فصل 14

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فصل 14

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Chapter 14

Matthew was waiting for me in the lodge at half past seven, immaculate as always in a monochromatic combination of dove and charcoal, his dark hair swept back from his uneven hairline. He patiently withstood the inspection of the weekend porter, who sent me off with a nod and a deliberate, “We’ll see you later, Dr. Bishop.”

“You do bring out people’s protective instincts,” Matthew murmured as we passed through the gates.

“Where are we going?” There was no sign of his car in the street.

“We’re dining in college tonight,” he answered, gesturing down toward the Bodleian. I had fully anticipated he would take me to Woodstock, or an apartment in some Victorian pile in North Oxford. It had never occurred to me that he might live in a college.

“In hall, at high table?” I felt terribly underdressed and pulled at the hem of my silky black top.

Matthew tilted his head back and laughed. “I avoid hall whenever possible. And I’m certainly not taking you in there, to sit in the Siege Perilous and be inspected by the fellows.”

We rounded the corner and turned toward the Radcliffe Camera. When we passed by the entrance to Hertford College without stopping, I put my hand on his arm. There was one college in Oxford notorious for its exclusivity and rigid attention to protocol.

It was the same college famous for its brilliant fellows.

“You aren’t.”

Matthew stopped. “Why does it matter what college I belong to?” He looked away. “If you’d rather be around other people, of course, I understand.”

“I’m not worried you’re going to eat me for dinner, Matthew. I’ve just never been inside.” A pair of ornate, scrolled gates guarded his college as if it were Wonderland. Matthew made an impatient noise and caught my hand to prevent me from peering through them.

“It’s just a collection of people in a set of old buildings.” His gruffness did nothing to detract from the fact that he was one of six dozen or so fellows in a college with no students. “Besides, we’re going to my rooms.”

We walked the remaining distance, Matthew relaxing into the darkness with every step as if in the company of an old friend. We passed through a low wooden door that kept the public out of his college’s quiet confines. There was no one in the lodge except the porter, no undergraduates or graduates on the benches in the front quad. It was as quiet and hushed as if its members truly were the “souls of all the faithful people deceased in the university of Oxford.”

Matthew looked down with a shy smile. “Welcome to All Souls.”

All Souls College was a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture, resembling the love child of a wedding cake and a cathedral, with its airy spires and delicate stonework. I sighed with pleasure, unable to say much—at least not yet. But Matthew was going to have a lot of explaining to do later.

“Evening, James,” he said to the porter, who looked over his bifocals and nodded in welcome. Matthew held up his hand. An ancient key dangled off his index finger from a leather loop. “I’ll be just a moment.”

“Right, Professor Clairmont.”

Matthew took my hand again. “Let’s go. We need to continue your education.”

He was like a mischievous boy on a treasure hunt, pulling me along. We ducked through a cracked door black with age, and Matthew switched on a light. His white skin leaped out of the dark, and he looked every inch a vampire.

“It’s a good thing I’m a witch,” I teased. “The sight of you here would be enough to scare a human to death.”

At the bottom of a flight of stairs, Matthew entered a long string of numbers at a security keypad, then hit the star key. I heard a soft click, and he pulled another door open. The smell of must and age and something else that I couldn’t name hit me in a wave. Blackness extended away from the stairway lights.

“This is straight out of a Gothic novel. Where are you taking me?”

“Patience, Diana. It’s not much farther.” Patience, alas, was not the strong suit of Bishop women.

Matthew reached past my shoulder and flipped another switch. Suspended on wires like trapeze artists, a string of old bulbs cast pools of light over what looked like horse stalls for miniature Shetland ponies.

I stared at Matthew, a hundred questions in my eyes.

“After you,” he said with a bow.

Stepping forward, I recognized the strange smell. It was stale alcohol—like the pub on Sunday morning. “Wine?”

“Wine.”

We passed dozens of small enclosures that contained bottles in racks, piles, and crates. Each had a small slate tag, a year scrawled on it in chalk. We wandered past bins that held wine from the First World War and the Second, as well as bottles that Florence Nightingale might have packed in her trunks for the Crimea. There were wines from the year the Berlin Wall was built and the year it came down. Deeper into the cellar, the years scrawled on the slates gave way to broad categories like “Old Claret” and “Vintage Port.”

Finally we reached the end of the room. A dozen small doors stood locked and silent, and Matthew opened one of them. There was no electricity here, but he picked up a candle and wedged it securely into a brass holder before lighting it.

Inside, everything was as neat and orderly as Matthew himself, but for a layer of dust. Tightly spaced wooden racks held the wine off the floor and made it possible to remove a single bottle without making the whole arrangement tumble down. There were red stains next to the jamb where wine had been spit, year after year. The smell of old grapes, corks, and a trace of mildew filled the air.

“Is this yours?” I was incredulous.

“Yes, it’s mine. A few of the fellows have private cellars.”

“What can you possibly have in here that isn’t already out there?” The room behind me must contain a bottle of every wine ever produced. Oxford’s finest wine emporium now seemed barren and oddly sterile in comparison.

Matthew smiled mysteriously. “All sorts of things.”

He moved quickly around the small, windowless room, happily pulling out wines here and there. He handed me a heavy, dark bottle with a gold shield for a label and a wire basket over the cork. Champagne—Dom Perignon.

The next bottle was made from dark green glass, with a simple cream label and black script. He presented it to me with a little flourish, and I saw the date: 1976.

“The year I was born!” I said.

Matthew emerged with two more bottles: one with a long, octagonal label bearing a picture of a château on it and thick red wax around the top; the other lopsided and black, bearing no label and sealed with something that looked like tar. An old manila tag was tied around the neck of the second bottle with a dirty piece of string.

“Shall we?” Matthew asked, blowing out the candle. He locked the door carefully behind him, balancing the two bottles in his other hand, and slipped the key into his pocket. We left behind the smell of wine and climbed back to ground level.

In the dusky air, Matthew seemed to shine with pleasure, his arms full of wine. “What a wonderful night,” he said happily.

We went up to his rooms, which were grander than I had imagined in some ways and much less grand in others. They were smaller than my rooms at New College, located at the very top of one of the oldest blocks in All Souls, full of funny angles and odd slopes. Though the ceilings were tall enough to accommodate Matthew’s height, the rooms still seemed too small to contain him. He had to stoop through every door, and the windowsills reached down to somewhere near his thighs.

What the rooms lacked in size they more than made up for in furnishings. A faded Aubusson rug stretched across the floors, anchored with a collection of original William Morris furniture. Somehow the fifteenth-century architecture, the eighteenth-century rug, and the nineteenth-century rough-hewn oak looked splendid together and gave the rooms the atmosphere of a select Edwardian gentlemen’s club.

A vast refectory table stood at the far side of the main room, with newspapers, books, and the assorted detritus of academic life neatly arranged at one end—memos about new policies, scholarly journals, requests for letters and peer reviews. Each pile was weighted down with a different object. Matthew’s paperweights included the genuine article in heavy blown glass, an old brick, a bronze medal that was no doubt some award he’d won, and a small fire poker. At the other end of the table, a soft linen cloth had been thrown over the wood, held down by the most gorgeous Georgian silver candlesticks I’d ever seen outside a museum. A full array of different-shaped wineglasses stood guard over simple white plates and more Georgian silver.

“I love it.” I looked around with delight. Not a stick of furniture or a single ornament in this room belonged to the college. It was all perfectly, quintessentially Matthew.

“Have a seat.” He rescued the two wine bottles from my slack fingers and whisked them off to what looked like a glorified closet. “All Souls doesn’t believe that fellows should eat in their rooms,” he said by way of explanation as I eyed the meager kitchen facilities, “so we’ll get by as best we can.”

What I was about to eat would equal the finest dinner in town, no doubt.

Matthew plunked the champagne into a silver bucket full of ice and joined me in one of the cozy chairs flanking his nonfunctional fireplace. “Nobody lets you build fires in Oxford fireplaces anymore.” He motioned ruefully at the empty stone enclosure. “When every fireplace was lit, the city smelled like a bonfire.”

“When did you first come to Oxford?” I hoped the openness of my question would assure him I wasn’t prying into his past lives.

“This time it was 1989.” He stretched his long legs out with a sigh of relaxation. “I came to Oriel as a science student and stayed on for a doctorate. When I won an All Souls Prize Fellowship, I switched over here for a few years. When my degree was completed, the university offered me a place and the members elected me a fellow.” Every time he opened his mouth, something amazing popped out. A Prize Fellow? There were only two of those a year.

“And this is your first time at All Souls?” I bit my lip, and he laughed.

“Let’s get this over with,” he said, holding up his hands and beginning to tick off colleges. “I’ve been a member—once—of Merton, Magdalen, and University colleges. I’ve been a member of New College and Oriel twice each. And this is the first time All Souls has paid any attention to me.”

Multiplying this answer by a factor of Cambridge, Paris, Padua, and Montpellier—all of which, I was sure, had once had a student on their books named Matthew Clairmont, or some variation thereof—sent a dizzying set of degrees dancing through my head. What must he have studied, all those many years, and whom had he studied with?

“Diana?” Matthew’s amused voice penetrated my thoughts. “Did you hear me?”

“I’m sorry.” I closed my eyes and tightened my hands on my thighs in an effort to keep my mind from wandering. “It’s like a disease. I can’t keep the curiosity at bay when you start reminiscing.”

“I know. It’s one of the difficulties a vampire faces when he spends time with a witch who’s a historian.” Matthew’s mouth was bent in a mock frown, but his eyes twinkled like black stars.

“If you want to avoid these difficulties in future, I suggest you avoid the Bodleian’s paleography reference section,” I said tartly.

“One historian is all I can manage at the moment.” Matthew rose smoothly to his feet. “I asked if you were hungry.”

Why he continued to do so was a mystery—when was I not hungry?

“Yes,” I said, trying to extract myself from a deep Morris chair. Matthew stuck out his hand. I grasped it, and he lifted me easily.

We stood facing each other, our bodies nearly touching. I fixed my attention on the bump of his Bethany ampulla under his sweater.

His eyes flickered over me, leaving their trail of snowflakes. “You look lovely.” I ducked my head, and the usual piece of hair fell over my face. He reached up as he had several times recently and tucked it behind my ear. This time his fingers continued to the base of my skull. He lifted my hair away from my neck and let it fall through his fingers as if it were water. I shivered at the touch of cool air on my skin.

“I love your hair,” he murmured. “It has every color imaginable—even strands of red and black.” I heard the sharp intake of breath that meant he had picked up a new scent.

“What do you smell?” My voice was thick, and I still hadn’t dared to meet his eyes.

“You,” he breathed.

My eyes floated up to his.

“Shall we have dinner?”

After that, it was hard to concentrate on the food, but I did my best. Matthew pulled out my rush-seated chair, which had a full view of the warm, beautiful room. From a minuscule refrigerator, he removed two plates, each with six fresh oysters nestled on top of a bed of crushed ice like the rays of a star.

“Lecture One of your continuing education consists of oysters and champagne.” Matthew sat down and held up a finger like a don about to embark on a favorite subject. He reached for the wine, which was within the wingspan of his long arm, and pulled it from the bucket. With one turn he popped the cork free of the neck of the bottle.

“I usually find that more difficult,” I commented drily, looking at his strong, elegant fingers.

“I can teach you to knock the cork off with a sword if you want.” Matthew grinned. “Of course, a knife works, too, if you don’t have a sword lying around.” He poured some of the liquid into our glasses, where it fizzed and danced in the candlelight.

He raised his glass to me. “A la tienne.”

“A la tienne.” I lifted my own flute and watched the bubbles break on the surface. “Why are the bubbles so tiny?”

“Because the wine is so old. Most champagne is drunk long before this. But I like the old wine—it reminds me of the way champagne used to taste.”

“How old is it?”

“Older than you are,” Matthew replied. He was pulling the oyster shells apart with his bare hands—something that usually required a very sharp knife and a lot of skill—and chucking the shells into a glass bowl in the center of the table. He handed one plate over to me. “It’s from 1961.”

“Please tell me this is the oldest thing we’re drinking tonight,” I said, thinking back to the wine he’d brought to dinner on Thursday, the bottle from which was now holding the last of his white roses on my bedside table.

“Not by a long shot,” he said with a grin.

I tipped the contents of the first shell into my mouth. My eyes popped open as my mouth filled with the taste of the Atlantic.

“Now drink.” He picked up his own glass and watched me take a sip of the golden liquid. “What do you taste?”

The creaminess of the wine and the oysters collided with the taste of sea salt in ways that were utterly bewitching. “It’s as if the whole ocean is in my mouth,” I answered, taking another sip.

We finished the oysters and moved on to an enormous salad. It had every expensive green known to mankind, nuts, berries, and a delicious dressing made with champagne vinegar and olive oil that Matthew whisked together at the table. The tiny slices of meat that adorned it were partridge from the Old Lodge’s grounds. We sipped at what Matthew called my “birthday wine,” which smelled like lemon floor polish and smoke and tasted like chalk and butterscotch.

The next course was a stew, with chunks of meat in a fragrant sauce. My first bite told me it was veal, fixed with apples and a bit of cream, served atop rice. Matthew watched me eat, and he smiled as I tasted the tartness of the apple for the first time. “It’s an old recipe from Normandy,” he said. “Do you like it?”

“It’s wonderful. Did you make it?”

“No,” he said. “The chef from the Old Parsonage’s restaurant made it—and provided precise instructions on how not to burn it to a crisp when I reheated it.”

“You can reheat my dinner anytime.” I let the warmth of the stew soak into my body. “You aren’t eating, though.”

“No, but I’m not hungry.” He continued to watch me eat for a few moments, then returned to the kitchen to fetch another wine. It was the bottle sealed with red wax. He sliced through the wax and pulled the cork out of the bottle. “Perfect,” he pronounced, pouring the scarlet liquid carefully into a nearby decanter.

“Can you already smell it?” I was still unsure of the range of his olfactory powers.

“Oh, yes. This wine in particular.” Matthew poured me a bit and splashed some into his own glass. “Are you ready to taste something miraculous?” he asked. I nodded. “This is Château Margaux from a very great vintage. Some people consider it the finest red wine ever made.”

We picked up our glasses, and I mimicked each of Matthew’s movements. He put his nose in his glass, and I in mine. The smell of violets washed over me. My first taste was like drinking velvet. Then there was milk chocolate, cherries, and a flood of flavors that made no sense and brought back memories of the long-ago smell of my father’s study after he’d been smoking and of emptying the shavings from the pencil sharpener in second grade. The very last thing I noted was a spicy taste that reminded me of Matthew.

“This tastes like you!” I said.

“How so?” he asked.

“Spicy,” I said, flushing suddenly from my cheeks to my hairline.

“Just spicy?”

“No. First I thought it would taste like flowers—violets—because that’s how it smelled. But then I tasted all kinds of things. What do you taste?”

This was going to be far more interesting and less embarrassing than my reaction. He sniffed, swirled, and tasted. “Violets—I agree with you there. Those purple violets covered with sugar. Elizabeth Tudor loved candied violets, and they ruined her teeth.” He sipped again. “Cigar smoke from good cigars, like they used to have at the Marlborough Club when the Prince of Wales stopped in. Blackberries picked wild in the hedgerows outside the Old Lodge’s stables and red currants macerated in brandy.”

Watching a vampire use his sensory powers had to be one of the most surreal experiences anyone could have. It was not just that Matthew could see and hear things I could not—it was that when he did sense something, the perception was so acute and precise. It wasn’t any blackberry—it was a particular blackberry, from a particular place or a particular time.

Matthew kept drinking his wine, and I finished my stew. I took up my wineglass with a contented sigh, toying with the stem so that it caught the light from the candles.

“What do you think I would taste like?” I wondered aloud, my tone playful.

Matthew shot to his feet, his face white and furious. His napkin fell, unnoticed, to the floor. A vein in his forehead pulsed once before subsiding.

I had said something wrong.

He was at my side in the time it took me to blink, pulling me up from my chair. His fingers dug into my elbows.

“There’s one legend about vampires we haven’t discussed, isn’t there?” His eyes were strange, his face frightening. I tried to squirm out of his reach, but his fingers dug deeper. “The one about a vampire who finds himself so bewitched by a woman that he cannot help himself.”

My mind sped over what had happened. He’d asked me what I tasted. I’d tasted him. Then he told me what he tasted and I said—“Oh, Matthew,” I whispered.

“Do you wonder what it would be like for me to taste you?” Matthew’s voice dropped from a purr toward something deeper and more dangerous. For a moment I felt revulsion.

Before that feeling could grow, he released my arms. There was no time to react or draw away. Matthew had woven his fingers through my hair, his thumbs pressing against the base of my skull. I was caught again, and a feeling of stillness came over me, spreading out from his cold touch. Was I drunk from two glasses of wine? Drugged? What else would explain the feeling that I couldn’t break free?

“It’s not only your scent that pleases me. I can hear your witch’s blood as it moves through your veins.” Matthew’s cold lips were against my ear, and his breath was sweet. “Did you know that a witch’s blood makes music? Like a siren who sings to the sailor, asking him to steer his ship into the rocks, the call of your blood could be my undoing—and yours.” His words were so quiet and intimate he seemed to be talking directly into my mind.

The vampire’s lips began to move incrementally along my jawbone. Each place his mouth touched froze, then burned as my blood rushed back to the skin’s surface.

“Matthew,” I breathed around the catch in my throat. I closed my eyes, expecting to feel teeth against my neck yet unable—unwilling—to move.

Instead Matthew’s hungry lips met mine. His arms locked around me, and his fingertips cradled my head. My lips parted under his, my hands trapped between his chest and mine. Underneath my palms his heart beat, once.

With the thump of his heart, the kiss changed. Matthew was no less demanding, but the hunger in his touch turned to something bittersweet. His hands moved forward smoothly until he was cupping my face, and he pulled away reluctantly. For the first time, I heard a soft, ragged sound. It was not like human breathing. It was the sound of minute amounts of oxygen passing through a vampire’s powerful lungs.

“I took advantage of your fear. I shouldn’t have,” he whispered.

My eyes were closed, and I still felt intoxicated, his cinnamon and clove scent driving off the scent of violets from the wine. Restless, I stirred in his grip.

“Be still,” he said, voice harsh. “I might not be able to control myself if you step away.”

He’d warned me in the lab about the relationship between predator and prey. Now he was trying to get me to play dead so the predator in him would lose interest in me.

But I wasn’t dead.

My eyes flew open. There was no mistaking the sharp look on his face. It was avid, hungry. Matthew was a creature of instinct now. But I had instincts, too.

“I’m safe with you.” I formed the words with lips that were freezing and burning at the same time, unused to the feeling of a vampire’s kiss.

“A witch—safe with a vampire? Never be sure of that. It would only take a moment. You wouldn’t be able to stop me if I struck, and I wouldn’t be able to stop myself.” Our eyes met and locked, neither of us blinking. Matthew made a low sound of surprise. “How brave you are.”

“I’ve never been brave.”

“When you gave blood in the lab, the way you meet a vampire’s eyes, how you ordered the creatures out of the library, even the fact that you go back there day after day, refusing to let people keep you from what you want to do—it’s all bravery.”

“That’s stubbornness.” Sarah had explained the difference a long time ago.

“I’ve seen courage like yours before—from women, mostly.” Matthew continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “Men don’t have it. Our resolve is born out of fear. It’s merely bravado.”

His glance flickered over me in snowflakes that melted into mere coolness the moment they touched me. One cold finger reached out and captured a tear from the tips of my eyelashes. His face was sad as he lowered me gently into the chair and crouched next to me, resting one hand on my knee and the other on the arm of the rush-seated chair in a protective circle. “Promise me that you will never joke with a vampire—not even me—about blood or how you might taste.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, forcing myself not to look away.

He shook his head. “You told me before that you don’t know much about vampires. What you need to understand is that no vampire is immune to this temptation. Vampires with a conscience spend most of their time trying not to imagine how people would taste. If you were to meet one without a conscience—and there are plenty who fit that category—then God help you.”

“I didn’t think.” I still couldn’t. My mind was whirling with the memory of his kiss, his fury, and his palpable hunger.

He bowed his head, resting the crown against my shoulder. The ampulla from Bethany tumbled out of the neck of his sweater and swung like a pendulum, its tiny coffin glinting in the light from the candles.

He spoke so softly that I had to strain to hear. “Witches and vampires aren’t meant to feel this way. I’m experiencing emotions I’ve never—” He broke off.

“I know.” Carefully I leaned my cheek against his hair. It felt as satiny as it looked. “I feel them, too.”

Matthew’s arms had remained where he left them, one hand on my knee and the other on the arm of the chair. At my words he moved them slowly and clasped my waist. The coldness of his flesh cut through my clothing, but I didn’t shiver. Instead I moved closer so that I could rest my arms on his shoulders.

A vampire evidently could have remained comfortable in that position for days. For a mere witch, however, it wasn’t an option. When I shifted slightly, he looked at me in confusion, and then his face lightened in recognition.

“I forgot,” he said, rising with his swift smoothness and stepping away from me. I moved first one leg and then the other, restoring the circulation to my feet.

Matthew handed me my wine and returned to his own seat. Once he was settled, I tried to give him something to think about other than how I might taste.

“What was the fifth question you had to answer for the Prize Fellowship?” Candidates were invited to sit an exam that involved four questions combining thought-provoking breadth and depth with devilish complexity. If you survived the first four questions, you were asked the famous “fifth question.” It was not a question at all, but a single word like “water,” or “absence.” It was up to the candidate to decide how to respond, and only the most brilliant answer won you a place at All Souls.

He reached across the table—without setting himself on fire—and poured some more wine into my glass. “Desire,” he said, studiously avoiding my eyes.

So much for that diversionary plan.

“Desire? What did you write?”

“As far as I can tell, there are only two emotions that keep the world spinning, year after year.” He hesitated, then continued. “One is fear. The other is desire. That’s what I wrote about.”

Love hadn’t factored into his response, I noticed. It was a brutal picture, a tug-of-war between two equal but opposing impulses. It had the ring of truth, however, which was more than could be said of the glib “love makes the world go round.” Matthew kept hinting that his desire—for blood, chiefly—was so strong that it put everything else at risk.

But vampires weren’t the only creatures who had to manage such strong impulses. Much of what qualified as magic was simply desire in action. Witchcraft was different—that took spells and rituals. But magic? A wish, a need, a hunger too strong to be denied—these could turn into deeds when they crossed a witch’s mind.

And if Matthew was going to tell me his secrets, it didn’t seem fair to keep mine so close.

“Magic is desire made real. It’s how I pulled down Notes and Queries the night we met,” I said slowly. “When a witch concentrates on something she wants, and then imagines how she might get it, she can make it happen. That’s why I have to be so careful about my work.” I took a sip of wine, my hand trembling on the glass.

“Then you spend most of your time trying not to want things, just like me. For some of the same reasons, too.” Matthew’s snowflake glances flickered across my cheeks.

“If you mean the fear that if I started, there would be no stopping me—yes. I don’t want to look back on a life where I took everything rather than earned it.”

“So you earn everything twice over. First you earn it by not simply taking it, and then you earn it again through work and effort.” He laughed bitterly. “The advantages of being an otherworldly creature don’t amount to much, do they?”

Matthew suggested we sit by his fireless fireplace. I lounged on the sofa, and he carried some nutty biscuits over to the table by me, before disappearing into the kitchen once more. When he returned, he was carrying a small tray with the ancient black bottle on it—the cork now pulled—and two glasses of amber-colored liquid. He handed one to me.

“Close your eyes and tell me what you smell,” he instructed in his Oxford don’s voice. My lids dropped obediently. The wine seemed at once old and vibrant. It smelled of flowers and nuts and candied lemons and of some other, long-past world that I had—until now—been able only to read about and imagine.

“It smells like the past. But not the dead past. It’s so alive.”

“Open your eyes and take a sip.”

As the sweet, bright liquid went down my throat, something ancient and powerful entered my bloodstream. This must be what vampire blood tastes like. I kept my thoughts to myself.

“Are you going to tell me what it is?” I asked around the flavors in my mouth.

“Malmsey,” he replied with a grin. “Old, old malmsey.”

“How old?” I said suspiciously. “As old as you are?”

He laughed. “No. You don’t want to drink anything as old as I am. It’s from 1795, from grapes grown on the island of Madeira. It was quite popular once, but nobody pays much attention to it now.”

“Good,” I said with greedy satisfaction. “All the more for me.” He laughed again and sat easily in one of his Morris chairs.

We talked about his time at All Souls, about Hamish—the other Prize Fellow, it turned out—and their adventures in Oxford. I laughed at his stories of dining in hall and how he’d bolted to Woodstock after every meal to clean the taste of overcooked beef from his mouth.

“You look tired,” he finally said, standing after another glass of malmsey and another hour of conversation.

“I am tired.” Despite my fatigue, there was something I needed to tell him before he took me home. I put my glass down carefully. “I’ve made a decision, Matthew. On Monday I’ll be recalling Ashmole 782.”

The vampire sat down abruptly.

“I don’t know how I broke the spell the first time, but I’ll try to do it again. Knox doesn’t have much faith that I’ll succeed.” My mouth tightened. “What does he know? He hasn’t been able to break the spell once. And you might be able to see the words in the magical palimpsest that lie under the images.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know what you did to break the spell?” Matthew’s forehead creased with confusion. “What words did you use? What powers did you call upon?”

“I broke the spell without realizing it,” I explained.

“Christ, Diana.” He shot to his feet again. “Does Knox know that you didn’t use witchcraft?”

“If he knows, I didn’t tell him.” I shrugged. “Besides, what does it matter?”

“It matters because if you didn’t break the enchantment, then you met its conditions. Right now the creatures are waiting to observe whatever counterspell you used, copy it if they can, and get Ashmole 782 themselves. When your fellow witches discover that the spell opened for you of its own accord, they won’t be so patient and well behaved.”

Gillian’s angry face swam before my eyes, accompanied by a vivid recollection of the lengths she reported witches had gone to in order to pry secrets from my parents. I brushed the thoughts aside, my stomach rolling, and focused on the flaws in Matthew’s argument.

“The spell was constructed more than a century before I was born. That’s impossible.”

“Just because something seems impossible doesn’t make it untrue,” he said grimly. “Newton knew that. There’s no telling what Knox will do when he understands your relationship to the spell.”

“I’m in danger whether I recall the manuscript or not,” I pointed out. “Knox isn’t going to let this go, is he?”

“No,” he agreed reluctantly. “And he wouldn’t hesitate to use magic against you even if every human in the Bodleian saw him do it. I might not be able to reach you in time.”

Vampires were fast, but magic was faster.

“I’ll sit near the desk with you, then. We’ll know as soon as the manuscript’s delivered.”

“I don’t like this,” Matthew said, clearly worried. “There’s a fine line between bravery and recklessness, Diana.”

“It’s not reckless—I just want my life back.”

“What if this is your life?” he asked. “What if you can’t keep the magic away after all?”

“I’ll keep parts of it.” Remembering his kiss, and the sudden, intense feeling of vitality that had accompanied it, I looked straight into his eyes so he would know he was included. “But I’m not going to be bullied.”

Matthew was still worrying over my plan as he walked me home. When I turned in to New College Lane to use the back entrance, he caught my hand.

“Not on your life,” he said. “Did you see the look that porter gave me? I want him to know you’re safely in college.”

We navigated the uneven sidewalks of Holywell Street, past the entrance to the Turf pub, and through the New College gates. We strolled by the watchful porter, still hand in hand.

“Will you be rowing tomorrow?” Matthew asked at the bottom of my staircase.

I groaned. “No, I’ve got a thousand letters of recommendation to write. I’m going to stay in my rooms and clear my desk.”

“I’m going to Woodstock to go hunting,” he said casually.

“Good hunting, then,” I said, equally casually.

“It doesn’t bother you at all to know I’ll be out culling my own deer?” Matthew sounded taken aback.

“No. Occasionally I eat partridge. Occasionally you feed on deer.” I shrugged. “I honestly don’t see the difference.”

Matthew’s eyes glittered. He stretched his fingers slightly but didn’t let go of my hand. Instead he lifted it to his lips and put a slow kiss on the tender flesh in the hollow of my palm.

“Off to bed,” he said, releasing my fingers. His eyes left trails of ice and snow behind as they lingered not only over my face but my body, too.

Wordlessly I looked back at him, astonished that a kiss on the palm could be so intimate.

“Good night,” I breathed out along with my next exhale. “I’ll see you Monday.”

I climbed the narrow steps to my rooms. Whoever tightened the doorknob had made a mess of the lock, and the metal hardware and the wood were covered in fresh scratches. Inside, I switched on the lights. The answering machine was blinking, of course. At the window I raised my hand to show that I was safely inside.

When I peeked out a few seconds later, Matthew was already gone.

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