“What’s this?” I frowned and took the ledger. It was far thinner than the ones here in Matthew’s study that contained the financial records of the Knights of Lazarus.
“Your accounts, madame.”
“I thought Hamish was keeping my finances.” He’d left piles of documents for me, all of them awaiting my signature.
“Mr. Osborne took charge of your marriage settlement from milord. These are the funds you received from Sieur Philippe.” Alain’s attention lingered for a moment on my forehead, where Philippe had placed his blood to claim me as his daughter.
Curious, I cracked the seal and opened the covers. The little account book had been rebound periodically when more pages were required. The first entries were made on thick sixteenth-century paper and dated from the year 1591. One accounted for the deposit of the dowry that Philippe had provided when I married Matthew: 20,000 Venetian zecchini and 30,000 silver Reichsthaler. Every subsequent investment of that money—such as the rollover of any interest paid on the funds and the houses and land purchased with the proceeds—was meticulously accounted for in Alain’s neat hand. I flipped through to the final pages of the book. The last entry, made on sparkling white bond, was dated 4 July 2010, the day we had arrived back at Sept-Tours. My eyes popped at the amount indicated in the assets column.
“I am sorry it is not more,” Alain said hastily, mistaking my reaction for alarm. “I invested your money as I did my own, but the more lucrative, and therefore riskier, opportunities would have required Sieur Baldwin’s approval, and of course he could not know of your existence.”
“It’s more than I could ever imagine possessing, Alain.” Matthew had settled a substantial amount of property on me when he drew up our marriage agreement, but this was a vast sum. Philippe had wanted me to have financial independence like the rest of the de Clermont women. And as I had learned this morning, my father-in-law, whether dead or alive, got what he wanted. I put the ledger aside.
“It was my pleasure,” Alain said with a bow. He drew something from his pocket. “Finally, Sieur
Philippe instructed me to give you this.”
Alain handed me an envelope made from cheap, thin stock. My name was on the front. Though the poor adhesive had long since dried up, the envelope had been sealed with a swirl of black and red waxes. An ancient coin was embedded in it: Philippe’s special signal.
“Sieur Philippe worked on this letter for over an hour. He made me read it back to him when he finished, to be sure that it captured what he wanted to say.”
“When?” Matthew asked hoarsely.
“The day he died.” Alain’s expression was haunted.
The shaky handwriting belonged to someone too old or infirm to hold a pen properly. It was a vivid reminder of how much Philippe had suffered. I traced my name. When my fingertips reached the final letter, I dragged them across the surface of the envelope, pulling at the letters so that they unraveled.
First there was a pool of black on the envelope, and then the ink resolved into the image of a man’s face.
It was still beautiful, though ravaged with pain and marred by a deep, empty socket where once a tawny eye had shimmered with intelligence and humor.
“You didn’t tell me the Nazis had blinded him.” I knew that my father-in-law had been tortured, but I had never imagined his captors had inflicted this much damage. I studied the other wounds on Philippe’s face. Mercifully, there weren’t enough letters in my name to draw a detailed portrait. I touched my father-in-law’s cheek gently, and the image dissolved, leaving an ink stain on the envelope.
With a flick of my fingers, the stain lifted into a small black tornado. When the whirling stopped, the letters dropped back into their proper place.
“Sieur Philippe often spoke with you about his troubles, Madame de Clermont,” Alain continued softly, “when the pain was very bad.”
“Spoke with her?” Matthew repeated numbly.
“Almost every day,” Alain said with a nod. “He would bid me to send everyone from that part of the château, for fear someone would overhear. Madame de Clermont brought Sieur Philippe comfort when no one else could.”
I turned the envelope over, tracing the raised markings on the ancient silver coin. “Philippe expected his coins to be returned to him. In person. How can I, if he’s dead?”
“Perhaps the answer is inside,” Matthew suggested.
I slid my finger under the envelope’s seal, freeing the coin from the wax. I carefully removed the fragile sheet of paper, which crackled ominously as it was unfolded.
Philippe’s faint scent of bay, figs, and rosemary tickled my nose.
Looking down at the paper, I was grateful for my expertise in deciphering difficult handwriting.
After a close look, I began to read the letter aloud.
[des: author has this centered on the page; over to you.]
Diana—Do not let the ghosts of the past steal the joy from the future.
Thank you for holding my hand.
You can let go now.
Your father, in blood and vow,
P.S. The coin is for the ferryman. Tell Matthew I will see you safe on the other side.
I choked on the last few words. They echoed in the silent room.
“So Philippe does expect me to return his coin.” He would be sitting on the banks of the river Styx waiting for Charon’s boat to bring me across. Perhaps Emily waited with him, and my parents, too. I closed my eyes, hoping to block out the painful images.
“What did he mean, ‘Thank you for holding my hand’?” Matthew asked.
“I promised him he wouldn’t be alone in the dark times. That I’d be there, with him.” My eyes brimmed with tears. “How can I have no memory of doing so?”
“I don’t know, my love. But somehow you managed to keep your promise.” Matthew leaned down and kissed me. He looked over my shoulder. “And Philippe made sure he got the last word, as usual.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, wiping at my cheeks.
“He left written proof that he freely and gladly wanted you for his daughter.” Matthew’s long white finger touched the page.
“That is why Sieur Philippe wanted Madame de Clermont to have these as soon as possible,” Alain admitted.
“I don’t understand,” I said, looking at Matthew.
“Between the jewels, your dowry, and this letter, it will be impossible for any of Philippe’s children—or even the Congregation—to suggest he was somehow forced to bestow a blood vow on you,” Matthew explained.
“Sieur Philippe knew his children well. He often foresaw their future as easily as any witch,” Alain said, nodding. “I will leave you to your memories.”
“Thank you, Alain.” Matthew waited until the sound of Alain’s footsteps faded before saying anything more. He looked down at me with concern. “All right, mon coeur?”
“Of course,” I murmured, staring at the desk. The past was strewn across it, and a clear future was nowhere to be found.
“I’m going upstairs to change. I won’t be long,” Matthew said, giving me a kiss.
“Take your time,” I said, mustering what I hoped was a genuine smile.
Once Matthew was gone, I reached for the golden arrowhead that Philippe gave me to wear at my wedding. Its weight was comforting, and the metal warmed quickly to my touch. I slipped its chain over my head. The arrowhead’s point nestled between my br**sts, its edges too soft and worn to nick my skin.
I felt a squirming sensation in the pocket of my jeans and drew out a clutch of silk ribbons. My weaver’s cords had come with me from the past, and unlike the sleeve from my wedding dress or the faded silk that bound my letters, these strands were fresh and shiny. They twined and danced around my wrists and one another like a handful of brightly colored snakes, merging into new colors for a moment before separating into their original strands and hues. The cords snaked up my arms and wormed their way into my hair as if they were looking for something. I pulled them free and tucked the silks away.
I was supposed to be the weaver. But would I ever comprehend the tangled web that Philippe de Clermont had been spinning when he made me his blood-sworn daughter?
“Were you ever going to tell me you were the de Clermont family’s assassin?” I asked, reaching for the grapefruit juice.
Matthew looked at me in silence across the kitchen table where Marthe had laid out my breakfast.
He had sneaked Hector and Fallon inside, and they were following our conversation—and my selection of foods—with interest.
“And Fernando’s relationship with your brother Hugh?” I asked. “I was raised by two women. You couldn’t possibly have been withholding that piece of information because you thought I might disapprove.”
Hector and Fallon looked to Matthew for an answer. When none was forthcoming, the dogs looked back at me.
“Verin seems nice,” I said, deliberately trying to provoke him.
“Nice?” Matthew beetled his eyebrows at me.
“Well, except for the fact she was armed with a knife,” I admitted mildly, pleased that my strategy had worked.
“Knives,” Matthew corrected me. “She had one in her boot, one in her waistband, and one in her bra.”
“Was Verin ever a Girl Scout?” It was my turn to lift my brows.
Before Matthew could answer, Gallowglass shot through the kitchen in a streak of blue and black, followed by Fernando. Matthew scrambled to his feet. When the dogs got up to follow, he pointed to the floor and they immediately sat down again.
“Finish your breakfast, then go to the tower,” Matthew ordered just before he vanished. “Take the dogs with you. And don’t come down until I come and get you.”
“What’s going on?” I asked Marthe, blinking at the suddenly vacant room.
“Baldwin is home,” she replied, as though this were a sufficient answer.
“Marcus,” I said, remembering that Baldwin had returned to see Matthew’s son. The dogs and I jumped up. “Where is he?”
“Philippe’s office.” Marthe frowned. “I do not think Matthew wants you there. There may be bloodshed.”
“Story of my life.” I was looking over my shoulder when I said it and ran smack into Verin as a result. A dignified older gentleman who had a tall, gaunt frame and kind eyes was with her. I tried to get around them. “Excuse me.”
“Where do you think you’re going?” Verin asked, blocking my way.
“Matthew told you to go to his tower.” Verin’s eyes narrowed. “He is your mate, and you’re supposed to obey him like a proper vampire wife.” Her accent was softly Germanic—not quite German, or Austrian, or Swiss, but something that borrowed from all three.
“What a pity for all of you that I’m a witch.” I stuck my hand out to the gentleman, who was watching our conversation with thinly veiled amusement. “Diana Bishop.”
“Ernst Neumann. I’m Verin’s husband.” Ernst’s accent placed his origins squarely in the neighborhood of Berlin. “Why not let Diana go after him, Schatz? That way you can follow. I know how you hate to miss a good argument. I will wait in the salon for the others.”
“Good idea, my love. They can hardly fault me if the witch escapes from the kitchen.” Verin regarded him with open admiration and gave him a lingering kiss. Though she looked young enough to be his granddaughter, it was obvious that she and Ernst were deeply in love.
“I have them occasionally,” he said with a definite twinkle in his eye. “Now, before Diana runs off and you give chase, tell me: Shall I take a knife or a gun with me in case one of your brothers goes on a rampage?”
Verin considered the matter. “I think Marthe’s cleaver should be sufficient. It was enough to slow down Gerbert, and his hide is far thicker than Baldwin’s—or Matthew’s.”
“You took a cleaver to Gerbert?” I liked Ernst more and more.
“That would be an exaggeration,” Ernst said, turning slightly pink with embarrassment.
“I fear that Phoebe is trying diplomacy,” Verin interrupted, turning me around and facing me in the direction of the tussle. “That never works with Baldwin. We must go.”
“If Ernst is taking a knife, I’m taking the dogs.” I clicked my fingers at Hector and Fallon and set off at a fast trot, the dogs following near my heels barking and wagging as though we were playing a grand game.
The second-floor landing that led to the family apartments was crowded with concerned onlookers when we arrived: Nathaniel, a round-eyed Sophie with Margaret in her arms, Hamish in a splendid silk paisley bathrobe and only one side of his face shaved, and Sarah, who appeared to have been woken up by the fracas. Ysabeau exuded ennui as if to say this sort of thing happened all the time.
“Everybody in the salon,” I said, drawing Sarah in the direction of the stairs. “Ernst will join you there.”
“I don’t know what set Marcus off,” Hamish said, wiping the shaving cream from his chin with a towel. “Baldwin called for him, and it all seemed fine at first. Then they started shouting.”
The small room that Philippe used to conduct his business was filled with vampires and testosterone as Matthew, Fernando, and Gallowglass all jostled for the best position. Baldwin sat in a Windsor chair that was tipped back so he could cross his feet on the desk. Marcus leaned on the other side of the desk, his color high. Marcus’s mate—for the petite young woman standing nearby must be the one I’d heard so much about, Phoebe Taylor—was trying to referee the dispute between the head of the de Clermont family and the grand master of the Knights of Lazarus.