Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(14)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(14)
Author: L.J. Smith

"So then why are you constantly compel ing yourself into social circles and playing stupid tricks on people? Why are you insistent on being Damon the duke, or Damon the viscount? If we're not part of humanity, why don't you remove yourself from society?" I asked. Despite my words, I wasn't angry at him. Rather, I just wanted to understand what Damon was after.

"Where would I go?" Damon asked, a faraway expression on his face. But al of a sudden, he grinned making his searching look seem to be nothing more than a trick of the light. "And I compel myself into social circles because I can. Because it intrigues me. And my pleasure is al that matters."

"Is that so?" I hissed. I noticed that he didn't fol ow up that statement with how his other drive in life was to make mine a living hel , but I refrained from mentioning it.

"Yes. Wel , brother," Damon said suddenly, draining his whiskey and smacking his lips. "This has been a perting evening, but if you'l forgive me, I have dinner plans."

"Fine," I said, not wanting to hear what his evening plans entailed. As Damon stood up to leave the tavern, Violet sidled up to us.

"Are you leaving already?" Violet asked, frowning.

"I'm terribly sorry, but as I was saying to Stefan, I have a dinner appointment that I couldn't possibly miss," Damon said, standing and kissing her hand.

"But it's so late." Violet pouted.

"Yes, but I'l see you tomorrow. Won't I, dear?" Damon asked.

"The dock party at Canary Wharf! Of course!" Violet smiled.

The docks? Perhaps the runaway shadow from earlier would be there, if those invited included the undead.

"It'l be a party to die for," Damon said with a knowing smile that caused my skin to crawl. That was the problem: When we were humans, Damon had his dark side, but he was always himself. Now, I had no idea where the real Damon was, or what I should believe.

"We'l be there," Violet said firmly.

"See you later, brother," Damon said as he sauntered out the door without a backward glance.

I stood up too, a wave of dizziness washing over me.

"Let's go, Violet," I said.

She nodded, not bothering to tel Alfred she was leaving. It didn't matter. The tavern felt like an outpost of the police station. In fact, most of the patrons were now police officers, going through their notes and trudging upstairs to check on Martha. Occasional y they'd look over at me and scribble something in their notebooks. I couldn't stay any longer.

Violet hooked her arm in mine and we made our way back toward our hotel. Violet was silent and drawn, caught up in her own thoughts. I knew tonight's events just reminded her of Cora, and I didn't have the words to comfort her, not anymore.

"Are you okay?" Violet asked in a smal voice as we stepped onto the dark, plush carpet of the hotel. She was so sweet to be concerned about me at a time like this, I felt my heart almost break.

I forced myself to smile.

"I wil be," I said. But she knew I was lying. Death surrounded me, and it was only a matter of time before it caved in - or I broke free.

Regardless, there would be blood.

Chapter Twelve

"The trouble with you, Stefan, is that you don't understand death."

I was in the bare bedroom of the carriage house in Mystic Fal s. Katherine was clad only in a nightshirt, her figure clearly visible beneath the gauzy fabric. Her dark hair was tied in a loose braid. I ached to touch the silky strands and yet hung back, afraid that once I al owed my hands to roam her body I would lose control. And I didn't want to lose control. Not yet.

"Tel me what death is then," I said. It had been in the days after my fiancee, Rosalyn, had died. Talking with Katherine had al owed me to forget my guilt and step into a world infused with a lemon-ginger scent where nothing - not my father, not Damon, not death - could touch us. It was a world that made me feel safe. Outside the window, I could see the ful moon reflecting on the pond at the edge of the estate. Al of the lights were out in the main house. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. This was my heaven.

"Where do I begin?" Katherine asked, running her tongue over her pointed teeth. I automatical y brought my hand up to my neck. It was stil tender to the touch, and a jolt of pleasure mixed with pain occurred whenever I applied pressure to the place where Katherine had sunk her fangs.

"Tel me what you know," I said, ever the eager student. I kept my eyes on her as she paced back and forth across the room, as light on her heels as a cat.

"Wel , it's in the eye of the beholder. Take your fair Rosalyn, for example," Katherine said, cocking her head and staring at me.

"What do you mean?" I'd asked. I wanted to know how Katherine had evaded death. I didn't know why she was bringing up Rosalyn. She knew I was supposed to stil be in mourning for the girl who'd never have the opportunity to be my wife. And in my own fashion, I did mourn for her.

"Wel , you remember her, right? What she looked like and what she smel ed like?" Katherine asked in a sing-song voice.

"Of course I do," I said, affronted.

"So how is she dead if she lives in your mind?" Katherine asked, widening her brown eyes at me.

I sighed at her existential meanderings. I stepped toward her, eager to stop talking.

Thankful y, Katherine took my hint. She reached toward me and teasingly grazed her canines across my neck, just enough to leave a scratch.

"That's al I'm saying, Stefan. No matter what happens, in each other, we wil live forever," she said. She sank her teeth into my skin as I closed my eyes, the world fading to black as I gave myself to her.

My eyes snapped open. I wasn't entirely surprised I'd dreamt about Katherine. When my life was going wel , it was as if al my memories of Katherine existed in an attic of my mind, one that I could go years without visiting. But when things were tough, she was everywhere. The question I stil couldn't answer was if I would ever escape her pul , or if she would always be there, lingering in the shadows.

But now wasn't the time to think about that. It was almost time to pick up Violet from the tavern and escort her to the dock party. I'd debated whether or not to let her come. I hoped the party would give me a chance to further explore where the vampire might be hiding, with a chance to fade back into the crowd should he be looking for me. And I didn't want Violet to be where the kil er could be. But then I realized that she possessed a fierce amount of determination, and would certainly attend whether or not I wanted her to.

At least I knew she would be safe with me. By making sure that one life wasn't snuffed out by evil, maybe her soul could be a grain of sand, a tiny weight to counterbalance the senseless death and destruction I'd enacted in my past.

At least I could hope.

I massaged my temples. I'd had a constant headache for the past few days, as persistent and buzzing as cicadas on a hot July day. It had only gotten worse the longer I'd been in London. I stood up and crossed over to the glass. My reflection looked pale and drawn, and my eyes were bloodshot. I looked sick, both for a human and a vampire. Reflexively, I touched my fingers to my neck, my mind drifting back to my dream. The faint breeze rustling her white nightdress, the flicker of the lamp against the whitewashed wal s, the exquisite pain of Katherine's teeth sinking into my flesh . . . everything had seemed so real. But of course, beneath the pads of my fingers was nothing except smooth skin.

Katherine had been dead -  dead dead, not just mortal y dead - for twenty years. Her body had been burned in a church. And yet she was everywhere, as much a part of me as Damon. She'd been right. And back then, I'd been such a fool that I hadn't understood the implications of her words at al .

I walked to the washbasin and splashed cold water on my face, shocked by how much grime and soot disappeared in the trickle of water.

London was a filthy city. But washing the dirt from my face did nothing to scrub the blackness from my soul.

Noticing the sun sinking fast, casting shadows on the wal , I quickly finished cleaning up and tied my tie. Hastily, I made the now-familiar trek across the city. I hated how on edge I felt, how I viewed every face that passed with suspicion.

Violet was waiting at the door of the Ten Bel s, wearing the same emerald-green dress she'd worn to the theater a couple of nights ago. She'd drawn kohl liner around her eyes, and her mouth was painted a bright red. While the dress had looked lovely the night at the theater, at the tavern it looked almost garish, and it would be al too easy for her to be mistaken for one of the ladies of the night. Or worse, the ideal target for an unholy kil er.

"Ready to go?" I asked Violet as I approached, offering her my arm. She nodded and took it, tel ing me about her day at the tavern as we quickly made our way through the cobblestoned streets toward the dock. On our route several laborers whistled at Violet. I glared at them, cringing internal y. I felt like we were moving targets for anyone in our path.

As we grew closer, music drifted up from one of the warehouses. It was cheerful, dance hal music and the bustle surrounding the warehouse was at odds with the desolation I'd seen last night. London reminded me of a kaleidoscope, a child's toy Lexi had picked up once. With one twist, the picture at the other end of the tube changed, and you could never anticipate what you'd see next. I just hoped that the unfolding scenes for Violet and I would be pleasant and not macabre.

"Here we are! Stefan, come on!" Violet said, quickening her stride as she caught sight of a trio of wel -dressed men walking toward one of the dimly lit warehouses that lined the dock.

I accelerated my pace until we were even, and then lightly threaded my arm through hers, not wanting to lose sight of her once we entered the party. Several boats were bobbing in the water, and the dock was as crowded as the West End streets after a show let out. The breeze carried the sound of music and laughter toward us.

Violet and I stood outside the bolted metal door and, with a sly glance back at me, Violet brazenly raised her hand as if to knock. But before she could, the door slowly opened.

"If it isn't Miss Burns!" a smooth voice said, and I glanced up. On the other side of the door stood Samuel, wearing a white shirt buttoned to the top and a dark dinner coat hanging off his square shoulders.

"Thank you ever so much." Violet blushed and curtseyed as Samuel offered his arm to her.

"Hel o," I politely greeted Samuel. Although as far as I could tel , I'd never done anything to offend him, Samuel always seemed distant toward me. I assumed it was because of my station in life, that he could see from my cal used hands and the stubble on my cheeks that I was not used to his world. I suppose I should have simply felt happy he didn't apply that derision to Violet, but stil , the snub irritated me. Maybe I did understand a bit why Damon desperately wanted to be accepted by society.

"Stefan," Samuel said, a slight smile crossing his face. "So glad you could make it." I didn't seem to be the only one forcing myself to be polite tonight.

The air was thick with the scent of competing perfumes and cigarette smoke. Candleholders were precariously perched on any flat surface, and it was a miracle that no fires had started. Stil , the entire warehouse was dim, making it impossible to tel who was who unless you were standing right in front of them. In the corner, a band was playing a brass-heavy tune I didn't recognize that seemed to thump in rhythm with my head. I'd been wrong in worrying about Violet's dress being inappropriate. The majority of women were wearing dresses with low-cut bodices, the skirts cutting in snugly at their hips. It was a mingling of two distinct London worlds, and it seemed that here was a place where social niceties and decorum didn't matter.

Suddenly, I heard a high-pitched shriek. I whirled around, my fangs bulging, ready to attack.

But al I saw was Violet at the center of the room, hugging a tal , thin girl as if she never wanted to let her go.

"Stefan!" Violet cal ed, waving me over, her eyes shining. "See, I was right. I knew she was alive. This is Cora!" she said.

"Cora?" I asked incredulously, taking in the girl in front of me. The crowd had parted somewhat to watch the drama unfold.

Cora nodded, her pale blue eyes seeming hazy and unfocused.

"Yes," she said simply. "I'm Cora." Her voice seemed slow and syrupy. Had she been compel ed? I had no idea, no point of reference for how she usual y acted. But I felt deeply unsettled. Something wasn't right with this reunion. It was too convenient after so much searching.

"Are you al right? Where have you been?" I asked, trying not to sound like a concerned father. I didn't want to frighten her. After al , we were complete strangers. But I had to know.

Violet seemed oblivious to my questions and was stroking Cora's hair as if she were a favorite pet. "This is Stefan," Violet explained. "My new best friend. I have so much to tel you . . ." Violet spontaneously threw her arms around Cora's neck. Cora, like Charlotte, was wearing a silk scarf knotted tightly at the nape of her neck.

"Where were you?" I asked again, my concern reaching desperation. I couldn't make out Damon in the crowd of revelers, but I was sure he was close.

"Where was I?" Cora asked, confusion in her voice. I felt my stomach free-fal .

"Why does it matter?" Violet asked. "The main thing is, Cora's safe, isn't that true?" Violet reached behind her neck and unclasped her pendant.

I was about to tel her to keep it on when she hooked it around Cora's neck. The gold of the pendant gleamed in the candlelight.

"This is your don't-go-away present, you hear me?" Violet said, a film of tears covering her eyes. Cora nodded, but she didn't seem to be listening. She was glancing over Violet's shoulder, clearly looking for someone. And while she seemed happy to see Violet, she wasn't overjoyed and didn't seem to ful y recognize that she'd been lost.

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