Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)
Author: L.J. Smith


August 1888

How much can change in a year.

It's one of those phrases that I've caught in conversation, one that rattles in my mind like a pebble along a road, a vestige of my previous life. Once upon a time, a year was weighty, substantial. It was filled with possibilities: of meeting the love of your life, of having children, of dying. It was a stepping-stone on the path of life - a path that I no longer walk.

A year was one thing. Twenty years ago, when my entire world turned upside down, was something else entirely.

A year ago, I came to England, a land so steeped in history it makes the prospect of eternity seem less overwhelming. And although the setting had changed, I stayed the same. I still looked like I had the day I turned into a vampire, and the same thoughts - of Katherine, who turned me, of Damon, my brother, of the death and destruction that I could never, ever seem to erase - still haunted my dreams. Time had been steadily

galloping forward, but I remained as before, a demon desperate for redemption.

If I were a human, I'd be comfortably in middle age by now. I'd have a wife, children, perhaps even a son I'd prepare to take over my family business.

Before the Salvatore family business became murder.

It's a legacy I've spent the past twenty years trying to correct, hoping that somehow an eternity of good deeds could make up for the mistakes I have made, the blood I have shed.

And in some ways, it has; England was good for me. Now, I'm an honest man - or as honest as a man can be when his past is as wretched as mine.

I no longer feel guilty for draining the blood of woodland creatures. I am, after all, a vampire. But I am not a monster. Not anymore.

Still, time does not touch me as it does humans, nor does each new year turn over with the breathless anticipation of those who live. All I can hope is that each year will carry me further and further from the destruction of my youth with no fresh pain on my conscience. If I could have that, it would be my salvation.

Chapter One

Sunlight dappled the rough-hewn beams of the expansive kitchen of Abbott Manor, where I was employed as a groundskeeper. I sighed in contentment as I gazed out the thick windows at the verdant rol ing countryside surrounding the home. Although meticulously kept up by Mrs.

Duckworth, the Abbotts' devoted housekeeper, I could see motes of pol en floating through the bright rays. The homey, comfortable setting reminded me of the Veritas Estate, where pol en from the magnolia trees would drift through the open windows and coat an entire room in a thin layer of dust.

"Can you pass me the knife, Stefan?" Daisy, one of the young housemaids, asked as she flirtatiously batted her eyelashes at me. Daisy was a local girl occasional y employed by Mrs. Duckworth to come in and assist in the kitchen for the day. A short girl with curly brown hair and a smattering of freckles across her upturned nose, she reminded me of Amelia Hawke, one of my childhood friends from Mystic Fal s. Amelia would now most likely have children Daisy's age, I realized.

"Why, of course, Daisy darlin'," I said in my exaggerated Southern accent, bowing deeply to her. Daisy always teased me about how American I sounded, and I enjoyed our lighthearted exchanges. They were playful and innocent, a reminder that words didn't always carry an ulterior motive.

I pul ed a knife from a drawer and passed it to her as she plucked a cucumber from a large wooden bowl and set it down on the table, biting her lip in concentration.

"Ow!" Daisy yelped, yanking her finger away from the cucumber and hastily bringing her hand to her lips. She turned toward me, blood oozing from the wound.

I felt my fangs begin to bulge from underneath my gums. I gulped and stepped away, trying to stop the transformation while I stil had the chance.

"Stefan, help!" Daisy implored.

I staggered back as the scent of blood invaded my nostrils and seeped into my brain. I could imagine how sweet the liquid would taste on my tongue.

I grabbed a napkin and thrust it toward her. I squeezed my eyes shut, but if anything, it only made the metal ic scent of blood more potent.

"Here!" I said roughly, blindly shaking the napkin at her. But she did not take it, so I opened one eye, then the other. Daisy was standing there, her arm outstretched, but something about her was different. I blinked again. It wasn't my imagination. Her mousy brown hair had transformed into a shiny red copper, while her ful cheeks had slimmed into an angular face that had only the faintest dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose.

Somehow, Daisy had disappeared, and a new figure stood in her place.

"Cal ie?" I croaked, steadying myself against the wooden table. Cal ie Gal agher - fiery, impetuous, fiercely loyal, and dead by Damon's hand -

was right in front of me. My mind was whirling. What if she hadn't real y died? Could she somehow have escaped to England to start over? I knew it didn't make sense, but she was right in front of me, as lovely as ever.

"Stefan . . ." she whispered, tilting her face toward me.

"Cal ie!" I smiled as my fangs receded. I felt a quickening in my chest, a shadow of the human emotions that Cal ie had helped me remember. I reached out toward her, brushing my hand against her shoulder, al owing my nose to inhale her apple-and-hay scent. But as soon as I blinked again, to take her al in, everything about her changed. Her lips were parted too widely, her teeth too white, her eyes bloodshot. A lemon-and-ginger fragrance wafted through the air.

I blinked in horror. Fear ran through my veins like ice. Could it be . . .

It was Katherine. Katherine. The first woman I ever believed myself to fal in love with. The vampire who stole my heart only as a means to steal my soul. "Leave me be!" I cal ed raggedly, scrambling backward so quickly my foot caught on the table leg. I steadied myself. I knew I had to get away from her. She was evil. She'd destroyed me. And yet, she looked so lovely. A mischievous expression danced across her face.

"Why, hel o, Stefan," she said in a dulcet tone as she advanced toward me. "Did I scare you? You look as if you've seen a ghost!"

"You're dead," I spat, stil unable to believe she was in front of me.

She laughed, a sound as warm and enveloping as whiskey on a cold winter night.

"Wasn't I always? It's good to see you. You look wel . Although maybe a bit too pale," Katherine admonished.

"How did you get here?" I asked final y. Her body had been burned, buried in a Virginia church an ocean away. And yet, it was undeniable that she was standing not two feet from me in the Abbott kitchen.

"I needed to see you," Katherine said, biting her lower lip with her perfectly white teeth. "I'm terribly sorry, Stefan. I feel we had so many misunderstandings. I never truly explained myself or my nature to you. Do you think you could ever forgive me?" she asked.

I found myself nodding, despite my hatred for what she'd done to me. I knew I needed to flee, but I couldn't look away from Katherine's large eyes. I wasn't being compel ed. It was worse. I was being driven by love. I tentatively reached out and al owed my fingers to graze her skin. It was smooth, and instantly I was consumed with the need to touch her again and again.

"Sweet Stefan," Katherine cooed, as she leaned toward me. Her petal-soft lips brushed against my cheek. I leaned in, succumbing to her lemon-ginger scent. My desire, suppressed for twenty years, was unleashed. I didn't care about the past. I didn't care what she'd done to me or my brother. I wanted her. My lips hungrily found hers, and I kissed her, sighing with happiness and contentment.

She pul ed back, and my gaze lifted to her face. Her eyes were bulging, and her fangs were glinting in the sunlight.

"Katherine!" I gasped. But I couldn't escape. Her icy-cold hands were around my neck, drawing me into her, and then I felt a searing pain at my throat. I tried to turn away but the pain went deeper, farther into my body until it reached into the depths of my soul. . . .

Everything around me went dark.

And then I heard a sharp, persistent knocking.

"Katherine?" I groped around in confusion as I realized I was bathed in sweat. I blinked. Above me was the sloped roof of my thatched cottage.

Sunlight streamed in through the cracks in the ceiling.

The knocking continued.

I scrambled from my bed and pul ed on my breeches and shirt. "Come in!" I cal ed.

The door swung open and Mrs. Duckworth bustled in, concern stamped on her round, red face. "You al right, then?" Mrs. Duckworth asked.

"Fine. Just a dream," I said, shifting uneasily from one foot to another. Was it just a dream? I hadn't thought about her in ages, but in my dream, Katherine had seemed so real, so alive.

"Having a nightmare, you was," Mrs. Duckworth said knowledgeably, crossing her arms across her expansive, matronly chest. "I could hear you yel ing outside the door. And you gave me a right fright, I'd thought you were attacked by one of them foxes from the woods. Mrs. Medlock up at the Evans farm said one got a few of their chickens the other day. In broad daylight, too!"

"A nightmare . . ." I repeated, as I steadied myself against the wooden post of my bed. The sun was just beginning its descent and the forest outside my window was blanketed in an amber light.

"Yes," Mrs. Duckworth replied patiently. She was wearing a starched white apron over her blue-and-white-striped dress, and her gray hair was pul ed back in a severe bun. She'd been a servant at the Manor for over twenty years, and oversaw everything that went on in the house with a motherly concern. George Abbott always joked that she, not him, was truly in charge. Seeing her calmed me, a reminder that the events were al in my head, and that I was safe here. "I just hope the missus didn't hear you. Wouldn't want her to think you was haunted."

"Not me," I said impatiently, picking up my bedclothes and tossing them back on the bed. I didn't like the implication of Mrs. Duckworth's col oquialisms, or that she was never quite able to produce a grammatical y correct sentence. "You mean the cabin is haunted. Which it's not," I said quickly.

"No, I meant you's haunted," Mrs. Duckworth said sagely. "You must have something in your mind that's troubling you. Not letting you rest." I looked down at the rough, uneven floorboards. It was true. Even though I had fled from home, I was stil haunted by visions from my past.

Sometimes, when I dreamt of Damon and myself as children, racing horses against each other through the Virginia woods, the dreamscapes were pleasant. Other times, they reminded me that even though I was destined to live on Earth for eternity, a part of me was always in hel .

"No matter," Mrs. Duckworth said, crisply brushing her hands together to create a loud clapping sound. "I was coming to fetch you for Sunday supper. The boys can't stop asking for you," she said, an affectionate smile on her face as she spoke of Luke and Oliver, the two young Abbott boys.

"Of course," I said. I loved Sunday suppers. They were casual and noisy, fil ed with delicious food and good-natured bickering between Luke and Oliver. Their father, George, would bounce four-year-old Emma, the youngest Abbott, on his knee, while their mother, Gertrude, would smile proudly at her brood. I'd sit at the far edge of the table, thankful that I, too, was part of the tableaux. They were just a normal family, enjoying a typical Sunday. And to me, there was nothing - not the finest mansions in San Francisco or the glittering, champagne-soaked bal s of New York City - that could possibly compare.

When I'd come to Abbott Manor last fal , I had only the shirt on my back and a horse I'd won in a game of cards at a portside bar just outside of Southampton. She'd been a black beauty who'd reminded me of Mezzanotte, my horse from my Virginia childhood. I'd named her Segreto, Italian for secret, and we spent the month roaming the countryside before arriving in Ivinghoe, a town about fifty miles outside of London. Looking for someone who would purchase Segreto, I'd been directed to George Abbott, who, upon hearing my careful y crafted tale of woe, had offered me both the price of the horse and a job as caretaker.

"You best hurry up," Mrs. Duckworth said, interrupting my memory. She strode out of my cottage, closing the door with a thud.

I glanced hastily at my reflection in the looking glass that hung over my simple chest of drawers. I quickly slicked my brown hair back and ran my tongue over my gums. My fangs rarely made an appearance anymore, at least not in my waking hours. I'd even taken to hunting my prey with a bow and arrow, then draining the blood into a glass and drinking it as I relaxed by the fire. I remember how my friend Lexi had tried and tried to get me to take goat's blood tea, back when I was a young vampire, wreaking havoc on the city of New Orleans. Back then, I'd resisted, thinking goat's blood was an affront to what blood should taste like - rich, sweet, human.

If only she could see me now, I thought rueful y. I sometimes wished that she was here, especial y during the long, dark nights. It would be nice to have someone to talk to, and Lexi was a true friend. But she and I had parted ways upon reaching Britain. She'd decided to go on to the Continent, while I chose to stay and see what the country had to offer. It was just as wel . Although we'd parted on good terms, I could sense sometimes she grew impatient with my melancholic disposition. I didn't blame her. I grew impatient with myself, too, wishing that I could simply move on. I wished I could flirt with Daisy without fear of my fangs making an appearance. I wished I could discuss my former life in America with George without letting slip that I'd been alive during the Civil War. And I wished, more than anything, I could erase Damon from my mind. I felt that being by myself and on my own two feet was what I needed to move forward. Until one nightmare would send me back into my misery.

But only if I let it. I'd learned that memories were just that - memories. They had no power to hurt me, unless I let them. I learned that I could trust humans. And late at night, my body warmed by badger blood and listening to the sounds of the forest come to life, I felt almost happy.

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