"Knox was right: I can't get the manuscript back. He won't pay any more attention to me."
"That's wishful thinking, Diana. Knox wants to understand the secrets of Ashmole 782 as much as you or I do."
Matthew's normal y impeccable appearance was suffering.
He'd run his fingers through his hair until it stood up like a scarecrow's in places.
"How can you both be so certain there are secrets in the hidden text?" I wondered, moving toward the fireplace. "It's an alchemy book. Maybe that's al it is."
"Alchemy is the story of creation, told chemical y.
Creatures are chemistry, mapped onto biology."
"But when Ashmole 782 was written, they didn't know about biology or share your sense of chemistry."
Matthew eyes col apsed into slits. "Diana Bishop, I'm shocked at your narrow-mindedness." He meant it, too.
"The creatures who made the manuscript might not have known about DNA, but what proof do you have that they weren't asking the same questions about creation as a modern scientist?"
"Alchemical texts are al egories, not instruction manuals."
I redirected the fear and frustration of the past several days at him. "They may hint at larger truths, but you can't build a reliable experiment from them."
"I never said you could," he replied, his eyes stil dark with suppressed anger. "But we're talking about potential readers who are witches, daemons, and vampires. A little supernatural reading, a bit of otherworldly creativity, and some long memories to fil in the blanks may give creatures information we don't want them to have."
"Information you don't want them to have!" I remembered my promise to Agatha Wilson, and my voice rose. "You're as bad as Knox. You want Ashmole 782 to satisfy your own curiosity." My hands itched as I grabbed at my things.
"Calm down." There was an edge to his voice that I didn't like.
"Stop tel ing me what to do." The itching sensation intensified.
My fingers were bril iant blue and shooting out little arcs of fire that sputtered at the edges like the sparklers on birthday cakes. I dropped my computer and held them up.
Matthew should have been horrified. Instead he looked intrigued.
"Does that happen often?" His voice was careful y neutral.
"Oh, no." I ran for the kitchen, trailing sparks.
Matthew beat me to the door. "Not water," he said sharply. "They smel electrical."
Ah. That explained the last time I set fire to the kitchen.
I stood mutely, holding my hands up between us. We watched for a few minutes while the blue left my fingertips and the sparks went out entirely, leaving behind a definite smel of bad electrical wiring.
When the fireworks ended, Matthew was lounging against the kitchen doorframe with the nonchalant air of a Renaissance aristocrat waiting to have his portrait painted.
"Wel ," he said, watching me with the stil ness of an eagle ready to pounce on his prey, "that was interesting. Are you always like that when you get angry?"
"I don't do angry," I said, turning away from him. His hand shot out and whirled me back around to face him.
"You're not getting off that easy." Matthew's voice was soft, but the sharp edge was back. "You do angry. I just saw it. And you left at least one hole in my carpet to prove it."
"Let me go!" My mouth contorted into what Sarah cal ed my "sour-puss." It was enough to make my students quake.
Right now I hoped it would make Matthew curl up into a bal and rol away. At the very least, I wanted him to take his hand off my arm so I could get out of there.
"I warned you. Friendships with vampires are complicated. I couldn't let you go now-even if I wanted to."
My eyes lowered deliberately to his hand. Matthew removed it with a snort of impatience, and I turned to pick up my bag.
You real y shouldn't turn your back on a vampire if you've been arguing.
Matthew's arms shot around me from behind, pressing my back against his chest so hard that I could feel every flexed muscle. "Now," he said directly into my ear, "we're going to talk like civilized creatures about what happened.
You are not running away from this-or from me."
"Let me go, Matthew." I struggled in his arms.
No man had ever refused when I asked him to stop doing something-whether it was blowing his nose in the library or trying to slip a hand up my shirt after a movie. I struggled again. Matthew's arms got tighter.
"Stop fighting me." He sounded amused. "You'l get tired long before I do, I assure you."
In my women's self-defense class, they'd taught me what to do if grabbed from behind. I lifted my foot to stomp on his. Matthew moved out of the way, and it smashed into the floor instead.
"We can do this al afternoon if you want," he murmured.
"But I honestly can't recommend it. My reflexes are much faster than yours."
"Let me go and we can talk," I said through clenched teeth.
He laughed softly, his spicy breath tickling the exposed skin at the base of my skul . "That wasn't a worthy attempt at negotiation, Diana. No, we're going to talk like this. I want to know how often your fingers have turned blue."
"Not often." My instructor had recommended I relax if grabbed from behind and slip out of an assailant's arms.
Matthew's grip on me only tightened. "A few times, when I was a child, I set fire to things-the kitchen cabinets, but that may have been because I tried to put my hands out in the sink and the fire got worse. My bedroom curtains, once or twice. A tree outside the house-but it was just a smal tree."
"It happened last week, when Miriam made me angry."
"How did she do that?" he asked, resting his cheek against the side of my head. It was comforting, if I overlooked the fact that he was holding me against my wishes.
"She told me I needed to learn how to take care of myself and stop relying on you to protect me. She basical y accused me of playing the damsel in distress." Just the thought made my blood simmer and my fingers itch al over again.
"You are many things, Diana, but a damsel in distress is not one of them. You've had this reaction twice in less than a week." Matthew's voice was thoughtful. "Interesting."
"I don't think so."
"No, I don't imagine you do," he said, "but it is interesting just the same. Now let's turn to another topic." His mouth drifted toward my ear, and I tried-unsuccessful y-to pul it away. "What is this nonsense about my not being interested in anything but an old manuscript?"
I flushed. This was mortifying. "Sarah and Em said you were only spending time with me because you wanted something. I assume it's Ashmole 782."
"But that's not true, is it?" he said, running his lips and cheek gently against my hair. My blood started to sing in response. Even I could hear it. He laughed again, this time with satisfaction. "I didn't think you believed it. I just wanted to be sure."
My body relaxed into his. "Matthew-" I began.
"I'm letting you go," he said, cutting me off. "But don't bolt for the door, understand?"
We were prey and predator once more. If I ran, his instincts would tel him to give chase. I nodded, and he slipped his arms from me, leaving me oddly unsteady.
"What am I going to do with you?" He was standing with his hands on his hips, a lopsided smile on his face. "You are the most exasperating creature I've ever met."
"No one has ever known what to do with me."
"That I believe." He surveyed me for a moment. "We're going to Woodstock."
"No! I'm perfectly safe in col ege." He'd warned me about vampires and protectiveness. He was right-I didn't like it.
"You are not," he said with an angry glint in his eyes.
"Someone's tried to break in to your rooms."
"What?" I was aghast.
"The loose lock, remember?"
In fact, there were fresh scratches on the hardware. But Matthew did not need to know about that.
"You'l stay at Woodstock until Peter Knox leaves Oxford."
My face must have betrayed my dismay.
"It won't be so bad," he said gently. "You'l have al the yoga you want."
With Matthew in bodyguard mode, I didn't have much choice. And if he was right-which I suspected he was- someone had already gotten past Fred and into my rooms.
"Come," he said, picking up my computer bag. "I'l take you to New Col ege and wait while you get your things. But this conversation about the connection between Ashmole 782 and your blue fingers is not over," he continued, forcing me to meet his eyes. "It's just beginning."
We went down to the fel ows' car park, and Matthew retrieved the Jaguar from between a modest blue Vauxhal and an old Peugeot. Given the city's restrictive traffic patterns, it took twice as long to drive as it would have to walk.
Matthew pul ed in to the lodge gates. "I'l be right back," I said, slinging my computer bag over my shoulder as he let me out of the car.
"Dr. Bishop, you have mail," Fred cal ed from the lodge.
I col ected the contents of my pigeonhole, my head pounding with stress and anxiety, and waved my mail at Matthew before heading toward my rooms.
Inside, I kicked off my shoes, rubbed my temples, and glanced at the message machine. Merciful y, it wasn't blinking. The mail contained nothing but bil s and a large brown envelope with my name typed on it. There was no stamp, indicating it came from someone within the university. I slid my finger under the flap and pul ed out the contents.
A piece of ordinary paper was clipped to something smooth and shiny. Typed on the paper was a single line of text.
Hands shaking, I pul ed off the slip. The paper fluttered to the floor, revealing a familiar glossy photograph. I'd only seen it reproduced in black and white, though, in the newspapers. This was in color, and as bright and vivid as the day it had been taken, in 1983.
My mother's body lay facedown in a chalk circle, her left leg at an impossible angle. Her right arm reached toward my father, who was lying faceup, his head caved in on one side and a gash splitting his torso from throat to groin.
Some of his entrails had been pul ed out and were lying next to him on the ground.
A sound between a moan and a scream slipped from my mouth. I dropped to the floor, trembling but unable to tear my eyes from the image.
"Diana!" Matthew's voice sounded frantic, but he was too far away for me to care. In the distance someone jiggled the doorknob. Feet clattered up the stairs, a key scraped in the lock.
The door burst open, and I looked up into Matthew's ashen face, along with Fred's concerned one.
"Dr. Bishop?" Fred asked.
Matthew moved so quickly that Fred had to know he was a vampire. He crouched in front of me. My teeth chattered with shock.
"If I give you my keys, can you move the car to Al Souls for me?" Matthew asked over his shoulder. "Dr. Bishop isn't wel , and she shouldn't be alone."
"No worries, Professor Clairmont. We'l keep it here in the warden's lot," replied Fred. Matthew threw his keys at the porter, who caught them neatly. Flashing me a worried look, Fred closed the door.
"I'm going to be sick," I whispered.
Matthew pul ed me to my feet and led me to the bathroom. Sinking next to the toilet, I threw up, dropping the picture on the floor to grip the sides of the bowl. Once my stomach was empty, the worst of the shaking subsided, but every few seconds a tremble radiated through me.
I closed the lid and reached up to flush, pushing down on the toilet for leverage. My head spun. Matthew caught me before I hit the bathroom wal .
Suddenly my feet were not on the ground. Matthew's chest was against my right shoulder and his arms underneath my knees. Moments later he laid me gently on my bed and turned the light on, angling the shade away. My wrist was in his cool fingers, and with his touch my pulse began to slow. That made it possible for me to focus on his face. It looked as calm as ever, except that the tiny dark vein in his forehead throbbed slightly every minute or so.
"I'm going to get you something to drink." He let go of my wrist and stood.
Another wave of panic washed over me. I bolted to my feet, al my instincts tel ing me to run as far and as fast as possible.
Matthew grabbed me by the shoulders, trying to make eye contact. "Stop, Diana."
My stomach had invaded my lungs, pressing out al the air, and I struggled against his grasp, not knowing or caring what he was saying. "Let me go," I pleaded, pushing against his chest with both hands.
"Diana, look at me." There was no ignoring Matthew's voice, or the moonlike pul of his eyes. "What's wrong?"
"My parents. Gil ian told me witches kil ed my parents."
My voice was high and tight.
Matthew said something in a language I didn't understand. "When did this happen? Where were they? Did the witch leave a message on your phone? Did she threaten you?" His hold on me strengthened.
"Nigeria. She said the Bishops have always been trouble."
"I'l go with you. Let me make a few phone cal s first."
Matthew took in a deep, shuddering breath. "I'm so sorry, Diana."
"Go where?" Nothing was making any sense.
"To Africa." Matthew sounded confused. "Someone wil have to identify the bodies."
"My parents were kil ed when I was seven."
His eyes widened with shock.
"Even though it happened so long ago, they're al the witches want to talk about these days-Gil ian, Peter Knox."
Shivering as the panic escalated, I felt a scream rise up in my throat. Matthew pressed me to him before it could erupt, holding me so tightly that the outlines of his muscles and bones were sharp against my skin. The scream turned into a sob. "Bad things happen to witches who keep secrets.
Gil ian said so."
"No matter what she said, I wil not let Knox or any other witch harm you. I've got you now." Matthew's voice was fierce, and he bowed his head and rested his cheek on my hair while I cried. "Oh, Diana. Why didn't you tel me?"
Somewhere in the center of my soul, a rusty chain began to unwind. It freed itself, link by link, from where it had rested unobserved, waiting for him. My hands, which had been bal ed up and pressed against his chest, unfurled with it. The chain continued to drop, to an unfathomable depth where there was nothing but darkness and Matthew. At last it snapped to its ful length, anchoring me to a vampire.
Despite the manuscript, despite the fact that my hands contained enough voltage to run a microwave, and despite the photograph, as long as I was connected to him, I was safe.
When my sobs quieted, Matthew drew away. "I'm going to get you some water, and then you're going to rest." His tone did not invite discussion, and he was back in a matter of seconds carrying a glass of water and two tiny pil s.
"Take these," he said, handing them to me along with the water.
"What are they?"
"A sedative." His stern look encouraged me to pop both pil s into my mouth, immediately, along with a gulp of water.
"I've been carrying one since you told me you suffered from panic attacks."
"I hate taking tranquilizers."
"You've had a shock, and you've got too much adrenaline in your system. You need to rest." Matthew dragged the duvet around me until I was encased in a lumpy cocoon. He sat on the bed, and his shoes thumped against the floor before he stretched out, his back propped up against the pil ows. When he gathered my duvet-wrapped body against him, I sighed. Matthew reached across with his left arm and held me securely. My body, for al its wrappings, fit against him perfectly.
The drug worked its way through my bloodstream. As I was drifting off to sleep, Matthew's phone shook in his pocket, startling me into wakefulness.
"It's nothing, probably Marcus," he said, brushing his lips against my forehead. My heartbeat settled. "Try to rest. You aren't alone anymore."
I could stil feel the chain that anchored me to Matthew, witch to vampire.
With the links of that chain tight and shining, I slept.