"What is it?"
"Lilith said you were tainted—both you and Emily." He glanced down at Anthony's hand. "And although Michael told me something was amiss, I did not know what it was until I remembered that the sword shed your blood. It must have left some of its power within you—the power that favors humanity, that rejects the divine and demonic. Lilith could not influence Emily as she wanted; you could not heal without pain and still cannot change from your human form." He gestured around them, at the massive inventory of scrolls and books. "You should have been able to read through most of this in the month you've been here."
"What does it mean?" Anthony asked guardedly.
"Once you have Fallen, it should not make a difference to you," Hugh said. "But I do not know what the effect will be on a vampire."
"The rules might not apply to Colin." Anthony nodded in understanding but couldn't let that uncertainty spoil his newfound hope. He clutched the scroll tighter in his hand. "I'm off to see Michael. Will you join me?"
When Hugh fell into step beside him, Anthony gave him a wry look. "I'm not walking; I'm going to fly there."
Hugh smiled. "Then I will join you."
Anthony materialized his wings and relished the weight of them before saying, "Do you think Michael will resist my leaving?"
"I think he planned it," Hugh said dryly.
"Do you like this one?"
Robert glanced at the rose-colored swatch of fabric and grimaced in honest repugnance, as only a twelve-year-old could do. "No!"
Emily grinned. "I think an all-pink parlor would be simply gorgeous," she said with an exaggerated, dreamy sigh.
"You're a female," Robert said patiently. He pursed his lips at her laughter. "Will you ever tell me how I came to be here from my bed at Eton?"
Emily's laughter died. She did not know if the nosferatu had made him sleep through the entire ordeal to keep him quiet, or if Hugh had removed memory of the creature afterward—and she did not care to know. It was enough that Robert would not have the nightmares she'd once suffered.
"No," she said.
"You told the messenger who arrived with the express that you had mistaken the date Michaelmas half ended and collected me too early," he pressed.
"I did." She gave him a quelling look and conceded, "I will tell you one day, Robert. Not today."
His sullen pout was interrupted by Mrs. Kemble's breathless entrance into the room. Her face was pale, her eyes wide.
"Dr. Anthony Ramsdell here to see you, ma'am."
Emily's heart twisted, and she squashed the hope that rose. Lilith could not be this cruel, could she? Would the demon pose as Anthony to cause Emily more pain?
She shook her head at her stupidity and wrestled for control of her emotions. Yes, of course Lilith would.
"I thought he was killed?" Robert said.
"Apparently not. It is not unheard of for a fallen soldier to be misidentified," Emily said mildly. "Why don't you run upstairs and see if your uncle has woken."
Robert frowned but jumped up from the sofa and scampered from the room, speeding past Anthony with a mumbled "Pardon."
He stood at the door, heartbreakingly beautiful, his hair tousled and his blue eyes seeming to devour her from a distance.
"Thank you, Mrs. Kemble. That will be all for now."
They were both silent as the housekeeper left. Mindful that Mrs. Kemble likely listened at the door, Emily said with icy quiet, "Is nothing beneath you?"
"In a few moments, you will be." His lopsided grin made her want to believe, his words scored heated furrows in her skin.
She straightened her spine. "Lilith, you cannot expect me to be deceived by you again."
His mouth fell open, and he doubled over and began laughing as hard as she'd ever heard him. The sound made her smile against her will.
When he looked at her again, he wiped tears of mirth from his cheeks and said, "Appearances are not always deceiving, you idiot."
She threaded her fingers together to stop their shaking. "How?" The question left her lips of its own volition, and she hated that betrayal of the hope that lingered within her. But he sounded so like Anthony; Lilith had never perfected mimicry of Mrs. Kemble as well.
"A Guardian can Fall after his hundred years, as a reward once he has begun service," he said, approaching her with slow, deliberate steps. "I held Michael to the spirit of that rule—I had served, so I had a choice. I made a choice."
Her lips trembled. "Why?" She did not know if she asked Anthony or Lilith.
"Because I had a promise to keep," he said. Crouching in front of her, he lifted her hands from her lap and clasped them in his. They were as warm and strong as she remembered. "And because I love you. I love the softness of your breasts, and the way you shiver against me when I worship them."
Her breath caught on a sob, and he rubbed her knuckles against his cheek. The skin was rough with stubble; before, his jaw had been perfectly smooth.
"I love your navel, the little dip and shadow," he continued. "I love the taste of you. I love the way you give yourself to me, unashamed."
Heat and joy circled, gathered, and twisted deep within her.
His voice broke at her continued silence, and he whispered, "Emily, I can't keep telling you. I am coming undone."
"I want you to become undone," she said, and slid onto her knees next to him. She kissed his lips, his face. "I love you."
"Oh, thank God," he laughed, and dragged her against him. His mouth covered hers and she melted into him, met his passion with delight.
He pulled away, his breath coming in sharp pulls. "I've done all this to come back for you—you must marry me. I come with a supercilious, greedy family and a profession; I have neither title nor holdings. I will likely work long hours, delivering babies and soothing ladies' nerves. I have discovered I have a gift for it, if not a miraculous one any longer."
She laughed. "I come with a vain vampire for a brother and a nephew whom I love like my own son. I have a romantic nature that leads me into trouble. And I think your family might be made to think more agreeably of your profession when we point out that your wife is an earl's daughter and her dowry is very large."
He grinned. "We will make quite a pair, won't we?"
"That's what I told you long ago." She slid her hands to the front of his breeches and thought about the effort it took to lock the door. Then his mouth was on her and she could not think anymore.
Anthony stood at the window and lifted his face to the sun, letting the warmth soak into his skin. Behind him, the bedclothes rustled.
"Has Colin returned?" Emily asked, her voice still heavy with sleep.
His gaze traced the path her brother had taken through the garden. "He came in from the stable just after sunrise." Colin satisfied his hunger with animal blood for now. Anthony thought he did it more for Emily's sake than out of concern for the local maidens' necks.
One local neck in particular had him turning from the window.
Emily lay on the bed, eyeing him with drowsy hunger. "You have still not told me about Caelum," she said, and hid a yawn behind her hand. "I researched the name after you'd left—it is the Latin for Heaven, is it not?"
He smiled, slipping his robe from his shoulders as he walked back toward her. She arched back against the pillows, her gaze appreciative.
"It is like ancient Greece and Arabia melted together, and built of marble," he said, and bent his head to her nipple. "There are domes with minarets that climb into the sky, and columns topped with curling scrollwork." He brushed his lips over the skin of her belly, slid his fingers up the length of her thighs, and buried them in the curls at their apex. "It is all glistening, perfect white."
"And the food?" she asked breathlessly, the sound torn between a moan and a laugh. "Was it milk and honey?"