“What does she want you to do?” Matthew’s voice was rough with emotion.
“I don’t know. But there’s one thing I’m sure of: The goddess needs me alive to do it.”
Matthew’s hand came to rest on the space between my h*ps where our children slept.
I felt a soft flutter. Another. I looked at him in alarm.
His hand flexed over my skin, pressing slightly, and there was a stronger flicker of movement in my belly.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Not at all. The babies. They’ve quickened.” Matthew’s expression was awed as well as relieved.
We waited together for the next flurry of activity within me. When it came, Matthew and I both laughed, caught up in the unexpected joy. I tilted back my head. The stars seemed brighter, keeping the darkness of the new moon in balance with the light.
The crossroads was silent, and the sharp need I had felt to be out under the dark moon had passed.
It was not death that had brought me here, but life. Hand in hand, Matthew and I went back to the house.
When I turned on the kitchen light, something unexpected was waiting for me.
“It’s a bit soon for someone to leave me a birthday present,” I said, eyeing the strangely wrapped parcel. When Matthew moved forward to examine it more closely, I put out a hand and stopped him.
“Don’t touch it.”
He looked at me in confusion.
“It’s got enough magical wards on it to repel an army,” I explained.
The package was thin and rectangular. An odd assortment of wrapping paper had been patched together to cover it: pink paper with storks, paper covered with primary-colored inchworms forming the shape of the number four, garish Christmas-tree wrapping paper, and silver foil with embossed wedding bells. A bouquet of bright bows covered its surface.
“Where did it come from?” Matthew asked.
“The house, I think.” I poked it with my finger. “I recognize some of the wrapping paper from birthdays past.”
“Are you sure it’s for you?” He looked dubious.
I nodded. The package was definitely for me. Gingerly I picked it up. The bows, all of which had been used before and therefore lacked adhesive, slipped off and rained down on the kitchen island.
“Shall I get Sarah?” Matthew asked.
“No. I’ve got it covered.” My hands were tingling, and every rainbow stripe was in evidence as I removed the wrapping paper.
Inside was a composition book—the kind with a black-and-white cover and pages sewn together with thick string. Someone had glued a magenta daisy over the white box for your name, and WIDE RULE
had been edited to read WITCHES RULE.
“‘Rebecca Bishop’s Book of Shadows,’” I said, reading aloud from the words written in thick black ink on the daisy. “This is my mother’s missing spell book—the one she used for the higher magics.”
I cracked open the cover. After all our problems with Ashmole 782, I was braced for anything from mysterious illustrations to encoded script. Instead I found my mother’s round, childish handwriting.
“To summon a spirit recently dead and question it” was the first spell in the book.
“Mom certainly believed in starting with a bang,” I said, showing Matthew the words on the page.
The notes beneath the spell recorded the dates when she and Emily had tried to work the magic, as well as the results. Their first three attempts had failed. On the fourth try, they succeeded.
Both of them were thirteen at the time.
“Christ,” Matthew said. “They were babes. What business did they have with the dead?”
“Apparently they wanted to know if Bobby Woodruff liked Mary Bassett,” I said, peering at the cramped script.
“Why didn’t they just ask Bobby Woodruff?” Matthew wondered.
I flipped through the pages. Binding spells, banishing spells, protection spells, charms to summon the elemental powers—they were all in there, along with love magic and other coercive enchantments.
My fingers stopped. Matthew sniffed.
Something thin and almost transparent was pressed onto one of the pages in the back of the book.
Scrawled above it in a more mature version of the same round hand were the words:
[des: Author had this all centered on the page.]
I kept this for you. It was our first indication that you were going to be a great witch.
Maybe you’ll need it one day.
Lots of love, Mom
“It’s my caul.” I looked up at Matthew. “Do you think it’s meaningful that I got it back on the same day the babies quickened?”
“No,” Matthew said. “It’s far more likely that the house gave it back to you tonight because you finally stopped running from what your mother and father knew since the very beginning.”
“What’s that?” I frowned.
“That you were going to possess an extraordinary combination of your parents’ very different magical abilities,” he replied.
The tenth knot burned on my wrist. I turned over my hand and looked at its writhing shape.
“That’s why I can tie the tenth knot,” I said, understanding for the first time where the power came from. “I can create because my father was a weaver, and I can destroy because my mother had the talent for higher, darker magics.”
“A union of opposites,” Matthew said. “Your parents were an alchemical wedding, too. One that produced a marvelous child.”
I closed the spell book carefully. It would take me months—years, perhaps—to learn from my mother’s mistakes and create spells of my own that would achieve the same ends. With one hand pressing my mother’s spell book to my sternum and the other pressed against my abdomen, I leaned back and listened to the slow beating of Matthew’s heart.
“‘Do not refuse me because I am dark and shadowed,’” I whispered, remembering a line from an alchemical text I’d studied in Matthew’s library. “That line from the Aurora Consurgens used to remind me of you, but now it makes me think of my parents, as well as my own magic and how hard I resisted it.”
Matthew’s thumb stroked my wrist, bringing the tenth knot to brilliant, colorful life.
“This reminds me of another part of the Aurora Consurgens, ” he murmured. “‘As I am the end, so my lover is the beginning. I encompass the whole work of creation, and all knowledge is hidden in me.’”
“What do you think it means?” I turned my head so I could see his expression.
He smiled, and his arms circled my waist, one hand now resting on the babies. They moved as if recognizing their father’s touch.
“That I am a very lucky man,” Matthew replied.
I woke up to Matthew’s cool hands sliding under my pajama top, his lips soothing against my damp neck.
“Happy birthday,” he murmured.
“My own private air conditioner,” I said, snuggling against him. A vampire husband brought welcome relief in tropical conditions. “What a thoughtful present.”
“There are more,” he said, giving me a slow, wicked kiss.
“Fernando and Sarah?” I was almost past caring who might hear our lovemaking, but not quite.
“Outside. In the garden hammock. With the paper.”
“We’ll have to be quick, then.” The local papers were short on news and long on advertisements.
They took ten minutes to read—fifteen if you were shopping the back-to-school sales or wanted to know which of the three grocery chains had the best deal on bleach.
“I went out for the New York Times this morning,” he said.
“Always prepared, aren’t you?” I reached down and touched him. Matthew swore. In French.
“You’re just like Verin. Such a Boy Scout.”
“Not always,” he said, closing his eyes. “Not now, certainly.”
“Awfully sure of yourself, too.” My mouth slid along his in a teasing kiss. “The New York Times.
What if I were tired? Cranky? Or hormonal? The Albany paper would have been more than enough to keep them busy then.”
“I was relying on my presents to sweeten you up.”
“Well, I don’t know.” A sinuous twist of my hand elicited another French curse. “Why don’t I finish unwrapping this one? Then you can show me what else you’ve got.”
By eleven o’clock on my birthday morning, the mercury had already climbed above ninety degrees. The August heat wave showed no signs of breaking.
Worried about Sarah’s garden, I spliced together four hoses using a new binding spell and some duct tape so that I could reach all the flower beds. My headphones were jammed into my ears, and I was listening to Fleetwood Mac. The house had fallen eerily silent, as if it were waiting for something to happen, and I found myself missing the beat of my parents’ favorite band.
While dragging the hose across the lawn, my attention was momentarily caught by the large iron weather vane sprouting from the top of the hop barn. It hadn’t been there yesterday. I wondered why the house was tinkering with the outbuildings. While I considered the question, two more weather vanes popped out of the ridgepole. They quivered for a moment like newly emerged plants, then whirled madly. When the motion stopped, they all pointed north. Hopefully, their position was an indication that rain was on the way. Until then, the hose was going to have to suffice.
I was giving the plants a good soaking when someone engulfed me in an embrace.
“Thank God! I’ve been so worried about you.” The deep voice was muted by the sound of guitars and drums, but I recognized it nonetheless. I ripped the headphones from my ears and turned to face my best friend. His deep brown eyes were full of concern.
“Chris!” I flung my arms around his broad shoulders. “What are you doing here?” I searched his features for changes but found none. Still the same close-cropped curly hair, still the same walnut skin, still the same high cheekbones angled under straight brows, still the same wide mouth.
“I’m looking for you!” Chris replied. “What the hell is going on? You totally disappeared last November. You don’t answer your phone or your e-mail. Then I see the fall teaching schedule and you’re not on it! I had to get the chair of the history department drunk before he spilled that you were on medical leave. I thought you were dying—not pregnant.”
Well, that was one less thing I’d have to tell him.
“I’m sorry, Chris. There was no cell-phone reception where I was. Or Internet.”
“You could have called me from here,” he said, not yet ready to let me off the hook. “I’ve left messages for your aunts, sent letters. Nobody responded.”
I could feel Matthew’s gaze, cold and demanding. I felt Fernando’s attention, too.
“Who is this, Diana?” Matthew asked quietly, coming to my side.
“Chris Roberts. Who the hell are you?” Chris demanded.
“This is Matthew Clairmont, fellow of All Souls College, Oxford University.” I hesitated. “My husband.”
Chris’s mouth dropped open.
“Chris!” Sarah waved from the back porch. “Come here and give me a hug!”
“Hi, Sarah!” Chris’s hand rose in greeting. He turned and gave me an accusatory look. “You got married?”
“You’re here for the weekend, right?” Sarah called.
“That depends, Sarah.” Chris’s shrewd glance moved from me to Matthew and back.
“On?” Matthew’s brow rose in aristocratic disdain.
“On how long it takes me to figure out why Diana married somebody like you, Clairmont, and whether you deserve her. And don’t waste your lord-of-the-manor act on me. I come from a long line of field hands. I am not impressed.” Chris said, stalking toward the house. “Where’s Em?”
Sarah froze, her face white. Fernando leaped up the porch steps to join her.
“Why don’t we go inside?” he murmured, trying to steer her away from Chris.
“Can I have a word?” Matthew asked, putting his hand on Chris’s arm.
“It’s all right, Matthew. I had to tell Diana. I can tell Chris, too.” Sarah’s throat worked. “Emily had a heart attack. She died in May.”
“God, Sarah. I’m so sorry.” Chris enveloped her in a less bone-crushing version of the hug he’d given me. He rocked slightly on his feet, his eyes screwed tightly shut. Sarah moved with him, her body relaxed and open rather than tight and full of grief. My aunt had not yet gotten over Emily’s death—like Fernando, she might never get over that fundamental loss—but there were small signs that she was beginning the slow process of learning to live again.
Chris’s dark eyes opened and sought me out over Sarah’s shoulder. They held anger and hurt, as well as sorrow and unanswered questions. Why didn’t you tell me? Where have you been? Why didn’t you let me help?
“I’d like to talk to Chris,” I said softly. “Alone.”
“You’ll be most comfortable in the keeping room.” Sarah drew away from Chris and wiped her eyes. The nod she gave me encouraged me to tell him our family’s secret. Based on the tightness of his jaw, Matthew was not feeling as generous.
“I’ll be right here if you need me.” Matthew raised my hand to his lips. There was a warning squeeze, a tiny nip on the knuckle of my ring finger as if to remind me—and him—that we were husband and wife. Matthew reluctantly released me.
Chris and I passed through the house to the keeping room. Once we were inside, I slid the doors shut.