marcus unrolled the document and scanned the lines.
“Reasonable or not, the measure went down: two in favor and seven opposed,” Baldwin reported. “Never allow a vote whose outcome you can’t predict in advance, Marcus. You should have discovered that unpleasant truth about democracy by now.”
“It’s not possible. That means only you and Nathaniel’s mother voted in favor of my proposal,” Marcus said, bewildered. Agatha Wilson, mother to Marcus’s friend Nathaniel, was one of the three daemons who were members of the Congregation.
“Another daemon sided with Agatha,” Baldwin said coldly.
“You voted against it?” Clearly Marcus had counted on his family’s support. Given my few dealings with Baldwin, I could have told him this was unduly hopeful.
“Let me see that,” Matthew said, plucking the parchment from Marcus’s fingers. His look demanded that Baldwin explain his actions.
“I had no choice,” Baldwin told Matthew. “Do you know how much damage your son has done? From now on there will be whispers about how a young upstart from an inferior branch of the de Clermont family tree tried to mount an insurrection against a thousand years of tradition.”
“Inferior?” I was aghast at the insult to Ysabeau. My mother-in-law didn’t look at all surprised, however. If anything, she looked even more bored, studying her perfectly manicured long nails.