Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(9)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(9)
Author: L.J. Smith

"Of course," I said. I settled onto a plush peach-colored settee and glanced around. I felt like Whitechapel was in a different country. Could it be possible just to stay on this side of the town and forget about the murderer? I wanted to, badly.

"Stefan?"

I glanced up and gasped. Violet was clad in an emerald-green dress that accentuated her smal waist and red hair. Even though her face was stil drawn and there were dark shadows under her large eyes, she looked beautiful.

"What do you think?" she asked shyly, twirling in the mirror.

"She's lovely, isn't she?" the saleswoman murmured. "We tried two others as wel , and your wife looks equal y exquisite in al of them."

"She's not . . . yes," I said simply. It was so much easier to lie. "We'l take this dress. We'l take al of them," I said, pul ing her aside to compel her to give us the purchases for free. The expression in Violet's eyes was worth it.

Instead of taking a coach back to the hotel, we walked. Every so often, I caught her stealing glances of herself in the windows, twisting the skirts of her new emerald-green dress. It was nice that I could make someone happy.

"I fear I won't be able to repay you," Violet said at one point.

"No need." I shook my head. "Your friendship is repayment enough."

"Thank you. But I feel like I'm not being a good friend. Al I do is talk about myself. I only know your name, and that you're from America. Are you a businessman?"

I laughed. "No, I work on a farm. I'm just like you. And I know what it's like to lose a family member. My brother once went missing. I was worried sick about him."

"Did he turn up?" she asked, her eyes wide.

"Eventual y. And I know you'l see Cora soon." My heart went out to Violet and her missing sister. "Tel me more about her," I said.

"Wel , we fought of course. But al siblings do, don't they? She had to do everything first. And of course I wanted to be just like her. I don't think that I would have moved to London without her. And now that she's not here . . ."

"You have to figure out who you are," I murmured.

"Yes," Violet agreed. "But it's hard to know who I am without Cora. We're that close. Is that what it's like with you and your brother?

"No." I shook my head.

"Did you have a fal ing-out?"

"Yes, but that's long in the past. Right now, I'm only focused on my future," I said, offering the crook of my elbow for her to loop her arm through.

"Wel , your brother's making a mistake, to fight with you," she said.

"And I'd never fight with you, if you were my sister," I said. I was enjoying our comfortable back-and-forth.

We stopped by the hotel to drop off our bags with the bel hop and then continued on our way to the theater.

"I feel like this is a dream and I don't want to wake up," Violet said, her eyes shining as an usher led us to our seats. Being with Violet felt natural, and our easy banter reminded me of the way that Damon, I, and the rest of the boys would tease the Mystic Fal s girls at barbecues and social functions during the year.

Suddenly, the theater went dark and the curtain rose on the stage.

"Oh, Stefan!" Violet said, clapping her hands together as she perched on the very edge of the velvet-covered chair and leaned her elbows on the railing of the box. Dozens of chorus girls came out, wearing flouncy skirts and large hats, and I tried to pay attention to the song they were singing. But I couldn't. Al I could think of was Damon. Why had he done this? It had taken years, but I'd found peace. Couldn't he do the same? He could feed on women and have his fancy parties al he liked. I just wanted him to stop destroying other people's lives. I was convinced that we could both live and let live. But I couldn't live if my brother was kil ing.

I saw Violet glance at me and I tried to look as if I were enjoying the show. But inside, I was frustrated. I hated the way everything always came back to Damon, and most likely would, for eternity.

"I didn't see Cora," Violet said in disappointment. "Maybe she's not in this show."

"Hmmm?" I asked, realizing the curtain had gone down and thunderous applause was emanating from al corners of the theater house.

"The show! The first act is over," Violet said. "And, oh, Stefan, it was ever so lovely!"

"You liked it, then?" I asked mechanical y. If Cora wasn't here, had we just wasted another night? Maybe the Journeyman was stil open. I was about to tel Violet our plan when I noticed tears leaking from the corner of her eyes.

"If only . . ." she began.

"If only what?" I asked.

"If only Cora were here. Every time the curtain opened, I'd just cross my fingers and send a prayer to St. Jude, but . . . oh wel . I stil liked the show. Thank you," she said, smiling wistful y.

"I understand," I said, squeezing her hand. I did understand. When Damon had gone away to fight in the Civil War, back when we were humans, I'd always felt a half second of regret whenever I was doing anything enjoyable, thinking how much better it would have been if only he'd been there to be part of it. And even though I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I was now better off without my brother, there was stil a vestigial pul that wished I could be with him. The more I saw of the world, the more I realized that not al people had bonds like mine with their siblings. And maybe that was far better than what I'd had, and what I'd lost.

The curtain opened again and another act, more opulent than the last, began. I tried to watch, but I couldn't keep track of something even so elementary as who played the lover or the vil ain, and the lyrics for the musical numbers seemed sil y, not charming. So I watched Violet instead. Lit up in the glow of the stage lights, she looked absolutely entranced, and the happiest I'd ever seen her in our short time of knowing each other.

As the curtain came down, I stood and clapped politely along with the audience.

"Oh, Stefan, thank you!" Violet said, spontaneously throwing her arms around me. "I don't want this night to end!"

"You're welcome," I said, shifting my weight from side to side impatiently. In front of us, the lead actress stood on stage, blowing kisses to the audience, while members of the front row were throwing flowers toward her.

Violet sighed theatrical y, unable to tear her eyes away from the stage. "Cora should have been in that play," she said, her voice adamant with resolution. "Charlotte Dumont doesn't have anything on her."

"Who?" I asked. The name sounded familiar.

"Why, Charlotte Dumont. The actress."

"She was here?" I asked. Charlotte was the woman who Count DeSangue was consorting with. Maybe this hadn't been such a waste of time.

"Stef-an!" Violet said playful y. "She was the lead actress. Wasn't she wonderful?" Violet's eyes danced, but I wasn't paying attention. My eyes were scanning the crowd for my brother.

"Just once, I'd like to stand out," Violet continued, oblivious to my distraction. "Back at Ten Bel s, I feel invisible. I want to feel unique. Like I did when I was little. You know, when your parents think you're special, and you believe them?" Violet said wistful y as she daintily picked up her skirts to walk down the winding stairs of the theater and onto the street. Watching her from a few steps back, I was amazed at how different she looked from the sad barmaid of last night. In her finery, she had al the confidence and airs of a woman who'd grown up in luxury.

"You are special," I said, meaning it. She was charming and fun and I knew that once she believed in herself, she'd find people who believed in her.

"Why, thank you," Violet said coquettishly. Around us, people turned to gaze at her. I was certain they were gawking because they were trying to place her - had she been one of the comic ingenues they'd just seen onstage? Violet smiled, clearly basking in the attention.

"What shal we do now?" Violet asked, her eyes shining.

We'd reached the cool street and I breathed out, glancing around. Even though it was late, the street was crowded with passersby. A few paces down, I noticed streams of people were entering the smal black door marked STAGE. I made a split-second decision.

"I have an idea," I said. "We're going to meet Charlotte." I pasted a smile on my face as I marched toward the door.

"Name?" a smal man with slicked-back black hair asked, glancing at the leather-bound book clutched in his hands.

"Name?" I repeated, in mock confusion, trying to get him to look up at me.

"Yes, your name," the man said with exaggerated patience, final y glancing up at me. "I'm afraid the party is guest list only."

"Sir Stefan Pine. And my wife, Lady Violet," I added as Violet giggled delightedly beside me. Even though his job was to guard the door, the vague slurring of his words made it obvious he'd been taking in drinks as the audience members had been taking in the performance. I didn't so much have to compel him as confuse him.

"Yes, sir," he said, barely glancing back down at his list as he ushered us inside.

Violet widened her eyes, but I merely placed a finger on my lips and fol owed the crush of people into the cavernous backstage.

We turned into a brightly lit room that was almost as big as a bal room, already fil ed with actors in various states of costume as wel as audience members, whom I recognized as the wel -heeled fel ow members of our box. We were definitely in the right place. Now, al we had to do was find Charlotte. It was almost too easy.

And then I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I whirled around.

There, with a wide smile, thick dark hair, and an inscrutable expression in his bright blue eyes, was Damon.

"Hel o, brother," Damon said, flashing a wide grin.

I grinned back. I'd play nice. For now.

Chapter Eight

This is your brother?" Violet asked curiously, her lilting voice rising. "The one who . . ."

"No!" I waved my arm in front of me, as though batting away an absurd question. "An old friend," I lied. My heart thudded against my rib cage.

Even though I'd been actively seeking him out al afternoon, it was a shock to be face-to-face again after al these years.

"Oh yes, Stefan and I go way back." Damon leered. "In fact, sometimes I think I'd die for him." I shifted uneasily, appraising my brother, al too aware of Violet standing next to me. I studied him, taking in each aspect of his appearance.

He hadn't aged. It was a ludicrous observation, but it was the first one that struck me. Of course, I hadn't either, but I was so used to seeing my face in the glass every morning that it wasn't remarkable, just a fact of my existence. But seeing Damon as fresh-faced and wrinkle-free as he'd been the night we'd both died was jarring.

But, on closer inspection, there was a difference. His eyes had changed. They seemed darker, somehow, ful of secrets and horrors and deaths. Who knew what he'd done these past twenty years? If it was anything like what he'd been doing in London, then he'd been keeping himself and local law enforcement agencies quite busy.

"You're looking good," Damon remarked, as if we were neighbors who'd merely bumped into each other in a town square, not brothers who'd last seen each other across the ocean decades ago.

"As are you," I al owed. His dark hair was slicked back and he was wearing an expensive suit with a silk tie knotted around his neck.

"And who's this lovely lady?" Damon asked, extending his hand to Violet.

"She's none of your concern - "

"I'm Violet Burns," Violet said, curtseying and blushing as Damon took her hand and brought it to his lips for a kiss.

"Charmed. Damon DeSangue," Damon said. I grimaced at the familiar way the false name dripped off his tongue. I did note, however, that he'd lost the affected Italian accent he'd insisted on using back in New York.

"And what are we doing here?" he asked.

"We're just leaving - "

"No!" Violet interjected. "Please, let us stay. Our hotel is ever so close, we're right at the Cumberland," she said to Damon, batting her eyes as if to charm him. "And we're looking for my sister," she added, her voice drowned out by Damon's showy display of shock at our choice of hotel.

"The Cumberland!" Damon said as my stomach sank. The last thing I wanted was for him to know the name of our hotel. "Aren't you moving up in the world, Stefan!"

No more games, I said under my breath. We're too old for that.

I never outgrew my fondness for games, Damon replied, not moving his lips.

Just don't hurt her, I said through gritted teeth. But Damon didn't say anything, and only half-shook his head in a gesture that was impossible for me to read.

Violet continued to stare at him, her expression worshipful. Typical. Damon always commanded attention from women. Just then, a tal , beautiful woman wearing a midnight-blue silk dress and false eyelashes swanned up to him, two glasses of champagne in her hands. I spotted a gold-threaded silk scarf wrapped several times around her neck. I was sure if she unwrapped it, I'd see two smal puncture holes on her neck from Damon's fangs. Damon, noticing my gaze, raised his eyebrow and smirked. Violet let out a gasp.

"Charlotte Dumont!" she squealed, clapping her hands with delight. I smiled at her, happy she'd at least been paying attention to the show. I couldn't believe I'd let such an obvious clue almost slip through my fingers.

"Why, yes, that's my name," Charlotte said, giggling as she handed a champagne flute to Damon. "I can't leave you for a moment!" she said to Damon, playful y swatting him on his arm. "Every time I do, I come back to see a crowd fawning over you. And I'm supposed to be the star of our twosome!" She pouted.

   
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