Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(11)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(11)
Author: L.J. Smith

"You look lovely," I said as I sat up and stretched my arms over my head. I couldn't believe I had al owed myself to sleep past dawn; usual y I was wide awake wel before the sun rose. But despite al my troubled thoughts, the comfortable couch had lul ed me into a deep, dreamless sleep.

I wondered what was happening at the Abbott Manor, who was taking care of the chickens and livestock.

I imagined Oliver glancing out the window, waiting for me to come home to take him hunting. It was a world away.

"What time do you think we should leave?" Violet asked.

"For what?" I asked, deliberately playing dumb. I hoped that Damon's mention of the afternoon party had been washed from Violet's memory by the rivers of champagne she'd consumed last night.

"Why, for the party your friend invited us to attend. We are going, aren't we? It sounds like fun. Plus, Charlotte mentioned her producer wil be there, who couldn't be there last night. Maybe he's the man who met with Cora," she said, smoothing invisible folds of her dress with her smal hands. Violet was definitely priming herself to be a woman like Charlotte, with a slew of eager men ready to do her bidding and compliment her at any moment. And even though Violet's preening should have been exasperating, she was so wide-eyed and enthusiastic, like a child playing dress-up, that it was nothing more than adorable. "Are you sure I look al right? I wouldn't want them to think I was a slattern from the slums. After al , I told them that I was an actress from America. From Cal- eye-forn-ia," she said, overemphasizing the second syl able.

"California," I corrected. "And your accent sounds grand." It was funny. The longer Violet and I spent together, the more we seemed to adopt each other's accents. She did sound half-convincing as an American, although I was sure that I sounded positively ridiculous using a vague Irish brogue.

Violet nodded. "How do you know Damon again? He kept cal ing you brother. Is it something al people in America say?" she asked, furrowing her eyebrows. I knew if I answered yes, she'd add that phrase to her repertoire. She'd asked me that last night as wel , as I was half-escorting, half-carrying her up the stairs, but I hadn't answered.

"No, most people don't cal each other that unless they're blood relations, but it's something Damon's been cal ing me ever since I can remember. It's quite a long and boring story, real y," I lied. "I've known Damon forever, through the good and the bad. I know he's charming, but don't let him fool you. He's sometimes not what he appears." I said the last part semicasual y, as if I was mentioning something only somewhat scandalous, like a fondness for drink or a notorious family. I only hoped she'd take my warning seriously.

"I'm sure," she said, giving herself one final glance in the looking glass. "He seems like one of those men whom al women fal over. You'l be pleased to know that I am not typical."

"You're not just saying that so I feel better about going to the party, are you?" I asked, trying to reclaim the teasing tone we'd had yesterday. But something was off.

"I just thought it would be fun," Violet said, turning toward me and biting her lip.

"You're right," I decided. Whether I liked it or not, Damon was in London. And until I was absolutely certain Klaus wasn't here for revenge, then I wouldn't be able to get him out of my head.

"Thank you . . . brother!" Violet exclaimed, kissing me on the cheek.

"Of course," I murmured. We were just going to a picnic. It would be broad daylight. Violet had the vervain, gleaming at the hol ow of her throat.

Nothing could happen, right?

An hour later, Violet and I were traipsing through the manicured lawns of Regent's Park. I had pul ed a sheet from the bed and was holding it over my arm as an improvised blanket. My stomach was growling yet again. Violet glanced at me funnily, and I wondered if she'd heard it too. I coughed to mask the sound.

The park was dotted with children playing, kites

flying, and several large mansions rising from the green lawns like oversized statues. I glanced at the sun. We were supposed to go to Grove House, which the front desk porter at the hotel had told me was at the eastern end of the park.

"There they are!" Violet exclaimed, racing across the park, her auburn hair flying behind her.

I slowly fol owed her. Ahead of me was an enormous limestone structure with Grecian columns. The lawn held several tables covered with white linen. I dropped my sheet on the ground. This wasn't a picnic; this seemed to be a feast. And vampire or not, I'd been acting like a country bumpkin by toting the oversized sheet along with me, as if this were one of the church socials that Damon and I used to attend as boys.

By the time I walked over, Violet was already sipping a glass of champagne as she gestured animatedly to Damon. She was trying too hard to do her American accent, pronouncing my name as Stef-ain, and even trying to coax a y'all out of her Irish brogue, even though I'd told her multiple times on the way over that wasn't a common phrase in the American lexicon at large.

"Brother, welcome," Damon said grandly, as if he were inviting me to his private home. For al I knew, he was.

"Are you living here now?" I asked, glancing at the building, which seemed even bigger than some of the museums I'd seen back in New York City.

"No," Damon scoffed. "He is," he said, gesturing to the slight, cream-suited, ginger-haired man standing next to him.

"Lord Ainsley," the man said, offering his hand.

"Hel o," I said, stil amazed at the vastness of the house. It was clear Damon was traveling in an incredibly powerful circle. Compared to Damon's friends, George Abbott would seem like a little boy playing make-believe.

"This is an old friend from the States, Stefan Salvatore," Damon said quickly. I stiffened. Hadn't he heard me last night introducing myself as Stefan Pine? I didn't want to drag the Salvatore name into any business relating to my nature, especial y not now. I knew that no one would know the Salvatore story - it was a minor footnote even in our home state of Virginia - but I stil wanted to protect the name - and myself - whenever I could.

"Stefan, it's nice to meet you. Are you a steel man? Railroad?" Lord Ainsley asked, giving me a once-over.

"Um . . ." It was a good question. Who was Stefan Salvatore? I gave a pointed look in my brother's direction, eager to hear what he'd come up with.

"He has a farm back in the States," Damon interjected. "He's visiting here. Imagine my luck when I ran into him last night at the Gaiety party."

"A farm," Lord Ainsley said, instantly losing interest. "And how long wil you stay in our fair city?"

"That depends," I said, locking eyes with Damon. But before he could say anything, Samuel sidled up to us, a glass of lemonade in his hands.

"Hel o," he said, his voice welcoming. "I see you weren't turned off by us degenerates. Late-night parties, lots of champagne . . . that's why I'm glad Lord Ainsley had this picnic. It's refreshing to not always be a creature of the night. Isn't that what you always say, Damon?"

"I do indeed," Damon said, smirking at me. I fumed silently. Everything about Damon, from his waistcoat to the top hat he insisted on wearing to his affected European accent, annoyed me. Damon seemed determined to prove he was above everything - even bloody attacks that seemed to be committed solely as a warning toward him. Didn't he remember what Klaus had done to us back in New York? Didn't he care? Or was he simply going to

distract himself with sandwiches and champagne, society gossip and women, until it was far too late?

"And, Stefan?" Samuel asked, staring down his aquiline nose to peer at me. "What did you think of the party? I imagine it's a change from . . .

wherever you came from," he said, barely concealing a snicker.

"Yes, we enjoyed the party. Violet was especial y taken by it," I said, forcing a smile.

"And are you taken by the young Violet?" Samuel asked curiously, setting his empty crystal glass on one of the white tables. Almost instantly, the empty one was whisked away by a white-suited butler. It could be easy to get used to this lifestyle. But I knew from experience that this type of existence always came with a price.

"Violet's taken by the stage," I explained. "I have no interest in her, other than as a friend. I only want to make sure she's safe."

"You only want to make sure she's safe," Samuel repeated. Was there a slight trace of mockery in his tone or was I imagining it? "That's very noble of you."

"Ever since I've known him, Stefan can't resist playing the hero to a damsel in distress," Damon said languorously. I shot him a look, but he only smiled back at me. I shifted from one foot to the other and eyed him suspiciously. Here in London, it seemed everyone, and Damon especial y, never said exactly what they meant.

"Wel , you'l find that there's no shortage of distressed damsels in our city," Samuel said wryly. "I assume you've heard about our murderer?"

"The murderer?" I asked. I hoped it didn't sound too eager. At the horrific word, several couples turned to stare at me.

"They think he attacked again, last night. The Ripper is what al the papers cal him. They think he might be a butcher, the way he cuts the bodies up." Charlotte wrinkled her nose as she strode over to us from a wil ow tree, where she'd been holding court in the center of a group of women. The group shuddered. Just the name - the Ripper - had the effect of a storm cloud over the idyl ic summer day. It felt like the temperature had dropped twenty degrees.

The Ripper. I tried to catch Damon's eye, but he avoided my gaze. He was at the party last night. Unless . . . my thoughts were whirling.

Charlotte possessively slipped her arm around Damon's waist. "I'm glad I have someone to protect me. It's so awful." I glanced over at Violet. She was listening, rapt, the vervain charm stil gleaming around her neck. Good.

"Who was the victim?" I asked.

"Another prostitute. No one, real y." A broad-shouldered girl sniffed, as if the entire affair was far too torrid to discuss.

Samuel pul ed a newspaper out of his waistcoat pocket and made a big show of opening it. "Jane's only upset because the murderer is pushing her off the page. Suddenly, al the society news has been cut for murder coverage," Samuel said, smiling sarcastical y at the woman.

"What was her name?" Violet asked tremulously.

"The name of the victim? Why should that matter?" Jane shrugged derisively.

"Annie something," Samuel said, flicking through the story in the paper.

Violet's shoulders sagged in relief, and I closed my eyes in thanks. Cora was stil alive. For now.

"Whatever her name is, it's quite awful, isn't it?" Lord Ainsley shuddered, joining our conversation. "Thank God he's at least picking off the East End. Once he gets to our kind, then we'l worry," he said with a loud guffaw. I shot a look at Violet, who'd sidled up to Charlotte. Her dress and mannerisms were almost indistinguishable from Charlotte's, and no one would dream that she was not one of their kind. Stil , Lord Ainsley's casual flippancy about the lower class - Violet's class - made my stomach turn.

"He wrote a letter to the Courier," Samuel said. "Let me find it." Samuel sat down on one of the white chairs and, crossing his legs at the knee, cleared his throat and began to read.

"The return address reads 'From hel ' . . ." he intoned.

The words thudded in my ears and I staggered to find a seat. I couldn't breathe. From hell. Maybe it was some sort of terrible prank, but I couldn't help but wonder if there was some truth to it. Was it Klaus - or someone even worse? I held on to the edge of the table for support, and I could sense Violet turn to stare at me.

"'From hel ' . . . but is that a worse address than 'Whitechapel'?" Samuel snorted.

"I've never been there," a pretty, redheaded girl said as she took a large swig of champagne. "Is it as awful as everyone says?"

"Worse!" Samuel said, amid laughter. He glanced back at the paper. "Scotland Yard and the London police force have been working round the clock, but clues to the grisly murders are few and far between . . ."

I stopped listening and took a few steps away from the group. From here, the unfolding scene looked idyl ic: just a group of wealthy and carefree young friends enjoying their privileges. What would they do if they knew there was a monster in their midst? And not the one they were currently laughing about?

From hell. With every clue, I was more sure that Klaus was in London. The big question was: Why didn't Damon care?

Klaus was indeed from hel  - it was his legacy. The majority of us vampires had been turned at the hand of another vampire. Lexi had been turned by a lover, Damon and I had been turned by Katherine, and there were mil ions of other stories, just like ours, within the vampire world. But then, there were the Originals, from hel itself. They'd never experienced any years as a human. They had no humanity to temper their instincts and, as such, they were brutal and dangerous.

I shivered, even though the air was stil , with no breeze rustling the elm trees above us.

"Are you al right, sir?" a butler asked, stepping up to me, holding out a plate of cucumber sandwiches.

I took one. The cucumber was slimy going down my throat and I almost gagged at the sogginess of the bread. The sandwich did nothing to quel my hunger. Of course it didn't. But at this point, the idea of blood sickened me.

I turned on my heel and went back to join the picnic, the sandwich sitting like a rock in my stomach. By the time I'd returned, the conversation had drifted to lighter fare: the unusual y hot summer, the fact that no one seemed inclined to go to their country homes for the weekend anymore, and the recent establishment of secret parties down at the Canary Wharf docks.

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