I tried to snatch the edge of the bedding and cover myself with it, but his reflexes were quicker than mine. He inched the sheet lower, out of my reach, eyes keen.
"Courtship?" I cried indignantly. "You've already brought me flowers and wine. Now you're my husband, or so you tel me." I flicked the sheets off his torso. My pulse quickened once more at the sight of him.
"As a historian, you must know that scores of weddings weren't consummated immediately." His attention lingered over my hips and thighs, making them cold, then warm, in an entirely pleasant fashion. "Years of courtship were required in some cases."
"Most of those courtships led to bloodshed and tears." I put a slight emphasis on the word in question. Matthew grinned and stroked my breast with feather-light fingers until my gasp made him purr with satisfaction.
"I promise not to draw blood, if you promise not to weep."
It was easier to ignore his words than his fingers. "Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon!" I said triumphantly, pleased at my ability to recal relevant historical information under such distracting conditions. "Did you know them?"
"Not Arthur. I was in Florence. But Catherine, yes. She was nearly as brave as you are. Speaking of the past,"
Matthew drew the back of his hand down my arm, "what does the distinguished historian know about bundling?"
I turned on my side and slowly extended my fingertip along his jawbone. "I'm familiar with the custom. But you are neither Amish nor English. Are you tel ing me that-like wedding vows-the practice of getting two people into bed to talk al night but not have sex was dreamed up by vampires?"
"Modern creatures aren't only in a hurry, they're overly focused on the act of sexual intercourse. It's far too clinical and narrow a definition. Making love should be about intimacy, about knowing another's body as wel as your own."
"Answer my question," I insisted, unable to think clearly now that he was kissing my shoulder. "Did vampires invent bundling?"
"No," he said softly, his eyes glittering as my fingertip rounded his chin. He nipped at it with his teeth. As promised, he drew no blood. "Once upon a time, we al did it. The Dutch and then the English came up with the variation of putting boards between the intended couple.
The rest of us did it the old-fashioned way-we were just wrapped in blankets, shut into a room at dusk, and let out at dawn."
"It sounds dreadful," I said sternly. His attention drifted down my arm and across the swel of my bel y. I tried to squirm away, but his free hand clamped onto my hip, keeping me stil . "Matthew," I protested.
"As I recal ," he said, as if I hadn't spoken, "it was a very pleasant way to spend a long winter's night. The hard part was looking innocent the next day."
His fingers played against my stomach, making my heart skip around inside my rib cage. I eyed Matthew's body with interest, picking my next target. My mouth landed on his col arbone while my hand snaked down along his flat stomach.
"I'm sure sleep was involved," I said after he found it necessary to snatch my hand and hold it away for a few minutes. My hip free, I pressed the length of my body against him. His body responded, and my face showed my satisfaction at the reaction. "No one can talk al night."
"Ah, but vampires don't need to sleep," he reminded me, just before he pul ed back, bent his head, and planted a kiss below my breastbone.
I grabbed his head and lifted it. "There's only one vampire in this bed. Is this how you imagine you'l keep me awake?"
"I've been imagining little else from the first moment I saw you." Matthew's eyes shone darkly as he lowered his head.
My body arched up to meet his mouth. When it did, he gently but firmly turned me onto my back, grabbing both of my wrists in his right hand and pinning them to the pil ow.
Matthew shook his head. "No rushing, remember?"
I was accustomed to the kind of sex that involved a physical release without needless delay or unnecessary emotional complications. As an athlete who spent much of my time with other athletes, I was wel acquainted with my body and its needs, and there was usual y someone around to help me fil them. I was never casual about sex or my choice of partners, but most of my experiences had been with men who shared my frank attitude and were content to enjoy a few ardent encounters and then return to being friends again as though nothing had happened.
Matthew was making it clear that those days and nights were over. With him there would be no more straightforward sex-and I'd had no other kind. I might as wel be a virgin. My deep feelings for him were becoming inextricably bound with my body's responses, his fingers and mouth tying them together in complicated, agonizing knots.
"We have al the time we need," he said stroking the undersides of my arms with his fingertips, weaving love and physical longing together until my body felt tight.
Matthew proceeded to study me with the rapt attention of a cartographer who found himself on the shores of a new world. I tried to keep up with him, wanting to discover his body while he was discovering mine, but he held my wrists firmly against the pil ows. When I began to complain in earnest about the unfairness of this situation, he found an effective way to silence me. His cool fingers dipped between my legs and touched the only inches of my body that remained uncharted.
"Matthew," I breathed, "I don't think that's bundling."
"It is in France," he said complacently, a wicked gleam in his eye. He let go of my wrists, convinced quite rightly that there would be no attempts to squirm away now, and I caught his face in my hands. We kissed each other, long and deep, while my legs opened like the covers of a book.
Matthew's fingers coaxed, teased, and danced between them until the pleasure was so intense it left me shaking.
He held me until the tremors subsided and my heart returned to its normal rhythm. When I final y mustered the energy to look at him, he had the self-satisfied look of a cat.
"What are the historian's thoughts on bundling now?" he asked.
"It's far less wholesome than it's been made out to be in the scholarly literature," I said, touching his lips with my fingers. "And if this is what the Amish do at night, it's no wonder they don't need television."
Matthew chuckled, the look of contentment never leaving his face. "Are you sleepy now?" he asked, trailing his fingers through my hair.
"Oh, no." I pushed him over onto his back. He folded his hands beneath his head and looked up at me with another grin. "Not in the slightest. Besides, it's my turn."
I studied him with the same intensity that he'd lavished on me. While I was inching up his hip bone, a white shadow in the shape of a triangle caught my attention. It was deep under the surface of his smooth, perfect skin. Frowning, I looked across the expanse of his chest. There were more odd marks, some shaped like snowflakes, others in crisscrossing lines. None of them were on the skin, though.
They were al deep within him.
"What is this, Matthew?" I touched a particularly large snowflake under his left col arbone.
"It's just a scar," he said, craning his neck to see. "That one was made by the tip of a broadsword. The Hundred Years' War, maybe? I can't remember."
I slithered up his body to get a better look, pressing my warm skin against him, and he sighed happily.
"A scar? Turn over."
He made little sounds of pleasure while my hands swept across his back.
"Oh, Matthew." My worst fears were realized. There were dozens, if not hundreds, of marks. I knelt and pul ed the sheet down to his feet. They were on his legs, too.
His head swiveled over his shoulder. "What's wrong?"
The sight of my face was answer enough, and he turned over and sat up. "It's nothing, mon coeur. Just my vampire body, holding on to trauma."
"There are so many of them." There was another one, on the swel of muscles where his arm met his shoulders.
"I said vampires were difficult to kil . Creatures try their best to do so anyway."
"Did it hurt when you were wounded?"
"You know I feel pleasure. Why not pain, too? Yes, they hurt. But they healed quickly."
"Why haven't I seen them before?"
"The light has to be just right, and you have to look careful y. Do they bother you?" Matthew asked hesitantly.
"The scars themselves?" I shook my head. "No, of course not. I just want to hunt down al the people who gave them to you."
Like Ashmole 782, Matthew's body was a palimpsest, its bright surface obscuring the tale of him hinted at by al those scars. I shivered at the thought of the battles Matthew had already fought, in wars declared and undeclared.
"You've fought enough." My voice shook with anger and remorse. "No more."
"It's a bit late for that, Diana. I'm a warrior."
"No you're not," I said fiercely. "You're a scientist."
"I've been a warrior longer. I'm hard to kil . Here's the proof." He gestured at his long white body. As evidence of his indestructibility, the scars were strangely comforting.
"Besides, most creatures who wounded me are long gone.
You'l have to set that desire aside."
"Whatever wil I replace it with?" I pul ed the sheets over my head like a tent. Then there was silence except for an occasional gasp from Matthew, the crackle of the logs in the fireplace, and in time his own cry of pleasure. Tucking myself under his arm, I hooked my leg over his. Matthew looked down at me, one eye opened and one closed.
"Is this what they're teaching at Oxford these days?" he asked.
"It's magic. I was born knowing how to make you happy."
My hand rested on his heart, pleased that I instinctively understood where and how to touch him, when to be gentle and when to leave my passion unchecked.
"If it is magic, then I'm even more delighted to be sharing the rest of my life with a witch," he said, sounding as content as I felt.
"You mean the rest of my life, not the rest of yours."
Matthew was suspiciously quiet, and I pushed myself up to see his expression. "Tonight I feel thirty-seven. Even more important, I believe that next year I wil feel thirty- eight."
"I don't understand," I said uneasily.
He drew me back down and tucked my head under his chin. "For more than a thousand years, I've stood outside of time, watching the days and years go by. Since I've been with you, I'm aware of its passage. It's easy for vampires to forget such things. It's one of the reasons Ysabeau is so obsessed with reading the newspapers-to remind herself that there's always change, even though time doesn't alter her."
"You've never felt this way before?"
"A few times, very fleetingly. Once or twice in battle, when I feared I was about to die."
"So it's about danger, not just love." A cold wisp of fear moved through me at this matter-of-fact talk of war and death.
"My life now has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Everything before was preamble. Now I have you. One day you wil be gone, and my life wil be over."
"Not necessarily," I said hastily. "I've only got another handful of decades in me-you could go on forever." A world without Matthew was unthinkable.
"We'l see," he said quietly, stroking my shoulder.
Suddenly his safety was of paramount concern to me.
"You wil be careful?"
"No one sees as many centuries as I have without being careful. I'm always careful. Now more than ever, since I have so much more to lose."
"I would rather have had this moment with you-just this one night-than centuries with someone else," I whispered.
Matthew considered my words. "I suppose if it's taken me only a few weeks to feel thirty-seven again, I might be able to reach the point where one moment with you was enough," he said, cuddling me closer. "But this talk is too serious for a marriage bed."
"I thought conversation was the point of bundling," I said primly.
"It depends on whom you ask-the bundlers or those being bundled." He began working his mouth down from my ear to my shoulders. "Besides, I have another part of the medieval wedding service I'd like to discuss with you."
"You do, husband?" I bit his ear gently as it moved past.
"Don't do that," he said, with mock severity. "No biting in bed." I did it again anyway. "What I was referring to was the part of the ceremony where the obedient wife," he said, looking at me pointedly, "promises to be 'bonny and buxom in bed and board.' How do you intend to fulfil that promise?" He buried his face in my breasts as if he might find the answer there.
After several more hours discussing the medieval liturgy, I had a new appreciation for church ceremonies as wel as folk customs. And being with him in this way was more intimate than I'd ever been with another creature.
Relaxed and at ease, I curled against Matthew's now- familiar body so that my head rested below his heart. His fingers ran through my hair again and again, until I fel asleep.
It was just before dawn when I awoke to a strange sound coming from the bed next to me, like gravel rol ing around in a metal tube.
Matthew was sleeping-and snoring, too. He looked even more like the effigy of a knight on a tombstone now.
Al that was missing was the dog at his feet and the sword clasped at his waist.
I pul ed the covers over him. He didn't stir. I smoothed his hair back, and he kept breathing deeply. I kissed him lightly on the mouth, and there was stil no reaction. I smiled at my beautiful vampire, sleeping like the dead, and felt like the luckiest creature on the planet as I crept from under the covers.
Outside, the clouds were stil hanging in the sky, but at the horizon they were thin enough to reveal faint traces of red behind the gray layers. It might actual y clear today, I thought, stretching slightly and looking back at Matthew's recumbent form. He would be unconscious for hours. I, on the other hand, was feeling restless and oddly rejuvenated. I dressed quickly, wanting to go outside in the gardens and be by myself for a while.
When I finished dressing, Matthew was stil lost in his rare, peaceful slumber. "I'l be back before you know it," I whispered, kissing him.
There was no sign of Marthe, or of Ysabeau. In the kitchen I took an apple from the bowl set aside for the horses and bit into it. The apple's crisp flesh tasted bright against my tongue.
I drifted into the garden, walking along the gravel paths, drinking in the smel s of herbs and the white roses that glowed in the early-morning light. If not for my modern clothes, it could have been in the sixteenth century, with the orderly square beds and the wil ow fences that were supposed to keep the rabbits out-though the chateau's vampire occupants were no doubt a better deterrent than a scant foot of bent twigs.
Reaching down, I ran my fingers over the herbs growing at my feet. One of them was in Marthe's tea. Rue, I realized with satisfaction, pleased that the knowledge had stuck.
A gust of wind brushed past me, pul ing loose the same infernal lock of hair that would not stay put. My fingers scraped it back in place, just as an arm swept me off the ground.
Ears popping, I was rocketed straight up into the sky.
The gentle tingle against my skin told me what I already knew.
When my eyes opened, I would be looking at a witch.