Shadow of Night Read online
We arrived in an undignified heap of witch and vampire. Matthew was underneath me, his long limbs bent into an uncharacteristically awkward position. A large book was squashed between us, and the force of our landing sent the small silver figurine clutched in my hand sailing across the floor.
“Are we in the right place?” My eyes were screwed shut in case we were still in Sarah’s hop barn in twenty-first-century New York, and not in sixteenth-century Oxfordshire. Even so, the unfamiliar scents told me I was not in my own time or place. Among them was something grassy and sweet, along with a waxen smell that reminded me of summer. There was a tang of wood smoke, too, and I heard the crackle of a fire.
“Open your eyes, Diana, and see for yourself.” A feather-light touch of cool lips brushed my cheek, followed by a soft chuckle. Eyes the color of a stormy sea looked into mine from a face so pale it could only belong to a vampire. Matthew’s hands traveled from neck to shoulders. “Are you all right?”
After journeying so far into Matthew’s past, my body felt as though it might come apart with a puff of wind. I hadn’t felt anything like it after our brief timewalking sessions at my aunts’ house.
“I’m fine. What about you?” I kept my attention fixed on Matthew rather than daring a look around.
“Relieved to be home.” Matthew’s head fell back on the wooden floorboards with a gentle thunk, releasing more of the summery aroma from the rushes and lavender scattered there. Even in 1590 the Old Lodge was familiar to him.
My eyes adjusted to the dim light. A substantial bed, a small table, narrow benches, and a single chair came into focus. Through the carved uprights supporting the bed’s canopy, I spied a doorway that connected this chamber to another room. Light spilled from it onto the coverlet and floor, forming a misshapen golden rectangle. The room’s walls had the same fine, linenfold paneling that I remembered from the few times I’d visited Matthew’s home in present-day Woodstock. Tipping my head back, I saw the ceiling—thickly plastered, coffered into squares, with a splashy red-andwhite Tudor rose picked out in gilt in each recess.
“The roses were obligatory when the house was built,” Matthew commented drily. “I can’t stand them. We’ll paint them all white at the first opportunity.”
The gold-and-blue flames in a stand of candles flared in a sudden draft, illuminating the corner of a richly colored tapestry and the dark, glossy stitches that outlined a pattern of leaves and fruit on the pale counterpane. Modern textiles didn’t have that luster.
I smiled with sudden excitement. “I really did it. I didn’t mess it up or take us somewhere else, like Monticello or—”
“No,” he said with an answering smile, “you did beautifully. Welcome to Elizabeth’s England.”
For the first time in my life, I was absolutely delighted to be a witch. As a historian I studied the past. Because I was a witch, I could actually visit it. We had come to 1590 to school me in the lost arts of magic, yet there was so much more that I could learn here. I bent my head for a celebratory kiss, but the sound of an opening door stopped me.
Matthew pressed a finger to my lips. His head turned slightly, and his nostrils flared. The tension left him when he recognized who was in the next room, where I could hear a faint rustling. Matthew lifted the book and me in one clean move. Taking my hand, he led me to the door.
In the next room, a man stood at a table littered with correspondence. He was of average height, with a neat build and expensive, tailored clothes and tousled brown hair. The tune he hummed was unfamiliar, punctuated now and again with words too low for me to hear.
Shock passed over Matthew’s face before his lips curved into an affectionate smile. “Where are you in truth, my own sweet Matt?” The man held a page up to the light. In a flash, Matthew’s eyes narrowed, indulgence replaced by displeasure.
“Looking for something, Kit?” At Matthew’s words the young man dropped the paper to the table and pivoted, joy lighting his face. I’d seen that face before, on my paperback copy of Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.
“Matt! Pierre said you were in Chester and might not make it home. But I knew you would not miss our annual gathering.” The words were familiar enough but coated in a strange cadence that required me to focus on what he was saying in order to understand them. Elizabethan English was neither as unlike modern English as I had been taught nor as easily understandable as I’d hoped, based on my familiarity with Shakespeare’s plays.
“Why no beard? Have you been ill?” Marlowe’s eyes flickered when they spotted me, nudging me with the insistent pressure that marked him unmistakably as a daemon.
I suppressed an urge to rush at one of England’s greatest playwrights and shake his hand before peppering him with questions. What little information I once knew about him flew from my mind now that he was standing before me. Had any of his plays been performed in 1590? How old was he? Younger than Matthew and I, certainly. Marlowe couldn’t yet be thirty. I smiled at him warmly.
“Wherever did you find that?” Marlowe pointed, his voice dripping with contempt. I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see some hideous work of art. There was nothing but empty space.
He meant me. My smile faltered.
“Gently, Kit,” Matthew said with a scowl.
Marlowe shrugged off the rebuke. “It is no matter. Take your fill of her before the others arrive, if you must. George has been here for some time, of course, eating your food and reading your books. He is still without a patron and hasn’t a farthing to his name.”
“George is welcome to whatever I have, Kit.” Matthew kept his eyes on the young man, his face expressionless as he drew our intertwined fingers to his mouth. “Diana, this is my dear friend Christopher Marlowe.”
Matthew’s introduction provided Marlowe with an opportunity to inspect me more openly. His attention crawled from my toes to the top of my head. The young man’s scorn was evident, his jealousy better hidden. Marlowe was indeed in love with my husband. I had suspected it back in Madison when my fingers had traveled over his inscription in Matthew’s copy of Doctor Faustus.
“I had no idea there was a brothel in Woodstock that specialized in overtall women. Most of your whores are more delicate and appealing, Matthew. This one is a positive Amazon,” Kit sniffed, looking over his shoulder at the disordered drifts of paper that littered the surface of the table. “According to the Old Fox’s latest, it was business rather than lust that took you to the north. Wherever did you find the time to secure her services?”
“It is remarkable, Kit, how easily you squander affection,” Matthew drawled, though there was a note of warning in his tone. Marlowe, seemingly intent on the correspondence, failed to recognize it and smirked. Matthew’s fingers tightened on mine.
“Is Diana her real name, or was it adopted to enhance her allure among customers? Perhaps a baring of her right breast, or a bow and arrow, is in order,” Marlowe suggested, picking up a sheet of paper. “Remember when Blackfriars Bess demanded we call her Aphrodite before she would let us—”
“Diana is my wife.” Matthew was gone from my side, his hand no longer wrapped around mine but twisted in Marlowe’s collar.
“No.” Kit’s face registered his shock.
“Yes. That means she is the mistress of this house, bears my name, and is under my protection. Given all that—and our long-standing friendship, of course—no word of criticism or whisper against her virtue will cross your lips in future.”
I wiggled my fingers to restore their feeling. The angry pressure from Matthew’s grip had driven the ring on the third finger of my left hand into the flesh, leaving a pale red mark. Despite its lack of facets, the diamond in the center captured the warmth of the firelight. The ring had