فصل 02

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فصل 02

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2

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 burning. 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.” Mathew 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 chief 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 J?rvinen 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.

“After.”

“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 drag?o.”

“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.”

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