Another head popped around the doorframe. I'll say, the other ghost agreed. Should be dead, though.
My grandmother nodded. Suppose so, Elizabeth, but he is what he is. We' ll get used to him.
Matthew was staring in the direction of the keeping room.
"Someone is there," he said, ful of wonder. "I can almost smel them and hear faint sounds. But I can't see them."
"Ghosts." Reminded of the castle dungeons, I looked around for my mother and father.
Oh, they're not here, my grandmother said sadly.
Disappointed, I turned my attention from my dead family to my undead husband. "Let's go upstairs and put the bags away. That wil give the house a chance to know you."
Before we could move another inch, a charcoal bal of fur rocketed out of the back of the house with a blood-chil ing yowl. It stopped abruptly one foot away from me and transformed into a hissing cat. She arched her back and screeched again.
"Nice to see you too, Tabitha." Sarah's cat detested me, and the feeling was mutual.
Tabitha lowered her spine into its proper alignment and stalked toward Matthew.
"Vampires are more comfortable with dogs, as a rule,"
he commented as Tabitha wound around his ankles.
With unerring feline instincts, Tabitha latched onto Matthew's discomfort and was now determined to change his mind about her species. She butted her head against his shin, purring loudly.
"I'l be damned," I said. For Tabitha this was an astonishing display of affection. "She real y is the most perverse cat in the history of the world."
Tabitha hissed at me and resumed her sybaritic attention to Matthew's lower legs.
"Just ignore her," I recommended, hobbling toward the stairs. Matthew swept up the bags and fol owed.
Gripping the banister, I made a slow ascent. Matthew took each step with me, his face alight with excitement and interest. He didn't seem at al alarmed that the house was giving him the once-over.
My body was rigid with anticipation, however. Pictures had fal en onto unsuspecting guests, doors and windows flapped open and closed, and lights went on and off without warning. I let out a sigh of relief when we made it to the landing without incident.
"Not many of my friends visited the house," I explained when he raised an eyebrow. "It was easier to see them at the mal in Syracuse."
The upstairs rooms were arranged in a square around the central staircase. Em and Sarah's room was in the front corner, overlooking the driveway. My mother and father's room was at the back of the house, with a view of the fields and a section of the old apple orchard that gradual y gave way to a deeper wood of oaks and maples. The door was open, a light on inside. I stepped hesitantly toward the welcoming, golden rectangle and over the threshold.
The room was warm and comfortable, its broad bed loaded with quilts and pil ows. Nothing matched, except for the plain white curtains. The floor was constructed out of wide pine planks with gaps large enough to swal ow a hairbrush. A bathroom opened up to the right, and a radiator was popping and hissing inside.
"Lily of the val ey," Matthew commented, his nostrils flaring at al the new scents.
"My mother's favorite perfume." An ancient bottle of Diorissimo with a faded black-and-white houndstooth ribbon wrapped around the neck stil stood on the bureau.
Matthew dropped the bags onto the floor. "Is it going to bother you to be in here?" His eyes were worried. "You could have your old room, as Sarah suggested."
"No chance," I said firmly. "It's in the attic, and the bathroom is down here. Besides, there's no way we'l both fit in a single bed."
Matthew looked away. "I had thought we might-"
"We're not sleeping in separate beds. I'm no less your wife among witches than among vampires," I interrupted, drawing him toward me. The house settled on its foundations with a tiny sigh, as if bracing itself for a long conversation.
"No, but it might be easier-"
"For whom?" I interrupted again.
"For you," he finished. "You're in pain. You'd sleep more soundly in bed alone."
There would be no sleep for me at al without him at my side. Not wanting to worry him by saying so, I rested my hands on his chest in an attempt to distract him from the matter of sleeping arrangements. "Kiss me."
His mouth tightened into a no, but his eyes said yes. I pressed my body against his, and he responded with a kiss that was both sweet and gentle.
"I thought you were lost," he murmured when we parted, resting his forehead against mine, "forever. Now I'm afraid you might shatter into a thousand pieces because of what Satu did. If something had happened to you, I'd have gone mad."
My scent enveloped Matthew, and he relaxed a fraction.
He relaxed further when his hands slid around my hips.
They were relatively unscathed, and his touch was both comforting and electrifying. My need for him had only intensified since my ordeal with Satu.
"Can you feel it?" I took his hand in mine, pressing it against the center of my chest.
"Feel what?" Matthew's face was puzzled.
Unsure what would make an impression on his preternatural senses, I concentrated on the chain that had unfurled when he'd first kissed me. When I touched it with an imaginary finger, it emitted a low, steady hum.
Matthew gasped, a look of wonder on his face. "I can hear something. What is it?" He bent to rest his ear against my chest.
"It's you, inside me," I said. "You ground me-an anchor at the end of a long, silvery chain. It's why I'm so certain of you, I suppose." My voice dropped. "Provided I could feel you-had this connection to you-there was nothing Satu could say or do that I couldn't endure."
"It's like the sound your blood makes when you talk to Rakasa with your mind, or when you cal ed the witchwind.
Now that I know what to listen for, it's audible."
Ysabeau had mentioned she could hear my witch's blood singing. I tried to make the chain's music louder, its vibrations passing into the rest of my body.
Matthew lifted his head and gave me a glorious smile.
The humming grew more intense, and I lost control of the energy pulsing through me. Overhead, a score of stars burst into life and shot through the room.
"Oops." Dozens of ghostly eyes tingled against my back.
The house shut the door firmly against the inquiring looks of my ancestors, who had assembled to see the fireworks display as if it were Independence Day.
"Did you do that?" Matthew stared intently at the closed door.
"No," I explained earnestly. "The sparklers were mine.
That was the house. It has a thing about privacy."
"Thank God," he murmured, pul ing my hips firmly to his and kissing me again in a way that had the ghosts on the other side muttering.
The fireworks fizzled out in a stream of aquamarine light over the chest of drawers.
"I love you, Matthew Clairmont," I said at the earliest opportunity.
"And I love you, Diana Bishop," he replied formal y. "But your aunt and Emily must be freezing. Show me the rest of the house so that they can come inside."
Slowly we went through the other rooms on the second floor, most unused now and fil ed with assorted bric-a-brac from Em's yard-sale addiction and al the junk Sarah couldn't bear to throw away for fear she might need it one day.
Matthew helped me up the stairs to the attic bedroom where I'd endured my adolescence. It stil had posters of musicians tacked to the wal s and sported the strong shades of purple and green that were a teenager's attempt at a sophisticated color scheme.
Downstairs, we explored the big formal rooms built to receive guests-the keeping room on one side of the front door and the office and smal parlor opposite. We passed through the rarely used dining room and into the heart of the house-a family room large enough to serve as TV room and eating area, with the kitchen at the far end.
"It looks like Em's taken up needlepoint-again," I said, picking up a half-finished canvas with a basket of flowers on it. "And Sarah's fal en off the wagon."
"She's a smoker?" Matthew gave the air a long sniff.
"When she's stressed. Em makes her smoke outside- but you can stil smel it. Does it bother you?" I asked, acutely aware of how sensitive he might be to the odor.
"Dieu, Diana, I've smel ed worse," he replied.
The cavernous kitchen retained its wal of brick ovens and a gigantic walk-in fireplace. There were modern appliances, too, and old stone floors that had endured two centuries of dropped pans, wet animals, muddy shoes, and other more witchy substances. I ushered him into Sarah's adjacent workroom. Original y a freestanding summer kitchen, it was now connected to the house and stil equipped with cranes for holding cauldrons of stew and spits for roasting meat. Herbs hung from the ceiling, and a storage loft held drying fruits and jars of her lotions and potions. The tour over, we returned to the kitchen "This room is so brown. " I studied the decor while flicking the porch light on and off again, the Bishops' long-standing signal that it was safe to enter. There was a brown refrigerator, brown wooden cabinets, warm red-brown brick, a brown rotary-dial phone, and tired brown-checked wal paper. "What it needs is a fresh coat of white paint."
Matthew's chin lifted, and his eyes panned to the back door.
"February would be ideal for the job, if you're offering to do the work," a throaty voice said from the mudroom. Sarah rounded the corner, wearing jeans and an oversize plaid flannel shirt. Her red hair was wild and her cheeks bright with the cold.
"Hel o, Sarah," I said, backing up toward the sink.
"Hel o, Diana." Sarah stared fixedly at the bruise under my eye. "This is the vampire, I take it?"
"Yes." I hobbled forward again to make the introductions.
Sarah's sharp gaze turned to my ankle. "Sarah, this is Matthew Clairmont. Matthew, my aunt, Sarah Bishop."
Matthew extended his right hand. "Sarah," he said, meeting her eyes without hesitation.
Sarah pursed her lips in response. Like me, she had the Bishop chin, which was slightly too long for the rest of her face. It was now jutting out even more.
"Matthew." When their hands met, Sarah flinched. "Yep,"
she said, turning her head slightly, "he's definitely a vampire, Em."
"Thanks for the help, Sarah," Em grumbled, walking in with an armful of smal logs and an impatient expression.
She was tal er than me or Sarah, and her shining silver cap of hair somehow made her look younger than the color would suggest. Her narrow face broke into a delighted smile when she saw us standing in the kitchen.
Matthew jumped to take the wood away from her.
Tabitha, who had been absent during the first flurry of greeting, hampered his progress to the fireplace by tracing figure eights between his feet. Miraculously, the vampire made it to the other side of the room without stepping on her.
"Thank you, Matthew. And thank you for bringing her home as wel . We've been so worried." Em shook out her arms, bits of bark flying from the wool of her sweater.
"You're welcome, Emily," he said, his voice irresistibly warm and rich. Em already looked charmed. Sarah was going to be tougher, although she was studying Tabitha's efforts to scale Matthew's arm with amazement.
I tried to retreat into the shadows before Em got a clear look at my face, but I was too late. She gasped, horrified.
Sarah pul ed out a stool. "Sit," she ordered.
Matthew crossed his arms tightly, as if resisting the temptation to interfere. His wolfish need to protect me had not diminished just because we were in Madison, and his strong dislike of creatures getting too near me was not reserved for other vampires.
My aunt's eyes traveled from my face down over my col arbones. "Let's get the shirt off," she said.
I reached for the buttons dutiful y.
"Maybe you should examine Diana upstairs." Em shot a worried look at Matthew.
"I don't imagine he'l get an eyeful of anything he hasn't already seen. You aren't hungry, are you?" Sarah said without a backward glance.
"No," Matthew said drily, "I ate on the plane."
My aunt's eyes tingled across my neck. So did Em's.
"Sarah! Em!" I was indignant.
"Just checking," Sarah said mildly. The shirt was off now, and she took in the gauze wrapping on my forearm, my mummified torso, and the other cuts and bruises.
"Matthew's already examined me. He's a doctor, remember?"
Her fingers probed my col arbone. I winced. "He missed this, though. It's a hairline fracture." She moved up to the cheekbone. I winced again. "What's wrong with her ankle?"
As usual, I hadn't been able to conceal anything from Sarah.
"A bad sprain accompanied by superficial first- and second-degree burns." Matthew was staring at Sarah's hands, ready to haul her off if she caused me too much discomfort.
"How do you get burns and a sprain in the same place?"