“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 over-tall 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 covered 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 been an unexpected gift from Matthew’s mother, Ysabeau. Hours ago—centuries ago? centuries to come?—Matthew had repeated the words of the old marriage ceremony and slid the diamond over my knuckles.
With a clatter of dishes, two vampires appeared in the room. One was a slender man with an expressive face, weather-beaten skin the color of a hazelnut, and black hair and eyes. He was holding a flagon of wine and a goblet whose stem was shaped into a dolphin, the bowl balanced on its tail. The other was a rawboned woman bearing a platter of bread and cheese.
“You are home, milord,” the man said, obviously confused. Oddly enough, his French accent made him easier to understand. “The messenger on Thursday said—”
“My plans changed, Pierre.” Matthew turned to the woman. “My wife’s possessions were lost on the journey, Françoise, and the clothes she was wearing were so filthy I burned them.” He told the lie with bald confidence. Neither the vampires nor Kit looked convinced by it.
“Your wife?” Françoise repeated, her accent as French as Pierre’s. “But she is a w—”
“Warmblood,” Matthew finished, plucking the goblet from the tray. “Tell Charles there’s another mouth to feed. Diana hasn’t been well and must have fresh meat and fish on the advice of her doctor. Someone will
need to go to the market, Pierre.”
Pierre blinked. “Yes, milord.”
“And she will need something to wear,” Françoise observed, eyeing me appraisingly. When Matthew nodded, she disappeared, Pierre following in her wake.
“What’s happened to your hair?” Matthew held up a strawberry blond curl.
“Oh, no,” I murmured. My hands rose. Instead of my usual shoulder-length, straw-colored hair, they found unexpectedly springy reddish-gold locks reaching down to my waist. The last time my hair had developed a mind of its own, I was in college, playing Ophelia in a production of Hamlet. Then and now its unnaturally rapid growth and change of hue were not good signs. The witch within me had awakened during our journey to the past. There was no telling what other magic had been unleashed.