We'd been waiting in the salon, the three of us, since he'd ridden off on Balthasar in the late morning. Now the shadows were lengthening toward twilight. A human would be half dead from the prolonged effort needed to control that enormous horse in the open countryside. However, the events of the morning had reminded me that Matthew wasn't human, but a vampire-with many secrets, a complicated past, and frightening enemies.
Overhead, a door closed.
"He's back. He wil go to his father's room, as he always does when he is troubled," Ysabeau explained.
Matthew's beautiful young mother sat and stared at the fire, while I wrung my hands in my lap, refusing everything Marthe put in front of me. I hadn't eaten since breakfast, but my hol owness had nothing to do with hunger.
I felt shattered, surrounded by the broken pieces of my formerly ordered life. My degree from Oxford, my position at Yale, and my careful y researched and written books had long provided meaning and structure to my life. But none of them were of comfort to me in this strange new world of menacing vampires and threatening witches. My exposure to it had left me raw, with a new fragility linked to a vampire and the invisible, undeniable movement of a witch's blood in my veins.
At last Matthew entered the salon, clean and dressed in fresh clothes. His eyes sought me out immediately, their cold touch fluttering over me as he checked that I was unharmed. His mouth softened in relief.
It was the last hint of comforting familiarity that I detected in him.
The vampire who entered the salon was not the Matthew that I knew. He was not the elegant, charming creature who had slipped into my life with a mocking smile and invitations to breakfast. Nor was he the scientist, absorbed in his work and preoccupied with the question of why he was here. And there was no sign of the Matthew who had swung me into his arms and kissed me with such passionate intensity only the night before.
This Matthew was cold and impassive. The few soft edges he'd once possessed-around his mouth, in the delicacy of his hands, the stil ness of his eyes-had been replaced by hard lines and angles. He seemed older than I remembered, a combination of weariness and careful remove reflecting every moment of his nearly fifteen hundred years of age.
A log broke in the fireplace. The sparks caught my eye, burning blood orange as they fel in the grate.
Nothing but the color red appeared at first. Then the red took on a texture, strands of red burnished here and there with gold and silver. The texture became a thing-hair, Sarah's hair. My fingers caught the strap of a backpack from my shoulder, and I dropped my lunch box on the floor of the family room with the same officious clatter as my father when he dropped his briefcase by the door.
"I'm home." My child's voice was high and bright. "Are there cookies?"
Sarah's head turned, red and orange, catching sparks in the late-afternoon light.
But her face was pure white.
The white overwhelmed the other colors, became silver, and assumed a texture like the scales of a fish. Chain mail clung to a familiar, muscular body. Matthew.
"I'm through." His white hands tore at a black tunic with a silver cross on the front, rending it at the shoulders. He flung it at someone's feet, turned, and strode away.
With a single blink of my eyes, the vision was gone, replaced by the warm tones of the salon at Sept-Tours, but the startling knowledge of what had happened lingered. As with the witchwind, there had been no warning when this hidden talent of mine was released. Had my mother's visions come on so suddenly and had such clarity? I glanced around the room, but the only creature who seemed to have noticed something was odd was Marthe, who looked at me with concern.
Matthew went to Ysabeau and kissed her lightly on both of her flawless white cheeks. "I'm so sorry, Maman, " he murmured.
"Hein, he was always a pig. It's not your fault." Ysabeau gave her son's hand a gentle squeeze. "I am glad you are home."
"He's gone. There's nothing to worry about tonight,"
Matthew said, his mouth tight. He drew his fingers through his hair.
"Drink." Marthe belonged to the sustenance school of crisis management. She handed a glass of wine to Matthew and plunked yet another cup of tea next to me. It sat on the table, untouched, sending tendrils of steam into the room.
"Thank you, Marthe." Matthew drank deeply. As he did, his eyes returned to mine, but he deliberately looked away as he swal owed. "My phone," he said, turning toward his study.
He descended the stairs a few moments later. "For you."
He gave me the phone in such a way that our hands didn't need to touch.
I knew who was on the line. "Hel o, Sarah."
"I've been cal ing for more than eight hours. What on earth is wrong?" Sarah knew something bad was happening-she wouldn't have cal ed a vampire otherwise.
Her tense voice conjured up the image of her white face from my vision. She'd been frightened in it, not just sad.
"There's nothing wrong," I said, not wanting her to be scared anymore. "I'm with Matthew."
"Being with Matthew is what got you into this trouble in the first place."
"Sarah, I can't talk now." The last thing I needed was to argue with my aunt.
She drew in her breath. "Diana, there are a few things you need to know before you decide to throw in your lot with a vampire."
"Real y?" I asked, my temper flaring. "Do you think now is the time to tel me about the covenant? You don't by any chance know the witches who are among the current members of the Congregation, do you? I have a few things I'd like to say to them." My fingers were burning, and the skin under my nails was becoming a vivid sky blue.
"You turned your back on your power, Diana, and refused to talk about magic. The covenant wasn't relevant to your life, nor was the Congregation." Sarah sounded defensive.
My bitter laugh helped the blue tinge fade from my fingers. "Justify it any way you want, Sarah. After Mom and Dad were kil ed, you and Em should have told me, and not just hinted at something in mysterious half-truths. But it's too late now. I need to talk to Matthew. I'l cal you tomorrow."
After severing the connection and flinging the phone onto the ottoman at my feet, I closed my eyes and waited for the tingling in my fingers to subside.
Al three vampires were staring at me-I could feel it.
"So," I said into the silence, "are we to expect more visitors from this Congregation?"
Matthew's mouth tightened. "No."
It was a one-word answer, but at least it was the word I wanted to hear. Over the past few days, I'd had a respite from Matthew's mood changes and had almost forgotten how alarming they could be. His next words wiped away my hope that this latest outburst would soon pass.
"There wil be no visits from the Congregation because we aren't going to break the covenant. We'l stay here for a few more days, then return to Oxford. Is that al right with you, Maman?"
"Of course," Ysabeau replied promptly. She sighed with relief.
"We should keep the standard flying," Matthew continued, his voice businesslike. "The vil age should know to be on its guard."
Ysabeau nodded, and her son took a sip of his wine. I stared, first at one and then the other. Neither responded to my silent demand for more information.
"It's only been a few days since you took me out of Oxford," I said after no one rose to my wordless chal enge.
Matthew's eyes lifted to mine in forbidding response.
"Now you're going back," he said evenly. "Meanwhile there wil be no walks outside the grounds. No riding on your own." His present coldness was more frightening than anything Domenico had said.
"And?" I pressed him.
"No more dancing," Matthew said, his abruptness suggesting that a host of other activities were included in this category. "We're going to abide by the Congregation's rules. If we stop aggravating them, they'l turn their attention to more important matters."
"I see. You want me to play dead. And you'l give up your work and Ashmole 782? I don't believe that." I stood and moved toward the door.
Matthew's hand was rough on my arm. It violated al the laws of physics that he could have reached my side so quickly.
"Sit down, Diana." His voice was as rough as his touch, but it was oddly gratifying that he was showing any emotion at al .
"Why are you giving in?" I whispered.
"To avoid exposing us al to the humans-and to keep you alive." He pul ed me back to the sofa and pushed me onto the cushions. "This family is not a democracy, especial y not at a time like this. When I tel you to do something, you do it, without hesitation or question.
Understood?" Matthew's tone indicated that the discussion was over.
"Or what?" I was deliberately provoking him, but his aloofness frightened me.
He put down his wine, and the crystal captured the light from the candles.
I felt myself fal ing, this time into a pool of water.
The pool became a drop, the drop a tear glistening on a white cheek.
Sarah's cheeks were covered in tears, her eyes red and swollen. Em was in the kitchen. When she joined us, it was evident that she' d been crying, too. She looked devastated.
"What?" I said, fear gripping my stomach. "What's happened?"
Sarah wiped at her eyes, her fingers stained with the herbs and spices she used in her spell casting.
Her fingers grew longer, the stains dissolving.
"What?" Matthew said, his eyes wild, white fingers brushing a tiny, bloodstained tear from an equally white cheek. "What's happened?"
"Witches. They have your father," Ysabeau said, her voice breaking.
As the vision faded, I searched for Matthew, hoping his eyes would exert their usual pul and relieve my lingering disorientation. As soon as our glances met, he came and hovered over me. But there was none of the usual comfort associated with his presence.
"I wil kil you myself before I let anyone hurt you." The "I wil kil you myself before I let anyone hurt you." The words caught in his throat. "And I don't want to kil you. So please do what I tel you."
"So that's it?" I asked when I could manage it. "We're going to abide by an ancient, narrow-minded agreement made almost a thousand years ago. Case closed."
"You mustn't be under the Congregation's scrutiny. You have no control over your magic and no understanding of your relationship to Ashmole 782. At Sept-Tours you may be protected from Peter Knox, Diana, but I've told you before that you aren't safe around vampires. No warmblood is. Ever."
"You won't hurt me." In spite of what had happened over the past several days, on this point I was absolutely certain.
"You persist in this romantic vision of what it is to be a vampire, but despite my best efforts to curb it I have a taste for blood."
I made a dismissive gesture. "You've kil ed humans. I know this, Matthew. You're a vampire, and you've lived for hundreds of years. Do you think I imagined you survived on nothing but animals?"
Ysabeau was watching her son closely.
"Saying you know I've kil ed humans and understanding what that means are two different things, Diana. You have no idea what I'm capable of." He touched his talisman from Bethany and moved away from me with swift, impatient steps.
"I know who you are." Here was another point of absolute certainty. I wondered what made me so instinctively sure of Matthew as the evidence about the brutality of vampires- even witches-mounted.
"You don't know yourself. And three weeks ago you'd never heard of me." Matthew's gaze was restless and his hands, like mine, were shaking. This worried me less than the fact that Ysabeau had pitched farther forward in her seat. He picked up a poker and gave the fire a vicious thrust before throwing it aside. The metal rang against the stone, gouging the hard surface as if it were butter.
"We wil figure this out. Give us some time." I tried to make my voice low and soothing.
"There's nothing to figure out." Matthew was pacing now.
"You have too much undisciplined power. It's like a drug-a highly addictive, dangerous drug that other creatures are desperate to share. You'l never be safe so long as a witch or vampire is near you."
My mouth opened to respond, but the place where he'd been standing was empty. Matthew's icy fingers were on my chin, lifting me to my feet.
"I'm a predator, Diana." He said it with the seductiveness of a lover. The dark aroma of cloves made me dizzy. "I have to hunt and kil to survive." He turned my face away from him with a savage twist, exposing my neck. His restless eyes raked over my throat.
"Matthew, put Diana down." Ysabeau sounded unconcerned, and my own faith in him remained unshaken.
He wanted to frighten me off for some reason, but I was in no real danger-not as I had been with Domenico.
"She thinks she knows me, Maman, " he purred. "But Diana doesn't know what it's like when the craving for a warmblood tightens your stomach so much that you're mad with need. She doesn't know how much we want to feel the blood of another heart pulsing through our veins. Or how difficult it is for me to stand here, so close, and not taste her."