Oxford Shadows Online - Marion Croslydon Page 0,1

twitch at his proximity.

Camilla sat beside Rupert’s father Hugo, opposite Madison and Rupert, on the other side of the chancel, The Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket spread across the window above them. Camilla paid attention only to the musicians and singers who performed in front of the High Altar. She caressed the curve of her swollen belly, pregnancy giving her a contented glow.

The melody—a Renaissance ballad—had faded from Madison’s consciousness. She couldn’t distinguish the lute from the harp or the violin. They meshed into a distant noise. She registered only the details of the man’s ancient clothing. A reddish hat with two golden buttons topped hair that he wore chin length. A jeweled collar of roses crowned his purple overcoat, trimmed with dark fur.

To break the spell the vision had cast, Madison shifted her gaze upwards to the vaulted ceiling from which lantern-shaped pendants appeared to hang in midair. Ribs and stone met at the center of the vault to form pointed stars, a tease of heaven for the faithful.

Rupert’s fingers were intertwined with hers. The warm contact gave her strength. Madison turned her face and studied his profile. Her heartbeat stalled, then restarted. Rupert Vance was her boyfriend, confidant, and unofficial bodyguard.

Suddenly darkness collapsed around her. Shapes and forms blurred, although the ballad kept resonating through Christ Church Cathedral. A chilled rush of air brushed over her face, and the short hair on the nape of her neck rose in apprehension. Candlelight flickered instead of the electric lamps that had illuminated the room seconds earlier.

And then, silence.

Someone—the ghost, for that was what her vision had shown—had pressed the mute button. Madison was the only audience for his show. He shook his head. Was it in anger or frustration? Madison didn’t know. He leaned forward, his head now above Camilla’s shoulder. He stared at her from the corner of his eyes. His gaze slowly moved across the chancel, from the pregnant woman to Madison.

Air was trapped in Madison’s lungs. She let out a lungful of oxygen. Fear played havoc with her breathing.

The man opened his mouth and started talking. His words came like the delayed echo of thunder across a summer sky. “The girl will die before she is born. So will her mother.”

The threat punched Madison in the stomach. She bent under the shock and let out a moan. A woman sitting in front of her threw a frown back at her. Rupert’s hold on her hand tightened. Her eyes shut, she blocked out the world around her, even him. She had to. Survival mode. When her eyelids lifted again, she checked the spot where the ghost had been.

He was gone.

Camilla wasn’t her friend, but she didn’t deserve to die at the hands of a homicidal ghost. Nor did her unborn daughter: Rupert’s sister. Rupert’s blood.

2

RUPERT SIGHED. Why was everyone so damned determined to go through this dinner as silently as possible? The concert had gone smoothly enough. Apart from Madison’s I-saw-an-undead-freak-out moment, the first part of Rupert’s family get-together had been a success, probably because they didn’t have to talk to each other. They would have to, though. Rupert had the right to a semi-functioning family. He deserved it, and he wanted Madison to be part of it.

“Madison graduated from Yale last year. We’ve been paired up since she arrived here at Oxford at the start of Michaelmas. She’s the one who got me back on the straight and narrow.”

Rupert’s praise didn’t spark any reaction from his father or stepmother. They were far too absorbed in going through the contents of their plates, one well-mannered bite of Scottish beef at a time.

Rupert turned toward Madison, who sat by his side, expecting some moral support from her. Same thing there: she was eating. He sought inspiration from the décor. The Randolph was an Oxford institution and the place for his first date with Madison. He stared up at the college crests that adorned the ceiling. Let’s give it another try.

“We had a great time in Louisiana. The food was to die for. Maddie’s mother owns a restaurant. She spoiled me.”

His father stopped paying attention to his food—at last—and rewarded Rupert with a brief glance at Madison. “Your mother is a restaurateur?”

Okay, here we are, some interaction at last. But had his father, Almighty Hugo Vance, meant that as a question or a social statement?

Madison set down her cutlery and dabbed her mouth with the corner of her napkin. “It’s more like a bar than a restaurant. I mean, nothing