فصل 12

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فصل 12

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12

I woke up to Matthew’s cool hands sliding under my pajama top, his lips soothing against my damp neck.

“Happy birthday,” he murmured.

“My own private air conditioner,” I said, snuggling against him. A vampire husband brought welcome relief in tropical conditions. “What a thoughtful present.”

“There are more,” he said, giving me a slow, wicked kiss.

“Fernando and Sarah?” I was almost past caring who might hear our lovemaking, but not quite.

“Outside. In the garden hammock. With the paper.”

“We’ll have to be quick, then.” The local papers were short on news and long on advertisements.

They took ten minutes to read—fifteen if you were shopping the back-to-school sales or wanted to know which of the three grocery chains had the best deal on bleach.

“I went out for the New York Times this morning,” he said.

“Always prepared, aren’t you?” I reached down and touched him. Matthew swore. In French.

“You’re just like Verin. Such a Boy Scout.”

“Not always,” he said, closing his eyes. “Not now, certainly.”

“Awfully sure of yourself, too.” My mouth slid along his in a teasing kiss. “The New York Times.

What if I were tired? Cranky? Or hormonal? The Albany paper would have been more than enough to keep them busy then.”

“I was relying on my presents to sweeten you up.”

“Well, I don’t know.” A sinuous twist of my hand elicited another French curse. “Why don’t I finish unwrapping this one? Then you can show me what else you’ve got.”

By eleven o’clock on my birthday morning, the mercury had already climbed above ninety degrees. The August heat wave showed no signs of breaking.

Worried about Sarah’s garden, I spliced together four hoses using a new binding spell and some duct tape so that I could reach all the flower beds. My headphones were jammed into my ears, and I was listening to Fleetwood Mac. The house had fallen eerily silent, as if it were waiting for something to happen, and I found myself missing the beat of my parents’ favorite band.

While dragging the hose across the lawn, my attention was momentarily caught by the large iron weather vane sprouting from the top of the hop barn. It hadn’t been there yesterday. I wondered why the house was tinkering with the outbuildings. While I considered the question, two more weather vanes popped out of the ridgepole. They quivered for a moment like newly emerged plants, then whirled madly. When the motion stopped, they all pointed north. Hopefully, their position was an indication that rain was on the way. Until then, the hose was going to have to suffice.

I was giving the plants a good soaking when someone engulfed me in an embrace.

“Thank God! I’ve been so worried about you.” The deep voice was muted by the sound of guitars and drums, but I recognized it nonetheless. I ripped the headphones from my ears and turned to face my best friend. His deep brown eyes were full of concern.

“Chris!” I flung my arms around his broad shoulders. “What are you doing here?” I searched his features for changes but found none. Still the same close-cropped curly hair, still the same walnut skin, still the same high cheekbones angled under straight brows, still the same wide mouth.

“I’m looking for you!” Chris replied. “What the hell is going on? You totally disappeared last November. You don’t answer your phone or your e-mail. Then I see the fall teaching schedule and you’re not on it! I had to get the chair of the history department drunk before he spilled that you were on medical leave. I thought you were dying—not pregnant.” Well, that was one less thing I’d have to tell him.

“I’m sorry, Chris. There was no cell-phone reception where I was. Or Internet.”

“You could have called me from here,” he said, not yet ready to let me off the hook. “I’ve left messages for your aunts, sent letters. Nobody responded.”

I could feel Matthew’s gaze, cold and demanding. I felt Fernando’s attention, too.

“Who is this, Diana?” Matthew asked quietly, coming to my side.

“Chris Roberts. Who the hell are you?” Chris demanded.

“This is Matthew Clairmont, fellow of All Souls College, Oxford University.” I hesitated. “My husband.”

Chris’s mouth dropped open.

“Chris!” Sarah waved from the back porch. “Come here and give me a hug!”

“Hi, Sarah!” Chris’s hand rose in greeting. He turned and gave me an accusatory look. “You got married?”

“You’re here for the weekend, right?” Sarah called.

“That depends, Sarah.” Chris’s shrewd glance moved from me to Matthew and back.

“On?” Matthew’s brow rose in aristocratic disdain.

“On how long it takes me to figure out why Diana married somebody like you, Clairmont, and whether you deserve her. And don’t waste your lord-of-the-manor act on me. I come from a long line of field hands. I am not impressed.” Chris said, stalking toward the house. “Where’s Em?”

Sarah froze, her face white. Fernando leaped up the porch steps to join her.

“Why don’t we go inside?” he murmured, trying to steer her away from Chris.

“Can I have a word?” Matthew asked, putting his hand on Chris’s arm.

“It’s all right, Matthew. I had to tell Diana. I can tell Chris, too.” Sarah’s throat worked. “Emily had a heart attack. She died in May.”

“God, Sarah. I’m so sorry.” Chris enveloped her in a less bone-crushing version of the hug he’d given me. He rocked slightly on his feet, his eyes screwed tightly shut. Sarah moved with him, her body relaxed and open rather than tight and full of grief. My aunt had not yet gotten over Emily’s death—like Fernando, she might never get over that fundamental loss—but there were small signs that she was beginning the slow process of learning to live again.

Chris’s dark eyes opened and sought me out over Sarah’s shoulder. They held anger and hurt, as well as sorrow and unanswered questions. Why didn’t you tell me? Where have you been? Why didn’t you let me help?

“I’d like to talk to Chris,” I said softly. “Alone.”

“You’ll be most comfortable in the keeping room.” Sarah drew away from Chris and wiped her eyes. The nod she gave me encouraged me to tell him our family’s secret. Based on the tightness of his jaw, Matthew was not feeling as generous.

“I’ll be right here if you need me.” Matthew raised my hand to his lips. There was a warning squeeze, a tiny nip on the knuckle of my ring finger as if to remind me—and him—that we were husband and wife. Matthew reluctantly released me.

Chris and I passed through the house to the keeping room. Once we were inside, I slid the doors shut.

“You’re married to Matthew Clairmont?” Chris exploded. “Since when?”

“About ten months. It all happened very quickly,” I said apologetically.

“I’ll say!” Chris lowered his voice. “I warned you about his reputation with women. Clairmont may be a great scientist, but he’s also a notorious asshole! Besides, he’s too old for you.”

“He’s only thirty-seven, Chris.” Give or take fifteen hundred years. “And I should warn you, Matthew and Fernando are listening to every word we say.” With vampires around, a closed door was no guarantee of privacy.

“How? Did your boyfriend—husband—bug the house?” Chris’s tone was sharp.

“No. He’s a vampire. They have exceptional hearing.” Sometimes honesty really was the best policy.

A heavy pot crashed in the kitchen.

“A vampire.” Chris’s look suggested I had lost my mind. “Like on TV?”

“Not exactly,” I said, proceeding with caution. Telling humans how the world really worked tended to unsettle them. I’d done it only once before—and it had been a huge mistake. My freshman roommate, Melanie, had passed out.

“A vampire,” Chris repeated slowly, as if he were thinking it all through.

“You’d better sit down.” I gestured toward the sofa. If he fell, I didn’t want him to hit his head.

Ignoring my suggestion, Chris plopped himself in the wing chair instead. It was more comfortable, to be sure, but had been known to forcibly eject visitors it didn’t like. I eyed it warily.

“Are you a vampire, too?” Chris demanded.

“No.” I perched gingerly on the edge of my grandmother’s rocking chair.

“Are you absolutely sure that Clairmont is? That’s his child you’re carrying, right?” Chris sat forward, as though a great deal depended on the answer.

“Children.” I held two fingers in the air. “Twins.”

Chris threw his hands in the air. “Well, no vampire ever knocked up a girl on Buffy. Not even Spike.

And God knows he never practiced safe sex.”

Bewitched had provided my mother’s generation with their supernatural primer. For mine it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whichever creatures had introduced Joss Whedon to our world had a lot to answer for. I sighed.

“I’m absolutely positive that Matthew is the father.”

Chris’s attention drifted to my neck.

“That’s not where he bites me.”

His eyes widened. “Where . . . ?” He shook his head. “No, don’t tell me.”

It was, I thought, a strange place to draw the line. Chris wasn’t normally squeamish—or prudish. Still, he hadn’t passed out. That was encouraging.

“You’re taking this very well,” I said, grateful for his equanimity.

“I’m a scientist. I’m trained to suspend disbelief and remain open-minded until something is disproved.” Chris was now staring at the Blasted Tree. “Why is there a tree in the fireplace?”

“Good question. We don’t really know. Maybe you have other questions I could answer, though.” It was an awkward invitation, but I was still worried he might faint.

“A few.” Once again Chris fixed his dark eyes on mine. He wasn’t a witch, but it had been very difficult to lie to him for all these years. “You say Clairmont’s a vampire, but you’re not. What are you,

Diana? I’ve known for some time that you aren’t like other people.”

I didn’t know what to say. How do you explain to someone you love that you’ve failed to mention a defining characteristic of yourself?

“I’m your best friend—or I was until Clairmont came along. Surely you trust me enough to come out to me,” Chris said. “No matter what it is, it won’t change anything between us.”

Beyond Chris’s shoulder a green smudge trailed off toward the Blasted Tree. The green smudge became the indistinct form of Bridget Bishop, with her embroidered bodice and full skirts.

Be canny, daughter. The wind blows from the north, a sign of a battle to come. Who will stand with you, and who will stand against you?

I had plenty of enemies. I couldn’t afford to lose a single friend.

“Maybe you don’t trust me enough,” Chris said softly when I didn’t immediately respond.

“I’m a witch.” My words were barely audible.

“Okay.” Chris waited. “And?”

“And what?”

“That’s it? That’s what you’ve been afraid to tell me?”

“I’m not talking neo-Pagan, Chris—though I am Pagan, of course. I’m talking an abracadabra, spell-casting, potion-making witch.” In this case Chris’s love of prime-time TV might actually prove useful.

“Do you have a wand?”

“No. But I do have a firedrake. That’s a kind of dragon.”

“Cool.” Chris grinned. “Very, very cool. Is that why you’ve stayed out of New Haven? Were you taking it to dragon obedience class or something?”

“Matthew and I had to get out of town quickly, that’s all. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

“Where were you?”

“In 1590.”

“Did you get any research done?” Chris looked thoughtful. “I suppose that would cause all kinds of citation problems. What would you put in your footnotes? ‘Personal conversation with William Shakespeare’?” He laughed.

“I never met Shakespeare. Matthew’s friends didn’t approve of him.” I paused. “I did meet the queen.”

“Even better,” Chris said, nodding. “Equally impossible to footnote, however.”

“You’re supposed to be shocked!” This was not at all what I’d expected. “Don’t you want proof?”

“I haven’t been shocked by anything since the MacArthur Foundation called me. If that can happen, anything is possible.” Chris shook his head. “Vampires and witches. Wow.”

“There are daemons, too. But their eyes don’t glow and they’re not evil. Well, no more so than any other species.”

“Other species?” Chris’s tone sharpened with interest. “Are there werewolves?”

“Absolutely not!” Matthew shouted in the distance.

“Touchy subject.” I gave Chris a tentative smile. “So you’re really fine with this?”

“Why wouldn’t I be? The government spends millions searching for aliens in outer space, and it turns out you’re right here. Think of all the grant money this could free up.” Chris was always looking for a way to diminish the importance of the physics department. “You can’t tell anybody,” I said hastily. “Not many humans know about us, and we need to keep it that way.”

“We’re bound to find out eventually,” Chris said. “Besides, most people would be thrilled.”

“You think? The dean of Yale College would be thrilled to know that they’d tenured a witch?” I raised my eyebrows. “My students’ parents would be happy to discover that their beloved children are learning about the Scientific Revolution scientific revolution from a witch?”

“Well, maybe not the dean.” Chris’s voice dropped. “Matthew isn’t going to bite me to keep me quiet?”

“No,” I assured him.

Fernando inserted his foot between the keeping-room doors and nudged them open.

“I’d be happy to bite you instead, but only if you ask very nicely.” Fernando put a tray on the table.

“Sarah thought you might like coffee. Or something stronger. Call me if you need anything else. No need to shout.” He gave Chris the kind of dazzling smile he’d bestowed on the coven’s female membership at the Lughnasadh potluck.

“Saddling the wrong horse, Fernando,” I warned as he departed.

“He’s a vampire, too?” Chris whispered.

“Yep. Matthew’s brother-in-law.” I held up the whiskey bottle and the coffeepot. “Coffee?

Whiskey?”

“Both,” said Chris, reaching for a mug. He looked at me in alarm. “You haven’t kept this witch business from your aunt, have you?”

“Sarah’s a witch, too. So was Em.” I poured a healthy slug of whiskey in his mug and topped it off with a bit of coffee. “This is the third or fourth pot of the day, so it’s mostly decaf. Otherwise we have to scrape Sarah off the ceiling.”

“Coffee makes her fly?” Chris took a sip, considered a moment, and added more whiskey.

“In a manner of speaking,” I said, uncapping the water and taking a swig. The babies fluttered, and I gave my abdomen a gentle pat.

“I can’t believe you’re pregnant.” For the first time, Chris sounded amazed.

“You’ve just learned that I spent most of last year in the sixteenth century, I have a pet dragon, and that you’re surrounded by daemons, vampires, and witches, but it’s my pregnancy that you find implausible?”

“Trust me, honey,” Chris said, pulling out his best Alabama drawl. “It’s way more implausible.”

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