Home > Origins (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #1)(12)

Origins (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #1)(12)
Author: L.J. Smith

For a moment, it felt as though my entire life had clicked into place. I saw Katherine running barefoot in the fields behind the guest house, me chasing after her, our young son slung over my shoulder.

But then, entirely unbidden, an image of Penny, her throat torn out, floated through my mind. I pulled back instantly, as if struck by lightning.

"I'm sorry!" I said, leaning back and tripping against a small end table, stacked high with Father's volumes. They fell to the floor, the sound muffled by the Oriental rugs. My mouth tasted like iron. What had I just done? What if my father had come in, eager to open the humidor with Mr. Cartwright? My brain whirled in horror.

"I have to ... I have to go. I have to go find my fianc�e." Without a backward glance at Katherine and the stunned expression that was sure to be on her face, I fled the study and ran through the empty conservatory and toward the garden.

Twilight was just beginning to fall. Coaches were setting off with mothers and young children as well as cautious revelers who were afraid of the animal attacks. Now was when the liquor would flow, the band would play more loudly, and girls would outdo themselves waltzing, intent to capture the eyes of a Confederate soldier from the nearby camp. I felt my breath returning to normal. No one knew where I'd been, much less what I had done.

I strode purposefully into the center of the party, as if I'd simply been refilling my glass at the bar. I saw Damon sitting with other soldiers, playing a round of poker on the corner of the porch. Five girls were squeezed onto the porch swing, giggling and talking loudly. Father and Mr. Cartwright were walking toward the labyrinth, each holding a whiskey and gesturing in an animated fashion, no doubt talking about the benefits of the Cartwright-Salvatore merger.

"Stefan!" I felt a hand clap my back. "We were wondering where the guests of honor were. No respect for their elders," Robert said jovially.

"Rosalyn's still not here?" I asked.

"Y know how girls are. They have to look just

ou right, especially if they're celebrating their impending marriage," Robert said.

His words rang true, yet an unexplainable shiver of fear rushed down my spine.

Was it just me, or had the sun set remarkably quickly? The revelers on the lawn had changed to shadowy figures in the five minutes since I'd been outside, and I couldn't make out Damon within the group in the corner.

Leaving Robert behind, I elbowed my way past the party guests. It was odd for a girl to not show up at her own party. What if, somehow, she'd come into the house and she'd seen ...

But that was impossible. The door had been closed, the shades drawn. I walked briskly toward the servants' quarters near the pond, where the servants were having their own party, to see if Rosalyn's coachman had arrived.

The moon reflected off the water, casting an eerie, greenish glow on the rocks and willow trees surrounding the pond. The grass was wet with dew, and still trampled from the time when Damon, Katherine, and I had played football there. The knee-high mist made me wish I were wearing my boots instead of my dress shoes.

I squinted. At the base of the willow tree, where Damon and I had spent hours climbing as children, was a shadowy lump on the ground, like a large, gnarled tree root. Only I didn't remember a tree root in that spot. I squinted again. For a moment, I wondered if it could be a pair of intertwined lovers, trying to escape prying eyes. I smiled despite myself. At least someone had found love at this party.

But then the clouds shifted, and a shaft of moonlight illuminated the tree--and the form beneath it. I realized with a sickening jolt that the shape wasn't two lovers in mid-embrace. It was Rosalyn, my betrothed, her throat torn out, her eyes half open, staring up at the tree branches as if they held the secret to a universe she no longer inhabited.

Chapter 9

It's difficult for me to describe the moments that followed.

I remember footfalls and shrieking and the servants praying outside their quarters. I remember staying on my knees, yelling out of horror and pity and fear. I remember Mr. Cartwright pulling me back as Mrs. Cartwright sank to her knees and keened loudly, like a wounded animal.

I remember seeing the police carriage. I remember Father and Damon wringing their hands and whispering about me, allies in trying to develop the best course for my care. I tried to talk, to tell them I was fine--I was, after all, alive. But I couldn't form the words.

At one point, Dr. Janes hooked his arms under my armpits and dragged me to my feet. Slowly, men I didn't know surrounded me and dragged me to the porch of the servants' quarters. There, words were mumbled, and Cordelia was called for. "I'm ... I'm fine," I said finally, embarrassed that so much attention was being paid to me when Rosalyn was the one who'd been killed.

"Shhh, now, Stefan," Cordelia said, her leathery face creased with worry. She pressed her hands to my chest and muttered a prayer under her breath, then pulled a tiny vial from the voluminous folds of her skirt. She uncapped it and pressed it to my lips. "Drink," she urged as a liquid that tasted like licorice ran down my throat.

"Katherine!" I whimpered. Then I clapped my hand over my own mouth, but not before a startled expression crossed Cordelia's face. Quickly, she dosed me with more of the licorice-scented liquid. I dropped back to the hard steps of the porch, too tired to think anymore.

"His brother is here somewhere," Cordelia said, sounding as if she were speaking underwater. "Fetch him."

I heard the sound of footfalls and opened my eyes an instant later to see Damon standing above me. His face was white with shock.

"Will he be okay?" Damon asked, turning to Cordelia.

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