فصل 34

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فصل 34

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Chapter 34

Matthew planted a kiss on my shoulder before the sun rose, and then he slipped downstairs. My muscles were tight in an uncustomary combination of stiffness and languor. At last I dragged myself out of bed and went looking for him.

I found Sarah and Em instead. They were standing by the back window, each clutching a steaming cup of coffee. Glancing over their shoulders, I went to fill the kettle. Matthew could wait—tea could not.

“What are you looking at?” I expected them to name some rare bird.

“Matthew.”

I backed up a few steps.

“He’s been out there for hours. I don’t think he’s moved a muscle. A raven flew by. I believe she plans to perch on him,” Sarah continued, taking a sip of her coffee.

Matthew was standing with his feet rooted in the earth and his arms stretched out to the sides at shoulder level, index fingers and thumbs gently touching. In his gray T-shirt and black yoga pants, he did look like an unusually well-dressed, robust scarecrow.

“Should we be worried about him? He’s got nothing on his feet.” Em stared at Matthew over the edge of her coffee cup. “He must be freezing.”

“Vampires burn, Em. They don’t freeze. He’ll come in when he’s ready.”

After filling the kettle, I made tea and stood with my aunts, silently watching Matthew. On my second cup, he finally lowered his arms and folded over at the waist. Sarah and Em moved hastily away from the window.

“He knows we’ve been watching him. He’s a vampire, remember?” I laughed and pushed Sarah’s boots on over my wool socks and a frayed pair of leggings and clomped outside.

“Thank you for being so patient,” Matthew said after he’d gathered me into his arms and soundly kissed me good morning.

I was still clutching my mug, which had been in danger of spilling tea down his back. “Meditation is the only rest you get. I’m not about to disturb it. How long have you been out here?”

“Since dawn. I needed time to think.”

“The house does that to people. There are too many voices, too much going on.” It was chilly, and I snuggled inside my sweatshirt with the faded maroon bobcat on the back.

Matthew touched the dark circles under my eyes. “You’re still exhausted. Some meditation wouldn’t do you any harm either, you know.”

My sleep had been fitful, full of dreams, snatches of alchemical poetry, and mumbled tirades directed at Satu. Even my grandmother had been worried. She’d been leaning against the chest of drawers with a watchful expression while Matthew soothed me back to sleep.

“I was strictly forbidden to do anything resembling yoga for a week.”

“And you obey your aunt when she sets down these rules?” Matthew’s eyebrow made a question mark.

“Not usually.” I laughed, grabbing him by the sleeve to pull him back inside.

Matthew had my tea out of my hands and was lifting me out of Sarah’s boots in an instant. He arranged my body and stood behind me. “Are your eyes closed?”

“Now they are,” I said, closing my eyes and digging my toes through my socks into the cold earth. Thoughts chased around in my mind like playful kittens.

“You’re thinking,” Matthew said impatiently. “Just breathe.”

My mind and breath settled. Matthew came around and lifted my arms, pressing my thumbs to the tips of my ring fingers and pinkies.

“Now I look like a scarecrow, too,” I said. “What am I doing with my hands?”

“Prana mudra,” Matthew explained. “It encourages the life force and is good for healing.”

As I stood with arms outstretched and palms facing the sky, the silence and peace worked their way through my battered body. After about five minutes, the tightness between my eyes lifted and my mind’s eye opened. There was a corresponding, subtle change inside me—an ebb and flow like water lapping on the shore. With each breath I took, a drop of cold, fresh water formed in my palm. My mind remained resolutely blank, unconcerned that I might be engulfed in witchwater even as the level of water in my hands slowly rose.

My mind’s eye brightened, focusing on my surroundings. When it did, I saw the fields around the house as never before. Water ran beneath the ground’s surface in deep blue veins. The roots of the apple trees extended into them, and finer webs of water shimmered in the leaves as they rustled in the morning breeze. Underneath my feet the water flowed toward me, trying to understand my connection to its power.

Calmly I breathed in and out. The water level in my palms rose and fell in response to the changing tides within and underneath me. When I could control the water no longer, the mudras broke open, water cascading from my flattened palms. I was left standing in the middle of the backyard, eyes open and arms outstretched, a small puddle on the ground under each hand.

My vampire stood twelve feet away from me with a proud look on his face, his arms crossed. My aunts were on the back porch, astonished.

“That was impressive,” Matthew murmured, bending to pick up the stone-cold mug of tea. “You’re going to be as good at this as you are at your research, you know. Magic’s not just emotional and mental—it’s physical, too.”

“Have you coached witches before?” I slid back into Sarah’s boots, my stomach rumbling loudly.

“No. You’re my one and only.” Matthew laughed. “And yes, I know you’re hungry. We’ll talk more about this after breakfast.” He held out his hand, and we walked together toward the house.

“You can make a lot of money water witching, you know,” Sarah called as we approached. “Everyone in town needs a new well, and old Harry was buried with his dowsing rod when he died last year.”

“I don’t need a dowsing rod—I am a dowsing rod. And if you’re thinking of digging, do it there.” I pointed to a cluster of apple trees that looked less scraggy than the rest.

Inside, Matthew boiled fresh water for my tea before turning his attention to the Syracuse Post-Standard. It could not compete with Le Monde, but he seemed content. With my vampire occupied, I ate slice after slice of bread hot from the toaster. Em and Sarah refilled their coffee cups and looked warily at my hands every time I got near the electrical appliances.

“This is going to be a three-pot morning,” Sarah announced, dumping the used grounds out of the coffeemaker. I looked at Em in alarm.

It’s mostly decaf, she said without speaking, her lips pressed together in silent mirth. I’ve been adulterating it for years. Like text messaging, silent speech was useful if you wanted to have a private discussion in this house.

Smiling broadly, I returned my attention to the toaster. I scraped the last of the butter onto my toast and wondered idly if there was more.

A plastic tub appeared at my elbow.

I turned to thank Em, but she was on the other side of the kitchen. So was Sarah. Matthew looked up from his paper and stared at the refrigerator.

The door was open, and the jams and mustards were rearranging themselves on the top shelf. When they were in place, the door quietly closed.

“Was that the house?” Matthew asked casually.

“No,” Sarah replied, looking at me with interest. “That was Diana.”

“What happened?” I gasped, looking at the butter.

“You tell us,” Sarah said crisply. “You were fiddling with your ninth piece of toast when the refrigerator opened and the butter sailed out.”

“All I did was wonder if there was more.” I picked up the empty container.

Em clapped her hands with delight at my newest sign of power, and Sarah insisted that I try to get something else out of the refrigerator. No matter what I called, it refused to come.

“Try the cabinets,” Em suggested. “The doors aren’t as heavy.”

Matthew had been watching the activity with interest. “You just wondered about the butter because you needed it?”

I nodded.

“And when you flew yesterday, did you command the air to cooperate?”

“I thought ‘Fly,’ and I flew. I needed to do it more than I needed the butter, though—you were about to kill me. Again.”

“Diana flew?” Sarah asked faintly.

“Is there anything you need now?” inquired Matthew.

“To sit down.” My knees felt a little shaky.

A kitchen stool traveled across the floor and parked obligingly beneath my backside.

Matthew smiled with satisfaction and picked up the paper. “It’s just as I thought,” he murmured, returning to the headlines.

Sarah tore the paper from his hands. “Stop grinning like the Cheshire cat. What did you think?”

At the mention of another member of her species, Tabitha strutted into the house through the cat door. With a look of complete devotion, she dropped a tiny, dead field mouse at Matthew’s feet.

“Merci, ma petite,” Matthew said gravely. “Unfortunately, I am not hungry at present.”

Tabitha yowled in frustration and hauled her offering off to the corner, where she punished it by batting it between her paws for failing to please Matthew.

Undeterred, Sarah repeated her question. “What do you think?”

“The spells that Rebecca and Stephen cast ensure that nobody can force the magic from Diana. Her magic is bound up in necessity. Very clever.” He smoothed out his rumpled paper and resumed reading.

“Clever and impossible,” Sarah grumbled.

“Not impossible,” he replied. “We just have to think like her parents. Rebecca had seen what would happen at La Pierre—not every detail, but she knew that her daughter would be held captive by a witch. Rebecca also knew that she would get away. That’s why the spellbinding held fast. Diana didn’t need her magic.”

“How are we supposed to teach Diana how to control her power if she can’t command it?” demanded my aunt.

The house gave us no chance to consider the options. There was a sound like cannon fire, followed by tap dancing.

“Oh, hell.” Sarah groaned. “What does it want now?”

Matthew put down his paper. “Is something wrong?”

“The house wants us. It slams the coffin doors on the keeping room and then moves the furniture around to get our attention.” I licked the butter off my fingers and padded through the family room. The lights flickered in the front hall.

“All right, all right,” Sarah said testily. “We’re coming.”

We followed my aunts into the keeping room. The house sent a wing chair careening across the floor in my direction.

“It wants Diana,” Emily said unnecessarily.

The house might have wanted me, but it didn’t anticipate the interference of a protective vampire with quick reflexes. Matthew shot his foot out and stopped the chair before it hit me in the back of the knees. There was a crack of old wood on strong bones.

“Don’t worry, Matthew. The house only wants me to sit down.” I did so, waiting for its next move.

“The house needs to learn some manners,” he retorted.

“Where did Mom’s rocker come from? We got rid of it years ago,” Sarah said, pursing her lips at the old chair near the front window.

“The rocking chair is back, and so is Grandma,” I said. “She said hello when we arrived.”

“Was Elizabeth with her?” Em sat on the uncomfortable Victorian sofa. “Tall? Serious expression?”

“Yes. I didn’t get a good look, though. She was mostly behind the door.”

“The ghosts don’t hang around much these days,” Sarah said. “We think she’s some distant Bishop cousin who died in the 1870s.”

A ball of green wool and two knitting needles rocketed down the chimney and rolled across the hearth.

“Does the house think I should take up knitting?” I asked.

“That’s mine—I started making a sweater a few years ago, and then one day it disappeared. The house takes all sorts of things and keeps them,” Em explained to Matthew as she retrieved her project. She gestured at the sofa’s hideous floral upholstery. “Come sit with me. Sometimes it takes the house awhile to get to the point. And we’re missing some photographs, a telephone book, the turkey platter, and my favorite winter coat.”

Matthew, not surprisingly, found it difficult to relax, given that a porcelain serving dish might decapitate him, but he did his best. Sarah sat in a Windsor chair nearby, looking annoyed.

“Come on, out with it,” she snapped several minutes later. “I’ve got things to do.”

A thick brown envelope wormed its way through a crack in the green-painted paneling next to the fireplace. Once it had worked itself free, it shot across the keeping room and landed, faceup, in my lap.

“Diana” was scrawled on the front in blue ballpoint ink. My mother’s small, feminine handwriting was recognizable from permission slips and birthday cards.

“It’s from Mom.” I looked at Sarah, amazed. “What is it?”

She was equally startled. “I have no idea.”

Inside were a smaller envelope and something carefully wrapped in layers of tissue paper. The envelope was pale green, with a darker green border around the edges. My father had helped me pick it out for my mother’s birthday. It had a cluster of white and green lily of the valley raised up slightly on the corner of each page. My eyes filled with tears.

“Do you want to be alone?” Matthew asked quietly, already on his feet.

“Stay. Please.”

Shaking, I tore the envelope open and unfolded the papers inside. The date underneath the lily of the valley—August 13, 1983—caught my eye immediately.

My seventh birthday. It had fallen only days before my parents left for Nigeria.

I galloped through the first page of my mother’s letter. The sheet fell from my fingers, drifted onto the floor, and came to rest at my feet.

Em’s fear was palpable. “Diana? What is it?”

Without answering, I tucked the rest of the letter next to my thigh and picked up the brown envelope the house had been hiding for my mother. Pulling at the tissue paper, I wriggled a flat, rectangular object into the open. It was heavier than it should be, and it tingled with power.

I recognized that power and had felt it before.

Matthew heard my blood begin to sing. He came to stand behind me, his hands resting lightly on my shoulders.

I unfolded the wrappings. On top, blocking Mathew’s view and separated by still more tissue from what lay beneath, was a piece of ordinary white paper, the edges brown with age. There were three lines written on it in spidery script.

“‘It begins with absence and desire,’” I whispered around the tightness in my throat. “‘It begins with blood and fear.’”

“‘It begins with a discovery of witches,’” Matthew finished, looking over my shoulder.

After I’d delivered the note to Matthew’s waiting fingers, he held it to his nose for a moment before passing it silently to Sarah. I lifted the top sheet of tissue paper.

Sitting in my lap was one of the missing pages from Ashmole 782.

“Christ,” he breathed. “Is that what I think it is? How did your mother get it?”

“She explains in the letter,” I said numbly, staring down at the brightly colored image.

Matthew bent and picked up the dropped sheet of stationery. “‘My darling Diana,’” he read aloud. “‘Today you are seven—a magical age for a witch, when your powers should begin to stir and take shape. But your powers have been stirring since you were born. You have always been different.’”

My knees shifted under the image’s uncanny weight.

“‘That you are reading this means that your father and I succeeded. We were able to convince the Congregation that it was your father—and not you—whose power they sought. You mustn’t blame yourself. It was the only decision we could possibly make. We trust that you are old enough now to understand.’” Matthew gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze before continuing.

“‘You’re old enough now, too, to take up the hunt that we began when you were born—the hunt for information about you and your magic. We received the enclosed note and drawing when you were three. It came to us in an envelope with an Israeli stamp. The department secretary told us there was no return address or signature—just the note and the picture.

“‘We’ve spent much of the past four years trying to make sense of it. We couldn’t ask too many questions. But we think the picture shows a wedding. ’”

“It is a wedding—the chemical marriage of mercury and sulfur. It’s a crucial step in making the philosopher’s stone.” My voice sounded harsh after Matthew’s rich tones.

It was one of the most beautiful depictions of the chemical wedding I’d ever seen. A golden-haired woman in a pristine white gown held a white rose in one hand. It was an offering to her pale, dark-haired husband, a message that she was pure and worthy of him. He wore black-and-red robes and clasped her other hand. He, too, held a rose—but his was as red as fresh-spilled blood, a token of love and death. Behind the couple, chemicals and metals were personified as wedding guests, milling around in a landscape of trees and rocky hills. A whole menagerie of animals gathered to witness the ceremony: ravens, eagles, toads, green lions, peacocks, pelicans. A unicorn and a wolf stood side by side in the center background, behind the bride and groom. The whole scene was gathered within the outspread wings of a phoenix, its feathers flaming at the edges and its head curved down to watch the scene unfold.

“What does it mean?” Em asked.

“That someone has been waiting for Matthew and me to find each other for a long time.”

“How could that picture possibly be about you and Matthew?” Sarah craned her neck to inspect it more closely.

“The queen is wearing Matthew’s crest.” A gleaming silver-and-gold circlet held back the bride’s hair. In its midst, resting against her forehead, was a jewel in the shape of a crescent moon with a star rising above it.

Matthew reached past the picture and took up the rest of my mother’s letter. “Do you mind if I continue?” he asked gently.

I shook my head, the page from the manuscript still resting on my knees. Em and Sarah, wary of its power, were exercising proper caution in the presence of an unfamiliar bewitched object and remained where they were.

“‘We think the woman in white is meant to be you, Diana. We are less certain about the identity of the dark man. I’ve seen him in your dreams, but he’s hard to place. He walks through your future, but he’s in the past as well. He’s always in shadows, never in the light. And though he’s dangerous, the shadowed man doesn’t pose a threat to you. Is he with you now? I hope so. I wish I could have known him. There is so much I would have liked to tell him about you.’” Matthew’s voice stumbled over the last words.

“‘We hope the two of you will be able to discover the source of this picture. Your father thinks it’s from an old book. Sometimes we see text moving on the back of the page, but then the words disappear again for weeks, even months, at a time. ’”

Sarah sprang out of her chair. “Give me the picture.”

“It’s from the book I told you about. The one in Oxford.” I handed it to her reluctantly.

“It feels so heavy,” she said, walking toward the window with a frown. She turned the picture over and angled the page this way and that. “But I don’t see any words. Of course, it’s no wonder. If this page was removed from the book it belongs to, then the magic is badly damaged.”

“Is that why the words I saw were moving so fast?”

Sarah nodded. “Probably. They were searching for this page and couldn’t find it.”

“Pages.” This was a detail I hadn’t told Matthew.

“What do you mean, ‘pages’?” Matthew came around the chair, flicking little shards of ice over my features.

“This isn’t the only page that’s missing from Ashmole 782.”

“How many were removed?”

“Three,” I whispered. “Three pages were missing from the front of the manuscript. I could see the stubs. It didn’t seem important at the time.”

“Three,” Matthew repeated. His voice was flat, and it sounded as though he were about to break something apart with his bare hands.

“What does it matter whether there are three pages missing or three hundred?” Sarah was still trying to detect the hidden words. “The magic is still broken.”

“Because there are three types of otherworldly creatures.” Matthew touched my face to let me know he wasn’t angry at me.

“And if we have one of the pages . . .” I started.

“Then who has the others?” Em finished.

“Damn it all to hell, why didn’t Rebecca tell us about this?” Sarah, too, sounded like she wanted to destroy something. Emily took the picture from her hands and laid it carefully on an antique tea table.

Matthew continued reading. “‘Your father says that you will have to travel far to unlock its secrets. I won’t say more, for fear this note will fall into the wrong hands. But you will figure it out, I know. ’”

He handed the sheet to me and went on to the next. “‘The house wouldn’t have shared this letter if you weren’t ready. That means you also know that your father and I spellbound you. Sarah will be furious, but it was the only way to protect you from the Congregation before the shadowed man was with you. He will help you with your magic. Sarah will say it’s not his business because he’s not a Bishop. Ignore her.’”

Sarah snorted and looked daggers at the vampire.

“‘Because you will love him as you love no one else, I tied your magic to your feelings for him. Even so, only you will have the ability to draw it into the open. I’m sorry about the panic attacks. They were the only thing I could think of. Sometimes you’re too brave for your own good. Good luck learning your spells—Sarah is a perfectionist.’”

Matthew smiled. “There always was something odd about your anxiety.”

“Odd how?”

“After we met in the Bodleian, it was almost impossible to provoke you into panicking.”

“But I panicked when you came out of the fog by the boathouses.”

“You were startled. Your instincts should have been screaming with panic whenever I was near. Instead you came closer and closer.” Matthew dropped a kiss on my head and turned to the last page.

“‘It’s hard to know how to finish this letter when there is so much in my heart. The past seven years have been the happiest of my life. I wouldn’t give up a moment of our precious time with you—not for an ocean of power or a long, safe life without you. We don’t know why the goddess entrusted you to us, but not a day has passed that we didn’t thank her for it.’”

I suppressed a sob but couldn’t stop the tears.

“‘I cannot shield you from the challenges you will face. You will know great loss and danger, but also great joy. You may doubt your instincts in the years to come, but your feet have been walking this path since the moment you were born. We knew it when you came into the world a caulbearer. You’ve remained between worlds ever since. It’s who you are, and your destiny. Don’t let anyone keep you from it.’”

“What’s a caulbearer?” I whispered.

“Someone born with the amniotic sac still intact around them. It’s a sign of luck,” Sarah explained.

Matthew’s free hand cradled the back of my skull. “Much more than luck is associated with the caul. In times past, it was thought to foretell the birth of a great seer. Some believed it was a sign you would become a vampire, a witch, or a werewolf.” He gave me a lopsided grin.

“Where is it?” Em asked Sarah.

Matthew and I swung our heads in quick unison. “What?” we asked simultaneously.

“Cauls have enormous power. Stephen and Rebecca would have saved it.”

We all looked at the crack in the paneling. A phonebook landed in the grate with a thud, sending a cloud of ash into the room.

“How do you save a caul?” I wondered aloud. “Do you put it in a baggie or something?”

“Traditionally, you press a piece of paper or fabric onto the baby’s face and the caul sticks to it. Then you save the paper,” explained Em.

All eyes swiveled to the page from Ashmole 782. Sarah picked it up and studied it closely. She muttered a few words and stared some more.

“There’s something uncanny about this picture,” she reported, “but it doesn’t have Diana’s caul attached to it.”

That was a relief. It would have been one strange thing too many.

“So is that all, or does my sister have any other secrets she’d like to share with us?” Sarah asked tartly. Matthew frowned at her. “Sorry, Diana,” she murmured.

“There’s not much more. Can you manage it, mon coeur?”

I grabbed his free hand and nodded. He perched on one of the chair’s padded arms, which creaked slightly under his weight.

“‘Try not to be too hard on yourself as you journey into the future. Keep your wits about you, and trust your instincts. It’s not much in the way of advice, but it’s all that a mother can give. We can scarcely bear leaving you, but the only alternative is to risk losing you forever. Forgive us. If we have wronged you, it was because we loved you so much. Mom.’”

The room was silent, and even the house was holding its breath. A sound of loss started somewhere deep within me just before a tear fell from my eye. It swelled to the size of a softball and hit the floor with a splash. My legs felt liquid.

“Here it comes,” Sarah warned.

Matthew dropped the page from the letter and swept me out of the chair and through the front door. He set me on the driveway, and my toes gripped the soil. The witchwater released harmlessly into the ground while my tears continued to flow. After a few moments, Matthew’s hands slid around my waist from behind. His body shielded me from the rest of the world, and I relaxed against his chest.

“Let it all go,” he murmured, his lips against my ear.

The witchwater subsided, leaving behind an aching sense of loss that would never go away completely.

“I wish they were here,” I cried. “My mother and father would know what to do.”

“I know you miss them. But they didn’t know what to do—not really. Like all parents, they were just doing their best from moment to moment.”

“My mother saw you, and what the Congregation might do. She was a great seer.”

“And so will you be, one day. Until then we’re going to have to manage without knowing what the future holds. But there are two of us. You don’t have to do it by yourself.”

We went back inside, where Sarah and Em were still scrutinizing the page from the manuscript. I announced that more tea and a fresh pot of coffee were in order, and Matthew came with me into the kitchen, though his eyes lingered on the brightly colored image.

The kitchen looked like a war zone, as usual. Every surface was covered with dishes. While the kettle came to the boil and the coffee brewed, I rolled up my sleeves to do the dishes.

Matthew’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He was ignoring it, intent on putting more logs into the already overloaded fireplace.

“You should get that,” I said, squirting dish liquid into the sink.

He pulled out his phone. His face revealed that this was not a call he wanted to take. “Oui?”

It must be Ysabeau. Something had gone wrong, someone wasn’t where he or she was supposed to be—it was impossible for me to follow the particulars given their rapid exchange, but Matthew’s annoyance was clear. He barked out a few orders and disconnected the phone.

“Is Ysabeau all right?” I swished my fingers through the warm water, hoping there was no new crisis.

Matthew’s hands pushed my shoulders gently away from my ears, kneading the tight muscles. “She’s fine. This had nothing to do with Ysabeau. It was Alain. He was doing some business for the family and ran into an unexpected situation.”

“Business?” I picked up the sponge and started washing. “For the Knights of Lazarus?”

“Yes,” he said shortly.

“Who is Alain?” I set the clean plate in the drainer.

“He began as my father’s squire. Philippe couldn’t manage without him, in war or in peace, so Marthe made him a vampire. He knows every aspect of the brotherhood’s business. When my father died, Alain transferred his loyalty from Philippe to me. He called to warn me that Marcus wasn’t pleased to receive my message.”

I turned to meet his eyes. “Was it the same message you gave to Baldwin at La Guardia?”

He nodded.

“I’m nothing but trouble to your family.”

“This isn’t a de Clermont family matter anymore, Diana. The Knights of Lazarus protect those who cannot protect themselves. Marcus knew that when he accepted a place among them.”

Matthew’s phone buzzed again.

“And that will be Marcus,” he said grimly.

“Go talk to him in private.” I tilted my chin toward the door. Matthew kissed my cheek before pushing the green button on his phone and heading into the backyard.

“Hello, Marcus,” he said warily, shutting the door behind him.

I continued moving the soapy water over the dishes, the repetitive motion soothing.

“Where’s Matthew?” Sarah and Em were standing in the doorway, holding hands.

“Outside, talking to England,” I said, nodding again in the direction of the back door.

Sarah got another clean mug out of the cabinet—the fourth she’d used that morning, by my count—and filled it with fresh coffee. Emily picked up the newspaper. Still, their eyes tingled with curiosity. The back door opened and closed. I braced for the worst.

“How is Marcus?”

“He and Miriam are on their way to New York. They have something to discuss with you.” Matthew’s face looked like a thundercloud.

“Me? What is it?”

“He wouldn’t tell me.”

“Marcus didn’t want you to be on your own with only witches to keep you company.” I smiled at him, and some of the tension left his face.

“They’ll be here by nightfall and will check in to the inn we passed on our way through town. I’ll go by and see them tonight. Whatever they need to tell you can wait until tomorrow.” Matthew’s worried eyes darted to Sarah and Em.

I turned to the sink again. “Call him back, Matthew. They should come straight here.”

“They won’t want to disturb anyone,” he said smoothly. Matthew didn’t want to upset Sarah and the rest of the Bishops by bringing two more vampires into the house. But my mother would never have let Marcus travel so far only to stay in a hotel.

Marcus was Matthew’s son. He was my son.

My fingers prickled, and the cup I was washing slipped from my grasp. It bobbed in the water for a few moments, then sank.

“No son of mine is checking in to a hotel. He belongs in the Bishop house, with his family, and Miriam shouldn’t be alone. They’re both staying here, and that’s final,” I said firmly.

“Son?” said Sarah faintly.

“Marcus is Matthew’s son, which makes him my son, too. That makes him a Bishop, and this house belongs to him as much as it does to you, or me, or Em.” I turned to face them, grabbing the sleeves of my shirt tightly with my wet hands, which were shaking.

My grandmother drifted down the hallway to see what the fuss was about.

“Did you hear me, Grandma?” I called.

I believe we all heard you, Diana, she said in her rustly voice.

“Good. No acting up. And that goes for every Bishop in this house—living and dead.”

The house opened its front and back doors in a premature gesture of welcome, sending a gust of chilly air through the downstairs rooms.

“Where will they sleep?” Sarah grumbled.

“They don’t sleep, Sarah. They’re vampires.” The prickling in my fingers increased.

“Diana,” Matthew said, “please step away from the sink. The electricity, mon coeur.”

I gripped my sleeves tighter. The edges of my fingers were bright blue.

“We get the message,” Sarah said hastily, eyeing my hands. “We’ve already got one vampire in the house.”

“I’ll get their rooms ready,” Emily said, with a smile that looked genuine. “I’m glad we’ll have a chance to meet your son, Matthew.”

Matthew, who had been leaning against an ancient wooden cupboard, pulled himself upright and walked slowly toward me. “All right,” he said, drawing me from the sink and tucking my head under his chin. “You’ve made your point. I’ll call Marcus and let him know they’re welcome here.”

“Don’t tell Marcus I called him my son. He may not want a stepmother.”

“You two will have to sort that out,” Matthew said, trying to suppress his amusement.

“What’s so funny?” I tipped my face up to look at him.

“With all that’s happened this morning, the one thing you’re worried about is whether Marcus wants a stepmother. You confound me.” Matthew shook his head. “Are all witches this surprising, Sarah, or is it just Bishops?”

Sarah considered her answer. “Just Bishops.”

I peeked around Matthew’s shoulder to give her a grateful smile.

My aunts were surrounded by a mob of ghosts, all of whom were solemnly nodding in agreement.

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