“What?” Jack asked, unable to hide his curiosity.
“If you truly love someone, you will cherish what they despise most about themselves.” Fernando’s voice dropped. “Next time Matthew forgets that, you remind him. And if you forget, I’ll remind you .
Once. After that, I’m telling Diana that you are wallowing in self-hatred. And your mother is not nearly as forgiving as I am.”
Fernando found Matthew in the narrow back garden, under the cover of a small gazebo. The rain that had been threatening all evening had finally started to fall. He was oddly preoccupied with his phone.
Every minute or so, his thumb moved, followed by a fixed stare, then another movement of the thumb.
“You’re as bad as Diana, staring at her phone all the time without ever sending a message.”
Fernando’s laughter stopped abruptly. “It’s you. You’ve been in touch with her all along.”
“Just pictures. No words. I don’t trust myself—or the Congregation—with words.” Matthew’s thumb moved.
Fernando had heard Diana say to Sarah, “Still no word from Matthew.” Literally speaking, the witch had not lied, which had prevented the family from knowing her secret. And as long as Diana sent only pictures, there would be little way for Matthew to know how badly things had gone wrong in Oxford.
Matthew’s breath was ragged. He steadied it with visible effort. His thumb moved.
“Do that one more time and I’ll break it. And I’m not talking about the phone.”
The sound that came out of Matthew’s mouth was more bark than laugh, as if the human part of him had given up the fight and let the wolf win.
“What do you think Hugh would have done with a cell phone?” Matthew cradled his in both hands as though it were his last precious link to the world outside his own troubled mind.
“Not much. Hugh wouldn’t remember to charge it, for a start. I loved your brother with all my heart, Matthew, but he was hopeless when it came to daily life.”
This time Matthew’s answering chuckle sounded less like a sound a wild animal might make.
“I take it that patriarchy has been more difficult than you anticipated?” Fernando didn’t envy Matthew for having to assert his leadership over this pack.
“Not really. Marcus’s children still hate me, and rightfully so.” Matthew’s fingers closed on the phone, his eyes straying to the screen like an addict’s. “I just saw the last of them. Ransome made me account for every vampire death I was responsible for in New Orleans—even the ones that had nothing to do with purging the blood rage from the city.”
“That must have taken some time,” Fernando murmured.
“Five hours. Ransome was surprised I remembered them all by name,” Matthew said.
Fernando was not.
“Now all of Marcus’s children have agreed to support me and be included in the scion, but I wouldn’t want to test their devotion,” Matthew continued. “Mine is a family built on fear—fear of Benjamin, of the Congregation, of other vampires, even of me. It’s not based on love or respect.”
“Fear is easy to root. Love and respect take more time,” Fernando told him.
The silence stretched, became leaden.
“Do you not want to ask me about your wife?”
“No.” Matthew stared at an ax buried in a thick stump. There were piles of split logs all around it.
He rose and picked up a fresh log. “Not until I’m well enough to go to her and see for myself. I couldn’t bear it, Fernando. Not being able to hold her—to watch our children grow inside her—to know she is safe, it’s been—”
Fernando waited until the ax thunked into the wood before he prompted Matthew to continue.
“It’s been what, Mateus?”
Matthew pulled the ax free. He swung again.
Had Fernando not been a vampire, he wouldn’t have heard the response.
“It’s been like having my heart ripped out.” Matthew’s axhead cleaved the wood with a mighty crack. “Every single minute of every single day.”
Fernando gave Matthew forty-eight hours to recover from the ordeal with Ransome. Confessions of past sins were never easy, and Matthew was particularly prone to brooding.
Fernando took advantage of that time to introduce himself to Marcus’s children and grandchildren.
He made sure they understood the family rules and who would punish those who disobeyed them, for Fernando had appointed himself Matthew’s enforcer—and executioner. The New Orleans branch of the Bishop-Clairmont family was rather subdued afterward, and Fernando decided Matthew could now go home. Fernando was increasingly concerned about Diana. Ysabeau said her medical condition was unchanged, but Sarah was still worried. Something was not right, she told Fernando, and she suspected that only Matthew would be able to fix it.
Fernando found Matthew in the garden as he often was, eyes black and hackles raised. He was still in the grip of blood rage. Sadly, there was no more wood for him to chop in Orleans Parish.
“Here.” Fernando dropped a bag at Matthew’s feet.
Inside the bag Matthew found his small ax and chisel, T-handled augers of various sizes, a frame saw, and two of his precious planes. Alain had neatly wrapped the planes in oiled cloth to protect them during their travels. Matthew stared at his well-used tools, then at his hands.
“Those hands haven’t always done bloody work,” Fernando reminded him. “I remember when they healed, created, made music.”
Matthew looked at him, mute.
“Will you make them on straight legs or with a curved base so they can be rocked?” Fernando asked conversationally.
Matthew frowned. “Make what?”
“The cradles. For the twins.” Fernando let his words sink in. “I think oak is best—stout and strong—but Marcus tells me that cherry is traditional in America. Perhaps Diana would prefer that.”
Matthew picked up his chisel. The worn handle filled his palm. “Rowan. I’ll make them out of rowan for protection.”
Fernando squeezed Matthew’s shoulder with approval and departed.
Matthew dropped the chisel back into the bag. He took out his phone, hesitated, and snapped a photograph. Then he waited.
Diana’s response was swift and made his bones hollow with longing. His wife was in the bath. He recognized the curves of the copper tub in the Mayfair house. But these were not the curves that interested him.
His wife—his clever, wicked wife—had propped the phone on her breastbone and taken a picture down the length of her na**d body. All that was visible was the mound of her belly, the skin stretched impossibly tight, and the tips of her toes resting on the curled edge of the tub.
If he concentrated, Matthew could imagine her scent rising from the warm water, feel the silk of her hair between his fingers, trace the long, strong lines of her thigh and shoulder. Christ, he missed her.
“Fernando said you needed lumber.” Marcus was standing before him, frowning.
Matthew dragged his eyes away from the phone. What he needed, only Diana could provide.
“Fernando also said if anyone woke him in the next forty-eight hours, there would be hell to pay,”
Marcus said, looking at the stacks of split logs. They certainly wouldn’t lack firewood this winter. “You know how Ransome loves a challenge—not to mention a brush with the devil—so you can imagine his response.”
“Do tell,” Matthew said with a dry chuckle. He hadn’t laughed in some time, so the sound was rusty and raw.
“Ransome has already been on the phone to the Krewe of Muses. I expect the Ninth Ward Marching Band will be here by suppertime. Vampire or no, they’ll rouse Fernando for sure.” Marcus looked down at his father’s leather tool bag. “Are you finally going to teach Jack to carve?” The boy had been begging Matthew for lessons since he arrived.
Matthew shook his head. “I thought he might like to help me make cradles instead.”
Matthew and Jack worked on the cradles for almost a week. Every cut of wood, every finely hewn dovetail that joined the pieces together, every swipe of the plane helped to reduce Matthew’s blood rage.
Working on a present for Diana made him feel connected to her again, and he began to talk about the children and his hopes.
Jack was a good pupil, and his skills as an artist proved handy when it came to carving decorative designs into the cradles. While they worked, Jack asked Matthew about his childhood and how he’d met Diana at the Bodleian. No one else would have gotten away with asking such direct, personal questions, but the rules were always slightly different where Jack was concerned.
When they were finished, the cradles were works of art. Matthew and Jack wrapped them carefully in soft blankets to protect them on the journey back to London.
It was only after the cradles were finished and ready to go that Fernando told Matthew about Diana’s condition.
Matthew’s response was entirely expected. First he went still and silent. Then he swung into action.
“Get the pilot on the phone. I’m not waiting until tomorrow. I want to be in London by morning,”
Matthew said, his tone clipped and precise. “Marcus!”
“What’s wrong?” Marcus said.
“Diana isn’t well.” Matthew scowled ferociously at Fernando. “I should have been told.”
“I thought you had been.” Fernando didn’t need to say anything else. Matthew knew who had kept this from him. Fernando suspected that Matthew knew why as well.
Matthew’s usually mobile face turned to stone, and his normally expressive eyes were blank.
“What happened?” Marcus said. He told Jack where to find his medical bag and called for Ransome.
“Diana found the missing page from Ashmole 782.” Fernando took Matthew by the shoulders.
“There’s more. She saw Benjamin at the Bodleian Library. He knows about the pregnancy. He attacked Phoebe.”
“Phoebe?” Marcus was distraught. “Is she all right?”
“Benjamin?” Jack inhaled sharply.
“Phoebe is fine. And Benjamin is nowhere to be found,” Fernando reassured them. “As for Diana, Hamish called Edward Garrett and Jane Sharp. They’re overseeing her case.”
“They’re among the finest doctors in the city, Matthew,” Marcus said. “Diana couldn’t be in better care.”
“She will be,” Matthew said, picking up a cradle and heading out the door. “She’ll be in mine.”
“You shouldn’t have any problem with it now,” I told the young witch sitting before me. She had come at the suggestion of Linda Crosby to see if I could figure out why her protection spell was no longer effective.
Working out of Clairmont House, I had become London’s chief magical diagnostician, listening to accounts of failed exorcisms, spells gone bad, and elemental magic on the loose, and then helping the witches find solutions. As soon as Amanda cast her spell for me, I could see the problem: When she recited the words, the blue and green threads around her got tangled up with a single strand of red that pulled on the six-crossed knots at the core of the spell. The gramarye had become convoluted, the spell’s intentions murky, and now instead of protecting Amanda it was the magical equivalent of an angry Chihuahua, snarling and snapping at everything that came close.
“Hello, Amanda,” Sarah said, sticking her head in to see how we were faring. “Did you get what you needed?”
“Diana was brilliant, thanks,” Amanda said.
“Wonderful. Let me show you out,” Sarah said.
I leaned back on the cushions, sad to see Amanda go. Since the doctors from Harley Street had me on bed rest, my visitors were few.
The good news was that I didn’t have preeclampsia—at least not as it usually develops in warmbloods. I had no protein in my urine, and my blood pressure was actually below normal.
Nevertheless, swelling, nausea, and shoulder pain were not symptoms the jovial Dr. Garrett or his aptly named colleague, Dr. Sharp, wished to ignore—especially not after Ysabeau explained that I was Matthew Clairmont’s mate.
The bad news was that they put me on modified bed rest nonetheless, and so I would remain until the twins were born—which Dr. Sharp hoped would not be for another four weeks at least, although her worried look suggested that this was an optimistic projection. I was allowed to do some gentle stretching under Amira’s supervision and take two ten-minute walks around the garden per day. Stairs, standing, lifting were positively forbidden.
My phone buzzed on the side table. I picked it up, hoping for a text from Matthew.
A picture of the front door of Clairmont House was waiting for me.
It was then that I noticed how quiet it was, the only sound the ticking of the house’s many clocks.
The creak of the front-door hinges and the soft scrape of wood against marble broke the silence.
Without thinking I shot to my feet, teetering on legs that had grown weaker during my enforced inactivity.
And then Matthew was there.
All that either of us could do for the first long moments was to drink in the sight of the other.
Matthew’s hair was tousled and slightly wavy from the damp London air, and he was wearing a gray sweater and black jeans. Fine lines around his eyes showed the stress he’d been under.
He stalked toward me. I wanted to jump up and run at him, but something in his expression kept me glued to the spot.
When at last Matthew reached me, he cradled my neck with his fingertips and searched my eyes.
His thumb brushed across my lips, bringing the blood to the surface. I saw the small changes in him: the firm set of his jaw, the unusual tightness of his mouth, the hooded expression caused by the lowering of his eyelids.