فصل 15

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فصل 15

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Chapter 15

On Monday morning the air had that magically still quality common in autumn. The whole world felt crisp and bright, and time seemed suspended. I shot out of bed at dawn and pulled on my waiting rowing gear, eager to be outdoors.

The river was empty for the first hour. As the sun broke over the horizon, the fog burned off toward the waterline so that I was slipping through alternate bands of mist and rosy sunshine.

When I pulled up to the dock, Matthew was waiting for me on the curving steps that led to the boathouse’s balcony, an ancient brown-and-bone-striped New College scarf hanging around his neck. I climbed out of the boat, put my hands on my hips, and stared at him in disbelief.

“Where did you get that thing?” I pointed at the scarf.

“You should have more respect for the old members,” he said with his mischievous grin, tossing one end of it over his shoulder. “I think I bought it in 1920, but I can’t honestly remember. After the Great War ended, certainly.”

Shaking my head, I took the oars into the boathouse. Two crews glided by the dock in perfect, powerful unison just as I was lifting my boat out of the water. My knees dipped slightly and the boat swung up and over until its weight rested on my head.

“Why don’t you let me help you with that?” Matthew said, rising from his perch.

“No chance.” My steps were steady as I walked the boat inside. He grumbled something under his breath.

With the boat safely in its rack, Matthew easily talked me into breakfast at Mary and Dan’s café. He was going to have to sit next to me much of the day, and I was hungry after the morning’s exertions. He steered me by the elbow around the other diners, his hand firmer on my back than before. Mary greeted me like an old friend, and Steph didn’t bother with a menu, just announced “the usual” when she came by the table. There wasn’t a hint of a question in her voice, and when the plate came—laden with eggs, bacon, mushrooms, and tomatoes—I was glad I hadn’t insisted on something more ladylike.

After breakfast I trotted through the lodge and up to my rooms for a shower and a change of clothes. Fred peered around his window to see if it was indeed Matthew’s Jaguar pulled up outside the gates. The porters were no doubt laying wagers on competing predictions regarding our oddly formal relationship. This morning was the first time I’d managed to convince my escort to simply drop me off.

“It’s broad daylight, and Fred will have kittens if you clog up his gate during delivery hours,” I protested when Matthew started to get out of the car. He’d glowered but agreed that merely pulling straight across the entrance to bar possible vehicular attack was sufficient.

This morning every step of my routine needed to be slow and deliberate. My shower was long and leisurely, the hot water slipping against my tired muscles. Still in no rush, I put on comfortable black trousers, a turtleneck to keep my shoulders from seizing up in the increasingly chilly library, and a reasonably presentable midnight blue cardigan to break up the unalleviated black. My hair was caught in a low ponytail. The short piece in the front fell forward as it always did, and I grumbled and shoved it behind my ear.

In spite of my efforts, my anxiety rose as I pushed open the library’s glass doors. The guard’s eyes narrowed at my uncharacteristically warm smile, and he took an inordinate amount of time checking my face against the picture on my reader’s card. Finally he admitted me, and I pelted up the stairs to Duke Humfrey’s.

It had been no more than an hour since I’d been with Matthew, but the sight of him stretched out among the first bay of Elizabethan desks in one of the medieval wing’s purgatorial chairs was welcome. He looked up when my laptop dropped on the scarred wooden surface.

“Is he here?” I whispered, reluctant to say Knox’s name.

Matthew nodded grimly. “In the Selden End.”

“Well, he can wait down there all day as far as I’m concerned,” I said under my breath, picking up a blank request slip from the shallow rectangular tray on the desk. On it I wrote “Ashmole MS 782,” my name, and my reader number.

Sean was at the collection desk. “I’ve got two items on reserve,” I told him with a smile. He went into the cage and returned with my manuscripts, then held out his hand for my new request. He put the slip into the worn, gray cardboard envelope that would be sent to the stacks.

“May I talk to you a minute?” Sean asked.

“Sure.” I gestured to indicate that Matthew should stay where he was and followed Sean through the swinging gate into the Arts End, which, like the Selden End, ran perpendicular to the length of the old library. We stood beneath a bank of leaded windows that let in the weak morning sunshine.

“Is he bothering you?”

“Professor Clairmont? No.”

“It’s none of my business, but I don’t like him.” Sean looked down the central aisle as if he expected Matthew to pop out and glare at him. “The whole place has been full of strange ducks over the last week or so.”

Unable to disagree, I resorted to muffled noises of sympathy.

“You’d let me know if there was something wrong, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course, Sean. But Professor Clairmont’s okay. You don’t have to worry about him.”

My old friend looked unconvinced.

“Sean may know I’m different—but it seems I’m not as different as you,” I told Matthew after returning to my seat.

“Few are,” he said darkly, picking up his reading.

I turned on my computer and tried to concentrate on my work. It would take hours for the manuscript to appear. But thinking about alchemy was harder than ever, caught as I was between a vampire and the call desk. Every time new books emerged from the stacks, I looked up.

After several false alarms, soft steps approached from the Selden End. Matthew tensed in his chair.

Peter Knox strolled up and stopped. “Dr. Bishop,” he said coolly.

“Mr. Knox.” My voice was equally chilly, and I returned my attention to the open volume before me. Knox took a step in my direction.

Matthew spoke quietly, without raising his eyes from the Needham papers. “I’d stop there unless Dr. Bishop wishes to speak with you.”

“I’m very busy.” A sense of pressure wound around my forehead, and a voice whispered in my skull. Every ounce of my energy was devoted to keeping the witch out of my thoughts. “I said I’m busy,” I repeated stonily.

Matthew put his pencil down and pushed away from the desk.

“Mr. Knox was just leaving, Matthew.” Turning to my laptop, I typed a few sentences of utter nonsense.

“I hope you understand what you’re doing,” Knox spit.

Matthew growled, and I laid a hand lightly on his arm. Knox’s eyes fixed on the spot where the bodies of a witch and a vampire touched.

Until that moment Knox had only suspected that Matthew and I were too close for the comfort of witches. Now he was sure.

You’ve told him what you know about our book. Knox’s vicious voice sounded through my head, and though I tried to push against his intrusion, the wizard was too strong. When he resisted my efforts, I gasped in surprise.

Sean looked up from the call desk in alarm. Matthew’s arm was vibrating, his growl subsiding into a somehow more menacing purr.

“Who’s caught human attention now?” I hissed at the witch, squeezing Matthew’s arm to let him know I didn’t need his help.

Knox smiled unpleasantly. “You’ve caught the attention of more than humans this morning, Dr. Bishop. Before nightfall every witch in Oxford will know you’re a traitor.”

Matthew’s muscles coiled, and he reached up to the coffin he wore around his neck.

Oh, God, I thought, he’s going to kill a witch in the Bodleian. I placed myself squarely between the two of them.

“Enough,” I told Knox quietly. “If you don’t leave, I’m going to tell Sean you’re harassing me and have him call security.”

“The light in the Selden End is rather glaring today,” Knox said at last, breaking the standoff. “I believe I’ll move to this part of the library.” He strolled away.

Matthew lifted my hand from his arm and began to pack up his belongings. “We’re leaving.”

“No we’re not. We are not leaving until we get that manuscript.”

“Were you listening?” Matthew said hotly. “He threatened you! I don’t need this manuscript, but I do need—” He stopped abruptly.

I pushed Matthew into his seat. Sean was still staring in our direction, his hand hovering above the phone. Smiling, I shook my head at him before returning my attention to the vampire.

“It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have touched you while he was standing there,” I murmured, looking down at his shoulder, where my hand still rested.

Matthew’s cool fingers lifted my chin. “Do you regret the touch—or the fact that the witch saw you?”

“Neither,” I whispered. His gray eyes went from sad to surprised in an instant. “But you don’t want me to be reckless.”

As Knox approached again, Matthew’s grip on my chin tightened, his senses tuned into the witch. When Knox remained a few desks away, the vampire returned his attention to me. “One more word from him and we’re leaving—manuscript or no manuscript. I mean it, Diana.”

Thinking about alchemical illustrations proved impossible after that. Gillian’s warning about what happened to witches who kept secrets from other witches, and Knox’s firm pronouncement that I was a traitor, resounded through my head. When Matthew tried to get me to stop for lunch, I refused. The manuscript had still not appeared, and we couldn’t be at Blackwell’s when it arrived—not with Knox so close.

“Did you see what I had for breakfast?” I asked when Matthew insisted. “I’m not hungry.”

My coffee-loving daemon drifted by shortly afterward, swinging his headset by the cord. “Hey,” he said with a wave at Matthew and me.

Matthew looked up sharply.

“Good to see you two again. Is it okay if I check my e-mail down there since the witch is here with you?”

“What’s your name?” I asked, smothering a smile.

“Timothy,” he answered, rocking back on his heels. He was wearing mismatched cowboy boots, one red and one black. His eyes were mismatched, too—one was blue and one was green.

“You’re more than welcome to check your e-mail, Timothy.”

“You’re the one.” He tipped his fingers at me, pivoted on the heel of the red boot, and walked away.

An hour later I stood, unable to control my impatience. “The manuscript should have arrived by now.”

The vampire’s eyes followed me across the six feet of open space to the call desk. They felt hard and crisp like ice, rather than soft as snowfall, and they clung to my shoulder blades.

“Hi, Sean. Will you check to see if the manuscript I requested this morning has been delivered?”

“Someone else must have it,” Sean said. “Nothing’s come up for you.”

“Are you sure?” Nobody else had it.

Sean riffled through the slips and found my request. Paper-clipped to it was a note. “It’s missing.”

“It’s not missing. I saw it a few weeks ago.”

“Let’s see.” He rounded the desk, headed for the supervisor’s office. Matthew looked up from his papers and watched as Sean rapped against the open doorframe.

“Dr. Bishop wants this manuscript, and it’s been noted as missing,” Sean explained. He held out the slip.

Mr. Johnson consulted a book on his desk, running his finger over lines scrawled by generations of reading-room supervisors. “Ah, yes. Ashmole 782. That’s been missing since 1859. We don’t have a microfilm.” Matthew’s chair scraped away from his desk.

“But I saw it a few weeks ago.”

“That’s not possible, Dr. Bishop. No one has seen this manuscript for one hundred and fifty years.” Mr. Johnson blinked behind his thick-rimmed glasses.

“Dr. Bishop, could I show you something when you have a moment?” Matthew’s voice made me jump.

“Yes, of course.” I turned blindly toward him. “Thank you,” I whispered to Mr. Johnson.

“We’re leaving. Now,” Matthew hissed. In the aisle an assortment of creatures was focused intently on us. I saw Knox, Timothy, the Scary Sisters, Gillian—and a few more unfamiliar faces. Above the tall bookcases, the old portraits of kings, queens, and other illustrious persons that decorated the walls of Duke Humfrey’s Reading Room stared at us, too, with every bit as much sour disapproval.

“It can’t be missing. I just saw it,” I repeated numbly. “We should have them check.”

“Don’t talk about it now—don’t even think about it.” He gathered up my things with lightning speed, his hands a blur as he saved my work and shut down the computer.

I obediently started reciting English monarchs in my head, beginning with William the Conqueror, to rid my mind of thoughts of the missing manuscript.

Knox passed by, busily texting on his mobile. He was followed by the Scary Sisters, who looked grimmer than usual.

“Why are they all leaving?” I asked Matthew.

“You didn’t recall Ashmole 782. They’re regrouping.” He thrust my bag and computer at me and picked up my two manuscripts. With his free hand, he snared my elbow and moved us toward the call desk. Timothy waved sadly from the Selden End before making a peace sign and turning away.

“Sean, Dr. Bishop is going back to college with me to help solve a problem I’ve found in the Needham papers. She won’t require these for the rest of the day. And I won’t be returning either.” Matthew handed Sean the boxed manuscripts. Sean gave the vampire a dark look before thumping them into a neater pile and heading for the locked manuscript hold.

We didn’t exchange a word on the way down the stairs, and by the time we pushed through the glass doors into the courtyard, I was ready to explode with questions.

Peter Knox was lounging against the iron railings surrounding the bronze statue of William Herbert. Matthew stopped abruptly and, with a fast step in front of me and a flick of his shoulder, placed me behind his considerable bulk.

“So, Dr. Bishop, you didn’t get it back,” Knox said maliciously. “I told you it was a fluke. Not even a Bishop could break that spell without proper training in witchcraft. Your mother might have managed it, but you don’t appear to share her talents.”

Matthew curled his lip but said nothing. He was trying not to interfere between witches, yet he wouldn’t be able to resist throttling Knox indefinitely.

“It’s missing. My mother was gifted, but she wasn’t a bloodhound.” I bristled, and Matthew’s hand rose slightly to quiet me.

“It’s been missing,” Knox said. “You found it anyway. It’s a good thing you didn’t manage to break the spell a second time, though.”

“Why is that?” I asked impatiently.

“Because we cannot let our history fall into the hands of animals like him. Witches and vampires don’t mix, Dr. Bishop. There are excellent reasons for it. Remember who you are. If you don’t, you will regret it.”

A witch shouldn’t keep secrets from other witches. Bad things happen when she does. Gillian’s voice echoed in my head, and the walls of the Bodleian drew closer. I fought down the panic that was burbling to the surface.

“Threaten her again and I’ll kill you on the spot.” Matthew’s voice was calm, but a passing tourist’s frozen look suggested that his face betrayed stronger emotions.

“Matthew,” I said quietly. “Not here.”

“Killing witches now, Clairmont?” Knox sneered. “Have you run out of vampires and humans to harm?”

“Leave her alone.” Matthew’s voice remained even, but his body was poised to strike if Knox moved a muscle in my direction.

The witch’s face twisted. “There’s no chance of that. She belongs to us, not you. So does the manuscript.”

“Matthew,” I repeated more urgently. A human boy of thirteen with a nose ring and a troubled complexion was now studying him with interest. “The humans are staring.”

He reached back and grabbed my hand in his. The shock of cold skin against warm and the sensation that I was tethered to him were simultaneous. He pulled me forward, tucking me under his shoulder.

Knox laughed scornfully. “It will take more than that to keep her safe, Clairmont. She’ll get the manuscript back for us. We’ll make sure of it.”

Without another word, Matthew propelled me through the quadrangle and onto the wide cobblestone path surrounding the Radcliffe Camera. He eyed All Souls’ closed iron gates, swore quickly and enthusiastically, and kept me going toward the High Street.

“Not much farther,” he said, his hand gripping mine a bit more tightly.

Matthew didn’t let go of me in the lodge, and he gave a curt nod to the porter on the way to his rooms. Up we climbed to his garret, which was just as warm and comfortable as it had been Saturday evening.

Matthew threw his keys onto the sideboard and deposited me unceremoniously on the sofa. He disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a glass of water. He handed it to me, and I held it without drinking until he scowled so darkly that I took a sip and almost choked.

“Why couldn’t I get the manuscript a second time?” I was rattled that Knox had been proved right.

“I should have followed my instincts.” Matthew was standing by the window, clenching and unclenching his right hand and paying absolutely no attention to me. “We don’t understand your connection to the spell. You’ve been in grave danger since you saw Ashmole 782.”

“Knox may threaten, Matthew, but he’s not going to do something stupid in front of so many witnesses.”

“You’re staying at Woodstock for a few days. I want you away from Knox—no more chance meetings in college, no passing by him in the Bodleian.”

“Knox was right: I can’t get the manuscript back. He won’t pay any more attention to me.”

“That’s wishful thinking, Diana. Knox wants to understand the secrets of Ashmole 782 as much as you or I do.” Matthew’s normally impeccable appearance was suffering. He’d run his fingers through his hair until it stood up like a scarecrow’s in places.

“How can you both be so certain there are secrets in the hidden text?” I wondered, moving toward the fireplace. “It’s an alchemy book. Maybe that’s all it is.”

“Alchemy is the story of creation, told chemically. Creatures are chemistry, mapped onto biology.”

“But when Ashmole 782 was written, they didn’t know about biology or share your sense of chemistry.”

Matthew eyes collapsed into slits. “Diana Bishop, I’m shocked at your narrow-mindedness.” He meant it, too. “The creatures who made the manuscript might not have known about DNA, but what proof do you have that they weren’t asking the same questions about creation as a modern scientist?”

“Alchemical texts are allegories, not instruction manuals.” I redirected the fear and frustration of the past several days at him. “They may hint at larger truths, but you can’t build a reliable experiment from them.”

“I never said you could,” he replied, his eyes still dark with suppressed anger. “But we’re talking about potential readers who are witches, daemons, and vampires. A little supernatural reading, a bit of otherworldly creativity, and some long memories to fill in the blanks may give creatures information we don’t want them to have.”

“Information you don’t want them to have!” I remembered my promise to Agatha Wilson, and my voice rose. “You’re as bad as Knox. You want Ashmole 782 to satisfy your own curiosity.” My hands itched as I grabbed at my things.

“Calm down.” There was an edge to his voice that I didn’t like.

“Stop telling me what to do.” The itching sensation intensified.

My fingers were brilliant blue and shooting out little arcs of fire that sputtered at the edges like the sparklers on birthday cakes. I dropped my computer and held them up.

Matthew should have been horrified. Instead he looked intrigued.

“Does that happen often?” His voice was carefully neutral.

“Oh, no.” I ran for the kitchen, trailing sparks.

Matthew beat me to the door. “Not water,” he said sharply. “They smell electrical.”

Ah. That explained the last time I set fire to the kitchen.

I stood mutely, holding my hands up between us. We watched for a few minutes while the blue left my fingertips and the sparks went out entirely, leaving behind a definite smell of bad electrical wiring.

When the fireworks ended, Matthew was lounging against the kitchen doorframe with the nonchalant air of a Renaissance aristocrat waiting to have his portrait painted.

“Well,” he said, watching me with the stillness of an eagle ready to pounce on his prey, “that was interesting. Are you always like that when you get angry?”

“I don’t do angry,” I said, turning away from him. His hand shot out and whirled me back around to face him.

“You’re not getting off that easy.” Matthew’s voice was soft, but the sharp edge was back. “You do angry. I just saw it. And you left at least one hole in my carpet to prove it.”

“Let me go!” My mouth contorted into what Sarah called my “sour-puss.” It was enough to make my students quake. Right now I hoped it would make Matthew curl up into a ball and roll away. At the very least, I wanted him to take his hand off my arm so I could get out of there.

“I warned you. Friendships with vampires are complicated. I couldn’t let you go now—even if I wanted to.”

My eyes lowered deliberately to his hand. Matthew removed it with a snort of impatience, and I turned to pick up my bag.

You really shouldn’t turn your back on a vampire if you’ve been arguing.

Matthew’s arms shot around me from behind, pressing my back against his chest so hard that I could feel every flexed muscle. “Now,” he said directly into my ear, “we’re going to talk like civilized creatures about what happened. You are not running away from this—or from me.”

“Let me go, Matthew.” I struggled in his arms.

“No.”

No man had ever refused when I asked him to stop doing something—whether it was blowing his nose in the library or trying to slip a hand up my shirt after a movie. I struggled again. Matthew’s arms got tighter.

“Stop fighting me.” He sounded amused. “You’ll get tired long before I do, I assure you.”

In my women’s self-defense class, they’d taught me what to do if grabbed from behind. I lifted my foot to stomp on his. Matthew moved out of the way, and it smashed into the floor instead.

“We can do this all afternoon if you want,” he murmured. “But I honestly can’t recommend it. My reflexes are much faster than yours.”

“Let me go and we can talk,” I said through clenched teeth.

He laughed softly, his spicy breath tickling the exposed skin at the base of my skull. “That wasn’t a worthy attempt at negotiation, Diana. No, we’re going to talk like this. I want to know how often your fingers have turned blue.”

“Not often.” My instructor had recommended I relax if grabbed from behind and slip out of an assailant’s arms. Matthew’s grip on me only tightened. “A few times, when I was a child, I set fire to things—the kitchen cabinets, but that may have been because I tried to put my hands out in the sink and the fire got worse. My bedroom curtains, once or twice. A tree outside the house—but it was just a small tree.”

“Since then?”

“It happened last week, when Miriam made me angry.”

“How did she do that?” he asked, resting his cheek against the side of my head. It was comforting, if I overlooked the fact that he was holding me against my wishes.

“She told me I needed to learn how to take care of myself and stop relying on you to protect me. She basically accused me of playing the damsel in distress.” Just the thought made my blood simmer and my fingers itch all over again.

“You are many things, Diana, but a damsel in distress is not one of them. You’ve had this reaction twice in less than a week.” Matthew’s voice was thoughtful. “Interesting.”

“I don’t think so.”

“No, I don’t imagine you do,” he said, “but it is interesting just the same. Now let’s turn to another topic.” His mouth drifted toward my ear, and I tried—unsuccessfully—to pull it away. “What is this nonsense about my not being interested in anything but an old manuscript?”

I flushed. This was mortifying. “Sarah and Em said you were only spending time with me because you wanted something. I assume it’s Ashmole 782.”

“But that’s not true, is it?” he said, running his lips and cheek gently against my hair. My blood started to sing in response. Even I could hear it. He laughed again, this time with satisfaction. “I didn’t think you believed it. I just wanted to be sure.”

My body relaxed into his. “Matthew—” I began.

“I’m letting you go,” he said, cutting me off. “But don’t bolt for the door, understand?”

We were prey and predator once more. If I ran, his instincts would tell him to give chase. I nodded, and he slipped his arms from me, leaving me oddly unsteady.

“What am I going to do with you?” He was standing with his hands on his hips, a lopsided smile on his face. “You are the most exasperating creature I’ve ever met.”

“No one has ever known what to do with me.”

“That I believe.” He surveyed me for a moment. “We’re going to Woodstock.”

“No! I’m perfectly safe in college.” He’d warned me about vampires and protectiveness. He was right—I didn’t like it.

“You are not,” he said with an angry glint in his eyes. “Someone’s tried to break in to your rooms.”

“What?” I was aghast.

“The loose lock, remember?”

In fact, there were fresh scratches on the hardware. But Matthew did not need to know about that.

“You’ll stay at Woodstock until Peter Knox leaves Oxford.”

My face must have betrayed my dismay.

“It won’t be so bad,” he said gently. “You’ll have all the yoga you want.”

With Matthew in bodyguard mode, I didn’t have much choice. And if he was right—which I suspected he was—someone had already gotten past Fred and into my rooms.

“Come,” he said, picking up my computer bag. “I’ll take you to New College and wait while you get your things. But this conversation about the connection between Ashmole 782 and your blue fingers is not over,” he continued, forcing me to meet his eyes. “It’s just beginning.”

We went down to the fellows’ car park, and Matthew retrieved the Jaguar from between a modest blue Vauxhall and an old Peugeot. Given the city’s restrictive traffic patterns, it took twice as long to drive as it would have to walk.

Matthew pulled in to the lodge gates. “I’ll be right back,” I said, slinging my computer bag over my shoulder as he let me out of the car.

“Dr. Bishop, you have mail,” Fred called from the lodge.

I collected the contents of my pigeonhole, my head pounding with stress and anxiety, and waved my mail at Matthew before heading toward my rooms.

Inside, I kicked off my shoes, rubbed my temples, and glanced at the message machine. Mercifully, it wasn’t blinking. The mail contained nothing but bills and a large brown envelope with my name typed on it. There was no stamp, indicating it came from someone within the university. I slid my finger under the flap and pulled out the contents.

A piece of ordinary paper was clipped to something smooth and shiny. Typed on the paper was a single line of text.

“Remember?”

Hands shaking, I pulled off the slip. The paper fluttered to the floor, revealing a familiar glossy photograph. I’d only seen it reproduced in black and white, though, in the newspapers. This was in color, and as bright and vivid as the day it had been taken, in 1983.

My mother’s body lay facedown in a chalk circle, her left leg at an impossible angle. Her right arm reached toward my father, who was lying faceup, his head caved in on one side and a gash splitting his torso from throat to groin. Some of his entrails had been pulled out and were lying next to him on the ground.

A sound between a moan and a scream slipped from my mouth. I dropped to the floor, trembling but unable to tear my eyes from the image.

“Diana!” Matthew’s voice sounded frantic, but he was too far away for me to care. In the distance someone jiggled the doorknob. Feet clattered up the stairs, a key scraped in the lock.

The door burst open, and I looked up into Matthew’s ashen face, along with Fred’s concerned one.

“Dr. Bishop?” Fred asked.

Matthew moved so quickly that Fred had to know he was a vampire. He crouched in front of me. My teeth chattered with shock.

“If I give you my keys, can you move the car to All Souls for me?” Matthew asked over his shoulder. “Dr. Bishop isn’t well, and she shouldn’t be alone.”

“No worries, Professor Clairmont. We’ll keep it here in the warden’s lot,” replied Fred. Matthew threw his keys at the porter, who caught them neatly. Flashing me a worried look, Fred closed the door.

“I’m going to be sick,” I whispered.

Matthew pulled me to my feet and led me to the bathroom. Sinking next to the toilet, I threw up, dropping the picture on the floor to grip the sides of the bowl. Once my stomach was empty, the worst of the shaking subsided, but every few seconds a tremble radiated through me.

I closed the lid and reached up to flush, pushing down on the toilet for leverage. My head spun. Matthew caught me before I hit the bathroom wall.

Suddenly my feet were not on the ground. Matthew’s chest was against my right shoulder and his arms underneath my knees. Moments later he laid me gently on my bed and turned the light on, angling the shade away. My wrist was in his cool fingers, and with his touch my pulse began to slow. That made it possible for me to focus on his face. It looked as calm as ever, except that the tiny dark vein in his forehead throbbed slightly every minute or so.

“I’m going to get you something to drink.” He let go of my wrist and stood.

Another wave of panic washed over me. I bolted to my feet, all my instincts telling me to run as far and as fast as possible.

Matthew grabbed me by the shoulders, trying to make eye contact. “Stop, Diana.”

My stomach had invaded my lungs, pressing out all the air, and I struggled against his grasp, not knowing or caring what he was saying. “Let me go,” I pleaded, pushing against his chest with both hands.

“Diana, look at me.” There was no ignoring Matthew’s voice, or the moonlike pull of his eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“My parents. Gillian told me witches killed my parents.” My voice was high and tight.

Matthew said something in a language I didn’t understand. “When did this happen? Where were they? Did the witch leave a message on your phone? Did she threaten you?” His hold on me strengthened.

“Nigeria. She said the Bishops have always been trouble.”

“I’ll go with you. Let me make a few phone calls first.” Matthew took in a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m so sorry, Diana.”

“Go where?” Nothing was making any sense.

“To Africa.” Matthew sounded confused. “Someone will have to identify the bodies.”

“My parents were killed when I was seven.”

His eyes widened with shock.

“Even though it happened so long ago, they’re all the witches want to talk about these days—Gillian, Peter Knox.” Shivering as the panic escalated, I felt a scream rise up in my throat. Matthew pressed me to him before it could erupt, holding me so tightly that the outlines of his muscles and bones were sharp against my skin. The scream turned into a sob. “Bad things happen to witches who keep secrets. Gillian said so.”

“No matter what she said, I will not let Knox or any other witch harm you. I’ve got you now.” Matthew’s voice was fierce, and he bowed his head and rested his cheek on my hair while I cried. “Oh, Diana. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Somewhere in the center of my soul, a rusty chain began to unwind. It freed itself, link by link, from where it had rested unobserved, waiting for him. My hands, which had been balled up and pressed against his chest, unfurled with it. The chain continued to drop, to an unfathomable depth where there was nothing but darkness and Matthew. At last it snapped to its full length, anchoring me to a vampire. Despite the manuscript, despite the fact that my hands contained enough voltage to run a microwave, and despite the photograph, as long as I was connected to him, I was safe.

When my sobs quieted, Matthew drew away. “I’m going to get you some water, and then you’re going to rest.” His tone did not invite discussion, and he was back in a matter of seconds carrying a glass of water and two tiny pills.

“Take these,” he said, handing them to me along with the water.

“What are they?”

“A sedative.” His stern look encouraged me to pop both pills into my mouth, immediately, along with a gulp of water. “I’ve been carrying one since you told me you suffered from panic attacks.”

“I hate taking tranquilizers.”

“You’ve had a shock, and you’ve got too much adrenaline in your system. You need to rest.” Matthew dragged the duvet around me until I was encased in a lumpy cocoon. He sat on the bed, and his shoes thumped against the floor before he stretched out, his back propped up against the pillows. When he gathered my duvet-wrapped body against him, I sighed. Matthew reached across with his left arm and held me securely. My body, for all its wrappings, fit against him perfectly.

The drug worked its way through my bloodstream. As I was drifting off to sleep, Matthew’s phone shook in his pocket, startling me into wakefulness.

“It’s nothing, probably Marcus,” he said, brushing his lips against my forehead. My heartbeat settled. “Try to rest. You aren’t alone anymore.”

I could still feel the chain that anchored me to Matthew, witch to vampire.

With the links of that chain tight and shining, I slept.

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