فصل 30

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فصل 30

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“You shouldn’t have any problem with it now,” I told the young witch sitting before me. She had come at the suggestion of Linda Crosby to see if I could figure out why her protection spell was no longer effective.

Working out of Clairmont House, I had become London’s chief magical diagnostician, listening to accounts of failed exorcisms, spells gone bad, and elemental magic on the loose, and then helping the witches find solutions. As soon as Amanda cast her spell for me, I could see the problem: When she recited the words, the blue and green threads around her got tangled up with a single strand of red that pulled on the six-crossed knots at the core of the spell. The gramarye had become convoluted, the spell’s intentions murky, and now instead of protecting Amanda it was the magical equivalent of an angry Chihuahua, snarling and snapping at everything that came close.

“Hello, Amanda,” Sarah said, sticking her head in to see how we were faring. “Did you get what you needed?”

“Diana was brilliant, thanks,” Amanda said.

“Wonderful. Let me show you out,” Sarah said.

I leaned back on the cushions, sad to see Amanda go. Since the doctors from Harley Street had me on bed rest, my visitors were few.

The good news was that I didn’t have preeclampsia—at least not as it usually develops in warmbloods. I had no protein in my urine, and my blood pressure was actually below normal.

Nevertheless, swelling, nausea, and shoulder pain were not symptoms the jovial Dr. Garrett or his aptly named colleague, Dr. Sharp, wished to ignore—especially not after Ysabeau explained that I was Matthew Clairmont’s mate.

The bad news was that they put me on modified bed rest nonetheless, and so I would remain until the twins were born—which Dr. Sharp hoped would not be for another four weeks at least, although her worried look suggested that this was an optimistic projection. I was allowed to do some gentle stretching under Amira’s supervision and take two ten-minute walks around the garden per day. Stairs, standing, lifting were positively forbidden.

My phone buzzed on the side table. I picked it up, hoping for a text from Matthew.

A picture of the front door of Clairmont House was waiting for me.

It was then that I noticed how quiet it was, the only sound the ticking of the house’s many clocks.

The creak of the front-door hinges and the soft scrape of wood against marble broke the silence.

Without thinking I shot to my feet, teetering on legs that had grown weaker during my enforced inactivity.

And then Matthew was there.

All that either of us could do for the first long moments was to drink in the sight of the other.

Matthew’s hair was tousled and slightly wavy from the damp London air, and he was wearing a gray sweater and black jeans. Fine lines around his eyes showed the stress he’d been under.

He stalked toward me. I wanted to jump up and run at him, but something in his expression kept me glued to the spot.

When at last Matthew reached me, he cradled my neck with his fingertips and searched my eyes.

His thumb brushed across my lips, bringing the blood to the surface. I saw the small changes in him: the firm set of his jaw, the unusual tightness of his mouth, the hooded expression caused by the lowering of his eyelids.

My lips parted as his thumb made another pass over my tingling mouth.

“I missed you, mon coeur,” Matthew said, his voice rough. He leaned down with the same deliberation as he had crossed the room, and he kissed me. My head spun. He was here. My hands gripped his sweater as though that could keep him from disappearing. A raspy catch in the back of his throat that was almost a growl kept me quiet when I prepared to rise up and meet him in his embrace. Matthew’s free hand roamed over my back, my hip, and settled on my belly. One of the babies gave a sharp, reproachful kick. He smiled against my mouth, the thumb that had first stroked my lip now feather-light on my pulse. Then he registered the books, flowers, and fruit.

“I’m absolutely fine. I was a bit nauseated and had a pain in my shoulder, that’s all,” I said quickly.

His medical education would send his mind racing toward all sorts of terrible diagnoses. “My blood pressure is fine, and so are the babies.”

“Fernando told me. I’m sorry I wasn’t here,” he murmured, his fingers rubbing my tense neck muscles. For the first time since New Haven, I let myself relax.

“I missed you, too.” My heart was too full to let me to say more.

But Matthew didn’t want more words. The next thing I knew I was airborne, cradled in his arms with my feet dangling.

Upstairs, Matthew put me in the leafy surrounds of the bed we’d slept in so many lifetimes ago in the Blackfriars. Silently he undressed me, examining every inch of exposed flesh as though he had been given an unexpected glimpse of something rare and precious. He was utterly silent as he did so, letting his eyes and the gentleness of his touch speak for him.

Over the course of the next few hours, Matthew reclaimed me, his fingers erasing every trace of the other creatures I’d been in contact with since he departed. At some point he let me undress him, his body responding to mine with gratifying speed. Dr. Sharp had been absolutely clear on the risks associated with any contraction of my uterine muscles, however. There would be no release of sexual tension for me, but just because I had to deny my body’s needs, that didn’t mean Matthew did, too. When I reached for him, however, he stilled my hand and kissed me deeply.

Together, Matthew said without a word. Together, or not at all.

“Don’t tell me you can’t find him, Fernando,” Matthew said, not even trying to sound reasonable. He was in the kitchen of Clairmont House, scrambling eggs and making toast. Diana was upstairs resting, unaware of the conference taking place on the lower ground floor.

“I still think we should ask Jack,” Fernando said. “He could help us narrow down the options, at least.”

“No. I don’t want him involved.” Matthew turned to Marcus. “Is Phoebe all right?”

“It was too close for comfort, Matthew,” Marcus said grimly. “I know you don’t approve of Phoebe’s becoming a vampire, but—”

“You have my blessing,” Matthew interrupted. “Just choose someone who will do it properly.”

“Thank you. I already have.” Marcus hesitated. “Jack has been asking to see Diana.”

“Send him over this evening.” Matthew flipped the eggs onto a plate. “Tell him to bring the cradles.

Around seven. We’ll be expecting him.”

“I’ll tell him,” Marcus said. “Anything else?”

“Yes,” Matthew said. “Someone must be feeding Benjamin information. Since you can’t find Benjamin, you can look for him—or her.”

“And then?” Fernando asked.

“Bring them to me,” Matthew replied as he left the room.

We remained locked alone in the house for three days, twined together, talking little, never separated for more than the few moments when Matthew went downstairs to make me something to eat or to accept a meal dropped off by the Connaught’s staff. The hotel had apparently worked out a food-for-wine scheme with Matthew. Several cases of 1961 Château Latour left the house in exchange for exquisite morsels of food, such as hard-boiled quail eggs in a nest of seaweed and delicate ravioli filled with tender cèpes that the chef assured Mathew had been flown in from France only that morning.

On the second day, Matthew and I trusted ourselves to talk, and similarly tiny mouthfuls of words were offered up and digested alongside the delicacies from a few streets away. He reported on Jack’s efforts at self-governance in the thick of Marcus’s sprawling brood. Matthew spoke with great admiration of Marcus’s deft handling of his children and grandchildren, all of whom had names worthy of characters in a nineteenth-century penny dreadful. And, reluctantly, Matthew told me of his struggles not only his with blood rage but with his desire to be at my side.

“I would have gone mad without the pictures,” he confessed, spooned up against my back with his long, cold nose buried in my neck. “The images of where we’d lived, or the flowers in the garden, or your toes on the edge of the bath kept my sanity from slipping entirely.”

I shared my own tale with a slowness worthy of a vampire, gauging Matthew’s reactions so that I could take a break when necessary and let him absorb what I’d experienced in London and Oxford.

There was finding Timothy and the missing page, as well as meeting up with Amira and being back at the Old Lodge. I showed Matthew my purple finger and shared the goddess’s proclamation that to possess the Book of Life I would have to give up something I cherished. And I spared no details from my account of meeting Benjamin—not my own failures as a witch, nor what he’d done to Phoebe, not even his final, parting threat.

“If I hadn’t hesitated, Benjamin would be dead.” I’d been over the event hundreds of times and still didn’t understand why my nerve had failed. “First Juliette and now—”

“You cannot blame yourself for choosing not to kill someone,” Matthew said, pressing a finger to my lips. “Death is a difficult business.”

“Do you think Benjamin is still here, in England?” I asked.

“Not here,” Matthew assured me, rolling me to face him. “Never again where you are.”

Never is a long time. Philippe’s admonishment came back to me clearly.

I pushed the worry away and pulled my husband closer.

“Benjamin has utterly vanished,” Andrew Hubbard told Matthew. “That’s what he does.”

“That’s not entirely true. Addie claims she saw him in Munich,” Marcus said. “She alerted her fellow knights.”

While Matthew was in the sixteenth century, Marcus had admitted women into the brotherhood. He began with Miriam, and she helped him name the rest. Matthew wasn’t sure if this was madness or genius at work, but if it helped him locate Benjamin, he was prepared to remain agnostic. Matthew blamed Marcus’s progressive ideas on his onetime neighbor Catherine Macaulay, who had occupied an important place in his son’s life when he was first made a vampire and filled his ears with her bluestocking ideas.

“We could ask Baldwin,” Fernando said. “He is in Berlin, after all.”

“Not yet,” Matthew said.

“Does Diana know you’re looking for Benjamin?” Marcus asked.

“No,” Matthew said as he headed back to his wife with a plate of food from the Connaught.

“Not yet,” Andrew Hubbard muttered.

That evening it was difficult to determine who was more overjoyed at our reunion: Jack or Lobero. The pair got twisted in a tangle of legs and feet, but Jack finally managed to extricate himself from the beast, who nevertheless beat him to my chaise longue in the Chinese Room and leaped onto the cushion with a triumphant bark.

“Down, Lobero. You’ll make the thing collapse.” Jack stooped and kissed me respectfully on the cheek. “Grandmother.”

“Don’t you dare!” I warned, taking his hand in mine. “Save your grandmotherly endearments for Ysabeau.”

“I told you she wouldn’t like it,” Matthew said with a grin. He snapped his fingers at Lobero and pointed to the floor. The dog slid his forelegs off the chaise, leaving his backside planted firmly against me. It took another snap of the fingers for him to slide off entirely. “Madame Ysabeau said she has standards to maintain, and I will have to do two extremely wicked things before she will let me call her Grandmother,” Jack said.

“And yet you’re still calling her Madame Ysabeau?” I looked at him in amazement. “What’s keeping you? You’ve been back in London for days.”

Jack looked down, his lips curved at the prospect of more delicious mischief to come. “Well, I’ve been on my best behavior, madame.”

“Madame?” I groaned and threw a pillow at him. “That’s worse than calling me ‘Grandmother.’”

Jack let the pillow hit him square in the face.

“Fernando’s right,” Matthew said. “Your heart knows what to call Diana, even if your thick head and vampire propriety are telling you different. Now, help me bring in your mother’s present.”

Under Lobero’s careful supervision, Matthew and Jack carried in first one, then another cloth wrapped bundle. They were tall and seemingly rectangular in shape, rather like small bookcases.

Matthew had sent me a picture of a stack of wood and some tools. The two must have worked on the items together. I smiled at the sudden image of them, dark head and light bowed over a common project.

As Matthew and Jack gradually unwrapped the two objects, it became clear that they were not bookcases but cradles: two beautiful, identically carved and painted, wooden cradles. Their curved bases hung inside sturdy wooden stands that sat on level feet. This way the cradles could be rocked gently in the air or removed from their supports and put on the floor to be nudged with a foot. My eyes filled.

“We made them out of rowan wood. Ransome couldn’t figure out where the hell we were going to find Scottish wood in Louisiana, but he obviously doesn’t know Matthew.” Jack ran his fingers along one of the smooth edges.

“The cradles are rowan, but the stand is made from oak—strong American white oak.” Matthew regarded me with a touch of anxiety. “Do you like them?”

“I love them.” I looked up at my husband, hoping my expression would tell him just how much. It must have, for he cupped the side of my face tenderly and his own expression was happier than I’d seen since we returned to the present.

“Matthew designed them. He said it’s how cradles used to be made, so you could get them up off the floor and out of the way of the chickens,” Jack explained.

“And the carving?” A tree had been incised into the wood at the foot of each cradle, its roots and branches intertwined. Carefully applied silver and gold paint highlighted the leaves and bark.

“That was Jack’s idea,” Matthew said, putting his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “He remembered the design on your spell box and thought the symbol was fitting for a baby’s bed.”

“Every part of the cradles has meaning,” Jack said. “The rowan is a magical tree, you know, and white oak symbolizes strength and immortality. The finials on the four corners are shaped like acorns— that’s for luck—and the rowanberries carved on the supports are supposed to protect them. Corra’s on the cradles, too. Dragons guard rowan trees to keep humans from eating their fruit.”

I looked more closely and saw that a firedrake’s curving tail provided the arc for the cradles’ rockers.

“These will be the two safest babies in all the world, then,” I said, “not to mention the luckiest, sleeping in such beautiful beds.”

His gifts having been given and gratefully received, Jack sat on the floor with Lobero and told animated tales about life in New Orleans. Matthew relaxed in one of the japanned easy chairs, watching the minutes tick by with Jack showing no sign of blood rage.

The clocks were striking ten when Jack left for Pickering Place, which he described as crowded but of good cheer.

“Is Gallowglass there?” I hadn’t seen him since Matthew returned.

“He left right after we arrived back in London. Said he had somewhere to go and would be back when he was able.” Jack shrugged.

Something must have flickered in my eyes, for Matthew was instantly watchful. He said nothing, however, until he’d seen Jack and Lobero downstairs and safely on their way. “It’s probably for the best,” Matthew said when he returned. He arranged himself in the chaise longue behind me so that he could serve as my backrest. I settled into him with a sigh of contentment as he circled his arms around me.

“That all of our family and friends are at Marcus’s house?” I snorted. “Of course you think that’s for the best.”

“No. That Gallowglass has decided to go away for a little while.” Matthew pressed his lips against my hair. I stiffened.

“Matthew . . .” I needed to tell him about Gallowglass.

“I know, mon coeur. I’ve suspected it for some time, but when I saw him with you in New Haven, I was sure.” Matthew rocked one of the cradles with a gentle push of his finger.

“Since when?” I asked.

“Maybe from the beginning. Certainly from the night Rudolf touched you in Prague,” Matthew replied. The emperor had behaved so badly on Walpurgisnacht, the same night we’d seen the Book of Life whole and complete for the last time. “Even then it came as no surprise, simply a confirmation of something I already, on some level, understood.”

“Gallowglass didn’t do anything improper,” I said quickly.

“I know that. Gallowglass is Hugh’s son and incapable of dishonor.” Matthew’s throat moved as he cleared the emotion from his voice. “Perhaps once the babies are born, he will be able to move on with his life. I would like him to be happy.”

“Me, too,” I whispered, wondering how many knots and threads it would take to bring Gallowglass together with his mate.

“Where has Gallowglass gone?” Matthew glowered at Fernando, though they both knew that his nephew’s sudden disappearance wasn’t Fernando’s fault.

“Wherever it is, he’s better off there than here waiting for you and Diana to welcome your children into the world,” Fernando said.

“Diana doesn’t agree.” Matthew flipped through his e-mail. He’d taken to reading it downstairs, so that Diana didn’t know about the intelligence he was gathering on Benjamin. “She’s asking for him.”

“Philippe was wrong to ask Gallowglass to watch over her.” Fernando downed a cup of wine.

“You think so? It’s what I would have done,” Matthew said.

“Think, Matthew,” Dr. Garrett said impatiently. “Your children have vampire blood in them—though how that is possible, I will leave between you and God. That means they have some vampire immunity at least. Wouldn’t you rather your wife give birth at home, as women have done for centuries?”

Now that Matthew was back, he expected to play a significant role in determining how the twins would be brought into the world. As far as he was concerned, I should deliver in the hospital. My preference was to give birth at Clairmont House, with Marcus in attendance.

“Marcus hasn’t practiced obstetrics for years,” Matthew grumbled.

“Hell, man, you taught him anatomy. You taught me anatomy, come to think of it!” Dr. Garrett was clearly at the end of his rope. “Do you think the uterus has suddenly wandered off to a new location?

Talk sense into him, Jane.”

“Edward is right,” Dr. Sharp said. “The four of us have dozens of medical degrees between us and more than two millennia of combined experience. Marthe has very likely delivered more babies than anyone now living, and Diana’s aunt is a certified midwife. I suspect we’ll manage.”

I suspected she was right. So did Matthew, in the end. Having been overruled about the twins’ delivery, he was eager to get out of the room when Fernando arrived. The two disappeared downstairs.

They often closeted themselves together, talking family business.

“What did Matthew say when you told him you’d sworn your allegiance to the Bishop-Clairmont family?” I asked Fernando when he came upstairs later to say hello.

“He told me I was mad,” Fernando replied with a twinkle in his eye. “I told Matthew that I expect to be made a godfather to your eldest child in return.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged,” I said, though I was beginning to worry at the number of godparents the children were going to have.

“I hope you’re keeping track of all the promises you’ve made,” I remarked to Matthew later that afternoon.

“I am,” he said. “Chris wants the smartest and Fernando the eldest. Hamish wants the best-looking.

Marcus wants a girl. Jack wants a brother. Gallowglass expressed an interest in being godfather to any blond babies before we left New Haven.” Matthew ticked them off on his fingers.

“I’m having twins, not a litter of puppies,” I said, staggered by the number of interested parties.

“Besides, we’re not royals. And I’m pagan! The twins don’t need so many godparents.”

“Do you want me to pick the godmothers, too?” Matthew’s eyebrow rose.

“Miriam,” I said hastily, before he could suggest any of his terrifying female relatives. “Phoebe, of course. Marthe. Sophie. Amira. I’d like to ask Vivian Harrison, too.”

“See. Once you get started, they mount up quickly,” Matthew said with a smile.

That left us with six godparents per child. We were going to be drowning in silver baby cups and teddy bears, if the piles of tiny clothes, booties, and blankets Ysabeau and Sarah had already purchased were any indication.

Two of the twins’ potential godparents joined us for dinner most evenings. Marcus and Phoebe were so obviously in love that it was impossible not to feel romantic in their presence. The air between them thrummed with tension. Phoebe, for her part, was as unflappable and self-possessed as ever. She didn’t hesitate to lecture Matthew on the state of the frescoes in the ballroom and how shocked Angelica Kauffmann would be to find her work neglected in such a fashion. Nor did Phoebe plan on allowing the de Clermont family treasures to be kept from the eyes of the public indefinitely.

“There are ways to share them anonymously, and for a fixed period of time,” she told Matthew.

“Expect to see the picture of Margaret More from the Old Lodge’s upstairs loo on display at the National Portrait Gallery very soon.” I squeezed Matthew’s hand encouragingly.

“Why didn’t someone warn me it would be so difficult to have historians in the family?” he asked Marcus, looking a trifle dazed. “And how did we end up with two?”

“Good taste,” Marcus said, giving Phoebe a smoldering glance.

“Indeed.” Matthew’s mouth twitched at the obvious double entendre.

When it was just the four of us like this, Matthew and Marcus would talk for hours about the new scion—though Marcus preferred to call it “Matthew’s clan” for reasons that had as much to do with his Scottish grandfather as with his dislike of applying botanical and zoological terms to vampire families.

“Members of the Bishop-Clairmont scion—or clan if you insist—will have to be especially careful when they mate or marry,” Matthew said one evening over dinner. “The eyes of every vampire will be on us.”

Marcus did a double take. “Bishop-Clairmont?”

“Of course,” Matthew said with a frown. “What did you expect us to be called? Diana doesn’t use my name, and our children will bear both. It’s only right that a family composed of witches and vampires has a name that reflects that.”

I was touched by his thoughtfulness. Matthew could be such a patriarchal, overprotective creature, but he had not forgotten my family’s traditions.

“Why, Matthew de Clermont,” Marcus said with a slow smile. “That’s downright progressive for an old fossil like you.”

“Hmph.” Matthew sipped at his wine.

Marcus’s phone buzzed, and he looked at his display. “Hamish is here. I’ll go down and let him in.”

Muted conversation floated up the stairs. Matthew rose. “Stay with Diana, Phoebe.”

Phoebe and I exchanged worried looks.

“It will be so much more convenient when I’m a vampire, too,” she said, trying in vain to hear what was being said downstairs. “At least then we’ll know what’s going on.”

“Then they’ll just take a walk,” I said. “I need to devise a spell—one that will magnify the sound waves. Something using air and a bit of water, perhaps.”

“Shh.” Phoebe tilted her head and made an impatient sound. “Now they’ve lowered their voices.

How maddening.”

When Matthew and Marcus reappeared with Hamish in tow, their faces told me that something was seriously wrong.

“There’s been another message from Benjamin.” Matthew crouched before me, his eyes level with mine. “I don’t want to keep this from you, Diana, but you must stay calm.”

“Just tell me,” I said, my heart in my throat.

“The witch that Benjamin captured is dead. Her child died with her.” Matthew’s eyes searched mine, which filled with tears. And not only for the young witch but for myself, and my own failure. If I hadn’t hesitated, Benjamin’s witch would still be alive.

“Why can’t we have the time we need to sort things out and deal with this huge mess we seem to have made? And why do people have to keep dying while we do it?” I cried.

“There was no way to prevent this,” Matthew said, stroking my hair away from my forehead. “Not this time.”

“What about next time?” I demanded.

The men were grim and silent.

“Oh. Of course.” I drew in a sharp lungful of air, and my fingers tingled. Corra burst out from my ribs with an agitated squawk and launched herself upward to perch on the chandelier. “You’ll stop him.

Because next time he’s coming for me.”

I felt a pop, a trickle of liquid.

Matthew looked down to my rounded belly in shock. The babies were on their way.

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