Origins (Page 32)

"And remember, Stefan, we only know some. There could be more. We’re not as uncommon as you may think," Katherine said.

"And now, because of these vampires we don’t even know, we’re all being hunted," Pearl said, tears filling her eyes. "That’s why we’re meeting here tonight. We need to discuss what to do and come up with a plan. Just this afternoon, Honoria Fells brought a vervain concoction to the apothecary. How that woman even knows about vervain, I have no idea. Suddenly, I feel like I’m an animal about to be trapped. People have glanced at our necks, and I know they’re wondering about our necklaces, piecing together the fact that all three of us always wear them…." Pearl trailed off as she raised her hands to the sky, as if in an exasperated prayer.

Quickly, I glanced at each of the women and realized that Anna and Pearl were wearing ornate cameos like the one Katherine wore.

"The necklace?" I asked, clutching my own throat as if I, too, had a mysterious blue gem there.

"Lapis lazuli. It allows us to walk in daylight. Those of our kind cannot, usually. But these gems protect us. They’ve allowed us to live normally and, perhaps, even allowed us to stay more in touch with our human side than we would have otherwise," Pearl said thoughtfully. "Y don’t know

ou what it’s like, Stefan." Pearl’s matter-of-fact voice dissolved into sobs. "It’s good to know that we have friends we can trust."

I took out my handkerchief from my breast pocket and handed it to her, unsure what else I could do. She dabbed her eyes and shook her head. "I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that you have to know about this, Stefan. I knew from the last time that war changes things, but I never thought … it’s too soon to have to move again."

"I’ll protect you," I heard myself saying, in a voice that didn’t quite sound like mine.

"But … but … how?" Pearl asked. Far off in the distance, a branch broke, and all four of us jumped. Pearl glanced around. "How?" she said again, finally, when all was still.

"My father’s leading a charge in a few weeks." I felt a tiny pinprick of betrayal as I said it.

"Giuseppe Salvatore." Pearl gasped in disbelief. "But how did he know?"

I shook my head. "It’s Father and Jonathan Gilbert and Honoria Fells and Mayor Lockwood and Sheriff Forbes. They seem to know about vampires from books. Father has an old volume in his study, and together they came up with the idea to lead a siege."

"Then he’ll do it. Giuseppe Salvatore is not a man to have his opinions easily swayed," Pearl stated.

"No, ma’am." I realized how funny it was to call a vampire ma’am. But who was I to say what was normal and what wasn’t? Once again, my mind drifted to my brother and his words, his casual laughter when it came to Katherine’s true nature. Maybe it wasn’t that Katherine was evil, or uncommon at all. Maybe the only thing that was uncommon was the fact that Father was fixated on eradicating the vampires.

"Stefan, I promise that nothing I’ve said to you was a lie," Pearl said. "And I know that we will do everything in our power to ensure that no more animals or humans are killed as long as we’re here. But you simply must do what you can. For us. Because Anna and I have come too far and gone through too much to simply be killed by our neighbors."

"Y won’t be," I said, with more conviction

ou than I ever had in my life. "I’m not sure what I’ll do yet, but I will protect you. I promise." I was making the promise to the three of them, but was looking only at Katherine. She nodded, a tiny spark igniting in her eyes.

"Good," Pearl said, reaching out her hand to help a sleepy-eyed Anna to her feet. "Now, we’ve been here in the forest too long. The less we’re seen together, the better. And, Stefan, we trust you," she said, just the tiniest hint of a warning in her otherwise rich voice.

"Of course," I said, grabbing Katherine’s hand as Anna and Pearl walked out of the clearing. I wasn’t worried about them. Because they worked at the apothecary, they could get away with walking in the middle of the night; they could easily tell anyone who saw them that they were searching for herbs and mushrooms. searching for herbs and mushrooms.

But I was scared for Katherine. Her hands felt so small, and her eyes looked so frightened. She was depending on me, a thought that filled me with equal amounts of pride and dread.

"Oh, Stefan," Katherine said as she flung her arms around my neck. "I know everything will be fine as long as we’re together." She grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the forest floor. And then, lying with Katherine amid the pine needles and the damp earth and the smell of her skin, I wasn’t frightened anymore.

Chapter 20

I didn’t see Damon for the next few days. Father said he was spending time at the camp, an idea that clearly filled him with no small amount of pleasure. Father hoped that Damon spending time there would lead to him rejoining the army, even though I figured his hours would be spent mostly gambling and talking about women. I, for one, was glad. Of course, I missed my brother, but I would never be able to spend so much uninterrupted, unquestioned time with Katherine if Damon was around.

Truthfully, although I felt disloyal to say it, Father and I adapted well to Damon being gone. We began taking meals together, companionably playing hands of cribbage after dinner. Father would share his thoughts about the day, about the overseer, and about his plans to buy new horses from a farm in Kentucky. For the hundredth time, I realized how much he wanted me to take over the estate, and for the first time, I felt excitement in that possibility.

It was because of Katherine. I’d taken to spending each night in her chambers, leaving just before work began in the fields. She hadn’t bared her fangs since that night in the woods. It was as if that secret meeting in the forest had changed everything. She needed me to keep her secret, and I needed her to keep me whole. In her small, dim bedroom, everything was passionate and perfect–it almost felt as if we were newlyweds.