فصل 36

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فصل 36

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Chapter 36

My head was between my knees amid the utter pandemonium. Matthew’s hand kept my attention glued to the pattern in the worn Oriental rug under my feet. In the background Marcus was telling Sarah that if she approached me, his father would likely rip her head off.

“It’s a vampire thing,” Marcus said soothingly. “We’re very protective of our spouses.”

“When were they married?” asked Sarah, slightly dazed.

Miriam’s efforts to calm Em were far less soothing. “We call it shielding,” her bell-like soprano chimed. “Ever seen a hawk with its prey? That’s what Matthew’s doing.”

“But Diana’s not his prey, is she? He’s not going to . . . to bite her?” Em glanced at my neck.

“I shouldn’t think so,” Miriam said slowly, considering the question. “He’s not hungry, and she’s not bleeding. The danger is minimal.”

“Knock it off, Miriam,” said Marcus. “There’s nothing to worry about, Emily.”

“I can sit up now,” I mumbled.

“Don’t move. The blood flow to your head isn’t back to normal yet.” Matthew tried not to growl at me but couldn’t manage it.

Sarah made a strangled sound, her suspicions that Matthew was constantly monitoring my blood supply now confirmed.

“Do you think he’d let me walk past Diana to get her test results?” Miriam asked Marcus.

“That depends on how pissed off he is. If you’d blindsided my wife that way, I’d poleax you and then eat you for breakfast. I’d sit tight if I were you.”

Miriam’s chair scraped against the floor. “I’ll risk it.” She darted past.

“Damn,” Sarah breathed.

“She’s unusually quick,” Marcus reassured her, “even for a vampire.”

Matthew maneuvered me into a sitting position. Even that gentle movement made my head feel like it was exploding and set the room whirling. I closed my eyes momentarily, and when I opened them again, Matthew’s were looking back, full of concern.

“All right, mon coeur?”

“A little overwhelmed.”

Matthew’s fingers circled my wrist to take my pulse.

“I’m sorry, Matthew,” Marcus murmured. “I had no idea Miriam would behave like this.”

“You should be sorry,” his father said flatly, without looking up. “Start explaining what this visit is about—quickly.” The vein throbbed in Matthew’s forehead.

“Miriam—” Marcus began.

“I didn’t ask Miriam. I’m asking you,” his father snapped.

“What’s going on, Diana?” my aunt asked, looking wild. Marcus still had his arm around her shoulders.

“Miriam thinks the alchemical picture is about me and Matthew,” I said cautiously. “About the stage in the making of the philosopher’s stone called conjunctio, or marriage. The next step is conceptio.”

“Conceptio?” Sarah asked. “Does that mean what I think it does?”

“Probably. It’s Latin—for conception,” Matthew explained.

Sarah’s eyes widened. “As in children?”

But my mind was elsewhere, flipping through the pictures in Ashmole 782.

“Conceptio was missing, too.” I reached for Matthew. “Someone has it, just like we have conjunctio.”

Miriam glided into the room with impeccable timing, carrying a sheaf of papers. “Who do I give these to?”

After she’d gotten a look from Matthew that I hoped never to see again, Miriam’s face went from white to pearl gray. She hastily handed him the reports.

“You’ve brought the wrong results, Miriam. These belong to a male,” said Matthew, impatiently scanning the first two pages.

“The results do belong to Diana,” Marcus said. “She’s a chimera, Matthew.”

“What’s that?” Em asked. A chimera was a mythological beast that combined the body parts of a lioness, a dragon, and a goat. I looked down, half expecting to glimpse a tail between my legs.

“A person with cells that possess two or more different genetic profiles.” Matthew was staring in disbelief at the first page.

“That’s impossible.” My heart gave a loud thump. Matthew circled me with his arms, holding the test results on the table in front of us.

“It’s rare, but not impossible,” he said grimly, his eyes moving over the gray bars.

“My guess is VTS,” Miriam said, ignoring Marcus’s warning frown. “Those results came from her hair. There were strands of it on the quilt we took to the Old Lodge.”

“Vanishing twin syndrome,” Marcus explained, turning to Sarah. “Did Rebecca have problems early in her pregnancy? Any bleeding or concerns about miscarriage?”

Sarah shook her head. “No. I don’t think so. But they weren’t here—Stephen and Rebecca were in Africa. They didn’t come back to the States until the end of her first trimester.”

Nobody had ever told me I was conceived in Africa.

“Rebecca wouldn’t have known there was anything wrong.” Matthew shook his head, his mouth pressed into a hard, firm line. “VTS happens before most women know they’re pregnant.”

“So I was a twin, and Mom miscarried my sibling?”

“Your brother,” Matthew said, pointing to the test results with his free hand. “Your twin was male. In cases like yours, the viable fetus absorbs the blood and tissues of the other. It happens quite early, and in most cases there’s no evidence of the vanished twin. Does Diana’s hair indicate she might possess powers that didn’t show up in her other DNA results?”

“A few—timewalking, shape-shifting, divination,” his son replied. “Diana fully absorbed most of them.”

“My brother was supposed to be the timewalker, not me,” I said slowly.

A trail of phosphorescent smudges marked my grandmother’s progress as she drifted into the room, touched me lightly on the shoulder, and sat at the far end of the table.

“He would have had the genetic predisposition to control witchfire, too,” Marcus said, nodding. “We found only the fire marker in the hair sample—no other traces of elemental magic.”

“And you don’t think my mother knew about my brother?” I ran my fingertip along the bars of gray, black, and white.

“Oh, she knew.” Miriam sounded confident. “You were born on the goddess’s feast day. She named you Diana.”

“So?” I shivered, pushing aside the memory of riding through the forest in sandals and a tunic, along with the strange feeling of holding a bow and arrow that accompanied witchfire.

“The goddess of the moon had a twin—Apollo. ‘This Lion maketh the Sun so soon, / To be joined to his sister, the Moon.’” Miriam’s eyes gleamed as she recited the alchemical poem. She was up to something.

“You know ‘The Hunting of the Green Lion.’”

“I know the next verses, too: ‘By way of a wedding, a wondrous thing, / This Lion should cause them to beget a king.’”

“What is she talking about?” Sarah asked testily.

When Miriam tried to answer, Matthew shook his head. The vampire fell silent.

“The sun king and moon queen—philosophical sulfur and mercury—married and conceived a child,” I told Sarah. “In alchemical imagery the resulting child is a hermaphrodite, to symbolize a mixed chemical substance.”

“In other words, Matthew,” Miriam interjected tartly, “Ashmole 782 is not just about origins, nor is it just about evolution and extinction. It’s about reproduction.”

I scowled. “Nonsense.”

“You may think it’s nonsense, Diana, but it’s clear to me. Vampires and witches may be able to have children together after all. So might other mixed partners.” Miriam sat back in her chair triumphantly, silently inviting Matthew to explode.

“But vampires can’t reproduce biologically,” Em said. “They’ve never been able to. And different species can’t mix like that.”

“Species change, adapting to new circumstances,” said Marcus. “The instinct to survive through reproduction is a powerful one—certainly powerful enough to cause genetic changes.”

Sarah frowned. “You make it sound like we’re going extinct.”

“We might be.” Matthew pushed the test results into the center of the table along with the notes and the page from Ashmole 782. “Witches are having fewer children and possess diminishing powers. Vampires are finding it harder to take a warmblood through the process of rebirth. And the daemons are more unstable than ever.”

“I still don’t see why that would allow vampires and witches to share children,” Em said. “And if there is a change, why should it begin with Diana and Matthew?”

“Miriam began to wonder while watching them in the library,” Marcus explained.

“We’ve seen vampires exhibit protective behavior before when they want to shield their prey or a mate. But at some point other instincts—to hunt, to feed—overwhelm the urge to protect. Matthew’s protective instincts toward Diana just got stronger,” said Miriam. “Then he started a vampire’s equivalent of flashing his plumage, swooping and diving in the air to attract attention away from her.”

“That’s about protecting future children,” Marcus told his father. “Nothing else makes a predator go to those lengths.”

“Emily’s right. Vampires and witches are too different. Diana and I can’t have children,” Matthew said sharply, meeting Marcus’s eyes.

“We don’t know that. Not absolutely. Look at the spadefoot toad.” Marcus rested his elbows on the table’s surface, weaving his fingers together with a loud crack of his knuckles.

“The spadefoot toad?” Sarah picked up the picture of the chemical wedding, her fingers crumpling the edge. “Wait a minute. Is Diana the lion, the toad, or the queen in this picture?”

“She’s the queen. Maybe the unicorn, too.” Marcus gently pried the page from my aunt’s fingers and went back to amphibians. “In certain situations, the female spadefoot toad will mate with a different—though not completely unrelated—species of toad. Her offspring benefit from new traits, like faster development, that help them survive.”

“Vampires and witches are not spadefoot toads, Marcus,” Matthew said coldly. “And not all of the changes that result are positive.”

“Why are you so resistant?” Miriam asked impatiently. “Cross-species breeding is the next evolutionary step.”

“Genetic supercombinations—like those that would occur if a witch and a vampire were to have children—lead to accelerated evolutionary developments. All species take such leaps. It’s your own findings we’re reporting back to you, Matthew,” said Marcus apologetically.

“You’re both ignoring the high mortality associated with genetic super-combinations. And if you think we’re going to test those odds with Diana, you are very much mistaken.” Matthew’s voice was dangerously soft.

“Because she’s a chimera—and AB-negative as well—she may be less likely to reject a fetus that’s half vampire. She’s a universal blood recipient and has already absorbed foreign DNA into her body. Like the spadefoot toad, she might have been led to you by the pressures of survival.”

“That’s a hell of a lot of conjecture, Marcus.”

“Diana is different, Matthew. She’s not like other witches.” Marcus’s eyes flickered from Matthew to me. “You haven’t looked at her mtDNA report.”

Matthew shuffled the pages. His breath came out in a hiss.

The sheet was covered in brightly covered hoops. Miriam had written across the top in red ink “Unknown Clan,” accompanied by a symbol that looked like a backward E set at an angle with a long tail. Matthew’s eyes darted over the page, and the next.

“I knew you’d question the findings, so I brought comparatives,” Miriam said quietly.

“What’s a clan?” I watched Matthew carefully for a sign of what he was feeling.

“A genetic lineage. Through a witch’s mitochondrial DNA, we can trace descent back to one of four women who were the female ancestors of every witch we’ve studied.”

“Except you,” Marcus said to me. “You and Sarah aren’t descended from any of them.”

“What does this mean?” I touched the backward E.

“It’s an ancient glyph for heh, the Hebrew number five.” Matthew directed his next words to Miriam. “How old is it?”

Miriam considered her words carefully. “Clan Heh is old—no matter which mitochondrial-clock theory you adhere to.”

“Older than Clan Gimel?” Matthew asked, referring to the Hebrew word for the number three.

“Yes.” Miriam hesitated. “And to answer your next question, there are two possibilities. Clan Heh could just be another line of descent from mtLilith.”

Sarah opened her mouth to ask a question, and I quieted her with a shake of my head.

“Or Clan Heh could descend from a sister of mtLilith—which would make Diana’s ancestor a clan mother, but not the witches’ equivalent of mtEve. In either case it’s possible that without Diana’s issue Clan Heh will die out in this generation.”

I slid the brown envelope from my mother in Matthew’s direction. “Could you draw a picture?” No one in the room was going to understand this without visual assistance.

Matthew’s hand sped over the page, sketching out two sprawling diagrams. One looked like a snake, the other branched out like the brackets for a sports tournament. Matthew pointed to the snake. “These are the seven known daughters of mitochondrial Eve—mtEve for short. Scientists consider them to be the most recent common matrilineal ancestors of every human of Western European descent. Each woman appears in the DNA record at a different point in history and in a different region of the globe. They once shared a common female ancestor, though.”

“That would be mtEve,” I said.

“Yes.” He pointed at the tournament bracket. “This is what we’ve uncovered about the matrilineal descent of witches. There are four lines of descent, or clans. We numbered them in the order we found them, although the woman who was mother to Clan Aleph—the first clan we discovered—lived more recently than the others.”

“Define ‘recently,’ please,” Em requested.

“Aleph lived about seven thousand years ago.”

“Seven thousand years ago?” Sarah said incredulously. “But the Bishops can only trace our female ancestors back to 1617.”

“Gimel lived about forty thousand years ago,” Matthew said grimly. “So if Miriam is right, and Clan Heh is older, you’ll be well beyond that.”

“Damn,” Sarah breathed again. “Who’s Lilith?”

“The first witch.” I drew Matthew’s diagrams closer, remembering his cryptic response in Oxford to my asking if he was searching for the first vampire. “Or at least the first witch from whom present-day witches can claim matrilineal descent.”

“Marcus is fond of the Pre-Raphaelites, and Miriam knows a lot of mythology. They picked the name,” Matthew said by way of explanation.

“The Pre-Raphaelites loved Lilith. Dante Gabriel Rossetti described her as the witch Adam loved before Eve.” Marcus’s eyes turned dreamy. “‘So went / Thy spell through him, and left his straight neck bent / And round his heart one strangling golden hair.’”

“That’s the Song of Songs,” Matthew observed. “‘You have wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, you have wounded my heart with one of your eyes, and with one hair of your neck.’”

“The alchemists admired the same passage,” I murmured with a shake of my head. “It’s in the Aurora Consurgens, too.”

“Other accounts of Lilith are far less rapturous,” Miriam said in stern tones, drawing us back to the matter at hand. “In ancient stories she was a creature of the night, goddess of the wind and the moon, and the mate of Samael, the angel of death.”

“Did the goddess of the moon and the angel of death have children?” Sarah asked, looking at us sharply. Once more the similarities between old stories, alchemical texts, and my relationship with a vampire were uncanny.

“Yes.” Matthew plucked the reports from my hands and put them into a tidy pile.

“So that’s what the Congregation is worried about,” I said softly. “They fear the birth of children that are neither vampire nor witch nor daemon, but mixed. What would they do then?”

“How many other creatures have been in the same position as you and Matthew, over the years?” wondered Marcus.

“How many are there now?” Miriam added.

“The Congregation doesn’t know about these test results—and thank God for that.” Matthew slid the pile of papers back into the center of the table. “But there’s still no evidence that Diana can have my child.”

“So why did your mother’s housekeeper teach Diana how to make that tea?” Sarah asked. “She thinks it’s possible.”

Oh, dear, my grandmother said sympathetically. It’s going to hit the fan now.

Matthew stiffened, and his scent became overpoweringly spicy. “I don’t understand.”

“That tea that Diana and what’s-her-name—Marthe—made in France. It’s full of abortifacients and contraceptive herbs. I smelled them the moment the tin was open.”

“Did you know?” Matthew’s face was white with fury.

“No,” I whispered. “But no harm was done.”

Matthew stood. He pulled his phone from his pocket, avoiding my eyes. “Please excuse me,” he said to Em and Sarah before striding out of the room.

“Sarah, how could you?” I cried after the front door shut behind him.

“He has a right to know—and so do you. No one should take drugs without consenting to it.”

“It’s not your job to tell him.”

“No,” Miriam said with satisfaction. “It was yours.”

“Stay out of this, Miriam.” I was spitting mad, and my hands were twitching.

“I’m already in it, Diana. Your relationship with Matthew puts every creature in this room in danger. It’s going to change everything, whether you two have children or not. And now he’s brought the Knights of Lazarus into it.” Miriam was as furious as I was. “The more creatures who sanction your relationship, the likelier it is that there will be war.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. War?” The marks Satu burned into my back prickled ominously. “Wars break out between nations, not because a witch and a vampire love each other.”

“What Satu did to you was a challenge. Matthew responded just as they hoped he would: by calling on the brotherhood.” Miriam made a sound of disgust. “Since you walked into the Bodleian, he’s lost control of his senses. And the last time he lost his senses over a woman, my husband died.”

The room was quiet as a tomb. Even my grandmother looked startled.

Matthew wasn’t a killer, or so I told myself over and over again. But he killed to feed himself, and he killed in angry, possessive rages. I knew both of these truths and loved him anyway. What did it say about me, that I could love such a creature so completely?

“Calm down, Miriam,” Marcus warned.

“No,” she snarled. “This is my tale. Not yours, Marcus.”

“Then tell it,” I said tersely, gripping the edges of the table.

“Bertrand was Matthew’s best friend. When Eleanor St. Leger was killed, Jerusalem came to the brink of war. The English and the French were at each other’s throats. He called on the Knights of Lazarus to resolve the conflict. We were nearly exposed to the humans as a result.” Miriam’s brittle voice broke. “Someone had to pay for Eleanor’s death. The St. Legers demanded justice. Eleanor died at Matthew’s hands, but he was the grand master then, just as he is now. My husband took the blame—to protect Matthew as well as the order. A Saracen executioner beheaded him.”

“I’m sorry, Miriam—truly sorry—about your husband’s death. But I’m not Eleanor St. Leger, and this isn’t Jerusalem. It was a long time ago, and Matthew’s not the same creature.”

“It seems like yesterday to me,” Miriam said simply. “Once again Matthew de Clermont wants what he cannot have. He hasn’t changed at all.”

The room fell silent. Sarah looked aghast. Miriam’s story had confirmed her worst suspicions about vampires in general and Matthew in particular.

“Perhaps you’ll remain true to him, even after you know him better,” Miriam continued, her voice dead. “But how many more creatures will Matthew destroy on your behalf? Do you think Satu J?rvinen will escape Gillian Chamberlain’s fate?”

“What happened to Gillian?” Em asked, her voice rising.

Miriam opened her mouth to respond, and the fingers on my right hand curled instinctively into a loose ball. The index and middle fingers released in her direction with a tiny snap. She grabbed her throat and made a gurgling sound.

That wasn’t very nice, Diana, my grandmother said with a shake of her finger. You need to watch your temper, my girl.

“Stay out of this, Grandma—and you too, Miriam.” I gave both of them withering glances and turned to Em. “Gillian’s dead. She and Peter Knox sent me the picture of Mom and Dad in Nigeria. It was a threat, and Matthew felt he had to protect me. It’s instinctive in him, like breathing. Please try to forgive him.”

Em turned white. “Matthew killed her for delivering a picture?”

“Not just for that,” said Marcus. “She’d been spying on Diana for years. Gillian and Knox broke in to her rooms at New College and ransacked them. They were looking for DNA evidence so they could learn more about her power. If they’d found out what we now know—”

My fate would be far worse than death if Gillian and Knox knew what was in my test results. It was devastating that Matthew hadn’t told me himself, though. I hid my thoughts, trying to close the shutters behind my eyes. My aunts didn’t need to know that my husband kept things from me.

But there was no keeping my grandmother out. Oh, Diana, she whispered. Are you sure you know what you’re doing?

“I want you all out of my house.” Sarah pushed her chair back. “You, too, Diana.”

A long, slow shudder started in the house’s old root cellar under the family room and spread throughout the floorboards. It climbed up the walls and shook the panes of glass in the windows. Sarah’s chair shot forward, pressing her against the table. The door between the dining room and the family room slammed shut.

The house never likes it when Sarah tries to take charge, my grandmother commented.

My own chair pulled back and dumped me unceremoniously onto the floor. I used the table to haul myself up, and when I was on my feet, invisible hands spun me around and pushed me through the door toward the front entrance. The dining-room door crashed behind me, locking two witches, two vampires, and a ghost inside. There were muffled sounds of outrage.

Another ghost—one I’d never seen before—walked out of the keeping room and beckoned me forward. She wore a bodice covered with intricate embroidery atop a dark, full skirt that touched the floor. Her face was creased with age, but the stubborn chin and long nose of the Bishops was unmistakable.

Be careful, daughter. Her voice was low and husky. You are a creature of the crossroads, neither here nor there. ’Tis a dangerous place to be.

“Who are you?”

She looked toward the front door without answering. It opened soundlessly, its usually creaky hinges silent and smooth. I have always known he would come—and come for you. My own mother told me so.

I was torn between the Bishops and the de Clermonts, part of me wanting to return to the dining room, the other part needing to be with Matthew. The ghost smiled at my dilemma.

You have always been a child between, a witch apart. But there is no path forward that does not have him in it. Whichever way you go, you must choose him.

She disappeared, leaving fading traces of phosphorescence. Matthew’s white face and hands were just visible through the open door, a blur of movement in the darkness at the end of the driveway. At the sight of him my decision became easy.

Outside, I drew my sleeves down over my hands to protect them from the chilly air. I picked up one foot . . . and when I put it down, Matthew was directly in front of me, his back turned. It had taken me a single step to travel the length of the driveway.

He was speaking in furiously fast Occitan. Ysabeau must be on the other end.

“Matthew.” I spoke softly, not wanting to startle him.

He whipped around with a frown. “Diana. I didn’t hear you.”

“No, you wouldn’t have. May I speak to Ysabeau, please?” I reached for the phone.

“Diana, it would be better—”

Our families were locked in the dining room, and Sarah was threatening to throw us all out. We had enough problems without severing ties with Ysabeau and Marthe.

“What was it that Abraham Lincoln said about houses?”

“‘A house divided against itself cannot stand,’” Matthew said, a puzzled look on his face.

“Exactly. Give me the phone.” Reluctantly he did so.

“Diana?” Ysabeau’s voice had an uncharacteristic edge.

“No matter what Matthew has said, I’m not angry with you. No harm was done.”

“Thank you,” she breathed. “I have been trying to tell him—it was only a feeling that we had, something half remembered from very long ago. Diana was the goddess of fertility then. Your scent reminds me of those times, and of the priestesses who helped women conceive.”

Matthew’s eyes touched me through the darkness.

“You’ll tell Marthe, too?”

“I will, Diana.” She paused. “Matthew has shared your test results and Marcus’s theories with me. It is a sign of how much they have startled him, that he told your tale. I do not know whether to weep with joy or sorrow at the news.”

“It’s early days, Ysabeau—maybe both?”

She laughed softly. “It will not be the first time my children have driven me to tears. But I wouldn’t give up the sorrow if it meant giving up the joy as well.”

“Is everything all right at home?” The words escaped before I thought them through, and Matthew’s eyes softened.

“Home?” The significance of the word was not lost on Ysabeau either. “Yes, we are all well here. It is very . . . quiet since you both left.”

My eyes filled with tears. Despite Ysabeau’s sharp edges, there was something so maternal about her. “Witches are noisier than vampires, I’m afraid.”

“Yes. And happiness is always louder than sadness. There hasn’t been enough happiness in this house.” Her voice grew brisk. “Matthew has said everything to me that he needs to say. We must hope the worst of his anger has been spent. You will take care of each other.” Ysabeau’s last sentence was a statement of fact. It was what the women in her family—my family—did for those they loved.

“Always.” I looked at my vampire, his white skin gleaming in the dark, and pushed the red button to disconnect the line. The fields on either side of the driveway were frost-covered, the ice crystals catching the faint traces of moonlight coming through the clouds.

“Did you suspect, too? Is that why you won’t make love to me?” I asked Matthew.

“I told you my reasons. Making love should be about intimacy, not just physical need.” He sounded frustrated at having to repeat himself.

“If you don’t want to have children with me, I will understand,” I said firmly, though part of me quietly protested.

His hands were rough on my arms. “Christ, Diana, how can you think that I wouldn’t want our children? But it might be dangerous—for you, for them.”

“There’s always risk with pregnancy. Not even you control nature.”

“We have no idea what our children would be. What if they shared my need for blood?”

“All babies are vampires, Matthew. They’re all nourished with their mother’s blood.”

“It’s not the same, and you know it. I gave up all hope of children long ago.” Our eyes met, searching for reassurance that nothing between us had changed. “But it’s too soon for me to imagine losing you.”

And I couldn’t bear losing our children.

Matthew’s unspoken words were as clear to me as an owl hooting overhead. The pain of Lucas’s loss would never leave him. It cut deeper than the deaths of Blanca or Eleanor. When he lost Lucas, he lost part of himself that could never be recovered.

“So you’ve decided. No children. You’re sure.” I rested my hands on his chest, waiting for the next beat of his heart.

“I’m not sure of anything,” Matthew said. “We haven’t had time to discuss it.”

“Then we’ll take every precaution. I’ll drink Marthe’s tea.”

“You’ll do a damn sight more than that,” he said grimly. “That stuff is better than nothing, but it’s a far cry from modern medicine. Even so, no human form of contraception may be effective when it comes to witches and vampires.”

“I’ll take the pills anyway,” I assured him.

“And what about you?” he asked, his fingers on my chin to keep me from avoiding his eyes. “Do you want to carry my children?”

“I never imagined myself a mother.” A shadow flickered across his face. “But when I think of your children, it feels as though it was meant to be.”

He dropped my chin. We stood silently in the darkness, his arms around my waist and my head on his chest. The air felt heavy, and I recognized it as the weight of responsibility. Matthew was responsible for his family, his past, the Knights of Lazarus—and now for me.

“You’re worried that you couldn’t protect them,” I said, suddenly understanding.

“I can’t even protect you,” he said harshly, fingers playing over the crescent moon burned into my back.

“We don’t have to decide just yet. With or without children, we already have a family to keep together.” The heaviness in the air shifted, some of it settling on my shoulders. All my life I’d lived for myself alone, pushing away the obligations of family and tradition. Even now part of me wanted to return to the safety of independence and leave these new burdens behind.

His eyes traveled up the drive to the house. “What happened after I left?”

“Oh, what you’d expect. Miriam told us about Bertrand and Jerusalem—and let slip about Gillian. Marcus told us who broke in to my rooms. And then there’s the fact that we might have started some kind of war.”

“Dieu, why can’t they keep their mouths shut?” He ran his fingers through his hair, his regret at concealing all this from me clear in his eyes. “At first I was sure this was about the manuscript. Then I supposed it was all about you. Now I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it’s about. Some old, powerful secret is unraveling, and we’re caught up in it.”

“Is Miriam right to wonder how many other creatures are tangled in it, too?” I stared at the moon as if she might answer my question. Matthew did instead.

“It’s doubtful we’re the first creatures to love those we should not, and we surely won’t be the last.” He took my arm. “Let’s go inside. We have some explaining to do.”

On our way up the drive, Matthew observed that explanations, like medicines, go down easier when accompanied by liquid refreshment. We entered the house through the back door to pick up the necessary supplies. While I arranged a tray, Matthew’s eyes rested on me.

“What?” I looked up. “Did I forget something?”

A smile played at the corners of his mouth. “No, ma lionne. I’m just trying to figure out how I acquired such a fierce wife. Even putting cups on a tray, you look formidable.”

“I’m not formidable,” I said, tightening my ponytail self-consciously.

“Yes, you are.” Matthew smiled. “Miriam wouldn’t be in such a state otherwise.”

When we reached the door between the dining room and the family room, we listened for sounds of a battle within, but there was nothing except quiet murmurs and low conversation. The house unlocked the door and opened it for us.

“We thought you might be thirsty,” I said, putting the tray on the table.

A multitude of eyes turned in our direction—vampires, witches, ghosts. My grandmother had a whole flock of Bishops at her back, all of them rustling and shifting as they tried to adjust to having vampires in the dining room.

“Whiskey, Sarah?” Matthew asked, picking up a tumbler from the tray.

She gave him a long look. “Miriam says that by accepting your relationship we invite war. My father fought in World War II.”

“So did mine,” Matthew said, pouring the whiskey. So had he, no doubt, but he was silent on that point.

“He always said whiskey made it possible to close your eyes at night without hating yourself for everything you’d been ordered to do that day.”

“It’s no guarantee, but it helps.” Matthew held out the glass.

Sarah took it. “Would you kill your own son if you thought he was a threat to Diana?”

He nodded. “Without hesitation.”

“That’s what he said.” Sarah nodded at Marcus. “Get him a drink, too. It can’t be easy, knowing your own father could kill you.”

Matthew got Marcus his whiskey and poured Miriam a glass of wine. I made Em a cup of milky coffee. She’d been crying and looked more fragile than usual.

“I just don’t know if I can handle this, Diana,” she whispered when she took the mug. “Marcus explained what Gillian and Peter Knox had planned. But when I think of Barbara Chamberlain and what she must be feeling now that her daughter is dead—” Em shuddered to a stop.

“Gillian Chamberlain was an ambitious woman, Emily,” said Matthew. “All she ever wanted was a seat at the Congregation’s table.”

“But you didn’t have to kill her,” Em insisted.

“Gillian believed absolutely that witches and vampires should remain apart. The Congregation has never been satisfied that they fully understood Stephen Proctor’s power and asked her to watch Diana. She wouldn’t have rested until both Ashmole 782 and Diana were in the Congregation’s control.”

“But it was just a picture.” Em wiped at her eyes.

“It was a threat. The Congregation had to understand that I was not going to stand by and let them take Diana.”

“Satu took her anyway,” Em pointed out, her voice unusually sharp.

“That’s enough, Em.” I reached over and covered her hand with mine.

“What about this issue of children?” Sarah asked, gesturing with her glass. “Surely you two won’t do something so risky?”

“That’s enough,” I repeated, standing and banging my hand on the table. Everyone but Matthew and my grandmother jumped in surprise. “If we are at war, we’re not fighting for a bewitched alchemical manuscript, or for my safety, or for our right to marry and have children. This is about the future of all of us.” I saw that future for just a moment, its bright potential spooling away in a thousand different directions. “If our children don’t take the next evolutionary steps, it will be someone else’s children. And whiskey isn’t going to make it possible for me to close my eyes and forget that. No one else will go through this kind of hell because they love someone they’re not supposed to love. I won’t allow it.”

My grandmother gave me a slow, sweet smile. There’s my girl. Spoken like a Bishop.

“We don’t expect anyone else to fight with us. But understand this: our army has one general. Matthew. If you don’t like it, don’t enlist.”

In the front hall, the old case clock began to strike midnight.

The witching hour. My grandmother nodded.

Sarah looked at Em. “Well, honey? Are we going to stand with Diana and join Matthew’s army or let the devil take the hindmost?”

“I don’t understand what you all mean by war. Will there be battles? Will vampires and witches come here?” Em asked Matthew in a shaky voice.

“The Congregation believes Diana holds answers to their questions. They won’t stop looking for her.”

“But Matthew and I don’t have to stay,” I said. “We can be gone by morning.”

“My mother always said my life wouldn’t be worth living once it was tangled up with the Bishops,” Em said with a wan smile.

“Thank you, Em,” Sarah said simply, although her face spoke volumes.

The clock tolled a final time. Its gears whirred into place, ready to strike the next hour when it came.

“Miriam?” Matthew asked. “Are you staying here or are you going back to Oxford?”

“My place is with the de Clermonts.”

“Diana is a de Clermont now.” His tone was icy.

“I understand, Matthew.” Miriam directed a level gaze at me. “It won’t happen again.”

“How strange,” Marcus murmured, his eyes sweeping the room. “First it was a shared secret. Now three witches and three vampires have pledged loyalty to one another. If we had a trio of daemons, we’d be a shadow Congregation.”

“We’re unlikely to run into three daemons in downtown Madison,” Matthew said drily. “And whatever happens, what we’ve talked about tonight remains among the six of us—understood? Diana’s DNA is no one else’s business.”

There were nods all around the table as Matthew’s motley army fell into line behind him, ready to face an enemy we didn’t know and couldn’t name.

We said our good-nights and went upstairs. Matthew kept his arm around me, guiding me through the doorframe and into the bedroom when I found it impossible to navigate the turn on my own. I slid between the icy sheets, teeth chattering. When his cool body pressed against mine, the chattering ceased.

I slept heavily, waking only once. Matthew’s eyes glittered in the darkness, and he pulled me back so that we lay like spoons.

“Sleep,” he said, kissing me behind the ear. “I’m here.” His cold hand curved over my belly, already protecting children yet to be born.

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