فصل 32

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فصل 32

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Chapter 32

My eyes remained firmly closed on the way to the airport. It would be a long time before I flew without thinking of Satu.

In Lyon everything was blindingly fast and efficient. Clearly Matthew had been arranging matters from Sept-Tours and had informed the authorities that the plane was being used for medical transport. Once he’d flashed his identification and airport personnel got a good look at my face, I was whisked into a wheelchair against my objections and pushed toward the plane while an immigration officer followed behind, stamping my passport. Baldwin strode in front, and people hastily got out of our way.

The de Clermont jet was outfitted like a luxury yacht, with chairs that folded down flat to make beds, areas of upholstered seating and tables, and a small galley where a uniformed attendant waited with a bottle of red wine and some chilled mineral water. Matthew got me settled in one of the recliners, arranging pillows like bolsters to take pressure off my back. He claimed the seat nearest me. Baldwin took charge of a table large enough to hold a board meeting, where he spread out papers, logged on to two different computers, and began talking incessantly on the phone.

After takeoff Matthew ordered me to sleep. When I resisted, he threatened to give me more morphine. We were still negotiating when his phone buzzed in his pocket.

“Marcus,” he said, glancing at the screen. Baldwin looked up from his table.

Matthew pushed the green button. “Hello, Marcus. I’m on a plane headed for New York with Baldwin and Diana.” He spoke quickly, giving Marcus no chance to reply. His son couldn’t have managed more than a few words before being disconnected.

No sooner had Matthew punched the phone’s red button than lines of text began to light up his screen. Text messaging must have been a godsend for vampires in need of privacy. Matthew responded, his fingers flying over the keys. The screen went dark, and he gave me a tight smile.

“Everything all right?” I asked mildly, knowing the full story would have to wait until we were away from Baldwin.

“Yes. He was just curious where we were.” This seemed doubtful, given the hour.

Drowsiness made it unnecessary for Matthew to make any further requests that I sleep. “Thank you for finding me,” I said, my eyes drifting closed.

His only response was to bow his head and rest it silently on my shoulder.

I didn’t wake until we landed at La Guardia, where we pulled in to the area reserved for private aircraft. Our arrival there and not at a busier, more crowded airport on the other side of town was yet another example of the magical efficiency and convenience of vampire travel. Matthew’s identification worked still more magic, and the officials sped us through. Once we’d cleared customs and immigration, Baldwin surveyed us, me in my wheelchair and his brother standing grimly behind.

“You both look like hell,” he commented.

“Ta gueule,” Matthew said with a false smile, his voice acid. Even with my limited French, I knew this wasn’t something you would say in front of your mother.

Baldwin smiled broadly. “That’s better, Matthew. I’m glad to see you have some fight left in you. You’re going to need it.” He glanced at his watch. It was as masculine as he was, the type made for divers and fighter pilots, with multiple dials and the ability to survive negative G-force pressure. “I have a meeting in a few hours, but I wanted to give you some advice first.”

“I’ve got this covered, Baldwin,” Matthew said in a dangerously silky voice.

“No, you don’t. Besides, I’m not talking to you.” Baldwin crouched down, folding his massive body so he could lock his uncanny, light brown eyes on mine. “Do you know what a gambit is, Diana?”

“Vaguely. It’s from chess.”

“That’s right,” he replied. “A gambit lulls your opponent into a sense of false safety. You make a deliberate sacrifice in order to gain a greater advantage.”

Matthew growled slightly.

“I understand the basic principles,” I said.

“What happened at La Pierre feels like a gambit to me,” Baldwin continued, his eyes never wavering. “The Congregation let you go for some reason of their own. Make your next move before they make theirs. Don’t wait your turn like a good girl, and don’t be duped into thinking your current freedom means you’re safe. Decide what to do to survive, and do it.”

“Thanks.” He might be Matthew’s brother, but Baldwin’s close physical presence was unnerving. I extended my gauze-wrapped right arm to him in farewell.

“Sister, that’s not how family bids each other adieu.” Baldwin’s voice was softly mocking. He gave me no time to react but gripped my shoulders and kissed me on the cheeks. As his face passed over mine, he deliberately breathed in my scent. It felt like a threat, and I wondered if he meant it as such. He released me and stood. “Matthew, à bientôt.”

“Wait.” Matthew followed his brother. Using his broad back to block my view, he handed Baldwin an envelope. The curved sliver of black wax on it was visible despite his efforts.

“You said you wouldn’t obey my orders. After La Pierre you might have reconsidered.”

Baldwin stared at the white rectangle. His face twisted sourly before falling into lines of resignation. Taking the envelope, he bowed his head and said, “Je suis à votre commande, seigneur.”

The words were formal, motivated by protocol rather than genuine feeling. He was a knight, and Matthew was his master. Baldwin had bowed—technically—to Matthew’s authority. But just because he had followed tradition, that did not mean he liked it. He raised the envelope to his forehead in a parody of a salute.

Matthew waited until Baldwin was out of sight before returning to me. He grasped the handles of the wheelchair. “Come, let’s get the car.”

Somewhere over the Atlantic, Matthew had made advance arrangements for our arrival. We picked up a Range Rover at the terminal curb from a man in uniform who dropped the keys into Matthew’s palm, stowed our bags in the trunk, and left without a word. Matthew reached into the backseat, plucked out a blue parka designed for arctic trekking rather than autumn in New York, and arranged it like a down-filled nest in the passenger seat.

Soon we were driving through early-morning city traffic and then out into the countryside. The navigation system had been programmed with the address of the house in Madison and informed us that we should arrive in a little more than four hours. I looked at the brightening sky and started worrying about how Sarah and Em would react to Matthew.

“We’ll be home just after breakfast. That will be interesting.” Sarah was not at her best before coffee—copious amounts of it—had entered her bloodstream. “We should call and let them know when to expect us.”

“They already know. I called them from Sept-Tours.”

Feeling thoroughly managed and slightly muzzy from morphine and fatigue, I settled back for the drive.

We passed hardscrabble farms and small houses with early-morning lights twinkling in kitchens and bedrooms. Upstate New York is at its best in October. Now the trees were on fire with red and gold foliage. After the leaves fell, Madison and the surrounding countryside would turn rusty gray and remain that way until the first snows blanketed the world in pristine white batting.

We turned down the rutted road leading to the Bishop house. Its late-eighteenth-century lines were boxy and generous, and it sat back from the road on a little knoll, surrounded by aged apple trees and lilac bushes. The white clapboard was in desperate need of repainting, and the old picket fence was falling down in places. Pale plumes rose in welcome from both chimneys, however, filling the air with the autumn scent of wood smoke.

Matthew pulled in to the driveway, which was pitted with ice-crusted potholes. The Range Rover rumbled its way over them, and he parked next to Sarah’s beat-up, once-purple car. A new crop of bumper stickers adorned the back. MY OTHER CAR IS A BROOM, a perennial favorite, was stuck next to I’M PAGAN AND I VOTE. Another proclaimed WICCAN ARMY: WE WILL NOT GO SILENTLY INTO THE NIGHT. I sighed.

Matthew turned off the car and looked at me. “I’m supposed to be the nervous one.”

“Aren’t you?”

“Not as nervous as you are.”

“Coming home always makes me behave like a teenager. All I want to do is hog the TV remote and eat ice cream.” Though trying to be bright and cheerful for his sake, I was not looking forward to this homecoming.

“I’m sure we can arrange for that,” he said with a frown. “Meanwhile stop pretending nothing has happened. You’re not fooling me, and you won’t fool your aunts either.”

He left me sitting in the car while he carried our luggage to the front door. We’d amassed a surprisingly large amount of it, including two computer bags, my disreputable Yale duffel, and an elegant leather valise that might have been mistaken for a Victorian original. There was also Matthew’s medical kit, his long gray coat, my bright new parka, and a case of wine. The last was a wise precaution on Matthew’s part. Sarah’s taste ran to harder stuff, and Em was a teetotaler.

Matthew returned and lifted me out of the car, my legs swinging. Safely on the steps, I gingerly put weight on my right ankle. We both faced the house’s red, eighteenth-century door. It was flanked by tiny windows that offered a view of the front hall. Every lamp in the house was lit to welcome us.

“I smell coffee,” he said, smiling down at me.

“They’re up, then.” The catch on the worn, familiar door latch released at my touch. “Unlocked as usual.” Before losing my nerve, I warily stepped inside. “Em? Sarah?”

A note in Sarah’s dark, decisive handwriting was taped to the staircase’s newel post.

“Out. Thought the house needed some time alone with you first. Move slowly. Matthew can stay in Em’s old room. Your room is ready.” There was a postscript, in Em’s rounder scrawl. “Both of you use your parents’ room.”

My eyes swept over the doors leading from the hall. They were all standing open, and there was no banging upstairs. Even the coffin doors into the keeping room were quiet, rather than swinging wildly on their hinges.

“That’s a good sign.”

“What? That they’re out of the house?” Matthew looked confused.

“No, the silence. The house has been known to misbehave with new people.”

“The house is haunted?” Matthew looked around with interest.

“We’re witches—of course the house is haunted. But it’s more than that. The house is . . . alive. It has its own ideas about visitors, and the more Bishops there are, the worse it acts up. That’s why Em and Sarah left.”

A phosphorescent smudge moved in and out of my peripheral vision. My long-dead grandmother, whom I’d never met, was sitting by the keeping room’s fireplace in an unfamiliar rocking chair. She looked as young and beautiful as in her wedding picture on the landing upstairs. When she smiled, my own lips curved in response.

“Grandma?” I said tentatively.

He’s a looker, isn’t he? she said with a wink, her voice rustling like waxed paper.

Another head popped around the doorframe. I’ll say, the other ghost agreed. Should be dead, though.

My grandmother nodded. Suppose so, Elizabeth, but he is what he is. We’ ll get used to him.

Matthew was staring in the direction of the keeping room. “Someone is there,” he said, full of wonder. “I can almost smell them and hear faint sounds. But I can’t see them.”

“Ghosts.” Reminded of the castle dungeons, I looked around for my mother and father.

Oh, they’re not here, my grandmother said sadly.

Disappointed, I turned my attention from my dead family to my undead husband. “Let’s go upstairs and put the bags away. That will give the house a chance to know you.”

Before we could move another inch, a charcoal ball of fur rocketed out of the back of the house with a blood-chilling yowl. It stopped abruptly one foot away from me and transformed into a hissing cat. She arched her back and screeched again.

“Nice to see you too, Tabitha.” Sarah’s cat detested me, and the feeling was mutual.

Tabitha lowered her spine into its proper alignment and stalked toward Matthew.

“Vampires are more comfortable with dogs, as a rule,” he commented as Tabitha wound around his ankles.

With unerring feline instincts, Tabitha latched onto Matthew’s discomfort and was now determined to change his mind about her species. She butted her head against his shin, purring loudly.

“I’ll be damned,” I said. For Tabitha this was an astonishing display of affection. “She really is the most perverse cat in the history of the world.”

Tabitha hissed at me and resumed her sybaritic attention to Matthew’s lower legs.

“Just ignore her,” I recommended, hobbling toward the stairs. Matthew swept up the bags and followed.

Gripping the banister, I made a slow ascent. Matthew took each step with me, his face alight with excitement and interest. He didn’t seem at all alarmed that the house was giving him the once-over.

My body was rigid with anticipation, however. Pictures had fallen onto unsuspecting guests, doors and windows flapped open and closed, and lights went on and off without warning. I let out a sigh of relief when we made it to the landing without incident.

“Not many of my friends visited the house,” I explained when he raised an eyebrow. “It was easier to see them at the mall in Syracuse.”

The upstairs rooms were arranged in a square around the central staircase. Em and Sarah’s room was in the front corner, overlooking the driveway. My mother and father’s room was at the back of the house, with a view of the fields and a section of the old apple orchard that gradually gave way to a deeper wood of oaks and maples. The door was open, a light on inside. I stepped hesitantly toward the welcoming, golden rectangle and over the threshold.

The room was warm and comfortable, its broad bed loaded with quilts and pillows. Nothing matched, except for the plain white curtains. The floor was constructed out of wide pine planks with gaps large enough to swallow a hairbrush. A bathroom opened up to the right, and a radiator was popping and hissing inside.

“Lily of the valley,” Matthew commented, his nostrils flaring at all the new scents.

“My mother’s favorite perfume.” An ancient bottle of Diorissimo with a faded black-and-white houndstooth ribbon wrapped around the neck still stood on the bureau.

Matthew dropped the bags onto the floor. “Is it going to bother you to be in here?” His eyes were worried. “You could have your old room, as Sarah suggested.”

“No chance,” I said firmly. “It’s in the attic, and the bathroom is down here. Besides, there’s no way we’ll both fit in a single bed.”

Matthew looked away. “I had thought we might—”

“We’re not sleeping in separate beds. I’m no less your wife among witches than among vampires,” I interrupted, drawing him toward me. The house settled on its foundations with a tiny sigh, as if bracing itself for a long conversation.

“No, but it might be easier—”

“For whom?” I interrupted again.

“For you,” he finished. “You’re in pain. You’d sleep more soundly in bed alone.”

There would be no sleep for me at all without him at my side. Not wanting to worry him by saying so, I rested my hands on his chest in an attempt to distract him from the matter of sleeping arrangements. “Kiss me.”

His mouth tightened into a no, but his eyes said yes. I pressed my body against his, and he responded with a kiss that was both sweet and gentle.

“I thought you were lost,” he murmured when we parted, resting his forehead against mine, “forever. Now I’m afraid you might shatter into a thousand pieces because of what Satu did. If something had happened to you, I’d have gone mad.”

My scent enveloped Matthew, and he relaxed a fraction. He relaxed further when his hands slid around my hips. They were relatively unscathed, and his touch was both comforting and electrifying. My need for him had only intensified since my ordeal with Satu.

“Can you feel it?” I took his hand in mine, pressing it against the center of my chest.

“Feel what?” Matthew’s face was puzzled.

Unsure what would make an impression on his preternatural senses, I concentrated on the chain that had unfurled when he’d first kissed me. When I touched it with an imaginary finger, it emitted a low, steady hum.

Matthew gasped, a look of wonder on his face. “I can hear something. What is it?” He bent to rest his ear against my chest.

“It’s you, inside me,” I said. “You ground me—an anchor at the end of a long, silvery chain. It’s why I’m so certain of you, I suppose.” My voice dropped. “Provided I could feel you—had this connection to you—there was nothing Satu could say or do that I couldn’t endure.”

“It’s like the sound your blood makes when you talk to Rakasa with your mind, or when you called the witchwind. Now that I know what to listen for, it’s audible.”

Ysabeau had mentioned she could hear my witch’s blood singing. I tried to make the chain’s music louder, its vibrations passing into the rest of my body.

Matthew lifted his head and gave me a glorious smile. “Amazing.”

The humming grew more intense, and I lost control of the energy pulsing through me. Overhead, a score of stars burst into life and shot through the room.

“Oops.” Dozens of ghostly eyes tingled against my back. The house shut the door firmly against the inquiring looks of my ancestors, who had assembled to see the fireworks display as if it were Independence Day.

“Did you do that?” Matthew stared intently at the closed door.

“No,” I explained earnestly. “The sparklers were mine. That was the house. It has a thing about privacy.”

“Thank God,” he murmured, pulling my hips firmly to his and kissing me again in a way that had the ghosts on the other side muttering.

The fireworks fizzled out in a stream of aquamarine light over the chest of drawers.

“I love you, Matthew Clairmont,” I said at the earliest opportunity.

“And I love you, Diana Bishop,” he replied formally. “But your aunt and Emily must be freezing. Show me the rest of the house so that they can come inside.”

Slowly we went through the other rooms on the second floor, most unused now and filled with assorted bric-a-brac from Em’s yard-sale addiction and all the junk Sarah couldn’t bear to throw away for fear she might need it one day.

Matthew helped me up the stairs to the attic bedroom where I’d endured my adolescence. It still had posters of musicians tacked to the walls and sported the strong shades of purple and green that were a teenager’s attempt at a sophisticated color scheme.

Downstairs, we explored the big formal rooms built to receive guests—the keeping room on one side of the front door and the office and small parlor opposite. We passed through the rarely used dining room and into the heart of the house—a family room large enough to serve as TV room and eating area, with the kitchen at the far end.

“It looks like Em’s taken up needlepoint—again,” I said, picking up a half-finished canvas with a basket of flowers on it. “And Sarah’s fallen off the wagon.”

“She’s a smoker?” Matthew gave the air a long sniff.

“When she’s stressed. Em makes her smoke outside—but you can still smell it. Does it bother you?” I asked, acutely aware of how sensitive he might be to the odor.

“Dieu, Diana, I’ve smelled worse,” he replied.

The cavernous kitchen retained its wall of brick ovens and a gigantic walk-in fireplace. There were modern appliances, too, and old stone floors that had endured two centuries of dropped pans, wet animals, muddy shoes, and other more witchy substances. I ushered him into Sarah’s adjacent workroom. Originally a freestanding summer kitchen, it was now connected to the house and still equipped with cranes for holding cauldrons of stew and spits for roasting meat. Herbs hung from the ceiling, and a storage loft held drying fruits and jars of her lotions and potions. The tour over, we returned to the kitchen

“This room is so brown.” I studied the decor while flicking the porch light on and off again, the Bishops’ long-standing signal that it was safe to enter. There was a brown refrigerator, brown wooden cabinets, warm red-brown brick, a brown rotary-dial phone, and tired brown-checked wallpaper. “What it needs is a fresh coat of white paint.”

Matthew’s chin lifted, and his eyes panned to the back door.

“February would be ideal for the job, if you’re offering to do the work,” a throaty voice said from the mudroom. Sarah rounded the corner, wearing jeans and an oversize plaid flannel shirt. Her red hair was wild and her cheeks bright with the cold.

“Hello, Sarah,” I said, backing up toward the sink.

“Hello, Diana.” Sarah stared fixedly at the bruise under my eye. “This is the vampire, I take it?”

“Yes.” I hobbled forward again to make the introductions. Sarah’s sharp gaze turned to my ankle. “Sarah, this is Matthew Clairmont. Matthew, my aunt, Sarah Bishop.”

Matthew extended his right hand. “Sarah,” he said, meeting her eyes without hesitation.

Sarah pursed her lips in response. Like me, she had the Bishop chin, which was slightly too long for the rest of her face. It was now jutting out even more.

“Matthew.” When their hands met, Sarah flinched. “Yep,” she said, turning her head slightly, “he’s definitely a vampire, Em.”

“Thanks for the help, Sarah,” Em grumbled, walking in with an armful of small logs and an impatient expression. She was taller than me or Sarah, and her shining silver cap of hair somehow made her look younger than the color would suggest. Her narrow face broke into a delighted smile when she saw us standing in the kitchen.

Matthew jumped to take the wood away from her. Tabitha, who had been absent during the first flurry of greeting, hampered his progress to the fireplace by tracing figure eights between his feet. Miraculously, the vampire made it to the other side of the room without stepping on her.

“Thank you, Matthew. And thank you for bringing her home as well. We’ve been so worried.” Em shook out her arms, bits of bark flying from the wool of her sweater.

“You’re welcome, Emily,” he said, his voice irresistibly warm and rich. Em already looked charmed. Sarah was going to be tougher, although she was studying Tabitha’s efforts to scale Matthew’s arm with amazement.

I tried to retreat into the shadows before Em got a clear look at my face, but I was too late. She gasped, horrified. “Oh, Diana.”

Sarah pulled out a stool. “Sit,” she ordered.

Matthew crossed his arms tightly, as if resisting the temptation to interfere. His wolfish need to protect me had not diminished just because we were in Madison, and his strong dislike of creatures getting too near me was not reserved for other vampires.

My aunt’s eyes traveled from my face down over my collarbones. “Let’s get the shirt off,” she said.

I reached for the buttons dutifully.

“Maybe you should examine Diana upstairs.” Em shot a worried look at Matthew.

“I don’t imagine he’ll get an eyeful of anything he hasn’t already seen. You aren’t hungry, are you?” Sarah said without a backward glance.

“No,” Matthew said drily, “I ate on the plane.”

My aunt’s eyes tingled across my neck. So did Em’s.

“Sarah! Em!” I was indignant.

“Just checking,” Sarah said mildly. The shirt was off now, and she took in the gauze wrapping on my forearm, my mummified torso, and the other cuts and bruises.

“Matthew’s already examined me. He’s a doctor, remember?”

Her fingers probed my collarbone. I winced. “He missed this, though. It’s a hairline fracture.” She moved up to the cheekbone. I winced again. “What’s wrong with her ankle?” As usual, I hadn’t been able to conceal anything from Sarah.

“A bad sprain accompanied by superficial first- and second-degree burns.” Matthew was staring at Sarah’s hands, ready to haul her off if she caused me too much discomfort.

“How do you get burns and a sprain in the same place?” Sarah was treating Matthew like a first-year medical student on grand rounds.

“You get them from being hung upside down by a sadistic witch,” I answered for him, squirming slightly as Sarah continued to examine my face.

“What’s under that?” Sarah demanded, as if I hadn’t spoken, pointing to my arm.

“An incision deep enough to require suturing,” Matthew replied patiently.

“What have you got her on?”

“Painkillers, a diuretic to minimize swelling, and a broad-spectrum antibiotic.” There was the barest trace of annoyance in his voice.

“Why is she wrapped up like a mummy?” Em asked, chewing on her lip.

The blood drained from my face. Sarah stopped what she was doing and gave me a probing look before she spoke.

“Let’s wait on that, Em. First things first. Who did this to you, Diana?”

“A witch named Satu J?rvinen. I think she’s Swedish.” My arms crossed protectively over my chest.

Matthew’s mouth tightened, and he left my side long enough to pile more logs on the fire.

“She’s not Swedish, she’s Finnish,” Sarah said, “and quite powerful. The next time I see her, though, she’ll wish she’d never been born.”

“There won’t be much left of her after I’m done,” Matthew murmured, “so if you want a shot at her, you’ll have to reach her before I do. And I’m known for my speed.”

Sarah gave him an appraising look. Her words were only a threat. Matthew’s were something else entirely. They were a promise. “Who treated Diana besides you?”

“My mother and her housekeeper, Marthe.”

“They know old herbal remedies. But I can do a bit more.” Sarah rolled up her sleeves.

“It’s a little early in the day for witchcraft. Have you had enough coffee?” I looked at Em imploringly, silently begging her to call Sarah off.

“Let Sarah fix it, honey,” Em said, taking my hand and giving it a squeeze. “The sooner she does, the sooner you’ll be fully healed.”

Sarah’s lips were already moving. Matthew edged closer, fascinated. She laid her fingertips on my face. The bone underneath tingled with electricity before the crack fused with a snap.

“Ow!” I held my cheek.

“It will only sting for a bit,” Sarah said. “You were strong enough to withstand the injury—you should have no problem with the cure.” She studied my cheek for a moment and nodded with satisfaction before turning to my collarbone. The electrical twinge required to mend it was more powerful, no doubt because the bones were thicker.

“Get her shoe off,” she instructed Matthew, headed for the stillroom. He was the most overqualified medical assistant ever known, but he obeyed her orders without a grumble.

When Sarah returned with a pot of one of her ointments, Matthew had my foot propped up on his thigh. “There are scissors in my bag upstairs,” he told my aunt, sniffing curiously as she unscrewed the pot’s lid. “Shall I go get them?”

“Don’t need them.” Sarah muttered a few words and gestured at my ankle. The gauze began to unwind itself.

“That’s handy,” Matthew said enviously.

“Show-off,” I said under my breath.

All eyes returned to my ankle when the gauze was finished rolling itself into a ball. It still looked nasty and was starting to ooze. Sarah calmly recited fresh spells, though the red spots on her cheeks hinted at her underlying fury. When she had finished, the black and white marks were gone, and though there was still an angry ring around my ankle, the joint itself was noticeably smaller in size.

“Thanks, Sarah.” I flexed my foot while she smeared fresh ointment over the skin.

“You won’t be doing any yoga for a week or so—and no running for three, Diana. It needs rest and time to fully recover.” She muttered some more and beckoned to a fresh roll of gauze, which started to wind around my foot and ankle.

“Amazing,” Matthew said again, shaking his head.

“Do you mind if I look at the arm?”

“Not at all.” He sounded almost eager. “The muscle was slightly damaged. Can you mend that, as well as the skin?”

“Probably,” Sarah said with just a hint of smugness. Fifteen minutes and a few muffled curses later, there was nothing but a thin red line running down my arm to indicate where Satu had sliced it open.

“Nice work,” Matthew said, turning my arm to admire Sarah’s skill.

“You, too. That was fine stitching.” Sarah drank thirstily from a glass of water.

I reached for Matthew’s shirt.

“You should see to her back as well.”

“It can wait.” I shot him an evil look. “Sarah’s tired, and so am I.”

Sarah’s eyes moved from me to the vampire. “Matthew?” she asked, relegating me to the bottom of the pecking order.

“I want you to treat her back,” he said without taking his eyes off me.

“No,” I whispered, clutching his shirt to my chest.

He crouched in front of me, hands on my knees. “You’ve seen what Sarah can do. Your recovery will be faster if you let her help you.”

Recovery? No witchcraft could help me recover from La Pierre.

“Please, mon coeur.” Matthew gently extricated his balled-up shirt from my hands.

Reluctantly I agreed. There was a tingle of witches’ glances when Em and Sarah moved around to study my back, and my instincts urged me to run. I reached blindly for Matthew instead, and he clasped both my hands in his.

“I’m here,” he assured me while Sarah muttered her first spell. The gauze wrappings parted along my spine, her words slicing through them with ease.

Em’s sharp intake of breath and Sarah’s silence told me when the marks were visible.

“This is an opening spell,” Sarah said angrily, staring at my back. “You don’t use this on living beings. She could have killed you.”

“She was trying to get my magic out—like I was a pi?ata.” With my back exposed, my emotions were swinging wildly again, and I nearly giggled at the thought of hanging from a tree while a blindfolded Satu swatted me with a stick. Matthew noticed my mounting hysteria.

“The quicker you can do this, the better, Sarah. Not to rush you, of course,” he said hastily. I could easily imagine the look he’d received. “We can talk about Satu later.”

Every bit of witchcraft Sarah used reminded me of Satu, and having two witches stand behind me made it impossible to keep my thoughts from returning to La Pierre. I burrowed more deeply inside myself for protection and let my mind go numb. Sarah worked more magic. But I could take no more and set my soul adrift.

“Are you almost done?” Matthew said, his voice taut with concern.

“There are two marks I can’t do much with. They’ll leave scars. Here,” Sarah said, tracing the lines of a star between my shoulder blades, “and here.” Her fingers moved down to my lower back, moving from rib to rib and scooping down to my waist in between.

My mind was no longer blank but seared with a picture to match Sarah’s gestures.

A star hanging above a crescent moon.

“They suspect, Matthew!” I cried, frozen to the stool with terror. Matthew’s drawerful of seals swam through my memories. They had been hidden so completely, I knew instinctively that the order of knights must be just as deeply concealed. But Satu knew about them, which meant the other witches of the Congregation probably did, too.

“My darling, what is it?” Matthew pulled me into his arms.

I pushed against his chest, trying to make him listen. “When I refused to give you up, Satu marked me—with your seal.”

He turned me inside his arms, protecting as much of my exposed flesh as he could. When he’d seen what was inscribed there, Matthew went still. “They no longer suspect. At last, they know.”

“What are you talking about?” demanded Sarah.

“May I have Diana’s shirt, please?”

“I don’t think the scars will be too bad,” my aunt said somewhat defensively.

“The shirt.” Matthew’s voice was icy.

Em tossed it to him. Matthew pulled the sleeves gently over my arms, drawing the edges together in front. He was hiding his eyes, but the vein in his forehead was pulsing.

“I’m so sorry,” I murmured.

“You have nothing to be sorry for.” He took my face in his hands. “Any vampire would know you were mine—with or without this brand on your back. Satu wanted to make sure that every other creature knew who you belonged to, as well. When I was reborn, they used to shear the hair from the heads of women who gave their bodies to the enemy. It was a crude way of exposing traitors. This is no different.” He looked away. “Did Ysabeau tell you?”

“No. I was looking for paper and found the drawer.”

“What the hell is going on?” Sarah snapped.

“I invaded your privacy. I shouldn’t have,” I whispered, clutching at his arms.

He drew away and stared at me incredulously, then crushed me to his chest without any concern for my injuries. Mercifully, Sarah’s witchcraft meant that there was very little pain. “Christ, Diana. Satu told you what I did. I followed you home and broke in to your rooms. Besides, how can I blame you for finding out on your own what I should have told you myself?”

A thunderclap echoed through the kitchen, setting the pots and pans clanging.

When the sound had faded into silence, Sarah spoke. “If someone doesn’t tell us what is going on immediately, all hell is going to break loose.” A spell rose to her lips.

My fingertips tingled, and winds circled my feet. “Back off, Sarah.” The wind roared through my veins, and I stepped between Sarah and Matthew. My aunt kept muttering, and my eyes narrowed.

Em put her hand on Sarah’s arm in alarm. “Don’t push her. She’s not in control.”

I could see a bow in my left hand, an arrow in my right. They felt heavy, yet strangely familiar. A few steps away, Sarah was in my sights. Without hesitation, my arms rose and drew apart in preparation to shoot.

My aunt stopped muttering in midspell. “Holy shit,” she breathed, looking at Em in amazement.

“Honey, put the fire down.” Em made a gesture of surrender.

Confused, I reexamined my hands. There was no fire in them.

“Not inside. If you want to unleash witchfire, we’ll go outside,” said Em.

“Calm down, Diana.” Matthew pinned my elbows to my sides, and the heaviness associated with the bow and arrow dissolved.

“I don’t like it when she threatens you.” My voice sounded echoing and strange.

“Sarah wasn’t threatening me. She just wanted to know what we were talking about. We need to tell her.”

“But it’s a secret,” I said, confused. We had to keep our secrets—from everyone—whether they involved my abilities or Matthew’s knights.

“No more secrets,” he said firmly, his breath against my neck. “They’re not good for either of us.” When the winds died down, he spun me tightly against him.

“Is she always like that? Wild and out of control?” Sarah asked.

“Your niece did brilliantly,” Matthew retorted, continuing to hold me.

Sarah and Matthew faced off across the kitchen floor.

“I suppose,” she admitted with poor grace when their silent battle had concluded, “though you might have told us you could control witchfire, Diana. It’s not exactly a run-of-the-mill ability.”

“I can’t control anything.” Suddenly I was exhausted and didn’t want to be standing up anymore. My legs agreed and began to buckle.

“Upstairs,” he said, his tone brooking no argument. “We’ll finish this conversation there.”

In my parents’ room, after giving me another dose of painkillers and antibiotics, Matthew tucked me into bed. Then he told my aunts more about Satu’s mark. Tabitha condescended to sit on my feet as he did so in order to be closer to the sound of Matthew’s voice.

“The mark Satu left on Diana’s back belongs to an . . . organization that my family started many years ago. Most people have long forgotten it, and those who haven’t think it doesn’t exist anymore. We like to preserve that illusion. With the star and moon on her back, Satu marked your niece as my property and made it known that the witches had discovered my family’s secret.”

“Does this secret organization have a name?” Sarah asked.

“You don’t have to tell them everything, Matthew.” I reached for his hand. There was danger associated with disclosing too much about the Knights of Lazarus. I could feel it, seeping around me like a dark cloud, and I didn’t want it to enfold Sarah and Em, too.

“The Knights of Lazarus of Bethany.” He said it quickly, as if afraid he’d lose his resolve. “It’s an old chivalric order.”

Sarah snorted. “Never heard of them. Are they like the Knights of Columbus ? They’ve got a chapter in Oneida.”

“Not really.” Matthew’s mouth twitched. “The Knights of Lazarus date back to the Crusades.”

“Didn’t we watch a television program about the Crusades that had an order of knights in it?” Em asked Sarah.

“The Templars. But all those conspiracy theories are nonsense. There’s no such thing as Templars now,” Sarah said decidedly.

“There aren’t supposed to be witches and vampires either, Sarah,” I pointed out.

Matthew reached for my wrist, his fingers cool against my pulse.

“This conversation is over for the present,” he said firmly. “There’s plenty of time to talk about whether the Knights of Lazarus exist or not.”

Matthew ushered out a reluctant Em and Sarah. Once my aunts were in the hall, the house took matters into its own hands and shut the door. The lock scraped in the frame.

“I don’t have a key for that room,” Sarah called to Matthew.

Unconcerned, Matthew climbed onto the bed, pulling me into the crook of his arm so that my head rested on his heart. Every time I tried to speak, he shushed me into silence.

“Later,” he kept repeating.

His heart pulsed once and then, several minutes later, pulsed again.

Before it could pulse a third time, I was sound asleep.

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