- زمان مطالعه 36 دقیقه
- سطح خیلی سخت
دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
این فصل را میتوانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید
متن انگلیسی فصل
A combination of exhaustion, medication, and the familiarity of home kept me in bed for hours. I woke on my stomach, one knee bent and arm outstretched, searching vainly for Matthew.
Too groggy to sit up, I turned my head toward the door. A large key sat in the lock, and there were low voices on the other side. As the muzziness of sleep slowly gave way to awareness, the mumbling became clearer.
“It’s appalling,” Matthew snapped. “How could you let her go on this way?”
“We didn’t know about the extent of her power—not absolutely,” Sarah said, sounding equally furious. “She was bound to be different, given her parents. I never expected witchfire, though.”
“How did you recognize she was trying to call it, Emily?” Matthew softened his voice.
“A witch on Cape Cod summoned it when I was a child. She must have been seventy,” Em said. “I never forgot what she looked like or what it felt like to be near that kind of power.”
“Witchfire is lethal. No spell can ward it off, and no witchcraft can heal the burns. My mother taught me to recognize the signs for my own protection—the smell of sulfur, the way a witch’s arms moved,” said Sarah. “She told me that the goddess is present when witchfire is called. I thought I’d go to my grave without witnessing it, and I certainly never expected my niece to unleash it on me in my own kitchen. Witchfire—and witchwater, too?”
“I hoped the witchfire would be recessive,” Matthew confessed. “Tell me about Stephen Proctor.” Until recently, the authoritative tone he adopted in moments like this had seemed a vestige of his past life as a soldier. Now that I knew about the Knights of Lazarus, I understood it as part of his present, too.
Sarah was not accustomed to having anyone use that tone with her, however, and she bristled. “Stephen was private. He didn’t flaunt his power.”
“No wonder the witches went digging to discover it, then.”
My eyes closed tightly against the sight of my father’s body, opened up from throat to groin so that other witches could understand his magic. His fate had nearly been mine.
Matthew’s bulk shifted in the hall, and the house protested at the unusual weight. “He was an experienced wizard, but he was no match for them. Diana might have inherited his abilities—and Rebecca’s, too, God help her. But she doesn’t have their knowledge, and without it she’s helpless. She might as well have a target painted on her.”
I continued eavesdropping shamelessly.
“She’s not a transistor radio, Matthew,” Sarah said defensively. “Diana didn’t come to us with batteries and an instruction manual. We did the best we could. She became a different child after Rebecca and Stephen were killed, withdrawing so far that no one could reach her. What should we have done? Forced her to face what she was so determined to deny?”
“I don’t know.” Matthew’s exasperation was audible. “But you shouldn’t have left her like this. That witch held her captive for more than twelve hours.”
“We’ll teach her what she needs to know.”
“For her sake, it had better not take too long.”
“It will take her whole life,” Sarah snapped. “Magic isn’t macramé. It takes time.”
“We don’t have time,” Matthew hissed. The creaking of the floorboards told me Sarah had taken an instinctive step away from him. “The Congregation has been playing cat-and-mouse games, but the mark on Diana’s back indicates those days are over.”
“How dare you call what happened to my niece a game?” Sarah’s voice rose.
“Shh,” Em said. “You’ll wake her.”
“What might help us understand how Diana is spellbound, Emily?” Matthew was whispering now. “Can you remember anything about the days before Rebecca and Stephen left for Africa—small details, what they were worried about?”
The word echoed in my mind as I slowly drew myself upright. Spellbinding was reserved for extreme circumstances—life-threatening danger, madness, pure and uncontrollable evil. Merely to threaten it earned you the censure of other witches.
By the time I got to my feet, Matthew was at my side. He was frowning. “What do you need?”
“I want to talk to Em.” My fingers were snapping and turning blue. So were my toes, sticking out of the bandages that protected my ankle. The gauze on my foot snagged an old nail head poking up from the floor’s pine boards as I pushed past him.
Sarah and Em were waiting on the landing, trepidation on their faces.
“What’s wrong with me?” I demanded.
Emily crept into the crook of Sarah’s arm. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
“You said I’m spellbound. That my own mother did it.” I was some kind of monster. It was the only possible explanation.
Emily heard my thoughts as if I’d spoken them aloud. “You’re not a monster, honey. Rebecca did it because she was afraid for you.”
“She was afraid of me, you mean.” My blue fingers provided an excellent reason for someone to be terrified. I tried to hide them but didn’t want to singe Matthew’s shirt, and resting them on the old wooden stair rail risked setting the whole house on fire.
Watch the rug, girl! The tall female ghost from the keeping room was peeking around Sarah and Em’s door and pointing urgently at the floor. I lifted my toes slightly.
“No one is afraid of you.” Matthew stared with frosty intensity at my back, willing me to face him.
“They are.” I pointed a sparkling finger at my aunts, eyes resolutely in their direction.
So am I, confessed another dead Bishop, this one a teenage boy with slightly protruding teeth. He was carrying a berry basket and wore a pair of ripped britches.
My aunts took a step backward as I continued to glare at them.
“You have every right to be frustrated.” Matthew moved so that he was standing just behind me. The wind rose, and touches of snow from his glance glazed my thighs, too. “Now the witchwind has come because you feel trapped.” He crept closer, and the air around my lower legs increased slightly. “See?”
Yes, that roiling feeling might be frustration rather than anger. Distracted from the issue of spellbinding, I turned to ask him more about his theories. The color in my fingers was already fading, and the snapping sound was gone.
“You have to try to understand,” Em pleaded. “Rebecca and Stephen went to Africa to protect you. They spellbound you for the same reason. All they wanted was for you to be safe.”
The house moaned through its timbers and held its breath, its old wooden joists creaking.
Coldness spread through me from the inside out.
“Is it my fault they died? They went to Africa and someone killed them—because of me?” I looked at Matthew in horror.
Without waiting for an answer, I made my way blindly to the stairs, unconcerned with the pain in my ankle or anything else except fleeing.
“No, Sarah. Let her go,” Matthew said sharply.
The house opened all the doors before me and slammed them behind as I went through the front hall, the dining room, the family room, and into the kitchen. A pair of Sarah’s gardening boots slipped over my bare feet, their rubber surfaces cold and smooth. Once outside, I did what I’d always done when the family was too much for me and went into the woods.
My feet didn’t slow until I had made it through the scraggy apple trees and into the shadows cast by the ancient white oaks and sugar maples. Out of breath and shaking with shock and exhaustion, I found myself at the foot of an enormous tree almost as wide as it was tall. Low, sprawling branches nearly touched the ground, their red and purple deeply lobed leaves standing out against the ashy bark.
All through my childhood and adolescence, I’d poured out my heart-break and loneliness underneath its limbs. Generations of Bishops had found the same solace here and carved their initials into the tree. Mine were gouged with a penknife next to the “RB” my mother had left before me, and I traced their curves before curling up in a ball near the rough trunk and rocking myself like a child.
There was a cool touch on my hair before the blue parka settled over my shoulders. Matthew’s solid frame lowered to the ground, his back scraping against the tree’s bark.
“Did they tell you what’s wrong with me?” My voice was muffled against my legs.
“There’s nothing wrong with you, mon coeur.”
“You have a lot to learn about witches.” I rested my chin on my knees but still wouldn’t look at him. “Witches don’t spellbind someone without a damn good reason.”
Matthew was quiet. I slid a sidelong glance in his direction. His legs were just visible from the corner of my eye—one stretched forward and the other bent—as was a long, white hand. It was draped loosely over his knee.
“Your parents had a damn good reason. They were saving their daughter’s life.” His voice was quiet and even, but there were stronger emotions underneath. “It’s what I would have done.”
“Did you know I was spellbound, too?” It wasn’t possible for me to keep from sounding accusatory.
“Marthe and Ysabeau figured it out. They told me just before we left for La Pierre. Emily confirmed their suspicions. I hadn’t had a chance to tell you.”
“How could Em keep this from me?” I felt betrayed and alone, just as I had when Satu told me about what Matthew had done.
“You must forgive your parents and Emily. They were doing what they thought was best—for you.”
“You don’t understand, Matthew,” I said, shaking my head stubbornly. “My mother tied me up and went to Africa as if I were an evil, deranged creature who couldn’t be trusted.”
“Your parents were worried about the Congregation.”
“That’s nonsense.” My fingers tingled, and I pushed the feeling back toward my elbows, trying to control my temper. “Not everything is about the damn Congregation, Matthew.”
“No, but this is. You don’t have to be a witch to see it.”
My white table appeared before me without warning, events past and present scattered on its surface. The puzzle pieces began to arrange themselves: my mother chasing after me while I clapped my hands and flew over the linoleum floor of our kitchen in Cambridge, my father shouting at Peter Knox in his study at home, a bedtime story about a fairy godmother and magical ribbons, both my parents standing over my bed saying spells and working magic while I lay quietly on top of the quilt. The pieces clicked into place, and the pattern emerged.
“My mother’s bedtime stories,” I said, turning to him in amazement. “She couldn’t tell me her plans outright, so she turned it all into a story about evil witches and enchanted ribbons and a fairy godmother. Every night she told me, so that some part of me would remember.”
“And do you remember anything else?”
“Before they spellbound me, Peter Knox came to see my father.” I shuddered, hearing the doorbell ringing and seeing again the expression on my father’s face when he opened the door. “That creature was in my house. He touched my head.” Knox’s hand resting on the back of my skull had produced an uncanny sensation, I recalled.
“My father sent me to my room, and the two of them fought. My mother stayed in the kitchen. It was strange that she didn’t come to see what was going on. Then my father went out for a long time. My mother was frantic. She called Em that night.” The memories were coming thick and fast now.
“Emily told me Rebecca’s spell was cast so that it would hold until the ‘shadowed man’ came. Your mother thought I would be able to protect you from Knox and the Congregation.” His face darkened.
“Nobody could have protected me—except me. Satu was right. I’m a sorry excuse for a witch.” My head went back to my knees again. “I’m not like my mother at all.”
Matthew stood, extending one hand. “Get up,” he said abruptly.
I slid my hand into his, expecting him to comfort me with a hug. Instead he pushed my arms into the sleeves of the blue parka and stepped away.
“You are a witch. It’s time you learned how to take care of yourself.”
“Not now, Matthew.”
“I wish we could let you decide, but we can’t,” he said brusquely. “The Congregation wants your power—or the knowledge of it at the very least. They want Ashmole 782, and you’re the only creature in more than a century to see it.”
“They want you and the Knights of Lazarus, too.” I was desperate to make this about something besides me and my ill-understood magic.
“They could have brought down the brotherhood before. The Congregation has had plenty of chances.” Matthew was obviously sizing me up and gauging my few strengths and considerable weaknesses. It made me feel vulnerable. “But they don’t really care about that. They don’t want me to have you or the manuscript.”
“But I’m surrounded by protectors. You’re with me—Sarah and Em, too.”
“We can’t be with you every moment, Diana. Besides, do you want Sarah and Emily to risk their lives to save yours?” It was a blunt question, and his face twisted. He backed away from me, eyes narrowed to slits.
“You’re frightening me,” I said as his body lowered into a crouch. The final, lingering touches of morphine drifted through my blood, chased away by the first rush of adrenaline.
“No I’m not.” He shook his head slowly, looking every inch a wolf as his hair swayed around his face. “I’d smell it if you were truly frightened. You’re just off balance.”
A rumbling began in the back of Matthew’s throat that was a far cry from the sounds he made when he felt pleasure. I took a wary step away from him.
“That’s better,” he purred. “At least you have a taste of fear now.”
“Why are you doing this?” I whispered.
He was gone without a word.
I blinked. “Matthew?”
Two cold patches bored into the top of my skull.
Matthew was hanging like a bat between two tree limbs, his arms outstretched like wings. His feet were hooked around another branch. He watched me intently, little flickers of frost my only indication of the changes in his focus.
“I’m not a colleague you’re having an argument with. This isn’t an academic dispute—this is life or death.”
“Come down from there,” I said sharply. “You’ve made your point.”
I didn’t see him land at my side, but I felt his cold fingers at my neck and chin, twisting my head to the side and exposing my throat. “If I were Gerbert, you’d be dead already,” he hissed.
“Stop it, Matthew.” I struggled to break free but made no progress.
“No.” His grip tightened. “Satu tried to break you, and you want to disappear because of it. But you have to fight back.”
“I am.” I pushed against his arms to prove my point.
“Not like a human,” Matthew said contemptuously. “Fight back like a witch.”
He vanished again. This time he wasn’t in the tree, nor could I feel his cold eyes on me.
“I’m tired. I’m going back to the house.” After I’d taken only three steps in that direction, there was a whoosh. Matthew had slung me over his shoulder, and I was moving—fast—the opposite way.
“You aren’t going anywhere.”
“Sarah and Em will be out here if you keep this up.” One of them was bound to sense that something was wrong. And if they didn’t, Tabitha would surely kick up a fuss.
“No they won’t.” Matthew set me on my feet deeper in the woods. “They promised not to leave the house—not if you screamed, no matter what danger they sensed.”
I crept backward, wanting to put some distance between me and his huge black eyes. The muscles in his legs coiled to spring. When I turned to make a run for it, he was already in front of me. I turned in the opposite direction, but he was there. A breeze stirred around my feet.
“Good,” he said with satisfaction. Matthew’s body lowered into the same position he’d taken stalking the stag at Sept-Tours, and the menacing growl started up again.
The breeze moved around my feet in gusts, but it didn’t increase. The tingling descended from my elbows into my nails. Instead of pushing back my frustration, I let the feeling mount. Arcs of blue electricity moved between my fingers.
“Use your power,” he rasped. “You can’t fight me any other way.”
My hands waved in his direction. It didn’t seem very threatening, but it was all I could think of. Matthew proved just how worthless my efforts were by pouncing on me and spinning me around before vanishing into the trees.
“You’re dead—again.” His voice came from somewhere to my right.
“Whatever you’re trying to do isn’t working!” I shouted in his direction.
“I’m right behind you,” he purred into my ear.
My scream split the silence of the forest, and the winds rose around me in a cyclonic cocoon. “Stay away!” I roared.
Matthew reached for me with a determined look, his hands shooting through my windy barrier. I flung mine in his direction, instinct taking over, and a rush of air knocked him back on his heels. He looked surprised, and the predator appeared in the depths of his eyes. He came at me again in another attempt to break the wind’s hold. Though I concentrated on pushing him back, the air didn’t respond as I wanted it to.
“Stop trying to force it,” Matthew said. He was fearless and had made his way through the cyclone, his fingers digging into my upper arms. “Your mother spellbound you so that no one could force your magic—not even you.”
“Then how do I call it when needed and control it when it’s not?”
“Figure it out.” Matthew’s snowy gaze flickered over my neck and shoulders, instinctively locating my major veins and arteries.
“I can’t.” A wave of panic engulfed me. “I’m not a witch.”
“Stop saying that. It’s not true, and you know it.” He dropped me abruptly. “Close your eyes. Start walking.”
“I’ve watched you for weeks, Diana.” The way he was moving was completely feral, the smell of cloves so overpowering that my throat closed. “You need movement and sensory deprivation so that all you can do is feel.” He gave me a push, and I stumbled. When I turned back, he was gone.
My eyes circled the forest. The woods were eerily silent, the animals shielding themselves from the powerful predator in their midst.
Closing my eyes, I began to breathe deeply. A breeze ruffled past me, first in one direction, then in another. It was Matthew, taunting me. I focused on my breathing, trying to be as still as the rest of the creatures in the forest, then set out.
There was a tightness between my eyes. I breathed into it, too, remembering Amira’s yoga instruction and Marthe’s advice to let the visions pass through me. The tightness turned to tingling and the tingling to a sense of possibility as my mind’s eye—a witch’s third eye—opened fully for the first time.
It took in everything that was alive in the forest—the vegetation, the energy in the earth, the water moving underneath the ground—each vital force distinct in color and shade. My mind’s eye saw the rabbits crouched in the hollow of a tree, their hearts thundering in fear as they smelled the vampire. It detected the barn owls, their late-afternoon naps brought to a premature end by this creature who swung from tree limbs and jumped like a panther. The rabbits and owls knew they couldn’t escape him.
“King of the beasts,” I whispered.
Matthew’s low chuckle sounded through the trees.
No creature in the forest could fight Matthew and win. “Except me,” I breathed.
My mind’s eye swept over the forest. A vampire is not fully alive, and it was hard to find him amid the dazzling energy that surrounded me. Finally I located his shape, a concentration of darkness like a black hole, the edges glowing red where his preternatural life force met the vitality of the world. Instinctively turning my face in his direction alerted him to my scrutiny and he slid away, fading into the shadows between the trees.
With both eyes closed and my mind’s eye open, I started walking, hoping to lure him into following. Behind me his darkness detached from a maple tree in a gash of red and black amid the green. This time my face remained pointed in the opposite direction.
“I see you, Matthew,” I said softly.
“Do you, ma lionne? And what will you do about it?” He chuckled again but kept stalking me, the distance between us constant.
With each step my mind’s eye grew brighter, its vision more acute. There was a brushy shrub to my left, and I leaned to the right. Then there was a rock in front of me, its sharp gray edges protruding from the soil. I picked up my foot to keep from tripping.
The movement of air across my chest told me there was a small clearing. It wasn’t just the life of the forest that was speaking to me now. All around me the elements were sending messages to guide my way. Earth, air, fire, and water connected with me in tiny pinpricks of awareness that were distinct from the life in the forest.
Matthew’s energy focused in on itself and become darker and deeper. Then his darkness—his absence of life—arced through the air in a graceful pounce that any lion would have envied. He stretched his arms to grab me.
Fly, I thought, a second before his fingers touched my skin.
The wind rose from my body in a sudden whoosh of power. The earth released me with a gentle push upward. Just as Matthew had promised, it was easy to let my body follow where my thoughts had led. It took no more effort than following an imaginary ribbon up to the sky.
Far below, Matthew somersaulted in midair and landed lightly on his feet precisely where I’d stood a few moments before.
I soared above the treetops, my eyes wide. They felt full of the sea, as vast as the horizon, and bright with sunlight and stars. My hair floated on the currents of air, the ends of each strand turning into tongues of flame that licked my face without burning. The tendrils caressed my cheeks with warmth as the cold air swept past. A raven swooped by me in flight, amazed at this strange new creature sharing her airspace.
Matthew’s pale face was turned up to me, his eyes full of wonder. When our gazes connected, he smiled.
It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. There was a surge of desire, strong and visceral, and a rush of pride that he was mine.
My body dove toward him, and Matthew’s face turned in an instant from wonder to wariness. He snarled, unsure of me, his instincts warning that I might attack.
Pulling back on my nosedive, I descended more slowly until our eyes were level, my feet streaming behind in Sarah’s rubber boots. The wind whipped a lock of my flaming hair in his direction.
Don’t harm him. My every thought was focused on his safety. Air and fire obeyed me, and my third eye drank in his darkness.
“Stay away from me,” he growled, “just for a moment.” Matthew was struggling to master his predatory instincts. He wanted to hunt me now. The king of beasts didn’t like to be bested.
Paying no attention to his warning, I lowered my feet until they floated a few inches above the ground and held out my hand, palm upturned. My mind’s eye filled with the image of my own energy: a shifting mass of silver and gold, green and blue, shimmering like a morning star. I scooped some of it up, watching as it rolled from my heart through my shoulder and arm.
A pulsing, swirling ball of sky, sea, earth, and fire sat in my palm. The ancient philosophers would have called it a microcosm—a little world that contained fragments of me as well as the larger universe.
“For you,” I said, voice hollow. My fingers tipped toward him.
Matthew caught the ball as it fell. It moved like quicksilver, molding itself to his cold flesh. My energy came to a quivering rest in the scoop of his hand.
“What is it?” he asked, distracted from his urge to hunt by the gleaming substance.
“Me,” I said simply. Matthew fixed his attention on my face, his pupils engulfing the gray-green irises in a wave of black. “You won’t hurt me. I won’t hurt you either.”
The vampire cradled my microcosm carefully in his hand, afraid to spill a drop.
“I still don’t know how to fight,” I said sadly. “All I can do is fly away.”
“That’s the most important lesson a warrior learns, witch.” Matthew’s mouth turned what was usually a derogatory term among vampires into an endearment. “You learn how to pick your battles and let go of those you can’t win, to fight another day.”
“Are you afraid of me?” I asked, my body still hovering.
“No,” he said.
My third eye tingled. He was telling the truth. “Even though I have that inside me?” My glance flickered to the glowing, twitching mass in his hand.
Matthew’s face was guarded and careful. “I’ve seen powerful witches before. We still don’t know all that’s inside you, though. We have to find out.”
“I never wanted to know.”
“Why, Diana? Why wouldn’t you want these gifts?” He drew his hand tighter, as if my magic might be snatched away and destroyed before he understood its possibilities.
“Fear? Desire?” I said softly, touching his strong cheekbones with the tips of my fingers, shocked anew at the power of my love for him. Remembering what his daemon friend Bruno had written in the sixteenth century, I quoted it again. “‘Desire urges me on, as fear bridles me.’ Doesn’t that explain everything that happens in the world?”
“Everything but you,” he told me, his voice thick. “There’s no accounting for you.”
My feet touched the ground, and I pulled my fingers from his face, slowly unfurling them. My body seemed to know the smooth movement, though my mind was quick to register its strangeness. The piece of myself that I’d given to Matthew leaped from his hand into mine. My palm closed around it, the energy quickly reabsorbed. There was the tingle of a witch’s power, and I recognized it as my own. I hung my head, frightened by the creature I was becoming.
Matthew’s fingertip drew aside my curtain of hair. “Nothing will hide you from this magic—not science, not willpower, not concentration. It will always find you. And you can’t hide from me either.”
“That’s what my mother said in the oubliette. She knew about us.” Frightened by the memory of La Pierre, my mind’s eye closed protectively. I shivered, and Matthew drew me near. It was no warmer in his cold arms, but it felt far safer.
“Perhaps that made it easier for them, to know you wouldn’t be alone,” Matthew said softly. His lips were cool and firm, and my own parted to draw him closer. He buried his face in my neck, and I heard him take in my scent with a sharp inhalation. He pulled away with reluctance, smoothing my hair and tucking the parka more closely around me.
“Will you train me to fight, like one of your knights?”
Matthew’s hands stilled. “They knew how to defend themselves long before coming to me. But I’ve trained warriors in the past—humans, vampires, daemons. Even Marcus, and God knows he was a challenge. Never a witch, though.”
“Let’s go home.” My ankle was still throbbing, and I was ready to drop with fatigue. After a few halting steps, Matthew swung me onto his back like a child and walked through the twilight with my arms clasped around his neck. “Thank you again for finding me,” I whispered when the house came into view. He knew this time I wasn’t talking about La Pierre.
“I’d stopped looking long ago. But there you were in the Bodleian Library on Mabon. A historian. A witch, no less.” Matthew shook his head in disbelief.
“That’s what makes it magic,” I said, planting a soft kiss above his collar. He was still purring when he put me down on the back porch.
Matthew went to the woodshed to get more logs for the fire, leaving me to make peace with my aunts. Both of them looked uneasy.
“I understand why you kept it secret,” I explained, giving Em a hug that made her gasp with relief, “but Mom told me the time for secrets was over.”
“You’ve seen Rebecca?” Sarah said carefully, her face white.
“In La Pierre. When Satu tried to frighten me into cooperating with her.” I paused. “Daddy, too.”
“Was she . . . were they happy?” Sarah had to choke out the words. My grandmother was standing behind her, watching with concern.
“They were together,” I said simply, looking out the window to see if Matthew was headed back to the house.
“And they were with you,” Em said firmly, her eyes full. “That means they were more than happy.”
My aunt opened her mouth to say something, thought better of it, and closed it again.
“What, Sarah?” I said, putting a hand on her arm.
“Did Rebecca speak to you?” Her voice was hushed.
“She told me stories. The same stories she told me when I was a little girl—about witches and princes and a fairy godmother. Even though she and Daddy spellbound me, Mom tried to find a way to make me remember my magic. But I wanted to forget.”
“That last summer, before your mom and dad went to Africa, Rebecca asked me what made the most lasting impression on children. I told her it was the stories their parents read to them at night, and all the messages about hope and strength and love that were embedded in them.” Em’s eyes were spilling over now, and she dashed her tears away.
“You were right,” I said softly.
Though the three witches had made amends, when Matthew came into the kitchen, his arms laden with wood, Sarah pounced on him.
“Don’t ever ask me to ignore Diana’s cries for help, and don’t you ever threaten her again—no matter what the reason. If you do, I’ll put a spell on you that will make you wish you’d never been reborn. Got that, vampire?”
“Of course, Sarah,” Matthew murmured blandly, in perfect imitation of Ysabeau.
We ate dinner at the table in the family room. Matthew and Sarah were in an uneasy state of détente, but open warfare threatened when my aunt saw that there wasn’t a scrap of meat in sight.
“You’re smoking like a chimney,” Em said patiently when Sarah grumbled about the lack of “real” food. “Your arteries will thank me.”
“You didn’t do it for me,” Sarah said, shooting Matthew an accusatory glance. “You did it so he wouldn’t feel the urge to bite Diana.”
Matthew smiled mildly and pulled the cork from a bottle he’d brought in from the Range Rover. “Wine, Sarah?”
She eyed the bottle suspiciously. “Is that imported?”
“It’s French,” he said, pouring the deep red liquid into her water tumbler.
“I don’t like the French.”
“Don’t believe everything you read. We’re much nicer than we’re made out to be,” he said, teasing her into a grudging smile. “Trust me, we’ll grow on you.” As if to prove it, Tabitha jumped onto his shoulder from the floor and sat there like a parrot for the rest of the meal.
Matthew drank his wine and chatted about the house, asking Sarah and Em about the state of the farm and the place’s history. I was left with little to do but watch them—these three creatures I loved so much—and wolf down large quantities of chili and cornbread.
When at last we went up to bed, I slipped between the sheets naked, desperate to feel Matthew’s cool body against mine. He joined me, drawing me toward his bare flesh.
“You’re warm,” he said, snuggling more tightly against me.
“Mmm. You smell good,” I said, my nose pressed against his chest. The key turned itself in the lock. It had been there when I woke up that afternoon. “Was the key in the bureau?”
“The house had it.” His laughter rumbled underneath me. “It shot out of the floorboards next to the bed at an angle, hit the wall over the light switch, and slid down. When I didn’t pick it up straightaway, it flew across the room and landed in my lap.”
I laughed while his fingers drifted around my waist. He studiously avoided Satu’s marks.
“You have your battle scars,” I said, hoping to soothe him. “Now I have mine.”
His lips found mine unerringly in the darkness. One hand moved to the small of my back, covering the crescent moon. The other traveled between my shoulder blades, blotting out the star. No magic was necessary to understand his pain and regret. It was everywhere evident—in his gentle touch, the words he murmured in the darkness, and his body that was so solid next to mine. Gradually he let go of the worst of his fear and anger. We touched with mouths and fingers, our initial urgency slowing to prolong the joy of reunion.
Stars burst into life at the peak of my pleasure, and a few still hung beneath the ceiling, sparkling and sputtering out the remainder of their brief lives while we lay in each other’s arms and waited for the morning to find us.
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