“Me, too,” I whispered, wondering how many knots and threads it would take to bring Gallowglass together with his mate.

“Where has Gallowglass gone?” Matthew glowered at Fernando, though they both knew that his nephew’s sudden disappearance wasn’t Fernando’s fault.

“Wherever it is, he’s better off there than here waiting for you and Diana to welcome your children into the world,” Fernando said.

“Diana doesn’t agree.” Matthew flipped through his e-mail. He’d taken to reading it downstairs, so that Diana didn’t know about the intelligence he was gathering on Benjamin. “She’s asking for him.”

“Philippe was wrong to ask Gallowglass to watch over her.” Fernando downed a cup of wine.

“You think so? It’s what I would have done,” Matthew said.

“Think, Matthew,” Dr. Garrett said impatiently. “Your children have vampire blood in them—though how that is possible, I will leave between you and God. That means they have some vampire immunity at least. Wouldn’t you rather your wife give birth at home, as women have done for centuries?”

Now that Matthew was back, he expected to play a significant role in determining how the twins would be brought into the world. As far as he was concerned, I should deliver in the hospital. My preference was to give birth at Clairmont House, with Marcus in attendance.

“Marcus hasn’t practiced obstetrics for years,” Matthew grumbled.

“Hell, man, you taught him anatomy. You taught me anatomy, come to think of it!” Dr. Garrett was clearly at the end of his rope. “Do you think the uterus has suddenly wandered off to a new location?

Talk sense into him, Jane.”

“Edward is right,” Dr. Sharp said. “The four of us have dozens of medical degrees between us and more than two millennia of combined experience. Marthe has very likely delivered more babies than anyone now living, and Diana’s aunt is a certified midwife. I suspect we’ll manage.”

I suspected she was right. So did Matthew, in the end. Having been overruled about the twins’

delivery, he was eager to get out of the room when Fernando arrived. The two disappeared downstairs.

They often closeted themselves together, talking family business.

“What did Matthew say when you told him you’d sworn your allegiance to the Bishop-Clairmont family?” I asked Fernando when he came upstairs later to say hello.

“He told me I was mad,” Fernando replied with a twinkle in his eye. “I told Matthew that I expect to be made a godfather to your eldest child in return.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged,” I said, though I was beginning to worry at the number of godparents the children were going to have.

“I hope you’re keeping track of all the promises you’ve made,” I remarked to Matthew later that afternoon.

“I am,” he said. “Chris wants the smartest and Fernando the eldest. Hamish wants the best-looking.

Marcus wants a girl. Jack wants a brother. Gallowglass expressed an interest in being godfather to any blond babies before we left New Haven.” Matthew ticked them off on his fingers.

“I’m having twins, not a litter of puppies,” I said, staggered by the number of interested parties.

“Besides, we’re not royals. And I’m pagan! The twins don’t need so many godparents.”

“Do you want me to pick the godmothers, too?” Matthew’s eyebrow rose.

“Miriam,” I said hastily, before he could suggest any of his terrifying female relatives. “Phoebe, of course. Marthe. Sophie. Amira. I’d like to ask Vivian Harrison, too.”

“See. Once you get started, they mount up quickly,” Matthew said with a smile.

That left us with six godparents per child. We were going to be drowning in silver baby cups and teddy bears, if the piles of tiny clothes, booties, and blankets Ysabeau and Sarah had already purchased were any indication.

Two of the twins’ potential godparents joined us for dinner most evenings. Marcus and Phoebe were so obviously in love that it was impossible not to feel romantic in their presence. The air between them thrummed with tension. Phoebe, for her part, was as unflappable and self-possessed as ever. She didn’t hesitate to lecture Matthew on the state of the frescoes in the ballroom and how shocked Angelica Kauffmann would be to find her work neglected in such a fashion. Nor did Phoebe plan on allowing the de Clermont family treasures to be kept from the eyes of the public indefinitely.

“There are ways to share them anonymously, and for a fixed period of time,” she told Matthew.

“Expect to see the picture of Margaret More from the Old Lodge’s upstairs loo on display at the National Portrait Gallery very soon.” I squeezed Matthew’s hand encouragingly.

“Why didn’t someone warn me it would be so difficult to have historians in the family?” he asked Marcus, looking a trifle dazed. “And how did we end up with two?”

“Good taste,” Marcus said, giving Phoebe a smoldering glance.

“Indeed.” Matthew’s mouth twitched at the obvious double entendre.

When it was just the four of us like this, Matthew and Marcus would talk for hours about the new scion—though Marcus preferred to call it “Matthew’s clan” for reasons that had as much to do with his Scottish grandfather as with his dislike of applying botanical and zoological terms to vampire families.

“Members of the Bishop-Clairmont scion—or clan if you insist—will have to be especially careful when they mate or marry,” Matthew said one evening over dinner. “The eyes of every vampire will be on us.”

Marcus did a double take. “Bishop-Clairmont?”

“Of course,” Matthew said with a frown. “What did you expect us to be called? Diana doesn’t use my name, and our children will bear both. It’s only right that a family composed of witches and vampires has a name that reflects that.”

I was touched by his thoughtfulness. Matthew could be such a patriarchal, overprotective creature, but he had not forgotten my family’s traditions.

“Why, Matthew de Clermont,” Marcus said with a slow smile. “That’s downright progressive for an old fossil like you.”

“Hmph.” Matthew sipped at his wine.

Marcus’s phone buzzed, and he looked at his display. “Hamish is here. I’ll go down and let him in.”

Muted conversation floated up the stairs. Matthew rose. “Stay with Diana, Phoebe.”

Phoebe and I exchanged worried looks.

“It will be so much more convenient when I’m a vampire, too,” she said, trying in vain to hear what was being said downstairs. “At least then we’ll know what’s going on.”

“Then they’ll just take a walk,” I said. “I need to devise a spell—one that will magnify the sound waves. Something using air and a bit of water, perhaps.”

“Shh.” Phoebe tilted her head and made an impatient sound. “Now they’ve lowered their voices.

How maddening.”

When Matthew and Marcus reappeared with Hamish in tow, their faces told me that something was seriously wrong.

“There’s been another message from Benjamin.” Matthew crouched before me, his eyes level with mine. “I don’t want to keep this from you, Diana, but you must stay calm.”

“Just tell me,” I said, my heart in my throat.

“The witch that Benjamin captured is dead. Her child died with her.” Matthew’s eyes searched mine, which filled with tears. And not only for the young witch but for myself, and my own failure. If I hadn’t hesitated, Benjamin’s witch would still be alive.

“Why can’t we have the time we need to sort things out and deal with this huge mess we seem to have made? And why do people have to keep dying while we do it?” I cried.

“There was no way to prevent this,” Matthew said, stroking my hair away from my forehead. “Not this time.”

“What about next time?” I demanded.

The men were grim and silent.

“Oh. Of course.” I drew in a sharp lungful of air, and my fingers tingled. Corra burst out from my ribs with an agitated squawk and launched herself upward to perch on the chandelier. “You’ll stop him.

Because next time he’s coming for me.”

I felt a pop, a trickle of liquid.

Matthew looked down to my rounded belly in shock.

The babies were on their way.

31

“Don’t you dare tell me not to push.” I was red-faced and sweating, and all I wanted was to get these babies out of me as quickly as possible.

“Do. Not. Push,” Marthe repeated. She and Sarah had me walking around in an effort to ease the aching in my back and legs. The contractions were still around five minutes apart, but the pain was becoming excruciating, radiating from my spine around to my belly.

“I want to lie down.” After weeks of resisting bed rest, now I just wanted to crawl back into the bed, with its rubber-covered mattress and sterilized sheets. The irony was not lost on me, nor on anyone else in the room.

“You’re not lying down,” Sarah said.

“Oh, God. Here comes another one.” I stopped in my tracks and gripped their hands. The contraction lasted a long time. I had just straightened up and started breathing normally when another one hit. “I want Matthew!”

“I’m right here,” Matthew said, taking Marthe’s place. He nodded to Sarah. “That was fast.”

“The book said the contractions are supposed to get gradually closer together.” I sounded like a peevish schoolmarm.

“Babies don’t read books, honey,” Sarah said. “They have their own ideas about these things.”

“And when they’re of a mind to be born, babies make no bones about it,” Dr. Sharp said, entering the room with a smile. Dr. Garrett had been called away to another delivery at the last minute, so Dr.

Sharp had taken charge of my medical team. She pressed the stethoscope against my belly, moved it, and pressed again. “You’re doing marvelously, Diana. So are the twins. No sign of distress. I’d recommend we try to deliver vaginally.”

“I want to lie down,” I said through gritted teeth as another band of steel shot out from my spine and threatened to cut me in two. “Where’s Marcus?”

“He’s just across the hall,” Matthew said. I dimly remembered ejecting Marcus from the room when the contractions intensified.

“If I need a cesarean, can Marcus be here in time?” I demanded.

“You called?” Marcus said, entering the room in scrubs. His genial grin and unruffled demeanor calmed me instantly. Now that he’d returned, I couldn’t remember why I’d kicked him out of the room.

“Who moved the damn bed?” I puffed my way through another contraction. The bed seemed to be in the same place, but this was clearly an illusion for it was taking forever for me to reach it.

“Matthew did,” Sarah said breezily.

“I did no such thing,” Matthew protested.

“In labor we blame absolutely everything on the husband. It keeps the mother from developing homicidal fantasies and reminds the men they aren’t the center of attention,” Sarah explained.

I laughed, thereby missing the rising wave of pain that accompanied the next fierce contraction.

“Fu— Sh— Godda—” I pressed my lips firmly together.

“You are not getting through tonight’s main event without swearing, Diana,” Marcus said.

“I don’t want a string of profanity to be the first words the babies hear.” Now I recalled the reason for Marcus’s expulsion: He’d suggested I was being too prim in the midst of my agony.

“Matthew can sing—and he’s loud. I’m sure he could drown you out.”

“God—blasted—it hurts,” I said, doubling over. “Move the f**king bed if you want to be helpful, but stop arguing with me, you a**hole!”

My reply was met with shocked silence.

“Atta girl,” Marcus said. “I knew you had it in you. Let’s have a look.”

Matthew helped me onto the bed, which had been stripped of its priceless silk coverlet and most of its curtains. The two cradles stood in front of the fire, waiting for the twins. I stared at them while Marcus conducted his examination.

Thus far this had been the most physically intrusive four hours of my life. I’d had more things jabbed into me and more stuff taken out of me than I thought possible. It was oddly dehumanizing, considering that I was responsible for bringing new life into the world.

“Still a little while to go,” Marcus said, “but things are speeding up nicely.”

“Easy for you to say.” I would have hit him, but he was positioned between my thighs and the babies were in the way.

“This is your last chance for an epidural,” Marcus said. “If you say no, and we have to do a C-section, we’ll have to knock you out completely.”

“There’s no need for you to be heroic, ma lionne, ” Matthew said.

“I’m not being heroic,” I told him for the fourth or fifth time. “We have no idea what an epidural might do to the babies.” I stopped, my face scrunched in an attempt to block the pain.

“You have to keep breathing, honey,” Sarah pushed her way to my side. “You heard her, Matthew.

She isn’t taking the epidural, and there’s no point in arguing with her about it. Now, about the pain.

Laughter helps, Diana. So does focusing on something else.”

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