Safely back at the chateau, we ate in the housekeeper's room before a blazing fire.
"Where's Ysabeau?" I asked Marthe when she brought me a fresh cup of tea.
"Out." She stalked back toward the kitchen.
"Marthe," Matthew cal ed. "We're trying not to keep things from Diana."
She turned and glared. I couldn't decide if it was directed at him, his absent mother, or me. "She went to the vil age to see that priest. The mayor, too." Marthe stopped, hesitated, and started again. "Then she was going to clean."
"Clean what?" I wondered.
"The woods. The hil s. The caves." Marthe seemed to think this explanation was sufficient, but I looked at Matthew for clarification.
"Marthe sometimes confuses clean and clear." The light from the fire caught the facets of his heavy goblet. He was having some of the fresh wine from down the road, but he didn't drink as much as usual. "It would seem that Maman has gone out to make sure there are no vampires lurking around Sept-Tours."
"Is she looking for anyone in particular?"
"Domenico, of course. And one of the Congregation's other vampires, Gerbert. He's also from the Auvergne, from Auril ac. She'l look in some of his hiding places just to make sure he isn't nearby."
"Gerbert. From Auril ac? The Gerbert of Auril ac, the tenth-century pope who reputedly owned a brass head that spoke oracles?" The fact that Gerbert was a vampire and had once been pope was of much less interest to me than was his reputation as a student of science and magic.
"I keep forgetting how much history you know. You put even vampires to shame. Yes, that Gerbert. And," he warned, "I would like it very much if you'd stay out of his way. If you do meet him, no quizzing him about Arabic medicine or astronomy. He has always been acquisitive when it comes to witches and magic." Matthew looked at me possessively.
"Does Ysabeau know him?"
"Oh, yes. They were thick as thieves once. If he's anywhere near here, she'l find him. But you don't have to worry he'l come to the chateau," Matthew assured me. "He knows he's not welcome here. Stay inside the wal s unless one of us is with you."
"Don't worry. I won't leave the grounds." Gerbert of Auril ac was not someone I wanted to stumble upon unexpectedly.
"I suspect she's trying to apologize for her behavior."
Matthew's voice was neutral, but he was stil angry.
"You're going to have to forgive her," I said again. "She didn't want you to be hurt."
"I'm not a child, Diana, and my mother needn't protect me from my own wife." He kept turning his glass this way and that. The word "wife" echoed in the room for a few moments.
"Did I miss something?" I final y asked. "When were we married?"
Matthew's eyes lifted. "The moment I came home and said I loved you. It wouldn't stand up in court perhaps, but as far as vampires are concerned, we're wed."
"Not when I said I loved you, and not when you said you loved me on the phone-it only happened when you came home and told me to my face?" This was something that demanded precision. I was planning on starting a new file on my computer with the title "Phrases That Sound One Way to Witches but Mean Something Else to Vampires."
"Vampires mate the way lions do, or wolves," he explained, sounding like a scientist in a television documentary. "The female selects her mate, and once the male has agreed, that's it. They're mated for life, and the rest of the community acknowledges their bond."
"Ah," I said faintly. We were back to the Norwegian wolves.
"I've never liked the word 'mate,' though. It always sounds impersonal, as if you're trying to match up socks, or shoes."
Matthew put his goblet down and crossed his arms, resting them on the scarred surface of the table. "But you're not a vampire. Do you mind that I think of you as my wife?"
A smal cyclone whipped around my brain as I tried to figure out what my love for Matthew had to do with the deadlier members of the animal kingdom and a social institution that I'd never been particularly enthusiastic about.
In the whirlwind there were no warning signs or guideposts to help me find my way.
"And when two vampires mate," I inquired, when I could manage it, "is it expected that the female wil obey the male, just like the rest of the pack?"
"I'm afraid so," he said, looking down at his hands.
"Hmm." I narrowed my eyes at his dark, bowed head.
"What do I get out of this arrangement?"
"Love, honor, guard, and keep," he said, final y daring to meet my eyes.
"That sounds an awful lot like a medieval wedding service."
"A vampire wrote that part of the liturgy. But I'm not going to make you serve me," he assured me hastily, with a straight face. "That was put in to make the humans happy."
"The men, at least. I don't imagine it put a smile on the faces of the women."
"Probably not," he said, attempting a lopsided grin.
Nerves got the better of him, and it col apsed into an anxious look instead. His gaze returned to his hands.
The past seemed gray and cold without Matthew. And the future promised to be much more interesting with him in it. No matter how brief our courtship, I certainly felt bound to him. And, given vampires' pack behavior, it wasn't going to be possible to swap obedience for something more progressive, whether he cal ed me "wife" or not.
"I feel I should point out, husband, that, strictly speaking, your mother was not protecting you from your wife." The words "husband" and "wife" felt strange on my tongue. "I wasn't your wife, under the terms laid out here, until you came home. Instead I was just some creature you left like a package with no forwarding address. Given that, I got off lightly."
A smile hovered at the corners of his mouth. "You think so? Then I suppose I should honor your wishes and forgive her." He reached for my hand and carried it to his mouth, brushing the knuckles with his lips. "I said you were mine. I meant it."
"This is why Ysabeau was so upset yesterday over our kiss in the courtyard." It explained both her anger and her abrupt surrender. "Once you were with me, there was no going back."
"Not for a vampire."
"Not for a witch either."
Matthew cut the growing thickness in the air by casting a pointed look at my empty bowl. I'd devoured three helpings of stew, insisting al the while I wasn't hungry.
"Are you finished?" he asked.
"Yes," I grumbled, annoyed at being caught out.
It was stil early, but my yawns had already begun. We found Marthe rubbing down a vast wooden table with a fragrant combination of boiling water, sea salt, and lemons, and we said good night.
"Ysabeau wil return soon," Matthew told her.
"She wil be out al night," Marthe replied darkly, looking up from her lemons. "I wil stay here."
"As you like, Marthe." He gripped her shoulder for a moment.
On the way upstairs to his study Matthew told me the story of where he bought his copy of Vesalius's anatomy book and what he thought when he first saw the il ustrations.
I dropped onto the sofa with the book in question and happily looked at pictures of flayed corpses, too tired to concentrate on Aurora Consurgens, while Matthew answered e-mail. The hidden drawer in his desk was firmly closed, I noted with relief.
"I'm going to take a bath," I said an hour later, rising and stretching my stiff muscles in preparation for climbing more stairs. I needed some time alone to think through the implications of my new status as Matthew's wife. The idea of marriage was overwhelming enough. When you factored in vampire possessiveness and my own ignorance about what was happening, it seemed an ideal time for a moment of reflection.
"I'l be up shortly," Matthew said, barely looking up from the glow of his computer screen.
The bathwater was as hot and plentiful as ever, and I sank into the tub with a groan of pleasure. Marthe had been up and had worked her magic with candles and the fire.
The rooms felt cozy, if not precisely warm. I drifted through a satisfying replay of the day's accomplishments. Being in charge was better than letting random events take place.
I was stil soaking in the bathtub, my hair fal ing over the edge in a cascade of straw, when there was a gentle knock on the door. Matthew pushed it open without waiting for me to respond. Sitting up with a start, I quickly sank back into the water when he walked in.
He grabbed one of the towels and held it out like a sail in the wind. His eyes were smoky. "Come to bed," he said, his voice gruff.
I sat in the water for a few heartbeats, trying to read his face. Matthew stood patiently during my examination, towel extended. After a deep breath, I stood, the water streaming over my naked body. Matthew's pupils dilated suddenly, his body stil . Then he stood back to let me step out of the tub before he wrapped the towel around me.
Clutching it to my chest, I kept my eyes on him. When they didn't waver, I let the towel fal , the light from the candles glinting off damp skin. His eyes lingered over my body, their slow, cold progress sending a shiver of anticipation down my spine. He pul ed me toward him without a word, his lips moving over my neck and shoulders. Matthew breathed in my scent, his long, cool fingers lifting the hair off my neck and back. I gasped when his thumb came to rest against the pulse in my throat.
"Dieu, you are beautiful," he murmured, "and so alive."
He began to kiss me again. Pul ing at his T-shirt, my warm fingers moved against his cool, smooth skin.
Matthew shuddered. It was much like my reaction to his first, cold touches. I smiled against his busy mouth, and he paused with a question on his face.
"It feels nice, doesn't it, when your coldness and my warmth meet?"
Matthew laughed, and the sound was as deep and smoky as his eyes. With my help, his shirt went up and over his shoulders. I started to fold it neatly. He snatched it away, bal ed it up, and threw it into the corner.
"Later," Matthew said impatiently, his hands moving once more over my body. Broad expanses of skin touched skin for the first time, warm and cold, in a meeting of opposites.
It was my turn to laugh, delighted by how perfectly our bodies fit. I traced his spine, my fingers sweeping up and down his back until they sent Matthew diving down to capture the hol ow of my throat and the tips of my breasts with his lips.
My knees started to soften, and I grabbed his waist for support. More inequity. My hands traveled to the front of his soft pajama bottoms and undid the tie that kept them up.
Matthew stopped kissing me long enough to give me a searching look. Without breaking his stare, I eased the loosened material over his hips and let it fal .
"There," I said softly. "Now we're even."
"Not even close," Matthew said, stepping out of the fabric.
I very nearly gasped but bit my lip at the last moment to keep the sound in. Nevertheless my eyes widened at the sight of him. The parts of him that hadn't been visible to me were just as perfect as those that had. Seeing Matthew, naked and gleaming, was like witnessing a classical sculpture brought to life.
Wordlessly he took my hand and led me toward the bed.
Standing beside its curtained confines, he jerked the coverlet and sheets aside and lifted me onto the high mattress. Matthew climbed into bed after me. Once he'd joined me under the covers, he lay on his side with his head resting on his hand. Like his position at the end of yoga class, here was another pose that reminded me of the effigies of medieval knights in English churches.
I drew the sheets up to my chin, conscious of the parts of my own body that were far from perfect.
"What's wrong?" He frowned.
"A little nervous, that's al ."
"I've never had sex with a vampire before."
Matthew looked genuinely shocked. "And you're not going to tonight either."
The sheet forgotten, I raised myself on my elbows. "You come into my bath, watch me get out of it naked and dripping wet, let me undress you, and then tel me we are not going to make love tonight?"
"I keep tel ing you we have no reason to rush. Modern creatures are always in such a hurry," Matthew murmured, drawing the fal en sheet down to my waist. "Cal me old- fashioned if you'd like, but I want to enjoy every moment of our courtship."