فصل 38

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فصل 38

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Chapter 38

In my bones there was a sudden boom as of two worlds colliding.

Something stung my right arm, accompanied by the odor of latex and plastic, and Matthew was arguing with Marcus. There was cold earth below me, and the tang of leaf mold replaced the other scents. My eyes were open, but I saw nothing except blackness. With effort I was able to pick out the half-bare branches of trees crisscrossing above me.

“Use the left arm—it’s already open,” said Matthew with impatience.

“That arm’s useless, Matthew. The tissues are full of your saliva and won’t absorb anything else. The right arm is better. Her blood pressure is so low I’m having a hard time finding a vein, that’s all.” Marcus’s voice had the unnatural quietness of the emergency-room physician who sees death regularly.

Two thick strands of spaghetti spooled onto my face. Cold fingers touched my nose, and I tried to shake them off, only to be held down.

Miriam’s voice came from the darkness to my right. “Tachycardia. I’ll sedate her.”

“No,” Matthew said roughly. “No sedatives. She’s barely conscious. They could put her into a coma.”

“Then keep her quiet.” Miriam’s tone was matter-of-fact. Tiny, cold fingers pressed against my neck with unexpected firmness. “I can’t stop her from bleeding out and hold her still at the same time.”

What was happening around me was visible only in disconcerting slices—what was directly above, what could be glimpsed from the corners of my eyes, what could be tracked through the enormous effort of swiveling them in their sockets.

“Can you do anything, Sarah?” Matthew’s voice was anguished.

Sarah’s face swam into view. “Witchcraft can’t heal vampire bites. If it could, we’d never have had anything to fear from creatures like you.”

I began drifting to somewhere peaceful, but my progress was interrupted by Em’s slipping her hand into mine, holding me firmly in my own body.

“We’ve got no choice, then.” Matthew sounded desperate. “I’ll do it.”

“No, Matthew,” said Miriam decidedly. “You’re not strong enough yet. Besides, I’ve done it hundreds of times.” There was a tearing sound. After Juliette’s attack on Matthew, I recognized that it was vampire flesh.

“Are they making me a vampire?” I whispered to Em.

“No, mon coeur.” Matthew’s voice was as decided as Miriam’s had been. “You lost—I took—a great deal of blood. Marcus is replacing it with human blood. Now Miriam needs to see to your neck.”

“Oh.” It was too complicated to follow. My brain was fuzzy—almost as fuzzy as my tongue and throat. “I’m thirsty.”

“You’re craving vampire blood, but you’re not going to get it. Lie very still,” Matthew said firmly, holding my shoulders so tightly it was painful. Marcus’s cold hands crept past my ears to my jaw, holding my mouth closed, too. “And, Miriam—”

“Stop fussing, Matthew,” Miriam said briskly. “I was doing this to warmbloods long before you were reborn.”

Something sharp cut into my neck, and the smell of blood filled the air.

The cutting sensation was followed by a pain that froze and burned simultaneously. The heat and cold intensified, traveling below the surface tissues of my neck to sear the bones and muscles underneath.

I wanted to escape the icy licks, but there were two vampires holding me down. My mouth was firmly closed, too, so all I could do was let out a muffled, fearful sound.

“Her artery is obscured,” Miriam said quietly. “The wound has to be cleared.” She took a single, audible sip, drawing the blood away. The skin was numbed momentarily, but sensation returned full force when she withdrew.

The extreme pain sent adrenaline coursing through my system, and panic followed in its wake. The gray walls of La Pierre loomed around me, my inability to move putting me back within Satu’s hands.

Matthew’s fingers dug into my shoulders, returning me to the woods outside the Bishop house. “Tell her what you’re doing, Miriam. That Finnish witch made her afraid of what she can’t see.”

“It’s just drops of my blood, Diana, falling from my wrist,” Miriam said calmly. “I know it hurts, but it’s all we have. Vampire blood heals on contact. It will close your artery better than the sutures a surgeon would use. And you needn’t worry. There’s no chance such a small amount, applied topically, will make you one of us.”

After her description it was possible to recognize each deliberate drop falling into my open wound. There it mingled with my witch’s flesh, forcing an instantaneous buildup of scar tissue. It must require enormous control, I thought, for a vampire to undertake such a procedure without giving in to hunger. At last the drops of searing coldness came to an end.

“Done,” Miriam said with a touch of relief. “All I have to do now is sew the incision.” Her fingers flew over my neck, tugging and stitching the flesh back together. “I tried to neaten the wound, Diana, but Matthew tore the skin with his teeth.”

“We’re going to move you to the house now,” Matthew said.

He cradled my head and shoulders while Marcus supported my legs. Miriam walked alongside carrying the equipment. Someone had driven the Range Rover across the fields, and it stood waiting with its rear door open. Matthew and Miriam switched places, and he disappeared into the cargo area to ready it for me.

“Miriam,” I whispered. She bent toward me. “If something goes wrong—” I couldn’t finish, but it was imperative she understand me. I was still a witch. But I’d rather be a vampire than dead.

She stared into my eyes, searched for a moment, then nodded. “Don’t you dare die, though. He’ll kill me if I do what you ask.”

Matthew talked nonstop during the bumpy ride back to the house, kissing me softly whenever I tried to sleep. Despite his gentleness, it was a wrench each time.

At the house, Sarah and Em sped around collecting cushions and pillows. They made a bed in front of the keeping room’s fireplace. Sarah lit the pile of logs in the grate with a few words and a gesture. A blaze began to burn, but still I shivered uncontrollably, cold to the core.

Matthew lowered me onto the cushions and covered me with quilts while Miriam pressed a bandage onto my neck. As she worked, my husband and his son muttered in the corner.

“It’s what she needs, and I do know where her lungs are,” Marcus said impatiently. “I won’t puncture anything.”

“She’s strong. No central line. End of discussion. Just get rid of what’s left of Juliette’s body,” Matthew said, his voice quiet but commanding.

“I’ll see to it,” Marcus replied. He turned on his heel, and the front door thudded behind him before the Range Rover sprang once more into life.

The ancient case clock in the front entrance ticked the minutes as they passed. The warmth soaked into my bones, making me drowsy. Matthew sat at my side, holding one hand tightly so that he could tug me back whenever I tried to escape into the welcome oblivion.

Finally Miriam said the magic word: “stable.” Then I could give in to the blackness flitting around the edges of my consciousness. Sarah and Em kissed me and left, Miriam followed, and at last there was nothing but Matthew and the blessed quiet.

Once silence descended, however, my mind turned to Juliette.

“I killed her.” My heart raced.

“You had no choice.” His tone said no further discussion was required. “It was self-defense.”

“No it wasn’t. The witchfire . . .” It was only when he was in danger that the bow and arrow had appeared in my hands.

Matthew quieted me with a kiss. “We can talk about that tomorrow.”

There was something that couldn’t wait, something I wanted him to know now.

“I love you, Matthew.” There hadn’t been a chance to tell him before Satu snatched me away from Sept-Tours. This time I wanted to be sure it was said before something else happened.

“I love you, too.” He bent his head, his lips against my ear. “Remember our dinner in Oxford? You wanted to know how you would taste.”

I moved my head in acknowledgment.

“You taste of honey,” he murmured. “Honey—and hope.”

My lips curved, and then I slept.

But it was not restful slumber. I was caught between waking and sleeping, La Pierre and Madison, life and death. The ghostly old woman had warned me of the danger of standing at a crossroads. There were times that death seemed to be standing patiently at my side, waiting for me to choose the road I wanted to take.

I traveled countless miles that night, fleeing from place to place, never more than a step ahead of whoever was pursuing me—Gerbert, Satu, Juliette, Peter Knox. Whenever my journey brought me back to the Bishop house, Matthew was there. Sometimes Sarah was with him. Other times it was Marcus. Most often, though, Matthew was alone.

Deep in the night, someone started humming the tune we’d danced to a lifetime ago in Ysabeau’s grand salon. It wasn’t Marcus or Matthew—they were talking to each other—but I was too tired to figure out where the music was coming from.

“Where did she learn that old song?” Marcus asked.

“At home. Christ, even in sleep she’s trying to be brave.” Matthew’s voice was desolate. “Baldwin is right—I’m no good at strategy. I should have foreseen this.”

“Gerbert counted on your forgetting about Juliette. It had been so long. And he knew you’d be with Diana when she struck. He gloated about it on the phone.”

“Yes, he knows I’m arrogant enough to think she was safe with me at her side.”

“You’ve tried to protect her. But you can’t—no one could. She’s not the only one who needs to stop being brave.”

There was something Marcus didn’t know, something Matthew was forgetting. Snatches of half-remembered conversation came back to me. The music stopped to let me speak.

“I told you before,” I said, groping for Matthew in the dark and finding only a handful of soft wool that released the scent of cloves when crushed, “I can be brave enough for both of us.”

“Diana,” Matthew said urgently. “Open your eyes and look at me.”

His face was inches from mine. He was cradling my head with one hand, the other cool on my lower back, where a crescent moon swept from one side of my body to the other.

“There you are,” I murmured. “I’m afraid we’re lost.”

“No, my darling, we’re not lost. We’re at the Bishop house. And you don’t need to be brave. It’s my turn.”

“Will you be able to figure out which road we need to take?”

“I’ll find the way. Rest and let me take care of that.” Matthew’s eyes were very green.

I drifted off once more, racing to elude Gerbert and Juliette, who were hard at my heels. Toward dawn my sleep deepened, and when I awoke, it was morning. A quick check revealed that my body was naked and tucked tightly under layers of quilts, like a patient in a British intensive-care ward. Tubing disappeared into my right arm, a bandage encased my left elbow, and something was stuck to my neck. Matthew was sitting nearby with knees bent and his back against the sofa.

“Matthew? Is everyone all right?” There was cotton wool wrapped around my tongue, and I was still fiercely thirsty.

“Everyone’s fine.” Relief washed over his face as he reached for my hand and pressed his lips to my palm. Matthew’s eyes flickered to my wrist, where Juliette’s fingernails had left angry red crescent moons.

The sound of our voices brought the rest of the household into the room. First there were my aunts. Sarah was lost in her thoughts, dark hollows under her eyes. Em looked tired but relieved, stroking my hair and assuring me that everything was going to be all right. Marcus came next. He examined me and talked sternly about my need to rest. Finally Miriam ordered everyone else out of the room so she could change my bandages.

“How bad was it?” I asked when we were alone.

“If you mean Matthew, it was bad. The de Clermonts don’t handle loss—or the threat of it—very well. Ysabeau was worse when Philippe died. It’s a good thing you lived, and not just for my sake.” Miriam applied ointment to my wounds with a surprisingly delicate touch.

Her words conjured images of Matthew on a vengeful rampage. I closed my eyes to blot them out. “Tell me about Juliette.”

Miriam emitted a low hiss of warning. “Juliette Durand is not my tale to tell. Ask your husband.” She disconnected the IV and held out one of Sarah’s old flannel shirts. After I struggled with it for a few moments, she came to my aid. Her eyes fell on the marks on my back.

“The scars don’t bother me. They’re just signs that I’ve fought and survived.” I pulled the shirt over my shoulders self-consciously nonetheless.

“They don’t bother him either. Loving de Clermonts always leaves a mark. Nobody knows that better than Matthew.”

I buttoned up the shirt with shaking fingers, unwilling to meet her eyes. She handed over a pair of stretchy black leggings.

“Giving him your blood like that was unspeakably dangerous. He might not have been able to stop drinking.” A note of admiration had crept into her voice.

“Ysabeau told me the de Clermonts fight for those they love.”

“His mother will understand, but Matthew is another matter. He needs to get it out of his system—your blood, what happened last night, everything.”

Juliette. The name hung unspoken in the air between us.

Miriam reconnected the IV and adjusted its flow. “Marcus will take him to Canada. It will be hours before Matthew finds someone he’s willing to feed on, but it can’t be helped.”

“Sarah and Em will be safe with both of them gone?”

“You bought us some time. The Congregation never imagined that Juliette would fail. Gerbert is as proud as Matthew, and nearly as infallible. It will take them a few days to regroup.” She froze, a guilty look on her face.

“I’d like to talk to Diana now,” Matthew said quietly from the door. He looked terrible. There was hunger in the sharpened angles of his face and the lavender smudges under his eyes.

He watched silently as Miriam walked around my makeshift bed. She shut the heavy coffin doors behind her, their catches clicking together. When he turned to me, his look was concerned.

Matthew’s need for blood was at war with his protective instincts.

“When are you leaving?” I asked, hoping to make my wishes clear.

“I’m not leaving.”

“You need to regain your strength. Next time the Congregation won’t send just one vampire or witch.” I wondered how many other creatures from Matthew’s past were likely to come calling at the Congregation’s behest, and I struggled to sit up.

“You are so experienced with war now, ma lionne, that you understand their strategies?” It was impossible to judge his feelings from his features, but his voice betrayed a hint of amusement.

“We’ve proved we can’t be beaten easily.”

“Easily? You almost died.” He sat next to me on the cushions.

“So did you.”

“You used magic to save me. I could smell it—lady’s mantle and ambergris.”

“It was nothing.” I didn’t want him know what I’d promised in exchange for his life.

“No lies.” Matthew grabbed my chin with his fingertips. “If you don’t want to tell me, say so. Your secrets are your own. But no lies.”

“If I do keep secrets, I won’t be the only one doing so in this family. Tell me about Juliette Durand.”

He let go of my chin and moved restlessly to the window. “You know that Gerbert introduced us. He kidnapped her from a Cairo brothel, brought her to the brink of death over and over again before transforming her into a vampire, and then shaped her into someone I would find appealing. I still don’t know if she was insane when Gerbert found her or if her mind broke after what he did to her.”

“Why?” I couldn’t keep the incredulity from my voice.

“She was meant to worm her way into my heart and then into my family’s affairs. Gerbert had always wanted to be included among the Knights of Lazarus, and my father refused him time and time again. Once Juliette had discovered the intricacies of the brotherhood and any other useful information about the de Clermonts, she was free to kill me. Gerbert trained her to be my assassin, as well as my lover.” Matthew picked at the window frame’s peeling paint. “When I first met her, she was better at hiding her illness. It took me a long time to see the signs. Baldwin and Ysabeau never trusted her, and Marcus detested her. But I—Gerbert taught her well. She reminded me of Louisa, and her emotional fragility seemed to explain her erratic behavior.”

He has always liked fragile things, Ysabeau had warned me. Matthew hadn’t been just sexually attracted to Juliette. The feelings had gone deeper.

“You did love her.” I remembered Juliette’s strange kiss and shuddered.

“Once. Long ago. For all the wrong reasons,” Matthew continued. “I watched her—from a safe distance—and made sure she was cared for, since she was incapable of caring for herself. When World War I broke out, she disappeared, and I assumed she’d been killed. I never imagined she was alive somewhere.”

“And all the time you were watching her, she was watching you, too.” Juliette’s attentive eyes had taken in my every movement. She must have observed Matthew with a similar keenness.

“If I’d known, she would never have been allowed to get near you.” He stared out into the pale morning light. “But there’s something else we have to discuss. You must promise me never to use your magic to save me. I have no wish to live longer than I’m meant to. Life and death are powerful forces. Ysabeau interfered with them on my behalf once. You aren’t to do it again. And no asking Miriam—or anyone else—to make you a vampire.” His voice was startling in its coldness, and he crossed the room to my side with quick, long strides. “No one—not even I—will transform you into something you’re not.”

“You’ll have to promise me something in return.”

His eyes narrowed with displeasure. “What’s that?”

“Don’t ever ask me to leave you when you’re in danger,” I said fiercely. “I won’t do it.”

Matthew calculated what would be required of him to keep his promise while keeping me out of harm’s way. I was just as busy figuring out which of my dimly understood powers needed mastering so that I could protect him without incinerating him or drowning myself. We eyed each other warily for a few moments. Finally I touched his cheek.

“Go hunting with Marcus. We’ll be fine for a few hours.” His color was all wrong. I wasn’t the only one who had lost a lot of blood.

“You shouldn’t be alone.”

“I have my aunts, not to mention Miriam. She told me at the Bodleian that her teeth are as sharp as yours. I believe her.” I was more knowledgeable now about vampire teeth.

“We’ll be home by dark,” he said reluctantly, brushing his fingers across my cheekbone. “Is there anything you need before I go?”

“I’d like to talk to Ysabeau.” Sarah had been distant that morning, and I wanted to hear a maternal voice.

“Of course,” he said, hiding his surprise by reaching into his pocket for his phone. Someone had taken the time to retrieve it from the bushes. He dialed Sept-Tours with a single push of his finger.

“Maman?” A torrent of French erupted from the phone. “She’s fine,” Matthew interrupted, his voice soothing. “Diana wants—she’s asked—to speak to you.”

There was silence, followed by a single crisp word. “Oui.”

Matthew handed me the phone.

“Ysabeau?” My voice cracked, and my eyes filled with sudden tears.

“I am here, Diana.” Ysabeau sounded as musical as ever.

“I almost lost him.”

“You should have obeyed him and gone as far away from Juliette as you could.” Ysabeau’s tone was sharp before turning soft once more. “But I am glad you did not.”

I cried in earnest then. Matthew stroked the hair back from my forehead, tucking my typically wayward strand behind my ear, before leaving me to my conversation.

To Ysabeau I was able to express my grief and confess my failure to kill Juliette at my first opportunity. I told her everything—about Juliette’s startling appearance and her strange kiss, my terror when Matthew began to feed, about what it was like to begin to die only to return abruptly to life. Matthew’s mother understood, as I’d known she would. The only time Ysabeau interrupted was during the part of my story that involved the maiden and the crone.

“So the goddess saved my son,” she murmured. “She has a sense of justice, as well as humor. But that is too long a tale for today. When you are next at Sept-Tours, I will tell you.”

Her mention of the château caused another sharp pang of homesickness. “I wish I were there. I’m not sure anyone in Madison can teach me all that I need to know.”

“Then we must find a different teacher. Somewhere there is a creature who can help.”

Ysabeau issued a series of firm instructions about obeying Matthew, taking care of him, taking care of myself, and returning to the château as soon as possible. I agreed to all of them with uncharacteristic alacrity and got off the phone.

A few tactful moments later, Matthew opened the door and stepped inside.

“Thank you,” I said, sniffing and holding up his phone.

He shook his head. “Keep it. Call Marcus or Ysabeau at any time. They’re numbers two and three on speed dial. You need a new phone, as well as a watch. Yours doesn’t even hold a charge.” Matthew settled me gently against the cushions and kissed my forehead. “Miriam’s working in the dining room, but she’ll hear the slightest sound.”

“Sarah and Em?” I asked.

“Waiting to see you,” he said with a smile.

After visiting with my aunts, I slept a few hours, until a restless yearning for Matthew had me clawing myself awake.

Em got up from my grandmother’s recently returned rocker and came to me carrying a glass of water, her forehead creased in deep lines that hadn’t been there a few days ago. Grandma was sitting on the sofa staring at the paneling next to the fireplace, clearly waiting for another message from the house.

“Where’s Sarah?” I closed my fingers around the glass. My throat was still parched, and the water would feel divine.

“She went out for a while.” Em’s delicate mouth pressed into a thin line.

“She blames this all on Matthew.”

Em dropped down to her knees on the floor until her eyes were level with mine. “This has nothing to do with Matthew. You offered your blood to a vampire—a desperate, dying vampire.” She silenced my protests with a look. “I know he’s not just any vampire. Even so, Matthew could kill you. And Sarah’s devastated that she can’t teach you how to control your talents.”

“Sarah shouldn’t worry about me. Did you see what I did to Juliette?”

She nodded. “And other things as well.”

My grandmother’s attention was now fixed on me instead of the paneling.

“I saw the hunger in Matthew when he fed on you,” Em continued quietly. “I saw the maiden and the crone, too, standing on the other side of the fire.”

“Did Sarah see them?” I whispered, hoping that Miriam couldn’t hear.

Em shook her head. “No. Does Matthew know?”

“No.” I pushed my hair aside, relieved that Sarah was unaware of all that had happened last night.

“What did you promise the goddess in exchange for his life, Diana?”

“Anything she wanted.”

“Oh, honey.” Em’s face crumpled. “You shouldn’t have done that. There’s no telling when she’ll act—or what she’ll take.”

My grandmother was furiously rocking. Em eyed the chair’s wild movements.

“I had to, Em. The goddess didn’t seem surprised. It felt inevitable—right, somehow.”

“Have you seen the maiden and the crone before?”

I nodded. “The maiden’s been in my dreams. Sometimes it’s as though I’m inside her, looking out as she rides or hunts. And the crone met me outside the keeping room.”

You’re in deep water now, Diana, my grandmother rustled. I hope you can swim.

“You mustn’t call the goddess lightly,” Em warned. “These are powerful forces that you don’t yet understand.”

“I didn’t call her at all. They appeared when I decided to give Matthew my blood. They gave me their help willingly.”

Maybe it wasn’t your blood to give. My grandmother continued to rock back and forth, setting the floorboards creaking. Did you ever think of that?

“You’ve known Matthew for a few weeks. Yet you follow his orders so easily, and you were willing to die for him. Surely you can see why Sarah is concerned. The Diana we’ve known all these years is gone.”

“I love him,” I said fiercely. “And he loves me.” Matthew’s many secrets—the Knights of Lazarus, Juliette, even Marcus—I pushed to the side, along with my knowledge of his ferocious temper and his need to control everything and everyone around him.

But Em knew what I was thinking. She shook her head. “You can’t ignore them, Diana. You tried that with your magic, and it found you. The parts of Matthew you don’t like and don’t understand are going to find you, too. You can’t hide forever. Especially now.”

“What do you mean?”

“There are too many creatures interested in this manuscript, and in you and Matthew. I can feel them, pressing in on the Bishop house, on you. I don’t know which side of this struggle they’re on, but my sixth sense tells me it won’t be long before we find out.”

Em tucked the quilt around me. After putting another log on the fire, she left the room.

I was awakened by my husband’s distinctive, spicy scent.

“You’re back,” I said, rubbing my eyes.

Matthew looked rested, and his skin had returned to its normal, pearly color.

He’d fed. On human blood.

“So are you.” Matthew brought my hand to his lips. “Miriam said you’ve been sleeping for most of the day.”

“Is Sarah home?”

“Everyone’s present and accounted for.” He gave me a lopsided grin. “Even Tabitha.”

I asked to see them, and he unhooked me from my IV without argument. When my legs were too unsteady to carry me to the family room, he simply swept me up and carried me.

Em and Marcus settled me into the sofa with great ceremony. I was quickly exhausted by nothing more strenuous than quiet conversation and watching the latest film noir selection on TV, and Matthew lifted me up once more.

“We’re going upstairs,” he announced. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

“Do you want me to bring up Diana’s IV?” Miriam asked pointedly.

“No. She doesn’t need it.” His voice was brusque.

“Thank you for not hooking me up to all that stuff,” I said as he carried me through the front hall.

“Your body is still weak, but it’s remarkably resilient for a warmblood,” Matthew said as he climbed the stairs. “The reward for being a perpetual-motion machine, I imagine.”

Once he had turned off the light, I curled into his body with a contented sigh, my fingers splayed possessively across his chest. The moonlight streaming through the windows highlighted his new scars. They were already fading from pink to white.

Tired as I was, the gears of Matthew’s mind were working so furiously that sleep proved impossible. It was plain from the set of his mouth and the bright glitter of his eyes that he was picking our road forward, just as he’d promised to do last night.

“Tell me,” I said when the suspense became unbearable.

“What we need is time,” he said thoughtfully.

“The Congregation isn’t likely to give us that.”

“We’ll take it, then.” His voice was almost inaudible. “We’ll timewalk.”

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