Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(12)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(12)
Author: L.J. Smith

"A word?" I asked, pul ing Damon from the group and walking a distance away, toward the manicured garden that surrounded the house. The scent of roses was heady in the air, and for an instant, I was transported back to our Mystic Fal s labyrinth. It had been where the two of us would teasingly fight for Katherine's favor while escorting her on afternoon walks, before we had any idea what a dangerous game we were playing.

"Yes, brother?" Damon asked, sighing impatiently. I forced myself to look into his dark eyes, nothing like the eyes of my human brother. Damon was different. I was different. It was time for me to stop thinking of the past.

A slow grin broke onto his face, and I fol owed his gaze to the sheet I'd tossed aside when we'd come in. "Is that yours?" Damon asked. "Aren't you fancy? That's genuine Egyptian cotton, fit for a king."

"It was for the picnic," I said. "I hadn't realized it would be so formal."

"Stealing linens from the Cumberland Hotel." Damon shook his head. "Have you final y developed a bit of a wicked streak? That would make you almost interesting."

"And I suppose if I were you, I'd be stealing the maids from the hotel for blood, right?" I asked. "I'm concerned about the Ripper," I added. I took a bloom and snapped it from its stem, feeling the velvety softness of the rose's pink petals. Despite my wish only a second ago to forget the past, my mind flashed back to the petal-pul ing he loves me, he loves me not game that Katherine had tortured me with.

I plucked a petal. I trust him, I trust him not, I thought as I dropped each silky flower fragment to the grass.

"You're concerned about the Ripper." Damon sneered. "Why? Are you a woman? Are you a whore? You know those are his victims. You're obsessed, brother! Find a woman to be obsessed with, it's more rewarding."

"Yes, I'm sure it's rewarding to run and fetch champagne at every snap of Charlotte's fingers. The things you do for blood are admirable, brother. I admit it," I said, pleased I seemed to be holding my own when it came to cutting Damon down. Every time I did that, I felt a slight increase in respect from Damon. It wasn't a lot, but it was something. And if there was one thing I'd learned from dealing with Damon, it was that Damon only played games by his rules.

"And I'm not obsessed, I'm concerned. And you know why!" I said. I stil felt Damon was hiding something. Or if he wasn't hiding anything, then he certainly wasn't doing anything to let me in. "I know you and I have a history together. An awful, bloody history. But I am raising the white flag. Al I want, if we can't be friends, is for us to not be enemies. Not when there's too much at stake for both of us."

"Save the speech." Damon yawned. "I've heard it al . I'm so bored with talking! Talk, talk, talk. And it never changes. I have had the same conversations with the same types of people over and over again. I'm bored, brother," he said, looking at me straight in the eye.

"Al right then," I said final y. It wasn't an apology by any stretch of the imagination, but what I hoped Damon meant was that he was bored of his vow, that even if he had no interest in resurrecting our bond, at least he no longer felt the urge to carry on a feud. "So let's figure this out. I'm worried about Jack the Ripper because I think he could be an Original. I think he could be Klaus. And he's after us. Or, more likely, he's after you. He must be. Because that note, in blood . . ." I trailed off, trying to somehow get Damon to recognize the importance of it. "It's not just a prank. It looked like the message on the wal at the Sutherlands'. So what does that mean?"

Damon waved his hand in front of his face as if he were swatting a fly. "It means you're vampire-obsessed, brother. Why would Klaus only kil one woman at a time if he could kil dozens? And why would he toy with the press that way? It al seems very human," he said derisively.

"But 'From hel ' . . . " I prodded.

Damon rol ed his eyes. "For someone who always had his nose in a book, you take things far too literal y. I suggest you stop playing detective.

Why not have fun? You have a lovely girl, you're in a new city . . . lighten up." Damon looked at me critical y. "Or maybe fill up. When was the last time you fed?"

"Last night," I said evasively.

"But not on your girl," he remarked, squinting at Violet. I fol owed his gaze to her white, unmarked neck.

"Of course not." I shook my head. "I don't feed on humans."

"Wel , you should. It'l quiet your mind. Think about it. You could forget about this nasty Ripper nonsense and enter London society. You could have fun, more fun than you've ever known."

I sighed, imagining what it would be like: endless parties, endless kisses, endless years of amusement. It was the life Damon had chosen. I felt a flicker of doubt. Could Damon be right? Was the secret to eternal happiness just doing what felt good in the moment?

"Tel you what, brother," Damon said, sensing my hesitation. "Go to Paris. Take yourself away from this nasty business. If it's Klaus, he'l find you wherever you are, and if it's a stupid human, he'l be caught within a few weeks."

"And if it's you?" I asked pointedly.

"If it's me, then it was clearly while I was under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol-saturated blood." Damon rol ed his eyes. "Come on, brother. Give me some credit. Why would I commit such messy murders in such an undesirable area?" I nodded. He had a point. And he also had a point that maybe the best thing for me to do for my own peace of mind was simply to go away. But that wasn't possible. I couldn't leave London until I felt Violet was safe. And Violet wouldn't be safe until Jack the Ripper was found. I shook my head.

"Violet has to work at the tavern tonight. I'm going to accompany her, to see if I can find any more information." I paused. "Come with me."

"Come with you? To some rat-infested pub? No thank you."

"You say you're bored. You say it's the same thing every time. Why not do something different? Besides . . ." I took a deep breath. "You owe me."


I didn't have to say her name. I saw something flicker in Damon's eye. "Fine. But I'l be drinking champagne, and you're buying." I grinned. "No champagne, brother. Just ale."

"Good God, do they know nothing about civilization in Whitechapel? Fine. I'l enjoy an ale." I blinked, sure that I'd heard wrong. But Damon had the same slight smile he'd always had lately, his blue eyes reflecting my face in their inky pupils.

"Does that mean you'l come?" I asked, surprise evident in my voice.

"Sure." Damon shrugged. He turned on his heel, about to rejoin the party, before he glanced back at me.

"Thank you," I said after a beat. "The Ten Bel s, in Whitechapel. Meet me at ten. And be careful."

"'Be careful,'" Damon mocked. "Why? In case I meet a vampire on my way? A persion would be welcome. Like I said, I'm bored to death." Damon moved back into the crowd.

I fol owed him slowly. Damon was doing my bidding. I should have been happy. So why couldn't I ignore the knot in the pit of my stomach?

Chapter Ten

Somehow, I got through the rest of the party. The only thing that saved me from my obsessive thoughts was Violet. She was enchanted by everything, and Damon's friends seemed equal y enchanted by her. They thought her accent was bewitching, and Charlotte and her actress friends enjoyed the hero worship that Violet bestowed upon them. Damon, for his part, kept his distance, and spent the majority of the party smoking with Samuel on the sidelines. I sat apart from everyone, reading the letter from the kil er over and over again, hoping there was some clue in the words. The Ripper had sent the letter along with what he'd said was a kidney of one of his victims. My stomach turned, but not so much as it did when I read the last line of his letter.

Catch me while you can.

It had been addressed to a newspaper reporter, so the kil er had to have known that the letter would appear in the paper. Was it some sort of coded message for me, or Damon? Was it a chal enge?

And was I up for it?

That's what I didn't know as I sat in the Ten Bel s that night. I'd escorted Violet to her shift, not wanting her to venture across London in the dark on her own. She'd insisted on wearing her new dress so she'd be prepared if we received a last-minute invitation to a party from Damon. But even though she was wearing an apron, the dress was already covered in stains from beer and whiskey. I could tel she was miserable. But at least she was safe.

I shifted uneasily in my chair and glared darkly toward the entrance. Every time the bel would ring announcing a new client I perked up, sure it was Damon, only to see yet another drunk builder or overly perfumed woman stagger in. Of course he wasn't going to come. I'd been foolish to believe him, and more foolish stil to have sat waiting for him for the past several hours. When would I stop trying to depend on him?

"Hi, Stefan. Would you like anything?" Violet asked as she trudged toward my table, her shoulders slumped morosely. Her hair was sweaty and pul ed back, her lipstick had smeared, and she looked nothing like her glamorous American actress alter ego. Worse stil , she knew it.

"A dark ale, please," I said when I caught her eye. I offered a smile, but it didn't make a difference in her mood.

She nodded. "I can't wait to get out of here," she said, her voice dropping to a whisper. "Before, I never knew what I was missing, so it didn't seem so terrible. But now, knowing everyone is drinking and dancing while I'm here . . ." She sighed, her pale pink lower lip trembling.

"Al that glitters is not gold," I murmured, pul ing a half-remembered Shakespeare phrase from my memory. Something about the language soothed me, and I hoped it would soothe Violet.

"Al that glitters is not gold," Violet said, testing out the phrase. She smiled wryly. "That's pretty," she said, half to herself. "I don't mean to complain, it's just . . ."

"I know," I said. "But this won't last forever."

"How do you know? Stefan, this is who I am. I can pretend and dress up, but that's just playacting. This is real," she said sadly. "I'l get your drink," she said as she turned and walked off.

I thought of what she'd said. She was wise for her age. Wasn't I stil learning the same lesson?

I leaned back in my chair. About an hour ago, when Violet was busy serving a large group of men playing poker, I'd stolen outside to hunt. Just on the edge of Dutfield Park, I'd managed to kil a fat pigeon by catching it unawares as it pecked on a filthy crust of bread lodged in the cobblestones. The sour taste stuck to my taste buds. The blood had been cold and thin, and I'd had to resist the urge to gag, but it was the sustenance I needed to make me stop staring longingly at the sleek necks of the ladies circulating the tavern.

Over the din, I heard the bel signaling another customer's entrance. I didn't even bother to look up. Of course it wouldn't be Damon. He didn't care about the kil ings, and it was clear he didn't care about Klaus or any of the Originals. He was perfectly content getting drunk and feeding off Charlotte. Maybe that was better . . .

"Murder!" A red-faced man staggered in, his bulk practical y fal ing against the bar. He was the same drunk from the other night who had claimed to know me. I felt my stomach clench as the tavern became quiet as a church. "Murder!" he croaked again. "In the square!" The man col apsed, women shrieked, and before I could stop myself, I was moving at vampire speed out of the bar, knocking over one of the tables as I did so. When I emerged on the street, the scent of iron was everywhere, fil ing my nostrils and causing my chest to burn. The scent was coming from the east. I took off toward it, already feeling my fangs bulge, pushing away any fear from my brain.

Then I pul ed up short at the sight in front of me. There, just a few paces away, lit by the moon and crumpled on the ground, was a girl in a red dress. Her skirts were askew, her upturned face was pale, and her blue eyes were fixed toward the sky. I recognized her as one of the girls who'd been in the tavern two nights ago. I sank to my knees by her side, relieved when I saw her chest rising and fal ing.

I licked my fangs and leaned down, eager to taste the warm, rich blood trickling from her neck and matting into her hair. The trail glittered like liquid rubies, and I wanted more than anything to just have a taste, a second to quench my never-ending hunger.

"No," I said out loud, wil ing my rational brain to take control over my instincts. I leaned back on my heels, the spel between my nature and her blood broken. I knew what I had to do to save her. Without flinching, I brought my wrist to my mouth and ripped my flesh with my fangs. Wincing, I pressed the wound to the girl's pink lips.

"Drink," I said, glancing up to see if there were any signs of commotion. I'd gotten to the girl far faster than anyone would have if they were traveling at normal, human speed, but it wouldn't be long before more bystanders from the tavern found us. And I couldn't have anyone see what I was doing. But without my blood, she'd die.

Far off in the distance, I heard the loud, clanging bel s of a police wagon. I needed to leave soon. If the police saw me in this position, they'd assume that I was the attacker. "Drink," I said even more forceful y, pushing my wrist up against the girl's open mouth.

The girl coughed before greedily sucking on my wrist.

''Shhh, that's enough," I said, pul ing my arm away and hoisting her into a sitting position.

Just then, I saw a shadow hulking behind us. I whirled around, fear icing my veins. Brick buildings surrounded the al ey, boxing us in.

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