My eyes remained firmly closed on the way to the airport. It would be a long time before I flew without thinking of Satu.
In Lyon everything was blindingly fast and efficient.
Clearly Matthew had been arranging matters from Sept- Tours and had informed the authorities that the plane was being used for medical transport. Once he'd flashed his identification and airport personnel got a good look at my face, I was whisked into a wheelchair against my objections and pushed toward the plane while an immigration officer fol owed behind, stamping my passport. Baldwin strode in front, and people hastily got out of our way.
The de Clermont jet was outfitted like a luxury yacht, with chairs that folded down flat to make beds, areas of upholstered seating and tables, and a smal gal ey where a uniformed attendant waited with a bottle of red wine and some chil ed mineral water. Matthew got me settled in one of the recliners, arranging pil ows like bolsters to take pressure off my back. He claimed the seat nearest me.
Baldwin took charge of a table large enough to hold a board meeting, where he spread out papers, logged on to two different computers, and began talking incessantly on the phone.
After takeoff Matthew ordered me to sleep. When I resisted, he threatened to give me more morphine. We were stil negotiating when his phone buzzed in his pocket.
"Marcus," he said, glancing at the screen. Baldwin looked up from his table.
Matthew pushed the green button. "Hel o, Marcus. I'm on a plane headed for New York with Baldwin and Diana." He spoke quickly, giving Marcus no chance to reply. His son couldn't have managed more than a few words before being disconnected.
No sooner had Matthew punched the phone's red button than lines of text began to light up his screen. Text messaging must have been a godsend for vampires in need of privacy. Matthew responded, his fingers flying over the keys. The screen went dark, and he gave me a tight smile.
"Everything al right?" I asked mildly, knowing the ful story would have to wait until we were away from Baldwin.
"Yes. He was just curious where we were." This seemed doubtful, given the hour.
Drowsiness made it unnecessary for Matthew to make any further requests that I sleep. "Thank you for finding me,"
I said, my eyes drifting closed.
His only response was to bow his head and rest it silently on my shoulder.
I didn't wake until we landed at La Guardia, where we pul ed in to the area reserved for private aircraft. Our arrival there and not at a busier, more crowded airport on the other side of town was yet another example of the magical efficiency and convenience of vampire travel. Matthew's identification worked stil more magic, and the officials sped us through. Once we'd cleared customs and immigration, Baldwin surveyed us, me in my wheelchair and his brother standing grimly behind.
"You both look like hel ," he commented.
"Ta gueule ," Matthew said with a false smile, his voice acid. Even with my limited French, I knew this wasn't something you would say in front of your mother.
Baldwin smiled broadly. "That's better, Matthew. I'm glad to see you have some fight left in you. You're going to need it." He glanced at his watch. It was as masculine as he was, the type made for divers and fighter pilots, with multiple dials and the ability to survive negative G-force pressure. "I have a meeting in a few hours, but I wanted to give you some advice first."
"I've got this covered, Baldwin," Matthew said in a dangerously silky voice.
"No, you don't. Besides, I'm not talking to you." Baldwin crouched down, folding his massive body so he could lock his uncanny, light brown eyes on mine. "Do you know what a gambit is, Diana?"
"Vaguely. It's from chess."
"That's right," he replied. "A gambit lul s your opponent into a sense of false safety. You make a deliberate sacrifice in order to gain a greater advantage."
Matthew growled slightly.
"I understand the basic principles," I said.
"What happened at La Pierre feels like a gambit to me,"
Baldwin continued, his eyes never wavering. "The Congregation let you go for some reason of their own.
Make your next move before they make theirs. Don't wait your turn like a good girl, and don't be duped into thinking your current freedom means you're safe. Decide what to do to survive, and do it."
"Thanks." He might be Matthew's brother, but Baldwin's close physical presence was unnerving. I extended my gauze-wrapped right arm to him in farewel .
"Sister, that's not how family bids each other adieu. "
Baldwin's voice was softly mocking. He gave me no time to react but gripped my shoulders and kissed me on the cheeks. As his face passed over mine, he deliberately breathed in my scent. It felt like a threat, and I wondered if he meant it as such. He released me and stood. "Matthew, a bientot. "
"Wait." Matthew fol owed his brother. Using his broad back to block my view, he handed Baldwin an envelope.
The curved sliver of black wax on it was visible despite his efforts.
"You said you wouldn't obey my orders. After La Pierre you might have reconsidered."
Baldwin stared at the white rectangle. His face twisted sourly before fal ing into lines of resignation. Taking the envelope, he bowed his head and said, "Je suis a votre commande, seigneur."
The words were formal, motivated by protocol rather than genuine feeling. He was a knight, and Matthew was his master. Baldwin had bowed-technical y-to Matthew's authority. But just because he had fol owed tradition, that did not mean he liked it. He raised the envelope to his forehead in a parody of a salute.
Matthew waited until Baldwin was out of sight before returning to me. He grasped the handles of the wheelchair.
"Come, let's get the car."
Somewhere over the Atlantic, Matthew had made advance arrangements for our arrival. We picked up a Range Rover at the terminal curb from a man in uniform who dropped the keys into Matthew's palm, stowed our bags in the trunk, and left without a word. Matthew reached into the backseat, plucked out a blue parka designed for arctic trekking rather than autumn in New York, and arranged it like a down-fil ed nest in the passenger seat.
Soon we were driving through early-morning city traffic and then out into the countryside. The navigation system had been programmed with the address of the house in Madison and informed us that we should arrive in a little more than four hours. I looked at the brightening sky and started worrying about how Sarah and Em would react to Matthew.
"We'l be home just after breakfast. That wil be interesting." Sarah was not at her best before coffee- copious amounts of it-had entered her bloodstream. "We should cal and let them know when to expect us."
"They already know. I cal ed them from Sept-Tours."
Feeling thoroughly managed and slightly muzzy from morphine and fatigue, I settled back for the drive.
We passed hardscrabble farms and smal houses with early-morning lights twinkling in kitchens and bedrooms.
Upstate New York is at its best in October. Now the trees were on fire with red and gold foliage. After the leaves fel , Madison and the surrounding countryside would turn rusty gray and remain that way until the first snows blanketed the world in pristine white batting.
We turned down the rutted road leading to the Bishop house. Its late-eighteenth-century lines were boxy and generous, and it sat back from the road on a little knol , surrounded by aged apple trees and lilac bushes. The white clapboard was in desperate need of repainting, and the old picket fence was fal ing down in places. Pale plumes rose in welcome from both chimneys, however, fil ing the air with the autumn scent of wood smoke.
Matthew pul ed in to the driveway, which was pitted with ice-crusted potholes. The Range Rover rumbled its way over them, and he parked next to Sarah's beat-up, once- purple car. A new crop of bumper stickers adorned the back. MY OTHER CAR IS A BROOM, a perennial favorite, was stuck next to I'M PAGAN AND I VOTE. Another proclaimed WICCAN ARMY: WE WILL NOT GO SILENTLY INTO THE NIGHT. I sighed.
Matthew turned off the car and looked at me. "I'm supposed to be the nervous one."
"Not as nervous as you are."
"Coming home always makes me behave like a teenager. Al I want to do is hog the TV remote and eat ice cream." Though trying to be bright and cheerful for his sake, I was not looking forward to this homecoming.
"I'm sure we can arrange for that," he said with a frown.
"Meanwhile stop pretending nothing has happened. You're not fooling me, and you won't fool your aunts either."
He left me sitting in the car while he carried our luggage to the front door. We'd amassed a surprisingly large amount of it, including two computer bags, my disreputable Yale duffel, and an elegant leather valise that might have been mistaken for a Victorian original. There was also Matthew's medical kit, his long gray coat, my bright new parka, and a case of wine. The last was a wise precaution on Matthew's part. Sarah's taste ran to harder stuff, and Em was a teetotaler.
Matthew returned and lifted me out of the car, my legs swinging. Safely on the steps, I gingerly put weight on my right ankle. We both faced the house's red, eighteenth- century door. It was flanked by tiny windows that offered a view of the front hal . Every lamp in the house was lit to welcome us.
"I smel coffee," he said, smiling down at me.
"They're up, then." The catch on the worn, familiar door latch released at my touch. "Unlocked as usual." Before losing my nerve, I warily stepped inside. "Em? Sarah?"
A note in Sarah's dark, decisive handwriting was taped to the staircase's newel post.
"Out. Thought the house needed some time alone with you first. Move slowly. Matthew can stay in Em's old room.
Your room is ready. " There was a postscript, in Em's rounder scrawl. "Both of you use your parents' room."
My eyes swept over the doors leading from the hal . They were al standing open, and there was no banging upstairs.
Even the coffin doors into the keeping room were quiet, rather than swinging wildly on their hinges.
"That's a good sign."
"What? That they're out of the house?" Matthew looked confused.
"No, the silence. The house has been known to misbehave with new people."
"The house is haunted?" Matthew looked around with interest.
"We're witches-of course the house is haunted. But it's more than that. The house is . . . alive. It has its own ideas about visitors, and the more Bishops there are, the worse it acts up. That's why Em and Sarah left."
A phosphorescent smudge moved in and out of my peripheral vision. My long-dead grandmother, whom I'd never met, was sitting by the keeping room's fireplace in an unfamiliar rocking chair. She looked as young and beautiful as in her wedding picture on the landing upstairs. When she smiled, my own lips curved in response.
"Grandma?" I said tentatively.
He's a looker, isn't he? she said with a wink, her voice rustling like waxed paper.