فصل 18

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فصل 18

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18

That voice. When I’d last heard it, it was higher, without the low rumble at the back of his throat.

Those eyes. Golden brown shot through with gold and leafy green. They still looked older than his years.

His smile. The left corner had always lifted higher than the right.

“Jack?” I choked on the name as my heart constricted.

A hundred pounds of white dog pawed out of the backseat of the car, hopping over the gearshift and through the open door, long hair flying and pink tongue lolling out of his mouth. Jack grabbed him by the collar.

“Stay, Lobero.” Jack ruffled the hair atop the dog’s shaggy head, revealing glimpses of black button eyes. The dog gazed at him adoringly, thumped his tail, and sat panting to await further instruction.

“Hello, Gallowglass.” Jack walked slowly toward us.

“Jackie.” Gallowglass’s voice was thick with emotion. “I thought you were dead.”

“I was. Then I wasn’t.” Jack looked down at me, unsure of his welcome. Leaving no room for doubt, I flung my arms around him.

“Oh, Jack.” Jack smelled of coal fires and foggy mornings rather than warm bread, as he had when he was a child. After a moment of hesitation, he enfolded me within long, lean arms. He was older and taller, but he still felt fragile, as though his mature appearance were nothing more than a shell.

“I missed you,” Jack whispered.

“Diana!” Matthew was still more than two blocks away, but he’d spotted the car blocking the entrance into Court Street, as well as the strange man who held me. From his perspective I must have looked trapped, even with Gallowglass standing nearby. Instinct took over, and Matthew ran, his body a blur.

Lobero raised an alarm with a booming bark. Komondors were a lot like vampires: bred to protect those they loved, loyal to family, large enough to take down wolves and bears, and ready to die rather than yield to another creature.

Jack sensed the threat, without seeing its source. He transformed before my eyes into a creature from nightmares, teeth bared and eyes glassy and black. He grabbed me and held me tight, shielding me from whatever loomed behind. But he was restricting the flow of air into my lungs, as well.

“No! Not you, too,” I gasped, wasting the last of my breath. Now there was no way for me to warn Matthew that someone had given our bright, vulnerable boy blood rage.

Before Matthew could hurtle over the car’s hood, a man climbed out of the driver’s seat and grabbed him. He must be a vampire, too, I thought dizzily, if he had the strength to stop Matthew.

“Stop, Matthew. It’s Jack.” The man’s deep, rumbling voice and distinctive London accent conjured up unwelcome memories of a single drop of blood falling into a vampire’s waiting mouth.

Andrew Hubbard. The vampire king of London was in New Haven. Stars flickered at the edges of my vision.

Matthew snarled and twisted. Hubbard’s spine met the metal frame of the car with a bone-crushing thud.

“It’s Jack,” Hubbard repeated, gripping Matthew by the neck and forcing him to listen.

This time the message got through. Matthew’s eyes widened, and he looked in our direction.

“Jack?” Matthew’s voice was hoarse.

“Master Roydon?” Without turning, Jack cocked his head to the side as Matthew’s voice penetrated the black haze of the blood rage. His grip loosened.

I drew in a lungful of air, struggling to push back the star-filled darkness. My hand went instinctively to my belly, where I felt a reassuring poke, then another. Lobero sniffed at my feet and hands as if trying to figure out my relationship to his master, then sat before me and growled at Matthew.

“Is this another dream?” There was a trace of the lost child he had once been in his bass voice, and Jack squeezed his eyes shut rather than risk waking up.

“It’s no dream, Jack,” Gallowglass said softly. “Step away from Mistress Roydon now. Matthew poses no danger to his mate.”

“Oh, God. I touched her.” Jack sounded horrified. Slowly he turned and held up his hands in surrender, willing to accept whatever punishment Matthew saw fit to mete out. Jack’s eyes, which had been returning to normal, darkened again. But he wasn’t angry. So why was the blood rage resurfacing?

“Hush,” I said, gently lowering his arm. “You’ve touched me a thousand times. Matthew doesn’t care.”

“I wasn’t . . .this . . . before.” Jack’s voice was taut with self-loathing.

Matthew drew closer slowly so as not to startle Jack. Andrew Hubbard slammed the car door and followed him. The centuries had done little to change the London vampire famous for his priestly ways and his brood of adopted creatures of all species and ages. He looked the same: clean-shaven, pale of face, and blond of hair. Only Hubbard’s slate-colored eyes and somber clothing provided notes of contrast to his otherwise pallid appearance. And his body was still tall and thin, with slightly stooped, broad shoulders.

As the two vampires approached, the dog’s growl turned more menacing and his lips peeled back from his teeth.

“Come, Lobero,” Matthew commanded. He crouched down and waited patiently while the dog considered his options.

“He’s a one-man dog,” Hubbard warned. “The only creature he’ll listen to is Jack.”

Lobero’s wet nose pushed into my hand, and then he sniffed his master. The dog’s muzzle lifted to take in the other scents before he moved toward Matthew and Hubbard. Lobero recognized Father Hubbard, but Matthew received a more thorough evaluation. When he was through, Lobero’s tail shifted from left to right. It wasn’t exactly a wag, but the dog had instinctively acknowledged the alpha in this pack.

“Good boy.” Matthew stood and pointed to his heel. Lobero obediently swung around and followed as Matthew joined Jack, Gallowglass, and me.

“All right, mon coeur?” Matthew murmured.

“Of course,” I said, still a bit short of breath.

“And you, Jack?” Matthew rested a hand on Jack’s shoulder. It was not the typical de Clermont embrace. This was a father greeting his son after a long separation—a father who feared that his child had been through hell.

“I’m better now,” Jack could always be relied upon to tell the truth when asked a direct question. “I overreact when I’m surprised.”

“So do I.” Matthew’s grip on him tightened a fraction. “I’m sorry. You had your back turned, and I wasn’t expecting ever to see you again.”

“It’s been . . . difficult. To stay away.” The faint vibration in Jack’s voice suggested it had been more than difficult.

“I can imagine. Why don’t we go inside and you can tell us your tale?” This was not a casual invitation; Matthew was asking Jack to bare his soul. Jack looked worried at the prospect.

“What you say is your choice, Jack,” Matthew assured him. “Tell us nothing, tell us everything, but let’s go inside while you do it. Your latest Lobero is no quieter than your first. He’ll have the neighbors calling the police if he keeps barking.”

Jack nodded.

Matthew’s head cocked to the side. The gesture made him look a bit like Jack. He smiled. “Where has our little boy gone? I don’t have to crouch down anymore to meet your eyes.”

The remaining tension left Jack’s body with Matthew’s gentle teasing. He grinned shyly and scratched Lobero’s ears.

“Father Hubbard will come with us. Could you take the car, Gallowglass, and park it somewhere where it’s not blocking the road?” Matthew asked.

Gallowglass held out his hand, and Hubbard put the keys into it.

“There’s a briefcase in the trunk,” Hubbard said. “Bring it back with you.”

Gallowglass nodded, his lips pressed into a thin line. He gave Hubbard a blistering look before stalking toward the car.

“He never has liked me.” Hubbard straightened the lapels on his austere black jacket, which he wore over a black shirt. Even after more than six hundred years, the vampire remained a cleric at heart.

He nodded to me, acknowledging my presence for the first time. “Mistress Roydon.”

“My name is Bishop.” I wanted to remind him of the last time we’d seen each other and the agreement that he’d made—and broken, based on the evidence before me.

“Dr. Bishop, then.” Hubbard’s strange, multicolored eyes narrowed.

“You didn’t keep your promise,” I hissed. Jack’s agitated stare settled on my neck.

“What promise?” Jack demanded from behind me.

Damn. Jack had always had excellent hearing but I’d forgotten he was now gifted with preternatural senses, too.

“I swore that I’d take care of you and Annie for Mistress Roydon,” Hubbard said.

“Father Hubbard kept his word, mistress,” Jack said quietly. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

“And we’re grateful to him.” Matthew looked anything but. He tossed me the keys to the house.

Gallowglass still had my bag, and without its contents I had no way to open the door.

Hubbard caught them instead and turned the key in the lock.

“Take Lobero upstairs and get him some water, Jack. The kitchen’s on the first floor.” Matthew plucked the keys from Hubbard’s grasp as he went past and put them in a bowl on the hall table.

Jack called to Lobero and obediently started up the worn, painted treads. “You’re a dead man, Hubbard—and so is the one who made Jack a vampire.” Matthew’s voice was no more than a hollow murmur. Jack heard it nonetheless.

“You can’t kill him, Master Roydon.” Jack stood at the top of the stairs, his fingers wrapped tightly around Lobero’s collar. “Father Hubbard is your grandson. He’s my maker, too.”

Jack turned away, and we heard the cabinet doors open, then water running from an open tap. The sounds were oddly homely considering that a conversational bomb had just gone off.

“My grandson?” Matthew looked at Hubbard in shock. “But that means . . .”

“Benjamin Fox is my sire.” Andrew Hubbard’s origins had always been shrouded in obscurity.

London legends said that he had been a priest when the Black Death first visited England in 1349. After Hubbard’s parishioners all succumbed to the illness, Hubbard had dug his own grave and climbed into it.

Some mysterious vampire had brought Hubbard back from the brink of death—but no one seemed to know who.

“As far as your son was concerned, I was only a tool—someone he made to further his aims in England. Benjamin hoped I would have blood rage,” Hubbard continued. “He also hoped I would help him organize an army to stand against the de Clermonts and their allies. But he was disappointed on both counts, and I’ve managed to keep him away from me and my flock. Until now.”

“What’s happened?” Matthew asked brusquely.

“Benjamin wants Jack. I can’t let him have the boy again,” was Hubbard’s equally abrupt reply.

“Again?” That madman had been with Jack. I turned blindly toward the stairs, but Matthew caught me by the wrists and trapped me against his chest.

“Wait,” he commanded.

Gallowglass came through the door with a large black briefcase and my book bag. He surveyed the scene and dropped what he was carrying.

“What’s happened now?” he asked, looking from Matthew to Hubbard.

“Father Hubbard made Jack a vampire,” I said as neutrally as I could. Jack was listening after all. Gallowglass slammed Hubbard against the wall. “You bastard. I could smell your scent all over him. I thought—”

It was Gallowglass’s turn to be tossed against something—in his case it was the floor. Hubbard pressed one polished black shoe against the big Gael’s sternum. I was astonished that someone who looked so skeletal could be so strong.

“Thought what, Gallowglass?” Hubbard’s tone was menacing. “That I’d violated a child?”

Upstairs, Jack’s rising agitation soured the air. He’d learned from an early age how quickly ordinary quarrels could turn violent. As a boy he’d found even a hint of disagreement between Matthew and me distressing.

“Corra!” I cried, instinctively wanting her support.

By the time my firedrake swooped down and landed on the newel post, Matthew had averted any potential bloodshed by picking up Gallowglass and Hubbard by the scruffs of their necks, prying them apart, and shaking them until their teeth rattled.

Corra gave an irritated bleat and fixed a malevolent stare on Father Hubbard, suspecting quite rightly that he was to blame for her interrupted nap.

“I’ll be damned.” Jack’s fair head peeked over the railing. “Didn’t I tell you Corra would survive the timewalking, Father H?” He gave a hoot of delight and pounded on the painted wood. Jack’s behavior reminded me so strongly of the joyous boy he had once been that I had to fight back the tears.

Corra let out an answering cry of welcome, followed by a stream of fire and song that filled the entrance with happiness. She took flight, zooming up and latching her wings around Jack. Then she tucked her head atop his and began to croon, her tail encircling his ribs so that the spade-shaped tip could gently pat his back. Lobero padded over to his master and gave Corra a suspicious sniff. She must have smelled like family, and therefore a creature to be included among his many responsibilities. He dropped down at Jack’s side, head on his paws but eyes still watchful.

“Your tongue is even longer than Lobero’s,” Jack said, trying not to giggle as Corra tickled his neck. “I can’t believe she remembers me.”

“Of course she remembers you! How could she forget someone who spoiled her with currant buns?” I said with a smile.

By the time we were settled in the living room overlooking Court Street, the blood rage had receded from Jack’s veins. Aware of his low position in the house’s pecking order, he waited until everyone else took a chair before choosing his own seat. He was ready to join the dog on the floor when Matthew patted the sofa cushion.

“Sit with me, Jack.” Matthew’s invitation held a note of command. Jack sat, pulling at the knees of his jeans.

“You look to be about twenty,” Matthew observed, hoping to draw him into conversation.

“Twenty, maybe twenty-one,” Jack said. “Leonard and I— You remember Leonard?” Matthew nodded. “We figured it out because of my memories of the Armada. Nothing specific, you understand, just the fear of the Spanish invasion in the streets, the lighting of the beacons, and the victory celebrations. I must have been at least five in 1588 to remember that.”

I did some rapid calculations. That meant Jack was made a vampire in 1603. “The plague.”

The disease had swept through London with a vengeance that year. I noticed a mottled patch on his neck, just under his ear. It looked like a bruise, but it must be a mark left by a plague sore. For it to have remained visible even after Jack became a vampire suggested that he had been moments from death when Hubbard transformed him.

“Aye,” Jack said, looking down at his hands. He turned them this way and that. “Annie died from it ten years earlier, soon after Master Marlowe was killed in Deptford.”

I’d wondered what had happened to our Annie. I had imagined her a prosperous seamstress with her own business. I’d hoped she would have married a good man and had children. But she’d died while still a teenager, her life snuffed out before it truly began.

“That was a dreadful year, 1593, Mistress Roydon. The dead were everywhere. By the time Father Hubbard and I learned she was sick, it was too late,” Jack said, his expression bereft.

“You’re old enough to call me Diana,” I said gently.

Jack plucked at his jeans without replying. “Father Hubbard took me in when you . . . left,” he continued. “Sir Walter was in trouble, and Lord Northumberland was too busy at court to look after me.”

Jack smiled at Hubbard with obvious affection. “Those were good times, running about London with the gang.”

“I was on very intimate terms with the sheriff during your so-called good times,” Hubbard said drily. “You and Leonard got into more mischief than any two boys who ever lived.”

“Nah,” Jack said, grinning. “The only really serious trouble was when we snuck into the Tower to take Sir Walter his books and stayed on to pass a letter from him to Lady Raleigh.”

“You did—” Matthew shuddered and shook his head. “Christ, Jack. You never could distinguish between a petty crime and a hanging offense.”

“I can now,” Jack said cheerfully. Then his expression became nervous once more. Lobero’s head rose, and he rested his muzzle on Jack’s knee.

“Don’t be mad at Father Hubbard. He only did what I asked, Master Roydon. Leonard explained creatures to me long before I became one, so I knew what you and Gallowglass and Davy were. Things made better sense after that.” Jack paused. “I should have had the courage to face death and accept it, but I couldn’t go to my grave without seeing you again. My life felt . . . unfinished.”

“And how does it feel now?” Matthew asked.

“Long. Lonely. And hard—harder than I ever imagined.” Jack twisted Lobero’s hair, rolling the strands until they formed a tight rope. He cleared his throat. “But it was all worth it for today,” he continued softly. “Every bit of it.”

Matthew’s long arm reached for Jack’s shoulder. He squeezed it, then quickly let go again. For a moment I saw desolation and grief on my husband’s face before he donned his composed mask once more. It was the vampire version of a disguising spell. “Father Hubbard told me his blood might make me ill, Master Roydon.” Jack shrugged. “But I was already sick. What difference would it make to change one illness for another?”

No difference at all, I thought, except that one killed you and the other could make you a killer.

“Andrew was right to tell you,” Matthew said. Father Hubbard looked surprised by this admission.

“I don’t imagine your grandsire gave him the same consideration.” Matthew was careful to use the terms that Hubbard and Jack used to describe their relationship to Benjamin.

“No. He wouldn’t have done. My grandsire doesn’t believe that he owes anyone an explanation for any of his actions.” Jack shot to his feet and traveled aimlessly around the room, Lobero following. He examined the moldings around the door, running his fingers along the wood. “You have the sickness in your blood, too, Master Roydon. I remember it from Greenwich. But it doesn’t control you, like it does my grandsire. And me.”

“It did once.” Matthew looked at Gallowglass and gave him a slight nod.

“I remember when Matthew was as wild as the devil and nigh invincible with a sword in his hand.

Even the bravest men ran in terror.” Gallowglass leaned forward, hands clasped and knees spread wide.

“My grandsire told me about Master—Matthew’s past.” Jack shuddered. “He said that Matthew’s talent for killing was in me, too, and I had to be true to it or you would never recognize me as your blood.”

I’d seen Benjamin’s unspeakable cruelty on camera, how he twisted hopes and fears into a weapon to destroy a creature’s sense of self. That he’d done so with Jack’s feelings for Matthew made me blind with fury. I clenched my hands into fists, tightening the cords in my fingers until the magic threatened to burst through my skin.

“Benjamin doesn’t know me as well as he thinks.” Anger was building in Matthew, too, his spicy scent growing sharper. “I would recognize you as mine before the entire world, and proudly—even if you weren’t my blood.”

Hubbard looked uneasy. His attention shifted from Matthew to Jack. “You would make me your blood-sworn son?” Jack slowly turned to Matthew. “Like Philippe did with Mistress Roydon—I mean, Diana?”

Matthew’s eyes widened slightly as he nodded, trying to absorb the fact that Philippe had known of Matthew’s children when Matthew had not. A look of betrayal crossed his face.

“Philippe visited me whenever he came to London,” Jack explained, oblivious to the changes in Matthew. “He told me to listen for his blood vow, because it was loud and I would probably hear Mistress Roydon before I saw her. And you were right, Miss—Diana. Matthew’s father really was as big as the emperor’s bear.”

“If you met my father, then I’m sure you heard plenty of tales about my bad behavior.” The muscle in Matthew’s jaw had started ticking as betrayal turned to bitterness, his pupils growing larger by the second and his rage continued to gain ground.

“No,” Jack said, confusion wrinkling his brow. “Philippe spoke only of his admiration and said you would teach me to ignore what my blood was telling me to do.”

Matthew jerked as though he’d been hit.

“Philippe always made me feel closer to you and Mistress Roydon. Calmer, too.” Jack looked nervous again. “But it has been a long time since I saw Philippe.”

“He was captured in the war,” Matthew explained, “and died as a result of what he suffered.”

It was a careful half-truth.

“Father Hubbard told me. I’m glad Philippe didn’t live to see—” This time the shudder traveled through Jack from the marrow of his bones to the surface of his skin. His eyes went full black without warning, filled with horror and dread.

Jack’s present suffering was far worse than what Matthew had to endure. With Matthew it was only bitter fury that brought the blood rage to the surface. With Jack a wider range of emotions triggered it.

“It’s all right.” Matthew was with him in an instant, one hand clamped around his neck and the other resting on his cheek. Lobero pawed at Matthew’s foot as if to say, Do something. “Don’t touch me when I’m like this,” Jack snarled, pushing at Matthew’s chest. But he might as well have tried to move a mountain. “You’ll make it worse.”

“You think you can order me about, pup?” Matthew’s eyebrow arched. “Whatever you think is so terrible, just say it. You’ll feel better once you do.”

With Matthew’s encouragement Jack’s confession tumbled from some dark place inside where he stored up everything that was evil and terrifying.

“Benjamin found me a few years ago. He said he’d been waiting for me. My grandsire promised to take me to you, but only after I’d proved that I was really one of Matthew de Clermont’s blood.”

Gallowglass swore. Jack’s eyes darted to him, and a snarl broke free.

“Keep your eyes on me, Jack.” Matthew’s tone made it clear that any resistance would be met with a swift and harsh reprisal. My husband was performing an impossible balancing act, one that required unconditional love along with a steady assertion of dominance. Pack dynamics were always fraught.

With blood rage they could turn deadly in an instant.

Jack dragged his attention from Gallowglass, and his shoulders lowered a fraction.

“Then what happened?” Matthew prompted.

“I killed. Again and again. The more I killed, the more I wanted to kill. The blood did more than feed me—it fed the blood rage, too.”

“It was clever of you to understand that so quickly,” Matthew said approvingly.

“Sometimes I came to my senses long enough to realize that what I was doing was wrong. I tried to save the warmbloods then, but I couldn’t stop drinking,” Jack confessed. “I managed to turn two of my prey into vampires. Benjamin was pleased with me then.”

“Only two?” A shadow flitted across Matthew’s features.

“Benjamin wanted me to save more, but it took too much control. No matter what I did, most of them died.” Jack’s inky eyes filled with blood tears, the pupils taking on a red sheen.

“Where did these deaths occur?” Matthew sounded only mildly curious, but my sixth sense told me the question was crucial to understanding what had happened to Jack.

“Everywhere. I had to keep moving. There was so much blood. I had to get away from the police, and the newspapers. . . .” Jack shuddered.

VAMPIRE ON THE LOOSE IN LONDON. I remembered the vivid headline and all the clippings of the “vampire murders” that Matthew had collected from around the world. I bowed my head, not wanting Jack to realize I knew that he was the murderer whom European authorities were seeking.

“But it’s the ones that lived who suffered the most,” Jack continued, his voice deadening further with every word. “My grandsire took my children from me and said he would make sure they were raised properly.”

“Benjamin used you.” Matthew looked deep into his eyes, trying to make a connection. Jack shook his head.

“When I made those children, I broke my vow to Father Hubbard. He said the world didn’t need more vampires—there were plenty already—and if I was lonely, I could take care of creatures whose families didn’t want them anymore. All Father Hubbard asked was that I not make children, but I failed him again and again. After that, I couldn’t go back to London—not with so much blood on my hands.

And I couldn’t stay with my grandsire. When I told Benjamin I wanted to leave, he went into a terrible rage and killed one of my children in retaliation. His sons held me down and forced me to watch.” Jack bit back a harsh sound. “And my daughter. My daughter. They—”

He retched. He clamped a hand over his mouth, but it was too late to keep the blood from escaping as he vomited. It streamed over his chin, soaking into his dark shirt. Lobero leaped up, barking sharply and pawing at his back.

Unable to stay away a moment longer, I rushed to Jack’s side.

“Diana!” Gallowglass cried. “You must not—”

“Don’t tell me what to do. Get me a towel!” I snapped.

Jack fell to his hands and knees, his landing softened by Matthew’s strong arms. I knelt beside him as he continued to purge his stomach of its contents. Gallowglass handed me a towel. I used it to mop Jack’s face and hands, which were covered with blood. The towel was soon sodden and icy cold from my frantic efforts to stanch the flow, the contact with so much vampire blood making my hands numb and clumsy.

“The force of the vomiting must have broken some blood vessels in his stomach and throat,”

Matthew said. “Andrew, can you get a pitcher of water? Put plenty of ice in it.”

Hubbard went to the kitchen and was back in moments.

“Here,” he said, thrusting the pitcher at Matthew.

“Raise his head, Diana,” Matthew instructed. “Keep hold of him, Andrew. His body is screaming for blood, and he’ll fight against taking water.”

“What can I do?” Gallowglass said, his voice gruff.

“Wipe off Lobero’s paws before he tracks blood all over the house. Jack won’t need any reminders of what’s happened.” Matthew gripped Jack’s chin. “Jack!”

Jack’s glassy black eyes swiveled toward Matthew.

“Drink this,” Matthew commanded, raising Jack’s chin a few inches. Jack spluttered and snapped in an attempt to throw him off. But Hubbard kept Jack immobilized long enough to empty the pitcher.

Jack hiccupped, and Hubbard loosened his hold.

“Well done, Jackie,” Gallowglass said.

I smoothed Jack’s hair away from his forehead as he bent forward again, clutching at his visibly heaving stomach.

“I got blood on you,” he whispered. My shirt was streaked with it.

“So you did,” I said. “It’s not the first time a vampire’s bled on me, Jack.”

“Try to rest now,” Matthew told him. “You’re exhausted.”

“I don’t want to sleep.” Jack swallowed hard as the gorge rose again in his throat.

“Shh.” I rubbed his neck. “I can promise there will be no nightmares.”

“How can you be sure?” Jack asked.

“Magic.” I traced the pattern of the fifth knot on his forehead and lowered my voice to a whisper.

“Mirror shimmers, monsters shake, banish nightmares until he wakes.”

Jack’s eyes slowly closed. After a few minutes, he was curled on his side, sleeping peacefully.

I wove another spell—one that was meant just for him. It required no words, for no one would ever use it but me. The threads surrounding Jack were a furious snarl of red, black, and yellow. I pulled on the healing green threads that surrounded me, as well as the white threads that helped break curses and establish new beginnings. I twisted them together and tied them around Jack’s wrist, fixing the braid with a secure, six-crossed knot.

“There’s a guest room upstairs,” I said. “We’ll put Jack to bed there. Corra and Lobero will let us know if he stirs.”

“Would that be all right?” Matthew asked Hubbard.

“When it comes to Jack, you don’t need my permission,” Hubbard replied.

“Yes I do. You’re his father,” Matthew said. “I’m only his sire,” Hubbard said softly. “You’re Jack’s father, Matthew. You always have been.”

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