Four hours later I woke up on top of the duvet, clutching the phone. At some point I'd kicked off my right slipper, leaving my foot trailing over the edge of the bed. I looked at the clock and groaned. There was no time for my usual trip to the river, or even for a run.
Cutting my morning ritual short, I showered and then drank a scalding cup of tea while drying my hair. It was straw blond and unruly, despite the ministrations of a hairbrush. Like most witches, I had a problem getting the shoulder-length strands to stay put. Sarah blamed it on pent-up magic and promised that the regular use of my power would keep the static electricity from building and make my hair more obedient.
After brushing my teeth, I slipped on a pair of jeans, a fresh white blouse, and a black jacket. It was a familiar routine, and this was my habitual outfit, but neither proved comforting today. My clothes seemed confining, and I felt self-conscious in them. I jerked on the jacket to see if that would make it fit any better, but it was too much to expect from inferior tailoring.
When I looked into the mirror, my mother's face stared back. I could no longer remember when I'd developed this strong resemblance to her. Sometime in col ege, perhaps?
No one had commented on it until I came home for Thanksgiving break during freshman year. Since then it was the first thing I heard from those who had known Rebecca Bishop.
Today's check in the mirror also revealed that my skin was pale from lack of sleep. This made my freckles, which I'd inherited from my father, stand out in apparent alarm, and the dark blue circles under my eyes made them appear lighter than usual. Fatigue also managed to lengthen my nose and render my chin more pronounced. I thought of the immaculate Professor Clairmont and wondered what he looked like first thing in the morning. Probably just as pristine as he had last night, I decided-the beast. I grimaced at my reflection.
On my way out the door, I stopped and surveyed my rooms.
Something niggled at me-a forgotten appointment, a deadline. There was something I was missing that was important. The sense of unease wrapped around my stomach, squeezed, then let go. After checking my datebook and the stacks of mail on my desk, I wrote it off as hunger and went downstairs. The obliging ladies in the kitchen offered me toast when I passed by. They remembered me as a graduate student and stil tried to force-feed me custard and apple pie when I looked stressed.
Munching on toast and slipping along the cobblestones of New Col ege Lane was enough to convince me that last night had been a dream. My hair swung against my col ar, and my breath showed in the crisp air. Oxford is quintessential y normal in the morning, with the delivery vans pul ed up to col ege kitchens, the aromas of burned coffee and damp pavement, and fresh rays of sunlight slanting through the mist. It was not a place that seemed likely to harbor vampires.
The Bodleian's blue-jacketed attendant went through his usual routine of scrutinizing my reader's card as if he had never seen me before and suspected I might be a master book thief. Final y he waved me through. I deposited my bag in the cubbyholes by the door after first removing my wal et, computer, and notes, and then I headed up to the twisting wooden stairs to the third floor.
The smel of the library always lifted my spirits-that peculiar combination of old stone, dust, woodworm, and paper made properly from rags. Sun streamed through the windows on the staircase landings, il uminating the dust motes flying through the air and shining bars of light on the ancient wal s. There the sun highlighted the curling announcements for last term's lecture series. New posters had yet to go up, but it would only be a matter of days before the floodgates opened and a wave of undergraduates arrived to disrupt the city's tranquil ity.
Humming quietly to myself, I nodded to the busts of Thomas Bodley and King Charles I that flanked the arched entrance to Duke Humfrey's and pushed through the swinging gate by the cal desk.
"We'l have to set him up in the Selden End today," the supervisor was saying with a touch of exasperation.
The library had been open for just a few minutes, but Mr.
Johnson and his staff were already in a flap. I'd seen this kind of behavior before, but only when the most distinguished scholars were expected.
"He's already put in his requests, and he's waiting down there." The unfamiliar female attendant from yesterday scowled at me and shifted the stack of books in her arms.
"These are his, too. He had them sent up from the New Bodleian Reading Room."
That's where they kept the East Asia books. It wasn't my field, and I quickly lost interest.
"Get those to him now, and tel him we'l bring the manuscripts down within the hour." The supervisor sounded harassed as he returned to his office.
Sean rol ed his eyes heavenward as I approached the col ection desk. "Hi, Diana. Do you want the manuscripts you put on reserve?"
"Thanks," I whispered, thinking of my waiting stack with relish. "Big day, huh?"
"Apparently," he said drily, before disappearing into the locked cage that held the manuscripts overnight. He returned with my stack of treasures. "Here you go. Seat number?"
"A4." It's where I always sat, in the far southeastern corner of the Selden End, where the natural light was best.
Mr. Johnson came scurrying toward me. "Ah, Dr. Bishop, we've put Professor Clairmont in A3. You might prefer to sit in A1 or A6." He shifted nervously from one foot to the other and pushed his glasses up, blinking at me through the thick glass.
I stared at him. "Professor Clairmont?"
"Yes. He's working on the Needham papers and requested good light and room to spread out."
"Joseph Needham, the historian of Chinese science?"
Somewhere around my solar plexus, my blood started to seethe.
"Yes. He was a biochemist, too, of course-hence Professor Clairmont's interest," Mr. Johnson explained, looking more flustered by the moment. "Would you like to sit in A1?"
"I'l take A6." The thought of sitting next to a vampire, even with an empty seat between us, was deeply unsettling.
Sitting across from one in A4 was unthinkable, however.
How could I concentrate, wondering what those strange eyes were seeing? Had the desks in the medieval wing been more comfortable, I would have parked myself under one of the gargoyles that guarded the narrow windows and braved Gil ian Chamberlain's prim disapproval instead.
"Oh, that's splendid. Thank you for understanding." Mr.
Johnson sighed with relief.
As I came into the light of the Selden End, my eyes narrowed. Clairmont looked immaculate and rested, his pale skin startling against his dark hair. This time his open- necked gray sweater had flecks of green, and his col ar stood up slightly in the back. A peek under the table revealed charcoal gray trousers, matching socks, and black shoes that surely cost more than the average academic's entire wardrobe.
The unsettled feeling returned. What was Clairmont doing in the library? Why wasn't he in his lab?
Making no effort to muffle my footsteps, I strode in the vampire's direction. Clairmont, seated diagonal y across from me at the far end of the cluster of desks and seemingly oblivious to my approach, continued reading. I dumped my plastic bag and manuscripts onto the space marked A5, staking out the outer edges of my territory.
He looked up, brows arching in apparent surprise. "Dr.
Bishop. Good morning."
"Professor Clairmont." It occurred to me that he'd overheard everything said about him at the reading room's entrance, given that he had the hearing of a bat. I refused to meet his eyes and started pul ing individual items out of my bag, building a smal fortification of desk supplies between me and the vampire. Clairmont watched until I ran out of equipment, then lowered his eyebrows in concentration and returned to his reading.
I took out the cord for my computer and disappeared under the desk to shove it into the power strip. When I righted myself, he was stil reading but was also trying not to smile.
"Surely you'd be more comfortable in the northern end," I grumbled under my breath, rooting around for my list of manuscripts.
Clairmont looked up, dilating pupils making his eyes suddenly dark. "Am I bothering you, Dr. Bishop?"
"Of course not," I said hastily, my throat closing at the sudden, sharp aroma of cloves that accompanied his words, "but I'm surprised you find a southern exposure comfortable."
"You don't believe everything you read, do you?" One of his thick, black eyebrows rose into the shape of a question mark.
"If you're asking whether I think you're going to burst into flames the moment the sunlight hits you, the answer is no."
Vampires didn't burn at the touch of sunlight, nor did they have fangs. These were human myths. "But I've never met .
. . someone like you who liked to bask in its glow either."
Clairmont's body remained stil , but I could have sworn he was repressing a laugh. "How much direct experience have you had, Dr. Bishop, with 'someone like me'?"
How did he know I hadn't had much experience with vampires? Vampires had preternatural senses and abilities -but no supernatural ones, like mind reading or precognition. Those belonged to witches and, on rare occasions, could sometimes crop up in daemons, too. This was the natural order, or so my aunt had explained when I was a child and couldn't sleep for fear that a vampire would steal my thoughts and fly out the window with them.
I studied him closely. "Somehow, Professor Clairmont, I don't think years of experience would tel me what I need to know right now."
"I'd be happy to answer your question, if I can," he said, closing his book and placing it on the desk. He waited with the patience of a teacher listening to a bel igerent and not very bright student.
"What is it that you want?"
Clairmont sat back in his chair, his hands resting easily on the arms. "I want to examine Dr. Needham's papers and study the evolution of his ideas on morphogenesis."
"The changes to embryonic cel s that result in differentiation-"
"I know what morphogenesis is, Professor Clairmont.
That's not what I'm asking."
His mouth twitched. I crossed my arms protectively across my chest.
"I see." He tented his long fingers, resting his elbows on the chair. "I came into Bodley's Library last night to request some manuscripts. Once inside, I decided to look around a bit-I like to know my environment, you understand, and don't often spend time here. There you were in the gal ery.
And of course what I saw after that was quite unexpected."
His mouth twitched again.
I flushed at the memory of how I'd used magic just to get a book. And I tried not to be disarmed by his old-fashioned use of "Bodley's Library" but was not entirely successful.
Careful, Diana, I warned myself. He's trying to charm you.
"So your story is that this has just been a set of odd coincidences, culminating in a vampire and a witch sitting across from each other and examining manuscripts like two ordinary readers?"
"I don't think anyone who took the time to examine me careful y would think I was ordinary, do you?" Clairmont's already quiet voice dropped to a mocking whisper, and he tilted forward in his chair. His pale skin caught the light and seemed to glow. "But otherwise, yes. It's just a series of coincidences, easily explained."
"I thought scientists didn't believe in coincidences anymore."
He laughed softly. "Some have to believe in them."
Clairmont kept staring at me, which was unnerving in the extreme. The female attendant rol ed the reading room's ancient wooden cart up to the vampire's elbow, boxes of manuscripts neatly arrayed on the trol ey's shelves.
The vampire dragged his eyes from my face. "Thank you, Valerie. I appreciate your assistance."
"Of course, Professor Clairmont," Valerie said, gazing at him raptly and turning pink. The vampire had charmed her with no more than a thank-you. I snorted. "Do let us know if you need anything else," she said, returning to her bolt-hole by the entrance.
Clairmont picked up the first box, undid the string with his long fingers, and glanced across the table. "I don't want to keep you from your work."
Matthew Clairmont had taken the upper hand. I'd had enough dealings with senior col eagues to recognize the signs and to know that any response would only make the situation worse. I opened my computer, punched the power button with more force than necessary, and picked up the first of my manuscripts. Once the box was unfastened, I placed its leather-bound contents on the cradle in front of me.
Over the next hour and a half, I read the first pages at least thirty times. I started at the beginning, reading familiar lines of poetry attributed to George Ripley that promised to reveal the secrets of the philosopher's stone. Given the surprises of the morning, the poem's descriptions of how to make the Green Lion, create the Black Dragon, and concoct a mystical blood from chemical ingredients were even more opaque than usual.
Clairmont, however, got a prodigious amount done, covering pages of creamy paper with rapid strokes of his Montblanc Meisterstuck mechanical pencil. Every now and again, he'd turn over a sheet with a rustle that set my teeth on edge and begin once more.
Occasional y Mr. Johnson drifted through the room, making sure no one was defacing the books. The vampire kept writing. I glared at both of them.
At 10:45, there was a familiar tingle when Gil ian Chamberlain bustled into the Selden End. She started toward me-no doubt to tel me what a splendid time she'd had at the Mabon dinner. Then she saw the vampire and dropped her plastic bag ful of pencils and paper. He looked up and stared until she scampered back to the medieval wing.
At 11:10, I felt the insidious pressure of a kiss on my neck. It was the confused, caffeine-addicted daemon from the music reference room. He was repeatedly twirling a set of white plastic headphones around his fingers, then unwinding them to send them spinning through the air. The daemon saw me, nodded at Matthew, and sat at one of the computers in the center of the room. A sign was taped to the screen: OUT OF ORDER. TECHNICIAN CALLED. He remained there for the next several hours, glancing over his shoulder and then at the ceiling periodical y as if trying to figure out where he was and how he'd gotten there.
I returned my attention to George Ripley, Clairmont's eyes cold on the top of my head.
At 11:40, icy patches bloomed between my shoulder blades.
This was the last straw. Sarah always said that one in ten beings was a creature, but in Duke Humfrey's this morning the creatures outnumbered humans five to one. Where had they al come from?
I stood abruptly and whirled around, frightening a cherubic, tonsured vampire with an armful of medieval missals just as he was lowering himself into a chair that was much too smal for him. He let out a squeak at the sudden, unwanted attention. At the sight of Clairmont, he turned a whiter shade than I thought was possible, even for a vampire. With an apologetic bow, he scuttled off to the library's dimmer recesses.
Over the course of the afternoon, a few humans and three more creatures entered the Selden End.