“Milord Marcus tells me we will have a full house for the ceremonies, Madame Ysabeau,” Alain said, greeting his mistress. His wife, Victoire, danced with excitement when she spied the baby carriers and rushed over to lend a hand.
“It will be like the old days, Alain. We will set up cots in the barn for the men. Those who are vampires will not mind the cold, and the rest will get used to it.” Ysabeau sounded unconcerned as she handed Marthe her gloves and turned to help with the babies. They were swaddled within an inch of their lives to protect them from the freezing temperatures. “Are not Milord Philip and Milady Rebecca the most beautiful creatures you have ever seen, Victoire?”
Victoire was incapable of more than oohs and aahs, but Ysabeau seemed to find her response sufficient.
“Shall I help with the babies’ luggage?” Alain asked, surveying the contents of the overstuffed cargo space.
“That would be wonderful, Alain.” Matthew directed him to the bags, totes, portable playpens, and stacks of disposable diapers.
Matthew took a baby carrier in each hand and, with much input from Marthe, Sarah, Ysabeau, and Victoire on the icy state of the stairs, climbed to the front door. Inside, the magnitude of where he was, and why, struck him. Matthew was bringing the latest in a long line of de Clermonts back to their ancestral home. It didn’t matter if our family was only a lowly scion of that distinguished lineage. This was, and would always be, a place steeped in tradition for our children.
“Welcome home.” I kissed him.
He kissed me back, then gave me one of his dazzling, slow smiles. “Thank you, mon coeur. ”
Returning to Sept-Tours had been the right decision. Hopefully, no mishaps would darken our otherwise pleasant homecoming.
In the days leading up to the christening, it seemed as though my wishes would be granted.
Sept-Tours was so busy with the preparations for the twins’ christening that I kept expecting Philippe to burst into the room, singing and telling jokes. But it was Marcus who was the life of the household now, roaming all over the place as if he owned it—which I suppose he technically did—and jollying everybody into a more festive mood. For the first time, I could see why Marcus reminded Fernando of Matthew’s father.
When Marcus ordered that all the furniture in the great hall be replaced with long tables and benches capable of seating the expected hordes, I had a dizzying sense of déjà vu as Sept-Tours was transformed back to its medieval self. Only Matthew’s rooms remained unchanged. Marcus had declared them off-limits, since the guests of honor were sleeping there. I retreated to Matthew’s tower at regular intervals to feed, bathe, and change the babies—and to rest from the constant crush of people employed to clean, sort, and move furniture.
“Thank you, Marthe,” I said upon my return from a brisk walk in the garden. She had happily left the crowded kitchen in favor of nanny duty and another of her beloved murder mysteries.
I gave my sleeping son a gentle pat on the back and picked Rebecca up from the cradle. My lips compressed into a thin line at her low weight relative to her brother’s.
“She is hungry.” Marthe’s dark eyes met mine.
“I know.” Rebecca was always hungry and never satisfied. My thoughts danced away from the implications. “Matthew said it’s too early for concern.” I buried my nose in Rebecca’s neck and breathed in her sweet baby smell.
“What does Matthew know?” Marthe snorted. “You are her mother.”
“He wouldn’t like it,” I warned.
“Matthew would like it less if she dies,” Marthe said bluntly.
Still I hesitated. If I followed Marthe’s broad hints without consulting him, Matthew would be furious. But if I asked Matthew for his input, he would tell me that Rebecca was in no immediate danger. That might be true, but she certainly wasn’t brimming over with health and wellness. Her frustrated cries broke my heart.
“Is Matthew still hunting?” If I were going to do this, it had to be when Matthew wasn’t around to fret.
“So far as I know.”
“Shh, it’s all right. Mommy’s going to fix it,” I murmured, sitting down by the fire and undoing my shirt with one hand. I put Rebecca to my right breast, and she latched on immediately, sucking with all her might. Milk dribbled out of the corner of her mouth, and her whimper turned into an outright wail.
She had been easier to feed before my milk came in, as though colostrum were more tolerable to her system.
That was when I’d first started to worry.
“Here.” Marthe held out a sharp, thin knife.
“I don’t need it.” I swung Rebecca onto my shoulder and patted her back. She let out a gassy belch, and a stream of white liquid followed.
“She cannot digest the milk properly,” Marthe said.
“Let’s see how she handles this, then.” I rested Rebecca’s head on my forearm, flicked my fingertips toward the soft, scarred skin at my left elbow where I’d tempted her father to take my blood, and waited while red, life-giving fluid swelled from the veins.
Rebecca was instantly alert.
“Is this what you want?” I curled my arm, pressing her mouth to my skin. I felt the same sense of suction that I did when she nursed at my breast, except that now the child wasn’t fussy—she was ravenous.
Freely flowing venous blood was bound to be noticed in a house full of vampires. Ysabeau was there in moments. Fernando was nearly as quick. Then Matthew appeared like a tornado, his hair disheveled from the wind.
“Everyone. Out.” He pointed to the stairs. Without waiting to see if they obeyed him, he dropped to his knees before me. “What are you doing?”
“I’m feeding your daughter.” Tears stung my eyes.
Rebecca’s contented swallowing was audible in the quiet room.
“Everybody’s been wondering for months what the children would be. Well, here’s one mystery solved: Rebecca needs blood to thrive.” I inserted my pinkie gently between her mouth and my skin to break the suction and slow the flow of blood.
“And Philip?” Matthew asked, his face frozen.
“He seems satisfied with my milk,” I said. “Maybe, in time, Rebecca will take to a more varied diet. But for now she needs blood, and she’s going to get it.”
“There are good reasons we don’t turn children into vampires,” Matthew said.
“We have not turned Rebecca into anything. She came to us this way. And she’s not a vampire.
She’s a vampitch. Or a wimpire.” I wasn’t trying to be ridiculous, though the names invited laughter.
“Others will want to know what kind of creature they’re dealing with,” Matthew said.
“Well, they’re going to have to wait,” I snapped. “It’s too soon to tell, and I won’t have people forcing Rebecca into a narrow box for their own convenience.”
“And when her teeth come in? What then?” Matthew asked, his voice rising. “Have you forgotten Jack?”
Ah. So it was the blood rage, more than whether they were vampire or witch, that was worrying Matthew. I passed the soundly sleeping Rebecca to him and buttoned my shirt. When I was finished, he had her tucked tightly against his heart, her head cradled between his chin and shoulder. His eyes were closed, as if to block out what he had seen.
“If Rebecca or Philip has blood rage, then we will deal with it—together, as a family,” I said, brushing the hair from where it had tumbled over his forehead. “Try not to worry so much.”
“Deal with it? How? You can’t reason with a two-year-old in a killing rage,” Matthew said.
“Then I’ll spellbind her.” It wasn’t something we’d discussed, but I’d do it without hesitation. “Just as I’d spellbind Jack, if that was the only way to protect him.”
“You will not do to our children what your parents did to you, Diana. You would never forgive yourself.”
The arrow resting along my spine pricked my shoulder, and the tenth knot writhed on my wrist as the cords within me snapped to attention. This time there was no hesitation.
“To save my family, I’ll do what I must.”
“It’s done,” Matthew said, putting down his phone.
It was the sixth of December, one year and one day since Philippe had marked Diana with his blood vow. On Isola della Stella, a small island in the Venetian lagoon, a sworn testament of her status as a de Clermont sat on the desk of a Congregation functionary waiting to be entered into the family pedigree.
“So Aunt Verin came through in the end,” Marcus said.
“Or Gallowglass.” Fernando hadn’t given up hope that Hugh’s son would return in time for the christening.
“Baldwin did it.” Matthew sat back in his chair and wiped his hands over his face.
Alain appeared with an apology for the interruption, a stack of mail, and a glass of wine. He cast a worried glance at the three vampires huddled around the kitchen fire and left without comment.
Fernando and Marcus looked at each other, their consternation evident.
“Baldwin? But if Baldwin did it . . .” Marcus trailed off.
“He’s more worried about Diana’s safety than the de Clermonts’ reputation,” Matthew finished.
“The question is, what does he know that we don’t?”
The seventh of December was our anniversary, and Sarah and Ysabeau baby-sat the twins to give Matthew and me a few hours on our own. I prepared bottles of milk for Philip, mixed blood and a bit of milk for Rebecca, and brought the pair down to the family library. There Ysabeau and Sarah had constructed a wonderland of blankets, toys, and mobiles to entertain them and were looking forward to the evening with their grandchildren.
When I suggested we would simply have a quiet dinner in Matthew’s tower so as to be within calling distance if there was a problem, Ysabeau handed me a set of keys.
“Dinner is waiting for you at Les Revenants,” she said.
“Les Revenants?” It was not a place I’d heard of before.
“Philippe built the castle to house Crusaders coming home from the Holy Land.” Matthew explained. “It belongs to Maman.
“It’s your house now. I’m giving it to you,” Ysabeau said. “Happy anniversary.”
“It’s too much, Ysabeau,” I protested.
“Les Revenants is better suited to a family than this place is. It is really quite cozy.” Ysabeau’s expression was touched with wistfulness. “And Philippe and I were happy there.”
“Are you sure?” Matthew asked his mother.
“Yes. And you will like it, Diana,” Ysabeau said with a lift of her eyebrows. “All the rooms have doors.”
“How could anyone describe this as cozy?” I asked when we arrived at the house outside Limousin.
Les Revenants was smaller than Sept-Tours, but not by much. There were only four towers, Matthew pointed out, one on each corner of the square keep. But the moat that surrounded it was large enough to qualify as a lake, and the splendid stable complex and beautiful interior courtyard rather took away from any claims that this was more modest than the official de Clermont residence. Inside, however, there was an intimate feeling to the place, in spite of its large public rooms on the ground floor.
Though the castle had been built in the twelfth century, it had been thoroughly renovated and was now fully updated with modern conveniences such as bathrooms, electricity, and even heat in some of the rooms. Despite all that, I was just winding myself up to reject the gift and any idea that we would ever live here when my clever husband showed me the library.
The Gothic Revival room with its beamed ceiling, carved woodwork, large fireplace, and decorative heraldic shields was tucked into the southwest corner of the main building. A large bank of windows overlooked the inner courtyard while another, smaller window framed the Limousin countryside. Bookcases lined the only two straight walls, rising to the ceiling. A curved walnut staircase led up to a gallery that gave access to the higher shelves. It reminded me a bit of Duke Humfrey’s Reading Room, with its dark woodwork and hushed lighting.
“What is all this stuff?” The walnut shelves were filled with boxes and books arranged higgledy-482
“Philippe’s personal papers,” Matthew said. “Maman moved them here after the war. Anything having to do with official de Clermont family business or the Knights of Lazarus is still at Sept-Tours, of course.”
This had to be the most extensive personal archive in the world. I sat with a thunk, suddenly sympathetic to Phoebe’s plight among all the family’s artistic treasures, and I covered my mouth with my hand.
“I suppose you’ll want to sort through them, Dr. Bishop,” Matthew said, planting a kiss on my head.
“Of course I do! They could tell us about and the early days of the Congregation.
There may be letters here that refer to Benjamin and to the witch’s child in Jerusalem.” My mind reeled with the possibilities.
Matthew looked doubtful. “I think you’re more likely to find Philippe’s designs for siege engines and instructions about the care and feeding of horses than anything about Benjamin.”
Every historical instinct told me that Matthew was grossly underestimating the significance of what was here. Two hours after he’d shown me into the room, I was still there, poking among the boxes while Matthew drank wine and humored me by translating texts when they were in ciphers or a language I didn’t know. Poor Alain and Victoire ended up serving the romantic anniversary dinner they’d prepared for us on the library table rather than down in the dining room.