In my bones there was a sudden boom as of two worlds col iding.
Something stung my right arm, accompanied by the odor of latex and plastic, and Matthew was arguing with Marcus.
There was cold earth below me, and the tang of leaf mold replaced the other scents. My eyes were open, but I saw nothing except blackness. With effort I was able to pick out the half-bare branches of trees crisscrossing above me.
"Use the left arm-it's already open," said Matthew with impatience.
"That arm's useless, Matthew. The tissues are ful of your saliva and won't absorb anything else. The right arm is better. Her blood pressure is so low I'm having a hard time finding a vein, that's al ." Marcus's voice had the unnatural quietness of the emergency-room physician who sees death regularly.
Two thick strands of spaghetti spooled onto my face.
Cold fingers touched my nose, and I tried to shake them off, only to be held down.
Miriam's voice came from the darkness to my right.
"Tachycardia. I'l sedate her."
"No," Matthew said roughly. "No sedatives. She's barely conscious. They could put her into a coma."
"Then keep her quiet." Miriam's tone was matter-of-fact.
Tiny, cold fingers pressed against my neck with unexpected firmness. "I can't stop her from bleeding out and hold her stil at the same time."
What was happening around me was visible only in disconcerting slices-what was directly above, what could be glimpsed from the corners of my eyes, what could be tracked through the enormous effort of swiveling them in tracked through the enormous effort of swiveling them in their sockets.
"Can you do anything, Sarah?" Matthew's voice was anguished.
Sarah's face swam into view. "Witchcraft can't heal vampire bites. If it could, we'd never have had anything to fear from creatures like you."
I began drifting to somewhere peaceful, but my progress was interrupted by Em's slipping her hand into mine, holding me firmly in my own body.
"We've got no choice, then." Matthew sounded desperate. "I'l do it."
"No, Matthew," said Miriam decidedly. "You're not strong enough yet. Besides, I've done it hundreds of times." There was a tearing sound. After Juliette's attack on Matthew, I recognized that it was vampire flesh.
"Are they making me a vampire?" I whispered to Em.
"No, mon coeur." Matthew's voice was as decided as Miriam's had been. "You lost-I took-a great deal of blood. Marcus is replacing it with human blood. Now Miriam needs to see to your neck."
"Oh." It was too complicated to fol ow. My brain was fuzzy -almost as fuzzy as my tongue and throat. "I'm thirsty."
"You're craving vampire blood, but you're not going to get it. Lie very stil ," Matthew said firmly, holding my shoulders so tightly it was painful. Marcus's cold hands crept past my ears to my jaw, holding my mouth closed, too. "And, Miriam -"
"Stop fussing, Matthew," Miriam said briskly. "I was doing this to warmbloods long before you were reborn."
Something sharp cut into my neck, and the smel of blood fil ed the air.
The cutting sensation was fol owed by a pain that froze and burned simultaneously. The heat and cold intensified, traveling below the surface tissues of my neck to sear the bones and muscles underneath.
I wanted to escape the icy licks, but there were two vampires holding me down. My mouth was firmly closed, too, so al I could do was let out a muffled, fearful sound.
"Her artery is obscured," Miriam said quietly. "The wound has to be cleared." She took a single, audible sip, drawing the blood away. The skin was numbed momentarily, but sensation returned ful force when she withdrew.
The extreme pain sent adrenaline coursing through my system, and panic fol owed in its wake. The gray wal s of La Pierre loomed around me, my inability to move putting me back within Satu's hands.
Matthew's fingers dug into my shoulders, returning me to the woods outside the Bishop house. "Tel her what you're doing, Miriam. That Finnish witch made her afraid of what she can't see."
"It's just drops of my blood, Diana, fal ing from my wrist,"
Miriam said calmly. "I know it hurts, but it's al we have.
Vampire blood heals on contact. It wil close your artery better than the sutures a surgeon would use. And you needn't worry. There's no chance such a smal amount, applied topical y, wil make you one of us."
After her description it was possible to recognize each deliberate drop fal ing into my open wound. There it mingled with my witch's flesh, forcing an instantaneous buildup of scar tissue. It must require enormous control, I thought, for a vampire to undertake such a procedure without giving in to hunger. At last the drops of searing coldness came to an end.
"Done," Miriam said with a touch of relief. "Al I have to do now is sew the incision." Her fingers flew over my neck, tugging and stitching the flesh back together. "I tried to neaten the wound, Diana, but Matthew tore the skin with his teeth."
"We're going to move you to the house now," Matthew said.
He cradled my head and shoulders while Marcus supported my legs. Miriam walked alongside carrying the equipment. Someone had driven the Range Rover across the fields, and it stood waiting with its rear door open.
Matthew and Miriam switched places, and he disappeared into the cargo area to ready it for me.
"Miriam," I whispered. She bent toward me. "If something goes wrong-" I couldn't finish, but it was imperative she understand me. I was stil a witch. But I'd rather be a vampire than dead.
She stared into my eyes, searched for a moment, then nodded. "Don't you dare die, though. He'l kil me if I do what you ask."
Matthew talked nonstop during the bumpy ride back to the house, kissing me softly whenever I tried to sleep.
Despite his gentleness, it was a wrench each time.
At the house, Sarah and Em sped around col ecting cushions and pil ows. They made a bed in front of the keeping room's fireplace. Sarah lit the pile of logs in the grate with a few words and a gesture. A blaze began to burn, but stil I shivered uncontrol ably, cold to the core.
Matthew lowered me onto the cushions and covered me with quilts while Miriam pressed a bandage onto my neck.
As she worked, my husband and his son muttered in the corner.
"It's what she needs, and I do know where her lungs are,"
Marcus said impatiently. "I won't puncture anything."
"She's strong. No central line. End of discussion. Just get rid of what's left of Juliette's body," Matthew said, his voice quiet but commanding.
"I'l see to it," Marcus replied. He turned on his heel, and the front door thudded behind him before the Range Rover sprang once more into life.
The ancient case clock in the front entrance ticked the minutes as they passed. The warmth soaked into my bones, making me drowsy. Matthew sat at my side, holding one hand tightly so that he could tug me back whenever I tried to escape into the welcome oblivion.
Final y Miriam said the magic word: "stable." Then I could give in to the blackness flitting around the edges of my consciousness. Sarah and Em kissed me and left, Miriam fol owed, and at last there was nothing but Matthew and the blessed quiet.
Once silence descended, however, my mind turned to Juliette.
"I kil ed her." My heart raced.
"You had no choice." His tone said no further discussion was required. "It was self-defense."
"No it wasn't. The witchfire . . ." It was only when he was in danger that the bow and arrow had appeared in my hands.
Matthew quieted me with a kiss. "We can talk about that tomorrow."
There was something that couldn't wait, something I wanted him to know now.
"I love you, Matthew." There hadn't been a chance to tel him before Satu snatched me away from Sept-Tours. This time I wanted to be sure it was said before something else happened.
"I love you, too." He bent his head, his lips against my ear. "Remember our dinner in Oxford? You wanted to know how you would taste."
I moved my head in acknowledgment.
"You taste of honey," he murmured. "Honey-and hope."
My lips curved, and then I slept.
But it was not restful slumber. I was caught between waking and sleeping, La Pierre and Madison, life and death. The ghostly old woman had warned me of the danger of standing at a crossroads. There were times that death seemed to be standing patiently at my side, waiting for me to choose the road I wanted to take.
I traveled countless miles that night, fleeing from place to place, never more than a step ahead of whoever was pursuing me-Gerbert, Satu, Juliette, Peter Knox.
Whenever my journey brought me back to the Bishop house, Matthew was there. Sometimes Sarah was with him. Other times it was Marcus. Most often, though, Matthew was alone.
Deep in the night, someone started humming the tune we'd danced to a lifetime ago in Ysabeau's grand salon. It wasn't Marcus or Matthew-they were talking to each other -but I was too tired to figure out where the music was coming from.
"Where did she learn that old song?" Marcus asked.
"At home. Christ, even in sleep she's trying to be brave."
Matthew's voice was desolate. "Baldwin is right-I'm no good at strategy. I should have foreseen this."
"Gerbert counted on your forgetting about Juliette. It had been so long. And he knew you'd be with Diana when she struck. He gloated about it on the phone."
"Yes, he knows I'm arrogant enough to think she was safe with me at her side."
"You've tried to protect her. But you can't-no one could.
She's not the only one who needs to stop being brave."
There was something Marcus didn't know, something Matthew was forgetting. Snatches of half-remembered conversation came back to me. The music stopped to let me speak.
"I told you before," I said, groping for Matthew in the dark and finding only a handful of soft wool that released the scent of cloves when crushed, "I can be brave enough for both of us."
"Diana," Matthew said urgently. "Open your eyes and look at me."
His face was inches from mine. He was cradling my head with one hand, the other cool on my lower back, where a crescent moon swept from one side of my body to the other.
"There you are," I murmured. "I'm afraid we're lost."
"No, my darling, we're not lost. We're at the Bishop house. And you don't need to be brave. It's my turn."
"Wil you be able to figure out which road we need to take?"
"I'l find the way. Rest and let me take care of that."
Matthew's eyes were very green.
I drifted off once more, racing to elude Gerbert and Juliette, who were hard at my heels. Toward dawn my sleep deepened, and when I awoke, it was morning. A quick check revealed that my body was naked and tucked tightly under layers of quilts, like a patient in a British intensive- care ward. Tubing disappeared into my right arm, a bandage encased my left elbow, and something was stuck to my neck. Matthew was sitting nearby with knees bent and his back against the sofa.
"Matthew? Is everyone al right?" There was cotton wool wrapped around my tongue, and I was stil fiercely thirsty.
"Everyone's fine." Relief washed over his face as he reached for my hand and pressed his lips to my palm.
Matthew's eyes flickered to my wrist, where Juliette's fingernails had left angry red crescent moons.
The sound of our voices brought the rest of the household into the room. First there were my aunts. Sarah was lost in her thoughts, dark hol ows under her eyes. Em looked tired but relieved, stroking my hair and assuring me that everything was going to be al right. Marcus came next. He examined me and talked sternly about my need to rest.
Final y Miriam ordered everyone else out of the room so she could change my bandages.
"How bad was it?" I asked when we were alone.
"If you mean Matthew, it was bad. The de Clermonts don't handle loss-or the threat of it-very wel . Ysabeau was worse when Philippe died. It's a good thing you lived, and not just for my sake." Miriam applied ointment to my wounds with a surprisingly delicate touch.
Her words conjured images of Matthew on a vengeful rampage. I closed my eyes to blot them out. "Tel me about Juliette."
Miriam emitted a low hiss of warning. "Juliette Durand is not my tale to tel . Ask your husband." She disconnected the IV and held out one of Sarah's old flannel shirts. After I struggled with it for a few moments, she came to my aid.
Her eyes fel on the marks on my back.
"The scars don't bother me. They're just signs that I've fought and survived." I pul ed the shirt over my shoulders self-consciously nonetheless.
"They don't bother him either. Loving de Clermonts always leaves a mark. Nobody knows that better than Matthew."
I buttoned up the shirt with shaking fingers, unwil ing to meet her eyes. She handed over a pair of stretchy black leggings.
"Giving him your blood like that was unspeakably dangerous. He might not have been able to stop drinking."
A note of admiration had crept into her voice.
"Ysabeau told me the de Clermonts fight for those they love."
"His mother wil understand, but Matthew is another matter. He needs to get it out of his system-your blood, what happened last night, everything."
Juliette. The name hung unspoken in the air between us.
Miriam reconnected the IV and adjusted its flow. "Marcus wil take him to Canada. It wil be hours before Matthew finds someone he's wil ing to feed on, but it can't be helped."
"Sarah and Em wil be safe with both of them gone?"