"I'm not sure. But there's clearly more to this situation than a witch's discovery of Ashmole 782." Matthew's tone turned deadly. "I intend to find out what it is."
Something silver glinted against his father's dusky sweater. He's wearing Lazarus's coffin, Marcus realized.
No one in the family talked openly about Eleanor St.
Leger or the events surrounding her death, for fear of driving Matthew into one of his rages. Marcus understood that his father hadn't wanted to leave Paris in 1140, where he was happily studying philosophy. But when the head of the family, Matthew's own father, Philippe, cal ed him back to Jerusalem to help resolve the conflicts that continued to plague the Holy Land long after the conclusion of Urban I 's Crusade, Matthew obeyed without question. He had met Eleanor, befriended her sprawling English family, and fal en resolutely in love.
But the St. Legers and the de Clermonts were often on opposite sides in the disputes, and Matthew's older brothers-Hugh, Godfrey, and Baldwin-urged him to put the woman aside, leaving a clear path for them to destroy her family. Matthew refused. One day a squabble between Baldwin and Matthew over some petty political crisis involving the St. Legers spiraled out of control. Before Philippe could be found and made to stop it, Eleanor intervened. By the time Matthew and Baldwin came to their senses, she'd lost too much blood to recover.
Marcus stil didn't understand why Matthew had let Eleanor die if he'd loved her so much.
Now Matthew wore his pilgrim's badge only when he was afraid he was going to kil someone or when he was thinking of Eleanor St. Leger-or both.
"That picture is a threat-and not an idle one. Hamish thought the Bishop name would make the witches more cautious, but I fear the opposite is true. No matter how great her innate talents might be, Diana can't protect herself, and she's too damn self-reliant to ask for help. I need you to stay with her for a few hours." Matthew dragged his eyes from the picture of Rebecca Bishop and Stephen Proctor. "I'm going to find Gil ian Chamberlain."
"You can't be sure it was Gil ian who delivered that picture," Marcus pointed out. "There are two different scents on it."
"The other belongs to Peter Knox."
"But Peter Knox is a member of the Congregation!"
Marcus knew that a nine-member council of daemons, witches, and vampires had been formed during the Crusades-three representatives from each species. The Congregation's job was to ensure every creature's safety by seeing to it that no one caught the attention of humans.
"If you make a move in his direction, it wil be seen as a chal enge to their authority. The whole family wil be implicated. You aren't seriously considering endangering us just to avenge a witch?"
"You aren't questioning my loyalty, are you?" Matthew purred.
"No, I'm questioning your judgment," Marcus said hotly, facing his father without fear. "This ridiculous romance is bad enough. The Congregation already has one reason to take steps against you. Don't give them another."
During Marcus's first visit to France, his vampire grandmother had explained that he was now bound by a covenant that prohibited close relationships between different orders of creatures, as wel as any meddling in human religion and politics. Al other interactions with humans-including affairs of the heart-were to be avoided but were permitted as long as they didn't lead to trouble.
Marcus preferred spending time with vampires and always had, so the covenant's terms had mattered little to him- until now.
"Nobody cares anymore," Matthew said defensively, his gray eyes drifting in the direction of Diana's bedroom door.
"My God, she doesn't understand about the covenant,"
Marcus said contemptuously, "and you have no intention of tel ing her. You damn wel know you can't keep this secret from her indefinitely."
"The Congregation isn't going to enforce a promise made nearly a thousand years ago in a very different world." Matthew's eyes were now fixed on an antique print of the goddess Diana aiming her bow at a hunter fleeing through the forest. He remembered a passage from a book written long ago by a friend-" for they are no longer hunters, but the hunted"- and shivered.
"Think before you do this, Matthew."
"I've made my decision." He avoided his son's eyes. "Wil you check on her while I'm gone, make sure she's al right?"
Marcus nodded, unable to deny the raw appeal in his father's voice.
After the door closed behind his father, Marcus went to Diana. He lifted one of her eyelids, then the other, and picked up her wrist. He sniffed, noting the fear and shock that surrounded her. He also detected the drug that was stil circulating through her veins. Good, he thought. At least his father had had the presence of mind to give her a sedative.
Marcus continued to probe Diana's condition, looking minutely at her skin and listening to the sound of her breath.
When he was finished, he stood quietly at the witch's bedside, watching her dream. Her forehead was creased into a frown, as if she were arguing with someone.
After his examination Marcus knew two things. First, Diana would be fine. She'd had a serious shock and needed rest, but no permanent damage had been done.
Second, his father's scent was al over her. He'd done it deliberately, to mark Diana so that every vampire would know to whom she belonged. That meant the situation had gone further than Marcus had believed possible. It was going to be difficult for his father to detach himself from this witch. And he would have to, if the stories that Marcus's grandmother had told him were true.
It was after midnight when Matthew reappeared. He looked even angrier than when he'd left, but he was spotless and impeccable as always. He ran his fingers through his hair and strode straight into Diana's room without a word to his son.
Marcus knew better than to question Matthew then. After he emerged from the witch's room, Marcus asked only, "Wil you discuss the DNA findings with Diana?"
"No," Matthew said shortly, without a hint of guilt over keeping information of this magnitude from her. "Nor am I going to share what the witches of the Congregation might do to her. She's been through enough."
"Diana Bishop is less fragile than you think. You have no right to keep that information to yourself, if you are going to continue to spend time with her." Marcus knew that a vampire's life was measured not in hours or years but in secrets revealed and kept. Vampires guarded their personal relationships, the names they'd adopted, and the details of the many lives they'd led. Nonetheless, his father kept more secrets than most, and his urge to hide things from his own family was intensely aggravating.
"Stay out of this, Marcus," his father snarled. "It's not your business."
Marcus swore. "Your damned secrets are going to be the family's undoing."
Matthew had his son by the scruff of the neck before he'd finished speaking. "My secrets have kept this family safe for many centuries, my son. Where would you be today if not for my secrets?"
"Food for worms in an unmarked Yorktown grave, I expect," Marcus said breathlessly, his vocal cords constricted.
Over the years Marcus had tried with little success to uncover some of his father's secrets. He'd never been able to discover who tipped Matthew off that Marcus was raising hel in New Orleans after Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase, for example. There he'd created a vampire family as boisterous and charming as himself from the city's youngest, least responsible citizens. Marcus's brood -which included an alarming number of gamblers and ne'er-do-wel s-risked human discovery every time they went out after dark. The witches of New Orleans, Marcus remembered, had made it clear they wanted them to leave town.
Then Matthew had shown up, uninvited and unannounced, with a gorgeous mixed-race vampire: Juliette Durand. Matthew and Juliette had waged a campaign to bring Marcus's family to heel. Within days they'd formed an unholy al iance with a foppish young French vampire in the Garden District who had implausibly golden hair and a streak of ruthlessness as wide as the Mississippi. That was when the real trouble began.
By the end of the first fortnight, Marcus's new family was considerably, and mysteriously, smal er. As the number of deaths and disappearances mounted, Matthew threw up his hands and murmured about the dangers of New Orleans. Juliette, whom Marcus had grown to detest in the few days he'd known her, smiled secretively and cooed encouraging words in his father's ears. She was the most manipulative creature Marcus had ever met, and he was thril ed when she and his father parted ways.
Under pressure from his remaining children, Marcus made devout assurances to behave if only Matthew and Juliette would leave.
Matthew agreed, after setting out what was expected of members of the de Clermont family in exacting detail. "If you are determined to make me a grandfather," his father instructed during an extremely unpleasant interview held in the presence of several of the city's oldest and most powerful vampires, "take more care." The memory stil made Marcus blanch.
Who or what gave Matthew and Juliette the authority to act as they did remained a mystery. His father's strength, Juliette's cunning, and the luster of the de Clermont name may have helped them gain the support of the vampires.
But there was more to it than that. Every creature in New Orleans-even the witches-had treated his father like royalty.
Marcus wondered if his father had been a member of the Congregation, al those years ago. It would explain a great deal.
Matthew's voice sent his son's memories flying. "Diana may be brave, Marcus, but she doesn't need to know everything now." He released Marcus and stepped away.
"Does she know about our family, then? Your other children?" Does she know about your father? Marcus didn't say the last aloud.
Matthew knew what he was thinking anyway. "I don't tel other vampires' tales."
"You're making a mistake," said Marcus, shaking his head. "Diana won't thank you for keeping things from her."
"So you and Hamish say. When she's ready, I'l tel her everything-but not before." His father's voice was firm. "My only concern right now is getting Diana out of Oxford."
"Wil you drop her off in Scotland? Surely she'l be beyond anyone's reach there." Marcus thought at once of Hamish's remote estate. "Or wil you leave her at Woodstock before you go?"
"Before I go where?" Matthew's face was puzzled.
"You had me bring your passport." Now it was Marcus who was puzzled. That's what his father did-he got angry and went away by himself until he was under better control.
"I have no intention of leaving Diana," Matthew said icily.
"I'm taking her to Sept-Tours."
"You can't possibly put her under the same roof as Ysabeau!" Marcus's shocked voice rang in the smal room.
"It's my home, too," Matthew said, jaw set in a stubborn line.
"Your mother openly boasts about the witches she's kil ed and blames every witch she meets for what happened to Louisa and your father."
Matthew's face crumpled, and Marcus at last understood.
The photograph had reminded Matthew of Philippe's death and Ysabeau's battle with madness in the years that fol owed.
Matthew pressed the palms of his hands against his temples, as if desperately trying to shape a better plan from the outside in. "Diana had nothing to do with either tragedy.
Ysabeau wil understand."
"She won't-you know she won't," Marcus said obstinately. He loved his grandmother and didn't want her hurt. And if Matthew-her favorite-brought a witch home, it was going to hurt her. Badly.
"There's nowhere as safe as Sept-Tours. The witches wil think twice before tangling with Ysabeau-especial y at her own home."
"For God's sake, don't leave the two of them alone together."
"I won't," Matthew promised. "I'l need you and Miriam to move into the gatehouse in hopes that wil convince everyone Diana is there. They'l figure out the truth eventual y, but it may win us a few days. My keys are with the porter. Come back in a few hours, when we've gone.
Take the duvet from her bed-it wil have her scent on it- and drive to Woodstock. Stay there until you hear from me."
"Can you protect yourself and that witch at the same time?" Marcus asked quietly.
"I can handle it," Matthew said with certainty.
Marcus nodded, and the two vampires gripped forearms, exchanging a meaningful look. Anything they needed to say to each other at moments like these had long since been said.
When Matthew was alone again, he sank into the sofa and cradled his head in his hands. Marcus's vehement opposition had shaken him.
He looked up and stared again at the print of the goddess of the hunt stalking her prey. Another line from the same old poem came into his mind. "' I saw her coming from the forest,'" he whispered, "' Huntress of myself, beloved Diana.'"
In the bedroom, too far away for a warmblood to have heard, Diana stirred and cried out. Matthew sped to her side and gathered her into his arms. The protectiveness returned, and with it a renewed sense of purpose.
"I'm here," he murmured against the rainbow strands of her hair. He looked down at Diana's sleeping face, her mouth puckered and a fierce frown between her eyes. It was a face he'd studied for hours and knew wel , but its contradictions stil fascinated him. "Have you bewitched me?" he wondered aloud.
After tonight Matthew knew his need for her was greater than anything else. Neither his family nor his next taste of blood mattered as much as knowing that she was safe and within arm's reach. If that was what it meant to be bewitched, he was a lost man.
His arms tightened, holding Diana in sleep as he would not al ow himself to do when she was awake. She sighed, nestling closer.
Were he not a vampire he wouldn't have caught her faint, murmured words as she clutched both his ampul a and the fabric of his sweater, her fist resting firmly against his heart.
"You're not lost. I found you."
Matthew wondered fleetingly if he'd imagined it but knew that he hadn't.
She could hear his thoughts.
Not al the time, not when she was conscious-not yet.
But it was only a matter of time before Diana knew everything there was to know about him. She would know his secrets, the dark and terrible things he wasn't brave enough to face.
She answered with another faint murmur. "I'm brave enough for both of us."
Matthew bent his head toward hers. "You'l have to be."