فصل 09

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فصل 09

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Chapter 9

Matthew crossed the river Avon, driving over the bridge’s high, arched spans. He found the familiar Lanarkshire landscape of craggy hills, dark sky, and stark contrasts soothing. Little about this part of Scotland was soft or inviting, and its forbidding beauty suited his present mood. He downshifted through the lime alley that had once led to a palace and now led nowhere, an odd remnant of a grand life no one wanted to live anymore. Pulling up to what had been the back entrance of an old hunting lodge, where rough brown stone stood in sharp contrast to the creamy stuccoed front, he climbed out of his Jaguar and lifted his bags from the trunk.

The lodge’s welcoming white door opened. “You look like hell.” A wiry daemon with dark hair, twinkling brown eyes, and a hooked nose stood with his hand on the latch and inspected his best friend from head to foot.

Hamish Osborne had met Matthew Clairmont at Oxford nearly twenty years ago. Like most creatures, they’d been taught to fear each other and were uncertain how to behave. The two became inseparable once they’d realized they shared a similar sense of humor and the same passion for ideas.

Matthew’s face registered anger and resignation in quick succession. “Nice to see you, too,” he said gruffly, dropping his bags by the door. He drank in the house’s cold, clear smell, with its nuances of old plaster and aging wood, and Hamish’s unique aroma of lavender and peppermint. The vampire was desperate to get the smell of witch out of his nose.

Jordan, Hamish’s human butler, appeared silently and brought with him the scent of lemon furniture polish and starch. It didn’t drive Diana’s honeysuckle and horehound entirely from Matthew’s nostrils, but it helped.

“Good to see you, sir,” he said before heading for the stairs with Matthew’s bags. Jordan was a butler of the old school. Even had he not been paid handsomely to keep his employer’s secrets, he would never divulge to a soul that Osborne was a daemon or that he sometimes entertained vampires. It would be as unthinkable as letting slip that he was occasionally asked to serve peanut butter and banana sandwiches at breakfast.

“Thank you, Jordan.” Matthew surveyed the downstairs hall so that he wouldn’t have to meet Hamish’s eyes. “You’ve picked up a new Hamilton, I see.” He stared raptly at the unfamiliar landscape on the far wall.

“You don’t usually notice my new acquisitions.” Like Matthew’s, Hamish’s accent was mostly Oxbridge with a touch of something else. In his case it was the burr of Glasgow’s streets.

“Speaking of new acquisitions, how is Sweet William?” William was Hamish’s new lover, a human so adorable and easygoing that Matthew had nicknamed him after a spring flower. It stuck. Now Hamish used it as an endearment, and William had started bothering florists in the city for pots of it to give to friends.

“Grumpy,” Hamish said with a chuckle. “I’d promised him a quiet weekend at home.”

“You didn’t have to come, you know. I didn’t expect it.” Matthew sounded grumpy, too.

“Yes, I know. But it’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other, and Cadzow is beautiful this time of year.”

Matthew glowered at Hamish, disbelief evident on his face.

“Christ, you do need to go hunting, don’t you?” was all Hamish could say.

“Badly,” the vampire replied, his voice clipped.

“Do we have time for a drink first, or do you need to get straight to it?”

“I believe I can manage a drink,” Matthew said in a withering tone.

“Excellent. I’ve got a bottle of wine for you and some whiskey for me.” Hamish had asked Jordan to pull some of the good wine out of the cellar shortly after he’d received Matthew’s dawn call. He hated to drink alone, and Matthew refused to touch whiskey. “Then you can tell me why you have such an urgent need to go hunting this fine September weekend.”

Hamish led the way across the gleaming floors and upstairs to his library. The warm brown paneling had been added in the nineteenth century, ruining the architect’s original intention to provide an airy, spacious place for eighteenth-century ladies to wait while their husbands busied themselves with sport. The original white ceiling remained, festooned with plaster garlands and busy angels, a constant reproach to modernity.

The two men settled into the leather chairs that flanked the fireplace, where a cheerful blaze was already taking the edge off the autumn chill. Hamish showed Matthew the bottle of wine, and the vampire made an appreciative sound. “That will do nicely.”

“I should think so. The gentlemen at Berry Brothers and Rudd assured me it was excellent.” Hamish poured the wine and pulled the stopper from his decanter. Glasses in hand, the two men sat in companionable silence.

“I’m sorry to drag you into all this,” Matthew began. “I’m in a difficult situation. It’s . . . complicated.”

Hamish chuckled. “It always is, with you.”

Matthew had been drawn to Hamish Osborne in part because of his directness and in part because, unlike most daemons, he was levelheaded and difficult to unsettle. Over the years a number of the vampire’s friends had been daemons, gifted and cursed in equal measure. Hamish was far more comfortable to be around. There were no blazing arguments, bursts of wild activity, or dangerous depressions. Time with Hamish consisted of long stretches of silence, followed by blindingly sharp conversation, all colored by his serene approach to life.

Hamish’s differences extended to his work, which was not in the usual daemonic pursuits of art or music. Instead he had a gift for money—for making it and for spotting fatal weaknesses in international financial instruments and markets. He took a daemon’s characteristic creativity and applied it to spreadsheets rather than sonatas, understanding the intricacies of currency exchange with such remarkable precision that he was consulted by presidents, monarchs, and prime ministers.

The daemon’s uncommon predilection for the economy fascinated Matthew, as did his ease among humans. Hamish loved being around them and found their faults stimulating rather than aggravating. It was a legacy of his childhood, with an insurance broker for a father and a housewife as a mother. Having met the unflappable Osbornes, Matthew could understand Hamish’s fondness.

The crackling of the fire and the smooth smell of whiskey in the air began to do their work, and the vampire found himself relaxing. Matthew sat forward, holding his wineglass lightly between his fingers, the red liquid winking in the firelight.

“I don’t know where to begin,” he said shakily.

“At the end, of course. Why did you pick up the phone and call me?”

“I needed to get away from a witch.”

Hamish watched his friend for a moment, noting Matthew’s obvious agitation. Somehow Hamish was certain the witch wasn’t male.

“What makes this witch so special?” he asked quietly.

Matthew looked up from under his heavy brows. “Everything.”

“Oh. You are in trouble, aren’t you?” Hamish’s burr deepened in sympathy and amusement.

Matthew laughed unpleasantly. “You could say that, yes.”

“Does this witch have a name?”

“Diana. She’s a historian. And American.”

“The goddess of the hunt,” Hamish said slowly. “Apart from her ancient name, is she an ordinary witch?”

“No,” Matthew said abruptly. “She is far from ordinary.”

“Ah. The complications.” Hamish studied his friend’s face for signs that he was calming down but saw that Matthew was spoiling for a fight instead.

“She’s a Bishop.” Matthew waited. He’d learned it was never a good idea to anticipate that the daemon wouldn’t grasp the significance of a reference, no matter how obscure.

Hamish sifted and sorted through his mind and found what he was seeking. “As in Salem, Massachusetts?”

Matthew nodded grimly. “She’s the last of the Bishop witches. Her father is a Proctor.”

The daemon whistled softly. “A witch twice over, with a distinguished magical lineage. You never do things by half, do you? She must be powerful.”

“Her mother is. I don’t know much about her father. Rebecca Bishop, though—that’s a different story. She was doing spells at thirteen that most witches can’t manage after a lifetime of study and experience. And her childhood abilities as a seer were astonishing.”

“Do you know her, Matt?” Hamish had to ask. Matthew had lived many lives and crossed paths with too many people for his friend to keep track of them all.

Matthew shook his head. “No. There’s always talk about her, though—and plenty of envy. You know how witches are,” he said, his voice taking on the slightly unpleasant tone it did whenever he referred to the species.

Hamish let the remark about witches pass and eyed Matthew over the rim of his glass.

“And Diana?”

“She claims she doesn’t use magic.”

There were two threads in that brief sentence that needed pulling. Hamish tugged on the easier one first. “What, not for anything? Finding a lost earring? Coloring her hair?” Hamish sounded doubtful.

“She’s not the earrings and colored hair type. She’s more the three-mile run followed by an hour on the river in a dangerously tiny boat type.”

“With her background I find it difficult to believe she never uses her power.” Hamish was a pragmatist as well as a dreamer. It was why he was so good with other people’s money. “And you don’t believe it either, or you wouldn’t suggest that she’s lying.” There was the second thread pulled.

“She says she only uses magic occasionally—for little things.” Matthew hesitated, raked his fingers through his hair so half of it stood on end, and took a gulp of wine. “I’ve been watching her, though, and she’s using it more than that. I can smell it,” he said, his voice frank and open for the first time since his arrival. “The scent is like an electrical storm about to break, or summer lightning. There are times when I can see it, too. Diana shimmers when she’s angry or lost in her work.” And when she’s asleep, he thought, frowning. “Christ, there are times when I think I can even taste it.”

“She shimmers?”

“It’s nothing you would see, though you might sense the energy some other way. The chatoiement—her witch’s shimmer—is very faint. Even when I was a young vampire, only the most powerful witches emitted these tiny pulses of light. It’s rare to see it today. Diana’s unaware she’s doing it, and she’s oblivious to its significance.” Matthew shuddered and balled up his fist.

The daemon glanced at his watch. The day was young, but he already knew why his friend was in Scotland.

Matthew Clairmont was falling in love.

Jordan came in, his timing impeccable. “The gillie dropped off the Jeep, sir. I told him you wouldn’t need his services today.” The butler knew there was little need for a guide to track down deer when you had a vampire in the house.

“Excellent,” Hamish said, rising to his feet and draining his glass. He sorely wanted more whiskey, but it was better to keep his wits about him.

Matthew looked up. “I’ll go out by myself, Hamish. I’d rather hunt alone.” The vampire didn’t like hunting with warmbloods, a category that included humans, daemons, and witches. He usually made an exception for Hamish, but today he wanted to be on his own while he got his craving for Diana Bishop under control.

“Oh, we’re not going hunting,” Hamish said with a wicked glint in his eye. “We’re going stalking.” The daemon had a plan. It involved occupying his friend’s mind until he let down his guard and willingly shared what was going on in Oxford rather than requiring Hamish to drag it out of him. “Come on, it’s a beautiful day. You’ll have fun.”

Outside, Matthew grimly climbed into Hamish’s beat-up Jeep. It was what the two of them preferred to roam around in when they were at Cadzow, even though a Land Rover was the vehicle of choice in grand Scottish hunting lodges. Matthew didn’t mind that it was freezing to drive in, and Hamish found its hypermasculinity amusing.

In the hills Hamish ground the Jeep’s gears—the vampire cringed at the sound each time—as he climbed to where the deer grazed. Matthew spotted a pair of stags on the next crag and told Hamish to stop. He got out of the Jeep quietly and crouched by the front tire, already mesmerized.

Hamish smiled and joined him.

The daemon had stalked deer with Matthew before and understood what he needed. The vampire did not always feed, though today Hamish was certain that, left to his own devices, Matthew would have come home sated after dark—and there would be two fewer stags on the estate. His friend was as much predator as carnivore. It was the hunt that defined vampires’ identity, not their feeding or what they fed upon. Sometimes, when Matthew was restless, he just went out and tracked whatever he could chase without making a kill.

While the vampire watched the deer, the daemon watched Matthew. There was trouble in Oxford. He could feel it.

Matthew sat patiently for the next several hours, considering whether the stags were worth pursuing. Through his extraordinary senses of smell, sight, and hearing, he tracked their movements, figured out their habits, and gauged their every response to a cracking twig or a bird in flight. The vampire’s attention was avid, but he never showed impatience. For Matthew the crucial moment came when his prey acknowledged that it was beaten and surrendered.

The light was dimming when he finally rose and nodded to Hamish. It was enough for the first day, and though he didn’t need the light to see the deer, he knew that Hamish needed it to get back down the mountain.

By the time they reached the lodge, it was pitch black, and Jordan had turned on every lamp, which made the building look even more ridiculous, sitting on a rise in the middle of nowhere.

“This lodge never did make any sense,” Matthew said in a conversational tone that was nevertheless intended to sting. “Robert Adam was insane to take the commission.”

“You’ve shared your thoughts on my little extravagance many times, Matthew,” Hamish said serenely, “and I don’t care if you understand the principles of architectural design better than I do or whether you believe that Adam was a madman to construct—what do you always call it?—an ‘ill-conceived folly’ in the Lanarkshire wilderness. I love it, and nothing you say is going to change that.” They’d had versions of this conversation regularly since Hamish’s announcement he’d purchased the lodge—complete with all its furnishings, the gillie, and Jordan—from an aristocrat who had no use for the building and no money to repair it. Matthew had been horrified. To Hamish, however, Cadzow Lodge was a sign he had risen so far above his Glasgow roots that he could spend money on something impractical that he could love for its own sake.

“Hmph,” Matthew said with a scowl.

Grumpiness was preferable to agitation, Hamish thought. He moved on to the next step of his plan.

“Dinner’s at eight,” he said, “in the dining room.”

Matthew hated the dining room, which was grand, high-ceilinged, and drafty. More important, it upset the vampire because it was gaudy and feminine. It was Hamish’s favorite room.

Matthew groaned. “I’m not hungry.”

“You’re famished,” Hamish said sharply, taking in the color and texture of Matthew’s skin. “When was your last real meal?”

“Weeks ago.” Matthew shrugged with his usual disregard for the passage of time. “I can’t remember.”

“Tonight you’re having wine and soup. Tomorrow—it’s up to you what you eat. Do you want some time alone before dinner, or will you risk playing billiards with me?” Hamish was extremely good at billiards and even better at snooker, which he had learned to play as a teenager. He’d made his first money in Glasgow’s billiards halls and could beat almost anyone. Matthew refused to play snooker with him anymore on the grounds that it was no fun to lose every time, even to a friend. The vampire had tried to teach him carambole instead, the old French game involving balls and cues, but Matthew always won those games. Billiards was the sensible compromise.

Unable to resist a battle of any sort, Matthew agreed. “I’ll change and join you.”

Hamish’s felt-covered billiards table was in a room opposite the library. He was there in a sweater and trousers when Matthew arrived in a white shirt and jeans. The vampire avoided wearing white, which made him look startling and ghostly, but it was the only decent shirt he had with him. He’d packed for a hunting trip, not a dinner party.

He picked up his cue and stood at the end of the table. “Ready?”

Hamish nodded. “Let’s say an hour of play, shall we? Then we’ll go down for a drink.”

The two men bent over their cues. “Be gentle with me, Matthew,” Hamish murmured just before they struck the balls. The vampire snorted as they shot to the far end, hit the cushion, and rebounded.

“I’ll take the white,” said Matthew when the balls stopped rolling and his was closest. He palmed the other and tossed it to Hamish. The daemon put a red ball on its mark and stood back.

As in hunting, Matthew was in no rush to score points. He shot fifteen hazards in a row, putting the red ball in a different pocket each time. “If you don’t mind,” he drawled, pointing to the table. The daemon put his yellow ball on it without comment.

Matthew mixed up simple shots that took the red ball into the pockets with trickier shots known as cannons that were not his forte. Cannons involved hitting both Hamish’s yellow ball and the red ball with one strike of the cue, and they required not only strength but finesse.

“Where did you find the witch?” Hamish asked casually after Matthew cannoned the yellow and red balls.

Matthew retrieved the white ball and prepared for his next shot. “The Bodleian.”

The daemon’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “The Bodleian? Since when have you been a regular at the library?”

Matthew fouled, his white ball hopping over the cushion and onto the floor. “Since I was at a concert and overheard two witches talking about an American who’d got her hands on a long-lost manuscript,” he said. “I couldn’t figure out why the witches would give a damn.” He stepped back from the table, annoyed at his error.

Hamish quickly played his fifteen hazards. Matthew placed his ball on the table and picked up the chalk to mark down Hamish’s score.

“So you just strolled in there and struck up a conversation with her to find out?” The daemon pocketed all three balls with a single shot.

“I went looking for her, yes.” Matthew watched while Hamish moved around the table. “I was curious.”

“Was she happy to see you?” Hamish asked mildly, making another tricky shot. He knew that vampires, witches, and daemons seldom mixed. They preferred to spend time within close-knit circles of similar creatures. His friendship with Matthew was a relative rarity, and Hamish’s daemonic friends thought it was madness to let a vampire get so close. On a night like this one, he thought they might have a point.

“Not exactly. Diana was frightened at first, even though she met my eyes without flinching. Her eyes are extraordinary—blue and gold and green and gray,” Matthew mused. “Later she wanted to hit me. She smelled so angry.”

Hamish bit back a laugh. “Sounds like a reasonable response to being ambushed by a vampire in the Bodleian.” He decided to be kind to Matthew and save him from a reply. The daemon shot his yellow ball over the red, deliberately nicking it just enough that the red ball drifted forward and collided with it. “Damn,” he groaned. “A foul.”

Matthew returned to the table, shot a few hazards, and tried a cannon or two.

“Have you seen each other outside the library?” Hamish asked when the vampire had regained some of his composure.

“I don’t see her much, actually, even in the library. I sit in one part and she sits in another. I’ve taken her to breakfast, though. And to the Old Lodge, to meet Amira.”

Hamish kept his jaw closed with difficulty. Matthew had known women for years without taking them to the Old Lodge. And what was this about sitting at opposite ends of the library?

“Wouldn’t it be easier to sit next to her in the library, if you’re interested in her?”

“I’m not interested in her!” Matthew’s cue exploded into the white ball. “I want the manuscript. I’ve been trying to get my hands on it for more than a hundred years. She just put in the slip and up it came from the stacks.” His voice was envious.

“What manuscript, Matt?” Hamish was doing his best to be patient, but the exchange was rapidly becoming unendurable. Matthew was giving out information like a miser parting with pennies. It was intensely aggravating for quick-minded daemons to deal with creatures who didn’t consider any division of time smaller than a decade particularly important.

“An alchemical book that belonged to Elias Ashmole. Diana Bishop is a highly respected historian of alchemy.”

Matthew fouled again by striking the balls too hard. Hamish respotted the balls and continued to rack up points while his friend simmered down. Finally Jordan came to tell them that drinks were available downstairs.

“What’s the score?” Hamish peered at the chalk marks. He knew he’d won, but the gentlemanly thing was to ask—or so Matthew had told him.

“You won, of course.”

Matthew stalked out of the room and pounded down the stairs at considerably more than a human pace. Jordan eyed the polished treads with concern.

“Professor Clairmont is having a difficult day, Jordan.”

“So it would seem,” the butler murmured.

“Better bring up another bottle of red. It’s going to be a long night.”

They had their drinks in what had once been the lodge’s reception area. Its windows looked out on the gardens, which were still kept in orderly, classical parterres despite the fact that their proportions were all wrong for a hunting lodge. They were too grand—they belonged to a palace, not a folly.

In front of the fireplace, drinks in hand, Hamish could at last press his way into the heart of the mystery. “Tell me about this manuscript of Diana’s, Matthew. It contains what, exactly? The recipe for the philosopher’s stone that turns lead into gold?” Hamish’s voice was lightly mocking. “Instructions on how to concoct the elixir of life so you can transform mortal into immortal flesh?”

The daemon stopped his teasing the instant Matthew’s eyes rose to meet his.

“You aren’t serious,” Hamish whispered, his voice shocked. The philosopher’s stone was just a legend, like the Holy Grail or Atlantis. It couldn’t possibly be real. Belatedly, he realized that vampires, daemons, and witches weren’t supposed to be real either.

“Do I look like I’m joking?” Matthew asked.

“No.” The daemon shuddered. Matthew had always been convinced that he could use his scientific skills to figure out what made vampires resistant to death and decay. The philosopher’s stone fit neatly into those dreams.

“It’s the lost book,” Matthew said grimly. “I know it.”

Like most creatures, Hamish had heard the stories. One version suggested the witches had stolen a precious book from the vampires, a book that held the secret of immortality. Another claimed the vampires had snatched an ancient spell book from the witches and then lost it. Some whispered that it was not a spell book at all, but a primer covering the basic traits of all four humanoid species on earth.

Matthew had his own theories about what the book might contain. An explanation of why vampires were so difficult to kill and accounts of early human and creature history were only a small part of it.

“You really think this alchemical manuscript is your book?” he asked. When Matthew nodded, Hamish let out his breath with a sigh. “No wonder the witches were gossiping. How did they discover Diana had found it?”

Matthew turned, ferocious. “Who knows or cares? The problems began when they couldn’t keep their mouths shut.”

Hamish was reminded once again that Matthew and his family really didn’t like witches.

“I wasn’t the only one to overhear them on Sunday. Other vampires did, too. And then the daemons sensed that something interesting was happening, and—”

“Now Oxford is crawling with creatures,” the daemon finished. “What a mess. Isn’t term about to start? The humans will be next. They’re about to return in droves.”

“It gets worse.” Matthew’s expression was grim. “The manuscript wasn’t simply lost. It was under a spell, and Diana broke it. Then she sent it back to the stacks and shows no interest in recalling it. And I’m not the only one waiting for her to do so.”

“Matthew,” Hamish said, voice tense, “are you protecting her from other witches?”

“She doesn’t seem to recognize her own power. It puts her at risk. I couldn’t let them get to her first.” Matthew seemed suddenly, disconcertingly, vulnerable.

“Oh, Matt,” Hamish said, shaking his head. “You shouldn’t interfere between Diana and her own people. You’ll only cause more trouble. Besides,” he continued, “no witch will be openly hostile to a Bishop. Her family’s too old and distinguished.”

Nowadays creatures no longer killed one another except in self-defense. Aggression was frowned on in their world. Matthew had told Hamish what it was like in the old days, when blood feuds and vendettas had raged and creatures were constantly catching human attention.

“The daemons are disorganized, and the vampires won’t dare to cross me. But the witches can’t be trusted.” Matthew rose, taking his wine to the fireplace.

“Let Diana Bishop be,” Hamish advised. “Besides, if this manuscript is bewitched, you’re not going to be able to examine it.”

“I will if she helps me,” Matthew said in a deceptively easy tone, staring into the fire.

“Matthew,” the daemon said in the same voice he used to let his junior partners know when they were on thin ice, “leave the witch and the manuscript alone.”

The vampire placed his wineglass carefully on the mantel and turned away. “I don’t think I can, Hamish. I’m . . . craving her.” Even saying the word made the hunger spread. When his hunger focused, grew insistent like this, not just any blood would do. His body demanded something more specific. If only he could taste it—taste Diana—he would be satisfied and the painful longing would subside.

Hamish studied Matthew’s tense shoulders. He wasn’t surprised that his friend craved Diana Bishop. A vampire had to desire another creature more than anyone or anything else in order to mate, and cravings were rooted in desire. Hamish strongly suspected that Matthew—despite his previous fervent declarations that he was incapable of finding anyone who would stir that kind of feeling—was mating.

“Then the real problem you’re facing at the moment is not the witches, nor Diana. And it’s certainly not some ancient manuscript that may or may not hold the answers to your questions.” Hamish let his words sink in before continuing. “You do realize you’re hunting her?”

The vampire exhaled, relieved that it had been said aloud. “I know. I climbed into her window when she was sleeping. I follow her when she’s running. She resists my attempts to help her, and the more she does, the hungrier I feel.” He looked so perplexed that Hamish had to bite the inside of his lip to keep from smiling. Matthew’s women didn’t usually resist him. They did what he told them to do, dazzled by his good looks and charm. No wonder he was fascinated.

“But I don’t need Diana’s blood—not physically. I won’t give in to this craving. Being around her needn’t be a problem.” Matthew’s face crumpled unexpectedly. “What am I saying? We can’t be near each other. We’ll attract attention.”

“Not necessarily. We’ve spent a fair bit of time together, and no one has been bothered,” Hamish pointed out. In the early years of their friendship, the two had struggled to mask their differences from curious eyes. They were brilliant enough separately to attract human interest. When they were together—their dark heads bent to share a joke at dinner or sitting in the quadrangle in the early hours of the morning with empty champagne bottles at their feet—they were impossible to ignore.

“It’s not the same thing, and you know it,” Matthew said impatiently.

“Oh, yes, I forgot.” Hamish’s temper snapped. “Nobody cares what daemons do. But a vampire and a witch? That’s important. You’re the creatures who really matter in this world.”

“Hamish!” Matthew protested. “You know that’s not how I feel.”

“You have the characteristic vampire contempt for daemons, Matthew. Witches, too, I might add. Think long and hard how you feel about other creatures before you take this witch to bed.”

“I have no intention of taking Diana to bed,” Matthew said, his voice acid.

“Dinner is served, sir.” Jordan had been standing in the doorway, unobserved, for some time.

“Thank God,” Hamish said with relief, getting up from his chair. The vampire was easier to manage if he was dividing his attention between the conversation and something—anything—else.

Seated in the dining room at one end of a vast table designed to feed a house party’s worth of guests, Hamish tucked into the first of several courses while Matthew toyed with a soup spoon until his meal cooled. The vampire leaned over the bowl and sniffed.

“Mushrooms and sherry?” he asked.

“Yes. Jordan wanted to try something new, and since it didn’t contain anything you find objectionable, I let him.”

Matthew didn’t ordinarily require much in the way of supplemental sustenance at Cadzow Lodge, but Jordan was a wizard with soup, and Hamish didn’t like to eat alone any more than he liked drinking alone.

“I’m sorry, Hamish,” Matthew said, watching his friend eat.

“I accept your apology, Matt,” Hamish said, the soup spoon hovering near his mouth. “But you cannot imagine how difficult it is to accept being a daemon or a witch. With vampires it’s definite and incontrovertible. You’re not a vampire, and then you are. No question, no room for doubt. The rest of us have to wait, watch, and wonder. It makes your vampire superiority doubly hard to take.”

Matthew was twirling the spoon’s handle in his fingers like a baton. “Witches know they’re witches. They’re not like daemons at all,” he said with a frown.

Hamish put his spoon down with a clatter and topped off his wineglass. “You know full well that having a witch for a parent is no guarantee. You can turn out perfectly ordinary. Or you can set your crib on fire. There’s no telling if, when, or how your powers are going to manifest.” Unlike Matthew, Hamish had a friend who was a witch. Janine did his hair, which had never looked better, and made her own skin lotion, which was nothing short of miraculous. He suspected that witchcraft was involved.

“It’s not a total surprise, though,” Matthew persisted, scooping some soup into his spoon and waving it slightly to cool it further. “Diana has centuries of family history to rely upon. It’s nothing like what you went through as a teenager.”

“I had a breeze of a time,” Hamish said, recalling some of the daemonic coming-of-age stories he’d been privy to over the years.

When Hamish was twelve, his life had gone topsy-turvy in the space of one afternoon. He had come to realize, over the long Scottish autumn, that he was far smarter than his teachers. Most children who reach twelve suspect this, but Hamish knew it with deeply upsetting certainty. He responded by feigning sickness so he could skip school and, when that no longer worked, by doing his schoolwork as rapidly as he could and abandoning all pretense of normalcy. In desperation his schoolmaster sent for someone from the university mathematics department to evaluate Hamish’s troublesome ability to solve in minutes problems that occupied his school-mates for a week or more.

Jack Watson, a young daemon from the University of Glasgow with red hair and brilliant blue eyes, took one look at elfin Hamish Osborne and suspected that he, too, was a daemon. After going through the motions of a formal evaluation, which produced the expected documentary proof that Hamish was a mathematical prodigy whose mind did not fit within normal parameters, Watson invited him to attend lectures at the university. He also explained to the headmaster that the child could not be accommodated within a normal classroom without becoming a pyromaniac or something equally destructive.

After that, Watson made a visit to the Osbornes’ modest home and told an astonished family how the world worked and exactly what kinds of creatures were in it. Percy Osborne, who came from a staunch Presbyterian background, resisted the notion of multiple supernatural and preternatural creatures until his wife pointed out that he had been raised to believe in witches—why not daemons and vampires, too? Hamish wept with relief, no longer feeling utterly alone. His mother hugged him fiercely and told him that she had always known he was special.

While Watson was still sitting in front of their electric fire drinking tea with her husband and son, Jessica Osborne thought she might as well take the opportunity to broach other aspects of Hamish’s life that might make him feel different. She informed her son over chocolate biscuits that she also knew he was unlikely to marry the girl next door, who was infatuated with him. Instead Hamish was drawn to the girl’s elder brother, a strapping lad of fifteen who could kick a football farther than anyone else in the neighborhood. Neither Percy nor Jack seemed remotely surprised or distressed by the revelation.

“Still,” Matthew said now, after his first sip of tepid soup, “Diana’s whole family must have expected her to be a witch—and she is, whether she uses her magic or not.”

“I should think that would be every bit as bad as being among a bunch of clueless humans. Can you imagine the pressure? Not to mention the awful sense that your life didn’t belong to you?” Hamish shuddered. “I’d prefer blind ignorance.”

“What did it feel like,” Matthew asked hesitantly, “the first day you woke up knowing you were a daemon?” The vampire didn’t normally ask such personal questions.

“Like being reborn,” Hamish said. “It was every bit as powerful and confusing as when you woke up craving blood and hearing the grass grow, blade by blade. Everything looked different. Everything felt different. Most of the time I smiled like a fool who’d won the lottery, and the rest of the time I cried in my room. But I don’t think I believed it—you know, really believed it—until you smuggled me into the hospital.”

Matthew’s first birthday present to Hamish, after they became friends, had involved a bottle of Krug and a trip to the John Radcliffe. There Matthew sent Hamish through the MRI while the vampire asked him a series of questions. Afterward they compared Hamish’s scans with those of an eminent brain surgeon on the staff, both of them drinking champagne and the daemon still in a surgical gown. Hamish made Matthew play the scans back repeatedly, fascinated by the way his brain lit up like a pinball machine even when he was replying to basic questions. It remained the best birthday present he’d ever received.

“From what you’ve told me, Diana is where I was before that MRI,” Hamish said. “She knows she’s a witch. But she still feels she’s living a lie.”

“She is living a lie,” Matthew growled, taking another sip of soup. “Diana’s pretending she’s human.”

“Wouldn’t it be interesting to know why that’s the case? More important, can you be around someone like that? You don’t like lies.”

Matthew looked thoughtful but didn’t respond.

“There’s something else,” Hamish continued. “For someone who dislikes lies as much as you do, you keep a lot of secrets. If you need this witch, for whatever reason, you’re going to have to win her trust. And the only way to do that is by telling her things you don’t want her to know. She’s roused your protective instincts, and you’re going to have to fight them.”

While Matthew mulled the situation over, Hamish turned the conversation to the latest catastrophes in the City and the government. The vampire calmed further, caught up in the intricacies of finance and policy.

“You’ve heard about the murders in Westminster, I presume,” Hamish said when Matthew was completely at ease.

“I have. Somebody needs to put a stop to it.”

“You?” Hamish asked.

“It’s not my job—yet.”

Hamish knew that Matthew had a theory about the murders, one that was linked to his scientific research. “You still think the murders are a sign that vampires are dying out?”

“Yes,” Matthew said.

Matthew was convinced that creatures were slowly becoming extinct. Hamish had dismissed his friend’s hypotheses at first, but he was beginning to think Matthew might be right.

They returned to less disturbing topics of conversation and, after dinner, retreated upstairs. The daemon had divided one of the lodge’s redundant reception rooms into a sitting room and a bedroom. The sitting room was dominated by a large, ancient chessboard with carved ivory and ebony pieces that by all rights should be in a museum under protective glass rather than in a drafty hunting lodge. Like the MRI, the chess set had been a present from Matthew.

Their friendship had deepened over long evenings like this one, spent playing chess and discussing their work. One night Matthew began to tell Hamish stories of his past exploits. Now there was little about Matthew Clairmont that the daemon did not know, and the vampire was the only creature Hamish had ever met who wasn’t frightened of his powerful intellect.

Hamish, as was his custom, sat down behind the black pieces.

“Did we finish our last game?” Matthew asked, feigning surprise at the neatly arranged board.

“Yes. You won,” Hamish said curtly, earning one of his friend’s rare, broad smiles.

The two began to move their pieces, Matthew taking his time and Hamish moving swiftly and decisively when it was his turn. There was no sound except for the crackle of the fire and the ticking of the clock.

After an hour of play, Hamish moved to the final stage of his plan.

“I have a question.” His voice was careful as he waited for his friend to make his next move. “Do you want the witch for herself—or for her power over that manuscript?”

“I don’t want her power!” Matthew exploded, making a bad decision with his rook, which Hamish quickly captured. He bowed his head, looking more than ever like a Renaissance angel focused on some celestial mystery. “Christ, I don’t know what I want.”

Hamish sat as still as possible. “I think you do, Matt.”

Matthew moved a pawn and made no reply.

“The other creatures in Oxford,” Hamish continued, “they’ll know soon, if they don’t know already, that you’re interested in more than this old book. What’s your endgame?”

“I don’t know,” the vampire whispered.

“Love? Tasting her? Making her like you?”

Matthew snarled.

“Very impressive,” Hamish said in a bored tone.

“There’s a lot I don’t understand about all this, Hamish, but there are three things I do know,” Matthew said emphatically, picking up his wineglass from the floor by his feet. “I will not give in to this craving for her blood. I do not want to control her power. And I certainly have no wish to make her a vampire.” He shuddered at the thought.

“That leaves love. You have your answer, then. You do know what you want.”

Matthew swallowed a gulp of wine. “I want what I shouldn’t want, and I crave someone I can never have.”

“You’re not afraid you’d hurt her?” Hamish asked gently. “You’ve had relationships with warm-blooded women before, and you’ve never harmed any of them.”

Matthew’s heavy crystal wine goblet snapped in two. The bowl toppled to the floor, red wine spreading on the carpet. Hamish saw the glint of powdered glass between the vampire’s index finger and thumb.

“Oh, Matt. Why didn’t you tell me?” Hamish governed his features, making sure that not a particle of his shock was evident.

“How could I?” Matthew stared at his hands and ground the shards between his fingertips until they sparkled reddish black from the mixture of glass and blood. “You always had too much faith in me, you know.”

“Who was she?”

“Her name was Eleanor.” Matthew stumbled over the name. He dashed the back of his hand across his eyes, a fruitless attempt to wipe the image of her face from his mind. “My brother and I were fighting. Now I can’t even remember what the argument was about. Back then I wanted to destroy him with my bare hands. Eleanor tried to make me see reason. She got between us and—” The vampire’s voice broke. He cradled his head without bothering to clean the bloody residue from his already healed fingers. “I loved her so much, and I killed her.”

“When was this?” Hamish whispered.

Matthew lowered his hands, turning them over to study his long, strong fingers. “Ages ago. Yesterday. What does it matter?” he asked with a vampire’s disregard for time.

“It matters enormously if you made this mistake when you were a newly minted vampire and not in control of your instincts and your hunger.”

“Ah. Then it will also matter that I killed another woman, Cecilia Martin, just over a century ago. I wasn’t ‘a newly minted vampire’ then.” Matthew got up from his chair and walked to the windows. He wanted to run into the night’s blackness and disappear so he wouldn’t have to see the horror in Hamish’s eyes.

“Are there more?” Hamish asked sharply.

Matthew shook his head. “Two is enough. There can’t be a third. Not ever.”

“Tell me about Cecilia,” Hamish commanded, leaning forward in his chair.

“She was a banker’s wife,” Matthew said reluctantly. “I saw her at the opera and became infatuated. Everyone in Paris was infatuated with someone else’s wife at the time.” His finger traced the outline of a woman’s face on the pane of glass before him. “It didn’t strike me as a challenge. I only wanted a taste of her, that night I went to her house. But once I started, I couldn’t stop. And yet I couldn’t let her die either—she was mine, and I wouldn’t give her up. I barely stopped feeding in time. Dieu, she hated being a vampire. Cecilia walked into a burning house before I could stop her.”

Hamish frowned. “Then you didn’t kill her, Matt. She killed herself.”

“I fed on her until she was at the brink of death, forced her to drink my blood, and turned her into a creature without her permission because I was selfish and scared,” he said furiously. “In what way did I not kill her? I took her life, her identity, her vitality—that’s death, Hamish.”

“Why did you keep this from me?” Hamish tried not to care that his best friend had done so, but it was difficult.

“Even vampires feel shame,” Matthew said tightly. “I hate myself—and I should—for what I did to those women.”

“This is why you have to stop keeping secrets, Matt. They’re going to destroy you from the inside.” Hamish thought about what he wanted to say before he continued. “You didn’t set out to kill Eleanor and Cecilia. You’re not a murderer.”

Matthew rested his fingertips on the white-painted window frame and pressed his forehead against the cold panes of glass. When he spoke, his voice was flat and dead. “No, I’m a monster. Eleanor forgave me for it. Cecilia never did.”

“You’re not a monster,” Hamish said, worried by Matthew’s tone.

“Maybe not, but I am dangerous.” He turned and faced Hamish. “Especially around Diana. Not even Eleanor made me feel this way.” The mere thought of Diana brought the craving back, the tightness spreading from his heart to his abdomen. His face darkened with the effort to bring it under control.

“Come back here and finish this game,” Hamish said, his voice rough.

“I could go, Hamish,” Matthew said uncertainly. “You don’t have to share your roof with me.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Hamish replied as quick as a whip. “You’re not going anywhere.”

Matthew sat. “I don’t understand how you can know about Eleanor and Cecilia and not hate me, too,” he said after a few minutes.

“I can’t conceive of what you would have to do to make me hate you, Matthew. I love you like a brother, and I will until I draw my last breath.”

“Thank you,” Matthew said, his face somber. “I’ll try to deserve it.”

“Don’t try. Do it,” Hamish said gruffly. “You’re about to lose your bishop, by the way.”

The two creatures dragged their attention back to the game with difficulty, and they were still playing in the early morning when Jordan brought up coffee for Hamish and a bottle of port for Matthew. The butler picked up the ruined wineglass without comment, and Hamish sent him off to bed.

When Jordan was gone, Hamish surveyed the board and made his final move. “Checkmate.”

Matthew let out his breath and sat back in his chair, staring at the chessboard. His queen stood encircled by his own pieces—pawns, a knight, and a rook. Across the board his king was checked by a lowly black pawn. The game was over, and he had lost.

“There’s more to the game than protecting your queen,” Hamish said. “Why do you find it so difficult to remember that it’s the king who’s not expendable?”

“The king just sits there, moving one square at a time. The queen can move so freely. I suppose I’d rather lose the game than forfeit her freedom.”

Hamish wondered if he was talking about chess or Diana. “Is she worth the cost, Matt?” he asked softly.

“Yes,” Matthew said without a moment of hesitation, lifting the white queen from the board and holding it between his fingers.

“I thought so,” Hamish said. “You don’t feel this way now, but you’re lucky to have found her at last.”

The vampire’s eyes glittered, and his mouth twisted into a crooked smile. “But is she lucky, Hamish? Is she fortunate to have a creature like me in pursuit?”

“That’s entirely up to you. Just remember—no secrets. Not if you love her.”

Matthew looked into his queen’s serene face, his fingers closing protectively around the small carved figure.

He was still holding it when the sun rose, long after Hamish had gone to sleep.

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