We made it only halfway down the stairs the next morning before stopping to rest, but I was determined to get to the kitchen under my own steam. To my surprise, Matthew didn't try to dissuade me. We sat on the worn wooden treads in companionable silence. Pale, watery light seeped in through the wavy glass panes around the front door, hinting at a sunny day to come. From the family room came the click of Scrabble tiles.
"When wil you tel them?" There wasn't much to divulge yet-he was stil working on the basic outlines of the plan.
"Later," he said, leaning into me. I leaned toward him, pressing our shoulders closer.
"No amount of coffee is going to keep Sarah from freaking out when she hears." I put my hand on the banister and levered myself to my feet with a sigh. "Let's try this again."
In the family room, Em brought me my first cup of tea. I sipped it on the couch while Matthew and Marcus headed off for their walk with my silent blessing. They should spend as much time as possible together before we left.
After my tea Sarah made me her famous scrambled eggs. They were laden with onions, mushrooms, and cheese and topped with a spoonful of salsa. She put a steaming plate before me.
"Thanks, Sarah." I dove in without further ceremony.
"It's not just Matthew who needs food and rest." She glanced out the window to the orchard, where the two vampires were walking.
"I feel much better today," I said, crunching a bite of toast.
"Your appetite seems to have recovered, at least." There was already a sizable dent in the mountain of eggs.
When Matthew and Marcus returned, I was on my second plate of food. They both appeared grim, but Matthew shook his head at my curious look.
Apparently they hadn't been talking about our plans to timewalk. Something else had put them into a sour mood.
Matthew pul ed up a stool, flapped open the paper, and concentrated on the news. I ate my eggs and toast, made more tea, and bided my time while Sarah washed and put away the dishes.
At last Matthew folded his paper and set it aside.
"I'd like to go to the woods. To where Juliette died," I announced.
He got to his feet. "I'l pul the Range Rover to the door."
"This is madness, Matthew. It's too soon." Marcus turned to Sarah for support.
"Let them go," Sarah said. "Diana should put on warmer clothes first, though. It's chil y outside."
Em appeared, a puzzled expression on her face. "Are we expecting visitors? The house thinks we are."
"You're joking!" I said. "The house hasn't added a room since the last family reunion. Where is it?"
"Between the bathroom and the junk room." Em pointed at the ceiling. I told you this wasn't just about you and Matthew, she said silently to me as we trooped upstairs to view the transformation. My premonitions are seldom wrong.
The newly materialized room held an ancient brass bed with enormous polished bal s capping each corner, tatty red gingham curtains that Em insisted were coming down immediately, a hooked rug in clashing shades of maroon and plum, and a battered washstand with a chipped pink bowl and pitcher. None of us recognized a single item.
"Where did it al come from?" Miriam asked in amazement.
"Who knows where the house keeps this stuff?" Sarah sat on the bed and bounced on it vigorously. It responded with a series of outraged squeaks.
"The house's most legendary feats happened around my thirteenth birthday," I remembered with a grin. "It came up with a record four bedrooms and a Victorian parlor set."
"And twenty-four place settings of Blue Wil ow china," Em recal ed. "We've stil got some of the teacups, although most of the bigger pieces disappeared again once the family left."
After everybody had inspected the new room and the now considerably smal er storage room next door, I changed and made my halting way downstairs and into the Range Rover. When we drew close to the spot where Juliette had met her end, Matthew stopped. The heavy tires sank into the soft ground.
"Shal we walk the rest of the way?" he suggested. "We can take it slowly."
He was different this morning. He wasn't coddling me or tel ing me what to do.
"What's changed?" I asked as we approached the ancient oak tree.
"I've seen you fight," he said quietly. "On the battlefield the bravest men col apse in fear. They simply can't fight, even to save themselves."
"But I froze." My hair tumbled forward to conceal my face.
Matthew stopped in his tracks, his fingers tightening on my arm to make me stop, too. "Of course you did. You were about to take a life. But you don't fear death."
"No." I'd lived with death-sometimes longed for it- since I was seven.
He swung me around to face him. "After La Pierre, Satu left you broken and uncertain. Al your life you've hidden from your fears. I wasn't sure you would be able to fight if you had to. Now al I have to do is keep you from taking unnecessary risks." His eyes drifted to my neck.
Matthew moved forward, towing me gently along. A smudge of blackened grass told me we'd arrived at the clearing. I stiffened, and he released my arm.
The marks left by the fire led to the dead patch where Juliette had fal en. The forest was eerily quiet, without birdcal s or other sounds of life. I gathered a bit of charred wood from the ground. It crumbled to soot in my fingers.
"I didn't know Juliette, but at that moment I hated her enough to kil her." Her brown-and-green eyes would always haunt me from shadows under the trees.
I traced the line left by the arc of conjured fire to where the maiden and the crone had agreed to help me save Matthew. I looked up into the oak tree and gasped.
"It began yesterday." Matthew fol owed my gaze. "Sarah says you pul ed the life out of it."
Above me the branches of the tree were cracked and withered. Bare limbs forked and forked again into shapes reminiscent of a stag's horns. Brown leaves swirled at my feet. Matthew had survived because I'd pushed its vitality through my veins and into his body. The oak's rough bark had exuded such permanence, yet there was nothing now but hol owness.
"Power always exacts a price," Matthew said.
"What have I done?" The death of a tree was not going to settle my debt to the goddess. For the first time, I was afraid of the deal I'd struck.
Matthew crossed the clearing and caught me up in his arms. We hugged each other, fierce with the knowledge of al we'd almost lost.
"You promised me you would be less reckless." There was anger in his voice.
I was angry with him, too. "You were supposed to be indestructible."
He rested his forehead against mine. "I should have told you about Juliette."
"Yes, you should have. She almost took you from me." My pulse throbbed behind the bandage on my neck. Matthew's thumb settled against the spot where he'd bitten through flesh and muscle, his touch unexpectedly warm.
"It was far too close." His fingers were wrapped in my hair, and his mouth was hard on mine. Then we stood, hearts pressed together, in the quiet.
"When I took Juliette's life, it made her part of mine- forever."
Matthew stroked my hair against my skul . "Death is its own powerful magic."
Calm again, I said a silent word of thanks to the goddess, not only for Matthew's life but for my own.
We walked toward the Range Rover, but halfway there I stumbled with fatigue. Matthew swung me onto his back and carried me the rest of the way.
Sarah was bent over her desk in the office when we arrived at the house. She flew outside and pul ed open the car door with speed a vampire might envy.
"Damn it, Matthew," she said, looking at my exhausted face.
Together they got me inside and back onto the family- room couch, where I rested my head in Matthew's lap. I was lul ed to sleep by the quiet sounds of activity al around, and the last thing I remembered clearly was the smel of vanil a and the sound of Em's battered KitchenAid mixer.
Matthew woke me for lunch, which turned out to be vegetable soup. The look on his face suggested that I would shortly need sustenance. He was about to tel our families the plan.
"Re a d y, mon coeur?" Matthew asked. I nodded, scraping up the last of my meal. Marcus's head swiveled in our direction. "We have something to share with you," he announced.
The new household tradition was to proceed to the dining room whenever something important needed to be discussed. Once we were assembled, al eyes turned to Matthew.
"What have you decided?" Marcus asked without preamble.
Matthew took a deliberate breath and began. "We need to go where it won't be easy for the Congregation to fol ow, where Diana wil have time and teachers who can help her master her magic."
Sarah laughed under her breath. "Where is this place, where there are powerful, patient witches who don't mind having a vampire hanging around?"
"It's not a particular place I have in mind," Matthew said cryptical y. "We're going to hide Diana in time."
Everyone started shouting at once. Matthew took my hand in his.
"Courage, " I murmured in French, repeating his advice when I met Ysabeau.
He snorted and gave me a grim smile.
I had some sympathy for their amazed disbelief. Last night, while I was lying in bed, my own reaction had been much the same. First I'd insisted that it was impossible, and then I'd asked for a thousand details about precisely when and where we were going.
He'd explained what he could-which wasn't much.
"You want to use your magic, but now it's using you. You need a teacher, one who is more adept than Sarah or Emily. It's not their fault they can't help you. Witches in the past were different. So much of their knowledge has been lost."
"Where? When?" I'd whispered in the dark.
"Nothing too distant-though the more recent past has its own risks-but back far enough that we'l find a witch to train you. First we have to talk to Sarah about whether it can be done safely. And then we need to locate three items to steer us to the right time."
"We?" I'd asked in surprise. "Won't I just meet you there?"
"Not unless there's no alternative. I wasn't the same creature then, and I wouldn't entirely trust my past selves with you."
His mouth had softened with relief after I nodded in agreement. A few days ago, he'd rejected the idea of timewalking. Apparently the risks of staying put were even worse.
"What wil the others do?"
His thumb traveled slowly over the veins on the back of my hand. "Miriam and Marcus wil go back to Oxford. The Congregation wil look for you here first. It would be best if Sarah and Emily went away, at least for a little while. Would they go to Ysabeau?" Matthew wondered.
On the surface it had sounded like a ridiculous idea.
Sarah and Ysabeau under the same roof? The more I'd considered it, though, the less implausible it seemed.
"I don't know," I'd mused. Then a new worry had surfaced.
"Marcus." I didn't ful y understand the intricacies of the Knights of Lazarus, but with Matthew gone he would have to shoulder even more responsibility.
"There's no other way," Matthew had said in the darkness, quieting me with a kiss.
This was precisely the point that Em now wanted to argue.
"There must be another way," she protested.
"I tried to think of one, Emily," Matthew said apologetical y.
"Where-or should I say when-are you planning on going? Diana won't exactly blend into the background.
She's too tal ." Miriam looked down at her own tiny hands.
"Regardless of whether Diana could fit in, it's too dangerous," Marcus said firmly. "You might end up in the middle of a war. Or an epidemic."
"Or a witch-hunt." Miriam didn't say it maliciously, but three heads swung around in indignation nonetheless.
"Sarah, what do you think?" asked Matthew.