“Did the baby drink blood?” Matthew demanded.
“The mother claimed she did.” Ysabeau winced when Matthew’s fist struck the table. “But Philippe was not sure. By the time he held the child, she was on the brink of death and would not take any nourishment at all.”
“Philippe should have told me about this when he met Diana.” Matthew pointed an accusatory finger at Ysabeau. “Failing that, you should have told me when I first brought her home.”
“And if we all did what we should, we would wake to find ourselves in paradise,” Ysabeau said, her temper rising.
“Stop it. Both of you. You can’t hate your father or Ysabeau for something you’ve done yourself, Matthew,” Sarah observed quietly. “Besides, we have enough problems in the present without worrying about what happened in the past.”
Sarah’s words immediately lowered the tension in the room.
“What are we going to do?” Marcus asked his father.
Matthew seemed surprised by the question.
“We’re a family,” Marcus said, “whether the Congregation recognizes us or not, just as you and Diana are husband and wife no matter what those idiots in Venice think.”
“We’ll let Baldwin have his way—for now,” Matthew replied after thinking for a moment. “I’ll take Sarah and Diana to Oxford. If what you say is true, and another vampire—possibly Benjamin—fathered a child on a witch, we need to know how and why some witches and some vampires can reproduce.”
“I’ll let Miriam know,” Marcus said. “She’ll be glad to have you back in the lab again. While you’re there, you can try to figure out how blood rage works.”
“What do you think I’ve been doing all these years?” Matthew asked softly.
“Your research,” I said, thinking of Matthew’s study of creature evolution and genetics. “You haven’t been looking solely for creature origins. You’ve been trying to figure out how blood rage is contracted and how to cure it.”
“No matter what else Miriam and I are doing in the lab, we’re always hoping to make some discovery that will lead to a cure,” Matthew admitted.
“What can I do?” Hamish asked, capturing Matthew’s attention.
“You’ll have to leave Sept-Tours, too. I need you to study the covenant—whatever you can find out about early Congregation debates, anything that might shed light on what happened in Jerusalem between the end of the First Crusade and the date the covenant became law.” Matthew looked about the Round Tower. “It’s too bad you can’t work here.”
“I’ll help with that research if you’d like,” said Phoebe.
“Surely you’ll go back to London,” Hamish said.
“I will stay here, with Marcus,” Phoebe said, her chin rising. “I’m not a witch or a daemon. There’s no Congregation rule that bars me from remaining at Sept-Tours.”
“These restrictions are only temporary,” Matthew said. “Once the members of the Congregation satisfy themselves that all is as it should be at Sept-Tours, Gerbert will take Ysabeau to his house in the Cantal. After that drama Baldwin will soon grow bored and return to New York. Then we can all meet back here. Hopefully by then we’ll know more and can make a better plan.”
Marcus nodded, though he didn’t look pleased. “Of course, if you formed a scion . . .”
“Impossible,” Matthew said.
“‘Impossible’ n’est pas français,” Ysabeau said, her tone as tart as vinegar. “And it certainly was not a word in your father’s vocabulary.”
“The only thing that sounds out of the question to me is remaining within Baldwin’s clan and under his direct control,” Marcus said, nodding at his grandmother.
“After all the secrets that have been exposed today, you still think my name and blood are something you should be proud to possess?” Matthew asked Marcus.
“Rather you than Baldwin,” Marcus said, meeting his father’s gaze.
“I don’t know how you can bear to have me in your presence,” Matthew said softly, turning away, “never mind forgive me.”
“I haven’t forgiven you,” Marcus said evenly. “Find the cure for blood rage. Fight to have the covenant repealed, and refuse to support a Congregation that upholds such unjust laws. Form a scion, so that we can live without Baldwin breathing down our necks.”
“And then?” Matthew said, a sardonic lift to his eyebrow.
“Then not only will I forgive you, I’ll be the first to offer you my allegiance,” Marcus said, “not only as my father but as my sire.”
Most evenings at Sept-Tours, dinner was a slapdash affair. All of us ate when—and what—we liked. But tonight was our last at the château, and Baldwin had commanded the entire family’s presence to give thanks that all of the other creatures were gone and to bid Sarah, Matthew, and me adieu.
I had been given the dubious honor of making the arrangements. If Baldwin expected to cow me, he was going to be disappointed. Having provided meals for the inhabitants of Sept-Tours in 1590, I could surely manage it in modern times. I’d sent out invitations to every vampire, witch, and warmblood still in residence and hoped for the best.
At the moment I was regretting my request that everyone dress formally for dinner. I looped Philippe’s pearls around my neck to accompany the golden arrow that I’d taken to wearing, but they skimmed the tops of my thighs and were too long to suit trousers. I returned the pearls to the velvet-lined jewelry box that arrived from Ysabeau, along with a sparkling pair of earrings that brushed my jawline and caught the light. I stabbed the posts through the holes in my ears.
“I’ve never known you to fuss so much over your jewelry.” Matthew came out of the bathroom and studied my reflection in the mirror as he slid a pair of gold cuff links through the buttonholes at his wrists. They were emblazoned with the New College crest, a gesture of fealty to me and to one of his many alma maters.
“Matthew! You’ve shaved.” It had been some time since I’d seen him without his Elizabethan beard and mustache. Though Matthew’s appearance would be striking no matter the era or its fashions, this was the clean-cut, elegant man I’d fallen in love with last year.
“Since we’re going back to Oxford, I thought I might as well look the part of the university don,” he said, his fingers moving over his smooth chin. “It’s a relief, actually. Beards really do itch like the devil.”
“I love having my handsome professor back, in place of my dangerous prince,” I said softly.
Matthew shrugged a charcoal-colored jacket made of fine wool over his shoulders and pulled at his pearl gray cuffs, looking adorably self-conscious. His smile was shy but became more appreciative when I stood up.
“You look beautiful,” he said with an admiring whistle. “With or without the pearls.”
“Victoire is a miracle worker,” I said. Victoire, my vampire seamstress and Alain’s wife, had made me a midnight blue pair of trousers and a matching silk blouse with an open neckline that skimmed the edges of my shoulders and fell in soft pleats around my hips. The full shirt hid my swelling midriff without making me look like I was wearing a maternity smock.
“You are especially irresistible in blue,” Matthew said.
“What a sweet talker you are.” I smoothed his lapels and adjusted his collar. It was completely unnecessary—the jacket fit perfectly, and not a stitch was out of place—but the gestures satisfied my proprietary feelings. I lifted onto my toes to kiss him.
Matthew returned my embrace with enthusiasm, threading his fingers through the coppery strands that fell down my back. My answering sigh was soft and satisfied.
“Oh, I like that sound.” Matthew deepened the kiss, and when I made a low, throaty hum, he grinned. “I like that one even more.”
“After a kiss like that, a woman should be excused if she’s late to dinner,” I said, my hands sliding between the waistband of his trousers and his neatly tucked shirt.
“Temptress.” Matthew nipped softly at my lip before pulling away.
I took a final look in the mirror. Given Matthew’s recent attentions, it was a good thing Victoire hadn’t curled and twisted my hair into a more elaborate arrangement, since I’d never have been able to set it to rights again. Happily, I was able to tighten the low ponytail and brush a few hairs back into place.
Finally I wove a disguising spell around me. The effect was like pulling sheer curtains over a sunny window. The spell dulled my coloring and softened my features. I had resorted to wearing it in London and had kept doing so when we returned to the present. No one would look at me twice now—except Matthew, who was scowling at the transformation.
“After we get to Oxford, I want you to stop wearing your disguising spell.” Matthew crossed his arms. “I hate that thing.”
“I can’t go around the university shimmering.”
“And I can’t go around killing people, even though I have blood rage,” Matthew said. “We all have our crosses to bear.”
“I thought you didn’t want anyone to know how much stronger my power is.” At this point I was worried that even casual observers would be drawn to me because of it. In another time, when there were more weavers about, I might not have been so conspicuous.
“I still don’t want Baldwin to know, or the rest of the de Clermonts. But please tell Sarah as soon as possible,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to hide your magic at home.”
“It’s annoying to weave a disguising spell in the morning and then take it off at night only to weave it again the next day. It’s easier to just keep it on.” That way I’d never be caught off guard by unexpected visitors or eruptions of undisciplined power.
“Our children are going to know who their mother truly is. They are not going to be brought up in the dark as you were.” Matthew’s tone brooked no argument.
“And is that sauce good for the gander as well as the goose?” I shot back. “Will the twins know their father has blood rage, or will you keep them in the dark like Marcus?”
“It’s not the same. Your magic is a gift. Blood rage is a curse.”
“It’s exactly the same, and you know it.” I took his hands in mine. “We’ve grown used to hiding what we’re ashamed of, you and I. It has to end now, before the children are born. Marcus knows about Benjamin and the blood rage. And after this latest crisis with the Congregation is resolved, we are going to sit down—as a family—and discuss the scion business.” Marcus was right: If forming a scion meant we wouldn’t have to obey Baldwin, it was worth considering.
“Forming a scion comes with responsibilities and obligations. You would be expected to behave like a vampire and function as my consort, helping me control the rest of the family.” Matthew shook his head. “You aren’t suited to that life, and I won’t ask it of you.”
“You’re not asking,” I replied. “I’m offering. And Ysabeau will teach me what I need to know.”
“Ysabeau will be the first to try to dissuade you. The pressure she was under as Philippe’s mate was inconceivable,” Matthew said. “When my father called Ysabeau his general, only the humans laughed.
Every vampire knew he was telling the gospel truth. Ysabeau forced, flattered, and cajoled us into doing Philippe’s bidding. He could run the whole world because Ysabeau managed his family with an iron fist.
Her decisions were absolute and her retribution swift. No one crossed her.”
“That sounds challenging but not impossible,” I replied mildly.
“It’s a full-time job, Diana.” Matthew’s irritation continued to climb. “Are you ready to give up being Professor Bishop in order to be Mrs. Clairmont?”
“Maybe it’s escaped your attention, but I already have. ”
“I haven’t advised a student, stood in front of a classroom, read an academic journal, or published an article in more than a year,” I continued.
“That’s temporary,” Matthew said sharply.
“Really?” My eyebrows shot up. “You’re ready to sacrifice your fellowship at All Souls in order to be Mr. Mom? Or are we going to hire a nanny to take care of our doubtless exceptionally challenging children while I go back to work?”
Matthew’s silence was telling. This issue had clearly never occurred to him. He’d simply assumed I would somehow juggle teaching and child care with no trouble at all. Typical, I thought, before plunging on.
“Except for a brief moment when you ran back to Oxford last year thinking you could play knight in shining armor and this moment of nerves, which I forgive you for, we’ve faced our troubles together.
What makes you think that would change?” I demanded.
“These aren’t your troubles,” Matthew replied.
“When I took you on, they became my troubles. We already share responsibility for our own children—why not yours as well?”
Matthew stared at me in silence for so long that I became concerned he’d been struck dumb.
“Never again,” he finally murmured with a shake of his head. “After today I will never make this mistake again.”
“The word ‘never’ is not in our family vocabulary, Matthew.” My anger with him boiled over and I dug my fingers into his shoulders. “Ysabeau says ‘impossible’ isn’t French? Well, ‘never’ is not Bishop-Clairmont. Don’t ever use it again. As for mistakes, how dare you—”