Home > The Craving (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #3)(9)

The Craving (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #3)(9)
Author: L.J. Smith

Winfield laughed nervously. “Bridget . . .”

Bridget fluttered her thick eyelashes. “It’s so wonderful that Lydia has a suitor, much less a count. After Meggie was wed, I was afraid Mother and Papa would become traditional and not let me marry until Lydia did and who knew how long that was going to take.”

“Lydia is . . . particular,” Mrs. Sutherland said.

“Oh really, Mama,” Bridget rolled her eyes. “As if anyone even had an interest before. And now she has a count. It’s really . . . it’s really not fair, you know, if you think about it . . . if I had a proper coming out . . .”

I shifted in my seat, at once embarrassed for everyone, and yet glad to be involved in something as ordinary as a family squabble. This was the first time I’d been among company since leaving Lexi in New Orleans.

“So many handsome, strange men in our lives these days,” Margaret said, somewhere between whimsy and warning. “What an odd coincidence, Mr. Salvatore. Perhaps I needn’t make the grand tour, after all.”

“Hush now, Margaret,” Winfield said.

“And actually I have no one to go to the Chesters’ with anyhow, Mama,” Bridget was continuing, actually growing red in the face as if she was trying quite hard to cry. She looked at me sidelong the entire time. “I am sure Milash won’t escort me after last night. . . . I am in dire need of rescue. . . .”

Bridget widened her green eyes at her father. Winfield frowned and stroked his muttonchops thoughtfully. In that moment, Bridget seemed as powerful as a vampire, able to compel her father to her every wish. Margaret put a hand to her head as if it ached.

“Mr. Salvatore will take you,” Winfield said, gesturing at me with a fork full of biscuit. “He’s rescued you once; I’m sure he’s a gentleman who wouldn’t leave you in distress again.”

All eyes were turned on me. Bridget perked up, smiling at me like a kitten just offered a bowl of cream.

I balked.

“I’m afraid I haven’t the proper attire . . .” I began.

“Oh, that is solved easily enough,” Mrs. Sutherland said with a knowing smile.

“Once again,” Lydia murmured, too low for anyone else to hear, “we are holding poor Mr. Salvatore at our mercy. With pants.”

Chapter 5

At the close of breakfast, maids whisked away the Dutch china and jam, and Winfield retreated to his study, leaving me with the Sutherland women in the sunlit parlor. Bridget, Lydia, and Mrs. Sutherland had installed themselves on the brocade couch, while I perched at the edge of a green velvet chaise, pretending to gaze at an oil portrait of the family when in truth I was calculating the best way to make my escape. My last, paltry feeding seemed a distant memory, and the sweet symphony of beating hearts in this grand mansion was becoming difficult to resist.

During the meal, I’d tried several times to free myself from the Sutherlands’ presence, with the aim of slipping out a window or escaping through the servants’ quarters. But as though my intentions were written plainly across my forehead, I was unable to shake my company for even two minutes. When I’d excused myself to the facility, the butler had insisted upon escorting me. When I mentioned I’d enjoy lying down in my room, Mrs. Sutherland had pointed out that the couch in the parlor was the perfect place for a repose. I knew that they were grateful to me for returning Bridget to them, but I couldn’t explain their acceptance of me into their home. Especially given the state I was in when I first entered it: dirty, torn clothes, disheveled, and bloody.

“Mr. Stefan,” Margaret said, leaning against the column that separated the parlor from the foyer. “Are you entirely all right?”

“Fine, fine,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

“You’re shaking your leg so hard you’re rattling the chair.”

I pressed my hand to my knee to steady my leg. “I usually start my morning with a walk,” I lied, pushing myself to standing. “In fact, if I may excuse myself, I think I’ll take a stroll around the park.”

Margaret raised a perfectly arched brow. “You certainly seem to spend a lot of time in the park.”

“I consider it my second home,” I said with a wry smile, picturing my cave with its cadre of statues. “I’ve always found nature comforting.”

“What a lovely idea!” Mrs. Sutherland said, clasping her hands together. “Would you mind if we joined you? It’s a beautiful day, and we could all use some fresh air.”

“Mama, I think it would be best if I rested instead,” Bridget said, putting a hand to her very healthy-looking brow.

“You mean, stay in and receive visitors all day so you can tell them about your adventures,” Margaret said, shaking her head. “I’m afraid I shall have to beg off, too, Mother. I’ve things to attend to at home, now that it appears my sister is fine—and my husband misses me.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Bridget muttered uncharitably.

Lydia shot her youngest sister a look and lightly slapped her arm. Mrs. Sutherland ignored the sisterly sniping, shaking out a light cloak and wrapping it around her shoulders. “Come with us, Mr. Salvatore. We shall make a fine party of three.”

Resisting the urge to shout in frustration—what would it take to leave this family’s clutches?—I forced a smile on my face and held out my arm to Mrs. Sutherland.

The second we stepped outside the massive front door, the sun assaulted my eyes. It was a bright, lemony yellow and the sky a perfect blue. For early November up north, it was a remarkably mild day. If not for the sun’s low angle in relation to the earth, it would have been easy to mistake it for a brisk spring morning.

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