“Your comfort was not the Congregation’s chief concern, Ysabeau.” Baldwin gave her a forbidding look.

“Where am I to go, then?” Ysabeau asked.

“After expressing appropriate initial reluctance given his long-standing friendship with the family, Gerbert has generously agreed to keep you at his home. The Congregation could hardly refuse him,”

Baldwin replied. “That won’t pose a problem, will it?”

Ysabeau lifted her shoulders in an expressive Gallic shrug. “Not for me.”

“Gerbert cannot be trusted.” Matthew turned on his brother with almost as much anger as Marcus had shown. “Christ, Baldwin. He stood by and watched while Knox worked his magic on Emily!”

“I do hope Gerbert has managed to retain his butcher,” Ysabeau mused as though her son had not spoken. “Marthe will have to come with me, of course. You will see to it, Baldwin.”

“You’re not going,” Matthew said. “I’ll give myself up first.”

Before I could protest, Ysabeau spoke. “No, my son. Gerbert and I have done this before, as you know. I will be back in no time—a few months at most.”

“Why is this necessary at all?” Marcus said. “Once the Congregation inspects Sept-Tours and finds nothing objectionable, they should leave us alone.”

“The Congregation must have a hostage to demonstrate that they are greater than the de Clermonts,” Phoebe explained, showing a remarkable grasp of the situation.

“But, Grand-mère, ” Marcus began, looking stricken, “it should be me, not you. This is my fault.”

“I may be your grandmother, but I am not so old and fragile as you think,” Ysabeau said with a touch of frostiness. “My blood, inferior though it might be, does not shrink from its duty.”

“Surely there’s another way,” I protested.

“No, Diana,” Ysabeau answered. “We all have our roles in this family. Baldwin will bully us.

Marcus will look after the brotherhood. Matthew will look after you, and you will look after my grandchildren. As for me, I find that I am invigorated at the prospect of being held for ransom once more.”

My mother-in-law’s feral smile made me believe her.

Having helped Baldwin and Marcus to reach a fragile state of détente, Matthew and I returned to our rooms on the other side of the château. Matthew turned on the sound system as soon as we’d passed through the doorway, flooding the room with the intricate strains of Bach. The music made it more difficult for the other vampires in the house to overhear our conversations, so Matthew invariably had something playing in the background.

“It’s a good thing we know more about Ashmole 782 than Knox does,” I said quietly. “Once I retrieve the book from the Bodleian Library, the Congregation will have to stop handing out ultimatums from Venice and start dealing with us directly.”

Matthew studied me silently for a moment, then poured himself some wine and drank it down in one gulp. He offered me water, but I shook my head. The only thing I craved at this hour was tea.

Marcus had urged me to avoid caffeine during the pregnancy, however, and herbal blends were a poor substitute.

“What do you know about the Congregation’s vampire pedigrees?” I took a seat on the sofa.

“Not much,” Matthew replied, pouring another glass of wine. I frowned. There was no chance of a vampire getting intoxicated by drinking wine from a bottle—the only way that one could feel the influence was to drink blood from an inebriated source—but it wasn’t usual for him to drink like this.

“Does the Congregation keep witch and daemon genealogies, too?” I asked, hoping to distract him.

“I don’t know. The affairs of witches and daemons never concerned me.” Matthew moved across the room and stood facing the fireplace.

“Well, it doesn’t matter,” I said, all business. “Our top priority has to be Ashmole 782. I’ll need to go to Oxford as quickly as possible.”

“And what will you do then, ma lionne?”

“Figure out a way to recall it.” I thought for a moment of the conditions my father had woven through the spell that bound the book to the library. “My father made sure that would come to me if I need it. Our present circumstances certainly qualify.”

“So the safety of Ashmole 782 is your chief concern,” Matthew said with dangerous softness.

“Of course. That and finding its missing pages,” I said. “Without them will never reveal its secrets.”

When the daemon alchemist Edward Kelley removed three of its pages in sixteenth-century Prague, he had damaged whatever magic had been used in the making of the book. For protection, the text had burrowed into the parchment, creating a magical palimpsest, and the words chased one another through the pages as if looking for the missing letters. It wasn’t possible to read what remained.

“After I recover it, you might be able to figure out which creatures are bound into it, perhaps even date it, by analyzing its genetic information in your lab,” I continued. Matthew’s scientific work focused on issues of species origins and extinction. “When I locate the two missing pages—”

Matthew turned, his face a calm mask. “You mean when we recover Ashmole 782 and when we locate the other pages.”

“Matthew, be reasonable. Nothing would anger the Congregation more than the news that we were seen together at the Bodleian.”

His voice got even softer, his face calmer. “You are more than three months pregnant, Diana.

Members of the Congregation have already invaded my home and killed your aunt. Peter Knox is desperate to get his hands on Ashmole 782 and knows that you have the power to do it. Somehow he knows about the Book of Life’s missing pages, too. You will not be going to the Bodleian Library or anywhere else without me.”

“I have to put back together again,” I said, my voice rising.

“Then we will, Diana. Right now Ashmole 782 is safely in the library. Leave it there and let this business with the Congregation settle down.” Matthew was relying—perhaps too much—on the idea that I was the only witch who could release the spell my father had placed on the book.

“How long will that take?”

“A few months. Perhaps until after the babies are born,” Matthew said.

“That may be six more months,” I said, reining in my anger. “So I’m supposed to wait and gestate.

And your plan is to twiddle your thumbs and watch the calendar with me?”

“I will do whatever Baldwin commands,” Matthew said, drinking the last of his wine.

“You cannot be serious!” I exclaimed. “Why do you put up with his autocratic nonsense?”

“Because a strong head of the family prevents chaos, unnecessary bloodshed, and worse,” Matthew explained. “You forget that I was reborn in a very different time, Diana, when most creatures were expected to obey someone else without question—your lord, your priest, your father, your husband.

Carrying out Baldwin’s orders is not as difficult for me as it will be for you.”

“For me? I’m not a vampire,” I retorted. “I don’t have to listen to him.”

“You do if you’re a de Clermont.” Matthew gripped my elbows. “The Congregation and vampire tradition have left us with precious few options. By the middle of December, you will be a fully fledged member of Baldwin’s family. I know Verin, and she would never renege on a promise made to Philippe.”

“I don’t need Baldwin’s help,” I said. “I’m a weaver and have power of my own.”

“Baldwin mustn’t know about that,” Matthew said, holding me tighter. “Not yet. And no one can offer you or our children the security that Baldwin and the rest of the de Clermonts can.”

“You are a de Clermont,” I said, jabbing a finger into his chest. “Philippe made that perfectly clear.”

“Not in the eyes of other vampires.” Matthew took my hand in his. “I may be Philippe de Clermont’s kin, but I am not his blood. You are. For that reason alone, I will do whatever Baldwin asks me to do.”

“Even kill Knox?”

Matthew looked surprised.

“You’re Baldwin’s assassin. Knox trespassed on de Clermont land, which is a direct challenge to the family’s honor. I assume that makes Knox your problem.” I kept my tone matter-of-fact, but it took effort. I knew that Matthew had killed men before, but somehow the word “assassin” made those deaths seem more sordid and disturbing.

“As I said, I’ll follow Baldwin’s orders.” Matthew’s gray eyes had taken on a greenish cast and were cold and lifeless.

“I don’t care what Baldwin commands. You can’t go after a witch, Matthew—certainly not one who was once a member of the Congregation,” I said. “It will only make matters worse.”

“After what he did to Emily, Knox is already a dead man,” Matthew said. He released me and strode to the window.

The threads around him flashed red and black. The fabric of the world wasn’t visible to every witch, but as a weaver—a maker of spells, like my father—I could see it plainly.

I joined Matthew at the window. The sun was up now, highlighting the green hills with gold. It looked so pastoral and serene, but I knew that rocks lay below the surface, as hard and forbidding as the man I loved. I slid my arms around Matthew’s waist and rested my head against him. This was how he held me when I needed to feel safe.

“You don’t have to go after Knox for me,” I told him, “or for Baldwin.”

“No,” he said softly. “I have to do it for Emily.”

They’d laid Em to rest within the ruins of the ancient nearby temple consecrated to the goddess. I’d been there before with Philippe, and Matthew had insisted I see the grave shortly after our return so that I would have to face that my aunt was gone—forever. Since then I’d visited it a few times when I needed quiet and some time to think. Matthew had asked me not to go alone. Today Ysabeau was my escort, as I needed time away from my husband, as well as from Baldwin and the troubles that had soured the air at Sept-Tours.

The place was as beautiful as I remembered, with the cypress trees standing like sentinels around broken columns that were barely visible now. Today the place was not snow-covered, as it had been in December of 1590, but lush and green—except for the rectangular brown slash that marked Em’s final resting place. There were hoof prints in the soft earth and a faint depression on the top.

“A white hart has taken to sleeping on the grave,” Ysabeau explained, following my glance. “They are very rare.”

“A white buck appeared when Philippe and I came here before my wedding to make offerings to the goddess.” I’d felt her power then, ebbing and flowing under my feet. I felt it now, but said nothing.

Matthew had been adamant that no one must know about my magic.

“Philippe told me he met you,” Ysabeau said. “He left a note for me in the binding of one of Godfrey’s alchemical books.” Through the notes Philippe and Ysabeau had shared the tiny details of everyday life that would otherwise be easily forgotten.

“How you must miss him.” I swallowed down the lump that threatened to choke me. “He was extraordinary, Ysabeau.”

“Yes,” she said softly. “We shall never see another one such as him.”

The two of us stood near the grave, silent and reflective.

“What happened this morning will change everything,” Ysabeau said. “The Congregation’s inquiry will make it more difficult to keep our secrets. And Matthew has more to hide than most of us.”

“Like the fact that he’s the family’s assassin?” I asked.

“Yes,” Ysabeau said. “Many vampire families would dearly like to know which member of the de Clermont clan is responsible for the deaths of their loved ones.”

“When we were here with Philippe, I thought I’d uncovered most of Matthew’s secrets. I know about his attempted suicide. And what he did for his father.” It had been the hardest secret for my husband to reveal—that he had helped his father to his death.

“With vampires there is no end to them,” Ysabeau said. “But secrets are unreliable allies. They allow us to believe we are safe, yet all the while they are destroying us.”

I wondered if I was one of the destructive secrets lying at the heart of the de Clermont family. I drew an envelope from my pocket and handed it to Ysabeau. She saw the crabbed handwriting, and her face froze.

“Alain gave me this note. Philippe wrote it on the day he died,” I explained. “I’d like you to read it.

I think the message was meant for all of us.”

Ysabeau’s hand trembled as she unfolded the single sheet. She opened it carefully and read the few lines aloud. One of the lines struck me with renewed force: “Do not let the ghosts of the past rob the future of its joys.”

“Oh, Philippe,” she said sadly. Ysabeau handed back the note and reached for my forehead. For one unguarded moment, I saw the woman she had once been: formidable but capable of joy. She stopped, her finger withdrawing.

I caught her hand. She was colder even than her son. I gently set her icy fingers on the skin between my eyebrows, giving her silent permission to examine the place where Philippe de Clermont had marked me. The pressure of Ysabeau’s fingers changed infinitesimally while she explored my forehead. When she stepped away, I could see her throat working.

“I do feel . . . something. A presence, some hint of Philippe.” Ysabeau’s eyes were shining.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com