I'd been waiting for the crunch of tires on gravel since pushing the disconnect button on Ysabeau's tiny mobile phone-and since then it hadn't been out of my sight.
A fresh pot of tea and breakfast rol s were waiting for me when I emerged from the bathroom, phone in hand. I bolted the food, flung on the first clothes that my fingers touched, and flew down the stairs with wet hair. Matthew wouldn't reach Sept-Tours for hours, but I was determined to be waiting when he pul ed up.
First I waited in the salon on a sofa by the fire, wondering what had happened in Oxford to make Matthew change his mind. Marthe brought me a towel and roughly dried my hair with it when I showed no inclination to use it myself.
As the time of his arrival grew nearer, pacing in the hal was preferable to sitting in the salon. Ysabeau appeared and stood with her hands on her hips. I continued, despite her forbidding presence, until Marthe brought a wooden chair to the front door. She convinced me to sit, though the chair's carving had clearly been designed to acquaint its occupants with the discomforts of hel , and Matthew's mother retreated to the library.
When the Range Rover entered the courtyard, I flew outside. For the first time in our relationship, Matthew didn't beat me to the door. He was stil straightening his long legs when my arms locked around his neck, my toes barely touching the ground.
"Don't do that again," I whispered, my eyes shut against sudden tears. "Don't ever do that again."
Matthew's arms went around me, and he buried his face in my neck. We held each other without speaking. Matthew reached up and loosened my grip, gently setting me back on my feet. He cupped my face, and familiar touches of snow and frost melted on my skin. I committed new details of his features to memory, such as the tiny creases at the corners of his eyes and the precise curve of the hol ow under his ful lower lip.
"Dieu, " he whispered in wonder, "I was wrong."
"Wrong?" My voice was panicky.
"I thought I knew how much I missed you. But I had no idea."
"Tel me." I wanted to hear again the words he'd said on the phone last night.
"I love you, Diana. God help me, I tried not to."
My face softened into his hands. "I love you, too, Matthew, with al my heart."
Something in his body altered subtly at my response. It wasn't his pulse, since he didn't have much of a pulse, nor his skin, which remained deliciously cool. Instead there was a sound-a catch in his throat, a murmur of longing that sent a shock of desire through me. Matthew detected it, and his face grew fierce. He bent his head, fitting his cold lips to mine.
The resulting changes in my body were neither slight nor subtle. My bones turned to fire, and my hands crept around his back and slid down. When he tried to draw away, I pul ed his hips back toward me.
Not so fast, I thought.
His mouth hovered above mine in surprise. My hands slid lower, holding on to his backside possessively, and his breath caught again until it purred in his throat.
"Diana," he began, a note of caution in his voice.
My kiss demanded he tel me what the problem was.
Matthew's only answer was to move his mouth against mine. He stroked the pulse in my neck, then floated his hand down to cup my left breast, now stroking the fabric over the sensitive skin between my arm and my heart. With his other hand at my waist, he pul ed me more tightly against him.
After a long while, Matthew loosened his hold enough that he could speak. "You are mine now."
My lips were too numb to reply, so I nodded and kept a firm grip on his backside.
He stared down at me. "Stil no doubts?"
"We are one, from this moment forward. Do you understand?"
"I think so." I understood, at the very least, that no one and nothing was going to keep me from Matthew.
"She has no idea." Ysabeau's voice rang through the courtyard. Matthew stiffened, his arms circling me protectively. "With that kiss you have broken every rule that holds our world together and keeps us safe. Matthew, you have marked that witch as your own. And, Diana, you have offered your witch's blood-your power-to a vampire. You have turned your back on your own kind and pledged yourself to a creature who is your enemy."
"It was a kiss," I said, shaken.
"It was an oath. And having made this promise to each other, you are outlaws. May the gods help you both."
"Then we are outlaws," Matthew said quietly. "Should we leave, Ysabeau?" There was a vulnerable child's voice behind the man's, and something inside me broke for making him choose between us.
His mother strode forward and slapped him, hard, across the face. "How dare you ask that question?"
Mother and son both looked shocked. The mark of Ysabeau's slender hand stood out against Matthew's cheek for a split second-red, then blue-before it faded.
"You are my most beloved son," she continued, her voice as strong as iron. "And Diana is now my daughter-my responsibility as wel as yours. Your fight is my fight, your enemies are my enemies."
"You don't have to shelter us, Maman." Matthew's voice was taut as a bowstring.
"Enough of that nonsense. You are going to be hounded to the ends of the earth because of this love you share. We fight as a family." Ysabeau turned to me. "As for you, daughter-you will fight, as you promised. You are reckless -the truly brave always are-but I cannot fault your courage. Stil , you need him as much as you need the air you breathe, and he wants you as he's wanted nothing and no one since I made him. So it is done, and we wil make the best of it." Ysabeau unexpectedly pul ed me toward her and pressed her cold lips to my right cheek, then my left. I'd been living under the woman's roof for days, but this was my official welcome. She looked cool y at Matthew and made her real point.
"The way we wil make the best of it begins with Diana behaving like a witch and not some pathetic human. The women of the de Clermont family defend themselves."
Matthew bristled. "I'l see that she's safe."
"This is why you are always losing at chess, Matthew."
Ysabeau shook her finger at him. "Like Diana, the queen has almost unlimited power. Yet you insist on surrounding her and leaving yourself vulnerable. This is not a game, however, and her weakness puts us al at risk."
"Stay out of this, Ysabeau," Matthew warned. "Nobody is going to force Diana to be something she isn't."
His mother gave an elegant, expressive snort.
"Exactly. We are no longer going to let Diana force herself to be a human, which she is not. She is a witch. You are a vampire. If this was not true, we would not be in such a mess. Matthew, mon cher, if the witch is brave enough to want you, she has no reason to fear her own power. You could rip her apart if you wanted to. And so can the ones who wil come for you when they realize what you have done."
"She's right, Matthew," I said.
"Come, we should go inside." He kept a wary eye on his mother. "You're cold, and we need to talk about Oxford.
Then we'l tackle the subject of magic."
"I need to tel you what happened here, too." If this was going to work, we would have to reveal some of our secrets -such as the possibility that I might turn into running water at any moment.
"There's plenty of time for you to tel me everything," said Matthew, leading me toward the chateau.
Marthe was waiting for him when he walked through the door. She gave him a fierce hug, as if he'd returned in triumph from battle, and settled us al in front of the salon's blazing fire.
Matthew positioned himself next to me and watched me drink some tea. Every few moments he put his hand on my knee, or smoothed the sweater across my shoulders, or tucked a bit of hair back into place, as if trying to make up for his brief absence. Once he'd begun to relax, the questions began. They were innocently ordinary in the beginning. Soon the conversation turned to Oxford.
"Were Marcus and Miriam in the lab when the break-in was attempted?" I asked.
"They were," he said, taking a sip from the glass of wine Marthe had put beside him, "but the thieves didn't get far.
The two of them weren't in any real danger."
"Thank God," Ysabeau murmured, staring at the fire.
"What were they looking for?"
"Information. About you," he said reluctantly. "Someone broke in to your rooms at New Col ege as wel ."
There was one secret out in the open.
"Fred was horrified," Matthew continued. "He assured me they'l put new locks on your doors and a camera in your stairwel ."
"It's not Fred's fault. With the new students, al you need to get past the porters is a confident step and a university scarf. But there was nothing for them to take! Were they after my research?" The mere thought of such a thing was ridiculous. Who cared enough about the history of alchemy to engineer a break-in?
"You have your computer, with your research notes on it."
Matthew gripped my hands tighter. "But it wasn't your work they were after. They tore apart your bedroom and the bathroom. We think they were looking for a sample of your DNA-hair, skin, fingernail clippings. When they couldn't get into the lab, they went looking in your rooms."
My hand was shaking slightly. I tried to pul it from his grip, not wanting him to know how badly this news had jangled me. Matthew held on.
"You're not alone in this, remember?" He fixed his gaze on me.
"So it wasn't an ordinary burglar. It was a creature, someone who knows about us and about Ashmole 782."
"Wel , they won't find much. Not in my rooms." When Matthew looked puzzled, I explained. "My mother insisted that I clean my hairbrush before leaving for school each morning. It's an ingrained habit. She made me flush the hair down the toilet-my nail clippings, too."
Matthew now appeared stunned. Ysabeau didn't look surprised at al .
"Your mother sounds more and more like someone I would have been eager to know," Ysabeau said quietly.
"Do you remember what she told you?" Matthew asked.
"Not real y." There were faint memories of sitting on the edge of the bathtub while my mother demonstrated her morning and evening routine, but little more. I frowned with concentration, the flickering recol ections growing brighter.
"I remember counting to twenty. Somewhere along the way, I twirled around and said something."
"What could she have been thinking?" Matthew mused out loud. "Hair and fingernails carry a lot of genetic information."
"Who knows? My mother was famous for her premonitions. Then again, she could just have been thinking like a Bishop. We're not the sanest bunch."
"Your mother was not mad, Diana, and not everything can be explained by your modern science, Matthew. Witches have believed for centuries that hair and fingernails had power," said Ysabeau.