Diana’s magic gave way in a shudder that passed through her from feet to head. She flicked her fingers in Baldwin’s direction. The thorns withdrew from his skin. The canes loosened, retracting back into the splintered floorboards surrounding the vampire. Soon he was free and Gallowglass’s house was returned to its normal, disenchanted state.
While her spell slowly unraveled, Diana went to Jack and cupped his face. The skin on his neck was already starting to knit together, but it would take several days to heal completely. Her generous mouth became a thin line.
“Don’t worry,” Jack told her, covering the wound self-consciously.
“Come on, Jackie. Diana and I will take you to Court Street. You must be famished.” Gallowglass clapped his hand on Jack’s shoulder. Jack was exhausted but tried to look less wan for Diana’s sake.
“Corra,” Diana said, beckoning to her firedrake. Corra limped toward her, gaining strength as she drew closer to her mistress. When the weaver and the firedrake were nearly touching, Corra faded into invisibility as she and Diana became one.
“Let Chris help you home,” Matthew said, careful to keep his broad frame between his wife and the disturbing images on the walls. She was, thankfully, too tired to do more than glance at them.
Matthew was pleased to see that Miriam had rounded up everyone in the house except Baldwin.
They were huddled in the entrance—Chris, Andrew, Lobero, and Miriam—waiting for Diana, Gallowglass, and Jack. The more creatures there to support the boy, the better.
Watching them go took every ounce of control Matthew had. He forced himself to wave encouragingly at Diana when she turned for one more glimpse of him. Once they disappeared between the houses on Court Street, he returned to Baldwin.
His brother was staring up at the last section of the murals, his shirt dotted with dark stains where Jack’s teeth and Diana’s briars had pierced the skin.
“Jack is the vampire murderer. I saw it in his thoughts, and now I see it here on the walls. We’ve been looking for him for more than a year. How has he evaded the Congregation all this time?” Baldwin asked.
“He was with Benjamin. Then he was on the run.” Matthew deliberately avoided looking at the horrifying images that surrounded Benjamin’s disembodied features. They were, he supposed, no more hideous than other brutal acts that vampires had perpetrated over the years. What made them so unbearable was that Jack had done them.
“Jack has to be stopped.” Baldwin’s tone was matter-of-fact.
“God forgive me.” Matthew lowered his head.
“Philippe was right. Your Christianity really does make you perfect for your job.” Baldwin snorted.
“What other faith promises to wash away your sins if only you confess them?”
Sadly, Baldwin had never grasped the concept of atonement. His view of Matthew’s faith was purely transactional—you went to church, confessed, and walked out a clean man. But salvation was more complicated. Philippe had come to understand that in the end, although he had long found Matthew’s constant search for forgiveness irritating and irrational.
“You know very well there’s no place for him among the de Clermonts—not if his disease is as serious as these pictures suggest.” Baldwin saw in Jack what Benjamin had seen: a dangerous weapon, one that could be shaped and twisted to make it as deadly as possible. Unlike Benjamin, Baldwin had a conscience. He would not use the weapon that had come so unexpectedly into his hand, but neither would he allow it to be used by another.
Matthew’s head remained bowed, weighted down with memories and regret. Baldwin’s next words were expected, but Matthew felt them as a blow nevertheless.
“Kill him,” commanded the head of the de Clermont family.
When Matthew returned home to the brightly painted red door with the white trim and the black pediment, it opened wide.
Diana had been waiting. She had changed into something that would ward off the chill and was bundled into one of his old cardigans, lessening the scent of the others she’d come into contact with that night. Even so, Matthew’s kiss of greeting was rough and possessive, and he only reluctantly drew away.
“What’s wrong?” Diana’s fingers went to Philippe’s arrowhead. It had become a reliable signal that her anxiety was climbing. The smudges of color on their tips told the same tale, growing more visible with every passing moment.
Matthew looked heavenward, hoping to find some guidance. What he saw instead was a sky totally devoid of stars. The reasonable, human part of him knew that this was due to the city’s bright lights and tonight’s full moon. But the vampire within was instinctively alarmed. There was nothing to orient him in such a place, no markers to guide his way.
“Come.” Matthew picked up Diana’s coat from the chair in the front hall, took his wife’s hand, and led her down the steps.
“Where are we going?” she said, struggling to keep up.
“To a place where I can see the stars,” Matthew replied.
Matthew headed north and west and out of the city with Diana beside him. He drove uncharacteristically fast, and in less than fifteen minutes they were on a quiet lane tucked into the shadow of the peaks known locally as the Sleeping Giant. Matthew pulled in to an otherwise dark driveway and shut off the car’s ignition. A porch light came on, and an elderly man peered into the darkness.
“That you, Mr. Clairmont?” The man’s voice was faint and thready but there was still a sharp intelligence in his eyes.
“It is, Mr. Phelps,” Matthew said with a nod. He circled the car and helped Diana down. “My wife and I are going up to the cottage.”
“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” Mr. Phelps said, touching his forehead with his hand. “Mr.
Gallowglass called to warn me you might be stopping by to check on things. He said not to worry if I heard somebody out here.”
“I’m sorry we woke you,” Diana said.
“I’m an old man, Mrs. Clairmont. I don’t get much shut-eye these days. I figure I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” Mr. Phelps said with a wheezing laugh. “You’ll find everything you need up on the mountain.”
“Thank you for watching over the place,” Matthew said.
“It’s a family tradition,” Mr. Phelps replied. “You’ll find Mr. Whitmore’s Ranger by the shed, if you don’t want to use my old Gator. I don’t imagine your wife will want to walk all that way. The park gates are closed, but you know how to get in. Have a nice night.”
Mr. Phelps went back inside, the screen hitting the doorframe with a snap of aluminum and mesh.
Matthew took Diana by the elbow and steered her toward what looked like a a cross between a golf cart with unusually rugged tires and a dune buggy. He let go of her only long enough to round the vehicle and climb in.
The gate into the park was so well hidden it was all but invisible, and the dirt trail that served as a road was unlit and unmarked, but Matthew found both with ease. He navigated a few sharp turns, climbing steadily as they traveled up the side of the mountain, passing through the edges of heavy forest until they reached an open field with a small wooden house tucked under the trees. The lights were on inside, making it as golden and inviting as a cottage in a fairy tale.
Matthew stopped Marcus’s Ranger and engaged the brake. He took a deep breath to drink in the night scents of mountain pine and dew-touched grass. Below, the valley looked bleak. He wondered if it was his mood or the silvered moonlight that rendered it so unwelcoming.
“The ground is uneven. I don’t want you to fall.” Matthew held out his hand, giving Diana the choice whether to take it or not.
After a concerned look, she put her hand in his. Matthew scanned the horizon, unable to stop searching for new threats. Then his attention turned skyward.
“The moon is bright tonight,” he mused. “Even here it’s hard to see the stars.”
“That’s because it’s Mabon,” Diana said quietly.
“Mabon?” Matthew looked startled.
She nodded. “One year ago you walked into the Bodleian Library and straight into my heart. As soon as that wicked mouth of yours smiled, the moment your eyes lightened with recognition even though we’d never met before, I knew that my life would never be the same.”
Diana’s words gave Matthew a momentary reprieve from the relentless agitation that Baldwin’s order and Chris’s news had set off in him, and for a brief moment the world was poised between absence and desire, between blood and fear, between the warmth of summer and the icy depths of winter.
“What’s wrong?” Diana searched his face. “Is it Jack? The blood rage? Baldwin?”
“Yes. No. In a way.” Matthew drove his hands through his hair and whirled around to avoid her keen gaze. “Baldwin knows that Jack killed those warmbloods in Europe. He knows that Jack is the vampire murderer.”
“Surely this isn’t the first time a vampire’s thirst for blood had resulted in unexpected deaths,”
Diana said, trying to defuse the situation.
“This time it’s different.” There was no easy way to say it. “Baldwin ordered me to kill Jack.”
“No. I forbid it.” Diana’s words echoed, and a wind kicked up from the east. She whirled around, and Matthew caught her. She struggled in his grip, sending a gray-and-brown twist of air howling around his feet.
“Don’t walk away from me.” He wasn’t sure he could control himself if she did. “You must listen to reason.”
“No.” Still she tried to avoid him. “You can’t give up on him. Jack won’t always have blood rage.
You’re going to find a cure.”
“Blood rage has no cure.” Matthew would have given his life to change that fact.
“What?” Diana’s shock was evident.
“We’ve been running the new DNA samples. For the first time, we’re able to chart a multigenerational pedigree that extends beyond Marcus. Chris and Miriam traced the blood-rage gene from Ysabeau through me and Andrew down to Jack.” Matthew had Diana’s complete attention now.
“Blood rage is a developmental anomaly,” he continued. “There’s a genetic component, but the blood-rage gene appears to be triggered by something in our noncoding DNA. Jack and I have that something. Maman, Marcus, and Andrew don’t.”
“I don’t understand,” Diana whispered.
“During my rebirth something already in my noncoding, human DNA reacted to the new genetic information flooding my system,” Matthew said patiently. “We know that vampire genes are brutal—they push aside what’s human in order to dominate the newly modified cells. But they don’t replace everything. If they did, my genome and Ysabeau’s would be identical. Instead I am her child—a combination of the genetic ingredients I inherited from my human parents as well as what I inherited from her.”
“So you had blood rage before Ysabeau made you vampire?” Diana was understandably confused.
“No. But I possessed the triggers the blood-rage gene needed to express itself,” Matthew said.
“Marcus has identified specific noncoding DNA that he believes plays a role.”
“In what he calls junk DNA?” Diana asked.
“Then a cure is still possible,” she insisted. “In a few years—”
“No, mon coeur. ” He couldn’t allow her hopes to rise. “The more we understand the blood-rage gene and learn about the noncoding genes, the better the treatment might become, but this is not a disease we can cure. Our only hope is to prevent it and, God willing, lessen its symptoms.”
“Until you do, you can teach Jack how to control it.” Diana’s face remained set in stubborn lines.
“There’s no need to kill him.”
“Jack’s symptoms are far worse than mine. The genetic factors that appear to trigger the disease are present at much higher levels in him.” Matthew blinked back the blood tears that he could feel forming.
“He won’t suffer any pain or fear. I promise you.”
“But you will. You say I pay a price for dealing with matters of life and death? So do you. Jack will be gone, but you will live on, hating yourself,” Diana said. “Think of what Philippe’s death has cost you.”
Matthew could think of little else. He had killed other creatures since his father’s death, but only to settle his own scores. Until tonight the last de Clermont sire to command him to kill had been Philippe.
And the death Philippe had ordered was his own.
“Jack is suffering, Diana. This would mean an end to it.” Matthew used the same words Philippe had to convince his wife to admit the inevitable.
“For him maybe. Not for us.” Diana’s hand strayed to the round swell of her belly. “The twins could have blood rage. Will you kill them, too?”
She waited for him to deny it, to tell her that she was insane to even think of such a thing. But he didn’t.
“When the Congregation discovers what Jack has done—and it’s only a matter of time before they do—they will kill him. And they won’t care how frightened he is or how much pain they cause. Baldwin will try to kill Jack before it comes to that, to keep the Congregation out of the family business. If he tries to run, Jack could fall into Benjamin’s hands. If he does, Benjamin will exact a terrible revenge for Jack’s betrayal. Death would be a blessing then.” Matthew’s face and voice were impassive, but the agony that flashed through Diana’s eyes would haunt him forever.