Home > Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)

Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)
Author: Deborah Harkness

1

Naught

12 MAY

On her last night as a warmblood, Phoebe Taylor had been a good daughter.

Freyja had insisted upon it.

“Let’s not make a fuss,” Phoebe had protested, as though she was just going on holiday for a few days, hoping to get away with a casual farewell at the hotel where her family was staying.

“Absolutely not,” Freyja said, looking down her long nose. “De Clermonts do not skulk around—unless they are Matthew, of course. We shall do this properly. Over dinner. It is your duty.”

The evening party Freyja put on for the Taylors was simple, elegant, and perfect—right down to the weather (a flawless example of May), the music (could every vampire in Paris play the cello?), the flowers (enough Madame Hardy roses had been brought in from the garden to perfume the entire city), and the wine (Freyja was fond of Cristal).

Phoebe’s father, mother, and sister showed up at half past eight as requested. Her father was in black tie; her mother wore a turquoise and gold lehenga choli; Stella was in head-to-toe Chanel. Phoebe wore unrelieved black with the emerald earrings Marcus had given her before he left Paris, along with a pair of sky-high heels of which she—and Marcus—was particularly fond.

The assembled group of warmbloods and vampire first had drinks in the garden behind Freyja’s sumptuous house in the 8th arrondissement—a private Eden the likes of which had not been carved out of space-starved Paris for over a century. The Taylor family was accustomed to palatial surroundings—Phoebe’s father was a career diplomat, and her mother came from the kind of Indian family that had married into the British civil service since the days of the Raj—but de Clermont privilege was on an entirely different scale.

They sat down to dinner at a table set with crystal and china, in a room with tall windows that let in the summer light and overlooked the garden. Charles, the laconic chef whom the de Clermonts employed in their Parisian homes when warmbloods were invited to dine, was fond of Phoebe and had spared no effort or expense.

“Raw oysters are a sign that God loves vampires and wants them to be happy,” Freyja announced, raising her glass at the beginning of the meal. She was, Phoebe noticed, using the word “vampire” as liberally as possible, as though sheer repetition might normalize what Phoebe was about to do. “To Phoebe. Happiness and long life.”

Following that toast, her family had little appetite. Aware that this was her last proper meal, Phoebe nevertheless found it difficult to swallow. She forced down the oysters, and the champagne that accompanied it, and picked at the rest of the feast. Freyja kept up a lively conversation throughout the hors d’oeuvres, the soup, the fish, the duck, and the sweets (“Your last chance, Phoebe, darling!”), switching from French to English to Hindi between sips of wine.

“No, Edward, I don’t believe there is any place I haven’t been. Do you know, I think my father might have been the original diplomat?” Freyja used this startling announcement to draw out Phoebe’s circumspect father about his early days in the queen’s service.

Whether or not Freyja’s historical judgment was accurate, Philippe de Clermont had clearly taught his daughter a thing or two about smoothing over conversational rough edges.

“Richard Mayhew, you say? I believe I knew him. Françoise, didn’t I know a Richard Mayhew when we were in India?”

The sharp-eyed servant had mysteriously appeared the moment her mistress required her, tuned in to some vampiric frequency inaudible to mere mortals.

“Probably.” Françoise was a woman of few words, but each one conveyed layers of meaning.

“Yes, I think I did know him. Tall? Sandy haired? Good-looking, in a sort of schoolboy way?” Freyja was undeterred by Françoise’s dour remark or by the fact that she was describing roughly half the British diplomatic corps.

Phoebe had yet to discover anything that could put a dent in Freyja’s cheerful resolve.

“Good-bye for now,” Freyja said breezily at the end of the evening, kissing each of the Taylors in farewell. A press of cool lips on one cheek, then the other. “Padma, you are always welcome. Let me know when you will be in Paris next. Stella, do stay here during the winter shows. It is so convenient to the fashion houses, and Françoise and Charles will take very good care of you. The George V is excellent, of course, but so popular with tourists. Edward, I will be in touch.”

Her mother had been characteristically dry-eyed and stoic, though she held Phoebe a bit more tightly than usual in farewell.

“You are doing the right thing,” Padma Taylor whispered into her daughter’s ear before releasing her. She understood what it meant to love someone enough to give up your whole life in exchange for a promise of what it could become.

“Make sure that prenup is as generous as they claim,” Stella murmured to Phoebe as she crossed the threshold. “Just in case. This house is worth a fucking fortune.” Stella could view Phoebe’s decision only through her own frame of reference, which was entirely concerned with glamour, style, and the distinctive cut of Freyja’s vintage red gown.

“This?” Freyja had laughed when Stella admired it, posing for a moment and tilting her flaxen topknot to one side to show the gown and her figure to greater advantage. “Balenciaga. Had it for ages. Now, there was a man who understood how to construct a bodice!”

It was her normally reserved father who had struggled with the farewell, eyes filled with tears, searching hers (so like his, Freyja had noticed earlier in the evening) for signs that her resolution might be wavering. Once her mother and Stella were outside the gates, her father pulled Phoebe away from the front steps where Freyja waited.

“It won’t be long, Dad,” Phoebe said, trying to reassure him. But they both knew that months would pass before she would be allowed to see her family again—for their safety, as well as for her own.

“Are you sure, Phoebe? Absolutely?” her father asked. “There’s still time to reconsider.”

“I’m sure.”

“Be reasonable for a moment,” Edward Taylor said, a note of pleading in his voice. He was familiar with delicate negotiations, and was not above using guilt to tilt matters in his favor. “Why not wait a few more years? There’s no need to rush into such a big decision.”

“I’m not going to change my mind,” Phoebe said, gentle but firm. “This isn’t a matter for the head, Dad, but the heart.”

Now her birth family was gone. Phoebe was left with the de Clermonts’ loyal retainers Charles and Françoise, and Freyja—who was her fiancé’s maker’s stepsister, and therefore in vampiric terms a close relation.

In the immediate aftermath of the Taylors’ departure, Phoebe had thanked Charles for the fine dinner, and Françoise for taking care of everyone during the party. Then she sat in the salon with Freyja, who was reading her e-mail before responding to it in longhand, writing on creamy cards edged in lavender that she slid into heavy envelopes.

“There is no need to embrace this godforsaken new preference for instant communication,” Freyja explained when Phoebe asked why she didn’t simply hit reply like everyone else. “You will soon discover, Phoebe dearest, that speed is not something that a vampire requires. It’s very human and vulgar to rush about as though time were in short supply.”

After putting in a courteous hour with Marcus’s aunt, Phoebe felt she had done her bit.

“I think I’ll go upstairs,” Phoebe said, feigning a yawn. In truth, sleep was the furthest thing from her mind.

“Give Marcus my love.” Freyja licked the adhesive on the envelope with delicate laps of her tongue before sealing it shut.

“How do you—” Phoebe looked at Freyja, astonished. “I mean, what are you—”

“This is my house. I know everything that happens in it.” Freyja stuck a stamp on the corner of the envelope, making sure it was properly aligned with the edges. “I know, for instance, that Stella brought three of those horrible little phones here tonight in her bag, and that you removed them when you went to the toilet. I presume you hid them in your room. Not among your underclothes—you are too original for that, aren’t you, Phoebe?—nor under the mattress. No. I think they are in the canister of bath salts on the window ledge. Or inside your shoes—those rubber-soled ones that you wear on walks. Or perhaps they are on top of the armoire in the blue-and-white plastic sack you saved from your trip to the grocer on Wednesday?”

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