Home > The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)(5)

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)(5)
Author: Deborah Harkness

Fernando listened in silent sympathy, though he wondered why Matthew sounded surprised.

Fernando had to remind himself that newly mated vampires often underestimated how strongly the bond could affect them.

“Right now Diana wants to stay close to Sarah and me. But when the grief over Emily’s death has subsided, she’s going to want to resume her own life,” Matthew said, clearly worried.

“Well, she can’t. Not with you standing by her elbow.” Fernando never minced words with Matthew. Idealists like him needed plain speech or they lost their way. “If Diana loves you, she’ll adapt.”

“She won’t have to adapt,” Matthew said through gritted teeth. “I won’t take her freedom—no matter what it costs me. I wasn’t with Diana at every moment in the sixteenth century. There’s no reason for that to change in the twenty-first.”

“You managed your feelings in the past because whenever you weren’t at her side, Gallowglass was. Oh, he told me all about your life in London and Prague,” Fernando said when Matthew turned a startled face his way. “And if not Gallowglass, Diana was with someone else: Philippe, Davy, another witch, Mary, Henry. Do you honestly think that mobile phones are going to give you a comparable sense of connection and control?”

Matthew still looked angry, the blood rage just beneath the surface, but he looked miserable, too.

Fernando thought it was a step in the right direction.

“Ysabeau should have stopped you from getting involved with Diana Bishop as soon as it was clear you were feeling a mating bond,” Fernando said sternly. Had Matthew been his child, Fernando would have locked him in a steel tower to prevent it.

“She did stop me.” Matthew’s expression grew even more miserable. “I wasn’t fully mated to Diana until we came to Sept-Tours in 1590. Philippe gave us his blessing.”

Fernando’s mouth filled with bitterness. “That man’s arrogance knew no bounds. No doubt he planned to fix everything when you returned to the present.”

“Philippe knew he wouldn’t be here,” Matthew confessed. Fernando’s eyes widened. “I didn’t tell him about his death. Philippe figured it out for himself.”

Fernando swore a blistering oath. He was sure that Matthew’s god would forgive the blasphemy, since it was so richly deserved in this case.

“And did your mating with Diana take place before or after Philippe marked her with his blood vow?” Even after the timewalking, Philippe’s blood vow was audible and, according to Verin de Clermont and Gallowglass, still deafening. Happily, Fernando was not a full-blooded de Clermont, so Philippe’s bloodsong registered as nothing more than a persistent hum.

“After.”

“Of course. Philippe’s blood vow ensured her safety. ‘Noli me tangere,’” Fernando said with a shake of his head. “Gallowglass was wasting his time watching Diana so closely.”

“‘Touch me not, for Caesar’s I am,’” Matthew echoed softly. “It’s true. No vampire meddled with her after that. Except Louisa.”

“Louisa was as mad as a March hare to ignore your father’s wishes on this,” Fernando commented.

“I take it that’s why Philippe sent Louisa packing to the outer reaches of the known world in 1591.” The decision had always seemed abrupt, and Philippe hadn’t stirred a finger to avenge her later death.

Fernando filed away the information for future consideration.

The door swung open. Sarah’s cat, Tabitha, shot into the chapel in a streak of gray fur and feline indignation. Gallowglass followed her, bearing a pack of cigarettes in one hand and a silver flask in the other. Tabitha wound her way around Matthew’s legs, begging for his attention.

“Sarah’s moggy is nearly as troublesome as Auntie’s firedrake.” Gallowglass thrust the flask in Matthew’s direction. “Have some. It’s not blood, but it’s none of Granny’s French stuff either. What she serves makes fine cologne, but it’s no good for anything else.”

Matthew refused the offering with a shake of the head. Baldwin’s wine was already souring his stomach.

“And you call yourself a vampire,” Fernando scolded Gallowglass. “Driven to drink by um pequeno dragão. ”

“You try taming Corra if you think it’s so bloody easy.” Gallowglass removed a cigarette from his pack and put it to his lips. “Or we can vote on what to do with her.”

“Vote?” Matthew said, incredulous. “Since when did we vote in this family?”

“Since Marcus took over the Knights of Lazarus,” Gallowglass replied, drawing a silver lighter from his pocket. “We’ve been choking on democracy since the day you left.”

Fernando looked at him pointedly.

“What?” Gallowglass said, swinging the lighter open.

“This is a holy place, Gallowglass. And you know how Marcus feels about smoking when there are warmbloods in the house,” Fernando said reprovingly.

“And you can imagine my own thoughts on the matter, with my pregnant wife upstairs.” Matthew snatched the cigarette from Gallowglass’s mouth.

“This family was more fun when we had fewer medical degrees,” Gallowglass said darkly. “I remember the good old days, when we sewed ourselves up if we were wounded in battle and didn’t give a tinker’s dam about our iron levels and vitamin D.”

“Oh, yes.” Fernando held up his hand, displaying a ragged scar. “Those days were glorious indeed.

And your skills with the needle were legendary, Bife. “

“I got better,” Gallowglass said defensively. “I was never as good as Matthew or Marcus, of course.

But we can’t all go to university.”

“Not so long as Philippe was head of the family,” Fernando murmured. “He preferred that his children and grandchildren wield swords rather than ideas. It made you all so much more pliable.”

There was a grain of truth in the remark, and an ocean of pain behind it.

“I should get back to Diana.” Matthew rocked to his feet and rested his hand on Fernando’s shoulder for a brief moment before turning to leave.

“Waiting will not make it any easier to tell Marcus and Hamish about the blood rage, my friend,”

Fernando warned, stopping him.

“I thought after all these years my secret was safe,” Matthew said.

“Secrets, like the dead, do not always stay buried,” Fernando said sadly. “Tell them. Soon.”

Matthew returned to his tower more agitated than when he’d left.

Ysabeau frowned at the sight of him.

“Thank you for watching Diana, Maman, ” he said, kissing Ysabeau’s cheek.

“And you, my son?” Ysabeau put her palm to his cheek, searching as Fernando had for signs of blood rage. “Should I be watching over you instead?”

“I’m fine. Truly,” Matthew said.

“Of course,” Ysabeau replied. This phrase meant many things in his mother’s private lexicon. What it never meant was that she agreed with you. “I will be in my room if you need me.”

When the sound of his mother’s quiet footfalls had faded, Matthew flung wide the windows and pulled his chair close to the open casement. He drank in the intense summer scents of catchfly and the last of the gillyflowers. The sound of Diana’s even breathing upstairs blended into the other night songs that only vampires could hear—the clack of stag beetles locking horns as they competed for females, the loirs’ wheezing as they ran across the battlements, the high-pitched squeaks of the death’s-head hawkmoth, the scrabbling of pine martens climbing the trees. Based on the grunts and snuffles Matthew heard in the garden, Gallowglass had been no more successful catching the wild boar uprooting Marthe’s vegetables than he had been in catching Corra.

Normally Matthew relished this quiet hour equidistant from midnight and dawn when the owls had stopped their hooting and even the most disciplined early risers had not yet peeled back the bedcovers.

Tonight not even the familiar scents and sounds of home could work their magic.

Only one thing could.

Matthew climbed the stairs to the tower’s top floor. There he looked down at Diana’s sleeping form. He smoothed her hair, smiling when his wife instinctively pressed her skull deeper into his waiting hand. Impossible as it was, they fit: vampire and witch, man and woman, husband and wife. The hard fist around his heart loosened a few precious millimeters.

Silently Matthew shucked off his clothes and slid into bed. The sheets were tangled around Diana’s legs, and he pulled the linen free, settling it over their bodies. Matthew tucked his knees behind Diana’s and drew her h*ps back into his. He drank in the soft, pleasing scent of her—honey and chamomile and willow sap—and feathered a kiss against her bright hair.

After only a few breaths, Matthew’s heart calmed and his restlessness seeped away as Diana provided the peace that was eluding him. Here, within the circle of his arms, was all that he had ever wanted. A wife. Children. A family of his own. He let the powerful rightness that he always felt in Diana’s presence sink into his soul.

“Matthew?” Diana asked sleepily.

“I’m here,” he murmured against her ear, holding her closer. “Go back to sleep. The sun hasn’t risen yet.”

Instead Diana turned to face him, burrowing into his neck.

“What is it, mon coeur?” Matthew frowned and pulled back to study her expression. Her skin was puffy and red from the crying, and the fine lines around her eyes were deepened by worry and grief. It destroyed him to see her this way. “Tell me,” he said gently.

“There’s no point. No one can fix it,” she said sadly.

Matthew smiled. “At least let me try.”

“Can you make time stand still?” Diana whispered after a moment of hesitation. “Just for a little while?”

Matthew was an ancient vampire, not a timewalking witch. But he was also a man, and he knew of one way to achieve this magical feat. His head told him that it was too soon after Emily’s death, but his body sent other, more persuasive messages.

He lowered his mouth deliberately, giving Diana time to push him away. Instead she threaded her fingers through his cropped hair, returning his kiss with an intensity that stole his breath.

Her fine linen shift had traveled with them from the past, and though practically transparent, it was still a barrier between their flesh. He lifted the cloth, exposing the soft swell of her belly where his children grew, the curve of her br**sts that every day ripened with fertile promise. They had not made love since London, and Matthew noticed the additional tightness of Diana’s abdomen—a sign that the babies were continuing to develop—as well as the heightened blood flow to her br**sts and her sex.

He took his fill of her with his eyes, his fingers, his mouth. But instead of being sated, his hunger for her only increased. Matthew lowered Diana back onto the bed and trailed kisses down her body until he reached the hidden places only he knew. Her hands tried to press his mouth more firmly against her, and he nipped her thigh in a silent reproach.

Once Diana began to fight his control in earnest, demanding softly that he take her, Matthew turned her in his arms and drew one cool hand down her spine.

“You wanted time to stand still,” he reminded her.

“It has,” Diana insisted, pressing against him in invitation.

“Then why are you rushing me?” Matthew traced the star-shaped scar between her shoulder blades and the crescent moon that swooped from one side of her ribs to the other. He frowned. There was a shadow on her lower back. It was deep within her skin, a pearly gray outline that looked a bit like a firedrake, its jaws biting into the crescent moon above, the wings covering Diana’s rib cage, and a tail that disappeared around her hips.

“Why have you stopped?” Diana pushed her hair out of her eyes and craned her neck over her shoulder. “I want time to stand still—not you.”

“There’s something on your back.” Matthew traced the firedrake’s wings.

“You mean something else?” she asked with a nervous laugh. She still worried that her healed wounds were blemishes.

“With your other scars, it reminds me of a painting in Mary Sidney’s laboratory, the one of the firedrake capturing the moon in its mouth.” He wondered if it would be visible to others or if only his vampire eyes could detect it. “It’s beautiful. Another sign of your courage.”

“You told me I was reckless,” Diana said breathlessly as his mouth descended to the dragon’s head.

“You are.” Matthew traced the swirling path of the dragon’s tail with his lips and tongue. His mouth drifted lower, deeper. “It drives me crazy.”

He battened his mouth on her, keeping Diana on the edge of desire, stopping his attentions to whisper an endearment or a promise before resuming, never allowing her to be swept away. She wanted satisfaction and the peace that came with forgetting, but he wanted this moment—filled with safety and intimacy—to last forever. Matthew turned Diana to face him. Her lips were soft and full, her eyes dreamy, as he slid slowly inside her. He continued his gentle movements until the upward tick in his wife’s heartbeat told him that her cl**ax was near.

Diana cried his name, weaving a spell that put them in the center of the world.

Afterward they lay twined together in the final rose-tinged moments of darkness before dawn.

Diana drew Matthew’s head to her breast. He gave her a questioning look, and his wife nodded.

Matthew lowered his mouth to the silvery moon over a prominent blue vein.

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