Everyone had to file by us as they left. The witches nodded at us curiously. Even the daemons made eye contact, grinning and exchanging meaningful glances. The vampires studiously avoided me, but every one of them said hel o to Clairmont.
Final y only Amira, Matthew, and I remained. She gathered up her mat and padded toward us. "Good practice, Diana," she said.
"Thank you, Amira. This was a class I'l never forget."
"You're welcome anytime. With or without Matthew," she added, tapping him lightly on the shoulder. "You should have warned her."
"I was afraid Diana wouldn't come. And I thought she'd like it, if she gave it a chance." He looked at me shyly.
"Turn out the lights, wil you, when you leave?" Amira cal ed over her shoulder, already halfway out of the room.
My eyes traveled around the perfect jewel of a great hal .
"This was certainly a surprise," I said drily, not yet ready to let him off the hook.
He came up behind me, swift and soundless. "A pleasant one, I hope. You did like the class?"
I nodded slowly and turned to reply. He was disconcertingly close, and the difference in our heights meant that I had to lift my eyes so as not to be staring straight into his sternum. "I did."
Matthew's face split into his heart-stopping smile. "I'm glad." It was difficult to pul free from the undertow of his eyes. To break their spel , I bent down and began rol ing up my mat. Matthew turned off the lights and grabbed his own gear. We slid our shoes on in the gal ery, where the fire had burned down to embers.
He picked up his keys. "Can I interest you in some tea before we head back to Oxford?"
"We'l go to the gatehouse," Matthew said matter-of- factly.
"There's a cafe there?"
"No, but there's a kitchen. A place to sit down, too. I can make tea," he teased.
"Matthew," I said, shocked, "is this your house?"
By that time we were standing in the doorway, looking out into the courtyard. I saw the keystone over the house's gate: 1536.
"I built it," he said, watching me closely.
Matthew Clairmont was at least five hundred years old.
"The spoils of the Reformation," he continued. "Henry gave me the land, on the condition that I tear down the abbey that was here and start over. I saved what I could, but it was difficult to get away with much. The king was in a foul mood that year. There's an angel here and there, and some stonework I couldn't bear to destroy. Other than that, it's al new construction."
"I've never heard anyone describe a house built in the early sixteenth century as 'new construction' before." I tried to see the house not only through Matthew's eyes but as a part of him. This was the house he had wanted to live in nearly five hundred years ago. In seeing it I knew him better.
It was quiet and stil , just as he was. More than that, it was solid and true. There was nothing unnecessary-no extra ornamentation, no distractions.
"It's beautiful," I said simply.
"It's too big to live in now," he replied, "not to mention too fragile. Every time I open a window, something seems to fal off it, despite careful maintenance. I let Amira live in some of the rooms and open the house to her students a few times a week."
"You live in the gatehouse?" I asked as we walked across the open expanse of cobbles and brick to the car.
"Part of the time. I live in Oxford during the week but come here on the weekends. It's quieter."
I thought that it must be chal enging for a vampire to live surrounded by noisy undergraduates whose conversations he couldn't help overhearing.
We got back into the car and drove the short distance to the gatehouse. As the manor's onetime public face, it had slightly more fril s and embel ishments than the main house.
I studied the twisted chimneys and the elaborate patterns in the brick.
Matthew groaned. "I know. The chimneys were a mistake. The stonemason was dying to try his hand at them. His cousin worked for Wolsey at Hampton Court, and the man simply wouldn't take no for an answer."
He flipped a light switch near the door, and the gatehouse's main room was bathed in a golden glow. It had serviceable flagstone floors and a big stone fireplace suitable for roasting an ox.
"Are you cold?" Matthew asked as he went to the part of the space that had been turned into a sleek, modern kitchen. It was dominated by a refrigerator rather than a stove. I tried not to think about what he might keep in it.
"A little bit." I drew my sweater closer. It was stil relatively warm in Oxford, but my drying perspiration made the night air feel chil y.
"Light the fire, then," Matthew suggested. It was already laid, and I set it alight with a long match drawn from an antique pewter tankard.
Matthew put the kettle on, and I walked around the room, taking in the elements of his taste. It ran heavily toward brown leather and dark polished wood, which stood out handsomely against the flagstones. An old carpet in warm shades of red, blue, and ocher provided jolts of color. Over the mantel there was an enormous portrait of a dark-haired, late-seventeenth-century beauty in a yel ow gown. It had certainly been painted by Sir Peter Lely.
Matthew noticed my interest. "My sister Louisa," he said, coming around the counter with a ful y outfitted tea tray. He looked up at the canvas, his face touched with sadness.
"Dieu, she was beautiful."
"What happened to her?"
"She went to Barbados, intent on making herself queen of the Indies. We tried to tel her that her taste for young gentlemen was not likely to go unnoticed on a smal island, but she wouldn't listen. Louisa loved plantation life. She invested in sugar-and slaves." A shadow flitted across his face. "During one of the island's rebel ions, her fel ow plantation owners, who had figured out what she was, decided to get rid of her. They sliced off Louisa's head and cut her body into pieces. Then they burned her and blamed it on the slaves."
"I'm so sorry," I said, knowing that words were inadequate in the face of such a loss.
He mustered a smal smile. "The death was only as terrible as the woman who suffered it. I loved my sister, but she didn't make that easy. She absorbed every vice of every age she lived through. If there was excess to be had, Louisa found it." Matthew shook himself free from his sister's cold, beautiful face with difficulty. "Wil you pour?"
he asked. He put the tray on a low, polished oak table in front of the fireplace between two overstuffed leather sofas.
I agreed, happy to lighten the mood even though I had enough questions to fil more than one evening of conversation. Louisa's huge black eyes watched me, and I made sure not to spil a drop of liquid on the shining wooden surface of the table just in case it had once been hers. Matthew had remembered the big jug of milk and the sugar, and I doctored my tea until it was precisely the right color before sinking back into the cushions with a sigh.
Matthew held his mug politely without once lifting it to his lips.
"You don't have to for my sake, you know," I said, glancing at the cup.
"I know." He shrugged. "It's a habit, and comforting to go through the motions."
"When did you start practicing yoga?" I asked, changing the subject.
"The same time that Louisa went to Barbados. I went to the other Indies-the East Indies-and found myself in Goa during the monsoons. There wasn't a lot to do but drink too much and learn about India. The yogis were different then, more spiritual than most teachers today. I met Amira a few years ago when I was speaking at a conference in Mumbai.
As soon as I heard her lead a class, it was clear to me that she had the gifts of the old yogis, and she didn't share the concerns some witches have about fraternizing with vampires." There was a touch of bitterness in his voice.
"You invited her to come to England?"
"I explained what might be possible here, and she agreed to give it a try. It's been almost ten years now, and the class is ful to capacity every week. Of course, Amira teaches private classes, too, mainly to humans."
"I'm not used to seeing witches, vampires, and daemons sharing anything-never mind a yoga class," I confessed.
The taboos against mixing with other creatures were strong. "If you'd told me it was possible, I wouldn't have believed you."
"Amira is an optimist, and she loves a chal enge. It wasn't easy at first. The vampires refused to be in the same room with the daemons during the early days, and of course no one trusted the witches when they started showing up." His voice betrayed his own ingrained prejudices. "Now most in the room accept we're more similar than different and treat one another with courtesy."
"We may look similar," I said, taking a gulp of tea and drawing my knees toward my chest, "but we certainly don't feel similar."
"What do you mean?" Matthew said, looking at me attentively.
"The way we know that someone is one of us-a creature," I replied, confused. "The nudges, the tingles, the cold."
Matthew shook his head. "No, I don't know. I'm not a witch."
"You can't feel it when I look at you?" I asked.
"No. Can you?" His eyes were guileless and caused the familiar reaction on my skin.
"Tel me what it feels like." He leaned forward. Everything seemed perfectly ordinary, but I felt that a trap was being set.
"It feels . . . cold," I said slowly, unsure how much to divulge, "like ice growing under my skin."
"That sounds unpleasant." His forehead creased slightly.
"It's not," I replied truthful y. "Just a little strange. The daemons are the worst-when they stare at me, it's like being kissed." I made a face.
Matthew laughed and put his tea down on the table. He rested his elbows on his knees and kept his body angled toward mine. "So you do use some of your witch's power."
The trap snapped shut.
I looked at the floor, furious, my cheeks flushing. "I wish I'd never opened Ashmole 782 or taken that damn journal off the shelf! That was only the fifth time I've used magic this year, and the washing machine shouldn't count, because if I hadn't used a spel the water would have caused a flood and wrecked the apartment downstairs."
Both his hands came up in a gesture of surrender.
"Diana, I don't care if you use magic or not. But I'm surprised at how much you do."
"I don't use magic or power or witchcraft or whatever you want to cal it. It's not who I am." Two red patches burned on my cheeks.
"It is who you are. It's in your blood. It's in your bones. You were born a witch, just as you were born to have blond hair and blue eyes."
I'd never been able to explain to anyone my reasons for avoiding magic. Sarah and Em had never understood.
Matthew wouldn't either. My tea grew cold, and my body remained in a tight bal as I struggled to avoid his scrutiny.
"I don't want it," I final y said through gritted teeth, "and never asked for it."
"What's wrong with it? You were glad of Amira's power of empathy tonight. That's a large part of her magic. It's no better or worse to have the talents of a witch than it is to have the talent to make music or to write poetry-it's just different."
"I don't want to be different," I said fiercely. "I want a simple, ordinary life . . . like humans enjoy." One that doesn't involve death and danger and the fear of being discovered, I thought, my mouth closed tight against the words. "You must wish you were normal."
"I can tel you as a scientist, Diana, that there's no such thing as 'normal. '" His voice was losing its careful softness.
"'Normal' is a bedtime story-a fable-that humans tel themselves to feel better when faced with overwhelming evidence that most of what's happening around them is not 'normal' at al ."
Nothing he said would shake my conviction that it was dangerous to be a creature in a world dominated by humans.
"Diana, look at me."
Against my instincts I did.
"You're trying to push your magic aside, just as you believe your scientists did hundreds of years ago. The problem is," he continued quietly, "it didn't work. Not even the humans among them could push the magic out of their world entirely. You said so yourself. It kept returning."
"This is different," I whispered. "This is my life. I can control my life."
"It isn't different." His voice was calm and sure. "You can try to keep the magic away, but it won't work, any more than it worked for Robert Hooke or Isaac Newton. They both knew there was no such thing as a world without magic.
Hooke was bril iant, with his ability to think through scientific problems in three dimensions and construct instruments and experiments. But he never reached his ful potential because he was so fearful of the mysteries of nature.
Newton? He had the most fearless intel ect I've ever known.
Newton wasn't afraid of what couldn't be seen and easily explained-he embraced it al . As a historian you know that it was alchemy and his belief in invisible, powerful forces of growth and change that led him to the theory of gravity."
"Then I'm Robert Hooke in this story," I said. "I don't need to be a legend like Newton." Like my mother.
"Hooke's fears made him bitter and envious," Matthew warned. "He spent his life looking over his shoulder and designing other people's experiments. It's no way to live."
"I'm not having magic involved in my work," I said stubbornly.
"You're no Hooke, Diana," Matthew said roughly. "He was only a human, and he ruined his life trying to resist the lure of magic. You're a witch. If you do the same, it wil destroy you."
Fear began to worm its way into my thoughts, pul ing me away from Matthew Clairmont. He was al uring, and he made it seem as if you could be a creature without any worries or repercussions. But he was a vampire and couldn't be trusted. And he was wrong about the magic. He had to be. If not, then my whole life had been a fruitless struggle against an imaginary enemy.
And it was my own fault I was afraid. I'd let magic into my life-against my own rules-and a vampire had crept in with it. Dozens of creatures had fol owed. Remembering the way that magic had contributed to the loss of my parents, I felt the beginnings of panic in shal ow breath and prickling skin.
"Living without magic is the only way I know to survive, Matthew." I breathed slowly so that the feelings wouldn't take root, but it was difficult with the ghosts of my mother and father in the room.
"You're living a lie-and an unconvincing one at that. You think you pass as a human." Matthew's tone was matter-of- fact, almost clinical. "You don't fool anyone except yourself.
I've seen them watching you. They know you're different."
"Every time you look at Sean, you reduce him to speechlessness."
"He had a crush on me when I was a graduate student," I said dismissively.
"Sean stil has a crush on you-that's not the point. Is Mr.
Johnson one of your admirers, too? He's nearly as bad as Sean, trembling at your slightest change of mood and worrying because you might have to sit in a different seat.
And it's not just the humans. You frightened Dom Berno nearly to death when you turned and glared at him."
"That monk in the library?" My tone was disbelieving.
"You frightened him, not me!"
"I've known Dom Berno since 1718," Matthew said drily.
"He knows me far too wel to fear me. We met at the Duke of Chandos's house party, where he was singing the role of Damon in Handel's Acis and Galatea. I assure you, it was your power and not mine that startled him."
"This is a human world, Matthew, not a fairy tale. Humans outnumber and fear us. And there's nothing more powerful than human fear-not magic, not vampire strength.
"Fear and denial are what humans do best, Diana, but it's not a way that's open to a witch."
"I'm not afraid."
"Yes you are," he said softly, rising to his feet. "And I think it's time I took you home."
"Look," I said, my need for information about the manuscript pushing al other thoughts aside, "we're both interested in Ashmole 782. A vampire and a witch can't be friends, but we should be able to work together."
"I'm not so sure," Matthew said impassively.
The ride back to Oxford was quiet. Humans had it al wrong when it came to vampires, I reflected. To make them frightening, humans imagined vampires as bloodthirsty. But it was Matthew's remoteness, combined with his flashes of anger and abrupt mood swings, that scared me.
When we arrived at the New Col ege lodge, Matthew retrieved my mat from the trunk.
"Have a good weekend," he said without emotion.
"Good night, Matthew. Thank you for taking me to yoga."
My voice was as devoid of expression as his, and I resolutely refused to look back, even though his cold eyes watched me walk away.