Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(7)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(7)
Author: L.J. Smith

"People change," I said helplessly, unsure what I could say to try to comfort Violet.

"But Cora is my sister," Violet insisted. "We came over here together six months ago. We'd never leave each other. We're al we have in the world. We're blood."

"Where did you come from?" I asked, trying not to cringe at the word blood.

"Ireland," Violet said with a faraway gaze in her eyes. "Just a tiny town near Donegal. Al it has is a church and a pub, and we both knew we couldn't stay there. Our parents did, too. Our father used everything he had to send us both here. Thought we'd marry, start families, never have to worry about going hungry . . ." Violet laughed a short, harsh bark that was so at odds with her sweet and innocent personality that I flinched. Despite her youthful appearance, she'd obviously led a rough life.

"And life didn't work out as planned," I said slowly. I could relate al too wel .

Violet nodded, her expression bereft. "We thought we'd become actresses or singers. Wel , I did. Cora did it more for a laugh. But I thought I'd get a part in the chorus of a show," she said thoughtful y. "And we tried, but we just got laughed out of the auditions. Then we thought that we could become shop girls. But as soon as anyone saw our clothes and heard our accents, they turned us away. We just kept walking and walking around the city, talking to anyone with an Irish accent. We final y met a girl, Mary Francis, who was cousins with a boy from our town. She worked at the tavern and told us she'd put a word in with Alfred. So we went, and Alfred liked Cora right away. But he said I looked too young. So I was put to work in the back as a scul ery maid."

I must have grimaced, because a shadow of a smile crossed Violet's face.

"I felt worse for Cora. She used to have to flirt with Alfred. I know that's why he gave me a job, and why he let us rent a room. We'd get into bed at the end of a long night and tel each other stories about our day. She always said that working in the tavern could maybe be helpful for me one day. It's al studying characters and seeing how they interact. She thought if we made enough money, we could try again to be actresses. She never gave up."

"Did you?" I asked gently.

"Wel , at a certain point, you realize dreams are just that - dreams. I think sometimes that I should just accept it. Do you know this is the closest I've gotten to the theater since I've been here?" she asked, gazing out the window at the marquees nearby. "And Cora . . ." She shook her head.

"Where is she?" she cried, burying her face in her tiny hands. "Things are so desperate that I can't even begin to think about them. I just keep hoping Cora found a better life. Not in heaven. I mean, here. A better life here. And maybe she didn't tel me because she didn't want me to be hurt or jealous? It's the only thing I can think of," Violet said, stil hiding her face with her hands.

"I know Cora's safe." Of course I didn't know that at al , but as soon as I said it, I saw Violet's shoulders relax. I felt sad for this girl, who truly didn't have a friend in the world. I wished that I could help her. Suddenly, I had an idea.

"Here's what I can do," I said. "I can get you the job back, and I can also guarantee Alfred won't bother you. I can't promise the job wil be ideal, but I can promise that it wil be better than it was before," I said, knowing I'd have to find somewhere to feed before I would be able to effectively compel Alfred.

"Thank you," Violet said. A slight smile played on her lips. "In my country, on Saint Stephen's Day we honor the saint who protects the poor," she said. "And I think it's come early for me this year. Thank you, Saint Stefan." I looked away, uncomfortable with her adoration. If she only knew my true nature, she'd be praying to her saint for protection from me. "Don't thank me. Just stay here and rest up. I'l go and speak with Alfred and find out what I can about Cora," I said.

"I should come," Violet said definitively, rising to her feet.

I shook my head. "It won't be safe."

"But if it's not safe, then what about you?" Violet asked in a smal voice. "I shan't forgive myself if anything happened to you while you were out on account of me."

"Nothing wil happen to me," I said, wishing that were true. "I'm not afraid to fight. But I won't have to. Everything wil be fine."

"It's funny, but I believe everything you say," Violet said dreamily. "But I don't even know you. Who are you?"

"I'm Stefan Sa - I'm Stefan," I said. I refrained from saying my last name, worried it might scare her because of last night's message. "I'm from America. And I know what it's like to be alone. I left my family. It's hard." Violet nodded. "Do you miss them?"

"Sometimes. I worry about them," I said. That was true.

"Wel , then I suppose we're kindred spirits," Violet said. "You truly saved me. I don't know what I would have done in the park, there, by myself."

"Did you . . . see anyone?" I asked. It was the question I hadn't asked her last night. But now, in the light of day, I needed to know.

She shook her head. "I don't think so. It was so dark, and I could barely see in front of me. But I felt the wind pick up, and then I saw the trees moving. When I glanced over, I saw that awful message. And I knew it was written in blood. I felt something. I felt . . ." She shuddered.

"What did you feel?" I asked gently.

Violet sighed, distress obvious on her face. "I felt like I was surrounded by evil. Something was there. I thought I was going to be attacked, and then you came and - "

"I brought you here," I said quickly. I knew exactly how she felt. It was a feeling I suffered from back in New York, when I was sure Klaus was near.

I fumbled in my pocket. "And now, your Saint Stefan has one more thing for you. Take this," I said, pressing a pendant into her hand. It was a vial of vervain on a gold chain.

"What is it?" she asked, swinging the pendant back and forth. It caught the flickering light of the candle on the table.

"A good luck charm," I said. Vervain was poisonous to me, and I could stil feel its effects through the glass barrier of the vial. But I carried it everywhere. So far, I'd never had to use it. And I only hoped that Violet wouldn't have to, either.

"I need luck," Violet said, clasping the pendant around her neck. As long as she had that, she couldn't be compel ed, not even by me. We now were ful y bound to each other by trust alone.

"So do I," I said.

And then, she stood up on her tiptoes and al owed her lips to graze my cheek. "To luck," she whispered in my ear.

I grinned at her. Hel itself may have been hunting these streets, but at least I had a friend. And as I'd learned in my long life, that was no smal thing.

Chapter Six

In the light of day, the winding London streets didn't seem nearly as intimidating as they had during my wild run the night before. Carriages filed the roads, peddlers on the corners hawked everything from flowers to newspapers to tobacco, and a cacophony of languages made it impossible to pick out any distinct conversations. I walked east, fol owing the flow of the Thames, the river that had become my North Star in orienting myself in London. The dark and murky water looked foreboding, as though it had secrets buried far beneath its surface. I wished I could just take Violet and leave this city. I could keep her safe for now, but how long would that last? Al I could think of was the look of terror on Violet's face, her smal voice, the strength she had to leave her family in Ireland to fol ow her dream. She had a courageous streak that Rosalyn hadn't, but her youthful innocence made me nostalgic for the time when I was her age. It was my fault she had lost her room and board and I wanted to protect her in any way I could.

People are our downfall. Interacting with them is what undoes us. Your heart is too soft. It had been something Lexi told me many times over the years. I'd always nod, but sometimes I'd question why. Because while it was easy enough to avoid humans when I was in the company of Lexi, I seemed to instinctively seek out their company when I was by myself. And why was that so wrong? Just because I was a monster didn't mean that I no longer valued companionship.

So when will my heart harden? I'd asked, impatient.

She'd laughed. I hope it won't. It's the part of you that keeps you human. I suppose that's your blessing and your curse.

As I walked to Whitechapel, I stopped midway in St. James Park, my thirst growing. I knew if I was heading back to the tavern, I would have to be at my strongest. Unlike the nightmarish Dutfield Park from last night, this field was sprawling and lush, ful of ponds and trees and pedestrians enjoying impromptu picnics. It was vast; but at first glance stil seemed smal er than Central Park in New York City, where I'd once spent several hungry weeks foraging for food.

Clouds had once again rol ed into the sky, bathing the whole city in darkness. It was only noon, but there was no sign of the sun. The air felt wet and heavy with rain, despite the lack of actual drops. It was never like this in Ivinghoe. The weather there seemed more honest, somehow. When it looked like it would rain, it rained. Here, nothing was as it seemed.

I sniffed the air. Even though I couldn't see them, I knew animals were everywhere, hiding under the brush or scampering in tunnels just beneath the grass. I headed toward a dense col ection of trees, hoping I could capture a bird or a squirrel without anyone noticing.

A disturbance in the bushes caused me to stiffen. Without thinking, I used my vampire reflexes to reach into them, trapping a fat gray squirrel in my hands. Relying only on instinct, I sunk my teeth into the tiny creature's neck and sucked out its blood, trying not to gag. City squirrels tasted different than country squirrels, and this one had watery, bitter-tasting blood. Stil , it would have to do.

I threw the carcass into the bushes and wiped my mouth. Suddenly, I heard a rustle coming from the far end of the forest. I whirled around, half-expecting to see Klaus, ready for a fight. Nothing.

I sighed, my stomach final y quieting now that it was satiated.

And now that I was prepared, I headed to the Ten Bel s Tavern, ready to compel Alfred into giving Violet her job back. As expected, the air smel ed musty and sharp, like the scent of ale mixed with unwashed human bodies.

"Alfred?" I cal ed, my eyes once again adjusting to the near nighttime blackness of the bar. I wasn't looking forward to speaking to him. He was loathsome, and even though my compel ing would ensure Violet would be treated kindly, I hated the thought of her returning here. But I knew it was the best thing for her. Because the more she became involved with me, the more danger she'd be in. That was something I knew as clearly as the message written in blood on the wal .

"Alfred?" I cal ed again, just as he emerged from the kitchen, wiping his hands on his pants. His cheeks were red and his eyes were bloodshot.

"Stefan. Violet's bloke. I s'pose now you decided you're done with her? We don't do refunds," he said flatly, leaning his meaty arms against the bar.

"She's a friend," I said. I stepped toward him, making sure to keep eye contact, and keeping my fingers and palms flexed to avoid lashing out. I hated him. "And I have something I need to discuss."

"What?" he asked suspiciously.

"Take Violet back," I said level y. "She's a hard worker, and she needs her job and room." Alfred nodded, but didn't open his mouth to speak.

"Just like her sister. Takes off with the first man who looks at her nicely. Bloody fools if you ask me. Mary Ann, now she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but Violet . . ."

"Wil you do that?" I prompted. I wanted to fol ow his conversational thread, but I couldn't stop in the middle of compel ing. In the past twenty-four hours, I'd compel ed more than I had in the past twenty years, and I wasn't as confident in my Power as I used to be. "And when you do, you won't lay a hand on her. You'l protect her. Just bring Violet back."

"Bring Violet back," he said slowly, as if in a trance.

"Yes," I said, relieved by the confirmation.

Just then, the bel of the tavern tinkled and a large man lurched in, clearly stil drunk from the night before. Alfred looked up at the commotion, breaking the spel and ruining my chance to ask questions: What man had Cora gone off with? And what else did Alfred know?

"You'l see Violet tomorrow night," I said to Alfred's retreating back, as though we were just having a chat. I pul ed up a stool to the bar, waiting for when he'd be free. The door opened again and a woman sauntered in, wearing an indigo dress that clearly showed the expansive whiteness of her bosom. I recognized her as the woman who'd come up to me last night. This time, I was glad to speak with her. She had a large beauty mark above her red-painted lips, and her hair hung in bright blond ringlets under a black-feather-adorned hat. She was short and squat, but carried herself with the confidence of a woman far more beautiful.

Immediately, her beady eyes locked on mine. "Hel o, there," she said, walking unsteadily up to me. "Me name's Eliza." She held out her hand for me to kiss.

I recoiled. Even though I'd just fed, the thin squirrel blood was not enough to satisfy my deeper thirst, and her exposed flesh was almost more than I could bear. I could smel her blood and could almost imagine its rich, sugar-sweet flavor coating my tongue. I pressed my lips together and stared at the dusty cracks between the floorboards.

"I tried to talk to you last night," she continued, al owing her hand to flutter to my shoulder as though dusting off an imaginary speck of lint. "But you only had eyes for that girl. I thought she was so lucky, speaking with a handsome young lad like you. I hope you enjoyed her," she leered.

   
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