فصل 27

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فصل 27

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Chapter 27

It occurred to me the next morning that my days with Matthew, thus far, had fallen into one of two categories. Either he steered the day along, keeping me safe and making sure nothing upset his careful arrangements, or the day unfolded without rhyme or reason. Not long ago what happened in my day had been determined by carefully drawn-up lists and schedules.

Today I was going to take charge. Today Matthew was going to let me into his life as a vampire.

Unfortunately my decision was bound to ruin what promised to be a wonderful day.

It started at dawn with Matthew’s physical proximity, which sent the same shock of desire through me that I’d felt yesterday in the courtyard. It was more effective than any alarm clock. His response was gratifyingly immediate as well, and he kissed me with enthusiasm.

“I thought you’d never wake up,” he grumbled between kisses. “I feared I would have to send to the village for the town band, and the only trumpeter who knew how to sound reveille died last year.”

Lying at his side, I noticed he was not wearing the ampulla from Bethany.

“Where did your pilgrim’s badge go?” It was the perfect opportunity for him to tell me about the Knights of Lazarus, but he didn’t take it.

“I don’t need it anymore,” he’d said, distracting me by winding a lock of my hair around his finger and then pulling it to the side so he could kiss the sensitive flesh behind my ear. “Tell me,” I’d insisted, squirming away slightly.

“Later,” he said, lips drifting down to the place where neck met shoulder.

My body foiled any further attempts at rational conversation. We both behaved instinctually, touching through the barriers of thin clothing and noting the small changes—a shiver, an eruption of gooseflesh, a soft moan—that promised greater pleasure to come. When I became insistent, reaching to seize bare flesh, Matthew stopped me.

“No rushing. We have time.”

“Vampires,” was all I managed to say before he stopped my words with his mouth.

We were still behind the bed curtains when Marthe entered the room. She left the breakfast tray on the table with an officious clatter and threw two logs on the fire with the enthusiasm of a Scot tossing the caber. Matthew peered out, proclaimed it a perfect morning, and declared that I was ravenous.

Marthe erupted into a string of Occitan and departed, humming a song under her breath. He refused to translate on the grounds that the lyrics were too bawdy for my delicate ears.

This morning, instead of quietly watching me eat, Matthew complained that he was bored. He did it with a wicked gleam in his eyes, his fingers restless on his thighs.

“We’ll go riding after breakfast,” I promised, forking some eggs into my mouth and taking a scalding sip of tea. “My work can wait until later.”

“Riding won’t fix it,” Matthew purred.

Kissing worked to drive away his ennui. My lips felt bruised, and I had a much finer understanding of the interconnectedness of my own nervous system when Matthew finally conceded it was time to go riding.

He went downstairs to change while I showered. Marthe came upstairs to retrieve the tray, and I told her my plans while braiding my hair into a thick rope. Her eyes widened at the important part, but she agreed to send a small pack of sandwiches and a bottle of water out to Georges for Rakasa’s saddlebag.

After that, there was nothing left but to inform Matthew.

He was humming and sitting at his desk, clattering on his computer and occasionally reaching over to thumb through messages on his phone. He looked up and grinned.

“There you are,” he said. “I thought I was going to have to fish you out of the water.”

Desire shot through me, and my knees went weak. The feelings were exacerbated by the knowledge that what I was about to say would wipe the smile clean off his face.

Please let this be right, I whispered to myself, resting my hands on his shoulders. Matthew tilted his head back against my chest and smiled up at me.

“Kiss me,” he commanded.

I complied without a second thought, amazed at the comfort between us. This was so different from books and movies, where love was made into something tense and difficult. Loving Matthew was much more like coming into port than heading out into a storm.

“How do you manage it?” I asked him, holding his face in my hands. “I feel like I’ve known you forever.”

Matthew smiled happily and returned his attention to his computer, shutting down his various programs. While he did, I drank in his spicy scent and smoothed his hair along the curve of his skull.

“That feels wonderful,” he said, leaning back into my hand.

It was time to ruin his day. Crouching down, I rested my chin on his shoulder.

“Take me hunting.”

Every muscle in his body stiffened.

“That’s not funny, Diana,” he said icily.

“I’m not trying to be.” My chin and hands remained where they were. He tried to shrug me off, but I wouldn’t let him. Though I didn’t have the courage to face him, he wasn’t going to escape. “You need to do this, Matthew. You need to know that you can trust me.”

He stood up explosively, leaving me no choice but to step back and let him go. Matthew strode away, and one hand strayed to the spot where his Bethany ampulla used to rest. Not a good sign.

“Vampires don’t take warmbloods hunting, Diana.”

This was not a good sign either. He was lying to me.

“Yes they do,” I said softly. “You hunt with Hamish.”

“That’s different. I’ve known him for years, and I don’t share a bed with him.” Matthew’s voice was rough, and he was staring fixedly at his bookshelves.

I started toward him, slowly. “If Hamish can hunt with you, so can I.”

“No.” The muscles in his shoulders stood out in sharp relief, their outlines visible under his sweater.

“Ysabeau took me with her.”

The silence in the room was absolute. Matthew drew in a single, ragged breath, and the muscles in his shoulder twitched. I took another step.

“Don’t,” he said harshly. “I don’t want you near me when I’m angry.”

Reminding myself that he wasn’t in charge today, I took my next steps at a much faster pace and stood directly behind him. That way he couldn’t avoid my scent or the sound of my heartbeat, which was measured and steady.

“I didn’t mean to make you angry.”

“I’m not angry with you.” He sounded bitter. “My mother, however, has a lot to answer for. She’s done a great deal to try my patience over the centuries, but taking you hunting is unforgivable.”

“Ysabeau asked me if I needed to come back to the château.”

“You shouldn’t have been given the choice,” he barked, whirling around to face me. “Vampires aren’t in control when they’re hunting—not entirely. My mother certainly isn’t to be trusted when she smells blood. For her it’s all about the kill and the feeding. If the wind had caught your scent, she would have fed on you, too, without a second thought.”

Matthew had reacted more negatively than I’d expected. With one of my feet firmly in the fire, however, the other one might as well go in, too.

“Your mother was only protecting you. She was concerned that I didn’t understand the stakes. You would have done the same for Lucas.” Once again the silence was deep and long.

“She had no right to tell you about Lucas. He belonged to me, not to her.” Matthew’s voice was soft, but filled with more venom than I’d ever heard in it. His eyes flickered to the shelf that held the tower.

“To you and to Blanca,” I said, my voice equally soft.

“The life stories of a vampire are theirs to tell—and theirs alone. We may be outlaws, you and I, but my mother has broken a few rules herself in the past few days.” He reached again for the missing Bethany ampulla.

I crossed the small distance that separated us, moving quietly and surely, as if he were a nervous animal, so as to keep him from lashing out in a way he would regret later. When I was standing no more than an inch from him, I took hold of his arms.

“Ysabeau told me other things as well. We talked about your father. She told me all of your names, and which ones you don’t like, and her names as well. I don’t really understand their significance, but it’s not something she tells everyone. And she told me how she made you. The song she sang to make my witchwater go away was the same song she sang to you when you were first a vampire.” When you couldn’t stop feeding.

Matthew met my eyes with difficulty. They were full of pain and a vulnerability that he’d carefully hidden before now. It broke my heart.

“I can’t risk it, Diana,” he said. “I want you—more than anyone I’ve ever known. I want you physically, I want you emotionally. If my concentration shifts for an instant while we’re out hunting, the deer’s scent could get confused with yours, and my instinct to hunt an animal could cross with my desire to have you.”

“You already have me,” I said, holding on to him with my hands, my eyes, my mind, my heart. “There’s no need to hunt me. I’m yours.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” he said. “I’ll never possess you completely. I’ll always want more than you can give.”

“You didn’t in my bed this morning.” My cheeks reddened at the memory of his latest rebuff. “I was more than willing to give myself to you, and you said no.”

“I didn’t say no—I said later.”

“Is that how you hunt, too? Seduction, delay, then surrender?”

He shuddered. It was all the answer I required.

“Show me,” I insisted.


“Show me!”

He growled, but I stood my ground. The sound was a warning, not a threat.

“I know you’re frightened. So am I.” Regret flickered in his eyes, and I made a sound of impatience. “For the last time, I am not frightened of you. It’s my own power that scares me. You didn’t see the witchwater, Matthew. When the water moved within me, I could have destroyed everyone and everything and not felt a drop of remorse. You’re not the only dangerous creature in this room. But we have to learn how to be with each other in spite of who we are.”

He gave a bitter laugh. “Maybe that’s why there are rules against vampires and witches being together. Maybe it’s too difficult to cross these lines after all.”

“You don’t believe that,” I said fiercely, taking his hand in mine and holding it to my face. The shock of cold against warm sent a delicious feeling through my bones, and my heart gave its usual thump of acknowledgment. “What we feel for each other is not—cannot—be wrong.”

“Diana,” he began, shaking his head and drawing his fingers away.

Gripping him more tightly, I turned the palm over. His lifeline was long and smooth, and after tracing it I brought my fingers to rest on his veins. They looked black under the white skin, and Matthew shivered at my touch. There was still pain in his eyes, but he was not as furious.

“This is not wrong. You know it. Now you have to know that you can trust me, too.” I laced my fingers through his and gave him time to think. But I didn’t let go.

“I’ll take you hunting,” Matthew said at last, “provided you don’t come near me and don’t get down from Rakasa’s back. If you get so much as a hint that I’m looking at you—that I’m even thinking about you—turn around and ride straight home to Marthe.”

The decision made, Matthew stalked downstairs, waiting patiently each time he realized I was lagging behind. As he breezed past the door of the salon, Ysabeau rose from her seat.

“Come on,” he said tightly, gripping my elbow and steering me downstairs.

Ysabeau was only a few feet behind us by the time we reached the kitchens, where Marthe stood in the doorway to the cold-foods larder, eyeing Matthew and me as if watching the latest drama on afternoon television. Neither needed to be told that something was wrong.

“I don’t know when we’ll be back,” Matthew shot over his shoulder. His fingers didn’t loosen, and he gave me no opportunity to do more than turn toward her with an apologetic face and mouth the word “Sorry.”

“Elle a plus de courage que j’ai pensé,” Ysabeau murmured to Marthe.

Matthew stopped abruptly, his lip curled in an unpleasant snarl.

“Yes, Mother. Diana has more courage than we deserve, you and I. And if you ever test that again, it will be the last time you see either of us. Understood?”

“Of course, Matthew,” Ysabeau murmured. It was her favorite noncommittal response.

Matthew didn’t speak to me on the way to the stables. Half a dozen times, he looked as though he were going to turn around and march us back to the château. At the stable door, he gripped my shoulders, searching my face and body for signs of fear. My chin went up in the air.

“Shall we?” I motioned toward the paddock.

He made a sound of exasperation and shouted for Georges. Balthasar bellowed in response and caught the apple that I tossed in his direction. Mercifully, I didn’t need any help getting my boots on, though it did take me longer than it took Matthew. He watched carefully as I did up the vest’s fastenings and snapped the chin strap on the helmet.

“Take this,” he said, handing me a cropped whip.

“I don’t need it.”

“You’ll take the crop, Diana.”

I took it, resolved to ditch it in the brush at the first opportunity.

“And if you toss it aside when we enter the forest, we’re coming home.”

Did he really think I would use the crop on him? I shoved it into my boot, the handle sticking out by my knee, and stomped out into the paddock.

The horses skittered nervously when we came into view. Like Ysabeau, both knew that something was wrong. Rakasa took the apple I owed her, and I ran my fingers over her flesh and spoke to her softly in an effort to soothe her. Matthew didn’t bother with Dahr. He was all business, checking the horse’s tack with lightning speed. When I’d finished, Matthew tossed me onto Rakasa’s back. His hands were firm around my waist, but he didn’t hold on a moment longer than necessary. He didn’t want any more of my scent on him.

In the forest Matthew made sure the crop was still in my boot.

“Your right stirrup needs shortening,” he pointed out after we had the horses trotting. He wanted my tack in racing trim in case I needed to make a run for it. I pulled Rakasa in with a scowl and adjusted the stirrup leathers.

The now-familiar field opened up in front of me, and Matthew sniffed the air. He grabbed Rakasa’s reins and brought me to a halt. He was still black with anger.

“There’s a rabbit over there.” Matthew nodded to the western section of the field.

“I’ve done rabbit,” I said calmly. “And marmot, and goat, and a doe.”

Matthew swore. It was concise and comprehensive, and I hoped we were out of the range of Ysabeau’s keen ears.

“The phrase is ‘cut to the chase,’ is it not?”

“I don’t hunt deer like my mother does, by frightening it to death and pouncing on it. I can kill a rabbit for you, or even a goat. But I’m not stalking a deer while you’re with me.” Matthew’s jaw was set in an obstinate line.

“Stop pretending and trust me.” I gestured at my saddlebag. “I’m prepared for the wait.”

He shook his head. “Not with you at my side.”

“Since I’ve met you,” I said quietly, “you’ve shown me all the pleasant parts of being a vampire. You taste things I can’t even imagine. You remember events and people that I can only read about in books. You smell when I change my mind or want to kiss you. You’ve woken me to a world of sensory possibilities I never dreamed existed.”

I paused for a moment, hoping I was making progress. I wasn’t.

“At the same time, you’ve seen me throw up, set fire to your rug, and come completely unglued when I received something unexpected in the mail. You missed the waterworks, but they weren’t pretty. In return I’m asking you to let me watch you feed yourself. It’s a basic thing, Matthew. If you can’t bear it, then we can make the Congregation happy and call it off.”

“Dieu. Will you never stop surprising me?” Matthew’s head lifted, and he stared into the distance. His attention was caught by a young stag on the crest of the hill. The stag was cropping the grass, and the wind was blowing toward us, so he hadn’t yet picked up our scent.

Thank you, I breathed silently. It was a gift from the gods for the stag to appear like that. Matthew’s eyes locked on his prey, and the anger left him to make room for a preternatural awareness of his environment. I fixed my eyes on the vampire, watching for slight changes that signaled what he was thinking or feeling, but there were precious few clues.

Don’t you dare move, I warned when Rakasa tensed in preparation for a fidget. She rooted her hooves into the earth and stood at attention.

Matthew smelled the wind change and took Rakasa’s reins. He slowly moved both horses to the right, keeping them within the path of the downward breezes. The stag raised his head and looked down the hill, then resumed his quiet clipping of the grass. Matthew’s eyes darted over the terrain, lingering momentarily on a rabbit and widening when a fox stuck his head out of a hole. A falcon swooped overhead, riding the breezes like a surfer rides the waves, and he took that in as well. I began to appreciate how he’d managed the creatures in the Bodleian. There was not a living thing in this field that he had not located, identified, and been prepared to kill after only a few minutes of observation. Matthew inched the horses toward the trees, camouflaging my presence by putting me in the midst of other animal scents and sounds.

While we moved, Matthew noted when the falcon was joined by another bird or when one rabbit disappeared down a hole and another popped up to take its place. We startled a spotted animal that looked like a cat, with a long striped tail. From the pitch of Matthew’s body, it was clear he wanted to chase it, and had he been alone he would have hunted it down before turning to the stag. With difficulty he drew his eyes away from the animal’s leaping form.

It took us almost an hour to make our way from the bottom of the field around the forest’s edge. When we were near the top, Matthew performed his face-forward dismount. He smacked Dahr on the rump, and the horse obediently turned and headed for home.

Matthew hadn’t let go of Rakasa’s reins during these maneuvers, and he didn’t release them now. He led her to the edge of the forest and drew in a deep breath, taking in every trace of scent. Without a sound he put us inside a small thicket of low-growing birch.

The vampire crouched, both knees bent in a position that would have been excruciating to a human after about four minutes. Matthew held it for nearly two hours. My feet fell asleep, and I woke them up by flexing my ankles in the stirrups.

Matthew had not exaggerated the difference between his way of hunting and his mother’s. For Ysabeau it was primarily about filling a biological need. She needed blood, the animals had it, and she took it from them as efficiently as possible without feeling remorse that her survival required the death of another creature. For her son, however, it was clearly more complicated. He, too, needed the physical nourishment that their blood provided. But Matthew felt a kinship with his prey that reminded me of the tone of respect I’d detected in his articles about the wolves. For Matthew, hunting was primarily about strategy, about pitting his feral intelligence against something that thought and sensed the world as he did.

Remembering our play in bed that morning, my eyes closed against a sudden jolt of desire. I wanted him as badly here in the forest when he was about to kill something as I had this morning, and I began to understand what worried Matthew about hunting with me. Survival and sexuality were linked in ways I’d never appreciated until now.

He exhaled softly and left my side without warning, his body prowling through the edges of the forest. When Matthew loped across the ridge, the stag raised his head, curious to see what this strange creature was.

It took the stag only a few seconds to assess Matthew as a threat, which was longer than it would have taken me. My hair was standing on end, and I felt the same pull of concern for the stag that I had for Ysabeau’s deer. The stag sprang into action, leaping down the hillside. But Matthew was faster, and he cut the animal off before it could get too close to where I was hiding. He chased it up the hill and back across the ridge. With every step, Matthew drew closer and the stag became more anxious.

I know that you’re afraid, I said silently, hoping the stag could hear me. He needs to do this. He doesn’t do this for sport, or to harm you. He does it to stay alive.

Rakasa’s head swung around, and she eyed me nervously. I reached down to reassure her and kept my hand on her neck.

Be still, I urged the stag. Stop running. Not even you are fast enough to outrun this creature. The stag slowed, stumbling over a hole in the ground. He was running straight for me, as if he could hear my voice and was following it to its source.

Matthew reached and grabbed the stag’s horns, twisting his head to one side. The stag fell on his back, his sides heaving with exertion. Matthew sank to his knees, holding its head securely, about twenty feet from the thicket. The stag tried to kick his way to his feet.

Let go, I said sadly. It’s time. This is the creature who will end your life.

The stag gave a final kick of frustration and fear and then quieted. Matthew stared deep into the eyes of his prey, as if waiting for permission to finish the job, then moved so swiftly that there was nothing more than a blur of black and white as he battened onto the stag’s neck.

As he fed, the stag’s life seeped away and a surge of energy entered Matthew. There was a clean tang of iron in the air, though no drops of blood fell. When the stag’s life force was gone, Matthew remained still, kneeling quietly next to the carcass with his head bowed.

I kicked Rakasa into a walk. Matthew’s back stiffened at my approach. He looked up, his eyes pale gray-green and bright with satisfaction. Taking the crop out of my boot, I threw it as far as I could in the opposite direction. It sailed into the underbrush and became hopelessly entangled in the gorse. Matthew watched with interest, but the danger that he might mistake me for a doe had clearly passed.

Deliberately I took off my helmet and dismounted with my back turned. Even now I trusted him, though he didn’t trust himself. Resting my hand lightly on his shoulder, I dropped to my knees and put the helmet down near the stag’s staring eyes.

“I like the way you hunt better than the way Ysabeau does it. So does the deer, I think.”

“How does my mother kill, that it is so different from me?” Matthew’s French accent was stronger, and his voice sounded even more fluid and hypnotic than usual. He smelled different, too.

“She hunts out of biological need,” I said simply. “You hunt because it makes you feel wholly alive. And you two reached an agreement.” I motioned at the stag. “He was at peace, I think, in the end.”

Matthew looked at me intently, snow turning to ice on my skin as he stared. “Were you talking to this stag as you talk to Balthasar and Rakasa?”

“I didn’t interfere, if that’s what you’re worried about,” I said hastily. “The kill was yours.” Maybe such things mattered to vampires.

Matthew shuddered. “I don’t keep score.” He dragged his eyes from the stag and rose to his feet in one of those smooth movements that marked him unmistakably as a vampire. A long, slender hand reached down. “Come. You’re cold kneeling on the ground.”

I placed my hand in his and stood, wondering who would get rid of the stag’s carcass. Some combination of Georges and Marthe would be involved. Rakasa was contentedly eating grass, unconcerned by the dead animal lying so close. Unaccountably, I was ravenous.

Rakasa, I called silently. She looked up and walked over.

“Do you mind if I eat?” I asked hesitantly, unsure what Matthew’s reaction would be.

His mouth twitched. “No. Given what you’ve seen today, the least I can do is watch you have a sandwich.”

“There’s no difference, Matthew.” I undid the buckle on Rakasa’s saddlebag and said a silent word of thanks. Marthe, bless her, had packed cheese sandwiches. The worst of my hunger checked, I brushed the crumbs from my hands.

Matthew was watching me like a hawk. “Do you mind?” he asked quietly.

“Mind what?” I’d already told him I didn’t mind about the deer.

“Blanca and Lucas. That I was married and had a child once, so long ago.”

I was jealous of Blanca, but Matthew wouldn’t understand how or why. I gathered my thoughts and emotions and tried to sort them into something that was both true and would make sense to him.

“I don’t mind one moment of love that you’ve shared with any creature, living or dead,” I said emphatically, “so long as you want to be with me right at this moment.”

“Just at this moment?” he asked, his eyebrow arching up into a question mark.

“This is the only moment that matters.” It all seemed so simple. “No one who has lived as long as you have comes without a past, Matthew. You weren’t a monk, and I don’t expect you to have no regrets about who you’ve lost along the way. How could you not have been loved before, when I love you so much?”

Matthew gathered me to his heart. I went eagerly, glad that the day’s hunting had not ended in disaster and that his anger was fading. It still smoldered—it was evident in a lingering tightness in his face and shoulders—but it no longer threatened to engulf us. He cupped my chin in his long fingers and tilted my face up to his.

“Would you mind very much if I kissed you?” Matthew glanced away for a moment when he asked.

“Of course not.” I stood on tiptoes so that my mouth was closer to his. Still, he hesitated, so I reached up and clasped my hands behind his neck. “Don’t be idiotic. Kiss me.”

He did, briefly but firmly. The final traces of blood were still on his lips, but it was neither frightening nor unpleasant. It was just Matthew.

“You know there won’t be any children between us,” he said while he held me close, our faces nearly touching. “Vampires can’t father children the traditional way. Do you mind that?”

“There’s more than one way to make a child.” Children were not something I’d thought about before. “Ysabeau made you, and you belong to her no less than Lucas belonged to you and Blanca. And there are a lot of children in the world who don’t have parents.” I remembered the moment when Sarah and Em told me mine were gone and never coming back. “We could take them in—a whole coven of them, if we wanted to.”

“I haven’t made a vampire for years,” he said. “I can still manage it, but I hope you don’t intend that we have a large family.”

“My family has doubled in the past three weeks, with you, Marthe, and Ysabeau added. I don’t know how much more family I can take.”

“You need to add one more to that number.”

My eyes widened. “There are more of you?”

“Oh, there are always more,” he said drily. “Vampire genealogies are much more complicated than witch genealogies, after all. We have blood relations on three sides, not just two. But this is a member of the family that you’ve already met.”

“Marcus?” I asked, thinking of the young American vampire and his high-tops.

Matthew nodded. “He’ll have to tell you his own story—I’m not as much of an iconoclast as my mother, despite falling in love with a witch. I made him, more than two hundred years ago. And I’m proud of him and what he’s done with his life.”

“But you didn’t want him to take my blood in the lab,” I said with a frown. “He’s your son. Why couldn’t you trust him with me?” Parents were supposed to trust their children.

“He was made with my blood, my darling,” Matthew said, looking patient and possessive at the same time. “If I find you so irresistible, why wouldn’t he? Remember, none of us is immune to the lure of blood. I might trust him more than I would a stranger, but I’ll never be completely at ease when any vampire is too close to you.”

“Not even Marthe?” I was aghast. I trusted Marthe completely.

“Not even Marthe,” he said firmly. “You really aren’t her type at all, though. She prefers her blood from far brawnier creatures.”

“You don’t have to worry about Marthe, or Ysabeau either.” I was equally firm.

“Be careful with my mother,” Matthew warned. “My father told me never to turn my back on her, and he was right. She’s always been fascinated by and envious of witches. Given the right circumstances and the right mood . . . ?” He shook his head.

“And then there’s what happened to Philippe.”

Matthew froze.

“I’m seeing things now, Matthew. I saw Ysabeau tell you about the witches who captured your father. She has no reason to trust me, but she let me in her house anyway. The real threat is the Congregation. And there would be no danger from them if you made me into a vampire.”

His face darkened. “My mother and I are going to have a long talk about appropriate topics of conversation.”

“You can’t keep the world of vampires—your world—away from me. I’m in it. I need to know how it works and what the rules are.” My temper flared, seething down my arms and toward my nails, where it erupted into arcs of blue fire.

Matthew’s eyes widened.

“You aren’t the only scary creature around, are you?” I waved my fiery hands between us until the vampire shook his head. “So stop being all heroic and let me share your life. I don’t want to be with Sir Lancelot. Be yourself—Matthew Clairmont. Complete with your sharp vampire teeth and your scary mother, your test tubes full of blood and your DNA, your infuriating bossiness and your maddening sense of smell.”

Once I had spit all that out, the blue sparks retreated from my fingertips. They waited, somewhere around my elbows, in case I needed them again.

“If I come closer,” Matthew said conversationally, as though asking for the time or the temperature, “will you turn blue again, or is that it for now?”

“I think I’m done for the time being.”

“You think?” His eyebrow arched again.

“I’m perfectly under control,” I said with more conviction, remembering with regret the hole in his rug in Oxford.

Matthew had his arms around me in a flash.

“Oof,” I complained as he crushed my elbows into my ribs.

“And you are going to give me gray hairs—long thought impossible among vampires, by the way—with your courage, your firecracker hands, and the impossible things you say.” To make sure he was safe from the last, Matthew kissed me quite thoroughly. When he was finished, I was unlikely to say much, surprising or otherwise. My ear rested against his sternum, listening patiently for his heart to thump. When it did, I gave him a satisfied squeeze, glad not to be the only one whose heart was full.

“You win, ma vaillante fille,” he said, cradling me against his body. “I will try—try—not to coddle you so much. And you must not underestimate how dangerous vampires can be.”

It was hard to put “danger” and “vampire” into the same thought while pressed so firmly against him. Rakasa gazed at us indulgently, the grass sprouting out of both sides of her mouth.

“Are you finished?” I angled back my head to look at him.

“If you’re asking if I need to hunt more, the answer is no.”

“Rakasa is going to explode. She’s been eating grass for quite some time. And she can’t carry both of us.” My hands took stock of Matthew’s hips and buttocks.

His breath caught in his throat, making a very different kind of purring sound from the one he made when he was angry.

“You ride, and I’ll walk alongside,” he suggested after another very thorough kiss.

“Let’s both walk.” After hours in the saddle, I was not eager to get back up on Rakasa.

It was twilight when Matthew led us back through the château gates. Sept-Tours was ablaze, every lamp illuminated in silent greeting.

“Home,” I said, my heart lifting at the sight.

Matthew looked at me, rather than the house, and smiled. “Home.”

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