“I am so sorry about Emily,” Matthew said, cupping her face between his hands.
“Is it our fault? Did we stay in the past too long, like Dad said?” Diana spoke so softly it was hard for even Gallowglass to hear.
“Of course not,” Gallowglass replied, his voice brusque. “Peter Knox did this. Nobody else is to blame.”
“Let’s not worry about who’s to blame,” Matthew said, but his eyes were angry.
Gallowglass gave him a nod of understanding. Matthew would have plenty to say about Knox and Gerbert—later. Right now he was concerned with his wife.
“Emily would want you to focus on taking care of yourself and Sarah. That’s enough for now.”
Matthew brushed back the coppery strands that were stuck to Diana’s cheeks by the salt from her tears.
“I should go back downstairs,” Diana said, drawing Gallowglass’s bright yellow bandanna to her eyes. “Sarah needs me.”
“Let’s stay up here a bit longer. Wait for Marthe to bring the tea,” Matthew said, sitting down next to her. Diana slumped against him, her breath hiccupping in and out as she tried to hold back the tears.
“I’ll leave you two,” Gallowglass said gruffly.
Matthew nodded in silent thanks.
“Thank you, Gallowglass,” Diana said, holding out the bandanna.
“Keep it,” he said, turning for the stairs.
“We’re alone. You don’t have to be strong now,” Matthew murmured to Diana as Gallowglass descended the twisting staircase.
Gallowglass left Matthew and Diana twined together in an unbreakable knot, their faces twisted with pain and sorrow, each giving the other the comfort they could not find for themselves.
I should never have summoned you here. I should have found another way to get my answers. Emily turned to face her closest friend. You should be with Stephen.
I’d rather be here with my daughter than anywhere else, Rebecca Bishop said. Stephen understands. She turned back to the sight of Diana and Matthew, still locked in their sorrowful embrace.
Do not fear. Matthew will take care of her, Philippe said. He was still trying to figure out Rebecca Bishop—she was an unusually challenging creature, and as skilled at keeping secrets as any vampire.
They’ll take care of each other, Rebecca said, her hand over her heart, just as I knew they would.
Matthew raced down the curving stone staircase that wound between his tower rooms at Sept-Tours and the main floor of the château. He avoided the slippery spot on the thirtieth tread and the rough patch on the seventeenth where Baldwin’s sword had bashed the edge during one of their arguments.
Matthew had built the tower addition as his private refuge, a place apart from the relentless busyness that always surrounded Philippe and Ysabeau. Vampire families were large and noisy, with two or more bloodlines coming uncomfortably together and trying to live as one happy pack. This seldom happened with predators, even those who walked on two legs and lived in fine houses. As a result, Matthew’s tower was designed primarily for defense. It had no doors to muffle a vampire’s stealthy approach and no way out except for the way you came in. His careful arrangements spoke volumes about his relationships with his brothers and sisters.
Tonight his tower’s isolation seemed confining, a far cry from the busy life he and Diana had created in Elizabethan London, surrounded by family and friends. Matthew’s job as a spy for the queen had been challenging but rewarding. From his former seat on the Congregation, he had managed to save a few witches from burning. Diana had begun the lifelong process of growing into her powers as a witch. They’d even taken in two orphaned children and given them a chance at a better future. Their life in the sixteenth century had not always been easy, but their days had been filled with love and the sense of hope that followed Diana wherever she went. Here at Sept-Tours, they seemed surrounded on all sides by death and de Clermonts.
The combination made Matthew restless, and the anger he kept so carefully in check whenever Diana was near him was dangerously close to the surface. Blood rage—the sickness that Matthew had inherited from Ysabeau when she’d made him—could take over a vampire’s mind and body quickly, leaving no room for reason or control. In an effort to keep the blood rage in check, Matthew had reluctantly agreed to leave Diana in Ysabeau’s care while he walked around the castle grounds with his dogs, Fallon and Hector, trying to clear his head.
Gallowglass was crooning a sea chantey in the château’s great hall. For reasons Matthew couldn’t fathom, every other verse was punctuated by expletives and ultimatums. After a moment of indecision, Matthew’s curiosity won out.
“Fucking firedrake.” Gallowglass had one of the pikes down from the cache of weapons by the entrance and was waving it slowly in the air. “‘Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain.’ Get your arse down here, or Granny will poach you in white wine and feed you to the dogs. ‘For we’ve received orders for to sail for old England.’ What are you thinking, flying around the house like a demented parakeet? ‘And we may never see you fair ladies again.’”
“What the hell are you doing?” Matthew demanded.
Gallowglass turned wide blue eyes on Matthew. The younger man was wearing a black T-shirt adorned with a skull and crossbones. Something had slashed the back, rending it from left shoulder to right hip. The holes in his nephew’s jeans looked to be the result of wear, not war, and his hair was shaggy even by Gallowglassian standards. Ysabeau had taken to calling him “Sir Vagabond,” but this had done little to improve his grooming.
“Trying to catch your wife’s wee beastie.” Gallowglass made a sudden upward thrust with the pike.
There was a shriek of surprise, followed by a hail of pale green scales that shattered like isinglass when they hit the floor. The blond hair on Gallowglass’s forearms shimmered with their iridescent green dust.
Corra, Diana’s familiar, was clinging to the minstrels’ gallery with her talons, chattering madly and clacking her tongue. She waved hello to Matthew with her barbed tail, piercing a priceless tapestry depicting a unicorn in a garden. Matthew winced.
“I had her cornered in the chapel, up by the altar, but Corra is a cunning lass,” Gallowglass said with a touch of pride. “She was hiding atop Granddad’s tomb, her wings spread wide. I mistook her for an effigy. Now look at her. Up in the rafters, vainglorious as the devil and twice as much trouble. Why, she’s put her tail through one of Ysabeau’s favorite draperies. Granny is going to have a stroke.”
“If Corra is anything like her mistress, cornering her won’t end well,” Matthew said mildly. “Try reasoning with her instead.”
“Oh, aye. That works very well with Auntie Diana.” Gallowglass sniffed. “Whatever possessed you to let Corra out of your sight?”
“The more active the firedrake is, the calmer Diana seems,” Matthew said.
“Perhaps, but Corra is hell on the decor. She broke one of Granny’s Sèvres vases this afternoon.”
“So long as it wasn’t one of the blue ones with the lion heads that Philippe gave her, I shouldn’t worry.” Mathew groaned when he saw Gallowglass’s expression. “Merde.”
“That was Alain’s response, too.” Gallowglass leaned on his pike.
“Ysabeau will have to make do with one less piece of pottery,” Matthew said. “Corra may be a nuisance, but Diana is sleeping soundly for the first time since we came home.”
“Oh, well, that’s all right, then. Just tell Ysabeau that Corra’s clumsiness is good for the grandbabies. Granny will hand over her vases as sacrificial offerings. Meanwhile I’ll try to keep the flying termagant entertained so Auntie can sleep.”
“How are you going to do that?” Matthew asked with skepticism.
“Sing to her, of course.” Gallowglass looked up. Corra cooed at his renewed attention, stretching her wings a bit farther so that they caught the light from the torches stuck into brackets along the walls.
Taking this as an encouraging sign, Gallowglass drew a deep breath and began another booming ballad.
“‘My head turns round, I’m in a flame,/I love like any dragon./Say would you know my mistress’s name?’”
Corra clacked her teeth in approval. Gallowglass grinned and began to move the pike like a metronome. He waggled his eyebrows at Matthew before singinghis next lines.
“‘ I sent her trinkets without end, Gems, pearls, to make her civil, Till having nothing more to send, I sent her—to the devil.’”
“Good luck,” Matthew murmured, sincerely hoping that Corra didn’t understand the lyrics.
Matthew scanned the nearby rooms, cataloging their occupants. Hamish was in the family library doing paperwork, based on the sound of pen scratching against paper and the faint scent of lavender and peppermint he detected. Matthew hesitated for a moment, then pushed the door open.
“Time for an old friend?” he asked.
“I was beginning to think you were avoiding me.” Hamish Osborne put down his pen and loosened his tie, which was covered in a summery floral print most men wouldn’t have had the courage to wear.
Even in the French countryside, Hamish was dressed as if for a meeting with members of Parliament in a navy pin-striped suit with a lavender shirt. It made him look like a dapper throwback to Edwardian days.
Matthew knew that the daemon was trying to provoke an argument. He and Hamish had been friends for decades, ever since the two of them were at Oxford. Their friendship was based on mutual respect and had been kept strong because of their compatible, razor-sharp intellects. Between Hamish and Matthew, even simple exchanges could be as complicated and strategic as a chess game between two masters. But it was too soon in their conversation to let Hamish put him at a disadvantage.
“How is Diana?” Hamish had noted Matthew’s deliberate refusal to take the bait.
“As well as can be expected.”
“I would have asked her myself, of course, but your nephew told me to go away.” Hamish picked up a wineglass and took a sip. “Wine?”
“Did it come from my cellar or Baldwin’s?” Matthew’s seemingly innocuous question served as a subtle reminder that now that he and Diana were back, Hamish might have to choose between Matthew and the rest of the de Clermonts.
“It’s claret.” Hamish swirled the contents in the glass while he waited for Matthew’s reaction.
“Expensive. Old. Fine.”
Matthew’s lip curled. “Thank you, no. I’ve never had the same fondness for the stuff as most of my family.” He’d rather fill the fountains in the garden with Baldwin’s store of precious Bordeaux than drink it.
“What’s the story with the dragon?” A muscle in Hamish’s jaws twitched, whether from amusement or anger, Matthew couldn’t tell. “Gallowglass says Diana brought it back as a souvenir, but nobody believes him.”
“She belongs to Diana,” Matthew said. “You’ll have to ask her.”
“You’ve got everybody at Sept-Tours quaking in their boots, you know.” With this abrupt change of topic, Hamish approached. “The rest of them haven’t realized yet that the most terrified person in the château is you. ”
“And how is William?” Matthew could make a dizzying change in subject as effectively as any daemon.
“Sweet William has planted his affections elsewhere.” Hamish’s mouth twisted, and he turned away, his obvious distress bringing their game to an unexpected close.
“I’m so sorry, Hamish.” Matthew had thought the relationship would last. “William loved you.”
“Not enough.” Hamish shrugged but couldn’t hide the pain in his eyes. “You’ll have to pin your romantic hopes on Marcus and Phoebe, I’m afraid.”
“I’ve barely spoken to the girl,” Matthew said. He sighed and poured himself a glass of Baldwin’s claret. “What can you tell me about her?”
“Young Miss Taylor works at one of the auction houses in London—Sotheby’s or Christie’s. I never can keep them straight,” Hamish said, sinking into a leather armchair in front of the cold fireplace.
“Marcus met her when he was picking up something for Ysabeau. I think it’s serious.”
“It is.” Matthew took his wine and prowled along the bookshelves that lined the walls. “Marcus’s scent is all over her. He’s mated.”
“I suspected as much.” Hamish sipped and watched his friend’s restless movements. “Nobody has said anything, of course. Your family really could teach MI6 a thing or two about secrets.”
“Ysabeau should have stopped it. Phoebe is too young for a relationship with a vampire,” Matthew said. “She can’t be more than twenty-two, yet Marcus has entangled her in an irrevocable bond.”
“Oh, yes, forbidding Marcus to fall in love would have gone down a treat,” Hamish said, his Scots burr increasing with his amusement. “Marcus is just as pigheaded as you are when it comes to love, it turns out.”
“Maybe if he’d been thinking about his job as chief of the Knights of Lazarus—”
“Stop right there, Matt, before you say something so unfair I might never forgive you for it.”
Hamish’s voice lashed at him. “You know how difficult it is to be the brotherhood’s grand master.
Marcus was expected to fill some pretty big shoes—and vampire or not, he isn’t much older than Phoebe.”