"For you to wear, of course," Philippe said, chuckling. "The chain was mine, but when I saw Marie's gown, I thought the yellow diamonds and the sapphires would not look out of place. The style is old, and some would say it is too masculine for a bride, but the chain will sit on your shoulders and lie flat. Originally a cross hung from the center, but I thought you might prefer to suspend the arrow instead."

"I don't recognize the flowers." The slender yellow buds reminded me of freesia, and they were interspersed with gold fleurs-de-lis rimmed with sapphires.

"Planta genista. The English call it broom. The Angevins used it as their emblem."

The Plantagenets: the most powerful royal family in English history. The Plantagenets had expanded Westminster Abbey, given in to the barons and signed the Magna Carta, established Parliament, and supported the foundation of Oxford and Cambridge universities. Plantagenet rulers had fought in the Crusades and through the Hundred Years' War with France. And one of them had given this chain to Philippe as a sign of royal favor. Nothing else could account for its splendor.

"Philippe, I can't possibly-" My protests stopped when he passed the other jewels to Catrine and lowered the chain over my head. The woman who gazed back at me from the murky mirror was no more a modern historian than Matthew was a modern scientist. "Oh," I said in amazement.

"Breathtaking," he agreed. His face softened with regret. "I wish Ysabeau could be here to see you like this, and to witness Matthew's happiness."

"I'll tell her everything one day," I promised softly, holding his reflected gaze as Catrine fastened the arrow to the front of the chain and wound the rope of pearls through my hair. "I'll take good care of the jewels tonight, too, and make sure they're returned to you in the morning."

"These belong to you now, Diana, to do with what you will. As does this." Philippe pulled another bag from his belt, this one made from serviceable leather, and handed it to me.

It was heavy. Very heavy.

"The women in this family manage their own finances. Ysabeau insists upon it. All of the coins in here are English or French. They do not hold their value as well as Venetian ducats, but they will raise fewer questions when you spend them. If you need more, you have only to ask Walter or another member of the brotherhood."

When I'd arrived in France, I was entirely dependent on Matthew. In little more than a week, I had learned how to conduct myself, converse, manage a household, and distill spirit of wine. I now had my own property, and Philippe de Clermont had claimed me publicly as his daughter.

"Thank you, for all of this," I said softly. "I didn't think you wanted me as a daughter-in-law."

"Not at first, perhaps. But even old men can change their minds." Philippe's grin flashed. "And I always get what I want in the end."

The women wrapped me in my cloak. At the very last moment, Catrine and Jehanne dropped a filmy piece of silk over my head and attached it to my hair with the opal crescent moons, which had tiny, tenacious claws on the back.

Thomas and etienne, who now saw themselves as my personal champions, ran ahead of us through the chateau and proclaimed our approach at the top of their lungs. Soon we formed a procession, moving through the twilight in the direction of the church. Someone must have been up in the bell tower, and once whoever that was spotted us, the bells began to ring.

I faltered as we came to the church. The entire village had assembled outside its doors, along with the priest. I searched for Matthew and found him standing at the top of the short flight of stairs. Through the transparent veil, I could feel his regard. Like sun and moon, we were unconcerned at this moment with time, distance, and difference. All that mattered was our position relative to each other.

I gathered my skirts and went to him. The brief climb felt endless. Did time misbehave this way for all brides, I wondered, or only for witches?

The priest beamed at me from the door but made no effort to admit us to the church. He was clutching a book in his hands but didn't open it. I frowned in confusion.

"A ll right, mon coeur?" Matthew murmured.

"Aren't we going inside?"

"Marriages take place at the church door to avoid bloody disputes later over whether or not the ceremony took place as reported. We can thank God there isn't a blizzard."

"Commencez!" the priest commanded, nodding at Matthew.

My entire role in the ceremony was to utter eleven words. Matthew was charged with fifteen. Philippe had informed the priest that we would then repeat our vows, in English, because it was important that the bride fully understand what she was promising. This brought the total number of words necessary to make us husband and wife to fifty-two.

"Maintenant!" The priest was shivering and wanted his supper.

"Je, Matthew, donne mon corps a toi, Diana, en loyal mariage." Matthew took my hands in his. "I, Matthew, give my body to you, Diana, in faithful matrimony."

"Et je le reçois," I replied. "And I receive it."

We were halfway through. I took a deep breath and kept going.

"Je, Diana, donne mon corps a toi, Matthew." The hard part over, I quickly said my final line. "I, Diana, give my body to you, Matthew."

"Et je le reçois, avec joie." Matthew drew the veil over my head. "And I receive it, with joy."

"Those aren't the right words," I said fiercely. I had memorized the vows, and there was no "avec joie" anywhere in them.

"They are," Matthew insisted, lowering his head.

We'd been married by vampire custom when we mated and again by common law when Matthew had put Ysabeau"s ring on my finger in Madison. Now we were married a third time.

What happened afterward was a blur. There were torches and a long walk up the hill surrounded by well-wishers. Chef's feast was already laid out, and people tucked into it with enthusiasm. Matthew and I sat alone at the family table, while Philippe strolled about serving wine and making sure the children got their fair share of spit-roasted hare and cheese fritters. Occasionally he cast a proud look in our direction, as if we'd slain dragons that afternoon.

"I never thought I would see this day," Philippe told Matthew as he placed a slice of custard tart before us.

The feast seemed to be winding down when the men started shoving the tables to the sides of the hall. Pipes and drums sounded from the minstrels' gallery above.

"By tradition the first dance belongs to the bride's father," Philippe said with a bow to me. He led me to the floor. Philippe was a good dancer, but even so I got us tangled.

"May I?" Matthew tapped on his father's shoulder.

"Please. Your wife is trying to break my foot." Philippe's wink took the sting out of his words, and he withdrew, leaving me with my husband.

Others were still dancing, but they drew away and left us in the center of the room. The music deliberately slowed as a musician plucked on the strings of his lute, and the sweet tones of a wind instrument piped an accompaniment. As we parted and came together, once, twice, again, the distractions of the room faded.

"You're a far better dancer than Philippe, no matter what your mother says," I told him, breathless even though the dance was measured.

"That's because you're following my lead," he teased. "You fought Philippe every step of the way."

When the dance brought us together once more, he took me by the elbows, pulled me tight against his body, and kissed me. "Now that we're married, will you keep forgiving my sins?" he asked, swinging back into the regular steps.

"That depends," I said warily. "What have you done now?"

"I've crushed your ruff beyond redemption."

I laughed, and Matthew kissed me again, briefly but emphatically. The drummer took it as a cue, and the music's tempo increased. Other couples whirled and hopped their way across the floor. Matthew drew us into relative safety near the fireplace before we were trampled. Philippe was there a moment later.

"Take your wife to bed and finish this," Philippe murmured.

"But the guests . . ." Matthew protested.

"Take your wife to bed, my son," Philippe repeated. "Steal away now, before the others decide to accompany you upstairs and make sure you do your duty. Leave everything to me." He turned, kissing me formally on both cheeks before murmuring something in Greek and sending us to Matthew's tower.

Though I knew this part of the chateau in my own time, I had yet to see it in its sixteenth-century splendor. The order of Matthew's apartments had changed. I expected to see books in the room off the first landing, but instead there was a large canopied bed. Catrine and Jehanne brought out a carved box for my new jewels, filled up the basin, and bustled around with fresh linens. Matthew sat before the fire and pulled off his boots, taking up a glass of wine when he was through.

"Your hair, madame?" Jehanne asked, eyeing my husband speculatively.

"I'll take care of it," Matthew said gruffly, his eyes on the fire.

"Wait," I said, pulling the moon-shaped jewels free from my hair and putting them in Jehanne's upturned palm. She and Catrine removed the veil and departed, leaving me standing near the bed and Matthew lounging fireside with his feet on one of the clothing chests.

When the door closed, Matthew put down his glass of wine and came to me, twining his fingers in my hair and tugging gently to dislodge in moments what it had taken the girls nearly thirty minutes to achieve. He tossed the rope of pearls aside. My hair tumbled over my shoulders, and Matthew's nostrils flared as he took in my scent. Wordlessly he pulled my body against his and bent to fit his mouth to mine.

But there were questions that needed to be asked and answered first. I drew away.

"Matthew, are you sure . . . ?"

Cool fingers slid underneath my ruff, finding the ties that connected it to my bodice.

Snap. Snap. Snap.

The stiffened linen came free from my neck and fell to the floor. Matthew loosened the buttons that kept my high neckline clasped tight. He bent his head and kissed my throat. I clutched at his doublet.

"Matthew," I repeated. "Is this about-"

He silenced me with another kiss while he lifted the heavy chain from my shoulders. We broke off momentarily so Matthew could get it over my head. Then his hands breached the crenellated line of pickadils where sleeves met bodice. His fingers slid among the gaps, searching out a weak point in the garment's defenses.

"There it is," he murmured, hooking his index fingers around the edges and giving a decided yank. One sleeve, then the other, slid down each arm and onto the floor. Matthew seemed entirely unconcerned, but it was my wedding gown and not easily replaced.

"My gown," I said, squirming in his arms.

"Diana." Matthew drew his head back and rested his hands on my waist.

"Yes?" I said breathlessly. I tried to reach the sleeve with the toe of my slipper and push it where it was less likely to be crushed.

"The priest blessed our marriage. The entire village wished us well. There was food, and dancing. I did think we might draw the night to a close by making love. Yet you seem more interested in your wardrobe." He had located still another set of laces that fastened my skirts to the bottom of the pointed bodice, about three inches below my belly button. Lightly, Matthew swept his thumbs between edge of the bodice and my pubic bone.

"I don't want our first time together to be about satisfying your father." In spite of my protests, my hips arched toward him in silent invitation while he kept up that maddening movement of his thumbs, like the beating of an angel's wings. He made a soft sound of satisfaction and untied the bow hidden there.

Tug. Rasp. Tug. Rasp. Tug. Rasp.

Matthew's nimble fingers pulled on each crossing of the laces, drawing them through the concealed holes. There were twelve in all, and my body bowed and straightened with the force of his attentions.

"At last," he said with satisfaction. Then he groaned. "Christ. There are more."

"Oh, you're nowhere near through. I'm trussed up like a Christmas goose," I said as he lifted the bodice away from the skirts, revealing the corset below. "Or, more accurately, an Advent goose."

But Matthew wasn't paying any attention to me. Instead my husband was focused on the place where my nearly transparent high-necked smock disappeared into the heavy reinforced fabric of the corset. He pressed his lips against the swell. Bowing his head in a reverential pose, he took in a jagged breath.

So did I. It was surprisingly erotic, the brush of his lips somehow magnified by the fine lawn boundary. Not knowing what made him stop his previously single-minded efforts to get me unclothed, I cradled his head in my hands and waited for him to make his next move.

At last Matthew took my hands and wrapped them around the carved post that held up the corner of the canopy. "Hold on," he said.

Tug. Rasp. Tug. Rasp. Before he was finished, Matthew took a moment to slide his hands inside the stays. They swooped around my rib cage and found my breasts. I moaned softly as he trapped my smock between the warm, pebbled skin of my nipples and his cool fingers. He pulled me back against him.

"Do I seem like a man interested in pleasing anyone but you?" he murmured into my ear. When I didn't immediately answer, one hand snaked down my stomach to press me closer. The other remained where it was, cupping my breast.

"No." My head tilted back into his shoulder, exposing my neck.

"Then no more talk about my father. And I'll buy you twenty identical gowns tomorrow if you will stop worrying about your sleeves now." Matthew was busily ruching up my smock so that the hem skirted the tops of my legs. I loosed my grip on the bedpost, grabbed at his hand, and placed it at the juncture of my thighs.

"No more talking," I agreed, gasping when his fingers parted my flesh.

Matthew quieted me further with a kiss. The slow movements of his hands were causing an entirely different reaction as the tension in my body rose.

"Too many clothes," I said breathlessly. His agreement was unstated, but evident in the haste with which he slid the corset down my arms. The laces were loose enough now that I could push it over my hips and step out of it. I unfastened his breeches while Matthew unbuttoned his doublet. These two items had been joined at his hips by just as many crossed laces as my bodice and skirt.

When we were both wearing nothing more than hose, I removed my smock, and Matthew his shirt, we paused, awkwardness returning.

"Will you let me love you, Diana?" Matthew said, sweeping away my anxiety with that simple, courteous question.

"I will," I whispered. He knelt and carefully untied the ribbons that held up my stockings. They were blue, which Catrine said was the color of fidelity. Matthew rolled the hose down my legs, a press of lips on knees and ankles marking their passage. He removed his own hose so quickly that I never had an opportunity to note the color of his garters.

Matthew lifted me slightly so that my toes were barely gripping the floor and he could fit himself into the notch between my legs.

"We may not make it to the bed," I said, grabbing onto his shoulders. I wanted him inside me, quickly.

But we did make it to that soft, shadowed place, ridding ourselves of our linen along the way. Once there, my body welcomed him into the moon of my thighs while my arms reached to draw him down to me. Even so I gasped in surprise when our two bodies became one-warm and cold, light and dark, female and male, witch and vampire, a conjunction of opposites.

Matthew's expression went from reverential to wondering when he began to move within me, and it became intent after he angled his body and I reacted with a pleased cry. He slipped his arm under the small of my back and lifted me into his hips while my hands gripped his shoulders.

We fell into the rhythm unique to lovers, pleasing each other with soft touches of mouth and hands as we rocked together, together until all we had left to give were our hearts and souls. Looking deep into each other's eyes, we exchanged our final vows with flesh and spirit until we were as soft and trembling as newborns.

"Let me love you forever," Matthew murmured against my damp forehead, his lips trailing a cold path across my brow as we lay twined together.

"I will," I promised once more, tucking my body even closer against him.

Deborah Harkness Books | Fantasy Books | All Souls Trilogy Series Books
Source: www.StudyNovels.com