“You’re a dead man, Hubbard—and so is the one who made Jack a vampire.” Matthew’s voice was no more than a hollow murmur. Jack heard it nonetheless.
“You can’t kill him, Master Roydon.” Jack stood at the top of the stairs, his fingers wrapped tightly around Lobero’s collar. “Father Hubbard is your grandson. He’s my maker, too.”
Jack turned away, and we heard the cabinet doors open, then water running from an open tap. The sounds were oddly homely considering that a conversational bomb had just gone off.
“My grandson?” Matthew looked at Hubbard in shock. “But that means . . .”
“Benjamin Fox is my sire.” Andrew Hubbard’s origins had always been shrouded in obscurity.
London legends said that he had been a priest when the Black Death first visited England in 1349. After Hubbard’s parishioners all succumbed to the illness, Hubbard had dug his own grave and climbed into it.
Some mysterious vampire had brought Hubbard back from the brink of death—but no one seemed to know who.
“As far as your son was concerned, I was only a tool—someone he made to further his aims in England. Benjamin hoped I would have blood rage,” Hubbard continued. “He also hoped I would help him organize an army to stand against the de Clermonts and their allies. But he was disappointed on both counts, and I’ve managed to keep him away from me and my flock. Until now.”
“What’s happened?” Matthew asked brusquely.
“Benjamin wants Jack. I can’t let him have the boy again,” was Hubbard’s equally abrupt reply.
“Again?” That madman had been with Jack. I turned blindly toward the stairs, but Matthew caught me by the wrists and trapped me against his chest.
“Wait,” he commanded.
Gallowglass came through the door with a large black briefcase and my book bag. He surveyed the scene and dropped what he was carrying.
“What’s happened now?” he asked, looking from Matthew to Hubbard.
“Father Hubbard made Jack a vampire,” I said as neutrally as I could. Jack was listening after all.
Gallowglass slammed Hubbard against the wall. “You bastard. I could smell your scent all over him. I thought—”
It was Gallowglass’s turn to be tossed against something—in his case it was the floor. Hubbard pressed one polished black shoe against the big Gael’s sternum. I was astonished that someone who looked so skeletal could be so strong.
“Thought what, Gallowglass?” Hubbard’s tone was menacing. “That I’d violated a child?”
Upstairs, Jack’s rising agitation soured the air. He’d learned from an early age how quickly ordinary quarrels could turn violent. As a boy he’d found even a hint of disagreement between Matthew and me distressing.
“Corra!” I cried, instinctively wanting her support.
By the time my firedrake swooped down and landed on the newel post, Matthew had averted any potential bloodshed by picking up Gallowglass and Hubbard by the scruffs of their necks, prying them apart, and shaking them until their teeth rattled.
Corra gave an irritated bleat and fixed a malevolent stare on Father Hubbard, suspecting quite rightly that he was to blame for her interrupted nap.
“I’ll be damned.” Jack’s fair head peeked over the railing. “Didn’t I tell you Corra would survive the timewalking, Father H?” He gave a hoot of delight and pounded on the painted wood. Jack’s behavior reminded me so strongly of the joyous boy he had once been that I had to fight back the tears.
Corra let out an answering cry of welcome, followed by a stream of fire and song that filled the entrance with happiness. She took flight, zooming up and latching her wings around Jack. Then she tucked her head atop his and began to croon, her tail encircling his ribs so that the spade-shaped tip could gently pat his back. Lobero padded over to his master and gave Corra a suspicious sniff. She must have smelled like family, and therefore a creature to be included among his many responsibilities. He dropped down at Jack’s side, head on his paws but eyes still watchful.
“Your tongue is even longer than Lobero’s,” Jack said, trying not to giggle as Corra tickled his neck. “I can’t believe she remembers me.”
“Of course she remembers you! How could she forget someone who spoiled her with currant buns?” I said with a smile.
By the time we were settled in the living room overlooking Court Street, the blood rage had receded from Jack’s veins. Aware of his low position in the house’s pecking order, he waited until everyone else took a chair before choosing his own seat. He was ready to join the dog on the floor when Matthew patted the sofa cushion.
“Sit with me, Jack.” Matthew’s invitation held a note of command. Jack sat, pulling at the knees of his jeans.
“You look to be about twenty,” Matthew observed, hoping to draw him into conversation.
“Twenty, maybe twenty-one,” Jack said. “Leonard and I— You remember Leonard?” Matthew nodded. “We figured it out because of my memories of the Armada. Nothing specific, you understand, just the fear of the Spanish invasion in the streets, the lighting of the beacons, and the victory celebrations. I must have been at least five in 1588 to remember that.”
I did some rapid calculations. That meant Jack was made a vampire in 1603. “The plague.”
The disease had swept through London with a vengeance that year. I noticed a mottled patch on his neck, just under his ear. It looked like a bruise, but it must be a mark left by a plague sore. For it to have remained visible even after Jack became a vampire suggested that he had been moments from death when Hubbard transformed him.
“Aye,” Jack said, looking down at his hands. He turned them this way and that. “Annie died from it ten years earlier, soon after Master Marlowe was killed in Deptford.”
I’d wondered what had happened to our Annie. I had imagined her a prosperous seamstress with her own business. I’d hoped she would have married a good man and had children. But she’d died while still a teenager, her life snuffed out before it truly began.
“That was a dreadful year, 1593, Mistress Roydon. The dead were everywhere. By the time Father Hubbard and I learned she was sick, it was too late,” Jack said, his expression bereft.
“You’re old enough to call me Diana,” I said gently.
Jack plucked at his jeans without replying. “Father Hubbard took me in when you . . . left,” he continued. “Sir Walter was in trouble, and Lord Northumberland was too busy at court to look after me.”
Jack smiled at Hubbard with obvious affection. “Those were good times, running about London with the gang.”
“I was on very intimate terms with the sheriff during your so-called good times,” Hubbard said drily. “You and Leonard got into more mischief than any two boys who ever lived.”
“Nah,” Jack said, grinning. “The only really serious trouble was when we snuck into the Tower to take Sir Walter his books and stayed on to pass a letter from him to Lady Raleigh.”
“You did—” Matthew shuddered and shook his head. “Christ, Jack. You never could distinguish between a petty crime and a hanging offense.”
“I can now,” Jack said cheerfully. Then his expression became nervous once more. Lobero’s head rose, and he rested his muzzle on Jack’s knee.
“Don’t be mad at Father Hubbard. He only did what I asked, Master Roydon. Leonard explained creatures to me long before I became one, so I knew what you and Gallowglass and Davy were. Things made better sense after that.” Jack paused. “I should have had the courage to face death and accept it, but I couldn’t go to my grave without seeing you again. My life felt . . . unfinished.”
“And how does it feel now?” Matthew asked.
“Long. Lonely. And hard—harder than I ever imagined.” Jack twisted Lobero’s hair, rolling the strands until they formed a tight rope. He cleared his throat. “But it was all worth it for today,” he continued softly. “Every bit of it.”
Matthew’s long arm reached for Jack’s shoulder. He squeezed it, then quickly let go again. For a moment I saw desolation and grief on my husband’s face before he donned his composed mask once more. It was the vampire version of a disguising spell.
“Father Hubbard told me his blood might make me ill, Master Roydon.” Jack shrugged. “But I was already sick. What difference would it make to change one illness for another?”
No difference at all, I thought, except that one killed you and the other could make you a killer.
“Andrew was right to tell you,” Matthew said. Father Hubbard looked surprised by this admission.
“I don’t imagine your grandsire gave him the same consideration.” Matthew was careful to use the terms that Hubbard and Jack used to describe their relationship to Benjamin.
“No. He wouldn’t have done. My grandsire doesn’t believe that he owes anyone an explanation for any of his actions.” Jack shot to his feet and traveled aimlessly around the room, Lobero following. He examined the moldings around the door, running his fingers along the wood. “You have the sickness in your blood, too, Master Roydon. I remember it from Greenwich. But it doesn’t control you, like it does my grandsire. And me.”
“It did once.” Matthew looked at Gallowglass and gave him a slight nod.
“I remember when Matthew was as wild as the devil and nigh invincible with a sword in his hand.
Even the bravest men ran in terror.” Gallowglass leaned forward, hands clasped and knees spread wide.
“My grandsire told me about Master—Matthew’s past.” Jack shuddered. “He said that Matthew’s talent for killing was in me, too, and I had to be true to it or you would never recognize me as your blood.”
I’d seen Benjamin’s unspeakable cruelty on camera, how he twisted hopes and fears into a weapon to destroy a creature’s sense of self. That he’d done so with Jack’s feelings for Matthew made me blind with fury. I clenched my hands into fists, tightening the cords in my fingers until the magic threatened to burst through my skin.
“Benjamin doesn’t know me as well as he thinks.” Anger was building in Matthew, too, his spicy scent growing sharper. “I would recognize you as mine before the entire world, and proudly—even if you weren’t my blood.”
Hubbard looked uneasy. His attention shifted from Matthew to Jack.
“You would make me your blood-sworn son?” Jack slowly turned to Matthew. “Like Philippe did with Mistress Roydon—I mean, Diana?”
Matthew’s eyes widened slightly as he nodded, trying to absorb the fact that Philippe had known of Matthew’s children when Matthew had not. A look of betrayal crossed his face.
“Philippe visited me whenever he came to London,” Jack explained, oblivious to the changes in Matthew. “He told me to listen for his blood vow, because it was loud and I would probably hear Mistress Roydon before I saw her. And you were right, Miss—Diana. Matthew’s father really was as big as the emperor’s bear.”
“If you met my father, then I’m sure you heard plenty of tales about my bad behavior.” The muscle in Matthew’s jaw had started ticking as betrayal turned to bitterness, his pupils growing larger by the second and his rage continued to gain ground.
“No,” Jack said, confusion wrinkling his brow. “Philippe spoke only of his admiration and said you would teach me to ignore what my blood was telling me to do.”
Matthew jerked as though he’d been hit.
“Philippe always made me feel closer to you and Mistress Roydon. Calmer, too.” Jack looked nervous again. “But it has been a long time since I saw Philippe.”
“He was captured in the war,” Matthew explained, “and died as a result of what he suffered.”
It was a careful half-truth.
“Father Hubbard told me. I’m glad Philippe didn’t live to see—” This time the shudder traveled through Jack from the marrow of his bones to the surface of his skin. His eyes went full black without warning, filled with horror and dread.
Jack’s present suffering was far worse than what Matthew had to endure. With Matthew it was only bitter fury that brought the blood rage to the surface. With Jack a wider range of emotions triggered it.
“It’s all right.” Matthew was with him in an instant, one hand clamped around his neck and the other resting on his cheek. Lobero pawed at Matthew’s foot as if to say, Do something.
“Don’t touch me when I’m like this,” Jack snarled, pushing at Matthew’s chest. But he might as well have tried to move a mountain. “You’ll make it worse.”
“You think you can order me about, pup?” Matthew’s eyebrow arched. “Whatever you think is so terrible, just say it. You’ll feel better once you do.”
With Matthew’s encouragement Jack’s confession tumbled from some dark place inside where he stored up everything that was evil and terrifying.
“Benjamin found me a few years ago. He said he’d been waiting for me. My grandsire promised to take me to you, but only after I’d proved that I was really one of Matthew de Clermont’s blood.”
Gallowglass swore. Jack’s eyes darted to him, and a snarl broke free.
“Keep your eyes on me, Jack.” Matthew’s tone made it clear that any resistance would be met with a swift and harsh reprisal. My husband was performing an impossible balancing act, one that required unconditional love along with a steady assertion of dominance. Pack dynamics were always fraught.