فصل 04

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فصل 04

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Chapter 4

Four hours later I woke up on top of the duvet, clutching the phone. At some point I’d kicked off my right slipper, leaving my foot trailing over the edge of the bed. I looked at the clock and groaned. There was no time for my usual trip to the river, or even for a run.

Cutting my morning ritual short, I showered and then drank a scalding cup of tea while drying my hair. It was straw blond and unruly, despite the ministrations of a hairbrush. Like most witches, I had a problem getting the shoulder-length strands to stay put. Sarah blamed it on pent-up magic and promised that the regular use of my power would keep the static electricity from building and make my hair more obedient.

After brushing my teeth, I slipped on a pair of jeans, a fresh white blouse, and a black jacket. It was a familiar routine, and this was my habitual outfit, but neither proved comforting today. My clothes seemed confining, and I felt self-conscious in them. I jerked on the jacket to see if that would make it fit any better, but it was too much to expect from inferior tailoring.

When I looked into the mirror, my mother’s face stared back. I could no longer remember when I’d developed this strong resemblance to her. Sometime in college, perhaps? No one had commented on it until I came home for Thanksgiving break during freshman year. Since then it was the first thing I heard from those who had known Rebecca Bishop.

Today’s check in the mirror also revealed that my skin was pale from lack of sleep. This made my freckles, which I’d inherited from my father, stand out in apparent alarm, and the dark blue circles under my eyes made them appear lighter than usual. Fatigue also managed to lengthen my nose and render my chin more pronounced. I thought of the immaculate Professor Clairmont and wondered what he looked like first thing in the morning. Probably just as pristine as he had last night, I decided—the beast. I grimaced at my reflection.

On my way out the door, I stopped and surveyed my rooms. Something niggled at me—a forgotten appointment, a deadline. There was something I was missing that was important. The sense of unease wrapped around my stomach, squeezed, then let go. After checking my datebook and the stacks of mail on my desk, I wrote it off as hunger and went downstairs. The obliging ladies in the kitchen offered me toast when I passed by. They remembered me as a graduate student and still tried to force-feed me custard and apple pie when I looked stressed.

Munching on toast and slipping along the cobblestones of New College Lane was enough to convince me that last night had been a dream. My hair swung against my collar, and my breath showed in the crisp air. Oxford is quintessentially normal in the morning, with the delivery vans pulled up to college kitchens, the aromas of burned coffee and damp pavement, and fresh rays of sunlight slanting through the mist. It was not a place that seemed likely to harbor vampires.

The Bodleian’s blue-jacketed attendant went through his usual routine of scrutinizing my reader’s card as if he had never seen me before and suspected I might be a master book thief. Finally he waved me through. I deposited my bag in the cubbyholes by the door after first removing my wallet, computer, and notes, and then I headed up to the twisting wooden stairs to the third floor.

The smell of the library always lifted my spirits—that peculiar combination of old stone, dust, woodworm, and paper made properly from rags. Sun streamed through the windows on the staircase landings, illuminating the dust motes flying through the air and shining bars of light on the ancient walls. There the sun highlighted the curling announcements for last term’s lecture series. New posters had yet to go up, but it would only be a matter of days before the floodgates opened and a wave of undergraduates arrived to disrupt the city’s tranquillity.

Humming quietly to myself, I nodded to the busts of Thomas Bodley and King Charles I that flanked the arched entrance to Duke Humfrey’s and pushed through the swinging gate by the call desk.

“We’ll have to set him up in the Selden End today,” the supervisor was saying with a touch of exasperation.

The library had been open for just a few minutes, but Mr. Johnson and his staff were already in a flap. I’d seen this kind of behavior before, but only when the most distinguished scholars were expected.

“He’s already put in his requests, and he’s waiting down there.” The unfamiliar female attendant from yesterday scowled at me and shifted the stack of books in her arms. “These are his, too. He had them sent up from the New Bodleian Reading Room.”

That’s where they kept the East Asia books. It wasn’t my field, and I quickly lost interest.

“Get those to him now, and tell him we’ll bring the manuscripts down within the hour.” The supervisor sounded harassed as he returned to his office.

Sean rolled his eyes heavenward as I approached the collection desk. “Hi, Diana. Do you want the manuscripts you put on reserve?”

“Thanks,” I whispered, thinking of my waiting stack with relish. “Big day, huh?”

“Apparently,” he said drily, before disappearing into the locked cage that held the manuscripts overnight. He returned with my stack of treasures. “Here you go. Seat number?”

“A4.” It’s where I always sat, in the far southeastern corner of the Selden End, where the natural light was best.

Mr. Johnson came scurrying toward me. “Ah, Dr. Bishop, we’ve put Professor Clairmont in A3. You might prefer to sit in A1 or A6.” He shifted nervously from one foot to the other and pushed his glasses up, blinking at me through the thick glass.

I stared at him. “Professor Clairmont?”

“Yes. He’s working on the Needham papers and requested good light and room to spread out.”

“Joseph Needham, the historian of Chinese science?” Somewhere around my solar plexus, my blood started to seethe.

“Yes. He was a biochemist, too, of course—hence Professor Clairmont’s interest,” Mr. Johnson explained, looking more flustered by the moment. “Would you like to sit in A1?”

“I’ll take A6.” The thought of sitting next to a vampire, even with an empty seat between us, was deeply unsettling. Sitting across from one in A4 was unthinkable, however. How could I concentrate, wondering what those strange eyes were seeing? Had the desks in the medieval wing been more comfortable, I would have parked myself under one of the gargoyles that guarded the narrow windows and braved Gillian Chamberlain’s prim disapproval instead.

“Oh, that’s splendid. Thank you for understanding.” Mr. Johnson sighed with relief.

As I came into the light of the Selden End, my eyes narrowed. Clairmont looked immaculate and rested, his pale skin startling against his dark hair. This time his open-necked gray sweater had flecks of green, and his collar stood up slightly in the back. A peek under the table revealed charcoal gray trousers, matching socks, and black shoes that surely cost more than the average academic’s entire wardrobe.

The unsettled feeling returned. What was Clairmont doing in the library? Why wasn’t he in his lab?

Making no effort to muffle my footsteps, I strode in the vampire’s direction. Clairmont, seated diagonally across from me at the far end of the cluster of desks and seemingly oblivious to my approach, continued reading. I dumped my plastic bag and manuscripts onto the space marked A5, staking out the outer edges of my territory.

He looked up, brows arching in apparent surprise. “Dr. Bishop. Good morning.”

“Professor Clairmont.” It occurred to me that he’d overheard everything said about him at the reading room’s entrance, given that he had the hearing of a bat. I refused to meet his eyes and started pulling individual items out of my bag, building a small fortification of desk supplies between me and the vampire. Clairmont watched until I ran out of equipment, then lowered his eyebrows in concentration and returned to his reading.

I took out the cord for my computer and disappeared under the desk to shove it into the power strip. When I righted myself, he was still reading but was also trying not to smile.

“Surely you’d be more comfortable in the northern end,” I grumbled under my breath, rooting around for my list of manuscripts.

Clairmont looked up, dilating pupils making his eyes suddenly dark. “Am I bothering you, Dr. Bishop?”

“Of course not,” I said hastily, my throat closing at the sudden, sharp aroma of cloves that accompanied his words, “but I’m surprised you find a southern exposure comfortable.”

“You don’t believe everything you read, do you?” One of his thick, black eyebrows rose into the shape of a question mark.

“If you’re asking whether I think you’re going to burst into flames the moment the sunlight hits you, the answer is no.” Vampires didn’t burn at the touch of sunlight, nor did they have fangs. These were human myths. “But I’ve never met . . . someone like you who liked to bask in its glow either.”

Clairmont’s body remained still, but I could have sworn he was repressing a laugh. “How much direct experience have you had, Dr. Bishop, with ‘someone like me’?”

How did he know I hadn’t had much experience with vampires? Vampires had preternatural senses and abilities—but no supernatural ones, like mind reading or precognition. Those belonged to witches and, on rare occasions, could sometimes crop up in daemons, too. This was the natural order, or so my aunt had explained when I was a child and couldn’t sleep for fear that a vampire would steal my thoughts and fly out the window with them.

I studied him closely. “Somehow, Professor Clairmont, I don’t think years of experience would tell me what I need to know right now.”

“I’d be happy to answer your question, if I can,” he said, closing his book and placing it on the desk. He waited with the patience of a teacher listening to a belligerent and not very bright student.

“What is it that you want?”

Clairmont sat back in his chair, his hands resting easily on the arms. “I want to examine Dr. Needham’s papers and study the evolution of his ideas on morphogenesis.”

“Morphogenesis?”

“The changes to embryonic cells that result in differentiation—”

“I know what morphogenesis is, Professor Clairmont. That’s not what I’m asking.”

His mouth twitched. I crossed my arms protectively across my chest.

“I see.” He tented his long fingers, resting his elbows on the chair. “I came into Bodley’s Library last night to request some manuscripts. Once inside, I decided to look around a bit—I like to know my environment, you understand, and don’t often spend time here. There you were in the gallery. And of course what I saw after that was quite unexpected.” His mouth twitched again.

I flushed at the memory of how I’d used magic just to get a book. And I tried not to be disarmed by his old-fashioned use of “Bodley’s Library” but was not entirely successful.

Careful, Diana, I warned myself. He’s trying to charm you.

“So your story is that this has just been a set of odd coincidences, culminating in a vampire and a witch sitting across from each other and examining manuscripts like two ordinary readers?”

“I don’t think anyone who took the time to examine me carefully would think I was ordinary, do you?” Clairmont’s already quiet voice dropped to a mocking whisper, and he tilted forward in his chair. His pale skin caught the light and seemed to glow. “But otherwise, yes. It’s just a series of coincidences, easily explained.”

“I thought scientists didn’t believe in coincidences anymore.”

He laughed softly. “Some have to believe in them.”

Clairmont kept staring at me, which was unnerving in the extreme. The female attendant rolled the reading room’s ancient wooden cart up to the vampire’s elbow, boxes of manuscripts neatly arrayed on the trolley’s shelves.

The vampire dragged his eyes from my face. “Thank you, Valerie. I appreciate your assistance.”

“Of course, Professor Clairmont,” Valerie said, gazing at him raptly and turning pink. The vampire had charmed her with no more than a thank-you. I snorted. “Do let us know if you need anything else,” she said, returning to her bolt-hole by the entrance.

Clairmont picked up the first box, undid the string with his long fingers, and glanced across the table. “I don’t want to keep you from your work.”

Matthew Clairmont had taken the upper hand. I’d had enough dealings with senior colleagues to recognize the signs and to know that any response would only make the situation worse. I opened my computer, punched the power button with more force than necessary, and picked up the first of my manuscripts. Once the box was unfastened, I placed its leather-bound contents on the cradle in front of me.

Over the next hour and a half, I read the first pages at least thirty times. I started at the beginning, reading familiar lines of poetry attributed to George Ripley that promised to reveal the secrets of the philosopher’s stone. Given the surprises of the morning, the poem’s descriptions of how to make the Green Lion, create the Black Dragon, and concoct a mystical blood from chemical ingredients were even more opaque than usual.

Clairmont, however, got a prodigious amount done, covering pages of creamy paper with rapid strokes of his Montblanc Meisterstück mechanical pencil. Every now and again, he’d turn over a sheet with a rustle that set my teeth on edge and begin once more.

Occasionally Mr. Johnson drifted through the room, making sure no one was defacing the books. The vampire kept writing. I glared at both of them.

At 10:45, there was a familiar tingle when Gillian Chamberlain bustled into the Selden End. She started toward me—no doubt to tell me what a splendid time she’d had at the Mabon dinner. Then she saw the vampire and dropped her plastic bag full of pencils and paper. He looked up and stared until she scampered back to the medieval wing.

At 11:10, I felt the insidious pressure of a kiss on my neck. It was the confused, caffeine-addicted daemon from the music reference room. He was repeatedly twirling a set of white plastic headphones around his fingers, then unwinding them to send them spinning through the air. The daemon saw me, nodded at Matthew, and sat at one of the computers in the center of the room. A sign was taped to the screen: OUT OF ORDER. TECHNICIAN CALLED. He remained there for the next several hours, glancing over his shoulder and then at the ceiling periodically as if trying to figure out where he was and how he’d gotten there.

I returned my attention to George Ripley, Clairmont’s eyes cold on the top of my head.

At 11:40, icy patches bloomed between my shoulder blades.

This was the last straw. Sarah always said that one in ten beings was a creature, but in Duke Humfrey’s this morning the creatures outnumbered humans five to one. Where had they all come from?

I stood abruptly and whirled around, frightening a cherubic, tonsured vampire with an armful of medieval missals just as he was lowering himself into a chair that was much too small for him. He let out a squeak at the sudden, unwanted attention. At the sight of Clairmont, he turned a whiter shade than I thought was possible, even for a vampire. With an apologetic bow, he scuttled off to the library’s dimmer recesses.

Over the course of the afternoon, a few humans and three more creatures entered the Selden End.

Two unfamiliar female vampires who appeared to be sisters glided past Clairmont and came to a stop among the local-history shelves under the window, picking up volumes about the early settlement of Bedfordshire and Dorset and writing notes back and forth on a single pad of paper. One of them whispered something, and Clairmont’s head swiveled so fast it would have snapped the neck of a lesser being. He made a soft hissing sound that ruffled the hair on my own neck. The two exchanged looks and departed as quietly as they had appeared.

The third creature was an elderly man who stood in a full beam of sunlight and stared raptly at the leaded windows before turning his eyes to me. He was dressed in familiar academic garb—brown tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, corduroy pants in a slightly jarring tone of green, and a cotton shirt with a button-down collar and ink stains on the pocket—and I was ready to dismiss him as just another Oxford scholar before my skin tingled to tell me that he was a witch. Still, he was a stranger, and I returned my attention to my manuscript.

A gentle sensation of pressure on the back of my skull made it impossible to keep reading, however. The pressure flitted to my ears, growing in intensity as it wrapped around my forehead, and my stomach clenched in panic. This was no longer a silent greeting, but a threat. Why, though, would he be threatening me?

The wizard strolled toward my desk with apparent casualness. As he approached, a voice whispered in my now-throbbing head. It was too faint to distinguish the words. I was sure it was coming from this male witch, but who on earth was he?

My breath became shallow. Get the hell out of my head, I said fiercely if silently, touching my forehead.

Clairmont moved so quickly I didn’t see him round the desks. In an instant he was standing with one hand on the back of my chair and the other resting on the surface in front of me. His broad shoulders were curved around me like the wings of a falcon shielding his prey.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” I replied with a shaking voice, utterly confused as to why a vampire would need to protect me from another witch.

In the gallery above us, a reader craned her neck to see what all the fuss was about. She stood, her brow creased. Two witches and a vampire were impossible for a human to ignore.

“Leave me alone. The humans have noticed us,” I said between clenched teeth.

Clairmont straightened to his full height but kept his back to the witch and his body angled between us like an avenging angel.

“Ah, my mistake,” the witch murmured from behind Clairmont. “I thought this seat was available. Excuse me.” Soft steps retreated into the distance, and the pressure on my head gradually subsided.

A slight breeze stirred as the vampire’s cold hand reached toward my shoulder, stopped, and returned to the back of the chair. Clairmont leaned over. “You look quite pale,” he said in his soft, low voice. “Would you like me to take you home?”

“No.” I shook my head, hoping he would go sit down and let me gather my composure. In the gallery the human reader kept a wary eye on us.

“Dr. Bishop, I really think you should let me take you home.”

“No!” My voice was louder than I intended. It dropped to a whisper. “I am not being driven out of this library—not by you, not by anyone.”

Clairmont’s face was disconcertingly close. He took a slow breath in, and once again there was a powerful aroma of cinnamon and cloves. Something in my eyes convinced him I was serious, and he drew away. His mouth flattened into a severe line, and he returned to his seat.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon in a state of détente. I tried to read beyond the second folio of my first manuscript, and Clairmont leafed through scraps of paper and closely written notebooks with the attention of a judge deciding on a capital case.

By three o’clock my nerves were so frayed that I could no longer concentrate. The day was lost.

I gathered my scattered belongings and returned the manuscript to its box.

Clairmont looked up. “Going home, Dr. Bishop?” His tone was mild, but his eyes glittered.

“Yes,” I snapped.

The vampire’s face went carefully blank.

Every creature in the library watched me on my way out—the threatening wizard, Gillian, the vampire monk, even the daemon. The afternoon attendant at the collection desk was a stranger to me, because I never left at this time of day. Mr. Johnson pushed his chair back slightly, saw it was me, and looked at his watch in surprise.

In the quadrangle I pushed the glass doors of the library open and drank in the fresh air. It would take more than fresh air, though, to turn the day around.

Fifteen minutes later I was in a pair of fitted, calf-length pants that stretched in six different directions, a faded New College Boat Club tank, and a fleece pullover. After tying on my sneakers I set off for the river at a run.

When I reached it, some of my tension had already abated. “Adrenaline poisoning,” one of my doctors had called these surges of anxiety that had troubled me since childhood. The doctors explained that, for reasons they could not understand, my body seemed to think it was in a constant state of danger. One of the specialists my aunt consulted explained earnestly that it was a biochemical leftover from hunter-gatherer days. I’d be all right so long as I rid my bloodstream of the adrenaline load by running, just as a frightened ibex would run from a lion.

Unfortunately for that doctor, I’d gone to the Serengeti with my parents as a child and had witnessed such a pursuit. The ibex lost. It had made quite an impression on me.

Since then I’d tried medication and meditation, but nothing was better for keeping panic at bay than physical activity. In Oxford it was rowing each morning before the college crews turned the narrow river into a thorough-fare. But the university was not yet in session, and the river would be clear this afternoon.

My feet crunched against the crushed gravel paths that led to the boathouses. I waved at Pete, the boatman who prowled around with wrenches and tubs of grease, trying to put right what the undergraduates mangled in the course of their training. I stopped at the seventh boathouse and bent over to ease the stitch in my side before retrieving the key from the top of the light outside the boathouse doors.

Racks of white and yellow boats greeted me inside. There were big, eight-seated boats for the first men’s crew, slightly leaner boats for the women, and other boats of decreasing quality and size. A sign hung from the bow of one shiny new boat that hadn’t been rigged yet, instructing visitors that NO ONE MAY TAKE THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN OUT OF THIS HOUSE WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THE NCBC PRESIDENT. The boat’s name was freshly stenciled on its side in a Victorian-style script, in homage to the New College graduate who had created the character.

At the back of the boathouse, a whisper of a boat under twelve inches wide and more than twenty-five feet long rested in a set of slings positioned at hip level. God bless Pete, I thought. He’d taken to leaving the scull on the floor of the boathouse. A note resting on the seat read, “College training next Monday. Boat will be back in racks.”

I kicked off my sneakers, picked two oars with curving blades from the stash near the doors, and carried them down to the dock. Then I went back for the boat.

I plopped the scull gently into the water and put one foot on the seat to keep it from floating away while I threaded the oars into the oarlocks. Holding both oars in one hand like a pair of oversize chopsticks, I carefully stepped into the boat and pushed the dock with my left hand. The scull floated out onto the river.

Rowing was a religion for me, composed of a set of rituals and movements repeated until they became a meditation. The rituals began the moment I touched the equipment, but its real magic came from the combination of precision, rhythm, and strength that rowing required. Since my undergraduate days, rowing had instilled a sense of tranquillity in me like nothing else.

My oars dipped into the water and skimmed along the surface. I picked up the pace, powering through each stroke with my legs and feeling the water when my blade swept back and slipped under the waves. The wind was cold and sharp, cutting through my clothes with every stroke.

As my movements flowed into a seamless cadence, it felt as though I were flying. During these blissful moments, I was suspended in time and space, nothing but a weightless body on a moving river. My swift little boat darted along, and I swung in perfect unison with the boat and its oars. I closed my eyes and smiled, the events of the day fading in significance.

The sky darkened behind my closed lids, and the booming sound of traffic overhead indicated that I’d passed underneath the Donnington Bridge. Coming through into the sunlight on the other side, I opened my eyes—and felt the cold touch of a vampire’s gaze on my sternum.

A figure stood on the bridge, his long coat flapping around his knees. Though I couldn’t see his face clearly, the vampire’s considerable height and bulk suggested that it was Matthew Clairmont. Again.

I swore and nearly dropped one oar. The City of Oxford dock was nearby. The notion of pulling an illegal maneuver and crossing the river so that I could smack the vampire upside his beautiful head with whatever piece of boat equipment was handy was very tempting. While formulating my plan, I spotted a slight woman standing on the dock wearing paint-stained overalls. She was smoking a cigarette and talking into a mobile phone.

This was not a typical sight for the City of Oxford boathouse.

She looked up, her eyes nudging my skin. A daemon. She twisted her mouth into a wolfish smile and said something into the phone.

This was just too weird. First Clairmont and now a host of creatures appearing whenever he did? Abandoning my plan, I poured my unease into my rowing.

I managed to get down the river, but the serenity of the outing had evaporated. Turning the boat in front of the Isis Tavern, I spotted Clairmont standing beside one of the pub’s tables. He’d managed to get there from the Donnington Bridge—on foot—in less time than I’d done it in a racing scull.

Pulling hard on both oars, I lifted them two feet off the water like the wings of an enormous bird and glided straight into the tavern’s rickety wooden dock. By the time I’d climbed out, Clairmont had crossed the twenty-odd feet of grass lying between us. His weight pushed the floating platform down slightly in the water, and the boat wiggled in adjustment.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I demanded, stepping clear of the blade and across the rough planks to where the vampire now stood. My breath was ragged from exertion, my cheeks flushed. “Are you and your friends stalking me?”

Clairmont frowned. “They aren’t my friends, Dr. Bishop.”

“No? I haven’t seen so many vampires, witches, and daemons in one place since my aunts dragged me to a pagan summer festival when I was thirteen. If they’re not your friends, why are they always hanging around you?” I wiped the back of my hand across my forehead and pushed the damp hair away from my face.

“Good God,” the vampire murmured incredulously. “The rumors are true.”

“What rumors?” I said impatiently.

“You think these . . . things want to spend time with me?” Clairmont’s voice dripped with contempt and something that sounded like surprise. “Unbelievable.”

I worked my fleece pullover up above my shoulders and yanked it off. Clairmont’s eyes flickered to my collarbones, over my bare arms, and down to my fingertips. I felt uncharacteristically naked in my familiar rowing clothes.

“Yes,” I snapped. “I’ve lived in Oxford. I visit every year. The only thing that’s been different this time is you. Since you showed up last night, I’ve been pushed out of my seat in the library, stared at by strange vampires and daemons, and threatened by unfamiliar witches.”

Clairmont’s arms rose slightly, as if he were going to take me by the shoulders and shake me. Though I was by no means short at just under five-seven, he was so tall that my neck had to bend sharply so I could make eye contact. Acutely aware of his size and strength relative to my own, I stepped back and crossed my arms, calling upon my professional persona to steel my nerves.

“They’re not interested in me, Dr. Bishop. They’re interested in you.”

“Why? What could they possibly want from me?”

“Do you really not know why every daemon, witch, and vampire south of the Midlands is following you?” There was a note of disbelief in his voice, and the vampire’s expression suggested he was seeing me for the first time.

“No,” I said, my eyes on two men enjoying their afternoon pint at a nearby table. Thankfully, they were absorbed in their own conversation. “I’ve done nothing in Oxford except read old manuscripts, row on the river, prepare for my conference, and keep to myself. It’s all I’ve ever done here. There’s no reason for any creature to pay this kind of attention to me.”

“Think, Diana.” Clairmont’s voice was intense. A ripple of something that wasn’t fear passed across my skin when he said my first name. “What have you been reading?”

His eyelids dropped over his strange eyes, but not before I’d seen their avid expression.

My aunts had warned me that Matthew Clairmont wanted something. They were right.

He fixed his odd, gray-rimmed black eyes on me once more. “They’re following you because they believe you’ve found something lost many years ago,” he said reluctantly. “They want it back, and they think you can get it for them.”

I thought about the manuscripts I’d consulted over the past few days. My heart sank. There was only one likely candidate for all this attention.

“If they’re not your friends, how do you know what they want?”

“I hear things, Dr. Bishop. I have very good hearing,” he said patiently, reverting to his characteristic formality. “I’m also fairly observant. At a concert on Sunday evening, two witches were talking about an American—a fellow witch—who found a book in Bodley’s Library that had been given up for lost. Since then I’ve noticed many new faces in Oxford, and they make me uneasy.”

“It’s Mabon. That explains why the witches are in Oxford.” I was trying to match his patient tone, though he hadn’t answered my last question.

Smiling sardonically, Clairmont shook his head. “No, it’s not the equinox. It’s the manuscript.”

“What do you know about Ashmole 782?” I asked quietly.

“Less than you do,” said Clairmont, his eyes narrowing to slits. It made him look even more like a large, lethal beast. “I’ve never seen it. You’ve held it in your hands. Where is it now, Dr. Bishop? You weren’t so foolish as to leave it in your room?”

I was aghast. “You think I stole it? From the Bodleian? How dare you suggest such a thing!”

“You didn’t have it Monday night,” he said. “And it wasn’t on your desk today either.”

“You are observant,” I said sharply, “if you could see all that from where you were sitting. I returned it Friday, if you must know.” It occurred to me, belatedly, that he might have rifled through the things on my desk. “What’s so special about the manuscript that you’d snoop through a colleague’s work?”

He winced slightly, but my triumph at catching him doing something so inappropriate was blunted by a twinge of fear that this vampire was following me as closely as he obviously was.

“Simple curiosity,” he said, baring his teeth. Sarah had not misled me—vampires don’t have fangs.

“I hope you don’t expect me to believe that.”

“I don’t care what you believe, Dr. Bishop. But you should be on your guard. These creatures are serious. And when they come to understand what an unusual witch you are?” Clairmont shook his head.

“What do you mean?” All the blood drained from my head, leaving me dizzy.

“It’s uncommon these days for a witch to have so much . . . potential.” Clairmont’s voice dropped to a purr that vibrated in the back of his throat. “Not everyone can see it—yet—but I can. You shimmer with it when you concentrate. When you’re angry, too. Surely the daemons in the library will sense it soon, if they haven’t already.”

“I appreciate the warning. But I don’t need your help.” I prepared to stalk away, but his hand shot out and gripped my upper arm, stopping me in my tracks.

“Don’t be too sure of that. Be careful. Please.” Clairmont hesitated, his face shaken out of its perfect lines as he wrestled with something. “Especially if you see that wizard again.”

I stared fixedly at the hand on my arm. Clairmont released me. His lids dropped, shuttering his eyes.

My row back to the boathouse was slow and steady, but the repetitive movements weren’t able to carry away my lingering confusion and unease. Every now and again, there was a gray blur on the towpath, but nothing else caught my attention except for people bicycling home from work and a very ordinary human walking her dog.

After returning the equipment and locking the boathouse, I set off down the towpath at a measured jog.

Matthew Clairmont was standing across the river in front of the University Boat House.

I began to run, and when I looked back over my shoulder, he was gone.

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