It occurred to me the next morning that my days with Matthew, thus far, had fal en into one of two categories.
Either he steered the day along, keeping me safe and making sure nothing upset his careful arrangements, or the day unfolded without rhyme or reason. Not long ago what happened in my day had been determined by careful y drawn-up lists and schedules.
Today I was going to take charge. Today Matthew was going to let me into his life as a vampire.
Unfortunately my decision was bound to ruin what promised to be a wonderful day.
It started at dawn with Matthew's physical proximity, which sent the same shock of desire through me that I'd felt yesterday in the courtyard. It was more effective than any alarm clock. His response was gratifyingly immediate as wel , and he kissed me with enthusiasm.
"I thought you'd never wake up," he grumbled between kisses. "I feared I would have to send to the vil age for the town band, and the only trumpeter who knew how to sound reveil e died last year."
Lying at his side, I noticed he was not wearing the ampul a from Bethany.
"Where did your pilgrim's badge go?" It was the perfect opportunity for him to tel me about the Knights of Lazarus, but he didn't take it.
"I don't need it anymore," he'd said, distracting me by winding a lock of my hair around his finger and then pul ing it to the side so he could kiss the sensitive flesh behind my ear. "Tel me," I'd insisted, squirming away slightly.
"Later," he said, lips drifting down to the place where neck met shoulder.
My body foiled any further attempts at rational conversation. We both behaved instinctual y, touching through the barriers of thin clothing and noting the smal changes-a shiver, an eruption of gooseflesh, a soft moan -that promised greater pleasure to come. When I became insistent, reaching to seize bare flesh, Matthew stopped me.
"No rushing. We have time."
"Vampires," was al I managed to say before he stopped my words with his mouth.
We were stil behind the bed curtains when Marthe entered the room. She left the breakfast tray on the table with an officious clatter and threw two logs on the fire with the enthusiasm of a Scot tossing the caber. Matthew peered out, proclaimed it a perfect morning, and declared that I was ravenous.
Marthe erupted into a string of Occitan and departed, humming a song under her breath. He refused to translate on the grounds that the lyrics were too bawdy for my delicate ears.
This morning, instead of quietly watching me eat, Matthew complained that he was bored. He did it with a wicked gleam in his eyes, his fingers restless on his thighs.
"We'l go riding after breakfast," I promised, forking some eggs into my mouth and taking a scalding sip of tea. "My work can wait until later."
"Riding won't fix it," Matthew purred.
Kissing worked to drive away his ennui. My lips felt bruised, and I had a much finer understanding of the interconnectedness of my own nervous system when Matthew final y conceded it was time to go riding.
He went downstairs to change while I showered. Marthe came upstairs to retrieve the tray, and I told her my plans while braiding my hair into a thick rope. Her eyes widened at the important part, but she agreed to send a smal pack of sandwiches and a bottle of water out to Georges for Rakasa's saddlebag.
After that, there was nothing left but to inform Matthew.
He was humming and sitting at his desk, clattering on his computer and occasional y reaching over to thumb through messages on his phone. He looked up and grinned.
"There you are," he said. "I thought I was going to have to fish you out of the water."
Desire shot through me, and my knees went weak. The feelings were exacerbated by the knowledge that what I was about to say would wipe the smile clean off his face.
Please let this be right, I whispered to myself, resting my hands on his shoulders. Matthew tilted his head back against my chest and smiled up at me.
"Kiss me," he commanded.
I complied without a second thought, amazed at the comfort between us. This was so different from books and movies, where love was made into something tense and difficult. Loving Matthew was much more like coming into port than heading out into a storm.
"How do you manage it?" I asked him, holding his face in my hands. "I feel like I've known you forever."
Matthew smiled happily and returned his attention to his computer, shutting down his various programs. While he did, I drank in his spicy scent and smoothed his hair along the curve of his skul .
"That feels wonderful," he said, leaning back into my hand.
It was time to ruin his day. Crouching down, I rested my chin on his shoulder.
"Take me hunting."
Every muscle in his body stiffened.
"That's not funny, Diana," he said icily.
"I'm not trying to be." My chin and hands remained where they were. He tried to shrug me off, but I wouldn't let him.
Though I didn't have the courage to face him, he wasn't going to escape. "You need to do this, Matthew. You need to know that you can trust me."
He stood up explosively, leaving me no choice but to step back and let him go. Matthew strode away, and one hand strayed to the spot where his Bethany ampul a used to rest. Not a good sign.
"Vampires don't take warmbloods hunting, Diana."
This was not a good sign either. He was lying to me.
"Yes they do," I said softly. "You hunt with Hamish."
"That's different. I've known him for years, and I don't share a bed with him." Matthew's voice was rough, and he was staring fixedly at his bookshelves.
I started toward him, slowly. "If Hamish can hunt with you, so can I."
"No." The muscles in his shoulders stood out in sharp relief, their outlines visible under his sweater.
"Ysabeau took me with her."
The silence in the room was absolute. Matthew drew in a single, ragged breath, and the muscles in his shoulder twitched. I took another step.
"Don't," he said harshly. "I don't want you near me when I'm angry."
Reminding myself that he wasn't in charge today, I took my next steps at a much faster pace and stood directly behind him. That way he couldn't avoid my scent or the sound of my heartbeat, which was measured and steady.
"I didn't mean to make you angry."
"I'm not angry with you." He sounded bitter. "My mother, however, has a lot to answer for. She's done a great deal to try my patience over the centuries, but taking you hunting is unforgivable."
"Ysabeau asked me if I needed to come back to the chateau."
"You shouldn't have been given the choice," he barked, whirling around to face me. "Vampires aren't in control when they're hunting-not entirely. My mother certainly isn't to be trusted when she smel s blood. For her it's al about the kil and the feeding. If the wind had caught your scent, she would have fed on you, too, without a second thought."
Matthew had reacted more negatively than I'd expected.
With one of my feet firmly in the fire, however, the other one might as wel go in, too.
"Your mother was only protecting you. She was concerned that I didn't understand the stakes. You would have done the same for Lucas." Once again the silence was deep and long.
"She had no right to tel you about Lucas. He belonged to me, not to her." Matthew's voice was soft, but fil ed with more venom than I'd ever heard in it. His eyes flickered to the shelf that held the tower.
"To you and to Blanca," I said, my voice equal y soft.
"The life stories of a vampire are theirs to tel -and theirs alone. We may be outlaws, you and I, but my mother has broken a few rules herself in the past few days." He reached again for the missing Bethany ampul a.
I crossed the smal distance that separated us, moving quietly and surely, as if he were a nervous animal, so as to keep him from lashing out in a way he would regret later.
When I was standing no more than an inch from him, I took hold of his arms.
"Ysabeau told me other things as wel . We talked about your father. She told me al of your names, and which ones you don't like, and her names as wel . I don't real y understand their significance, but it's not something she tel s everyone. And she told me how she made you. The song she sang to make my witchwater go away was the same song she sang to you when you were first a vampire."
When you couldn't stop feeding.
Matthew met my eyes with difficulty. They were ful of pain and a vulnerability that he'd careful y hidden before now. It broke my heart.
"I can't risk it, Diana," he said. "I want you-more than anyone I've ever known. I want you physical y, I want you emotional y. If my concentration shifts for an instant while we're out hunting, the deer's scent could get confused with yours, and my instinct to hunt an animal could cross with my desire to have you."
"You already have me," I said, holding on to him with my hands, my eyes, my mind, my heart. "There's no need to hunt me. I'm yours."
"It doesn't work that way," he said. "I'l never possess you completely. I'l always want more than you can give."
"You didn't in my bed this morning." My cheeks reddened at the memory of his latest rebuff. "I was more than wil ing to give myself to you, and you said no."
"I didn't say no-I said later."
"Is that how you hunt, too? Seduction, delay, then surrender?"
He shuddered. It was al the answer I required.
"Show me," I insisted.
He growled, but I stood my ground. The sound was a warning, not a threat.
"I know you're frightened. So am I." Regret flickered in his eyes, and I made a sound of impatience. "For the last time, I am not frightened of you. It's my own power that scares me. You didn't see the witchwater, Matthew. When the water moved within me, I could have destroyed everyone and everything and not felt a drop of remorse. You're not the only dangerous creature in this room. But we have to learn how to be with each other in spite of who we are."
He gave a bitter laugh. "Maybe that's why there are rules against vampires and witches being together. Maybe it's too difficult to cross these lines after al ."
"You don't believe that," I said fiercely, taking his hand in mine and holding it to my face. The shock of cold against warm sent a delicious feeling through my bones, and my heart gave its usual thump of acknowledgment. "What we feel for each other is not-cannot-be wrong."
"Diana," he began, shaking his head and drawing his fingers away.
Gripping him more tightly, I turned the palm over. His lifeline was long and smooth, and after tracing it I brought my fingers to rest on his veins. They looked black under the white skin, and Matthew shivered at my touch. There was stil pain in his eyes, but he was not as furious.
"This is not wrong. You know it. Now you have to know that you can trust me, too." I laced my fingers through his and gave him time to think. But I didn't let go.
"I'l take you hunting," Matthew said at last, "provided you don't come near me and don't get down from Rakasa's back. If you get so much as a hint that I'm looking at you- that I'm even thinking about you-turn around and ride straight home to Marthe."
The decision made, Matthew stalked downstairs, waiting patiently each time he realized I was lagging behind. As he breezed past the door of the salon, Ysabeau rose from her seat.
"Come on," he said tightly, gripping my elbow and steering me downstairs.
Ysabeau was only a few feet behind us by the time we reached the kitchens, where Marthe stood in the doorway to the cold-foods larder, eyeing Matthew and me as if watching the latest drama on afternoon television. Neither needed to be told that something was wrong.
"I don't know when we'l be back," Matthew shot over his shoulder. His fingers didn't loosen, and he gave me no opportunity to do more than turn toward her with an apologetic face and mouth the word "Sorry."
"Elle a plus de courage que j'ai pense," Ysabeau murmured to Marthe.
Matthew stopped abruptly, his lip curled in an unpleasant snarl.
"Yes, Mother. Diana has more courage than we deserve, you and I. And if you ever test that again, it wil be the last time you see either of us. Understood?"
"Of course, Matthew," Ysabeau murmured. It was her favorite noncommittal response.
Matthew didn't speak to me on the way to the stables.
Half a dozen times, he looked as though he were going to turn around and march us back to the chateau. At the stable door, he gripped my shoulders, searching my face and body for signs of fear. My chin went up in the air.
"Shal we?" I motioned toward the paddock.
He made a sound of exasperation and shouted for Georges. Balthasar bel owed in response and caught the apple that I tossed in his direction. Merciful y, I didn't need any help getting my boots on, though it did take me longer than it took Matthew. He watched careful y as I did up the vest's fastenings and snapped the chin strap on the helmet.
"Take this," he said, handing me a cropped whip.