The Knights of Lazarus had been founded during the Crusades, a chivalric order established to protect vampire interests in a world that was increasingly dominated by humans. Philippe de Clermont, Ysabeau’s mate, had been the first grand master. But he was a legendary figure, not just among vampires but among other creatures as well. It was an impossible task for any man to live up to the standard he’d set.
“I know, but to fall in love—” Matthew protested, his anger mounting.
“Marcus has done a brilliant job, no buts about it,” Hamish interrupted. “He’s recruited new members and overseen every financial detail of our operations. He demanded that the Congregation punish Knox for his actions here in May and has formally requested the covenant be revoked. Nobody could have done more. Not even you.”
“Punishing Knox doesn’t begin to address what happened. He and Gerbert violated my home.
Knox murdered a woman who was like a mother to my wife.” Matthew gulped down his wine in an effort to drown his anger.
“Emily had a heart attack,” Hamish cautioned. “Marcus said there’s no way to know the cause.”
“I know enough,” Matthew said with sudden fury, hurling his empty glass across the room. It smashed against the edge of one of the bookshelves, sending shards of glass into the thick carpet.
Hamish’s eyes widened. “Our children will never have the chance to know Emily now. And Gerbert, who’s been on intimate terms with this family for centuries, stood by and watched Knox do it, knowing that Diana was my mate.”
“Everyone in the house said you wouldn’t let Congregation justice take its course. I didn’t believe them.” Hamish didn’t like the changes he was seeing in his friend. It was as though being in the sixteenth century had ripped the scab off some old, forgotten wound.
“I should have dealt with Gerbert and Knox after they helped Satu Järvinen kidnap Diana and held her at La Pierre. If I had, Emily would still be alive.” Matthew’s shoulders stiffened with remorse. “But Baldwin forbade it. He said the Congregation had enough trouble on its hands.”
“You mean the vampire murders?” Hamish asked.
“Yes. He said if I challenged Gerbert and Knox, I would only make matters worse.” News of these murders—with the severed arteries, the absence of blood evidence, the almost animalistic attacks on human bodies—had been in newspapers from London to Moscow. Every story had focused on the murderer’s strange method of killing and had threatened to expose vampires to human notice.
“I won’t make the mistake of remaining silent again,” Matthew continued. “The Knights of Lazarus and the de Clermonts might not be able to protect my wife and her family, but I certainly can.”
“You’re not a killer, Matt,” Hamish insisted. “Don’t let your anger blind you.”
When Matthew turned black eyes to him, Hamish blanched. Though he knew that Matthew was a few steps closer to the animal kingdom than most creatures who walked on two legs, Hamish had never seen him look quite so wolflike and dangerous.
“Are you sure, Hamish?” Matthew’s obsidian eyes blinked, and he turned and stalked from the room.
Following the distinctive licorice-root scent of Marcus Whitmore, mixed tonight with the heady aroma of lilacs, Matthew was easily able to track his son to the family apartments on the second floor of the château. His conscience pricked at the thought of what Marcus might have overheard during this heated exchange, given his son’s keen vampire hearing. Matthew pressed his lips together when his nose led him to a door just off the stairs, and he tamped down the flicker of anger that accompanied his realization that Marcus was using Philippe’s old office.
Matthew knocked and pushed at the heavy slab of wood without waiting for a response. With the exception of the shiny silver laptop on the desk where the blotter used to be, the room looked exactly as it had on the day Philippe de Clermont died in 1945. The same Bakelite telephone was on a table by the window. Stacks of thin envelopes and curling, yellowed paper stood at the ready for Philippe to write to one of his many correspondents. Tacked to the wall was an old map of Europe, which Philippe had used to track the positions of Hitler’s army.
Matthew closed his eyes against the sudden, sharp pain. What Philippe had not foreseen was that he would fall into the Nazis’ hands. One of the unexpected gifts of their timewalk had been the chance to see Philippe again and be reconciled with him. The price Matthew had to pay was the renewed sense of loss as he once more faced a world without Philippe de Clermont in it.
When Matthew’s eyes opened again, he was confronted with the furious face of Phoebe Taylor. It took only a fraction of a second for Marcus to angle his body between Matthew and the warmblooded woman. Matthew was gratified to see that his son hadn’t lost all his wits when he took a mate, though if Matthew had wanted to harm Phoebe, the girl would already be dead.
“Marcus.” Matthew briefly acknowledged his son before looking beyond him. Phoebe was not Marcus’s usual type at all. He had always preferred redheads. “There was no time for a proper introduction when we first met. I’m Matthew Clairmont. Marcus’s father.”
“I know who you are.” Phoebe’s proper British accent was the one common to public schools, country houses, and decaying aristocratic families. Marcus, the family’s democratic idealist, had fallen for a blueblood.
“Welcome to the family, Miss Taylor.” Matthew bowed to hide his smile.
“Phoebe, please.” Phoebe stepped around Marcus in a blink, her right hand extended. Matthew ignored it. “In most polite circles, Professor Clairmont, this is where you would take my hand and shake it.” Phoebe’s expression was more than a little annoyed, her hand still outstretched.
“You’re surrounded by vampires. Whatever made you think you would find civilization here?”
Matthew studied her with unblinking eyes. Uncomfortable, Phoebe looked away. “You may think my greeting unnecessarily formal, Phoebe, but no vampire touches another’s mate—or even his betrothed—without permission.” He glanced down at the large emerald on the third finger of her left hand. Marcus had won the stone in a card game in Paris centuries ago. Then and now it was worth a small fortune.
“Oh. Marcus didn’t tell me that,” Phoebe said with a frown.
“No, but I did give you a few simple rules. Perhaps it’s time to review them,” Marcus murmured to his fiancée. “We’ll rehearse our wedding vows while we’re at it.”
“Why? You still won’t find the word ‘obey’ in them,” Phoebe said crisply.
Before the argument could get off the ground, Matthew coughed again.
“I came to apologize for my outburst in the library,” Matthew said. “I am too quick to anger at the moment. Forgive me for my temper.”
It was more than temper, but Marcus—like Hamish—didn’t know that.
“What outburst?” Phoebe frowned.
“It was nothing,” Marcus responded, though his expression suggested otherwise.
“I was also wondering if you would be willing to examine Diana? As you no doubt know, she is carrying twins. I believe she’s in the beginning of her second trimester, but we’ve been out of reach of proper medical care, and I’d like to be sure.” Matthew’s proffered olive branch, like Phoebe’s hand, remained in the air for several long moments before it was acknowledged.
“Of c-course,” Marcus stammered. “Thank you for trusting Diana to my care. I won’t let you down.
And Hamish is right,” he added. “Even if I’d performed an autopsy on Emily—which Sarah didn’t want—there would have been no way to determine if she was killed by magic or by natural causes. We may never know.”
Matthew didn’t bother to argue. He would find out the precise role that Knox had played in Emily’s death, for the answer would determine how quickly Matthew killed him and how much the witch suffered first.
“Phoebe, it has been a pleasure,” Matthew said instead.
“Likewise.” The girl lied politely and convincingly. She would be a useful addition to the de Clermont pack.
“Come to Diana in the morning, Marcus. We’ll be expecting you.” With a final smile and another shallow bow to the fascinating Phoebe Taylor, Matthew left the room.
Matthew’s nocturnal prowl around Sept-Tours had not lessened his restlessness or his anger. If anything, the cracks in his control had widened. Frustrated, he took a route back to his rooms that passed by the château’s keep and the chapel. Memorials to most of the departed de Clermonts were there—Philippe; Louisa; her twin brother, Louis; Godfrey; Hugh—as well as some of their children and beloved friends and servants.
“Good morning, Matthew.” The scent of saffron and bitter orange filled the air.
Fernando. After a long pause, Matthew forced himself to turn.
Usually the chapel’s ancient wooden door was closed, as only Matthew spent time there. Tonight it stood open in welcome, and the figure of a man was silhouetted against the warm candlelight inside.
“I hoped I might see you.” Fernando swept his arm wide in invitation.
Fernando watched as his brother-in-law made his way toward him, searching his features for the warning signs that Matthew was in trouble: the enlargement of his pupils, the ripple in his shoulders reminiscent of a wolf’s hackles, a roughness deep in his throat.
“Do I pass inspection?” Matthew asked, unable to keep the defensive note from his tone.
“You’ll do.” Fernando closed the door firmly behind them. “Barely.”
Matthew ran his fingers lightly along Philippe’s massive sarcophagus in the center of the chapel and moved restlessly around the chamber while Fernando’s deep brown eyes followed him.
“Congratulations on your marriage, Matthew,” Fernando said. “Though I haven’t met Diana yet, Sarah has told me so many stories about her that I feel we are very old friends.”
“I’m sorry, Fernando, it’s just—” Matthew began, his expression guilty.
Fernando stopped him with a raised hand. “There is no need for apology.”
“Thank you for taking care of Diana’s aunt,” Matthew said. “I know how difficult it is for you to be here.”
“The widow needed somebody to think of her pain first. Just as you did for me when Hugh died,”
Fernando said simply.
At Sept-Tours everybody from Gallowglass and the gardener to Victoire and Ysabeau referred to Sarah by her status relative to Emily rather than by her name, when she was not in the room. It was a title of respect as well as a constant reminder of Sarah’s loss.
“I must ask you, Matthew: Does Diana know about your blood rage?” Fernando kept his voice low.
The chapel walls were thick, and not much sound escaped, but it was wise to take precautions.
“Of course she knows.” Matthew dropped to his knees in front of a small pile of armor and weapons arranged in one of the chapel’s carved niches. The space was big enough to hold a coffin, but Hugh de Clermont had been burned at the stake, leaving no body to bury. Matthew had created a memorial to his favorite brother out of painted wood and metal instead: his shield, his gauntlets, his mail hauberk and coat of plates, his sword, his helm.
“Forgive me for insulting you with the suggestion that you would keep something so important from one you love.” Fernando boxed him on the ear. “I’m glad you told your wife, but you deserve a whipping for not telling Marcus or Hamish—or Sarah.”
“You’re welcome to try.” Matthew’s response carried a threat that would drive off any other member of his family—but not Fernando.
“You’d like a straightforward punishment, wouldn’t you? But you aren’t getting off so easy. Not this time.” Fernando knelt beside him.
There was a long silence while Fernando waited for Matthew to lower his guard.
“The blood rage. It’s gotten worse.” Matthew hung his head over his clasped hands in an attitude of prayer.
“Of course it has. You’re mated now. What did you expect?”
The chemical and emotional responses that accompanied mating were intense, and even perfectly healthy vampires found it difficult to let their mates out of their sight. On those occasions when being together was impossible, it led to irritation, aggression, anxiety, and, in rare cases, madness. For a vampire with blood rage, both the mating impulse and the effects of separation were heightened.
“I expected to handle it.” Matthew’s forehead lowered until it was resting on his fingers. “I believed that the love I felt for Diana was stronger than the disease.”
“Oh, Matthew. You can be more idealistic than Hugh on even his sunniest days.” Fernando sighed and put a comforting hand on Matthew’s shoulder.
Fernando always lent comfort and assistance to those who needed it—even when they didn’t deserve it. He had sent Matthew to study with the surgeon Albucasis, back when he was trying to overcome the deadly rampages that marked his first centuries as a vampire. It was Fernando who kept Hugh—the brother whom Matthew had worshipped—safe from harm as he made his way from battlefield to book and back to the battlefield again. Without Fernando’s care Hugh would have shown up to fight with nothing but a volume of poetry, a dull sword, and one gauntlet. And it was Fernando who told Philippe that ordering Matthew back to Jerusalem would be a terrible mistake. Unfortunately, neither Philippe nor Matthew had listened to him.
“I had to force myself to leave her side tonight.” Matthew’s eyes darted around the chapel. “I can’t sit still, I want to kill something—badly—and even so it was almost impossible for me to venture beyond the sound of her breathing.”