Honestly, that car is such a cliche." The hair clung to my fingers, crackling and snapping as I tried to push it from my face.
Clairmont was lounging against the side of his Jaguar looking un-rumpled and at ease. Even his yoga clothes, characteristical y gray and black, looked bandbox fresh, though considerably less tailored than what he wore to the library.
Contemplating the sleek black car and the elegant vampire, I felt unaccountably cross. It had not been a good day. The conveyor belt broke in the library, and it took forever for them to fetch my manuscripts. My keynote address remained elusive, and I was beginning to look at the calendar with alarm, imagining a roomful of col eagues peppering me with difficult questions. It was nearly October, and the conference was in November.
"You think a subcompact would be better subterfuge?" he asked, holding out his hand for my yoga mat.
"Not real y, no." Standing in the fal twilight, he positively screamed vampire, yet the rising tide of undergraduates and dons passed him without a second glance. If they couldn't sense what he was- see what he was, standing in the open air-the car was immaterial. The irritation built under my skin.
"Have I done something wrong?" His gray-green eyes were wide and guileless. He opened the car door, taking a deep breath as I slid past.
My temper flared. "Are you smel ing me?" After yesterday I suspected that my body was giving him al kinds of information I didn't want him to have.
"Don't tempt me," he murmured, shutting me inside. The "Don't tempt me," he murmured, shutting me inside. The hair on my neck rose slightly as the implication of his words sank in. He popped open the trunk and put my mat inside.
Night air fil ed the car as the vampire climbed in without any visible effort or moment of limb-bent awkwardness. His face creased into the semblance of a sympathetic frown.
I gave him a withering glance. Clairmont knew exactly how my day had been. He and Miriam had been in Duke Humfrey's again, keeping the other creatures out of my immediate environment. When we left to change for yoga, Miriam had remained to make sure we weren't fol owed by a train of daemons-or worse.
Clairmont started the car and headed down the Woodstock Road without further attempts at smal talk.
There was nothing on it but houses.
"Where are we going?" I asked suspiciously.
"To yoga," he replied calmly. "Based on your mood, I'd say you need it."
"And where is yoga?" I demanded. We were headed out to the countryside in the direction of Blenheim.
"Have you changed your mind?" Matthew's voice was touched with exasperation. "Should I take you back to the studio on the High Street?"
I shuddered at the memory of last night's uninspiring class. "No."
"Then relax. I'm not kidnapping you. It can be pleasant to let someone else take charge. Besides, it's a surprise."
"Hmph," I said. He switched on the stereo system, and classical music poured from the speakers.
"Stop thinking and listen," he commanded. "It's impossible to be tense around Mozart."
Hardly recognizing myself, I settled in the seat with a sigh and shut my eyes. The Jaguar's motion was so subtle and the sounds from outside so muffled that I felt suspended above the ground, held up by invisible, musical hands.
The car slowed, and we pul ed up to a set of high iron gates that even I, though practiced, couldn't have scaled.
The wal s on either side were warm red brick, with irregular forms and intricate woven patterns. I sat up a little straighter.
"You can't see it from here," Clairmont said, laughing. He rol ed down his window and punched a series of numbers into a polished keypad. A tone sounded, and the gates swung open.
Gravel crunched under the tires as we passed through another set of gates even older than the first. There was no scrol ed ironwork here, just an archway spanning brick wal s that were much lower than the ones facing the Woodstock Road. The archway had a tiny room on top, with windows on al sides like a lantern. To the left of the gate was a splendid brick gatehouse, with twisted chimneys and leaded windows. A smal brass plaque with weathered edges read THE OLD LODGE.
"Beautiful," I breathed.
"I thought you'd like it." The vampire looked pleased.
Through the growing darkness, we passed into a park. A smal herd of deer skittered off at the sound of the car, jumping into the protective shadows as the Jaguar's headlights swept the grounds. We climbed a slight hil and rounded a curve in the drive. The car slowed to a crawl as we reached the top of the rise and the headlights dipped over into blackness.
"There," Clairmont said, pointing with his left hand.
A two-story Tudor manor house was arranged around a central courtyard. Its bricks glowed in the il umination of powerful spotlights that shone up through the branches of gnarled oak trees to light the face of the building.
I was so dumbfounded that I swore. Clairmont looked at me in shock, then chuckled.
He pul ed the car in to the circular drive in front and parked behind a late-model Audi sports car. A dozen more cars were already parked there, and headlights continued to sweep down over the hil .
"Are you sure I'm going to be al right?" I'd been doing yoga for more than a decade, but that didn't mean I was any good at it. It had never occurred to me to ask whether this might be the kind of class where people balanced on one forearm with their feet suspended in midair.
"It's a mixed class," he assured me.
"Okay." My anxiety went up a notch in spite of his easy answer.
Clairmont took our yoga mats out of the trunk. Moving slowly as the last of the arrivals headed for the wide entry, he final y reached my door and put out his hand. This is new, I noted before putting my hand in his. I was stil not entirely comfortable when our bodies came into contact. He was shockingly cold, and the contrast between our body temperatures took me aback.
The vampire held my hand lightly and tugged on it gently to help me out of the car. Before releasing me, he gave a soft encouraging squeeze. Surprised, I glanced at him and caught him doing the same thing. Both of us looked away in confusion.
We entered the house through another arched gate and a central courtyard. The manor was in an astonishing state of preservation. No later architects had been al owed to cut out symmetrical Georgian windows or affix fussy Victorian conservatories to it. We might have been stepping back in time.
"Unbelievable," I murmured.
Clairmont grinned and steered me through a big wooden door propped open with an iron doorstop. I gasped. The outside was remarkable, but the inside was stunning. Miles of linenfold paneling extended in every direction, al burnished and glowing. Someone had lit a fire in the room's enormous fireplace. A single trestle table and some benches looked about as old as the house, and electric lights were the only evidence that we were in the twenty-first century.
Rows of shoes sat in front of the benches, and mounds of sweaters and coats covered their dark oak surfaces.
Clairmont laid his keys on the table and removed his shoes. I kicked off my own and fol owed him.
"Remember I said this was a mixed class?" the vampire asked when we reached a door set into the paneling. I looked up, nodded. "It is. But there's only one way to get into this room-you have to be one of us."
He pul ed open the door. Dozens of curious eyes nudged, tingled, and froze in my direction. The room was ful of daemons, witches, and vampires. They sat on brightly colored mats-some with crossed legs, others kneeling- waiting for class to begin. Some of the daemons had headphones jammed into their ears. The witches were gossiping in a steady hum. The vampires sat quietly, their faces displaying little emotion.
My jaw dropped.
"Sorry," Clairmont said. "I was afraid you wouldn't come if I told you-and it real y is the best class in Oxford."
A tal witch who had short, jet-black hair and skin the color of coffee with cream walked toward us, and the rest of the room turned away, resuming their silent meditations.
Clairmont, who'd tensed slightly when we entered, visibly relaxed as the witch approached us.
"Matthew." Her husky voice was brushed with an Indian accent. "Welcome."
"Amira." He nodded in greeting. "This is the woman I told you about, Diana Bishop."
The witch looked at me closely, her eyes taking in every detail of my face. She smiled. "Diana. Nice to meet you.
Are you new to yoga?"
"No." My heart pounded with a fresh wave of anxiety. "But this is my first time here."
Her smile widened. "Welcome to the Old Lodge."
I wondered if anyone here knew about Ashmole 782, but there wasn't a single familiar face and the atmosphere in the room was open and easy, with none of the usual tension between creatures.
A warm, firm hand closed around my wrist, and my heart slowed immediately. I looked at Amira in astonishment.
How had she done that?
She let loose my wrist, and my pulse remained steady. "I think that you and Diana wil be most comfortable here,"
she told Clairmont. "Get settled and we'l begin."
We unrol ed our mats in the back of the room, close to the door. There was no one to my immediate right, but across a smal expanse of open floor two daemons sat in lotus position with their eyes closed. My shoulder tingled. I started, wondering who was looking at me. The feeling quickly disappeared.
Sorry, a guilty voice said quite distinctly within my skul .
The voice came from the front of the room, from the same direction as the tingle. Amira frowned slightly at someone in the first row before bringing the class to attention.
Out of sheer habit, my body folded obediently into a cross-legged position when she began to speak, and after a few seconds Clairmont fol owed suit.
"It's time to close your eyes." Amira picked up a tiny remote control, and the soft strains of a meditative chant came out of the wal s and ceiling. It sounded medieval, and one of the vampires sighed happily.
My eyes wandered, distracted by the ornate plasterwork of what must once have been the house's great hal .
"Close your eyes," Amira suggested again gently. "It can be hard to let go of our worries, our preoccupations, our egos. That's why we're here tonight."
The words were familiar-I'd heard variations on this theme before, in other yoga classes-but they took on new meaning in this room.
"We're here tonight to learn to manage our energy. We spend our time striving and straining to be something that we're not. Let those desires go. Honor who you are."
Amira took us through some gentle stretches and got us onto our knees to warm up our spines before we pushed back into downward dog. We held the posture for a few breaths before walking our hands to our feet and standing up.
"Root your feet into the earth," she instructed, "and take mountain pose."
I concentrated on my feet and felt an unexpected jolt from the floor. My eyes widened.
We fol owed Amira as she began her vinyasas. We swung our arms up toward the ceiling before diving down to place our hands next to our feet. We rose halfway, spines paral el to the floor, before folding over and shooting our legs back into a pushup position. Dozens of daemons, vampires, and witches dipped and swooped their bodies into graceful, upward curves. We continued to fold and lift, sweeping our arms overhead once more before touching palms lightly together. Then Amira freed us to move at our own pace. She pushed a button on the stereo's remote, and a slow, melodic cover of Elton John's "Rocket Man"
fil ed the room.
The music was oddly appropriate, and I repeated the familiar movements in time to it, breathing into my tight muscles and letting the flow of the class push al thoughts from my head. After we'd started the series of poses for a third time, the energy in the room shifted.
Three witches were floating about a foot off the wooden floorboards.
"Stay grounded," Amira said in a neutral voice.
Two quietly returned to the floor. The third had to swan- dive to get back down, and even then his hands reached the floor before his feet.
Both the daemons and the vampires were having trouble with the pacing. Some of the daemons were moving so slowly that I wondered if they were stuck. The vampires were having the opposite problem, their powerful muscles coiling and then springing with sudden intensity.
"Gently," Amira murmured. "There's no need to push, no need to strain."
Gradual y the room's energy settled again. Amira moved us through a series of standing poses. Here the vampires were clearly at their best, able to sustain them for minutes without effort. Soon I was no longer concerned with who was in the room with me or whether I could keep up with the class. There was only the moment and the movement.
By the time we took to the floor for back bends and inversions, everyone in the room was dripping wet-except for the vampires, who didn't even look dewy. Some performed death-defying arm balances and handstands, but I wasn't among them. Clairmont was, however. At one point he looked to be attached to the ground by nothing more than his ear, his entire body in perfect alignment above him.
The hardest part of any practice for me was the final corpse pose- savasana. I found it nearly impossible to lie flat on my back without moving. The fact that everyone else seemed to find it relaxing only added to my anxiety. I lay as quietly as possible, eyes closed, trying not to twitch. A swoosh of feet moved between me and the vampire.
"Diana," Amira whispered, "this pose is not for you. Rol over onto your side."
My eyes popped open. I stared into the witch's wide black eyes, mortified that she had somehow uncovered my secret.
"Curl into a bal ." Mystified, I did what she said. My body instantly relaxed. She patted me lightly on the shoulder.
"Keep your eyes open, too."
I had turned toward Clairmont. Amira lowered the lights, but the glow of his luminous skin al owed me to see his features clearly.
In profile he looked like a medieval knight lying atop a tomb in Westminster Abbey: long legs, long torso, long arms, and a remarkably strong face. There was something ancient about his looks, even though he appeared to be only a few years older than I was. I mental y traced the line of his forehead with an imaginary finger, from where it started at his uneven hairline up slightly over his prominent brow bone with its thick, black brows. My imaginary finger crested the tip of his nose and the bowing of his lips.
I counted as he breathed. At two hundred his chest lifted.
He didn't exhale for a long, long time afterward.
Final y Amira told the class it was time to rejoin the world outside. Matthew turned toward me and opened his eyes.
His face softened, and my own did the same. There was movement al around us, but the social y correct had no pul on me. I stayed where I was, staring into a vampire's eyes.
Matthew waited, utterly stil , watching me watch him. When I sat up, the room spun at the sudden movement of blood through my body.
At last the room stopped its dizzying revolutions. Amira closed the practice with chant and rang some tiny silver bel s that were attached to her fingers. Class was over.
There were gentle murmurs throughout the room as vampire greeted vampire and witch greeted witch. The daemons were more ebul ient, arranging for midnight meetings at clubs around Oxford, asking where the best jazz could be found. They were fol owing the energy, I realized with a smile, thinking back to Agatha's description of what tugged at a daemon's soul. Two investment bankers from London-both vampires-were talking about a spate of unsolved London murders. I thought of Westminster and felt a flicker of unease. Matthew scowled at them, and they began arranging lunch tomorrow instead.