Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(4)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(4)
Author: L.J. Smith

I smiled as Oliver threw his arms around my legs. A stray piece of hay from the barn was stuck in his hair, and his freckled face was smudged with dirt. He'd most likely been out in the woods for hours.

"I hunted a rabbit! He was this big!"Oliver said, breaking away and holding his hands several feet apart.

"That big?" I asked, raising my eyebrows. "Are you sure it was a rabbit? Or was it a bear?" Oliver's light eyes grew saucerlike at the possibility, and I stifled a smile.

"It wasn't a bear, Stefan!" Luke interjected. "It was a rabbit, and I was the one who shot it. Oliver's bul et only scared it."

"Did not!" Oliver said angrily.

"Daddy, tel Stefan! Tel him I shot it!"

"Now, boys!" George said, smiling fondly at his two young sons. I grinned as wel , despite the pang of regret I felt stabbing into the core of my being. It was such a familiar scene that I knew played out in houses al over the world: Sons squabbled, rebel ed, and grew up, and then the cycle repeated al over again. Except in the case of me and my brother. As children, we'd been exactly like Oliver and Luke. We were rough-and-tumble and unafraid to knock each other down, because we knew that our fierce, undying loyalty would spur us to help each other back up moments later.

Before Katherine had come between us and changed everything.

"I'm sure Stefan doesn't want to hear you boys bickering," George added, taking another swig of sherry.

"I don't mind," I said, ruffling Oliver's hair. "But I think I need to enlist you to help me with a problem. Mrs. Duckworth said there's a fox in the forest who's been stealing the chickens from the Evanses' coop, and I know that only the best hunter in al of England wil be able to bring down the beast," I invented.

"Realy?" Oliver asked, his eyes growing wide.

"Realy." I nodded. "The only person who can possibly take him down is someone smal and quick and very, very clever." I saw interest flicker across Luke's face. At nearly ten, he most likely felt too grown-up to take part, but I knew he wanted to. Damon had been similar at that age - too sophisticated to be caught enjoying the games that we'd al play down by the creek, yet terrified of missing out on anything.

"And maybe we'l take your brother," I said in a stage whisper, winking as I caught George's eye. "The three of us wil be the best hunting party this side of London. The fox won't stand a chance."

"Sounds like a fine adventure!" George said grandly as his wife, Gertrude, walked in. Her red hair was pul ed back, emphasizing the widow's peak on her fair forehead, and she was carrying their four-year-old daughter, Emma, on her hip. Emma had fine blond hair and enormous eyes, and often looked more like a fairy or a sprite than a human child. She flashed me a large grin and I smiled back, feeling happiness radiate from the center of my being.

"Wil you come, Daddy?" Oliver asked. "I want you to see me hunt."

"Ah, you know me," George said, shaking his head. "I'd only scare the fox into the bushes. He'd hear me coming from a mile away," he said.

"Stefan could teach you to be quiet!" Oliver lisped.

"Stefan's already teaching this old man to run his farm," George laughed rueful y.

"Sounds to me like we're al tel ing stories tonight," I said good-naturedly. Even though the work was demanding, I truly enjoyed the time I spent on the farm with George. It was so different from how I'd felt at Veritas, working under my own father. Back then, I'd resented being kept on the farm, instead of being al owed to go to the University of Virginia. I'd hated feeling like my father was constantly judging and appraising me, wondering if I was worthy of taking over the estate. But with the Abbotts, I felt like I was appreciated for the man I was.

I took a deep sip of sherry and leaned back into the chair, shaking off the final unsettling images from my earlier nightmare. Katherine was dead. Damon might very wel be, too. This was my reality now.

Chapter Two

The next morning, George and I were settled in a lavish train car on our way to London. I leaned back in the plush chair, alowing waves of nausea to ride over me. I knew from past experiences that cities could be too loud, too heavy with the scent of unwashed bodies, too tempting. So in preparation, I'd drunk the blood of a skunk and a hare, and now felt sick. But better sick than starving, especial y since I wanted to put my best foot forward when we met with George's solicitor. I knew it was an honor for him to invite me to meet his associate, a man who'd look over the numbers from the farm and advise us if there was anything we needed to do differently when it came to staffing and purchasing.

And yet, I simply couldn't shake the image of Katherine from my nightmare. So instead of talking, I merely nodded as George wondered aloud whether or not we should lease out our horses to the mine at the other side of Ivinghoe. It was impossible to shift from life and death to the minutiae of human existence. In another twenty years - ten even - none of it would matter.

The velvet curtain of our compartment opened, and a porter popped his head in.

"Tea or newspaper?" he asked, holding out a silver tray piled high with scones and teacakes. Mr. Abbott eyed them hungrily as the porter placed tea and two raisin scones on pristine china plates and then passed one to each of us.

"You can have mine," I said, handing the plate over to Mr. Abbott. "We'l take the newspaper as wel ."

"Right, sir." The porter nodded and passed me a copy of the Daily Telegraph.

Immediately, I pul ed out the pages I enjoyed, handing George the features he loved while I kept the sports and society pages for myself. It was an odd combination, but it had been my habit for the past twenty years, whenever I found myself in a city, to read the society news. I wanted to look for any mention of Count DeSangue, the name that Damon had used in New York. I wondered if he'd given up his airs and grandiose posturing. I hoped so. The last time I saw him, his showiness had nearly led to our demise. It was far better for us both to go under the radar.

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