“You’re married to Matthew Clairmont?” Chris exploded. “Since when?”
“About ten months. It all happened very quickly,” I said apologetically.
“I’ll say!” Chris lowered his voice. “I warned you about his reputation with women. Clairmont may be a great scientist, but he’s also a notorious a**hole! Besides, he’s too old for you.”
“He’s only thirty-seven, Chris.” Give or take fifteen hundred years. “And I should warn you, Matthew and Fernando are listening to every word we say.” With vampires around, a closed door was no guarantee of privacy.
“How? Did your boyfriend—husband—bug the house?” Chris’s tone was sharp.
“No. He’s a vampire. They have exceptional hearing.” Sometimes honesty really was the best policy.
A heavy pot crashed in the kitchen.
“A vampire.” Chris’s look suggested I had lost my mind. “Like on TV?”
“Not exactly,” I said, proceeding with caution. Telling humans how the world really worked tended to unsettle them. I’d done it only once before—and it had been a huge mistake. My freshman roommate, Melanie, had passed out.
“A vampire,” Chris repeated slowly, as if he were thinking it all through.
“You’d better sit down.” I gestured toward the sofa. If he fell, I didn’t want him to hit his head.
Ignoring my suggestion, Chris plopped himself in the wing chair instead. It was more comfortable, to be sure, but had been known to forcibly eject visitors it didn’t like. I eyed it warily.
“Are you a vampire, too?” Chris demanded.
“No.” I perched gingerly on the edge of my grandmother’s rocking chair.
“Are you absolutely sure that Clairmont is? That’s his child you’re carrying, right?” Chris sat forward, as though a great deal depended on the answer.
“Children.” I held two fingers in the air. “Twins.”
Chris threw his hands in the air. “Well, no vampire ever knocked up a girl on Buffy. Not even Spike.
And God knows he never practiced safe sex.”
Bewitched had provided my mother’s generation with their supernatural primer. For mine it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whichever creatures had introduced Joss Whedon to our world had a lot to answer for. I sighed.
“I’m absolutely positive that Matthew is the father.”
Chris’s attention drifted to my neck.
“That’s not where he bites me.”
His eyes widened. “Where . . . ?” He shook his head. “No, don’t tell me.”
It was, I thought, a strange place to draw the line. Chris wasn’t normally squeamish—or prudish.
Still, he hadn’t passed out. That was encouraging.
“You’re taking this very well,” I said, grateful for his equanimity.
“I’m a scientist. I’m trained to suspend disbelief and remain open-minded until something is disproved.” Chris was now staring at the Blasted Tree. “Why is there a tree in the fireplace?”
“Good question. We don’t really know. Maybe you have other questions I could answer, though.” It was an awkward invitation, but I was still worried he might faint.
“A few.” Once again Chris fixed his dark eyes on mine. He wasn’t a witch, but it had been very difficult to lie to him for all these years. “You say Clairmont’s a vampire, but you’re not. What are you, Diana? I’ve known for some time that you aren’t like other people.”
I didn’t know what to say. How do you explain to someone you love that you’ve failed to mention a defining characteristic of yourself?
“I’m your best friend—or I was until Clairmont came along. Surely you trust me enough to come out to me,” Chris said. “No matter what it is, it won’t change anything between us.”
Beyond Chris’s shoulder a green smudge trailed off toward the Blasted Tree. The green smudge became the indistinct form of Bridget Bishop, with her embroidered bodice and full skirts.
Be canny, daughter. The wind blows from the north, a sign of a battle to come. Who will stand with you, and who will stand against you?
I had plenty of enemies. I couldn’t afford to lose a single friend.
“Maybe you don’t trust me enough,” Chris said softly when I didn’t immediately respond.
“I’m a witch.” My words were barely audible.
“Okay.” Chris waited. “And?”
“That’s it? That’s what you’ve been afraid to tell me?”
“I’m not talking neo-Pagan, Chris—though I am Pagan, of course. I’m talking an abracadabra, spell-casting, potion-making witch.” In this case Chris’s love of prime-time TV might actually prove useful.
“Do you have a wand?”
“No. But I do have a firedrake. That’s a kind of dragon.”
“Cool.” Chris grinned. “Very, very cool. Is that why you’ve stayed out of New Haven? Were you taking it to dragon obedience class or something?”
“Matthew and I had to get out of town quickly, that’s all. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
“Where were you?”
“Did you get any research done?” Chris looked thoughtful. “I suppose that would cause all kinds of citation problems. What would you put in your footnotes? ‘Personal conversation with William Shakespeare’?” He laughed.
“I never met Shakespeare. Matthew’s friends didn’t approve of him.” I paused. “I did meet the queen.”
“Even better,” Chris said, nodding. “Equally impossible to footnote, however.”
“You’re supposed to be shocked!” This was not at all what I’d expected. “Don’t you want proof?”
“I haven’t been shocked by anything since the MacArthur Foundation called me. If that can happen, anything is possible.” Chris shook his head. “Vampires and witches. Wow.”
“There are daemons, too. But their eyes don’t glow and they’re not evil. Well, no more so than any other species.”
“Other species?” Chris’s tone sharpened with interest. “Are there werewolves?”
“Absolutely not!” Matthew shouted in the distance.
“Touchy subject.” I gave Chris a tentative smile. “So you’re really fine with this?”
“Why wouldn’t I be? The government spends millions searching for aliens in outer space, and it turns out you’re right here. Think of all the grant money this could free up.” Chris was always looking for a way to diminish the importance of the physics department.
“You can’t tell anybody,” I said hastily. “Not many humans know about us, and we need to keep it that way.”
“We’re bound to find out eventually,” Chris said. “Besides, most people would be thrilled.”
“You think? The dean of Yale College would be thrilled to know that they’d tenured a witch?” I raised my eyebrows. “My students’ parents would be happy to discover that their beloved children are learning about the Scientific Revolution scientific revolution from a witch?”
“Well, maybe not the dean.” Chris’s voice dropped. “Matthew isn’t going to bite me to keep me quiet?”
“No,” I assured him.
Fernando inserted his foot between the keeping-room doors and nudged them open.
“I’d be happy to bite you instead, but only if you ask very nicely.” Fernando put a tray on the table.
“Sarah thought you might like coffee. Or something stronger. Call me if you need anything else. No need to shout.” He gave Chris the kind of dazzling smile he’d bestowed on the coven’s female membership at the Lughnasadh potluck.
“Saddling the wrong horse, Fernando,” I warned as he departed.
“He’s a vampire, too?” Chris whispered.
“Yep. Matthew’s brother-in-law.” I held up the whiskey bottle and the coffeepot. “Coffee?
“Both,” said Chris, reaching for a mug. He looked at me in alarm. “You haven’t kept this witch business from your aunt, have you?”
“Sarah’s a witch, too. So was Em.” I poured a healthy slug of whiskey in his mug and topped it off with a bit of coffee. “This is the third or fourth pot of the day, so it’s mostly decaf. Otherwise we have to scrape Sarah off the ceiling.”
“Coffee makes her fly?” Chris took a sip, considered a moment, and added more whiskey.
“In a manner of speaking,” I said, uncapping the water and taking a swig. The babies fluttered, and I gave my abdomen a gentle pat.
“I can’t believe you’re pregnant.” For the first time, Chris sounded amazed.
“You’ve just learned that I spent most of last year in the sixteenth century, I have a pet dragon, and that you’re surrounded by daemons, vampires, and witches, but it’s my pregnancy that you find implausible?”
“Trust me, honey,” Chris said, pulling out his best Alabama drawl. “It’s way more implausible.”
When the phone rang, it was pitch black outside. I shook myself from sleep, reaching across the bed to jostle Matthew awake. He wasn’t there.
I rolled over and picked up his mobile from the bedside table. The name MIRIAM was displayed, along with the time. Three o’clock Monday morning. My heart thudded in alarm. Only an emergency would have induced her to call at such an hour.
“Miriam?” I said after pushing the answer button.
“Where is he?” Miriam’s voice shook. “I need to speak with Matthew.”
“I’ll find him. He must be downstairs, or outside hunting.” I threw off the covers. “Is something wrong?”
“Yes,” Miriam said abruptly. Then she switched to another language, one I didn’t understand. The cadence was unmistakable, though. Miriam Shephard was praying.
Matthew burst through the door, Fernando behind him.
“Here’s Matthew.” I hit the speaker button and handed him the phone. He was not going to have this conversation in private.
“What is it, Miriam?” Matthew said.
“There was a note. In the mailbox. A Web address was typed on it.” There was a curse, a jagged sob, and Miriam’s prayer resumed.
“Text me the address, Miriam,” Matthew said calmly.
“It’s him, Matthew. It’s Benjamin,” Miriam whispered. “And there was no stamp on the envelope.
He must still be here. In Oxford.”
I leaped out of bed, shivering in the predawn darkness.
“Text me the address,” Matthew repeated.
A light came on in the hallway.
“What’s going on?” Chris joined Fernando at the threshold, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“It’s one of Matthew’s colleagues from Oxford, Miriam Shephard. Something’s happened at the lab,” I told him.
“Oh,” Chris said with a yawn. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs and frowned. “Not the Miriam Shephard who wrote the classic article about how inbreeding among zoo animals leads to a loss of heterozygosity?” I’d spent a lot of time around scientists, but it seldom helped me to understand what they were talking about.
“The same,” Matthew murmured.
“I thought she was dead,” Chris said.
“Not quite,” said Miriam in her piercing soprano. “To whom am I speaking?”
“Chris—Christopher Roberts. Yale University,” Chris stammered. He sounded like a graduate student introducing himself at his first conference.
“Oh. I liked your last piece in Science. Your research model is impressive, even though the conclusions are all wrong.” Miriam sounded more like herself now that she was criticizing a fellow researcher. Matthew noticed the positive change, too.
“Keep her talking,” Matthew encouraged Chris before issuing a quiet command to Fernando.
“Is that Miriam?” Sarah asked, shoving her arms through the sleeves of her bathrobe. “Don’t vampires have clocks? It’s three in the morning!”
“What’s wrong with my conclusions?” Chris asked, his expression thunderous.
Fernando was back, and he handed Matthew his laptop. It was already on, the screen’s glow illuminating the room. Sarah reached around the doorframe and flicked the light switch, banishing the remaining darkness. Even so I could feel the shadows pressing down on the house.
Matthew perched on the edge of the bed, his laptop on his knee. Fernando tossed him another cell phone, and Matthew tethered it to the computer.
“Have you seen Benjamin’s message?” Miriam sounded calmer than before, but fear kept her voice keen.
“I’m calling it up now,” Matthew said.
“Don’t use Sarah’s Internet connection!” Her agitation was palpable. “He’s monitoring traffic to the site. He might be able to locate you from your IP address.”
“It’s all right, Miriam,” Matthew said, his voice soothing. “I’m using Fernando’s mobile. And Baldwin’s computer people made sure that no one can trace my location from it.”
Now I understood why Baldwin had supplied us with new cell phones when we left Sept-Tours, changed all our phone plans, and canceled Sarah’s Internet service.
An image of an empty room appeared on the screen. It was white-tiled and barren except for an old sink with exposed plumbing and an examination table. There was a drain in the floor. The date and time were in the lower left corner, the numbers on the clock whirring forward as each second passed.