On Monday morning the air had that magical y stil quality common in autumn. The whole world felt crisp and bright, and time seemed suspended. I shot out of bed at dawn and pul ed on my waiting rowing gear, eager to be outdoors.
The river was empty for the first hour. As the sun broke over the horizon, the fog burned off toward the waterline so that I was slipping through alternate bands of mist and rosy sunshine.
When I pul ed up to the dock, Matthew was waiting for me on the curving steps that led to the boathouse's balcony, an ancient brown-and-bone-striped New Col ege scarf hanging around his neck. I climbed out of the boat, put my hands on my hips, and stared at him in disbelief.
"Where did you get that thing?" I pointed at the scarf.
"You should have more respect for the old members," he said with his mischievous grin, tossing one end of it over his shoulder. "I think I bought it in 1920, but I can't honestly remember. After the Great War ended, certainly."
Shaking my head, I took the oars into the boathouse.
Two crews glided by the dock in perfect, powerful unison just as I was lifting my boat out of the water. My knees dipped slightly and the boat swung up and over until its weight rested on my head.
"Why don't you let me help you with that?" Matthew said, rising from his perch.
"No chance." My steps were steady as I walked the boat inside. He grumbled something under his breath.
With the boat safely in its rack, Matthew easily talked me into breakfast at Mary and Dan's cafe. He was going to have to sit next to me much of the day, and I was hungry after the morning's exertions. He steered me by the elbow around the other diners, his hand firmer on my back than before. Mary greeted me like an old friend, and Steph didn't bother with a menu, just announced "the usual" when she came by the table. There wasn't a hint of a question in her voice, and when the plate came-laden with eggs, bacon, mushrooms, and tomatoes-I was glad I hadn't insisted on something more ladylike.
After breakfast I trotted through the lodge and up to my rooms for a shower and a change of clothes. Fred peered around his window to see if it was indeed Matthew's Jaguar pul ed up outside the gates. The porters were no doubt laying wagers on competing predictions regarding our oddly formal relationship. This morning was the first time I'd managed to convince my escort to simply drop me off.
"It's broad daylight, and Fred wil have kittens if you clog up his gate during delivery hours," I protested when Matthew started to get out of the car. He'd glowered but agreed that merely pul ing straight across the entrance to bar possible vehicular attack was sufficient.
This morning every step of my routine needed to be slow and deliberate. My shower was long and leisurely, the hot water slipping against my tired muscles. Stil in no rush, I put on comfortable black trousers, a turtleneck to keep my shoulders from seizing up in the increasingly chil y library, and a reasonably presentable midnight blue cardigan to break up the unal eviated black. My hair was caught in a low ponytail. The short piece in the front fel forward as it always did, and I grumbled and shoved it behind my ear.
In spite of my efforts, my anxiety rose as I pushed open the library's glass doors. The guard's eyes narrowed at my uncharacteristical y warm smile, and he took an inordinate amount of time checking my face against the picture on my reader's card. Final y he admitted me, and I pelted up the stairs to Duke Humfrey's.
It had been no more than an hour since I'd been with Matthew, but the sight of him stretched out among the first bay of Elizabethan desks in one of the medieval wing's purgatorial chairs was welcome. He looked up when my laptop dropped on the scarred wooden surface.
"Is he here?" I whispered, reluctant to say Knox's name.
Matthew nodded grimly. "In the Selden End."
"Wel , he can wait down there al day as far as I'm concerned," I said under my breath, picking up a blank request slip from the shal ow rectangular tray on the desk.
On it I wrote "Ashmole MS 782," my name, and my reader number.
Sean was at the col ection desk. "I've got two items on reserve," I told him with a smile. He went into the cage and returned with my manuscripts, then held out his hand for my new request. He put the slip into the worn, gray cardboard envelope that would be sent to the stacks.
"May I talk to you a minute?" Sean asked.
"Sure." I gestured to indicate that Matthew should stay where he was and fol owed Sean through the swinging gate into the Arts End, which, like the Selden End, ran perpendicular to the length of the old library. We stood beneath a bank of leaded windows that let in the weak morning sunshine.
"Is he bothering you?"
"Professor Clairmont? No."
"It's none of my business, but I don't like him." Sean looked down the central aisle as if he expected Matthew to pop out and glare at him. "The whole place has been ful of strange ducks over the last week or so."
Unable to disagree, I resorted to muffled noises of sympathy.
"You'd let me know if there was something wrong, wouldn't you?"
"Of course, Sean. But Professor Clairmont's okay. You don't have to worry about him."
My old friend looked unconvinced.
"Sean may know I'm different-but it seems I'm not as different as you," I told Matthew after returning to my seat.
"Few are," he said darkly, picking up his reading.
I turned on my computer and tried to concentrate on my work. It would take hours for the manuscript to appear. But thinking about alchemy was harder than ever, caught as I was between a vampire and the cal desk. Every time new books emerged from the stacks, I looked up.
After several false alarms, soft steps approached from the Selden End. Matthew tensed in his chair.
Peter Knox strol ed up and stopped. "Dr. Bishop," he said cool y.
"Mr. Knox." My voice was equal y chil y, and I returned my attention to the open volume before me. Knox took a step in my direction.
Matthew spoke quietly, without raising his eyes from the Needham papers. "I'd stop there unless Dr. Bishop wishes to speak with you."
"I'm very busy." A sense of pressure wound around my forehead, and a voice whispered in my skul . Every ounce of my energy was devoted to keeping the witch out of my thoughts. "I said I'm busy," I repeated stonily.
Matthew put his pencil down and pushed away from the desk.
"Mr. Knox was just leaving, Matthew." Turning to my laptop, I typed a few sentences of utter nonsense.
"I hope you understand what you're doing," Knox spit.
Matthew growled, and I laid a hand lightly on his arm.
Knox's eyes fixed on the spot where the bodies of a witch and a vampire touched.
Until that moment Knox had only suspected that Matthew and I were too close for the comfort of witches. Now he was sure.
You've told him what you know about our book. Knox's vicious voice sounded through my head, and though I tried to push against his intrusion, the wizard was too strong.
When he resisted my efforts, I gasped in surprise.
Sean looked up from the cal desk in alarm. Matthew's arm was vibrating, his growl subsiding into a somehow more menacing purr.
"Who's caught human attention now?" I hissed at the witch, squeezing Matthew's arm to let him know I didn't need his help.
Knox smiled unpleasantly. "You've caught the attention of more than humans this morning, Dr. Bishop. Before nightfal every witch in Oxford wil know you're a traitor."
Matthew's muscles coiled, and he reached up to the coffin he wore around his neck.
Oh, God, I thought, he's going to kill a witch in the Bodleian. I placed myself squarely between the two of them.
"Enough," I told Knox quietly. "If you don't leave, I'm going to tel Sean you're harassing me and have him cal security."
"The light in the Selden End is rather glaring today," Knox said at last, breaking the standoff. "I believe I'l move to this part of the library." He strol ed away.
Matthew lifted my hand from his arm and began to pack up his belongings. "We're leaving."
"No we're not. We are not leaving until we get that manuscript."
"Were you listening?" Matthew said hotly. "He threatened you! I don't need this manuscript, but I do need-" He stopped abruptly.
I pushed Matthew into his seat. Sean was stil staring in our direction, his hand hovering above the phone. Smiling, I shook my head at him before returning my attention to the vampire.
"It's my fault. I shouldn't have touched you while he was standing there," I murmured, looking down at his shoulder, where my hand stil rested.
Matthew's cool fingers lifted my chin. "Do you regret the touch-or the fact that the witch saw you?"
"Neither," I whispered. His gray eyes went from sad to surprised in an instant. "But you don't want me to be reckless."
As Knox approached again, Matthew's grip on my chin tightened, his senses tuned into the witch. When Knox remained a few desks away, the vampire returned his attention to me. "One more word from him and we're leaving-manuscript or no manuscript. I mean it, Diana."
Thinking about alchemical il ustrations proved impossible after that. Gil ian's warning about what happened to witches who kept secrets from other witches, and Knox's firm pronouncement that I was a traitor, resounded through my head. When Matthew tried to get me to stop for lunch, I refused. The manuscript had stil not appeared, and we couldn't be at Blackwel 's when it arrived-not with Knox so close.
"Did you see what I had for breakfast?" I asked when Matthew insisted. "I'm not hungry."
My coffee-loving daemon drifted by shortly afterward, swinging his headset by the cord. "Hey," he said with a wave at Matthew and me.
Matthew looked up sharply.
"Good to see you two again. Is it okay if I check my e- mail down there since the witch is here with you?"
"What's your name?" I asked, smothering a smile.
"Timothy," he answered, rocking back on his heels. He was wearing mismatched cowboy boots, one red and one black. His eyes were mismatched, too-one was blue and one was green.
"You're more than welcome to check your e-mail, Timothy."
"You're the one." He tipped his fingers at me, pivoted on the heel of the red boot, and walked away.
An hour later I stood, unable to control my impatience.
"The manuscript should have arrived by now."
The vampire's eyes fol owed me across the six feet of open space to the cal desk. They felt hard and crisp like ice, rather than soft as snowfal , and they clung to my shoulder blades.
"Hi, Sean. Wil you check to see if the manuscript I requested this morning has been delivered?"
"Someone else must have it," Sean said. "Nothing's come up for you."
"Are you sure?" Nobody else had it.
Sean riffled through the slips and found my request.
Paper-clipped to it was a note. "It's missing."
"It's not missing. I saw it a few weeks ago."
"Let's see." He rounded the desk, headed for the supervisor's office. Matthew looked up from his papers and watched as Sean rapped against the open doorframe.
"Dr. Bishop wants this manuscript, and it's been noted as missing," Sean explained. He held out the slip.
Mr. Johnson consulted a book on his desk, running his finger over lines scrawled by generations of reading-room supervisors. "Ah, yes. Ashmole 782. That's been missing since 1859. We don't have a microfilm." Matthew's chair scraped away from his desk.
"But I saw it a few weeks ago."
"That's not possible, Dr. Bishop. No one has seen this manuscript for one hundred and fifty years." Mr. Johnson blinked behind his thick-rimmed glasses.
"Dr. Bishop, could I show you something when you have a moment?" Matthew's voice made me jump.
"Yes, of course." I turned blindly toward him. "Thank you," I whispered to Mr. Johnson.
"We're leaving. Now," Matthew hissed. In the aisle an assortment of creatures was focused intently on us. I saw Knox, Timothy, the Scary Sisters, Gil ian-and a few more unfamiliar faces. Above the tal bookcases, the old portraits of kings, queens, and other il ustrious persons that decorated the wal s of Duke Humfrey's Reading Room stared at us, too, with every bit as much sour disapproval.
"It can't be missing. I just saw it," I repeated numbly. "We should have them check."
"Don't talk about it now-don't even think about it." He gathered up my things with lightning speed, his hands a blur as he saved my work and shut down the computer.
I obediently started reciting English monarchs in my head, beginning with Wil iam the Conqueror, to rid my mind of thoughts of the missing manuscript.
Knox passed by, busily texting on his mobile. He was fol owed by the Scary Sisters, who looked grimmer than usual.
"Why are they al leaving?" I asked Matthew.
"You didn't recal Ashmole 782. They're regrouping." He thrust my bag and computer at me and picked up my two manuscripts. With his free hand, he snared my elbow and moved us toward the cal desk. Timothy waved sadly from the Selden End before making a peace sign and turning away.
"Sean, Dr. Bishop is going back to col ege with me to help solve a problem I've found in the Needham papers.
She won't require these for the rest of the day. And I won't be returning either." Matthew handed Sean the boxed manuscripts. Sean gave the vampire a dark look before thumping them into a neater pile and heading for the locked manuscript hold.
We didn't exchange a word on the way down the stairs, and by the time we pushed through the glass doors into the courtyard, I was ready to explode with questions.
Peter Knox was lounging against the iron railings surrounding the bronze statue of Wil iam Herbert. Matthew stopped abruptly and, with a fast step in front of me and a flick of his shoulder, placed me behind his considerable bulk.
"So, Dr. Bishop, you didn't get it back," Knox said maliciously. "I told you it was a fluke. Not even a Bishop could break that spel without proper training in witchcraft.
Your mother might have managed it, but you don't appear to share her talents."
Matthew curled his lip but said nothing. He was trying not to interfere between witches, yet he wouldn't be able to resist throttling Knox indefinitely.
"It's missing. My mother was gifted, but she wasn't a bloodhound." I bristled, and Matthew's hand rose slightly to quiet me.
"It's been missing," Knox said. "You found it anyway. It's a good thing you didn't manage to break the spel a second time, though."
"Why is that?" I asked impatiently.
"Because we cannot let our history fal into the hands of animals like him. Witches and vampires don't mix, Dr.
Bishop. There are excel ent reasons for it. Remember who you are. If you don't, you will regret it."
A witch shouldn't keep secrets from other witches. Bad things happen when she does. Gil ian's voice echoed in my head, and the wal s of the Bodleian drew closer. I fought down the panic that was burbling to the surface.
"Threaten her again and I'l kil you on the spot."
Matthew's voice was calm, but a passing tourist's frozen look suggested that his face betrayed stronger emotions.
"Matthew," I said quietly. "Not here."
"Kil ing witches now, Clairmont?" Knox sneered. "Have you run out of vampires and humans to harm?"
"Leave her alone." Matthew's voice remained even, but his body was poised to strike if Knox moved a muscle in my direction.
The witch's face twisted. "There's no chance of that. She belongs to us, not you. So does the manuscript."
"Matthew," I repeated more urgently. A human boy of thirteen with a nose ring and a troubled complexion was now studying him with interest. "The humans are staring."
He reached back and grabbed my hand in his. The shock of cold skin against warm and the sensation that I was tethered to him were simultaneous. He pul ed me forward, tucking me under his shoulder.
Knox laughed scornful y. "It wil take more than that to keep her safe, Clairmont. She'l get the manuscript back for us. We'l make sure of it."
Without another word, Matthew propel ed me through the quadrangle and onto the wide cobblestone path surrounding the Radcliffe Camera. He eyed Al Souls' closed iron gates, swore quickly and enthusiastical y, and kept me going toward the High Street.
"Not much farther," he said, his hand gripping mine a bit more tightly.
Matthew didn't let go of me in the lodge, and he gave a curt nod to the porter on the way to his rooms. Up we climbed to his garret, which was just as warm and comfortable as it had been Saturday evening.
Matthew threw his keys onto the sideboard and deposited me unceremoniously on the sofa. He disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a glass of water. He handed it to me, and I held it without drinking until he scowled so darkly that I took a sip and almost choked.
"Why couldn't I get the manuscript a second time?" I was rattled that Knox had been proved right.
"I should have fol owed my instincts." Matthew was standing by the window, clenching and unclenching his right hand and paying absolutely no attention to me. "We don't understand your connection to the spel . You've been in grave danger since you saw Ashmole 782."
"Knox may threaten, Matthew, but he's not going to do something stupid in front of so many witnesses."
"You're staying at Woodstock for a few days. I want you away from Knox-no more chance meetings in col ege, no passing by him in the Bodleian."