The atmosphere at dinner was considerably warmer than it had been last night. Matthew sat at the head of the table, with Ysabeau to his left and me at his right. Marthe traveled incessantly from kitchen to fireside to table, sitting now and again to take a sip of wine and make smal contributions to the conversation.
Plates ful of food came and went-everything from wild mushroom soup to quail to delicate slices of beef. I marveled aloud that someone who no longer ate cooked food could have such a deft hand with spices. Marthe blushed and dimpled, swatting at Matthew when he tried to tel stories of her more spectacular culinary disasters.
"Do you remember the live pigeon pie?" He chortled. "No one ever explained that you had to keep the birds from eating for twenty-four hours before you baked it or the inside would resemble a birdbath." That earned him a sharp tap on the back of his skul .
"Matthew," Ysabeau warned, wiping the tears from her eyes after a prolonged bout of laughter, "you shouldn't bait Marthe. You have had your share of disasters over the years, too."
"And I have seen them al ," Marthe pronounced, carrying over a salad. Her English got stronger by the hour, as she switched into the language whenever she talked in front of me. She returned to the sideboard and fetched a bowl of nuts, which she put between Matthew and Ysabeau. "When you flooded the castle with your idea for capturing water on the roof, for one," she said, ticking it off on her fingers.
"When you forgot to col ect the taxes, two. It was spring, you were bored, and so you got up one morning and went to Italy to make war. Your father had to beg forgiveness from the king on his knees. And then there was New York!" she shouted triumphantly.
The three vampires continued to swap reminiscences.
None of them talked about Ysabeau's past, though. When something came up that touched on her, or Matthew's father, or his sister, the conversation slid graceful y away. I noticed the pattern and wondered about the reasons for it but said nothing, content to let the evening develop as they wished it to and strangely comforted to be part of a family again-even a family of vampires.
After dinner we returned to the salon, where the fire was larger and more impressive than before. The castle's chimneys were heating up with each log thrown into the grate. The fires burned hotter, and the room almost felt warm as a result. Matthew made sure that Ysabeau was comfortable, getting her yet another glass of wine, and fiddled with a nearby stereo. Marthe made me tea instead, thrusting the cup and saucer into my hands.
"Drink," she instructed, her eyes attentive. Ysabeau watched me drink, too, and gave Marthe a long look. "It wil help you sleep."
"Did you make this?" It tasted of herbs and flowers.
Normal y I didn't like herbal tea, but this one was fresh and slightly bitter.
"Yes," she answered, turning up her chin at Ysabeau's stare. "I have made it for a long time. My mother taught me.
I wil teach you as wel ."
The sound of dance music fil ed the room, lively and rhythmic. Matthew adjusted the position of the chairs by the fireplace, clearing a spot on the floor.
"V??les dançar amb ieu?" Matthew asked his mother, holding out both hands.
Ysabeau's smile was radiant, transforming her lovely, cold features into something indescribably beautiful. "Òc,"
s he said, putting her tiny hands into his. The two of them took their places in front of the fire, waiting for the next song to start.
When Matthew and his mother began to dance, they made Astaire and Rogers look clumsy. Their bodies came together and drew apart, turned in circles away from each other and then dipped and turned. The slightest touch from Matthew sent Ysabeau reeling, and the merest hint of an undulation or a hesitation from Ysabeau caused a corresponding response in him.
Ysabeau dipped into a graceful curtsy, and Matthew swept into a bow at the precise moment the music drew to its close.
"What was that?" I asked.
"It started out as a tarantel a," Matthew said, escorting his mother back to her chair, "but Maman never can stick to one dance. So there were elements of the volta in the middle, and we finished with a minuet, didn't we?" Ysabeau nodded and reached up to pat him on the cheek.
"You always were a good dancer," she said proudly.
"Ah, but not as good as you-and certainly not as good as Father was," Matthew said, settling her in her chair.
Ysabeau's eyes darkened, and a heartbreaking look of sadness crossed her face. Matthew picked up her hand and brushed his lips across her knuckles. Ysabeau managed a smal smile in return.
"Now it's your turn," he said, coming to me.
"I don't like to dance, Matthew," I protested, holding up my hands to fend him off.
"I find that hard to believe," he said, taking my right hand in his left and drawing me close. "You contort your body into improbable shapes, skim across the water in a boat the width of a feather, and ride like the wind. Dancing should be second nature."
The next song sounded like something that might have been popular in Parisian dance hal s in the 1920s. Notes of trumpet and drum fil ed the room.
"Matthew, be careful with her," Ysabeau warned as he moved me across the floor.
"She won't break, Maman. " Matthew proceeded to dance, despite my best efforts to put my feet in his way at every opportunity. With his right hand at my waist, he gently steered me into the proper steps.
I started to think about where my legs were in an effort to help the process along, but this only made things worse. My back stiffened, and Matthew clasped me tighter.
"Relax," he murmured into my ear. "You're trying to lead.
Your job is to fol ow."
"I can't," I whispered back, gripping his shoulder as if he were a life preserver.
Matthew spun us around again. "Yes you can. Close your eyes, stop thinking about it, and let me do the rest."
Inside the circle of his arms, it was easy to do what he instructed. Without the whirling shapes and colors of the room coming at me from al directions, I could relax and stop worrying that we were about to crash. Gradual y the movement of our bodies in the darkness became enjoyable. Soon it was possible for me to concentrate not on what I was doing but on what his legs and arms were tel ing me he was about to do. It felt like floating.
"Matthew." Ysabeau's voice held a note of caution. "Le chatoiement."
"I know," he murmured. The muscles in my shoulders tensed with concern. "Trust me," he said quietly into my ear.
"I've got you."
My eyes remained tightly closed, and I sighed happily.
We continued to swirl together. Matthew gently released me, spinning me out to the end of his fingers, then rol ed me back along his arm until I came to rest, my back tight against his chest. The music stopped.
"Open your eyes," he said softly.
My eyelids slowly lifted. The feeling of floating remained.
Dancing was better than I had expected it to be-at least it was with a partner who'd been dancing for more than a mil ennium and never stepped on your toes.
I tilted my face up to thank him, but his was much closer than expected.
"Look down," Matthew said.
Turning my head in the other direction revealed that my toes were dangling several inches above the floor. Matthew released me. He wasn't holding me up.
I was holding me up.
The air was holding me up.
With that realization the weight returned to the lower half of my body. Matthew gripped both elbows to keep my feet from smashing into the floor.
From her seat by the fire, Marthe hummed a tune under her breath. Ysabeau's head whipped around, eyes narrowed. Matthew smiled at me reassuringly, while I concentrated on the uncanny feeling of the earth under my feet. Had the ground always seemed so alive? It was as if a thousand tiny hands were waiting under the soles of my shoes to catch me or give me a push.
"Was it fun?" Matthew asked as the last notes of Marthe's song faded, eyes gleaming.
"It was," I answered, laughing, after considering his question.
"I hoped it would be. You've been practicing for years.
Now maybe you'l ride with your eyes open for a change."
He caught me up in an embrace ful of happiness and possibility.
Ysabeau began to sing the same song Marthe had been humming.
"Whoever sees her dance, And her body move so gracefully, Could say, in truth, That in all the world she has no equal, our joyful queen.
Go away, go away, jealous ones, Let us, let us, Dance together, together."
"Go away, go away, jealous ones," Matthew repeated as the final echo of his mother's voice faded, "let us dance together. "
I laughed again. "With you I'l dance. But until I figure out how this flying business works, there wil be no other partners."
"Properly speaking, you were floating, not flying,"
Matthew corrected me.
"Floating, flying-whatever you cal it, it would be best not to do it with strangers."
"Agreed," he said.
Marthe had vacated the sofa for a chair near Ysabeau.
Matthew and I sat together, our hands stil entwined.
"This was her first time?" Ysabeau asked him, her voice genuinely puzzled.
"Diana doesn't use magic, Maman, except for little things," he explained.
"She is ful of power, Matthew. Her witch's blood sings in her veins. She should be able to use it for big things, too."
He frowned. "It's hers to use or not."
"Enough of such childishness," she said, turning her attention to me. "It is time for you to grow up, Diana, and accept responsibility for who you are."
Matthew growled softly.
"Do not growl at me, Matthew de Clermont! I am saying what needs to be said."
"You're tel ing her what to do. It's not your job."
"Nor yours, my son!" Ysabeau retorted.
"Excuse me!" My sharp tone caught their attention, and the de Clermonts, mother and son, stared at me. "It's my decision whether-and how-to use my magic. But," I said, turning to Ysabeau, "it can't be ignored any longer. It seems to be bubbling out of me. I need to learn how to control my power, at the very least."
Ysabeau and Matthew continued to stare. Final y Ysabeau nodded. Matthew did, too.
We continued to sit by the fire until the logs burned down.
Matthew danced with Marthe, and each of them broke into song occasional y when a piece of music reminded them of another night, by another fire. But I didn't dance again, and Matthew didn't press me.
Final y he stood. "I am taking the only one of us who needs her sleep up to bed."
I stood as wel , smoothing my trousers against my thighs.
"Good night, Ysabeau. Good night, Marthe. Thank you both for a lovely dinner and a surprising evening."
Marthe gave me a smile in return. Ysabeau did her best but managed only a tight grimace.
Matthew let me lead the way and put his hand gently against the smal of my back as we climbed the stairs.
"I might read for a bit," I said, turning to face him when we reached his study.
He was directly behind me, so close that the faint, ragged sound of his breath was audible. He took my face in his hands.
"What spel have you put on me?" He searched my face.
"It's not simply your eyes-though they do make it impossible for me to think straight-or the fact you smel like honey." He buried his face in my neck, the fingers of one hand sliding into my hair while the other drifted down my back, pul ing my hips toward him.
My body softened into his, as if it were meant to fit there.
"It's your fearlessness," he murmured against my skin, "and the way you move without thinking, and the shimmer you give off when you concentrate-or when you fly."
My neck arched, exposing more flesh to his touch.
Matthew slowly turned my face toward him, his thumb seeking out the warmth of my lips.
"Did you know that your mouth puckers when you sleep?
You look as though you might be displeased with your dreams, but I prefer to think you wish to be kissed." He sounded more French with each word that he spoke.
Aware of Ysabeau's disapproving presence downstairs, as wel as her acute, vampiric hearing, I tried to pul away. It wasn't convincing, and Matthew's arms tightened.
"Matthew, your mother-"
He gave me no chance to complete my sentence. With a soft, satisfied sound, he deliberately fitted his lips to mine and kissed me, gently but thoroughly, until my entire body- not just my hands-was tingling. I kissed him back, feeling a simultaneous sense of floating and fal ing until I had no clear awareness of where my body ended and his began.
His mouth drifted to my cheeks and eyelids. When it brushed against my ear, I gasped. Matthew's lips curved into a smile, and he pressed them once more against my own.
"Your lips are as red as poppies, and your hair is so alive," he said when he was quite finished kissing me with an intensity that left me breathless.
"What is it with you and my hair? Why anyone with a head of hair like yours would be impressed with this," I said, grabbing a fistful of it and pul ing, "is beyond me. Ysabeau's hair looks like satin, so does Marthe's. Mine is a mess- every color of the rainbow and badly behaved as wel ."
"That's why I love it," Matthew said, gently freeing the strands. "It's imperfect, just like life. It's not vampire hair, al polished and flawless. I like that you're not a vampire, Diana."
"And I like that you are a vampire, Matthew."
A shadow flitted across his eyes, gone in a moment.
"I like your strength," I said, kissing him with the same enthusiasm as he had kissed me. "I like your intel igence.
Sometimes I even like your bossiness. But most of al "-I rubbed the tip of my nose gently against his-"I like the way you smel ."
"I do." My nose went into the hol ow between his col arbones, which I was fast learning was the spiciest, sweetest part of him.
"It's late. You need your rest." He released me reluctantly.
"Come to bed with me."
His eyes widened with surprise at the invitation, and the blood coursed to my face.
Matthew brought my hand to his heart. It beat once, powerful y. "I wil come up," he said, "but not to stay. We have time, Diana. You've known me for only a few weeks.
There's no need to rush."
Spoken like a vampire.
He saw my dejection and drew me closer for another lingering kiss. "A promise," he said, when he was finished, "of what's to come. In time."
I t was time. But my lips were alternately freezing and burning, making me wonder for a fleeting second if I was as ready as I thought.
Upstairs, the room was ablaze with candles and warm from the fire. How Marthe had managed to get up here, change dozens of candles, and light them so that they would stil be burning at bedtime was a mystery, but the room didn't have a single electrical outlet, so I was doubly grateful for her efforts.
Changing in the bathroom behind a partial y closed door, I listened to Matthew's plans for the next day. These involved a long walk, another long ride, and more work in the study.
I agreed to al of it-provided that the work came first.
The alchemical manuscript was cal ing to me, and I was eager to get a closer look at it.
I got into Matthew's vast four-poster, and he tightened the sheets around my body before pinching out the candles.
"Sing to me," I said, watching his long fingers fearlessly move through the flames. "An old song-one Marthe likes."
Her wicked fondness for love songs had not gone unnoticed.
He was quiet for a few moments while he walked through the room, snuffing the candles and trailing shadows behind him as the room fel into darkness. He began to sing in his rich baritone.
"Ni muer ni viu ni no guaris, Ni mal no??m sent e si l'ai gran, Quar de s'amor no suy devis, Ni no sai si ja n'aurai ni quan, Qu'en lieys es tota le merces Que??m pot sorzer o decazer."
The song was ful of yearning, and teetered on the edge of sadness. By the time he returned to my side, the song was finished. Matthew left one candle burning next to the bed.
"What do the words mean?" I reached for his hand.
"' Not dying nor living nor healing, there is no pain in my sickness, for I am not kept from her love.'" He leaned down and kissed me on the forehead. "' I don't know if I will ever have it, for all the mercy that makes me flourish or decay is in her power.' "
"Who wrote that?" I asked, struck by the aptness of the words when sung by a vampire.
"My father wrote it for Ysabeau. Someone else took the credit, though," Matthew said, his eyes gleaming and his smile bright and content. He hummed the song under his breath as he went downstairs. I lay in his bed, alone, and watched the last candle burn until it guttered out.