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Sol in Cancer
—Anonymous English Commonplace Book, c. 1590,
Does it ever get easier? Her voice, like the rest of her, was almost imperceptible. The watching? The waiting? The knowing?
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.
Is Matthew . . . bigger?
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.
Endings. Beginnings, Philippe said with deliberate vagueness. Change.
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.
“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.
Excerpted from "The Book of Life"
Copyright © 2015 Deborah Harkness.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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