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It’s just us and the ghosts now.” My stomach rumbled.
“What’s your favorite food?” he asked.
“Pizza,” I said promptly.
“You should have it while you can. Order some, and we’ll pick it up.”
We hadn’t been beyond the immediate environs of the Bishop house since our arrival, and it felt strange to be driving around the greater Madison area in a Range Rover next to a vampire. We took the back way to Hamilton, passing south over the hills into town before swinging north again to get the pizza. During the drive I pointed out where I’d gone swimming as a child and where my first real boyfriend had lived. The town was covered with Halloween decorations—black cats, witches on brooms, even trees decorated in orange and black eggs. In this part of the world, it wasn’t just witches who took the celebration seriously.
When we arrived at the pizza place, Matthew climbed out with me, seemingly unconcerned that witches or humans might see us. I stretched up to kiss him, and he returned it with a laugh that was almost lighthearted.
The college student who rang us up looked at Matthew with obvious admiration when she handed him the pie.
“Good thing she isn’t a witch,” I said when we got back into the car. “She would have turned me into a newt and flown off with you on her broomstick.”
Fortified with pizza—pepperoni and mushroom—I tackled the mess left in the kitchen and the family room. Matthew brought out handfuls of paper from the dining room and burned them in the kitchen fireplace.
“What do we do with these?” he asked, holding up my mother’s letter, the mysterious three-line epigram, and the page from Ashmole 782.
“Leave them in the keeping room,” I told him. “The house will take care of them.”
I continued to putter, doing laundry and straightening up Sarah’s office. It was not until I went up to put our clothes away that I noticed both computers were missing. I went pounding downstairs in a panic.
“Matthew! The computers are gone!”
“Hamish has them,” he said, catching me in his arms and smoothing my hair against the back of my head. “It’s all right. No one’s been in the house.”
My shoulders sagged, heart still hammering at the idea of being surprised by another Domenico or Juliette.
He made tea, then rubbed my feet while I drank it. All the while he talked about nothing important—houses in Hamilton that had reminded him of some other place and time, his first sniff of a tomato, what he thought when he’d seen me row in Oxford—until I relaxed into the warmth and comfort.
Matthew was always different when no one else was around, but the contrast was especially marked now that our families had left. Since arriving at the Bishop house, he’d gradually taken on the responsibility for eight other lives. He’d watched over all of them, regardless of who they were or how they were related to him, with the same ferocious intensity. Now he had only one creature to manage.
“We haven’t had much time to just talk,” I reflected, thinking of the whirlwind of days since we’d met. “Not just the two of us.”
“The past weeks have been almost biblical in their tests. I think the only thing we’ve escaped is a plague of locusts.” He paused. “But if the universe does want to test us the old-fashioned way, this counts as the end of our trial. It will be forty days this evening.”
So little time, for so much to have happened.
I put my empty mug on the table and reached for his hands. “Where are we going, Matthew?”
“Can you wait a little longer, mon coeur?” He looked out the window. “I want this day to last. And it will be dark soon enough.”
“You like playing house with me.” A piece of hair had fallen onto his forehead, and I brushed it back.
“I love playing house with you,” he said, capturing my hand.
We talked quietly for another half hour, before Matthew glanced outdoors again. “Go upstairs and take a bath. Use every drop of water in the tank and take a long, hot shower, too. You may crave pizza every now and then in the days to come. But that will be nothing compared to your longing for hot water. In a few weeks, you will cheerfully commit murder for a shower.”
Matthew brought up my Halloween costume while I bathed: a calf-length black dress with a high neck, sharp-toed boots, and a pointy hat.
“What, may I ask, are these?” He brandished a pair of stockings with red and white horizontal stripes.
“Those are the stockings Em mentioned.” I groaned. “She’ll know if I don’t wear them.”
“If I still had my phone, I would take a picture of you in these hideous things and blackmail you for eternity.”
“Is there anything that would ensure your silence?” I sank lower into the tub.
“I’m sure there is,” Matthew said, tossing the stockings behind him.
We were playful at first. As at dinner last night, and again at breakfast, we carefully avoided mentioning that this might be our last chance to be together. I was still a novice, but Em told me even the most experienced timewalkers respected the unpredictability of moving between past and future and recognized how easy it would be to wander indefinitely within the spiderweb of time.
Matthew sensed my changing mood and answered it first with greater gentleness, then with a fierce possessiveness that demanded I think of nothing but him.
Despite our obvious need for comfort and reassurance, we didn’t consummate our marriage.
“When we’re safe,” he’d murmured, kissing me along my collarbone. “When there’s more time.”
Somewhere along the way, my smallpox blister burst. Matthew examined it and pronounced that it was doing nicely—an odd description for an angry open wound the size of a dime. He removed the bandage from my neck, revealing the barest trace of Miriam’s sutures, and the one from my arm as well.
“You’re a fast healer,” he said approvingly, kissing the inside of my elbow where he’d drunk from my veins. His lips felt warm against my skin.
“How odd. My skin is cold there.” I touched my neck. “Here, too.”
Matthew drew his thumb across the spot where my carotid artery passed close to the surface. I shivered at his touch. The number of nerve endings there had seemingly tripled.
“Extra sensitivity,” Matthew said, “as if you’re part vampire.” He bent and put his lips against my pulse.
“Oh,” I gasped, taken aback at the intensity of feeling.
Mindful of the time, I buttoned myself into the black dress. With a braid down my back, I might have stepped out of a photograph from the turn of the nineteenth century.
“Too bad we’re not timewalking to World War I,” Matthew said, pulling at the sleeves of the dress. “You’d make a convincing schoolmistress circa 1912 in that getup.”
“Not with these on.” I sat on the bed and started pulling on the candy-striped stockings.
Matthew roared with laughter and begged me to put the hat on immediately.
“I’ll set fire to myself,” I protested. “Wait until the jack-o’-lanterns are lit.”
We went outside with matches, thinking we could light the pumpkins the human way. A breeze had kicked up, though, which made it difficult to strike the matches and impossible to keep the candles illuminated.
“Damn it,” I swore. “Sophie’s work shouldn’t go to waste.”
“Can you use a spell?” Matthew said, already prepared to have another go at the matchbox.
“If not, then I have no business even pretending to be a witch on Halloween.” The mere thought of explaining my failure to Sophie made me concentrate on the task at hand, and the wick burst into life. I lit the other eleven pumpkins that were scattered down the drive, each more amazing or terrifying than the last.
At six o’clock there was a fierce pounding on the door and muffled cries of “Trick or treat!” Matthew had never experienced an American Halloween, and he eagerly greeted our first visitors.
Whoever was outside received one of his heart-stopping smiles before Matthew grinned and beckoned me forward.
A tiny witch and a slightly larger vampire were holding hands on the front porch.
“Trick or treat,” they intoned, holding out their open pillowcases.
“I’m a vampire,” the boy said, baring his fangs at Matthew. He pointed to his sister. “She’s a witch.”
“I can see that,” Matthew said gravely, taking in the black cape and white makeup. “I’m a vampire, too.”
The boy examined him critically. “Your mother should have worked harder on your costume. You don’t look like a vampire at all. Where’s your cape?” The miniature vampire swept his arms up, a fold of his own satin cape in each fist, revealing its bat-shaped wings. “See, you need your cape to fly. Otherwise you can’t turn into a bat.”
“Ah. That is a problem. My cape is at home, and now I can’t fly back and get it. Perhaps I can borrow yours.” Matthew dumped a handful of candy into each pillowcase, the eyes of both children growing large at his generosity. I peeked around the door to wave at their parents.
“You can tell she’s a witch,” the girl piped up, nodding approvingly at my red-and-white-striped stockings and black boots. At their parents’ urging, they shouted thank-yous as they trotted down the walk and climbed into the waiting car.
Over the next three hours, we greeted a steady stream of fairy princesses, pirates, ghosts, skeletons, mermaids, and space aliens, along with still more witches and vampires. I gently told Matthew that one piece of candy per goblin was de rigueur and that if he didn’t stop distributing handfuls of goodies now, we would run out long before the trick-or-treating stopped at nine o’clock.
It was hard to criticize, however, given his obvious delight. His responses to the children who came to the door revealed a wholly new side of him. Crouching down so that he was less intimidating, he asked questions about their costumes and told every young boy purporting to be a vampire that he was the most frightening creature he’d ever beheld.
But it was his encounter with one fairy princess wearing an oversize set of wings and a gauze skirt that tugged hardest at my heart. Overwhelmed and exhausted by the occasion, she burst into tears when Matthew asked which piece of candy she wanted. Her brother, a strapping young pirate aged six, dropped her hand in horror.
“We shall ask your mother.” Matthew swept the fairy princess into his arms and grabbed the pirate by the back of his bandanna. He safely delivered both children into the waiting arms of their parents. Long before reaching them, however, the fairy princess had forgotten her tears. Instead she had one sticky hand wrapped in the collar of Matthew’s sweater and was tapping him lightly on the head with her wand, repeating, “Bippity, bop-pity, BOO!”
“When she grows up and thinks about Prince Charming, he’ll look just like you,” I told him after he returned to the house. A shower of silver glitter fell as he dipped his head for a kiss. “You’re covered with fairy dust,” I said, laughing and brushing the last of it from his hair.
Around eight o’clock, when the tide of fairy princesses and pirates turned to Gothic teenagers wearing black lipstick and leather garments festooned with chains, Matthew handed me the basket of candy and retreated to the keeping room.
“Coward,” I teased, straightening my hat before answering the door to another gloomy bunch.
Only three minutes before it would be safe to turn out the porch light without ruining the Bishops’ Halloween reputation, we heard another loud knock and a bellowed “Trick or treat!”
“Who can that be?” I groaned, slamming my hat back on my head.
Two young wizards stood on the front steps. One was the paperboy. He was accompanied by a lanky teenager with bad skin and a pierced nose, whom I recognized dimly as belonging to the O’Neil clan. Their costumes, such as they were, consisted of torn jeans, safety-pinned T-shirts, fake blood, plastic teeth, and lengths of dog leash.
“Aren’t you a bit old for this, Sammy?”
“It’th Tham now.” Sammy’s voice was breaking, full of unexpected ups and downs, and his prosthetic fangs gave him a lisp.
“Hello, Sam.” There were half a dozen pieces in the bottom of the candy basket. “You’re welcome to what’s left. We were just about to put out the lights. Shouldn’t you be at the Hunters’ house, bobbing for apples?”
“We heard your pumpkinth were really cool thith year.” Sammy shifted from one foot to the other. “And, uh, well . . .” He flushed and took out his plastic teeth. “Rob swore he saw a vampire here the other day. I bet him twenty bucks the Bishops wouldn’t let one in the house.”
“What makes you so sure you’d recognize a vampire if you saw one?”
The vampire in question came out of the keeping room and stood behind me. “Gentlemen,” he said quietly. Two adolescent jaws dropped.
“We’d have to be either human or really stupid not to recognize him,” said Rob, awestruck. “He’s the biggest vampire I’ve ever seen.”
“Cool.” Sammy grinned from ear to ear. He high-fived his friend and grabbed the candy.
“Don’t forget to pay up, Sam,” I said sternly.
“And, Samuel,” Matthew said, his French accent unusually pronounced, “could I ask you—as a favor to me—not to tell anyone else about this?”
“Ever?” Sammy was incredulous at the notion of keeping such a juicy piece of information to himself.
Matthew’s mouth twitched. “No. I see your point. Can you keep quiet until tomorrow?”
“Sure!” Sammy nodded, looking to Rob for confirmation. “That’s only three hours. We can do that. No problem.”
They got on their bikes and headed off.
“The roads are dark,” Matthew said with a frown of concern. “We should drive them.”
“They’ll be fine. They’re not vampires, but they can definitely find their way to town.”
The two bikes skidded to a halt, sending up a shower of loose gravel.
“You want us to turn off the pumpkins?” Sammy shouted from the driveway.
“If you want to,” I said. “Thanks!”
Rob O’Neil waved at the left side of the driveway and Sammy at the right, extinguishing all the jack-o’-lanterns with enviable casualness. The two boys rode off, their bikes bumping over the ruts, their progress made easier by the moon and the burgeoning sixth sense of the teenage witch.
I shut the door and leaned against it, groaning. “My feet are killing me.” I unlaced my boots and kicked them off, tossing the hat onto the steps.
“The page from Ashmole 782 is gone,” Matthew announced quietly, leaning against the banister post.
“It’s time, then.” I pulled myself away from the old door, and the house moaned softly.
“Make yourself some tea and meet me in the family room. I’ll get the bag.”
He waited for me on the couch, the soft-sided briefcase sitting closed at his feet and the silver chess piece and gold earring lying on the coffee table. I handed him a glass of wine and sat alongside. “That’s the last of the wine.”
Matthew eyed my tea. “And that’s the last of the tea for you as well.” He ran his hands nervously through his hair and took a deep breath. “I would have liked to go sometime closer, when there was less death and disease,” he began, sounding tentative, “and somewhere closer, with tea and plumbing. But I think you’ll like it once you get used to it.”
I still didn’t know when or where “it” was.
Matthew bent down to undo the lock. When he opened the bag and saw what was on top, he let out a sigh of relief. “Thank God. I was afraid Ysabeau might have sent the wrong one.”
“You haven’t opened the bag yet?” I was amazed at his self-control.
“No.” Matthew lifted out a book. “I didn’t want to think about it too much. Just in case.”
He handed me the book. It had black leather bindings with simple silver borders.
“It’s beautiful,” I said, running my fingers over its surface.
“Open it.” Matthew looked anxious.
“Will I know where we’re going once I do?” Now that the third object was in my hands, I felt strangely reluctant.
“I think so.”
The front cover creaked open, and the unmistakable scent of old paper and ink rose in the air. There were no marbled endpapers, no bookplates, no additional blank sheets such as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collectors put in their books. And the covers were heavy, indicating that wooden boards were concealed beneath the smoothly stretched leather.
Two lines were written in thick black ink on the first page, in a tight, spiky script of the late sixteenth century.
“‘To my own sweet Matt,’ ” I read aloud. “‘Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?’”
The dedication was unsigned, but it was familiar.
“Shakespeare?” I lifted my eyes to Matthew.
“Not originally,” he replied, his face tense. “Will was something of a magpie when it came to collecting other people’s words.”
I slowly turned the page.
It wasn’t a printed book but a manuscript, written in the same bold hand as the inscription. I looked closer to make out the words.
Settle thy studies, Faustus, and begin To sound the depth of that thou wilt profess.
“Jesus,” I said hoarsely, clapping the book shut. My hands were shaking.
“He’ll laugh like a fool when he hears that was your reaction,” Matthew commented.
“Is this what I think it is?”
“How did you get it?”
“Kit gave it to me.” Matthew touched the cover lightly. “Faustus was always my favorite.”
Every historian of alchemy knew Christopher Marlowe’s play about Dr. Faustus, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for magical knowledge and power. I opened the book and ran my fingers over the inscription while Matthew continued.
“Kit and I were friends—good friends—in a dangerous time when there were few creatures you could trust. We raised a certain amount of hell and eyebrows. When Sophie pulled the chess piece I’d lost to him from her pocket, it seemed clear that England was our destination.”
The feeling my fingertips detected in the inscription was not friendship, however. This was a lover’s dedication.
“Were you in love with him, too?” I asked quietly.
“No,” Matthew said shortly. “I loved Kit, but not the way you mean, and not in the way he wanted. Left to Kit, things would have been different. But it wasn’t up to him, and we were never more than friends.”
“Did he know what you are?” I hugged the book to my chest like a priceless treasure.
“Yes. We couldn’t afford secrets. Besides, he was a daemon, and an unusually perceptive one at that. You’ll soon discover it’s pointless trying to keep anything from Kit.”
That Christopher Marlowe was a daemon made a certain sense, based on my limited knowledge of him.
“So we’re going to England,” I said slowly. “When, exactly?”
“Every year a group of us met at the Old Lodge for the old Catholic holidays of All Saints and All Souls. Few dared to celebrate them, but it made Kit feel daring and dangerous to commemorate them in some way. He would read us his latest draft of Faustus—he was always fiddling with it, never satisfied. We’d drink too much, play chess, and stay awake until dawn.” Matthew drew the manuscript from my arms. He rested it on the table and took my hands in his. “Is this all right with you, mon coeur? We don’t have to go. We can think of sometime else.”
But it was already too late. The historian in me had started to process the opportunities of life in Elizabethan England.
“There are alchemists in England in 1590.”
“Yes,” he said warily. “None of them particularly pleasant to be around, given the mercury poisoning and their strange work habits. More important, Diana, there are witches—powerful witches, who can guide your magic.”
“Will you take me to the playhouses?”
“Could I keep you from them?” Matthew’s brows rose.
“Probably not.” My imagination was caught by the prospect opening before us. “Can we walk through the Royal Exchange? After they light the lamps?”
“Yes.” He drew me into his arms. “And go to St. Paul’s to hear a sermon, and to Tyburn for an execution. We’ll even chat about the inmates with the clerk at Bedlam.” His body shook with suppressed laughter. “Good Lord, Diana. I’m taking you to a time when there was plague, few comforts, no tea, and bad dentistry, and all you can think about is what Gresham’s Exchange looked like at night.”
I pulled back to look at him with excitement. “Will I meet the queen?”
“Absolutely not.” Matthew pressed me to him with a shudder. “The mere thought of what you might say to Elizabeth Tudor—and she to you—makes my heart falter.”
“Coward,” I said for the second time that night.
“You wouldn’t say so if you knew her better. She eats courtiers for breakfast.” Matthew paused. “Besides, there’s something else we can do in 1590.”
“Somewhere in 1590 there’s an alchemical manuscript that will one day be owned by Elias Ashmole. We might look for it.”
“The manuscript might be complete then, its magic unbroken.” I extricated myself from his arms and sat back against the cushions, staring in wonder at the three objects on the coffee table. “We’re really going to go back in time.”
“We are. Sarah told me we had to be careful not to take anything modern into the past. Marthe made you a smock and me a shirt.” Matthew reached into the briefcase again and pulled out two plain linen garments with long sleeves and strings at the neck. “She had to sew them by hand, and she didn’t have much time. They’re not fancy, but at least we won’t shock whomever we first meet.”
He shook them out, and a small, black velvet bag fell from their linen folds.
Matthew frowned. “What’s this?” he said, picking it up. A note was pinned to the outside. He opened it. “From Ysabeau. ‘This was an anniversary gift from your father. I thought you might like to give it to Diana. It will look old-fashioned but will suit her hand.’”
The bag held a ring made of three separate gold bands twisted together. The two outer bands were fashioned into ornate sleeves, colored with enamel and studded with small jewels to resemble embroidery. A golden hand curved out of each sleeve, perfectly executed down to the tiny bones, slender tendons, and minute fingernails.
Clasped between the two hands, on the inner ring, was a huge stone that looked like glass. It was clear and unfaceted, set in a golden bezel with a black painted background. No jeweler would put a hunk of glass in a ring so fine. It was a diamond.
“That belongs in a museum, not on my finger.” I was mesmerized by the lifelike hands and tried not to think about the weight of the stone they held.
“My mother used to wear it all the time,” Matthew said, picking it up between his thumb and index finger. “She called it her scribble ring because she could write on glass with the point of the diamond.” His keen eyes saw some detail of the ring that mine did not. With a twist of the golden hands, the three rings fanned out in his palm. Each band was engraved, the words twining around the flat surfaces.
We peered at the tiny writing.
“They’re poesies—verses that people wrote as tokens of affection. This one says ‘a ma vie de coer entier,’ ” Matthew said, the tip of his index finger touching the gold surface. “It’s old French for ‘my whole heart for my whole life.’ And this, ‘mon debut et ma fin,’ with an alpha and an omega.”
My French was good enough to translate that—“my beginning and my end.”
“What’s on the inner band?”
“It’s engraved on both sides.” Matthew read the lines, turning the rings over as he did so. “‘Se souvenir du passe, et qu’il ya un avenir.’ ‘Remember the past, and that there is a future.’”
“The poesies suit us perfectly.” It was eerie that Philippe had selected verses for Ysabeau so long ago that could have meaning for Matthew and me today.
“Vampires are also timewalkers of a sort.” Matthew fitted the ring together. He took my left hand and looked away, afraid of my reaction. “Will you wear it?”
I took his chin in my fingers, turning his head toward me, and nodded, quite unable to speak. Matthew’s face turned shy, and his eyes dropped to my hand, still held in his. He slid the ring over my thumb so it rested just above the knuckle.
“With this ring I thee wed, and with my body I thee honor.” Matthew’s voice was quiet, and it shook just a bit. He moved the ring deliberately to my index finger, sliding it down until it met the middle joint. “And with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” The ring skipped over my middle finger and slid home onto the fourth finger of my left hand. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” He raised my hand to his mouth and his eyes to mine once more, cold lips pressing the ring into my skin. “Amen.”
“Amen,” I repeated. “So now we’re married in the eyes of vampires and according to church law.” The ring felt heavy, but Ysabeau was right. It did suit me.
“In your eyes, too, I hope.” Matthew sounded uncertain.
“Of course we’re married in my eyes.” Something of my happiness must have shown, because his answering smile was as broad and heartfelt as any I’d seen.
“Let’s see if Maman sent more surprises.” He dove back into the briefcase and came up with a few more books. There was another note, also from Ysabeau.
“‘These were next to the manuscript you asked for,’ ” Matthew read. “‘I sent them, too—just in case.’ ”
“Are they also from 1590?”
“No,” Matthew said, his voice thoughtful, “none of them.” He reached into the bag again. When his hand emerged, it was clutching the silver pilgrim’s badge from Bethany.
There was no note to explain why it was there.
The clock in the front hall struck ten. We were due to leave—soon.
“I wish I knew why she sent these.” Matthew sounded worried.
“Maybe she thought we should carry other things that were precious to you.” I knew how strong his attachment was to the tiny silver coffin.
“Not if it makes it harder for you to concentrate on 1590.” He glanced at the ring on my left hand, and I closed my fingers. There was no way he was taking it off, whether it was from 1590 or not.
“We could call Sarah and ask her what she thinks.”
Matthew shook his head. “No. Let’s not trouble her. We know what we need to do—take three objects and nothing else from the past or present that might get in the way. We’ll make an exception for the ring, now that it’s on your finger.” He opened the top book and froze.
“What is it?”
“My annotations are in this book—and I don’t remember putting them there.”
“It’s more than four hundred years old. Maybe you forgot.” In spite of my words, a cold finger ran up my spine.
Matthew flipped through a few more pages and inhaled sharply. “If we leave these books in the keeping room, along with the pilgrim’s badge, will the house take care of them?”
“It will if we ask it to,” I said. “Matthew, what’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you later. We should go. These,” he said, lifting the books and Lazarus’s coffin, “need to stay here.”
We changed in silence. I took off everything down to my bare skin, shivering as the linen smock slipped over my shoulders. The cuffs skimmed my wrists as it fell to my ankles, and the wide neck drew closed when I tugged on the string.
Matthew was out of his clothes and into his shirt quickly. It nearly reached his knees, and his long white legs stuck out below. While I collected our clothes, Matthew went to the dining room and came out with stationery and one of his favorite pens. His hand sped across the page, and he folded the single sheet and tucked it into the waiting envelope.
“A note for Sarah,” he explained. “We’ll ask the house to take care of that, too.”
We carried the extra books, the note, and the pilgrim’s badge to the keeping room. Mathew put them carefully on the sofa.
“Shall we leave the lights on?” Matthew asked.
“No,” I said. “Just the porch light, in case it’s still dark when they come home.”
There was a smudge of green when we turned off the lamps. It was my grandmother, rocking in her chair.
“Good-bye, Grandma.” Neither Bridget Bishop nor Elizabeth was with her.
“The house needs to take care of those.” I pointed to the pile of objects on the sofa.
Don’t worry about a thing except for where you’re going.
Slowly we walked the length of the house to the back door, shutting off lights as we went. In the family room, Matthew picked up Doctor Faustus, the earring, and the chess piece.
I looked around one last time at the familiar brown kitchen. “Good-bye, house.”
Tabitha heard my voice and ran screeching from the stillroom. She came to an abrupt halt and stared at us without blinking.
“Good-bye, ma petite,” Matthew said, stooping to scratch her ears.
We’d decided to leave from the hop barn. It was quiet, with no vestiges of modern life to serve as distractions. We moved through the apple orchard and over the frost-covered grass in our bare feet, the cold quickening our steps. When Matthew pulled open the barn door, my breath was visible in the chilly air.
“It’s freezing.” I drew my smock closer, teeth chattering.
“There will be a fire when we arrive at the Old Lodge,” he said, handing me the earring.
I put the thin wire through the hole in my ear and held my hand out for the goddess. Matthew dropped her into my palm.
“Wine, of course—red wine.” Matthew handed me the book and folded me into his arms, planting a firm kiss on my forehead.
“Where are your rooms?” I shut my eyes, remembering the Old Lodge.
“Upstairs, on the western side of the courtyard, overlooking the deer park.”
“And what will it smell like?”
“Like home,” he said. “Wood smoke and roasted meat from the servants’ dinner, beeswax from the candles, and the lavender used to keep the linens fresh.”
“Can you hear anything special?”
“Nothing at all. Just the bells from St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s, the crackle of the fires, and the dogs snoring on the stairs.”
“How do you feel when you’re there?” I asked, concentrating on his words and the way they in turn made me feel.
“I’ve always felt . . . ordinary at the Old Lodge,” Matthew said softly. “It’s a place where I can be myself.”
A whiff of lavender swirled through the air, out of time and place in a Madison hop barn in October. I marveled at the scent and thought of my father’s note. My eyes were fully open to the possibilities of magic now.
“What will we do tomorrow?”
“We’ll walk in the park,” he said, his voice a murmur and his arms iron bands around my ribs. “If the weather’s fine, we’ll go riding. There won’t be much in the gardens this time of year. There must be a lute somewhere. I’ll teach you to play, if you’d like.”
Another scent—spicy and sweet—joined with the lavender, and I saw a tree laden with heavy, golden fruit. A hand stretched up, and a diamond winked in the sunlight, but the fruit was out of reach. I felt frustration and the keen edge of desire, and I was reminded of Emily’s telling me that magic was in the heart as well as the mind.
“Is there a quince in the garden?”
“Yes,” Matthew said, his mouth against my hair. “The fruit will be ripe now.”
The tree dissolved, though the honeyed scent remained. Now I saw a shallow silver dish sitting on a long wooden table. Candles and firelight were reflected in its burnished surface. Piled inside the dish were the bright yellow quinces that were the source of the scent. My fingers flexed on the cover of the book I held in the present, but in my mind they closed on a piece of fruit in the past.
“I can smell the quinces.” Our new life in the Old Lodge was already calling to me. “Remember, don’t let go—no matter what.” With the past everywhere around me, the possibility of losing him was all that was frightening.
“Never,” he said firmly.
“And lift up your foot and then put it down again when I tell you.”
He chuckled. “I love you, ma lionne.” It was an unusual response, but it was enough.
Home, I thought.
My heart tugged with longing.
An unfamiliar bell tolled the hour.
There was a warm touch of fire against my skin.
The air filled with scents of lavender, beeswax, and ripe quince.
“It’s time.” Together we lifted our feet and stepped into the unknown.
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