Home > Phantom (The Vampire Diaries: The Hunters #1)(14)

Phantom (The Vampire Diaries: The Hunters #1)(14)
Author: L.J. Smith

Dr. Celia Connor was certainly lovely - Stefan would give her that. She was tiny, as smal as Bonnie, with dark skin and close-cropped hair. The smile she gave Alaric as she took his arm was charming and slightly puckish. She had large brown eyes and a long, elegant neck. Stylish but practical in designer clothing, she wore soft leather boots, skinny jeans, and a sapphire-toned silk shirt. A long, diaphanous scarf was wrapped around her neck, adding to her sophisticated demeanor.

When Alaric, al tousled sandy hair and boyish grin, whispered familiarly in her ear, Stefan felt Meredith tense. She looked like she'd like nothing better than to try out a few of her martial arts moves on a certain gorgeous forensic anthropologist.

But then Alaric spotted Meredith, dashed over, and took her in his arms, pul ing her off her feet as he swung her into a hug, and she visibly relaxed. In a few moments, they were both laughing and talking, and they didn't seem to be able to stop touching each other, as if they needed to reassure themselves that they were actual y together again at last. Clearly, Stefan thought, any worries Meredith had had about Alaric and Dr. Connor had been groundless, at least as far as Alaric was concerned. Stefan turned his attention to Celia Connor again.

His first wary tendrils of Power discovered a slight simmering resentment emanating from the anthropologist. Understandable: She was human, she was quite young despite her poise and her many professional

achievements, and she had spent a great deal of time working closely with the very attractive Alaric. It wouldn't be surprising if she felt a bit proprietary toward him, and here he was being pul ed away from her and into the orbit of a teenage girl.

But more important, his Power found no supernatural shadow hanging about her and no answering Power in her. Whatever the meaning of the name Celia written in blood, it seemed Dr. Celia Connor hadn't caused it.

"Somebody take pictures!" Bonnie cal ed, laughing. "We haven't seen Alaric for months. We have to document his return!"

Matt got out his phone and took a couple of pictures of Alaric and Meredith, their arms around each other.

"Al of us!" Bonnie insisted. "You too, Dr. Connor. Let's stand in front of the train - it's a terrific backdrop. You take this one, Matt, and then I'l take some with you in them."

They shuffled into various positions: bumping, excusing, introducing themselves to Celia Connor, throwing their arms around one another in a casual y exuberant style. Stefan found himself pushed to the edge, Elena's arm through his, and he discreetly inhaled the clean, sweet scent of her hair.

"Al aboard!" the conductor cal ed, and the train doors closed.

Matt, Stefan realized, had stopped taking pictures and was staring at them, his blue eyes widening in what looked like terror. "Stop the train!" he shouted. "Stop the train!"

"Matt? What on earth?" Elena said. And then Meredith looked behind them, toward the train, with an expression of dawning comprehension.

"Celia," she said urgently, reaching out toward the other woman.

Stefan watched in confusion as Celia jerked away from them abruptly, almost as if an unseen hand had grabbed her. As the train began to move, Celia walked, then ran beside it with stiff, frantic motions, her hands pul ing rapidly at her throat.

Suddenly Stefan's perspective shifted and he understood what was happening. Celia's diaphanous scarf had somehow been firmly caught by the closing door of the train, and now the train was pul ing her along by the neck. She was running to keep from being strangled, the scarf like a leash yanking her along. And the train was beginning to pick up speed. Her hands pul ed at the scarf, but both ends were caught in the door, and her tugging only seemed to tighten it around her neck.

Celia was approaching the end of the platform and the train was chugging faster. It was a flat drop from the platform to the scrub ground beyond. In a few moments, she would fal , her neck would be broken, and the train would drag her along for miles.

Stefan took al this in within the space of a single breath and sprang into action. He felt his canines lengthen as a surge of Power went through him. And then he took off, faster than any human, faster than the train, and sped toward her.

With one quick motion, he took her in his arms, relieving the pressure around her throat, and tore the scarf in half. He stopped and put Celia down as the train sped up and left the station. The remnants of the scarf slipped from around her neck and fluttered onto the platform by her feet. She and Stefan stared at each other, breathing hard. Behind them, he could hear the others shouting, their feet pounding on the platform as they ran toward them. Celia's dark brown eyes were wide and fil ed with tears of pain. She licked her lips nervously and took several short, gasping breaths, pressing her hands against her chest. He could hear her heart pounding, her blood rushing through her system, and he concentrated on pul ing his canines back and resuming his human face. She staggered suddenly, and Stefan slipped his arm around her.

"It's okay," he said. "You're al right now."

Celia gave a short, slightly hysterical laugh and wiped at her eyes. Then she stood upright, straightening her shoulders, and inhaled deeply. Stefan could see her deliberately calming herself, although her heartbeat was reeling, and he admired her self-control.

"So," she said, holding out her hand, "you must be the vampire Alaric's told me about."

The others were coming up to them now, and Stefan glanced at Alaric in alarm.

"That's something I'd rather you kept private," Stefan told her, feeling a prick of irritation at Alaric for divulging his secret. But his words were almost drowned out by a gasp from Meredith. Her gray eyes, usual y so serene, were dark with horror.

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