Origins (Page 35)

"Let them talk," I whispered. "I want everyone to know how much I love you." Katherine kissed me harder, with more passion than I’d ever felt. I sucked my breath in, feeling so much desire that I stepped away. I loved Katherine so much that it almost hurt; it made it harder to breathe, harder to talk, harder to think. It was as if my desire was a force larger than myself, and I was simultaneously frightened and overjoyed to follow wherever it led me.

I took a shaky breath and looked up at the sky. Large thunderclouds had rolled in, obscuring the sky, which had been a pure cerulean just moments before. "We should go," I said, heading toward shore.

Sure enough, as soon as we stepped onto dry land, a clap of thunder rolled off in the distance.

"The storm came in fast," Katherine observed as she wrung out her curls. She didn’t seem at all self-conscious even though her soaking-wet white slip left nothing to the imagination. Somehow, it seemed almost more illicit and erotic to see her scantily dressed than to see her naked. "One could think that it was almost a sign that our relationship is not meant to be." Her voice was teasing, but I felt a shiver of dread go up my spine.

"No," I said loudly, to reassure myself.

"I’m just teasing you!" Katherine kissed my cheek before leaning down to pick up her dress. As she stole behind the weeping willow tree, I yanked up my breeches and put on my shirt.

Katherine emerged from behind the tree a moment later, her cotton dress clinging to her curves, the damp tendrils of her hair sticking to her curves, the damp tendrils of her hair sticking to her back. Her skin had a bluish quality to it.

I put my arms around her and rubbed her arms vigorously, trying to warm her up, though I knew that was impossible.

"I have something to tell you," Katherine said as she tilted her face up to the open sky.

"What?" I asked.

"I would be honored to attend the Founders Ball with you," she said, and then, before I could kiss her again, she broke from my embrace and ran back to the carriage house.

Chapter 22

The week of the Founders Ball came with a cold spell that settled into Mystic Falls and refused to leave. Ladies walked around town in midafternoon in wool coats and shawls, and the evenings were cloudy and starless. Out in the field, workers fretted about an early frost. Still, that didn’t stop people from as far away as Atlanta coming into town for the ball. The boarding-house was full, and the entire town had a carnival-like air in the days leading up to the event.

Damon was back at Veritas, his mysterious tenure with the brigade over. I hadn’t told him that Katherine and I were attending the Founders Ball, and he hadn’t asked. Instead, I’d busied myself with work, feeling renewed vigor about taking over Veritas. I wanted to prove to Father that I was serious about the estate and about growing up and assuming my place in the world. He’d been giving me more responsibility, allowing me to look over the ledgers and even encouraging me to go to Richmond with Robert to attend a livestock auction. I could see my life, ten years from now. I’d run Veritas, and Katherine would run the inside of the home, hosting parties and playing the occasional card game at night with Father.

The night of the ball, Alfred knocked on my door. "Sir? Do you require any assistance?" he asked as I swung the door open.

I glanced at my reflection in the mirror. I was dressed in a black long-tailed coat and tie, with my hair slicked back. I looked older, more confident.

Alfred followed my gaze. "Looking smart, sir," he allowed.

"Thank you. I’m ready," I said, my heart fluttering in excitement. Last night, Katherine had teased me mercilessly, not giving me any clues as to what she was going to wear. I couldn’t wait to see her. I knew she’d be the most beautiful girl at the ball. More important, she was mine.

I headed down the stairs, relieved that Damon was nowhere to be found. I wondered whether he was attending the Founders Ball with some of his army friends or perhaps one of the town’s girls. He’d been distant lately, impossible to find in the morning and at the tavern at night.

Outside, the horses were pawing at the drive. I entered the waiting coach, which clip-clopped its way to the carriage house.

I glanced out the window, and noticed Katherine and Emily standing at the front door. Emily wore a simple black silk dress, but Katherine …

I had to press my back into the carriage seat to keep from jumping out of the moving coach. Her dress was emerald green, nipping in at the waist dress was emerald green, nipping in at the waist before flowing over her hips. The bodice was low and tight and showed off her creamy white skin, and her hair was pulled back on the top of her head, exposing her graceful, swan-like neck.

The second Alfred pulled back on the horses’ reins, I opened the door of the coach and hopped out, smiling broadly as Katherine’s eyes caught mine.

"Stefan!" Katherine breathed, lifting her skirts slightly as she glided down the stairs.

"Katherine." I gently kissed her cheek before I offered my arm to her. Together, we turned and walked toward the carriage, where Alfred stood with the door open.

The road to Mystic Falls was filled with unfamiliar coaches of all shapes and sizes, leading to the Lockwood mansion on the far end of town. I felt a thrill of anticipation. This was the first time I’d ever escorted a girl to the Founders Ball. In all previous years, I’d spent most of the evenings playing poker with my friends. Invariably some sort of disaster happened. Last year, Matthew Hartnett had gotten drunk on whiskey and had accidentally unhitched the horses from his parents’ coach, and two years ago, Nathan Layman had gotten into a fistfight with Grant Vanderbilt, and both ended up with broken noses.