Matthew made the necessary introductions. "Steph, this is Diana. She's visiting from America."
"Real y? Do you live in California? I'm dying to get to California."
"No, I live in Connecticut," I said regretful y.
"That's one of the little states, isn't it?" Steph was clearly disappointed.
"Yes. And it snows."
"I fancy palm trees and sunshine, myself." At the mention of snow, she'd lost interest in me entirely. "What'l it be?"
"I'm real y hungry," I said apologetical y, ordering two scrambled eggs, four pieces of toast, and several rashers of bacon.
Steph, who had clearly heard far worse, wrote down the order without comment and picked up our menus. "Just tea for you, Matthew?"
Once Steph was out of earshot, I leaned across the table.
"Do they know about you?"
Clairmont tilted forward, his face a foot away from mine.
This morning he smel ed sweeter, like a freshly picked carnation. I inhaled deeply.
"They know I'm a little different. Mary may suspect I'm more than a little different, but she's convinced that I saved Dan's life, so she's decided it doesn't matter."
"How did you save her husband?" Vampires were supposed to take human lives, not save them.
"I saw him on a rotation at the Radcliffe when they were short staffed. Mary had seen a program that described the symptoms of stroke, and she recognized them when her husband began to struggle. Without her he'd be dead or seriously incapacitated."
"But she thinks you saved Dan?" The vampire's spiciness was making me dizzy. I lifted the lid from the teapot, replacing the aroma of carnations with the tannic smel of black tea.
"Mary saved him the first time, but after he was admitted into hospital he had a terrible reaction to his medication. I told you she's observant. When she took her concerns to one of the physicians, he brushed them aside. I . . .
"Do you often see patients?" I poured each of us a steaming mug of tea so strong you could stand a spoon up in it. My hands trembled slightly at the idea of a vampire prowling the wards at the John Radcliffe among the sick and injured.
"No," he said, toying with the sugar jar, "only when they have an emergency."
Pushing one of the mugs toward him, I fixed my eyes on the sugar. He handed it to me. I put precisely half a teaspoon of sugar and half a cup of milk into my tea. This was just how I liked it-black as tar, a hint of sugar to cut the edge off the bitterness, then enough milk to make it look less like stew. This done, I stirred the concoction clockwise.
As soon as experience told me it wouldn't burn my tongue, I took a sip. Perfect.
The vampire was smiling.
"What?" I asked.
"I've never seen anyone approach tea with that much attentiveness to detail."
"You must not spend much time with serious tea drinkers.
It's al about being able to gauge the strength before you put the sugar and milk in it." His steaming mug sat untouched in front of him. "You like yours black, I see."
"Tea's not real y my drink," he said, his voicing dropping slightly.
"What is your drink?" The minute the question was out of my mouth, I wished I could cal it back. His mood went from amusement to tight-lipped fury.
"You have to ask?" he said scathingly. "Even humans know the answer to that question."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have." I gripped the mug, trying to steady myself.
"No, you shouldn't."
I drank my tea in silence. We both looked up when Steph approached with a toast rack ful of gril ed bread and a plate heaped high with eggs and bacon.
"Mum thought you needed veg," Steph explained when my eyes widened at the mound of fried mushrooms and tomatoes that accompanied the breakfast. "She said you looked like death."
"Thank you!" I said. Mary's critique of my appearance did nothing to diminish my appreciation for the extra food.
Steph grinned and Clairmont offered me a smal smile when I picked up the fork and applied myself to the plate.
Everything was piping hot and fragrant, with the perfect ratio of fried surface to melting, tender insides. My hunger appeased, I started a methodical attack on the toast rack, taking up the first triangle of cold toast and scraping butter over its surface. The vampire watched me eat with the same acute attention he'd devoted to watching me make my tea.
"So why science?" I ventured, tucking the toast into my mouth so he'd have to answer.
"Why history?" His voice was dismissive, but he wasn't going to fend me off that easily.
"I suppose I need to know why I'm here," he said, looking fixedly at the table. He was building a moated castle from the sugar jar and a ring of blue artificial-sweetener packets.
I froze at the similarity between his explanation and what Agatha had told me the day before about Ashmole 782.
"That's a question for philosophers, not scientists." I sucked a drop of butter off my finger to hide my confusion.
His eyes glittered with another wave of sudden anger.
"You don't real y believe that-that scientists don't care about why."
"They used to be interested in the whys," I conceded, keeping a wary eye on him. His sudden shifts in mood were downright frightening. "Now it seems al they're concerned with is the question of how-how does the body work, how do the planets move?"
Clairmont snorted. "Not the good scientists." The people behind him got up to leave, and he tensed, ready if they decided to rush the table.
"And you're a good scientist."
He let my assessment pass without comment.
"Someday you'l have to explain to me the relationship between neuroscience, DNA research, animal behavior, and evolution. They don't obviously fit together." I took another bite of toast.
Clairmont's left eyebrow rose toward his hairline. "You've been catching up on your scientific journals," he said sharply.
I shrugged. "You had an unfair advantage. You knew al about my work. I was just leveling the playing field."
He mumbled something under his breath that sounded French. "I've had a lot of time to think," he replied flatly in English, enlarging the moat around his castle with another ring of sweetener packets. "There's no connection between them."
"Liar," I said softly.
Not surprisingly, my accusation made Clairmont furious, but the speed of the transformation stil took me aback. It was a reminder that I was having breakfast with a creature who could be lethal.
"Tel me what the connection is, then," he said through clenched teeth.
"I'm not sure," I said truthful y. "Something's holding them al together, a question that links your research interests and gives meaning to them. The only other explanation is that you're an intel ectual magpie-which is ridiculous, given how highly regarded your work is-or maybe you get bored easily. You don't seem the type to be prone to intel ectual ennui. Quite the opposite, in fact."
Clairmont studied me until the silence grew uncomfortable. My stomach was starting to complain at the amount of food I'd expected it to absorb. I poured fresh tea and doctored it while waiting for him to speak.
"For a witch you're observant, too." The vampire's eyes showed grudging admiration.
"Vampires aren't the only creatures who can hunt, Matthew."
"No. We al hunt something, don't we Diana?" He lingered over my name. "Now it's my turn. Why history?"
"You haven't answered al my questions." And I hadn't yet asked him my most important question.
He shook his head firmly, and I redirected my energy from ferreting out information to protecting myself from Clairmont's attempts to obtain it.
"At first it was the neatness of it, I suppose." My voice sounded surprisingly tentative. "The past seemed so predictable, as if nothing that happened there was surprising."
"Spoken like someone who wasn't there," the vampire said drily.
I gave a short laugh. "I found that out soon enough. But in the beginning that's how it seemed. At Oxford the professors made the past a tidy story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Everything seemed logical, inevitable.
Their stories hooked me, and that was it. No other subject interested me. I became a historian and have never looked back."
"Even though you discovered that human beings-past or present-aren't logical?"
"History only became more chal enging when it became less neat. Every time I pick up a book or a document from the past, I'm in a battle with people who lived hundreds of years ago. They have their secrets and obsessions-al the things they won't or can't reveal. It's my job to discover and explain them."
"What if you can't? What if they defy explanation?"
"That's never happened," I said after considering his question. "At least I don't think it has. Al you have to do is be a good listener. Nobody real y wants to keep secrets, not even the dead. People leave clues everywhere, and if you pay attention, you can piece them together."
"So you're the historian as detective," he observed.
"Yes. With far lower stakes." I sat back in my chair, thinking the interview was over.
"Why the history of science, then?" he continued.
"The chal enge of great minds, I suppose?" I tried not to sound glib, nor to let my voice rise up at the end of the sentence into a question, and failed on both counts.
Clairmont bowed his head and slowly began to take apart his moated castle.
Common sense told me to remain silent, but the knotted threads of my own secrets began to loosen. "I wanted to know how humans came up with a view of the world that had so little magic in it," I added abruptly. "I needed to understand how they convinced themselves that magic wasn't important."
The vampire's cool gray eyes lifted to mine. "Have you found out?"
"Yes and no." I hesitated. "I saw the logic that they used, and the death of a thousand cuts as experimental scientists slowly chipped away at the belief that the world was an inexplicably powerful, magical place. Ultimately they failed, though. The magic never real y went away. It waited, quietly, for people to return to it when they found the science wanting."
"So alchemy," he said.
"No," I protested. "Alchemy is one of the earliest forms of experimental science."
"Perhaps. But you don't believe that alchemy is devoid of magic." Matthew's voice was certain. "I've read your work.
Not even you can keep it away entirely."
"Then it's science with magic. Or magic with science, if you prefer."
"Which do you prefer?"
"I'm not sure," I said defensively.
"Thank you." Clairmont's look suggested he knew how difficult it was for me to talk about this.
"You're welcome. I think." I pushed my hair back from my eyes, feeling a little shaky. "Can I ask you something else?"
His eyes were wary, but he nodded. "Why are you interested in my work-in alchemy?"
He almost didn't answer, ready to brush the question aside, then reconsidered. I'd given him a secret. Now it was his turn.
"The alchemists wanted to know why we're here, too."
Clairmont was tel ing the truth-I could see that-but it got me no closer to understanding his interest in Ashmole 782.
He glanced at his watch. "If you're finished, I should get you back to col ege. You must want to get into warm clothes before you go to the library."
"What I need is a shower." I stood and stretched, twisting my neck in an effort to ease its chronic tightness. "And I have to go to yoga tonight. I'm spending too much time sitting at a desk."
The vampire's eyes glinted. "You practice yoga?"
"Couldn't live without it," I replied. "I love the movement, and the meditation."
"I'm not surprised," he said. "That's the way you row-a combination of movement and meditation."
My cheeks colored. He was watching me as closely on the river as he had in the library.
Clairmont put a twenty-pound note on the table and waved at Mary. She waved back, and he touched my elbow lightly, steering me between the tables and the few remaining customers.
"Whom do you take class with?" he asked after he opened the car door and settled me inside.
"I go to that studio on the High Street. I haven't found a teacher I like yet, but it's close, and beggars can't be choosers." New Haven had several yoga studios, but Oxford was lagging behind.
The vampire settled himself in the car, turned the key, and neatly reversed in a nearby driveway before heading back to town.
"You won't find the class you need there," he said confidently.
"You do yoga, too?" I was fascinated by the image of his massive body twisting itself through a practice.
"Some," he said. "If you want to go to yoga with me tomorrow, I could pick you up outside Hertford at six. This evening you'd have to brave the studio in town, but tomorrow you'd have a good practice."
"Where's your studio? I'l cal and see if they have a class tonight."
Clairmont shook his head. "They aren't open tonight.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday evenings only."
"Oh," I said, disappointed. "What's the class like?"
"You'l see. It's hard to describe." He was trying not to smile.
To my surprise, we'd arrived at the lodge. Fred craned his neck to see who was idling inside the gates, saw the Radcliffe tag, and strol ed over to see what was going on.
Clairmont let me out of the car. Outside, I gave Fred a wave, and extended my hand. "I enjoyed breakfast. Thanks for the tea and company."
"Anytime," he said. "I'l see you in the library."
Fred whistled as Clairmont pul ed away. "Nice car, Dr.
Bishop. Friend of yours?" It was his job to know as much as possible about what happened in the col ege for safety's sake as wel as to satisfy the unabashed curiosity that was part of a porter's job description.
"I suppose so," I said thoughtful y.
In my rooms I pul ed out my passport case and removed a ten-dol ar bil from my stash of American currency. It took me a few minutes to find an envelope. After slipping the bil inside without a note, I addressed it to Chris, wrote "AIR MAIL" on the front in capital letters, and stuck the required postage in the upper corner.
Chris was never going to let me forget he'd won this bet.