Home > Phantom (The Vampire Diaries: The Hunters #1)(11)

Phantom (The Vampire Diaries: The Hunters #1)(11)
Author: L.J. Smith

There was nothing about Meredith that might show how tensely and busily her thoughts were churning, worries and contingency plans whirring away behind her cool facade. She had spent yesterday trying to figure out what the Guardians' spel had changed for her and her family -

particularly her brother, Christian, who Klaus had kidnapped over a decade ago. She stil didn't understand it al , but it was dawning on her that Elena's bargain had more far-reaching consequences than any of them had imagined.

But today her thoughts were occupied with Alaric Saltzman.

Her fingers tapped anxiously against the arm of the swing. Then she schooled herself into stil ness again. Self-discipline was where Meredith found her strength, and if Alaric, her boyfriend - or at least, he had been her boyfriend... actual y her perhaps engaged-to-be-engaged, sort of almost fiance, before he left town - turned out to have changed toward her in the months they'd been apart, wel , no one, not even Alaric, would see how that would hurt her.

Alaric had spent the past several months in Japan, investigating paranormal activity, a dream come true for a doctoral student in parapsychology. His study of the tragic history of Unmei no Shima, the Island of Doom, a smal community where children and parents had turned against one another, had helped Meredith and her friends to understand what the kitsune were doing to Fel 's Church, and how to fight it.

Alaric had been working at Unmei no Shima with Dr. Celia Connor, a forensic pathologist who, despite her ful academic credentials, was the same age as Alaric, only twenty-four. So, clearly, Dr. Connor was bril iant. From his letters and emails, Alaric had been having the time of his life in Japan. And he'd certainly found a lot of interests in common with Dr. Connor. Perhaps more so than with Meredith, who had only just graduated from a smal -town high school, no matter how mature and intel igent she might be.

Meredith gave herself a mental shake and sat up straighter. She was being ridiculous, worrying about Alaric's relationship with his col eague. She was pretty sure she was being ridiculous, anyway. Fairly sure. She gripped the arms of the swing more tightly. She was a vampire hunter. She had a duty to protect her town, and she had, with her friends, protected it wel already. She wasn't just an ordinary teenager, and if she needed to prove that to Alaric again, she was confident she could, Dr. Celia Connor or no Dr. Celia Connor.

Matt's rattletrap of an old Ford sedan chugged up to the curb, Bonnie in front with Matt, Stefan and Elena sitting close together in the back. Meredith rose and crossed the lawn toward it.

"Is everything okay?" said Bonnie, round eyed, when she opened the door. "Your face looks like you're heading off to battle."

Meredith smoothed her features into impassivity and scrambled for an explanation that wasn't, I'm worried about whether my boyfriend still likes me. Quickly and easily, she realized there was another reason she was tense, a true one.

"Bonnie, I have a duty to help look out for everyone now,"

Meredith said simply. "Damon's dead. Stefan doesn't want to hurt humans, and that handicaps him. Elena's Powers are gone. Even though the kitsune were defeated, we stil need protection. We'l always need to be careful."

Stefan tightened his arm around Elena's shoulders. "The things that make Fel 's Church so appealing to the supernatural, the ley lines that have attracted al kinds of beings here for generations, are al stil here. I can sense them. And other people, other creatures, wil sense them, too."

Bonnie's voice rose in alarm. "So it's al going to happen again?"

Stefan rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I don't think so. But something else might. Meredith's right, we have to be vigilant." He dropped a kiss onto Elena's shoulder and rested his cheek against her hair. There was no question, Meredith thought wryly, why this particular supernatural being was drawn to Fel 's Church, anyway, and it wasn't because of the ley lines running through the area. Elena toyed with a single dark red rose, something Stefan must have brought her. "Is that the only reason you're worried, Meredith?" she asked lightly. "Your duty to Fel 's Church?"

Meredith felt herself flush a little, but her voice was dry and calm. "I think that's reason enough, don't you?"

Elena grinned. "Oh, it's reason enough, I suppose. But could there be another one?" She winked at Bonnie, whose anxious expression lightened in response. "Who do we know who wil be fascinated by al the tales you have to tel ?

Especially when he finds out that the story's not over yet?"

Bonnie turned al the way around in her seat, her smile growing. "Oh. Oh. I see. He won't be able to think of anything else, wil he? Or anyone else."

Now Stefan's shoulders relaxed, and up in the driver's seat Matt let out a chuckle and shook his head. "You three,"

he said affectionately. "Us guys never stood a chance."

Meredith looked straight ahead and lifted her chin slightly, ignoring them al . Elena and Bonnie knew her too wel , and the three of them had spent enough time scheming together that she should have known they'd see through her plan in a minute. But she didn't have to admit to it.

The solemn mood in the car had lifted, though. Meredith realized they were al doing it on purpose, reaching out gently and careful y with jokes and lighthearted teasing, trying to ease the pain Elena and Stefan must both be feeling.

Damon was dead. And while Meredith had developed a cautious, wary respect for the unpredictable vampire during their time in the Dark Dimension, and Bonnie had felt, Meredith thought, something warmer, Elena had loved him. Real y loved him. And even though Damon and Stefan's relationship had been rocky, to say the least, for centuries, he had been Stefan's brother. Stefan and Elena were hurting, and everyone knew it.

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