"You bought us some time. The Congregation never imagined that Juliette would fail. Gerbert is as proud as Matthew, and nearly as infal ible. It wil take them a few days to regroup." She froze, a guilty look on her face.
"I'd like to talk to Diana now," Matthew said quietly from the door. He looked terrible. There was hunger in the sharpened angles of his face and the lavender smudges under his eyes.
He watched silently as Miriam walked around my makeshift bed. She shut the heavy coffin doors behind her, their catches clicking together. When he turned to me, his look was concerned.
Matthew's need for blood was at war with his protective instincts.
"When are you leaving?" I asked, hoping to make my wishes clear.
"I'm not leaving."
"You need to regain your strength. Next time the Congregation won't send just one vampire or witch." I wondered how many other creatures from Matthew's past were likely to come cal ing at the Congregation's behest, and I struggled to sit up.
"You are so experienced with war now, ma lionne, that you understand their strategies?" It was impossible to judge his feelings from his features, but his voice betrayed a hint of amusement.
"We've proved we can't be beaten easily."
"Easily? You almost died." He sat next to me on the cushions.
"So did you."
"You used magic to save me. I could smel it-lady's mantle and ambergris."
"It was nothing." I didn't want him know what I'd promised in exchange for his life.
"No lies." Matthew grabbed my chin with his fingertips. "If you don't want to tel me, say so. Your secrets are your own.
But no lies."
"If I do keep secrets, I won't be the only one doing so in this family. Tel me about Juliette Durand."
He let go of my chin and moved restlessly to the window.
"You know that Gerbert introduced us. He kidnapped her from a Cairo brothel, brought her to the brink of death over and over again before transforming her into a vampire, and then shaped her into someone I would find appealing. I stil don't know if she was insane when Gerbert found her or if her mind broke after what he did to her."
"Why?" I couldn't keep the incredulity from my voice.
"She was meant to worm her way into my heart and then into my family's affairs. Gerbert had always wanted to be included among the Knights of Lazarus, and my father refused him time and time again. Once Juliette had discovered the intricacies of the brotherhood and any other useful information about the de Clermonts, she was free to kil me. Gerbert trained her to be my assassin, as wel as my lover." Matthew picked at the window frame's peeling paint. "When I first met her, she was better at hiding her il ness. It took me a long time to see the signs. Baldwin and Ysabeau never trusted her, and Marcus detested her. But I -Gerbert taught her wel . She reminded me of Louisa, and her emotional fragility seemed to explain her erratic behavior."
He has always liked fragile things, Ysabeau had warned me. Matthew hadn't been just sexual y attracted to Juliette.
The feelings had gone deeper.
"You did love her." I remembered Juliette's strange kiss and shuddered.
"Once. Long ago. For al the wrong reasons," Matthew continued. "I watched her-from a safe distance-and made sure she was cared for, since she was incapable of caring for herself. When World War I broke out, she disappeared, and I assumed she'd been kil ed. I never imagined she was alive somewhere."
"And al the time you were watching her, she was watching you, too." Juliette's attentive eyes had taken in my every movement. She must have observed Matthew with a similar keenness.
"If I'd known, she would never have been al owed to get near you." He stared out into the pale morning light. "But there's something else we have to discuss. You must promise me never to use your magic to save me. I have no wish to live longer than I'm meant to. Life and death are powerful forces. Ysabeau interfered with them on my behalf once. You aren't to do it again. And no asking Miriam-or anyone else-to make you a vampire." His voice was startling in its coldness, and he crossed the room to my side with quick, long strides. "No one-not even I-wil transform you into something you're not."
"You'l have to promise me something in return."
His eyes narrowed with displeasure. "What's that?"
"Don't ever ask me to leave you when you're in danger," I said fiercely. "I won't do it."
Matthew calculated what would be required of him to keep his promise while keeping me out of harm's way. I was just as busy figuring out which of my dimly understood powers needed mastering so that I could protect him without incinerating him or drowning myself. We eyed each other warily for a few moments. Final y I touched his cheek.
"Go hunting with Marcus. We'l be fine for a few hours."
His color was al wrong. I wasn't the only one who had lost a lot of blood.
"You shouldn't be alone."
"I have my aunts, not to mention Miriam. She told me at the Bodleian that her teeth are as sharp as yours. I believe her." I was more knowledgeable now about vampire teeth.
"We'l be home by dark," he said reluctantly, brushing his fingers across my cheekbone. "Is there anything you need before I go?"
"I'd like to talk to Ysabeau." Sarah had been distant that morning, and I wanted to hear a maternal voice.
"Of course," he said, hiding his surprise by reaching into his pocket for his phone. Someone had taken the time to retrieve it from the bushes. He dialed Sept-Tours with a single push of his finger.
"Maman? " A torrent of French erupted from the phone.
"She's fine," Matthew interrupted, his voice soothing.
"Diana wants-she's asked-to speak to you."
There was silence, fol owed by a single crisp word. "Oui. "
Matthew handed me the phone.
"Ysabeau?" My voice cracked, and my eyes fil ed with sudden tears.
"I am here, Diana." Ysabeau sounded as musical as ever.
"I almost lost him."
"You should have obeyed him and gone as far away from Juliette as you could." Ysabeau's tone was sharp before turning soft once more. "But I am glad you did not."
I cried in earnest then. Matthew stroked the hair back from my forehead, tucking my typical y wayward strand behind my ear, before leaving me to my conversation.
To Ysabeau I was able to express my grief and confess my failure to kil Juliette at my first opportunity. I told her everything-about Juliette's startling appearance and her strange kiss, my terror when Matthew began to feed, about what it was like to begin to die only to return abruptly to life.
Matthew's mother understood, as I'd known she would. The only time Ysabeau interrupted was during the part of my story that involved the maiden and the crone.
"So the goddess saved my son," she murmured. "She has a sense of justice, as wel as humor. But that is too long a tale for today. When you are next at Sept-Tours, I wil tel you."
Her mention of the chateau caused another sharp pang of homesickness. "I wish I were there. I'm not sure anyone in Madison can teach me al that I need to know."
"Then we must find a different teacher. Somewhere there is a creature who can help."
Ysabeau issued a series of firm instructions about obeying Matthew, taking care of him, taking care of myself, and returning to the chateau as soon as possible. I agreed to al of them with uncharacteristic alacrity and got off the phone.
A few tactful moments later, Matthew opened the door and stepped inside.
"Thank you," I said, sniffing and holding up his phone.
He shook his head. "Keep it. Cal Marcus or Ysabeau at any time. They're numbers two and three on speed dial.
You need a new phone, as wel as a watch. Yours doesn't even hold a charge." Matthew settled me gently against the cushions and kissed my forehead. "Miriam's working in the dining room, but she'l hear the slightest sound."
"Sarah and Em?" I asked.
"Waiting to see you," he said with a smile.
After visiting with my aunts, I slept a few hours, until a restless yearning for Matthew had me clawing myself awake.
Em got up from my grandmother's recently returned rocker and came to me carrying a glass of water, her forehead creased in deep lines that hadn't been there a few days ago. Grandma was sitting on the sofa staring at the paneling next to the fireplace, clearly waiting for another message from the house.
"Where's Sarah?" I closed my fingers around the glass.
My throat was stil parched, and the water would feel divine.
"She went out for a while." Em's delicate mouth pressed into a thin line.
"She blames this al on Matthew."
Em dropped down to her knees on the floor until her eyes were level with mine. "This has nothing to do with Matthew.
You offered your blood to a vampire-a desperate, dying vampire." She silenced my protests with a look. "I know he's not just any vampire. Even so, Matthew could kil you.
And Sarah's devastated that she can't teach you how to control your talents."
"Sarah shouldn't worry about me. Did you see what I did to Juliette?"
She nodded. "And other things as wel ."
My grandmother's attention was now fixed on me instead of the paneling.
"I saw the hunger in Matthew when he fed on you," Em continued quietly. "I saw the maiden and the crone, too, standing on the other side of the fire."
"Did Sarah see them?" I whispered, hoping that Miriam couldn't hear.
Em shook her head. "No. Does Matthew know?"
"No." I pushed my hair aside, relieved that Sarah was unaware of al that had happened last night.
"What did you promise the goddess in exchange for his life, Diana?"
"Anything she wanted."
"Oh, honey." Em's face crumpled. "You shouldn't have done that. There's no tel ing when she'l act-or what she'l take."
My grandmother was furiously rocking. Em eyed the chair's wild movements.
"I had to, Em. The goddess didn't seem surprised. It felt inevitable-right, somehow."
"Have you seen the maiden and the crone before?"
I nodded. "The maiden's been in my dreams. Sometimes it's as though I'm inside her, looking out as she rides or hunts. And the crone met me outside the keeping room."
You're in deep water now, Diana, my grandmother rustled. I hope you can swim.
"You mustn't cal the goddess lightly," Em warned. "These are powerful forces that you don't yet understand."
"I didn't cal her at al . They appeared when I decided to give Matthew my blood. They gave me their help wil ingly."
Maybe it wasn't your blood to give. My grandmother continued to rock back and forth, setting the floorboards creaking. Did you ever think of that?
"You've known Matthew for a few weeks. Yet you fol ow his orders so easily, and you were wil ing to die for him.
Surely you can see why Sarah is concerned. The Diana we've known al these years is gone."
"I love him," I said fiercely. "And he loves me." Matthew's many secrets-the Knights of Lazarus, Juliette, even Marcus-I pushed to the side, along with my knowledge of his ferocious temper and his need to control everything and everyone around him.
But Em knew what I was thinking. She shook her head.
"You can't ignore them, Diana. You tried that with your magic, and it found you. The parts of Matthew you don't like and don't understand are going to find you, too. You can't hide forever. Especial y now."
"What do you mean?"
"There are too many creatures interested in this manuscript, and in you and Matthew. I can feel them, pressing in on the Bishop house, on you. I don't know which side of this struggle they're on, but my sixth sense tel s me it won't be long before we find out."
Em tucked the quilt around me. After putting another log on the fire, she left the room.
I was awakened by my husband's distinctive, spicy scent.
"You're back," I said, rubbing my eyes.
Matthew looked rested, and his skin had returned to its normal, pearly color.
He'd fed. On human blood.
"So are you." Matthew brought my hand to his lips.
"Miriam said you've been sleeping for most of the day."
"Is Sarah home?"
"Everyone's present and accounted for." He gave me a lopsided grin. "Even Tabitha."
I asked to see them, and he unhooked me from my IV without argument. When my legs were too unsteady to carry me to the family room, he simply swept me up and carried me.
Em and Marcus settled me into the sofa with great ceremony. I was quickly exhausted by nothing more strenuous than quiet conversation and watching the latest film noir selection on TV, and Matthew lifted me up once more.
"We're going upstairs," he announced. "We'l see you in the morning."
"Do you want me to bring up Diana's IV?" Miriam asked pointedly.
"No. She doesn't need it." His voice was brusque.
"Thank you for not hooking me up to al that stuff," I said as he carried me through the front hal .
"Your body is stil weak, but it's remarkably resilient for a warmblood," Matthew said as he climbed the stairs. "The reward for being a perpetual-motion machine, I imagine."
Once he had turned off the light, I curled into his body with a contented sigh, my fingers splayed possessively across his chest. The moonlight streaming through the windows highlighted his new scars. They were already fading from pink to white.
Tired as I was, the gears of Matthew's mind were working so furiously that sleep proved impossible. It was plain from the set of his mouth and the bright glitter of his eyes that he was picking our road forward, just as he'd promised to do last night.
"Tel me," I said when the suspense became unbearable.
"What we need is time," he said thoughtful y.
"The Congregation isn't likely to give us that."
"We'l take it, then." His voice was almost inaudible.