Origins (Page 21)

"Are you ready to play?" Damon called from his position on the lawn. He held the ball far back behind his head as if he were about to throw it toward her.

"Absolutely not." Katherine wrinkled her nose. "Once was enough. Besides, I feel people who need props for their games and sports are lacking in imagination."

"Stefan has imagination." Damon smirked. "Y should hear him read poetry. He’s like a

ou troubadour." He dropped the ball and ran toward the porch.

"Damon has imagination. too. Y should see

ou the imaginative way he plays cards," I teased as I reached the steps of the porch.

Katherine nodded at me as I bowed to her but didn’t make any other effort to greet me. I stepped back, momentarily stung. Why hadn’t she at least given me her hand to kiss? Hadn’t last night meant anything to her?

" I am imaginative, especially when I have a muse." Damon winked at Katherine, then stepped in front of me to grab her hand. He brought it to his lips, and my stomach churned. "Thank you," Katherine said, standing up and walking down the porch steps, her simple skirts swishing down the stairs. With her hair pulled back from her eyes, she reminded me of an angel. She gave me a secret smile, and finally I relaxed.

"It’s beautiful here," Katherine said, spreading her arms as if blessing the entire estate. "Will you show me around?" she asked, turning and glancing first at Damon, then at me, then back at Damon again. "I’ve lived here for more than two weeks, and I’ve barely seen anything besides my bedchambers and the gardens. I want to see something new. Something secret!"

"We have a maze," I said stupidly. Damon elbowed me in the ribs. Not like he had anything better to say.

"I know," Katherine said. "Damon showed me."

My stomach fell at the reminder of how much time the two of them had spent together in the week I was in my sickbed. And if he’d shown her the maze …

But I pushed the thought out of my head as best I could. Damon had always told me about all the women he’d kissed, ever since we were thirteen and he and Amelia Hawke had kissed on the Wickery Bridge. If he had kissed Katherine, I would have heard about it.

"I’d love to see it again," Katherine said, clapping her hands together as if I’d just told her the most interesting news in the world. "Will you both escort me?" she asked hopefully, glancing at us.

"Of course," we said at the same time.

"Oh, wonderful! I must tell Emily." Katherine dashed inside, leaving us standing on opposite ends of the stairs.

"She’s quite a woman, isn’t she?" Damon asked.

"She is," I said shortly. Before I could say anything else, Katherine came bounding down the stairs, holding a sun umbrella in one hand.

"I’m ready for our adventure!" she cried, handing me her parasol, an expectant look on her face. I hooked it over the crook of my arm, while Katherine linked arms with Damon. I walked a few feet behind, watching the easy way their hips bumped each other, as if she were simply his younger, teasing sister. I relaxed. That was it. Damon was always protective and was simply being a big brother to Katherine. And she needed that.

I whistled under my breath as I followed them. We had a small labyrinth in the front garden, but the maze on the far corner of the property was expansive, built from a boggy marsh by my father, who had been determined to impress our mother. She’d loved to garden and had always bemoaned the fact that the flowers that bloomed in her native France simply couldn’t withstand the hard Virginia soil. The area always smelled of roses and clematis and was always the first place couples would retreat to when they wanted to be alone at a Veritas party. The servants had superstitions about the maze: that a child conceived in the maze would be blessed for life, that if you kissed your true love in the center of the maze, you’d be bonded for life, but that if you told a lie while within its walls, you’d be cursed forever. Today it felt almost magical: The arbors and vines provided shade from the sun, making it seem that the three of us were in an enchanted world together–away from death and war.

"It’s even more beautiful than I remembered!" Katherine explained. "It’s like a storybook. Like the Luxembourg Gardens or the Palace of Versailles!" She plucked a calla lily and inhaled deeply.

I paused and glanced at her. "Y ou’ve been to Europe, then?" I asked, feeling as provincial as any of the country bumpkins who lived in the shanty town on the other side of Mystic Falls, the ones who pronounced the word creek like crick and who already had four or five children by the time they were our age.

"I’ve been everywhere," Katherine said simply. She tucked the lily behind her ear. "So, tell me, boys, how did you amuse yourselves when you didn’t have a mysterious stranger to impress with a tour of your grounds?"

"We entertain pretty young things with real Southern hospitality." Damon smirked, falling into his overdone accent that always made me laugh.

Katherine rewarded him with a giggle, and I smiled. Now that I saw Damon and Katherine’s flirtatious friendship as being as innocent as the relationship of cousins, I could enjoy their banter.

"Damon’s right. Our Founders Ball is just a few weeks away," I said, my spirits lifting as I realized that I was free to go to the ball with whoever I pleased. I couldn’t wait to twirl Katherine in my arms.

"And you’ll be the prettiest girl. Even the girls from Richmond and Charlottesville will be jealous!" Damon pronounced.

"Really? Why, I think I should like that. Is that wicked of me?" Katherine asked, glancing from Damon to me.

"No," I said.