A Discovery of Witches / Chapter 20

Chapter 20


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Ysabeau was merciful y absent at lunch. Afterward I wanted to go straight to Matthew's study and start examining Aurora Consurgens, but he convinced me to take a bath first. It would, he promised, make the inevitable muscle stiffness more bearable. Halfway upstairs, I had to stop and rub a cramp in my leg. I was going to pay for the morning's enthusiasm.

The bath was heavenly-long, hot, and relaxing. I put on loose black trousers, a sweater, and a pair of socks and padded downstairs, where a fire was blazing. My flesh turned orange and red as I held my hands out to the flames.

What would it be like to control fire? My fingers tingled in response to the question, and I slid them safely into my pockets.

Matthew looked up from his desk. "Your manuscript is next to your computer."

Its black covers drew me as surely as a magnet. I sat down at the table and opened them, holding the book careful y. The colors were even brighter than I remembered.

After staring at the queen for several minutes, I turned the first page.

"Incipit tractatus Aurora Consurgens intitulatus." The words were familiar-"Here begins the treatise cal ed the Rising of the Dawn"-but I stil felt the shiver of pleasure associated with seeing a manuscript for the first time.

"Everything good comes to me along with her. She is known as the Wisdom of the South, who calls out in the streets, and to the multitudes," I read silently, translating from the Latin. It was a beautiful work, ful of paraphrases from Scripture as wel as other texts.

"Do you have a Bible up here?" It would be wise for me to have one handy as I made my way through the manuscript.

"Yes-but I'm not sure where it is. Do you want me to look for it?" Matthew rose slightly from his chair, but his eyes were stil glued to his computer screen.

"No, I'l find it." I got up and ran my finger down the edge of the nearest shelf. Matthew's books were arranged not by size but in a running time line. Those on the first bookshelf were so ancient that I couldn't bear to think about what they contained-the lost works of Aristotle, perhaps? Anything was possible.

Roughly half of Matthew's books were shelved spine in to protect the books' fragile edges. Many of these had identifying marks written along the edges of the pages, and thick black letters spel ed out a title here, an author's name there. Halfway around the room, the books began to appear spine out, their titles and authors embossed in gold and silver.

I slid past the manuscripts with their thick and bumpy pages, some with smal Greek letters on the front edge. I kept going, looking for a large, fat, printed book. My index finger froze in front of one bound in brown leather and covered with gilding.

"Matthew, please tel me 'Biblia Sacra 1450' is not what I think it is."

"Okay, it's not what you think it is," he said automatical y, fingers racing over the keys with more than human speed.

He was paying little attention to what I was doing and none at al to what I was saying.

Leaving Gutenberg's Bible where it was, I continued along the shelves, hoping that it wasn't the only one available to me. My finger froze again at a book labeled Will's Playes. "Were these books given to you by friends?"

"Most of them." Matthew didn't even look up.

Like German printing, the early days of English drama were a subject for later discussion.

For the most part, Matthew's books were in pristine condition. This was not entirely surprising, given their owner. Some, though, were wel worn. A slender, tal book on the bottom shelf, for instance, had corners so torn and thin you could see the wooden boards peeking through the leather. Curious to see what had made this book a favorite, I pul ed it out and opened the pages. It was Vesalius's anatomy book from 1543, the first to depict dissected human bodies in exacting detail.

Now hunting for fresh insights into Matthew, I sought out the next book to show signs of heavy use. This time it was a smal er, thicker volume. Inked onto the fore edge was the title De motu. Wil iam Harvey's study of the circulation of the blood and his explanation of how the heart pumped must have been interesting reading for vampires when it was first published in the 1620s, though they must already have had some notion that this might be the case.

Matthew's wel -worn books included works on electricity, microscopy, and physiology. But the most battered book I'd seen yet was resting on the nineteenth-century shelves: a first edition of Darwin's On the Origin of Species.

Sneaking a glance at Matthew, I pul ed the book off the shelf with the stealth of a shoplifter. Its green cloth binding, with the title and author stamped in gold, was frayed with wear. Matthew had written his name in a beautiful copperplate script on the flyleaf.

There was a letter folded inside.

"Dear Sir," it began. "Your letter of 15 October has reached me at last. I am mortified at my slow reply. I have for many years been collecting all the facts which I could in regard to the variation and origin of species, and your approval of my reasonings comes as welcome news as my book will soon pass into the publisher's hands." It was signed "C. Darwin," and the date was 1859.

The two men had been exchanging letters just weeks prior to Origin's publication in November.

The book's pages were covered with the vampire's notes in pencil and ink, leaving hardly an inch of blank paper. Three chapters were annotated even more heavily than the rest. They were the chapters on instinct, hybridism, and the affinities between the species.

Like Harvey's treatise on the circulation of blood, Darwin's seventh chapter, on natural instincts, must have been page-turning reading for vampires. Matthew had underlined specific passages and written above and below the lines as wel as in the margins as he grew more excited by Darwin's ideas. "Hence, we may conclude, that domestic instincts have been acquired and natural instincts have been lost partly by habit, and partly by man selecting and accumulating during successive generations, peculiar mental habits and actions, which at first appeared from what we must in our ignorance call an accident. " Matthew's scribbled remarks included questions about which instincts might have been acquired and whether accidents were possible in nature. "Can it be that we have maintained as instincts what humans have given up through accident and habit?" he asked across the bottom margin. There was no need for me to ask who was included in "we." He meant creatures-not just vampires, but witches and daemons, too.

In the chapter on hybridism, Matthew's interest had been caught by the problems of crossbreeding and sterility. "First crosses between forms sufficiently distinct to be ranked as species, and their hybrids," Darwin wrote, "are very generally, but not universally, sterile." A sketch of a family tree crowded the margins next to the underlined passage.

There was a question mark where the roots belonged and four branches. "Why has inbreeding not led to sterility or madness?" Matthew wondered in the tree's trunk. At the top of the page, he had written, "1 species or 4?" and "comment sont faites les des?"

I traced the writing with my finger. This was my specialty -turning the scribbles of scientists into something sensible to everyone else. In his last note, Matthew had used a familiar technique to hide his thoughts. He'd written in a combination of French and Latin-and used an archaic abbreviation for daemons for good measure in which the consonants save the first and last had been replaced with lines over the vowels. That way no one paging through his book would see the word "daemons" and stop for a closer look.

"How are daemons made?" Matthew had wondered in 1859. He was stil looking for the answer a century and a half later.

When Darwin began discussing the affinities between species, Matthew's pen had been unable to stop racing across the page, making it nearly impossible to read the printed text. Against a passage explaining, "From the first dawn of life, all organic beings are found to resemble each other in descending degrees, so that they can be classed in groups under groups," Matthew had written "ORIGINS" in large black letters. A few lines down, another passage had been underlined twice: "The existence of groups would have been of simple signification, if one group had been exclusively fitted to inhabit the land, and another the water; one to feed on flesh, another on vegetable matter, and so on; but the case is widely different in nature; for it is notorious how commonly members of even the same subgroup have different habits."

Did Matthew believe that the vampire diet was a habit rather than a defining characteristic of the species?

Reading on, I found the next clue. "Finally, the several classes of facts which have been considered in this chapter, seem to me to proclaim so plainly, that the innumerable species, genera, and families of organic beings, with which this world is peopled, have all descended, each within its own class or group, from common parents, and have all been modified in the course of descent." In the margins Matthew had written "COMMON PARENTS" and "ce qui explique tout."

The vampire believed that monogenesis explained everything-or at least he had in 1859. Matthew thought it was possible that daemons, humans, vampires, and witches shared common ancestors. Our considerable differences were matters of descent, habit, and selection.

He had evaded me in his laboratory when I asked whether we were one species or four, but he couldn't do so in his library.

Matthew remained fixated on his computer. Closing the covers of Aurora Consurgens to protect its pages and abandoning my search for a more ordinary Bible, I carried his copy of Darwin to the fire and curled up on the sofa. I opened it, intending to try to make sense of the vampire based on the notes he'd made in his book.

He was stil a mystery to me-perhaps even more so here at Sept-Tours. Matthew in France was different from Matthew in England. He'd never lost himself in his work this way. Here his shoulders weren't fiercely squared but relaxed, and he'd caught his lower lip in his slightly elongated, sharp cuspid as he typed. It was a sign of concentration, as was the crease between his eyes.

Matthew was oblivious to my attention, his fingers flying over the keys, clattering on the computer with a considerable amount of force. He must go through laptops at quite a rate, given their delicate plastic parts. He reached the end of a sentence, leaned back in his chair, and stretched Then he yawned.

I'd never seen him yawn before. Was his yawn, like his lowered shoulders, a sign of relaxation? The day after we'd first met, Matthew had told me that he liked to know his environment. Here he knew every inch of the place-every smel was familiar, as was every creature who roamed nearby. And then there was his relationship with his mother and Marthe. They were a family, this odd assortment of vampires, and they had taken me in for Matthew's sake.

I turned back to Darwin. But the bath, the warm fire, and the constant background noise of his clacking fingers lul ed me to sleep. I woke up covered with a blanket, On the Origin of Species lying on the floor nearby, neatly closed with a slip of paper marking my place.

I flushed.

I'd been caught snooping.

"Good evening," Matthew said from the sofa opposite.

He slid a piece of paper into the book that he was reading and rested it on his knee. "Can I interest you in some wine?"

Wine sounded very, very good. "Yes, please."

Matthew went to a smal eighteenth-century table near the landing. There was a bottle with no label, the cork pul ed and lying at its side. He poured two glasses and carried one to me before he sat down. I sniffed, anticipating his first question.

"Raspberries and rocks."

"For a witch you're real y quite good at this." Matthew nodded in approval.

"What is it that I'm drinking?" I asked, taking a sip. "Is it ancient? Rare?"

Matthew put his head back and laughed. "Neither. It was probably put in the bottle about five months ago. It's local wine, from vineyards down the road. Nothing fancy, nothing special."

It may not have been fancy or special, but it was fresh and tasted woody and earthy like the air around Sept- Tours.

"I see that you gave up your search for a Bible in favor of something more scientific. Were you enjoying Darwin?" he asked mildly after watching me drink for a few moments.

"Do you stil believe that creatures and humans are descended from common parents? Is it real y possible that the differences between us are merely racial?"

He made a smal sound of impatience. "I told you in the lab that I didn't know."

"You were sure in 1859. And you thought that drinking blood might be simply a dietary habit, not a mark of differentiation."

"Do you know how many scientific advances have taken place between Darwin's time and today? It's a scientist's prerogative to change his mind as new information comes to light." He drank some wine and rested the glass against his knee, turning it this way and that so the firelight played on the liquid inside. "Besides, there's no longer much scientific evidence for human notions of racial distinctions.

Modern research suggests that most ideas about race are nothing more than an outmoded human method for explaining easily observable differences between themselves and someone else."

"The question of why you're here-how we're al here- real y does consume you," I said slowly. "I could see it on every page of Darwin's book."

Matthew studied his wine. "It's the only question worth asking."

His voice was soft, but his profile was stern, with its sharp lines and heavy brow. I wanted to smooth the lines and lift his features into a smile but remained seated while the firelight danced over his white skin and dark hair.

Matthew picked up his book again, cradling it in one set of long fingers while his wineglass rested in the other.

I stared at the fire as the light dimmed. When a clock on the desk struck seven, Matthew put down his book. "Should we join Ysabeau in the salon before dinner?"

"Yes," I replied, squaring my shoulders slightly. "But let me change first." My wardrobe couldn't hold a candle to Ysabeau's, but I didn't want Matthew to be completely ashamed of me. As ever, he looked ready for a boardroom or a Milan catwalk in a simple pair of black wool trousers and a fresh selection from his endless supply of sweaters.

My recent close encounters with them had convinced me they were al cashmere-thick and luscious.

Upstairs, I rooted through the items in my duffel bag and selected a gray pair of trousers and a sapphire blue sweater made out of finely spun wool with a tight, funnel- shaped neck and bel -shaped sleeves. My hair had a wave in it thanks to my earlier bath and the fact that it had finished drying scrunched under my head on the sofa.

With the minimum conditions of presentability met, I slid on my loafers and started down the stairs. Matthew's keen ears had picked up the sound of my movements, and he met me on the landing. When he saw me, his eyes lit up and his smile was wide and slow.

"I like you in blue as much as I like you in black. You look beautiful," he murmured, kissing me formal y on both cheeks. The blood moved toward them as Matthew lifted my hair around my shoulders, the strands fal ing through his long white fingers. "Now, don't let Ysabeau get under your skin no matter what she says."

"I'l try," I said with a little laugh, looking up at him uncertainly.

When we reached the salon, Marthe and Ysabeau were already there. His mother was surrounded by newspapers written in every major European language, as wel as one in Hebrew and another in Arabic. Marthe, on the other hand, was reading a paperback murder mystery with a lurid cover, her black eyes darting over the lines of print with enviable speed.

"Good evening, Maman, " Matthew said, moving to give Ysabeau a kiss on each cold cheek. Her nostrils flared as he moved his body from one side to the other, and her cold eyes fixed on mine angrily.

I knew what had earned me such a black look.

Matthew smel ed like me.

"Come, girl," Marthe said, patting the cushion next to her and shooting Matthew's mother a warning glance. Ysabeau closed her eyes. When they opened again, the anger was gone, replaced by something like resignation.

"Gab es einen anderen Tod, " Ysabeau murmured to her son as Matthew picked up Die Welt and began scanning the headlines with a sound of disgust.

"Where?" I asked. Another bloodless corpse had been found. If Ysabeau thought she was going to shut me out of the conversation with German, she'd better think again.

"Munich," Matthew said, his face buried in the pages.

"Christ, why doesn't someone do something about this?"

"We must be careful what we wish for, Matthew,"

Ysabeau said. She changed the subject abruptly. "How was your ride, Diana?"

Matthew peered warily at his mother over Die Welt 's headlines.

"It was wonderful. Thank you for letting me ride Rakasa," I replied, sitting back next to Marthe and forcing myself to meet Ysabeau's eyes without blinking.

"She is too wil ful for my liking," she said, shifting her attention to her son, who had the good sense to put his nose back in his paper. "Fiddat is much more biddable. As I get older, I find that quality admirable in horses."

In sons, too, I thought.

Marthe smiled encouragingly at me and got up to fuss at a sideboard. She carried a large goblet of wine to Ysabeau and a much smal er one to me. Marthe returned to the table and came back with another glass for Matthew. He sniffed it appreciatively.

"Thank you, Maman, " he said, raising his glass in tribute.

"Hein, it's not much," Ysabeau said, taking a sip of the same wine.

"No, not much. Just one of my favorites. Thank you for remembering." Matthew savored the wine's flavors before swal owing the liquid down.

"Are al vampires as fond of wine as you are?" I asked Matthew, smel ing the peppery wine. "You drink it al the time, and you never get the slightest bit tipsy."

Matthew grinned. "Most vampires are much fonder of it.

As for getting drunk, our family has always been known for its admirable restraint, hasn't it, Maman?"

Ysabeau gave a most unladylike snort. "Occasional y.

With respect to wine, perhaps."

"You should be a diplomat, Ysabeau. You're very good with a quick non-answer," I said.

Matthew shouted with laughter. "Dieu, I never thought the day would come when my mother would be thought diplomatic. Especial y not with her tongue. Ysabeau's always been much better with the diplomacy of the sword."

Marthe snickered in agreement.

Ysabeau and I both looked indignant, which only made him shout again.

The atmosphere at dinner was considerably warmer than it had been last night. Matthew sat at the head of the table, with Ysabeau to his left and me at his right. Marthe traveled incessantly from kitchen to fireside to table, sitting now and again to take a sip of wine and make smal contributions to the conversation.

Plates ful of food came and went-everything from wild mushroom soup to quail to delicate slices of beef. I marveled aloud that someone who no longer ate cooked food could have such a deft hand with spices. Marthe blushed and dimpled, swatting at Matthew when he tried to tel stories of her more spectacular culinary disasters.

"Do you remember the live pigeon pie?" He chortled. "No one ever explained that you had to keep the birds from eating for twenty-four hours before you baked it or the inside would resemble a birdbath." That earned him a sharp tap on the back of his skul .

"Matthew," Ysabeau warned, wiping the tears from her eyes after a prolonged bout of laughter, "you shouldn't bait Marthe. You have had your share of disasters over the years, too."

"And I have seen them al ," Marthe pronounced, carrying over a salad. Her English got stronger by the hour, as she switched into the language whenever she talked in front of me. She returned to the sideboard and fetched a bowl of nuts, which she put between Matthew and Ysabeau. "When you flooded the castle with your idea for capturing water on the roof, for one," she said, ticking it off on her fingers.

"When you forgot to col ect the taxes, two. It was spring, you were bored, and so you got up one morning and went to Italy to make war. Your father had to beg forgiveness from the king on his knees. And then there was New York!" she shouted triumphantly.

The three vampires continued to swap reminiscences.

None of them talked about Ysabeau's past, though. When something came up that touched on her, or Matthew's father, or his sister, the conversation slid graceful y away. I noticed the pattern and wondered about the reasons for it but said nothing, content to let the evening develop as they wished it to and strangely comforted to be part of a family again-even a family of vampires.

After dinner we returned to the salon, where the fire was larger and more impressive than before. The castle's chimneys were heating up with each log thrown into the grate. The fires burned hotter, and the room almost felt warm as a result. Matthew made sure that Ysabeau was comfortable, getting her yet another glass of wine, and fiddled with a nearby stereo. Marthe made me tea instead, thrusting the cup and saucer into my hands.

"Drink," she instructed, her eyes attentive. Ysabeau watched me drink, too, and gave Marthe a long look. "It wil help you sleep."

"Did you make this?" It tasted of herbs and flowers.

Normal y I didn't like herbal tea, but this one was fresh and slightly bitter.

"Yes," she answered, turning up her chin at Ysabeau's stare. "I have made it for a long time. My mother taught me.

I wil teach you as wel ."

The sound of dance music fil ed the room, lively and rhythmic. Matthew adjusted the position of the chairs by the fireplace, clearing a spot on the floor.

"Vles dançar amb ieu?" Matthew asked his mother, holding out both hands.

Ysabeau's smile was radiant, transforming her lovely, cold features into something indescribably beautiful. "Òc,"

s he said, putting her tiny hands into his. The two of them took their places in front of the fire, waiting for the next song to start.

When Matthew and his mother began to dance, they made Astaire and Rogers look clumsy. Their bodies came together and drew apart, turned in circles away from each other and then dipped and turned. The slightest touch from Matthew sent Ysabeau reeling, and the merest hint of an undulation or a hesitation from Ysabeau caused a corresponding response in him.

Ysabeau dipped into a graceful curtsy, and Matthew swept into a bow at the precise moment the music drew to its close.

"What was that?" I asked.

"It started out as a tarantel a," Matthew said, escorting his mother back to her chair, "but Maman never can stick to one dance. So there were elements of the volta in the middle, and we finished with a minuet, didn't we?" Ysabeau nodded and reached up to pat him on the cheek.

"You always were a good dancer," she said proudly.

"Ah, but not as good as you-and certainly not as good as Father was," Matthew said, settling her in her chair.

Ysabeau's eyes darkened, and a heartbreaking look of sadness crossed her face. Matthew picked up her hand and brushed his lips across her knuckles. Ysabeau managed a smal smile in return.

"Now it's your turn," he said, coming to me.

"I don't like to dance, Matthew," I protested, holding up my hands to fend him off.

"I find that hard to believe," he said, taking my right hand in his left and drawing me close. "You contort your body into improbable shapes, skim across the water in a boat the width of a feather, and ride like the wind. Dancing should be second nature."

The next song sounded like something that might have been popular in Parisian dance hal s in the 1920s. Notes of trumpet and drum fil ed the room.

"Matthew, be careful with her," Ysabeau warned as he moved me across the floor.

"She won't break, Maman. " Matthew proceeded to dance, despite my best efforts to put my feet in his way at every opportunity. With his right hand at my waist, he gently steered me into the proper steps.

I started to think about where my legs were in an effort to help the process along, but this only made things worse. My back stiffened, and Matthew clasped me tighter.

"Relax," he murmured into my ear. "You're trying to lead.

Your job is to fol ow."

"I can't," I whispered back, gripping his shoulder as if he were a life preserver.

Matthew spun us around again. "Yes you can. Close your eyes, stop thinking about it, and let me do the rest."

Inside the circle of his arms, it was easy to do what he instructed. Without the whirling shapes and colors of the room coming at me from al directions, I could relax and stop worrying that we were about to crash. Gradual y the movement of our bodies in the darkness became enjoyable. Soon it was possible for me to concentrate not on what I was doing but on what his legs and arms were tel ing me he was about to do. It felt like floating.

"Matthew." Ysabeau's voice held a note of caution. "Le chatoiement."

"I know," he murmured. The muscles in my shoulders tensed with concern. "Trust me," he said quietly into my ear.

"I've got you."

My eyes remained tightly closed, and I sighed happily.

We continued to swirl together. Matthew gently released me, spinning me out to the end of his fingers, then rol ed me back along his arm until I came to rest, my back tight against his chest. The music stopped.

"Open your eyes," he said softly.

My eyelids slowly lifted. The feeling of floating remained.

Dancing was better than I had expected it to be-at least it was with a partner who'd been dancing for more than a mil ennium and never stepped on your toes.

I tilted my face up to thank him, but his was much closer than expected.

"Look down," Matthew said.

Turning my head in the other direction revealed that my toes were dangling several inches above the floor. Matthew released me. He wasn't holding me up.

I was holding me up.

The air was holding me up.

With that realization the weight returned to the lower half of my body. Matthew gripped both elbows to keep my feet from smashing into the floor.

From her seat by the fire, Marthe hummed a tune under her breath. Ysabeau's head whipped around, eyes narrowed. Matthew smiled at me reassuringly, while I concentrated on the uncanny feeling of the earth under my feet. Had the ground always seemed so alive? It was as if a thousand tiny hands were waiting under the soles of my shoes to catch me or give me a push.

"Was it fun?" Matthew asked as the last notes of Marthe's song faded, eyes gleaming.

"It was," I answered, laughing, after considering his question.

"I hoped it would be. You've been practicing for years.

Now maybe you'l ride with your eyes open for a change."

He caught me up in an embrace ful of happiness and possibility.

Ysabeau began to sing the same song Marthe had been humming.

"Whoever sees her dance, And her body move so gracefully, Could say, in truth, That in all the world she has no equal, our joyful queen.

Go away, go away, jealous ones, Let us, let us, Dance together, together."

"Go away, go away, jealous ones," Matthew repeated as the final echo of his mother's voice faded, "let us dance together. "

I laughed again. "With you I'l dance. But until I figure out how this flying business works, there wil be no other partners."

"Properly speaking, you were floating, not flying,"

Matthew corrected me.

"Floating, flying-whatever you cal it, it would be best not to do it with strangers."

"Agreed," he said.

Marthe had vacated the sofa for a chair near Ysabeau.

Matthew and I sat together, our hands stil entwined.

"This was her first time?" Ysabeau asked him, her voice genuinely puzzled.

"Diana doesn't use magic, Maman, except for little things," he explained.

"She is ful of power, Matthew. Her witch's blood sings in her veins. She should be able to use it for big things, too."

He frowned. "It's hers to use or not."

"Enough of such childishness," she said, turning her attention to me. "It is time for you to grow up, Diana, and accept responsibility for who you are."

Matthew growled softly.

"Do not growl at me, Matthew de Clermont! I am saying what needs to be said."

"You're tel ing her what to do. It's not your job."

"Nor yours, my son!" Ysabeau retorted.

"Excuse me!" My sharp tone caught their attention, and the de Clermonts, mother and son, stared at me. "It's my decision whether-and how-to use my magic. But," I said, turning to Ysabeau, "it can't be ignored any longer. It seems to be bubbling out of me. I need to learn how to control my power, at the very least."

Ysabeau and Matthew continued to stare. Final y Ysabeau nodded. Matthew did, too.

We continued to sit by the fire until the logs burned down.

Matthew danced with Marthe, and each of them broke into song occasional y when a piece of music reminded them of another night, by another fire. But I didn't dance again, and Matthew didn't press me.

Final y he stood. "I am taking the only one of us who needs her sleep up to bed."

I stood as wel , smoothing my trousers against my thighs.

"Good night, Ysabeau. Good night, Marthe. Thank you both for a lovely dinner and a surprising evening."

Marthe gave me a smile in return. Ysabeau did her best but managed only a tight grimace.

Matthew let me lead the way and put his hand gently against the smal of my back as we climbed the stairs.

"I might read for a bit," I said, turning to face him when we reached his study.

He was directly behind me, so close that the faint, ragged sound of his breath was audible. He took my face in his hands.

"What spel have you put on me?" He searched my face.

"It's not simply your eyes-though they do make it impossible for me to think straight-or the fact you smel like honey." He buried his face in my neck, the fingers of one hand sliding into my hair while the other drifted down my back, pul ing my hips toward him.

My body softened into his, as if it were meant to fit there.

"It's your fearlessness," he murmured against my skin, "and the way you move without thinking, and the shimmer you give off when you concentrate-or when you fly."

My neck arched, exposing more flesh to his touch.

Matthew slowly turned my face toward him, his thumb seeking out the warmth of my lips.

"Did you know that your mouth puckers when you sleep?

You look as though you might be displeased with your dreams, but I prefer to think you wish to be kissed." He sounded more French with each word that he spoke.

Aware of Ysabeau's disapproving presence downstairs, as wel as her acute, vampiric hearing, I tried to pul away. It wasn't convincing, and Matthew's arms tightened.

"Matthew, your mother-"

He gave me no chance to complete my sentence. With a soft, satisfied sound, he deliberately fitted his lips to mine and kissed me, gently but thoroughly, until my entire body- not just my hands-was tingling. I kissed him back, feeling a simultaneous sense of floating and fal ing until I had no clear awareness of where my body ended and his began.

His mouth drifted to my cheeks and eyelids. When it brushed against my ear, I gasped. Matthew's lips curved into a smile, and he pressed them once more against my own.

"Your lips are as red as poppies, and your hair is so alive," he said when he was quite finished kissing me with an intensity that left me breathless.

"What is it with you and my hair? Why anyone with a head of hair like yours would be impressed with this," I said, grabbing a fistful of it and pul ing, "is beyond me. Ysabeau's hair looks like satin, so does Marthe's. Mine is a mess- every color of the rainbow and badly behaved as wel ."

"That's why I love it," Matthew said, gently freeing the strands. "It's imperfect, just like life. It's not vampire hair, al polished and flawless. I like that you're not a vampire, Diana."

"And I like that you are a vampire, Matthew."

A shadow flitted across his eyes, gone in a moment.

"I like your strength," I said, kissing him with the same enthusiasm as he had kissed me. "I like your intel igence.

Sometimes I even like your bossiness. But most of al "-I rubbed the tip of my nose gently against his-"I like the way you smel ."

"You do?"

"I do." My nose went into the hol ow between his col arbones, which I was fast learning was the spiciest, sweetest part of him.

"It's late. You need your rest." He released me reluctantly.

"Come to bed with me."

His eyes widened with surprise at the invitation, and the blood coursed to my face.

Matthew brought my hand to his heart. It beat once, powerful y. "I wil come up," he said, "but not to stay. We have time, Diana. You've known me for only a few weeks.

There's no need to rush."

Spoken like a vampire.

He saw my dejection and drew me closer for another lingering kiss. "A promise," he said, when he was finished, "of what's to come. In time."

I t was time. But my lips were alternately freezing and burning, making me wonder for a fleeting second if I was as ready as I thought.

Upstairs, the room was ablaze with candles and warm from the fire. How Marthe had managed to get up here, change dozens of candles, and light them so that they would stil be burning at bedtime was a mystery, but the room didn't have a single electrical outlet, so I was doubly grateful for her efforts.

Changing in the bathroom behind a partial y closed door, I listened to Matthew's plans for the next day. These involved a long walk, another long ride, and more work in the study.

I agreed to al of it-provided that the work came first.

The alchemical manuscript was cal ing to me, and I was eager to get a closer look at it.

I got into Matthew's vast four-poster, and he tightened the sheets around my body before pinching out the candles.

"Sing to me," I said, watching his long fingers fearlessly move through the flames. "An old song-one Marthe likes."

Her wicked fondness for love songs had not gone unnoticed.

He was quiet for a few moments while he walked through the room, snuffing the candles and trailing shadows behind him as the room fel into darkness. He began to sing in his rich baritone.

"Ni muer ni viu ni no guaris, Ni mal nom sent e si l'ai gran, Quar de s'amor no suy devis, Ni no sai si ja n'aurai ni quan, Qu'en lieys es tota le merces Quem pot sorzer o decazer."

The song was ful of yearning, and teetered on the edge of sadness. By the time he returned to my side, the song was finished. Matthew left one candle burning next to the bed.

"What do the words mean?" I reached for his hand.

"' Not dying nor living nor healing, there is no pain in my sickness, for I am not kept from her love.'" He leaned down and kissed me on the forehead. "' I don't know if I will ever have it, for all the mercy that makes me flourish or decay is in her power.' "

"Who wrote that?" I asked, struck by the aptness of the words when sung by a vampire.

"My father wrote it for Ysabeau. Someone else took the credit, though," Matthew said, his eyes gleaming and his smile bright and content. He hummed the song under his breath as he went downstairs. I lay in his bed, alone, and watched the last candle burn until it guttered out.


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