Home > The Craving (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #3)(7)

The Craving (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #3)(7)
Author: L.J. Smith

After admiring the fresco of winged cherubs above me, I pushed off the soft covers and forced myself out of bed. Every muscle in my body rippled under my pale skin, full of strength and Power, but every bone in my rib cage showed. The Sutherlands had taken my clothes to be washed but hadn’t given me a nightshirt. I enjoyed the feeling of morning sunlight on my flesh, the glowing warmth fighting with the chill in the room. Though I’d never forgive Katherine for turning me into a monster, I was grateful at least for her lapis lazuli ring that protected me from the sun’s otherwise fatal rays.

The window was open the slightest bit, ushering a cool breeze into the room and setting the diaphanous curtains aflutter. Though temperature no longer affected me, I closed the window, locking the latch with some puzzlement. I could have sworn all the windows had been shut tight last night. Before I had time to further consider the matter, the tell-tale thump of a heartbeat sounded close by, and after a light knock, the door cracked open. Lydia stuck her head in, then immediately blushed and looked away from my nearly naked form.

“Father was afraid you might try to leave without saying good-bye. I was sent to make sure you didn’t charm a maid into helping you.”

“I’m hardly in a state to sneak away,” I said, covering my chest with my arms. “I will need my pants to do that.”

“Henry will be up shortly with your trousers, freshly pressed,” she said, keeping her eyes on the ground. “In the meantime, there is a bathing room just down the hall to the right. Please feel free to refresh yourself, and then come down to breakfast.”

I nodded, feeling trapped.

“And, Stefan.” Lydia looked up briefly and met my eye. “I do hope you’ll be able to locate a shirt as well.” Then she smiled and slipped away.

When I finally came downstairs for breakfast, the entire Sutherland clan was waiting for me—even Bridget, who was alive and stuffing toast into her face like she hadn’t eaten in a fortnight. Except for a slight paleness to her complexion, it was impossible to tell that she’d nearly died the night before.

Everyone turned and gasped as I approached. Apparently, I cut a different figure from the hero in shirtsleeves the night before. With freshly polished fine Italian shoes, neat pants, a new clean shirt, and a borrowed jacket Winfield had sent up for me, I was every inch the gentleman. I’d even washed my face and combed my hair back.

“Cook made you some grits, if you like,” Mrs. Sutherland said, indicating a bowl of gloppy white stuff. “We don’t usually indulge, but thought our Southern guest might.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said, taking the empty seat next to Bridget and eyeing the spread on the large wooden table. After my mother passed away, Damon, my father, and I made it a habit to dine casually with the men who we employed on the plantation. Breakfast was often the simple stuff of workers, hominy and biscuits, bread and syrup, rashers of bacon. What was laid out at the Winfield residence put to shame the finest restaurants in Virginia. English-style toast in delicate wire holders, five different types of jam, two kinds of bacon, johnnycakes, syrup, even freshly squeezed orange juice. The delicate plates had blue Dutch patterns, and there was more silverware than I was accustomed to seeing at a formal dinner.

Wishing I still had a human appetite—and ignoring the fire in my veins that thirsted for blood—I pretended to dig in.

“Much obliged,” I said.

“So this is my little sister’s savior,” said the one woman in the room I didn’t know.

“Allow me to introduce the eldest of my daughters,” Winfield said. “This is Margaret. First married. And first with grandchildren, we’re hoping.”

“Papa,” Margaret admonished, before turning her attention back to me. “Pleased to meet you.” Where Bridget was full of life and the plumpness of youth and Lydia was the elegant, cultivated one, Margaret had something of a practical and inquisitive good sense, an earthiness that showed in questioning blue eyes. Her hair was black and inclined to straightness.

“We were just discussing what prompted my child’s rash actions,” Winfield said, bringing the conversation back to the previous night.

“I don’t know why I ran off,” Bridget pouted, drawing deeply from a cup of orange juice. The older sisters gave each other looks, but their father leaned closer, worry lines marring his forehead. “I just felt that I absolutely had to leave. So I did.”

“It was foolish and dangerous,” her mother reprimanded, shaking her napkin. “You could have died!”

“I am glad to see you are doing so well today,” I said politely. Bridget grinned, displaying teeth that had little bits of orange pulp stuck in them.

“Yes. About that.” Margaret spoke up, tapping her egg spoon on the side of her plate. “You say you found her covered in blood in the park?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I answered warily, taking the smallest piece of bacon on my plate. This sister sounded more astute than the others and wasn’t afraid to ask uncomfortable questions.

“There was a lot of blood, and Bridget’s dress was torn.” Margaret pressed, “Did you find it odd that there was no actual wound?”

“Uh,” I stammered. My mind raced. What could I say? The blood was someone else’s?

“I thought there was a knife wound last night,” Mrs. Sutherland said, pursing her lips and thinking. “But it was just clotted blood, and wiping it down cleared it away.”

Margaret pierced me with her eyes.

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