By Blood We Live Page 29

When Walker spoke, I knew a split second before what he was going to say.

“Have you seen him again?”

Weeks without going anywhere near it and now, out of nowhere, this: “Him.” The vampire. Remshi. No point pretending I didn’t know who we were talking about.

“No,” I said, my face warming.

“But you’re waiting to.” Statement, not question. We weren’t looking at each other. Amongst other things I was thinking it was a relief to have done with secrecy. It was like taking off a too-tight shoe.

“It feels inevitable,” I said. “I know that sounds stupid.”

For a few moments he tossed a pine cone back and forth with Lorcan, who threw it back harder every time, as if the game were an argument. Zoë had climbed into the lower branches of the horse chestnut tree. The moon was touching me, a little lozenge of cold heat under the roof of my skull. Another between my legs. In spite of everything I thought of how its salving and seductive light would feel on my bare nipples and a circuit of pleasure lit up for a moment across my chest.

Walker said: “Is it like that?”

Like that. Is it a sexual attraction.

Lie? (Dream footage flashed.) Walker felt it, picked it up, though he was trying to have this conversation the honourable old-fashioned way.

“Yes,” I said. “But that’s not the … That’s not important.”

IT IS TO ME.

“We’re doing this now?” I said. Relief or not, moonrise was close enough to make a domestic heart-to-heart absurd.

Walker didn’t answer, though I could feel him turning emotional options over like coins of different currencies: anger; jealousy; desire; curiosity; sadness; liberation.

“It doesn’t have to mean any more than it does,” I said, but the moon was losing patience; the moon was getting a little annoyed. “Zoë, honey, come here. Lorcan? Come on.”

Walker was on his feet, leaning against the tree, breathing hard. The twins were crouched next to each other, almost touching. The change drove them close, a reminder perhaps of their days coiled together in my womb.

You may not want this for yourself, but you’ll want it for your children. Because if you don’t act now, they’ll die …

Walker sank to his knees, then onto all-fours.

23

OUR VICTIMS’ HOUSE was a run-down T-shaped chateau set in seven acres—meadow, woodland, orchard, scrub—and we formed a loose circle around it. Zoë stayed close behind me, as she’d been taught (I could feel her half a yard off my right heel), but Lorcan disobeyed me and went with Walker. It was one of many small acts of contempt the boy performed, one of many small punishments: he’d been only minutes old when the vampires kidnapped him, and I’d got him back before he turned three months; too young to remember the details, you’d think. But the grammar of the thing had gone into him, that I’d failed him, that I’d let them take him, that Mother’s first act was to demonstrate she couldn’t be counted on. In the years to come he would refine these punishments, I knew. It would be a rationed violence I’d have to bear. I would bear it, but not, my heart had already told me, forever. I had, whether I liked it or not, the sort of self that would eventually decide enough was enough. He’d have to either forgive me or go his way. My mother’s ghost smiled. Hard Colleen Gilaley, they’d called her.

The occupants (Fergus’s intelligence is infallible) were two couples, Alan and Sue Yates, sixty-three and sixty-one, respectively, their daughter, Carmel, and their son-in-law, Rory. Carmel and Rory were both thirty-four.

Sue was in love with her husband, Alan. Or rather Sue was terrified of Alan leaving her. Alan was in love with his daughter, Carmel. Rory had thought he was in love with Carmel when they first met but he wasn’t in love with her anymore. He was simply afraid of her. Carmel was in love with herself. No one, sadly, was in love with Sue, although Rory had surprised himself by having the occasional startlingly satisfying mother-and-daughter fantasy (the woman was sixty-one, for fuck’s sake), usually with Sue being forced by Carmel to go down on her, which she did (in Rory’s fantasy) with visible and arousing reluctance.

The Restoration (upper-cased in the minds of all four, since it had taken over their lives) was Alan’s idea. He’d made a little money. Two lucky London house moves in the price-hiking Nineties—Denmark Hill, Balham—had left him with a £400,000 profit, and hundreds of episodes of Grand Designs and A Place in the Sun had left him with a vision of himself in benign lordship over a quality B&B—the word gîte was rarely off the familial lips—in France. Which vision might never have progressed beyond idle fantasy had it not been for Rory losing (a) his job and (b) all the money he had in a string of wretched investments. Of course this was the global economic clusterfuck—everyone lost money (even Jake’s satirically huge fortune took a thirty per cent hit)—but what made it tough for Rory was that he didn’t have much to lose in the first place, and he lost the lot, as well as racking up a hundred grand’s worth of debt. In a way it was a relief to him. He’d painted a completely false picture of their affluence for Carmel, for the simple reason that Carmel insisted on a certain level of affluence. There was Bose in the lounge, Prada in the walk-in, Audi in the garage. And more or less permanent fire in Rory’s armpits, livened by the arrival of every windowed envelope. By rights, on full disclosure, Carmel ought to have ditched him—a development which would have been a large part of Rory’s relief—but she didn’t. Who knew why? Well, oddly, in her timid and denied heart, Sue knew why. Because without anything being said between them Alan and Carmel, father and daughter, saw it would be pleasurable to keep Rory around for a little while to make him suffer. Punishment for Lying was Carmel’s superficial rationalisation, while Alan (who had an impregnable image of himself as a Decent Bloke, and began most of his sentences “To be fair …”) went for Giving the Lad a Second Chance. Therefore Rory was, with a sort of stern magnanimity, spoken to by Alan. Carmel, in Alan’s idiom, was invariably “my Carmel” (pronounced “mar Carmel”) and when she was in his thoughts he was never far from intense emotion. He was in unembarrassed tears by the end of the talk with Rory, overwhelmed by the ferocity of his, Alan’s, love for his daughter and by his, Alan’s, financial and spiritual largesse. By the end of what he’d assumed would be a merciless dressing down Rory found himself tremulously—and indeed terrifyingly, Alan being a big, solid man, at that moment radiant with paternal heat—embraced.

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