And if they didn't, Tabitha would surely kick up a fuss.
"No they won't." Matthew set me on my feet deeper in the woods. "They promised not to leave the house-not if you screamed, no matter what danger they sensed."
I crept backward, wanting to put some distance between me and his huge black eyes. The muscles in his legs coiled to spring. When I turned to make a run for it, he was already in front of me. I turned in the opposite direction, but he was there. A breeze stirred around my feet.
"Good," he said with satisfaction. Matthew's body lowered into the same position he'd taken stalking the stag at Sept-Tours, and the menacing growl started up again.
The breeze moved around my feet in gusts, but it didn't increase. The tingling descended from my elbows into my nails. Instead of pushing back my frustration, I let the feeling mount. Arcs of blue electricity moved between my fingers.
"Use your power," he rasped. "You can't fight me any other way."
My hands waved in his direction. It didn't seem very threatening, but it was al I could think of. Matthew proved just how worthless my efforts were by pouncing on me and spinning me around before vanishing into the trees.
"You're dead-again." His voice came from somewhere to my right.
"Whatever you're trying to do isn't working!" I shouted in his direction.
"I'm right behind you," he purred into my ear.
My scream split the silence of the forest, and the winds rose around me in a cyclonic cocoon. "Stay away!" I roared.
Matthew reached for me with a determined look, his hands shooting through my windy barrier. I flung mine in his direction, instinct taking over, and a rush of air knocked him back on his heels. He looked surprised, and the predator appeared in the depths of his eyes. He came at me again in another attempt to break the wind's hold. Though I concentrated on pushing him back, the air didn't respond as I wanted it to.
"Stop trying to force it," Matthew said. He was fearless and had made his way through the cyclone, his fingers digging into my upper arms. "Your mother spel bound you so that no one could force your magic-not even you."
"Then how do I cal it when needed and control it when it's not?"
"Figure it out." Matthew's snowy gaze flickered over my neck and shoulders, instinctively locating my major veins and arteries.
"I can't." A wave of panic engulfed me. "I'm not a witch."
"Stop saying that. It's not true, and you know it." He dropped me abruptly. "Close your eyes. Start walking."
"I've watched you for weeks, Diana." The way he was moving was completely feral, the smel of cloves so overpowering that my throat closed. "You need movement and sensory deprivation so that al you can do is feel. " He gave me a push, and I stumbled. When I turned back, he was gone.
My eyes circled the forest. The woods were eerily silent, the animals shielding themselves from the powerful predator in their midst.
Closing my eyes, I began to breathe deeply. A breeze ruffled past me, first in one direction, then in another. It was Matthew, taunting me. I focused on my breathing, trying to be as stil as the rest of the creatures in the forest, then set out.
There was a tightness between my eyes. I breathed into it, too, remembering Amira's yoga instruction and Marthe's advice to let the visions pass through me. The tightness turned to tingling and the tingling to a sense of possibility as my mind's eye-a witch's third eye-opened ful y for the first time.
It took in everything that was alive in the forest-the vegetation, the energy in the earth, the water moving underneath the ground-each vital force distinct in color and shade. My mind's eye saw the rabbits crouched in the hol ow of a tree, their hearts thundering in fear as they smel ed the vampire. It detected the barn owls, their late- afternoon naps brought to a premature end by this creature who swung from tree limbs and jumped like a panther. The rabbits and owls knew they couldn't escape him.
"King of the beasts," I whispered.
Matthew's low chuckle sounded through the trees.
No creature in the forest could fight Matthew and win.
"Except me," I breathed.
My mind's eye swept over the forest. A vampire is not ful y alive, and it was hard to find him amid the dazzling energy that surrounded me. Final y I located his shape, a concentration of darkness like a black hole, the edges glowing red where his preternatural life force met the vitality of the world. Instinctively turning my face in his direction alerted him to my scrutiny and he slid away, fading into the shadows between the trees.
With both eyes closed and my mind's eye open, I started walking, hoping to lure him into fol owing. Behind me his darkness detached from a maple tree in a gash of red and black amid the green. This time my face remained pointed in the opposite direction.
"I see you, Matthew," I said softly.
"Do you, ma lionne? And what wil you do about it?" He chuckled again but kept stalking me, the distance between us constant.
With each step my mind's eye grew brighter, its vision more acute. There was a brushy shrub to my left, and I leaned to the right. Then there was a rock in front of me, its sharp gray edges protruding from the soil. I picked up my foot to keep from tripping.
The movement of air across my chest told me there was a smal clearing. It wasn't just the life of the forest that was speaking to me now. Al around me the elements were sending messages to guide my way. Earth, air, fire, and water connected with me in tiny pinpricks of awareness that were distinct from the life in the forest.
Matthew's energy focused in on itself and become darker and deeper. Then his darkness-his absence of life -arced through the air in a graceful pounce that any lion would have envied. He stretched his arms to grab me.
Fly, I thought, a second before his fingers touched my skin.
The wind rose from my body in a sudden whoosh of power. The earth released me with a gentle push upward.
Just as Matthew had promised, it was easy to let my body fol ow where my thoughts had led. It took no more effort than fol owing an imaginary ribbon up to the sky.
Far below, Matthew somersaulted in midair and landed lightly on his feet precisely where I'd stood a few moments before.
I soared above the treetops, my eyes wide. They felt ful of the sea, as vast as the horizon, and bright with sunlight and stars. My hair floated on the currents of air, the ends of each strand turning into tongues of flame that licked my face without burning. The tendrils caressed my cheeks with warmth as the cold air swept past. A raven swooped by me in flight, amazed at this strange new creature sharing her airspace.
Matthew's pale face was turned up to me, his eyes ful of wonder. When our gazes connected, he smiled.
It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. There was a surge of desire, strong and visceral, and a rush of pride that he was mine.
My body dove toward him, and Matthew's face turned in an instant from wonder to wariness. He snarled, unsure of me, his instincts warning that I might attack.
Pul ing back on my nosedive, I descended more slowly until our eyes were level, my feet streaming behind in Sarah's rubber boots. The wind whipped a lock of my flaming hair in his direction.
Don't harm him. My every thought was focused on his safety. Air and fire obeyed me, and my third eye drank in his darkness.
"Stay away from me," he growled, "just for a moment."
Matthew was struggling to master his predatory instincts.
He wanted to hunt me now. The king of beasts didn't like to be bested.
Paying no attention to his warning, I lowered my feet until they floated a few inches above the ground and held out my hand, palm upturned. My mind's eye fil ed with the image of my own energy: a shifting mass of silver and gold, green and blue, shimmering like a morning star. I scooped some of it up, watching as it rol ed from my heart through my shoulder and arm.
A pulsing, swirling bal of sky, sea, earth, and fire sat in my palm. The ancient philosophers would have cal ed it a microcosm-a little world that contained fragments of me as wel as the larger universe.
"For you," I said, voice hol ow. My fingers tipped toward him.
Matthew caught the bal as it fel . It moved like quicksilver, molding itself to his cold flesh. My energy came to a quivering rest in the scoop of his hand.
"What is it?" he asked, distracted from his urge to hunt by the gleaming substance.
"Me," I said simply. Matthew fixed his attention on my face, his pupils engulfing the gray-green irises in a wave of black. "You won't hurt me. I won't hurt you either."
The vampire cradled my microcosm careful y in his hand, afraid to spil a drop.
"I stil don't know how to fight," I said sadly. "Al I can do is fly away."
"That's the most important lesson a warrior learns, witch."
Matthew's mouth turned what was usual y a derogatory term among vampires into an endearment. "You learn how to pick your battles and let go of those you can't win, to fight another day."
"Are you afraid of me?" I asked, my body stil hovering.
"No," he said.
My third eye tingled. He was tel ing the truth. "Even though I have that inside me?" My glance flickered to the glowing, twitching mass in his hand.
Matthew's face was guarded and careful. "I've seen powerful witches before. We stil don't know al that's inside you, though. We have to find out."
"I never wanted to know."
"Why, Diana? Why wouldn't you want these gifts?" He drew his hand tighter, as if my magic might be snatched away and destroyed before he understood its possibilities.
"Fear? Desire?" I said softly, touching his strong cheekbones with the tips of my fingers, shocked anew at the power of my love for him. Remembering what his daemon friend Bruno had written in the sixteenth century, I quoted it again. "' Desire urges me on, as fear bridles me.' Doesn't that explain everything that happens in the world?"
"Everything but you," he told me, his voice thick. "There's no accounting for you."
My feet touched the ground, and I pul ed my fingers from his face, slowly unfurling them. My body seemed to know the smooth movement, though my mind was quick to register its strangeness. The piece of myself that I'd given to Matthew leaped from his hand into mine. My palm closed around it, the energy quickly reabsorbed. There was the tingle of a witch's power, and I recognized it as my own. I hung my head, frightened by the creature I was becoming.
Matthew's fingertip drew aside my curtain of hair.
"Nothing wil hide you from this magic-not science, not wil power, not concentration. It wil always find you. And you can't hide from me either."
"That's what my mother said in the oubliette. She knew about us." Frightened by the memory of La Pierre, my mind's eye closed protectively. I shivered, and Matthew drew me near. It was no warmer in his cold arms, but it felt far safer.
"Perhaps that made it easier for them, to know you wouldn't be alone," Matthew said softly. His lips were cool and firm, and my own parted to draw him closer. He buried his face in my neck, and I heard him take in my scent with a sharp inhalation. He pul ed away with reluctance, smoothing my hair and tucking the parka more closely around me.
"Wil you train me to fight, like one of your knights?"
Matthew's hands stil ed. "They knew how to defend themselves long before coming to me. But I've trained warriors in the past-humans, vampires, daemons. Even Marcus, and God knows he was a chal enge. Never a witch, though."
"Let's go home." My ankle was stil throbbing, and I was ready to drop with fatigue. After a few halting steps, Matthew swung me onto his back like a child and walked through the twilight with my arms clasped around his neck.
"Thank you again for finding me," I whispered when the house came into view. He knew this time I wasn't talking about La Pierre.
"I'd stopped looking long ago. But there you were in the Bodleian Library on Mabon. A historian. A witch, no less."
Matthew shook his head in disbelief.
"That's what makes it magic," I said, planting a soft kiss above his col ar. He was stil purring when he put me down on the back porch.
Matthew went to the woodshed to get more logs for the fire, leaving me to make peace with my aunts. Both of them looked uneasy.
"I understand why you kept it secret," I explained, giving Em a hug that made her gasp with relief, "but Mom told me the time for secrets was over."
"You've seen Rebecca?" Sarah said careful y, her face white.
"In La Pierre. When Satu tried to frighten me into cooperating with her." I paused. "Daddy, too."
"Was she . . . were they happy?" Sarah had to choke out the words. My grandmother was standing behind her, watching with concern.
"They were together," I said simply, looking out the window to see if Matthew was headed back to the house.
"And they were with you," Em said firmly, her eyes ful .
"That means they were more than happy."
My aunt opened her mouth to say something, thought better of it, and closed it again.
"What, Sarah?" I said, putting a hand on her arm.
"Did Rebecca speak to you?" Her voice was hushed.
"She told me stories. The same stories she told me when I was a little girl-about witches and princes and a fairy godmother. Even though she and Daddy spel bound me, Mom tried to find a way to make me remember my magic.
But I wanted to forget."
"That last summer, before your mom and dad went to Africa, Rebecca asked me what made the most lasting impression on children. I told her it was the stories their parents read to them at night, and al the messages about hope and strength and love that were embedded in them."
Em's eyes were spil ing over now, and she dashed her tears away.
"You were right," I said softly.
Though the three witches had made amends, when Matthew came into the kitchen, his arms laden with wood, Sarah pounced on him.
"Don't ever ask me to ignore Diana's cries for help, and don't you ever threaten her again-no matter what the reason. If you do, I'l put a spel on you that wil make you wish you'd never been reborn. Got that, vampire?"
"Of course, Sarah," Matthew murmured blandly, in perfect imitation of Ysabeau.
We ate dinner at the table in the family room. Matthew and Sarah were in an uneasy state of detente, but open warfare threatened when my aunt saw that there wasn't a scrap of meat in sight.
"You're smoking like a chimney," Em said patiently when Sarah grumbled about the lack of "real" food. "Your arteries wil thank me."
"You didn't do it for me," Sarah said, shooting Matthew an accusatory glance. "You did it so he wouldn't feel the urge to bite Diana."
Matthew smiled mildly and pul ed the cork from a bottle he'd brought in from the Range Rover. "Wine, Sarah?"
She eyed the bottle suspiciously. "Is that imported?"
"It's French," he said, pouring the deep red liquid into her water tumbler.
"I don't like the French."
"Don't believe everything you read. We're much nicer than we're made out to be," he said, teasing her into a grudging smile. "Trust me, we'l grow on you." As if to prove it, Tabitha jumped onto his shoulder from the floor and sat there like a parrot for the rest of the meal.
Matthew drank his wine and chatted about the house, asking Sarah and Em about the state of the farm and the place's history. I was left with little to do but watch them- these three creatures I loved so much-and wolf down large quantities of chili and cornbread.
When at last we went up to bed, I slipped between the sheets naked, desperate to feel Matthew's cool body against mine. He joined me, drawing me toward his bare flesh.
"You're warm," he said, snuggling more tightly against me.
"Mmm. You smel good," I said, my nose pressed against his chest. The key turned itself in the lock. It had been there when I woke up that afternoon. "Was the key in the bureau?"
"The house had it." His laughter rumbled underneath me.
"It shot out of the floorboards next to the bed at an angle, hit the wal over the light switch, and slid down. When I didn't pick it up straightaway, it flew across the room and landed in my lap."
I laughed while his fingers drifted around my waist. He studiously avoided Satu's marks.
"You have your battle scars," I said, hoping to soothe him.
"Now I have mine."
His lips found mine unerringly in the darkness. One hand moved to the smal of my back, covering the crescent moon. The other traveled between my shoulder blades, blotting out the star. No magic was necessary to understand his pain and regret. It was everywhere evident -in his gentle touch, the words he murmured in the darkness, and his body that was so solid next to mine.
Gradual y he let go of the worst of his fear and anger. We touched with mouths and fingers, our initial urgency slowing to prolong the joy of reunion.
Stars burst into life at the peak of my pleasure, and a few stil hung beneath the ceiling, sparkling and sputtering out the remainder of their brief lives while we lay in each other's arms and waited for the morning to find us.