Over the next several days, Matthew's tiny army learned the first requirement of war: al ies must not kil each other.
Difficult as it was for my aunts to accept vampires into their house, it was the vampires who had the real trouble adjusting. It wasn't just the ghosts and the cat. More than nuts would have to be kept in the house if vampires and warmbloods were to live in such close quarters. The very next day Marcus and Miriam had a conversation with Matthew in the driveway, then left in the Range Rover.
Several hours later they returned bearing a smal refrigerator marked with a red cross and enough blood and medical supplies to outfit an army field hospital. At Matthew's request, Sarah selected a corner of the stil room to serve as the blood bank.
"It's just a precaution," Matthew assured her.
"In case Miriam gets the munchies?" Sarah picked up a bag of O-negative blood.
"I ate before I left England," Miriam said primly, her tiny bare feet slipping quietly over the stone floors as she put items away.
The deliveries also included a blister pack of birth-control pil s inside a hideous yel ow plastic case with a flower molded into the lid. Matthew presented them to me at bedtime.
"You can start them now or wait a few days until your period starts."
"How do you know when my period is going to start?" I'd finished my last cycle the day before Mabon-the day before I'd met Matthew.
"I know when you're planning on jumping a paddock fence. You can imagine how easy it is for me to know when you're about to bleed."
"Can you be around me while I'm menstruating?" I held the case gingerly as if it might explode.
Matthew looked surprised, then chuckled. "Dieu, Diana.
There wouldn't be a woman alive if I couldn't." He shook his head. "It's not the same thing."
I started the pil s that night.
As we adjusted to the close quarters, new patterns of activity developed in the house-many of them around me. I was never alone and never more than ten feet away from the nearest vampire. It was perfect pack behavior. The vampires were closing ranks around me.
My day was divided into zones of activity punctuated by meals, which Matthew insisted I needed at regular intervals to ful y recover from La Pierre. He joined me in yoga between breakfast and lunch, and after lunch Sarah and Em tried to teach me how to use my magic and perform spel s. When I was tearing my hair out with frustration, Matthew would whisk me off for a long walk before dinner.
We lingered around the table in the family room after the warmbloods had eaten, talking about current events and old movies. Marcus unearthed a chessboard, and he and his father often played together while Em and I cleaned up.
Sarah, Marcus, and Miriam shared a fondness for film noir, which now dominated the house's TV-viewing schedule. Sarah had discovered this happy coincidence when, during one of her habitual bouts of insomnia, she went downstairs in the middle of the night and found Miriam and Marcus watching Out of the Past. The three also shared a love of Scrabble and popcorn. By the time the rest of the house awoke, they'd transformed the family room into a cinema and everything had been swept off the coffee table save a game board, a cracked bowl ful of lettered tiles, and two battered dictionaries.
Miriam proved to be a genius at remembering archaic seven-letter words.
"'Smoored'!" Sarah was exclaiming one morning when I came downstairs. "What the hel kind of word is 'smoored'?
If you mean those campfire desserts with marshmal ows and graham crackers, you've spel ed it wrong."
"It means 'smothered,'" Miriam explained. "It's what we did to fires to keep them banked overnight. We smoored them. Look it up if you don't believe me."
Sarah grumbled and retreated to the kitchen for coffee.
"Who's winning?" I inquired.
"You need to ask?" The vampire smiled with satisfaction.
When not playing Scrabble or watching old movies, Miriam held classes covering Vampires 101. In the space of a few afternoons, she managed to teach Em the importance of names, pack behavior, possessive rituals, preternatural senses, and dining habits. Lately talk had turned to more advanced topics, such as how to slay a vampire.
"No, not even slicing our necks open is foolproof, Em,"
Miriam told her patiently. The two were sitting in the family room while I made tea in the kitchen. "You want to cause as much blood loss as possible. Go for the groin as wel ."
Matthew shook his head at the exchange and took the opportunity (since everyone else was otherwise engaged) to pin me behind the refrigerator door. My shirt was askew and my hair tumbling around my ears when our son came into the room with an armload of wood.
"Did you lose something behind the refrigerator, Matthew?" Marcus's face was the picture of innocence.
"No," Matthew purred. He buried his face in my hair so he could drink in the scent of my arousal. I swatted ineffectual y at his shoulders, but he just held me tighter.
"Thanks for replenishing the firewood, Marcus," I said breathlessly.
"Should I go get more?" One blond eyebrow arched up in perfect imitation of his father.
"Good idea. It wil be cold tonight." I twisted my head to reason with Matthew, but he mistook it as an invitation to kiss me again. Marcus and the wood supply faded into inconsequence.
When not lying in wait in dark corners, Matthew joined Sarah and Marcus in the most unholy trio of potion brewers since Shakespeare put three witches around a cauldron.
The vapor Sarah and Matthew brewed up for the picture of the chemical wedding hadn't revealed anything, but this didn't deter them. They occupied the stil room at al hours, consulting the Bishop grimoire and making strange concoctions that smel ed bad, exploded, or both. On one occasion Em and I investigated a loud bang fol owed by the sound of rol ing thunder.
"What are you three up to?" Em asked, hands on hips.
Sarah's face was covered in gray soot, and debris was fal ing down the chimney.
"Nothing," Sarah grumbled. "I was trying to cleave the air and the spel got bent out of shape, that's al ."
"Cleaving?" I looked at the mess, astonished.
Matthew and Marcus nodded solemnly.
"You'd better clean up this room before dinner, Sarah Bishop, or I'l show you cleaving!" Em sputtered.
Of course, not al encounters between residents were happy ones. Marcus and Matthew walked together at sunrise, leaving me to the tender care of Miriam, Sarah, and the teapot. They never went far. They were always visible from the kitchen window, their heads bent together in conversation. One morning Marcus turned on his heel and stormed back to the house, leaving his father alone in the old apple orchard.
"Diana," he growled in greeting before streaking through the family room and straight out the front door. "I'm too damn young for this!" he shouted as he left.
His engine revved-Marcus preferred sports cars to SUVs-and the tires bit into the gravel when he reversed and pul ed out of the driveway.
"What's Marcus upset about?" I asked when Matthew returned, kissing his cold cheek as he reached for the paper.
"Business," he said shortly, kissing me back.
"You didn't make him seneschal?" Miriam asked incredulously.
Matthew flipped the paper open. "You must have a very high opinion of me, Miriam, if you think the brotherhood has functioned for al these years without a seneschal. That position is already occupied."
"What's a seneschal?" I put two slices of bread in the beat-up toaster. It had six slots, but only two of them worked with any reliability.
"My second in command," Matthew said briefly.
"If he's not the seneschal, why has Marcus sped out of here?" Miriam pressed.
"I appointed him marshal," Matthew said, scanning the headlines.
"He's the least likely marshal I've ever seen," she said severely. "He's a physician, for God's sake. Why not Baldwin?"
Matthew looked up from his paper and cocked his eyebrow at her. "Baldwin?"
"Okay, not Baldwin," Miriam hastily replied. "There must be someone else."
"Had I two thousand knights to choose from as I once did, there might be someone else. But there are only eight knights under my command at present-one of whom is the ninth knight and not required to fight-a handful of sergeants, and a few squires. Someone has to be marshal.
I was Philippe's marshal. Now it's Marcus's turn." The terminology was so antiquated it invited giggles, but the serious look on Miriam's face kept me quiet.
"Have you told him he's to start raising banners?" Miriam and Matthew continued to speak a language of war I didn't understand.
"What's a marshal?" The toast sprang out and winged its way to the kitchen island when my stomach rumbled.
"Matthew's chief military officer." Miriam eyed the refrigerator door, which was opening without visible assistance.
"Here." Matthew neatly caught the butter as it passed over his shoulder and then handed it to me with a smile, his face serene in spite of his col eague's pestering. Matthew, though a vampire, was self-evidently a morning person.
"The banners, Matthew. Are you raising an army?"
"Of course I am, Miriam. You're the one who keeps bringing up war. If it breaks out, you don't imagine that Marcus, Baldwin, and I are going to fight the Congregation by ourselves?" Matthew shook his head. "You know better than that."
"What about Fernando? Surely he's stil alive and wel ."
Matthew put his paper down and glowered. "I'm not going to discuss my strategy with you. Stop interfering and leave Marcus to me."
Now it was Miriam's turn to bolt. She pressed her lips tightly together and stalked out the back door, headed for the woods.
I ate my toast in silence, and Matthew returned to his paper. After a few minutes, he put it down again and made a sound of exasperation.
"Out with it, Diana. I can smel you thinking, and it's impossible for me to concentrate."
"Oh, it's nothing," I said around a mouthful of toast. "A vast military machine is swinging into action, the precise nature of which I don't understand. And you're unlikely to explain it to me, because it's some sort of brotherhood secret."
"Dieu. " Matthew ran his fingers through his hair until it stood on end. "Miriam causes more trouble than any creature I've ever known, with the exception of Domenico Michele and my sister Louisa. If you want to know about the Knights, I'l tel you."
Two hours later my head was spinning with information about the brotherhood. Matthew had sketched out an organizational flowchart on the back of my DNA reports. It was awesome in its complexity-and it didn't include the military side. That part of the operation was outlined on some ancient Harvard University letterhead left by my parents that we pul ed out of the sideboard. I looked over Marcus's many new responsibilities.
"No wonder he's overwhelmed," I murmured, tracing the lines that connected Marcus to Matthew above him and to seven master knights below, and then to the troops of vampires each would be expected to gather.
"He'l adjust." Matthew's cold hands kneaded the tight muscles in my back, his fingers lingering on the star between my shoulder blades. "Marcus wil have Baldwin and the other knights to rely upon. He can handle the responsibility, or I wouldn't have asked him."
Maybe, but he would never be the same after taking on this job for Matthew. Every new chal enge would chip away a piece of his easygoing charm. It was painful to imagine the vampire Marcus would become.