"You can reheat my dinner anytime." I let the warmth of the stew soak into my body. "You aren't eating, though."
"No, but I'm not hungry." He continued to watch me eat for a few moments, then returned to the kitchen to fetch another wine. It was the bottle sealed with red wax. He sliced through the wax and pul ed the cork out of the bottle.
"Perfect," he pronounced, pouring the scarlet liquid careful y into a nearby decanter.
"Can you already smel it?" I was stil unsure of the range of his olfactory powers.
"Oh, yes. This wine in particular." Matthew poured me a bit and splashed some into his own glass. "Are you ready to taste something miraculous?" he asked. I nodded. "This is Chateau Margaux from a very great vintage. Some people consider it the finest red wine ever made."
We picked up our glasses, and I mimicked each of Matthew's movements. He put his nose in his glass, and I in mine. The smel of violets washed over me. My first taste was like drinking velvet. Then there was milk chocolate, cherries, and a flood of flavors that made no sense and brought back memories of the long-ago smel of my father's study after he'd been smoking and of emptying the shavings from the pencil sharpener in second grade. The very last thing I noted was a spicy taste that reminded me of Matthew.
"This tastes like you!" I said.
"How so?" he asked.
"Spicy," I said, flushing suddenly from my cheeks to my hairline.
"No. First I thought it would taste like flowers-violets- because that's how it smel ed. But then I tasted al kinds of things. What do you taste?"
This was going to be far more interesting and less embarrassing than my reaction. He sniffed, swirled, and tasted. "Violets-I agree with you there. Those purple violets covered with sugar. Elizabeth Tudor loved candied violets, and they ruined her teeth." He sipped again. "Cigar smoke from good cigars, like they used to have at the Marlborough Club when the Prince of Wales stopped in.
Blackberries picked wild in the hedgerows outside the Old Lodge's stables and red currants macerated in brandy."
Watching a vampire use his sensory powers had to be one of the most surreal experiences anyone could have. It was not just that Matthew could see and hear things I could not-it was that when he did sense something, the perception was so acute and precise. It wasn't any blackberry-it was a particular blackberry, from a particular place or a particular time.
Matthew kept drinking his wine, and I finished my stew. I took up my wineglass with a contented sigh, toying with the stem so that it caught the light from the candles.
"What do you think I would taste like?" I wondered aloud, my tone playful.
Matthew shot to his feet, his face white and furious. His napkin fel , unnoticed, to the floor. A vein in his forehead pulsed once before subsiding.
I had said something wrong.
He was at my side in the time it took me to blink, pul ing me up from my chair. His fingers dug into my elbows.
"There's one legend about vampires we haven't discussed, isn't there?" His eyes were strange, his face frightening. I tried to squirm out of his reach, but his fingers dug deeper. "The one about a vampire who finds himself so bewitched by a woman that he cannot help himself."
My mind sped over what had happened. He'd asked me what I tasted. I'd tasted him. Then he told me what he tasted and I said-"Oh, Matthew," I whispered.
"Do you wonder what it would be like for me to taste you?" Matthew's voice dropped from a purr toward something deeper and more dangerous. For a moment I felt revulsion.
Before that feeling could grow, he released my arms.
There was no time to react or draw away. Matthew had woven his fingers through my hair, his thumbs pressing against the base of my skul . I was caught again, and a feeling of stil ness came over me, spreading out from his cold touch. Was I drunk from two glasses of wine?
Drugged? What else would explain the feeling that I couldn't break free?
"It's not only your scent that pleases me. I can hear your witch's blood as it moves through your veins." Matthew's cold lips were against my ear, and his breath was sweet.
"Did you know that a witch's blood makes music? Like a siren who sings to the sailor, asking him to steer his ship into the rocks, the cal of your blood could be my undoing- and yours." His words were so quiet and intimate he seemed to be talking directly into my mind.
The vampire's lips began to move incremental y along my jawbone. Each place his mouth touched froze, then burned as my blood rushed back to the skin's surface.
"Matthew," I breathed around the catch in my throat. I closed my eyes, expecting to feel teeth against my neck yet unable-unwil ing-to move.
Instead Matthew's hungry lips met mine. His arms locked around me, and his fingertips cradled my head. My lips parted under his, my hands trapped between his chest and mine. Underneath my palms his heart beat, once.
With the thump of his heart, the kiss changed. Matthew was no less demanding, but the hunger in his touch turned to something bittersweet. His hands moved forward smoothly until he was cupping my face, and he pul ed away reluctantly. For the first time, I heard a soft, ragged sound. It was not like human breathing. It was the sound of minute amounts of oxygen passing through a vampire's powerful lungs.
"I took advantage of your fear. I shouldn't have," he whispered.
My eyes were closed, and I stil felt intoxicated, his cinnamon and clove scent driving off the scent of violets from the wine. Restless, I stirred in his grip.
"Be stil ," he said, voice harsh. "I might not be able to control myself if you step away."
He'd warned me in the lab about the relationship between predator and prey. Now he was trying to get me to play dead so the predator in him would lose interest in me.
But I wasn't dead.
My eyes flew open. There was no mistaking the sharp look on his face. It was avid, hungry. Matthew was a creature of instinct now. But I had instincts, too.
"I'm safe with you." I formed the words with lips that were freezing and burning at the same time, unused to the feeling of a vampire's kiss.
"A witch-safe with a vampire? Never be sure of that. It would only take a moment. You wouldn't be able to stop me if I struck, and I wouldn't be able to stop myself." Our eyes met and locked, neither of us blinking. Matthew made a low sound of surprise. "How brave you are."
"I've never been brave."
"When you gave blood in the lab, the way you meet a vampire's eyes, how you ordered the creatures out of the library, even the fact that you go back there day after day, refusing to let people keep you from what you want to do- it's al bravery."
"That's stubbornness." Sarah had explained the difference a long time ago.
"I've seen courage like yours before-from women, mostly." Matthew continued as if I hadn't spoken. "Men don't have it. Our resolve is born out of fear. It's merely bravado."
His glance flickered over me in snowflakes that melted into mere coolness the moment they touched me. One cold finger reached out and captured a tear from the tips of my eyelashes. His face was sad as he lowered me gently into the chair and crouched next to me, resting one hand on my knee and the other on the arm of the rush-seated chair in a protective circle. "Promise me that you wil never joke with a vampire-not even me-about blood or how you might taste."
"I'm sorry," I whispered, forcing myself not to look away.
He shook his head. "You told me before that you don't know much about vampires. What you need to understand is that no vampire is immune to this temptation. Vampires with a conscience spend most of their time trying not to imagine how people would taste. If you were to meet one without a conscience-and there are plenty who fit that category-then God help you."
"I didn't think." I stil couldn't. My mind was whirling with the memory of his kiss, his fury, and his palpable hunger.
He bowed his head, resting the crown against my shoulder. The ampul a from Bethany tumbled out of the neck of his sweater and swung like a pendulum, its tiny coffin glinting in the light from the candles.
He spoke so softly that I had to strain to hear. "Witches and vampires aren't meant to feel this way. I'm experiencing emotions I've never-" He broke off.
"I know." Careful y I leaned my cheek against his hair. It felt as satiny as it looked. "I feel them, too."
Matthew's arms had remained where he left them, one hand on my knee and the other on the arm of the chair. At my words he moved them slowly and clasped my waist. The coldness of his flesh cut through my clothing, but I didn't shiver. Instead I moved closer so that I could rest my arms on his shoulders.
A vampire evidently could have remained comfortable in that position for days. For a mere witch, however, it wasn't an option. When I shifted slightly, he looked at me in confusion, and then his face lightened in recognition.
"I forgot," he said, rising with his swift smoothness and stepping away from me. I moved first one leg and then the other, restoring the circulation to my feet.
Matthew handed me my wine and returned to his own seat. Once he was settled, I tried to give him something to think about other than how I might taste.
"What was the fifth question you had to answer for the Prize Fel owship?" Candidates were invited to sit an exam that involved four questions combining thought-provoking breadth and depth with devilish complexity. If you survived the first four questions, you were asked the famous "fifth question." It was not a question at al , but a single word like "water," or "absence." It was up to the candidate to decide how to respond, and only the most bril iant answer won you a place at Al Souls.
He reached across the table-without setting himself on fire-and poured some more wine into my glass. "Desire,"
he said, studiously avoiding my eyes.
So much for that diversionary plan.
"Desire? What did you write?"
"As far as I can tel , there are only two emotions that keep the world spinning, year after year." He hesitated, then continued. "One is fear. The other is desire. That's what I wrote about."
Love hadn't factored into his response, I noticed. It was a brutal picture, a tug-of-war between two equal but opposing impulses. It had the ring of truth, however, which was more than could be said of the glib "love makes the world go round." Matthew kept hinting that his desire-for blood, chiefly-was so strong that it put everything else at risk.
But vampires weren't the only creatures who had to manage such strong impulses. Much of what qualified as magic was simply desire in action. Witchcraft was different -that took spel s and rituals. But magic? A wish, a need, a hunger too strong to be denied-these could turn into deeds when they crossed a witch's mind.
And if Matthew was going to tel me his secrets, it didn't seem fair to keep mine so close.
"Magic is desire made real. It's how I pul ed down Notes and Queries the night we met," I said slowly. "When a witch concentrates on something she wants, and then imagines how she might get it, she can make it happen. That's why I have to be so careful about my work." I took a sip of wine, my hand trembling on the glass.
"Then you spend most of your time trying not to want things, just like me. For some of the same reasons, too."
Matthew's snowflake glances flickered across my cheeks.
"If you mean the fear that if I started, there would be no stopping me-yes. I don't want to look back on a life where I took everything rather than earned it."
"So you earn everything twice over. First you earn it by not simply taking it, and then you earn it again through work and effort." He laughed bitterly. "The advantages of being an otherworldly creature don't amount to much, do they?"
Matthew suggested we sit by his fireless fireplace. I lounged on the sofa, and he carried some nutty biscuits over to the table by me, before disappearing into the kitchen once more. When he returned, he was carrying a smal tray with the ancient black bottle on it-the cork now pul ed-and two glasses of amber-colored liquid. He handed one to me.
"Close your eyes and tel me what you smel ," he instructed in his Oxford don's voice. My lids dropped obediently. The wine seemed at once old and vibrant. It smel ed of flowers and nuts and candied lemons and of some other, long-past world that I had-until now-been able only to read about and imagine.
"It smel s like the past. But not the dead past. It's so alive."
"Open your eyes and take a sip."
As the sweet, bright liquid went down my throat, something ancient and powerful entered my bloodstream.
This must be what vampire blood tastes like. I kept my thoughts to myself.
"Are you going to tel me what it is?" I asked around the flavors in my mouth.
"Malmsey," he replied with a grin. "Old, old malmsey."
"How old?" I said suspiciously. "As old as you are?"
He laughed. "No. You don't want to drink anything as old as I am. It's from 1795, from grapes grown on the island of Madeira. It was quite popular once, but nobody pays much attention to it now."
"Good," I said with greedy satisfaction. "Al the more for me." He laughed again and sat easily in one of his Morris chairs.
We talked about his time at Al Souls, about Hamish- the other Prize Fel ow, it turned out-and their adventures in Oxford. I laughed at his stories of dining in hal and how he'd bolted to Woodstock after every meal to clean the taste of overcooked beef from his mouth.
"You look tired," he final y said, standing after another glass of malmsey and another hour of conversation.
"I am tired." Despite my fatigue, there was something I needed to tel him before he took me home. I put my glass down careful y. "I've made a decision, Matthew. On Monday I'l be recal ing Ashmole 782."
The vampire sat down abruptly.
"I don't know how I broke the spel the first time, but I'l try to do it again. Knox doesn't have much faith that I'l succeed." My mouth tightened. "What does he know? He hasn't been able to break the spel once. And you might be able to see the words in the magical palimpsest that lie under the images."
"What do you mean, you don't know what you did to break the spel ?" Matthew's forehead creased with confusion. "What words did you use? What powers did you cal upon?"
"I broke the spel without realizing it," I explained.
"Christ, Diana." He shot to his feet again. "Does Knox know that you didn't use witchcraft?"
"If he knows, I didn't tel him." I shrugged. "Besides, what does it matter?"
"It matters because if you didn't break the enchantment, then you met its conditions. Right now the creatures are waiting to observe whatever counterspel you used, copy it if they can, and get Ashmole 782 themselves. When your fel ow witches discover that the spel opened for you of its own accord, they won't be so patient and wel behaved."
Gil ian's angry face swam before my eyes, accompanied by a vivid recol ection of the lengths she reported witches had gone to in order to pry secrets from my parents. I brushed the thoughts aside, my stomach rol ing, and focused on the flaws in Matthew's argument.
"The spel was constructed more than a century before I was born. That's impossible."
"Just because something seems impossible doesn't make it untrue," he said grimly. "Newton knew that. There's no tel ing what Knox wil do when he understands your relationship to the spel ."
"I'm in danger whether I recal the manuscript or not," I pointed out. "Knox isn't going to let this go, is he?"
"No," he agreed reluctantly. "And he wouldn't hesitate to use magic against you even if every human in the Bodleian saw him do it. I might not be able to reach you in time."
Vampires were fast, but magic was faster.
"I'l sit near the desk with you, then. We'l know as soon as the manuscript's delivered."
"I don't like this," Matthew said, clearly worried. "There's a fine line between bravery and recklessness, Diana."
"It's not reckless-I just want my life back."
"What if this is your life?" he asked. "What if you can't keep the magic away after al ?"
"I'l keep parts of it." Remembering his kiss, and the sudden, intense feeling of vitality that had accompanied it, I looked straight into his eyes so he would know he was included. "But I'm not going to be bul ied."
Matthew was stil worrying over my plan as he walked me home. When I turned in to New Col ege Lane to use the back entrance, he caught my hand.
"Not on your life," he said. "Did you see the look that porter gave me? I want him to know you're safely in col ege."
We navigated the uneven sidewalks of Holywel Street, past the entrance to the Turf pub, and through the New Col ege gates. We strol ed by the watchful porter, stil hand in hand.
"Wil you be rowing tomorrow?" Matthew asked at the bottom of my staircase.
I groaned. "No, I've got a thousand letters of recommendation to write. I'm going to stay in my rooms and clear my desk."
"I'm going to Woodstock to go hunting," he said casual y.
"Good hunting, then," I said, equal y casual y.
"It doesn't bother you at al to know I'l be out cul ing my own deer?" Matthew sounded taken aback.
"No. Occasional y I eat partridge. Occasional y you feed on deer." I shrugged. "I honestly don't see the difference."
Matthew's eyes glittered. He stretched his fingers slightly but didn't let go of my hand. Instead he lifted it to his lips and put a slow kiss on the tender flesh in the hol ow of my palm.
"Off to bed," he said, releasing my fingers. His eyes left trails of ice and snow behind as they lingered not only over my face but my body, too.
Wordlessly I looked back at him, astonished that a kiss on the palm could be so intimate.
"Good night," I breathed out along with my next exhale. "I'l see you Monday."
I climbed the narrow steps to my rooms. Whoever tightened the doorknob had made a mess of the lock, and the metal hardware and the wood were covered in fresh scratches. Inside, I switched on the lights. The answering machine was blinking, of course. At the window I raised my hand to show that I was safely inside.
When I peeked out a few seconds later, Matthew was already gone.