فصل 24

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فصل 24

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Chapter 24

From afar I beheld a black cloud covering the earth. It absorbed the earth and covered my soul as the seas entered, becoming putrid and corrupted at the prospect of hell and the shadow of death. A tempest had overwhelmed me,’” I read aloud from Matthew’s copy of Aurora Consurgens.

Turning to my computer, I typed notes about the imagery my anonymous author had used to describe nigredo, one of the dangerous steps in alchemical transformation. During this part of the process, the combination of substances like mercury and lead gave off fumes that endangered the alchemist’s health. Appropriately, one of Bourgot Le Noir’s gargoylelike faces pinched his nose tight shut, avoiding the cloud mentioned in the text.

“Get your riding clothes on.”

My head lifted from the pages of the manuscript.

“Matthew made me promise to take you outdoors. He said it would keep you from getting sick,” Ysabeau explained.

“You don’t have to, Ysabeau. Domenico and the witchwater have depleted my adrenaline supply, if that’s your concern.”

“Matthew must have told you how alluring the smell of panic is to a vampire.”

“Marcus told me,” I corrected her. “Actually, he told me what it tastes like. What does it smell like?”

Ysabeau shrugged. “Like it tastes. Maybe a bit more exotic—a touch of muskiness, perhaps. I was never much drawn to it. I prefer the kill to the hunt. But to each her own.”

“I’m not having as many panic attacks these days. There’s no need for you to take me riding.” I turned back to my work.

“Why do you think they have gone away?” Ysabeau asked.

“I honestly don’t know,” I said with a sigh, looking at Matthew’s mother.

“You have been like this for a long time?”

“Since I was seven.”

“What happened then?”

“My parents were killed in Nigeria,” I replied shortly.

“This was the picture you received—the one that caused Matthew to bring you to Sept-Tours.”

When I nodded in response, Ysabeau’s mouth flattened into a familiar, hard line. “Pigs.”

There were worse things to call them, but “pigs” did the job pretty well. And if it grouped whoever had sent me the photograph with Domenico Michele, then it was the right category.

“Panic or no panic,” Ysabeau said briskly, “we are going to exercise as Matthew wanted.”

I powered off the computer and went upstairs to change. My riding clothes were folded neatly in the bathroom, courtesy of Marthe, though my boots were in the stables, along with my helmet and vest. I slithered into the black breeches, added a turtleneck, and slipped on loafers over a pair of warm socks, then went downstairs in search of Matthew’s mother.

“I’m in here,” she called. I followed the sound to a small room painted warm terra-cotta. It was ornamented with old plates, animal horns, and an ancient dresser large enough to store an entire inn’s worth of plates, cups, and cutlery. Ysabeau peered over the pages of Le Monde, her eyes covering every inch of me. “Marthe tells me you slept.”

“Yes, thank you,” I shifted from one foot to the other as if waiting to see the school principal to explain my misbehavior.

Marthe saved me from further discomfort by arriving with a pot of tea. She, too, surveyed me from head to foot.

“You are better today,” she finally announced, handing me a mug. She stood there frowning until Matthew’s mother put down her paper, and then she departed.

When I was finished with my tea, we went to the stables. Ysabeau had to help with my boots, since they were still too stiff to slide on and off easily, and she watched carefully while I put on my turtle shell of a vest and the helmet. Clearly safety equipment had been part of Matthew’s instructions. Ysabeau, of course, wore nothing more protective than a brown quilted jacket. The relative indestructibility of vampire flesh was a boon if you were a rider.

In the paddock Fiddat and Rakasa stood side by side, mirror images right down to the armchair-style saddles on their backs.

“Ysabeau,” I protested, “Georges put the wrong tack on Rakasa. I don’t ride sidesaddle.”

“Are you afraid to try?” Matthew’s mother looked at me appraisingly.

“No!” I said, tamping down my temper. “I just prefer to ride astride.”

“How do you know?” Her emerald eyes flickered with a touch of malice.

We stood for a few moments, staring at each other. Rakasa stamped her hoof and looked over her shoulder.

Are you going to ride or talk? she seemed to be asking.

Behave, I replied brusquely, walking over and putting her fetlock against my knee.

“Georges has seen to this,” Ysabeau said in a bored tone.

“I don’t ride horses I haven’t checked myself.” I examined Rakasa’s hooves, ran my hands over her reins, and slid my fingers under the saddle.

“Philippe never did either.” Ysabeau’s voice held a note of grudging respect. With poorly concealed impatience, she watched me finish. When I was done, she led Fiddat over to a set of steps and waited for me to follow. After she’d helped me get into the strange contraption of a saddle, she hopped onto her own horse. I took one look at her and knew I was in for quite a morning. Judging from her seat, Ysabeau was a better rider than Matthew—and he was the best I’d ever seen.

“Walk around,” Ysabeau said. “I need to make sure you won’t fall off and kill yourself.”

“Show a little faith, Ysabeau.” Don’t let me fall, I bargained with Rakasa, and I’ ll make sure you get an apple a day for the rest of your life. My mount’s ears shot forward, then back, and she nickered gently. We circled the paddock twice before I drew to a gentle stop in front of Matthew’s mother. “Satisfied?”

“You’re a better rider than I expected,” she admitted. “You could probably jump, but I promised Matthew we would not.”

“He managed to wheedle a fair number of promises out of you before he left,” I muttered, hoping she wouldn’t hear me.

“Indeed,” she said crisply, “some of them harder to keep than others.”

We passed through the open paddock gate. Georges touched his cap to Ysabeau and shut the gate behind us, grinning and shaking his head.

Matthew’s mother kept us on relatively flat ground while I got used to the strange saddle. The trick was to keep your body square despite how off-kilter you felt.

“This isn’t too bad,” I said after about twenty minutes.

“It is better now that the saddles have two pommels,” Ysabeau said. “Before, all sidesaddles were good for was being led around by a man.” Her disgust was audible. “It was not until the Italian queen put a pommel and stirrup on her saddle that we could control our own horses. Her husband’s mistress rode astride so she could go with him when he exercised. Catherine was always being left at home, which is most unpleasant for a wife.” She shot me a withering glance. “Henry’s whore was named after the goddess of the hunt, like you.”

“I wouldn’t have crossed Catherine de’ Medici.” I shook my head.

“The king’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, was the dangerous one,” Ysabeau said darkly. “She was a witch.”

“Actually or metaphorically?” I asked with interest.

“Both,” Matthew’s mother said in a tone that could strip paint. I laughed. Ysabeau looked surprised, then joined in.

We rode a bit farther. Ysabeau sniffed the air and sat taller in the saddle, her face alert.

“What is it?” I asked anxiously, keeping Rakasa under a tight rein.

“Rabbit.” She kicked Fiddat into a canter. I followed closely, reluctant to see if it was as difficult to track a witch in the forest as Matthew had suggested.

We streaked through the trees and out into the open field. Ysabeau held Fiddat back, and I pulled alongside her.

“Have you ever seen a vampire kill?” Ysabeau asked, watching my reaction carefully.

“No,” I said calmly.

“Rabbits are small. That’s where we will begin. Wait here.” She swung out of the saddle and dropped lightly to the ground. Fiddat stood obediently, watching her mistress. “Diana,” she said sharply, never taking her eyes off her prey, “do not come near me while I’m hunting or feeding. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” My mind raced at the implications. Ysabeau was going to chase down a rabbit, kill it, and drink its blood in front of me? Staying far away seemed an excellent suggestion.

Matthew’s mother darted across the grassy field, moving so fast it was impossible to keep her in focus. She slowed just as a falcon does in midair before it swoops in for the kill, then bent and grabbed a frightened rabbit by the ears. Ysabeau held it up triumphantly before sinking her teeth directly into its heart.

Rabbits may be small, but they are surprisingly bloody if you bite into them while they’re still alive. It was horrifying. Ysabeau sucked the blood out of the animal, which quickly ceased struggling, then wiped her mouth clean on its fur and tossed its carcass into the grass. Three seconds later she was swinging herself back into the saddle. Her cheeks were slightly flushed, and her eyes sparkled more than usual. Once mounted, she looked at me.

“Well?” she asked. “Shall we look for something more filling, or do you need to return to the house?”

Ysabeau de Clermont was testing me.

“After you,” I said grimly, touching Rakasa’s flank with my heel.

The remainder of our ride was measured not by the movement of the sun, which was still hidden behind clouds, but by the increasing amounts of blood Ysabeau’s hungry mouth drew from her kills. She was a relatively neat eater. Still, it would be some time before I was happy at the prospect of a large steak.

I was numb to the sight of blood after the rabbit, the enormous squirrel-like creature that Ysabeau told me was a marmot, the fox, and the wild goat—or so I thought. When Ysabeau gave chase to a young doe, however, something prickled inside me.

“Ysabeau,” I protested. “You can’t still be hungry. Leave it.”

“What? The goddess of the hunt objects to my pursuit of her deer?” Her voice mocked, but her eyes were curious.

“Yes,” I said promptly.

“I object to your hunting of my son. See what good that has done.” Ysabeau swung down from her horse.

My fingers itched to intervene, and it was all I could do to stay out of Ysabeau’s way while she stalked her prey. After each kill, her eyes revealed that she wasn’t completely in command of her emotions—or her actions.

The doe tried to escape. It almost succeeded by darting into some underbrush, but Ysabeau frightened the animal back into the open. After that, fatigue put the doe at a disadvantage. The chase touched off something visceral within me. Ysabeau killed swiftly, and the doe didn’t suffer, but I had to bite my lip to keep from shouting.

“There,” she said with satisfaction, returning to Fiddat. “We can go back to Sept-Tours.”

Wordlessly I turned Rakasa’s head in the direction of the château.

Ysabeau grabbed my horse’s reins. There were tiny drops of blood on her cream shirt. “Do you think vampires are beautiful now? Do you still think it would be easy to live with my son, knowing that he must kill to survive?”

It was difficult for me to put “Matthew” and “killing” in the same sentence. Were I to kiss him one day, when he was just returned from hunting, there might still be the taste of blood on his lips. And days like the one I was now spending with Ysabeau would be regular occurrences.

“If you’re trying to frighten me away from your son, Ysabeau, you failed,” I said resolutely. “You’re going to have to do better than this.”

“Marthe said this would not be enough to make you reconsider,” she confessed.

“She was right.” My voice was curt. “Is the trial over? Can we go home now?”

We rode toward the trees in silence. Once we were within the forest’s leafy green confines, Ysabeau turned to me. “Do you understand why you must not question Matthew when he tells you to do something?”

I sighed. “School is over for the day.”

“Do you think our dining habits are the only obstacle standing between you and my son?”

“Spit it out, Ysabeau. Why must I do what Matthew says?”

“Because he is the strongest vampire in the château. He is the head of the house.”

I stared at her in astonishment. “Are you saying I have to listen to him because he’s the alpha dog?”

“You think you are?” Ysabeau chortled.

“No,” I conceded. Ysabeau wasn’t the alpha dog either. She did what Matthew told her to do. So did Marcus, Miriam, and every vampire at the Bodleian Library. Even Domenico had ultimately backed down. “Are these the de Clermont pack rules?”

Ysabeau nodded, her green eyes glittering. “It is for your safety—and his, and everyone else’s—that you must obey. This is not a game.”

“I understand, Ysabeau.” I was losing my patience.

“No, you don’t,” she said softly. “You won’t either, until you are forced to see, just as I made you see what it is for a vampire to kill. Until then these are only words. One day your willfulness will cost your life, or someone else’s. Then you will know why I told you this.”

We returned to the château without further conversation. When we passed through Marthe’s ground-floor domain, she came out of the kitchen, a small chicken in her hands. I blanched. Marthe took in the tiny spots of blood on Ysabeau’s cuffs and gasped.

“She needs to know,” Ysabeau hissed.

Marthe said something low and foul-sounding in Occitan, then nodded at me. “Here, girl, come with me and I will teach you to make my tea.”

Now it was Ysabeau’s turn to look furious. Marthe made me something to drink and handed me a plate with a few crumbly biscuits studded with nuts. Eating chicken was out of the question.

Marthe kept me busy for hours, sorting dried herbs and spices into tiny piles and teaching me their names. By midafternoon I could identify them by smell with my eyes closed as well as by appearance.

“Parsley. Ginger. Feverfew. Rosemary. Sage. Queen Anne’s lace seeds. Mugwort. Pennyroyal. Angelica. Rue. Tansy. Juniper root.” I pointed to each in turn.

“Again,” Marthe said serenely, handing me a bunch of muslin bags.

I picked the strings apart, laying them individually on the table just as she did, reciting the names back to her one more time.

“Good. Now fill the bags with a pinch of each.”

“Why don’t we just mix it all together and spoon it into the bags?” I asked, taking a bit of pennyroyal between my fingers and wrinkling my nose at its minty smell.

“We might miss something. Each bag must have every single herb—all twelve.”

“Would missing a tiny seed like this really make a difference to the taste?” I held a tiny Queen Anne’s lace seed between my index finger and thumb.

“One pinch of each,” Marthe repeated. “Again.”

The vampire’s experienced hands moved surely from pile to pile, neatly filling the bags and tightening their strings. After we finished, Marthe brewed me a cup of tea using a bag I’d filled myself.

“It’s delicious,” I said, happily sipping my very own herbal tea.

“You will take it back to Oxford with you. One cup a day. It will keep you healthy.” She started putting bags into a tin. “When you need more, you will know how to make it.”

“Marthe, you don’t have to give me all of it,” I protested.

“You will drink this for Marthe, one cup a day. Yes?”

“Of course.” It seemed the least I could do for my sole remaining ally in the house—not to mention the person who fed me.

After my tea I went upstairs to Matthew’s study and switched on my computer. All that riding had made my forearms ache, so I moved the computer and manuscript to his desk, hoping that it might be more comfortable to work there rather than at my table by the window. Unfortunately, the leather chair was made for someone Matthew’s height, not mine, and my feet swung freely.

Sitting in Matthew’s chair made him seem closer, however, so I remained there while waiting for my computer to boot up. My eyes fell on a dark object tucked into the tallest shelf. It blended into the wood and the books’ leather bindings, which hid it from casual view. From Matthew’s desk, however, you could see its outlines.

It wasn’t a book but an ancient block of wood, octagonal in shape. Tiny arched windows were carved into each side. The thing was black, cracked, and misshapen with age.

With a pang of sadness, I realized it was a child’s toy.

Matthew had made it for Lucas before Matthew became a vampire, while he was building the first church. He’d tucked it into the corner of a shelf where no one would notice it—except him. He couldn’t fail to see it, every time he sat at his desk.

With Matthew at my side, it was all too easy to think we were the only two in the world. Not even Domenico’s warnings or Ysabeau’s tests had shaken my sense that our growing closeness was a matter solely between him and me.

But this little wooden tower, made with love an unimaginably long time ago, brought my illusions to an end. There were children to consider, both living and dead. There were families involved, including my own, with long and complicated genealogies and deeply ingrained prejudices, including my own. And Sarah and Em still didn’t know that I was in love with a vampire. It was time to share that news.

Ysabeau was in the salon, arranging flowers in a tall vase on top of a priceless Louis XIV escritoire with impeccable provenance—and a single owner.

“Ysabeau?” My voice sounded hesitant. “Is there a phone I could use?”

“He will call you when he wants to talk to you.” She took great care placing a twig with turning leaves still attached to it among the white and gold flowers.

“I’m not calling Matthew, Ysabeau. I need to speak to my aunt.”

“The witch who called the other night?” she asked. “What is her name?”

“Sarah,” I said with a frown.

“And she lives with a woman—another witch, yes?” Ysabeau kept putting white roses into the vase.

“Yes. Emily. Is that a problem?”

“No,” Ysabeau said, eyeing me over the blooms. “They are both witches. That’s all that matters.”

“That and they love each other.”

“Sarah is a good name,” Ysabeau continued, as if I hadn’t spoken. “You know the legend, of course.”

I shook my head. Ysabeau’s changes in conversation were almost as dizzying as her son’s mood swings.

“The mother of Isaac was called Sarai—‘quarrelsome’—but when she became pregnant, God changed it to Sarah, which means ‘princess.’”

“In my aunt’s case, Sarai is much more appropriate.” I waited for Ysabeau to tell me where the phone was.

“Emily is also a good name, a strong, Roman name.” Ysabeau clipped a rose stem between her sharp fingernails.

“What does Emily mean, Ysabeau?” Happily I was running out of family members.

“It means ‘industrious.’ Of course, the most interesting name belonged to your mother. Rebecca means ‘captivated,’ or ‘bound,’” Ysabeau said, a frown of concentration on her face as she studied the vase from one side and then the other. “An interesting name for a witch.”

“And what does your name mean?” I said impatiently.

“I was not always Ysabeau, but it was the name Philippe liked for me. It means ‘God’s promise.’” Ysabeau hesitated, searching my face, and made a decision. “My full name is Geneviève Mélisande Hélène Ysabeau Aude de Clermont.”

“It’s beautiful.” My patience returned as I speculated about the history behind the names.

Ysabeau gave me a small smile. “Names are important.”

“Does Matthew have other names?” I took a white rose from the basket and handed it to her. She murmured her thanks.

“Of course. We give all of our children many names when they are reborn to us. But Matthew was the name he came to us with, and he wanted to keep it. Christianity was very new then, and Philippe thought it might be useful if our son were named after an evangelist.”

“What are his other names?”

“His full name is Matthew Gabriel Philippe Bertrand Sébastien de Clermont. He was also a very good Sébastien, and a passable Gabriel. He hates Bertrand and will not answer to Philippe.”

“What is it about Philippe that bothers him?”

“It was his father’s favorite name.” Ysabeau’s hands stilled for a moment. “You must know he is dead. The Nazis caught him fighting for the Resistance.”

In the vision I’d had of Ysabeau, she’d said Matthew’s father was captured by witches.

“Nazis, Ysabeau, or witches?” I asked quietly, fearing the worst.

“Did Matthew tell you?” Ysabeau looked shocked.

“No. I saw you in one of my visions yesterday. You were crying.”

“Witches and Nazis both killed Philippe,” she said after a long pause. “The pain is recent, and sharp, but it will fade in time. For years after he was gone I hunted only in Argentina and Germany. It kept me sane.”

“Ysabeau, I’m so sorry.” The words were inadequate, but they were heartfelt. Matthew’s mother must have heard my sincerity, and she gave me a hesitant smile.

“It is not your fault. You were not there.”

“What names would you give me if you had to choose?” I asked softly, handing another stem to Ysabeau.

“Matthew is right. You are only Diana,” she said, pronouncing it in the French style as she always did, with the emphasis on the first syllable. “There are no other names for you. It is who you are.” Ysabeau pointed her white finger at the door to the library. “The phone is inside.”

Seated at the desk in the library, I switched on the lamp and dialed New York, hoping that both Sarah and Em were home.

“Diana.” Sarah sounded relieved. “Em said it was you.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t call back last night. A lot happened.” I picked up a pencil and began to twirl it through my fingers.

“Would you like to talk about it?” Sarah asked. I almost dropped the phone. My aunt demanded we talk about things—she never requested.

“Is Em there? I’d rather tell the story once.”

Em picked up the extension, her voice warm and comforting. “Hi, Diana. Where are you?”

“With Matthew’s mother near Lyon.”

“Matthew’s mother?” Em was curious about genealogy. Not just her own, which was long and complicated, but everyone else’s, too.

“Ysabeau de Clermont.” I did my best to pronounce it as Ysabeau did, with its long vowels and swallowed consonants. “She’s something, Em. Sometimes I think she’s the reason humans are so afraid of vampires. Ysabeau’s straight out of a fairy tale.”

There was a pause. “Do you mean you’re with Mélisande de Clermont?” Em’s voice was intense. “I didn’t even think of the de Clermonts when you told me about Matthew. You’re sure her name is Ysabeau?”

I frowned. “Actually, her name is Geneviève. I think there’s a Mélisande in there, too. She just prefers Ysabeau.”

“Be careful, Diana,” Em warned. “Mélisande de Clermont is notorious. She hates witches, and she ate her way through most of Berlin after World War II.”

“She has good reason to hate witches,” I said, rubbing my temples. “I’m surprised she let me into her house.” If the situation was reversed, and vampires were involved in my parents’ death, I wouldn’t be so forgiving.

“What about the water?” Sarah interjected. “I’m more worried about the vision Em had of a tempest.”

“Oh. I started raining last night after Matthew left.” The soggy memory made me shiver.

“Witchwater,” Sarah breathed, now understanding. “What brought it on?”

“I don’t know, Sarah. I felt . . . empty. When Matthew pulled out of the driveway, the tears I’d been fighting since Domenico showed up all just poured out of me.”

“Domenico who?” Emily flipped through her mental roster of legendary creatures again.

“Michele—a Venetian vampire.” My voice filled with anger. “And if he bothers me again, I’m going to rip his head off, vampire or not.”

“He’s dangerous!” Em cried. “That creature doesn’t play by the rules.”

“I’ve been told that many times over, and you can rest easy knowing I’m under guard twenty-four hours a day. Don’t worry.”

“We’ll worry until you’re no longer hanging around with vampires,” Sarah observed.

“You’ll be worrying for a good long time, then,” I said stubbornly. “I love Matthew, Sarah.”

“That’s impossible, Diana. Vampires and witches—” Sarah began.

“Domenico told me about the covenant,” I interjected. “I’m not asking anyone else to break it, and I understand that this might mean you can’t or won’t have anything to do with me. For me there’s no choice.”

“But the Congregation will do what they must to end this relationship,” Em said urgently.

“I’ve been told that, too. They’ll have to kill me to do it.” Until this moment I hadn’t said the words out loud, but I’d been thinking them since last night. “Matthew’s harder to get rid of, but I’m a pretty easy target.”

“You can’t just walk into danger that way.” Em was fighting back tears.

“Her mother did,” Sarah said quietly.

“What about my mother?” My voice broke at the mention of her, along with my composure.

“Rebecca walked straight into Stephen’s arms even though people said it was a bad idea for two witches with their talents to be together. And she refused to listen when people told her to stay out of Nigeria.”

“All the more reason that Diana should listen now,” Em said. “You’ve only known him for a few weeks. Come back home and see if you can forget about him.”

“Forget about him?” It was ridiculous. “This isn’t a crush. I’ve never felt this way about anyone.”

“Leave her alone, Em. We’ve had enough of that kind of talk in this family. I didn’t forget about you, and she’s not going to forget about him.” Sarah let out her breath with a sigh that carried all the way to the Auvergne. “This may not be the life I would have chosen for you, but we all have to decide for ourselves. Your mother did. I did—and your grandmother did not have an easy time with it, by the way. Now it’s your turn. But no Bishop ever turns her back on another Bishop.”

Tears stung my eyes. “Thank you, Sarah.”

“Besides,” Sarah continued, working herself into a state, “if the Congregation is made up of things like Domenico Michele, then they can all go to hell.”

“What does Matthew say about this?” Em asked. “I’m surprised he would leave you once you two had decided to break with a thousand years of tradition.”

“Matthew hasn’t told me how he feels yet.” I methodically unbent a paper clip.

There was dead silence on the line.

Finally Sarah spoke. “What is he waiting for?”

I laughed out loud. “You’ve done nothing but warn me to stay away from Matthew. Now you’re upset because he refuses to put me in greater danger than I’m already in?”

“You want to be with him. That should be enough.”

“This isn’t some kind of magical arranged marriage, Sarah. I get to make my decision. So does he.” The tiny clock with the porcelain face that was sitting on the desk indicated it had been twenty-four hours since he left.

“If you’re determined to stay there, with those creatures, then be careful,” Sarah warned as we said good-bye. “And if you need to come home, come home.”

After I hung up, the clock struck the half hour. It was already dark in Oxford.

To hell with waiting. I lifted the receiver again and dialed his number.

“Diana?” He was clearly anxious.

I laughed. “Did you know it was me, or was it caller ID?”

“You’re all right.” The anxiety was replaced with relief.

“Yes, your mother is keeping me vastly entertained.”

“I was afraid of that. What lies has she been telling you?”

The more trying parts of the day could wait. “Only the truth,” I said. “That her son is some diabolical combination of Lancelot and Superman.”

“That sounds like Ysabeau,” he said with a hint of laughter. “What a relief to know that she hasn’t been irreversibly changed by sleeping under the same roof as a witch.”

Distance no doubt helped me evade him with my half-truths. Distance couldn’t diminish my vivid picture of him sitting in his Morris chair at All Souls, however. The room would be glowing from the lamps, and his skin would look like polished pearl. I imagined him reading, the deep crease of concentration between his brows.

“What are you drinking?” It was the only detail my imagination couldn’t supply.

“Since when have you cared about wine?” He sounded genuinely surprised.

“Since I found out how much there was to know.” Since I found out that you cared about wine, you idiot.

“Something Spanish tonight—Vega Sicilia.”

“From when?”

“Do you mean which vintage?” Matthew teased. “It’s 1964.”

“A relative baby, then?” I teased back, relieved at the change in his mood.

“An infant,” he agreed. I didn’t need a sixth sense to know that he was smiling.

“How did everything go today?”

“Fine. We’ve increased our security, though nothing was missing. Someone tried to hack in to the computers, but Miriam assures me there’s no way anyone could break in to her system.”

“Are you coming back soon?” The words escaped before I could stop them, and the ensuing silence stretched longer than was comfortable. I told myself it was the connection.

“I don’t know,” he said coolly. “I’ll be back when I can.”

“Do you want to talk to your mother? I could find her for you.” His sudden aloofness hurt, and it was a struggle to keep my voice even.

“No, you can tell her the labs are fine. The house, too.”

We said good-bye. My chest was tight, and it was difficult to inhale. When I managed to stand and turn around, Matthew’s mother was waiting in the doorway.

“That was Matthew. Nothing at the lab or the house was damaged. I’m tired, Ysabeau, and not very hungry. I think I’ll go to bed.” It was nearly eight, a perfectly respectable time to turn in.

“Of course.” Ysabeau stepped out of my way with glittering eyes. “Sleep well, Diana.”

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