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 Mme. 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 in 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 anyplace 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 pre-nup 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 top-knot to one side to show her gown and 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.”
“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. And Phoebe was left with the de Clermonts’ loyal retainers Charles and Françoise, and Freyja—who was her fiancé’s Maker’s step-sister, 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 email 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 farthest 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?”
Freyja’s third guess was correct, right down to the plastic bag that still smelled vaguely of the garlic Charles had used in his triumphant bouillabaisse. Phoebe had known Marcus’s plan to flout the rules and stay in touch was not a good idea.
“You are breaking your agreements, Phoebe dearest,” Freyja said matter-of-factly. “But you are a grown woman, with free will, capable of making your own decisions.”
Technically, Marcus and Phoebe were forbidden from speaking to each other until she had been a vampire for ninety days. They had wondered how they might bend this rule. Sadly, Freyja’s only phone was located in the entrance hall where everyone could hear your conversations. It seldom worked properly in any case. Every now and again it gave a tinny ring, the force of the bells inside the ancient device so strong that they rocked the handset in its brass cradle. As soon as you picked up the receiver, the line usually went dead. Freyja wrote it off to a bad wiring job courtesy of a member of Hitler’s inner circle during the last war; she was not interested in fixing it.
After considering the challenges of the situation, Marcus had, with the help of Stella and his friend Nathaniel, come up with a more secretive means of communication: cheap, disposable cellphones. They were the kind used by international thieves and terrorists—or so Nathaniel had assured them—and would be untraceable should Baldwin or any other vampire want to spy on them. Phoebe and Marcus purchased them in a shady electronics shop located on one of the 10th arrondissement’s more entrepreneurial streets.
“I am sure, given the situation, that you will keep your conversation brief,” Freyja continued. She glanced at her computer screen and addressed another envelope. “You don’t want Miriam to catch you.”
Miriam was hunting around the Sacre Coeur and was expected to return in the small hours of the morning. Phoebe glanced at the clock on the mantle—an extravagant affair of gilt and marble with reclining male nudes holding up a round timepiece as though it were a beach ball. It was one minute before midnight.
“Goodnight, then,” Phoebe said, grateful that Freyja was not only three steps ahead of her and Marcus, but at least one ahead of Miriam as well.
“Hmm.” Freyja’s attention was devoted to the page in front of her.
Phoebe escaped upstairs. Her bedroom was down a long corridor lined with early French landscapes. A thick carpet muffled her footsteps.
After closing the bedroom door, Phoebe reached up onto the top of the armoire (Empire style, c. 1815) and snagged the plastic bag. She pulled out one of the phones and switched it on. It was fully charged and ready for use.
Clutching the phone to her heart, Phoebe slipped into the attached bathroom and closed that door, too. Two closed doors and a broad expanse of thick porcelain tile was all the privacy this vampire household afforded. She toed off her shoes and lowered herself, fully clothed, into the cold, empty tub before dialing Marcus’s number.
“Hello, sweetheart.” Marcus’s voice, usually lighthearted and warm, was rough-edged with concern—though he was doing his best to disguise it. “How was dinner?”
“Delicious,” Phoebe lied. She lay back in the tub, which was Edwardian and had a magnificent high back with a curve to cradle her neck.
Marcus’s quiet laughter told her that he didn’t entirely believe her.
“Two bites of dessert and a nibble here and there around the edges?” Marcus teased.
“One bite of dessert. And Charles went to so much trouble.” Phoebe’s brow creased. She would have to make it up to him. Like most culinary geniuses, Charles was quick to take offense when plates were returned to the kitchen with food still on them.
“Nobody expected you to eat much,” Marcus said. “The dinner was for your family, not you.”
“There were plenty of leftovers. Freyja sent them home with mum.”
“How was Edward?” Marcus knew about her father’s reservations.
“Dad tried to talk me out of our plan. Again,” Phoebe replied.
There was a long silence.
“It didn’t work,” Phoebe added, in case Marcus was worried.
“Your father just wants you to be absolutely sure,” Marcus said quietly.
“I am. Why do people keep questioning me?” There was no keeping the impatience from her tone.
“They love you,” Marcus said simply.
“Then they should listen to me. Being with you—that’s what I want.” It wasn’t all that she wanted of course. Ever since Phoebe met Ysabeau at Sept-Tours, she had craved the inexhaustible supply of time vampires possessed.
Phoebe had studied how Ysabeau seemed to fully extend herself into every task. Nothing was done quickly or for the sake of getting through and checking it off one’s endless to-do list. Instead there was a reverence to Ysabeau’s every move—how she sniffed the blossoms in her garden, the feline stealth of her steps, the slow pause when she reached the end of a chapter in her book before she went on to the next. Ysabeau did not feel that time would run out before she had sucked the essence from whatever experience she was having. For Phoebe, there never seemed to be enough time to breathe, dashing from the market to work to the chemist’s for cold medicine to the cobbler to have her heels fixed, and back to work.
But Phoebe hadn’t shared these observations with Marcus. He would learn her thoughts on the matter soon, when they were reunited. Then Marcus would drink from her heart vein—the thin river of blue that crossed the left breast—and learn her deepest secrets, her darkest fears, and her most cherished desires. The blood from the heart vein contained all that a lover might conceal, and drinking from it embodied the sincerity and trust that their relationship would need in order to succeed.
“We’re going to take this one step at a time, remember?” Marcus’s question reclaimed her attention. “First, you become a vampire. Then, if you still want me—”
“I will.” Of this Phoebe was absolutely certain.
“If you still want me,” Marcus repeated, “we will marry and you will be stuck with me. For richer and poorer.”
This was one of their routines as a couple—rehearsing the marriage vows. Sometimes they focused on one line and pretended that it would be hard to keep. Sometimes they made fun of the whole lot, and the smallness of the concerns the vows addressed when stacked up against the size of their feelings for each other.
“In sickness and in health.” Phoebe settled deeper into the tub. Its coolness reminded her of Marcus, and its solid curves made her wish he was sitting behind her, his arms and legs enfolding her. “Forsaking all others. Forever.”
“Forever is a long time,” Marcus said.
“Forsaking all others,” Phoebe repeated, putting careful emphasis on the middle word.
“You can’t know for sure. Not until you know me blood to blood,” Marcus replied.
Their rare quarrels erupted after just this kind of exchange, when Marcus’s words suggested he’d lost confidence in her and Phoebe became defensive. Such arguments had usually been settled in Marcus’s bed, where each had demonstrated to the other’s satisfaction that although they might not know everything (yet), they had mastered certain important bodies of knowledge.
But Phoebe was in Paris and Marcus was in the Auvergne. A physical rapprochement wasn’t possible at the moment. A wiser, more experienced person would have let the matter drop—but Phoebe was twenty-three, irritated, and anxious about what was about to take place.
“I don’t know why you think it’s me who will change my mind and not you.” In her mind, the words were light and playful. To her horror, they sounded different when spoken aloud. “After all, I’ve never known you as anything but a vampire. But you fell in love with me as a warmblood.”
“I love you.” Marcus’s response was gratifyingly swift. “That won’t change.”
“You might hate the taste of me. I should have made you try me—before,” Phoebe said, trying to pick a fight. Maybe Marcus didn’t love her as much as he thought he did. Phoebe’s rational mind knew that was nonsense, but the irrational part (the part that was in control at the moment) wasn’t convinced.
“I want us to share that experience—as equals. I’ve never shared my blood with my mate—nor have you. It’s something we can do for the first time, together.” Marcus’s voice was gentle, but it held an edge of frustration.
This was well-covered ground. Equality was something that Marcus cared about deeply. A woman and child begging on the street, a racial slur overheard on the tube, an elderly man struggling to cross the street while young people sped by with their headphones and mobiles—all of these made Marcus seethe.
“We should have just run off and eloped,” Marcus said. “We should have done it our way, and not bothered with all this ancient tradition and ceremony.”
But doing it this way, in slow, measured steps, had been a choice they had made together.
Ysabeau de Clermont, the family’s matriarch and Marcus’s grandmother, had laid out the pros and cons of abandoning vampire custom with her usual clarity. She started with the recent family scandal. Marcus’s father, Matthew, had married a witch in violation of nearly a thousand years of prohibitions against relationships between creatures of different species. Then he nearly died at the hands of one of his other deranged sons. This left Phoebe and Marcus with two options. They could keep her transformation and their marriage secret for as long as possible before facing an eternity of gossip and speculation about what had gone on behind the scenes. Alternatively, they could transform Phoebe into a vampire before she was mated to Marcus with all due pomp—and transparency. If they chose the latter course, Phoebe and Marcus would likely suffer a year of inconvenience, followed by a decade or two of notoriety, and then be free to enjoy an endless lifetime of relative peace and quiet.
Marcus’s reputation had played a factor in Phoebe’s decision. He was known among vampires for his impetuousness, and for charging off to right all the evils of the world without a care for what other creatures might think. Phoebe hoped that if they followed tradition in the matter of their marriage, Marcus would enter the ranks of respectability and his past deeds might be seen in a more positive light.
“Tradition serves a useful purpose, remember?” Phoebe said firmly. “Besides, we’re not sticking to all the rules. Your secret phone plan is no longer secret, by the way. Freyja knows.”
“It was always a long shot.” Marcus sighed. “I swear to God, Freyja’s part bloodhound. There’s no getting anything past her. Don’t worry. Freyja won’t really mind us talking. It’s Miriam who’s the stickler.”
“Miriam is in Montmartre,” Phoebe said, glancing at her watch. It was now thirty minutes past midnight. Miriam would return soon. She really had to get off the phone.
“There’s good hunting around the Sacre Coeur,” Marcus commented.
“That’s what Freyja said,” Phoebe replied.
Silence fell. It grew heavy with all the things they couldn’t say, wouldn’t say, or wanted to say but didn’t know how. In the end, there were only three words important enough to utter.
“I love you, Marcus Whitmore.”
“I love you, Phoebe Taylor,” Marcus replied. “No matter what you decide ninety days from now, you’re already my mate. You’re under my skin, in my blood, in my dreams. And don’t worry. You’re going to be a brilliant vampire.”
Phoebe had no doubts that the transformation would work, and blissfully few that she wouldn’t enjoy being ageless and powerful. But would she and Marcus be able to build a relationship that would endure, like the one Marcus’s grandmother had known with her mate, Philippe?
“I will be thinking of you,” Marcus said. “Every moment.”
The line went dead as Marcus hung up.
Phoebe kept the phone to her ear until the telephone service disconnected the call. She climbed out of the tub, smashed the phone with the canister of bath salts, opened the window, and threw the lump of plastic and circuitry as far as she could into the garden. Destroying the evidence of their transgression had been part of Marcus’s original plan, and Phoebe was going to follow it to the letter even if Freyja already knew about the forbidden phones. What was left of the device landed in the small fish pond with a satisfying plonk.
Having rid herself of the incriminating evidence, Phoebe took off her dress and hung it up inside the armoire—making sure that the striped plastic bag was once again out of sight on top of it. Then she put on the simple white silk dressing gown that Françoise had laid out for her on the bed.
Phoebe sat on the edge of the mattress, quiet and still, resolutely facing her future, and waited for Time to find her.