chapter 5
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Posted 5/21/10
The full moon was directly overhead when Stefan came back to the boarding house. He was giddy,
almost reeling, both from fatigue and from the glut of blood he'd taken. It had been a long time since he'd
let himself feed so heavily. But the burst of wild Power by the graveyard had caught him up in its frenzy,
shattering his already weakened control. He still wasn't sure where the Power had come from. He had
been watching the human girls from his place in the shadows when it had exploded from behind him,
sending the girls fleeing. He had been caught between the fear that they would run into the river and the
desire to probe this Power and find its source. In the end, he had followedher , unable to chance her
getting hurt.
Something black had winged toward the woods as the humans reached the sanctuary of the bridge, but
even Stefan's night senses could not make out what it was. He had watched while she and the other two
started in the direction of town. Then he had turned back to the graveyard.
It was empty now, purged of whatever had been there. On the ground lay a thin strip of silk that to
ordinary eyes would have been gray in the dark. But he saw its true color, and as he crushed it between
his fingers, bringing it slowly up to touch his lips, he could smell the scent of her hair.
Memory engulfed him. It was bad enough when she was out of sight, when the cool glow of her mind
only teased at the edges of his consciousness. But to be in the same room with her at the school, to feel
her presence behind him, to smell the heady fragrance of her skin all around him, was almost more than
he could bear.
He had heard every soft breath she took, felt her warmth radiating against his back, sensed each throb
of her sweet pulse. And eventually, to his horror, he had found himself giving in to it. His tongue had
brushed back and forth over his canine teeth, enjoying the pleasure-pain that was building there,
encouraging it. He'd breathed her smell into his nostrils deliberately, and let the visions come to him,
imagining it all. How soft her neck would be, and how his lips would meet it with equal softness at first,
planting tiny kisses here, and here, until he reached the yielding hollow of her throat. How he would
nuzzle there, in the place where her heart beat so strongly against the delicate skin. And how at last his
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lips would part, would draw back from aching teeth now sharp as little daggers, and—
No. He'd brought himself out of the trance with a jerk, his own pulse beating raggedly, his body shaking.
The class had been dismissed, movement was all around him, and he could only hope no one had been
observing him too closely.
When she had spoken to him, he had been unable to believe that he had to face her while his veins
burned and his whole upper jaw ached. He'd been afraid for a moment that his control would break, that
he would seize her shoulders and take her in front of all of them. He had no idea how he'd gotten away,
only that some time later he was channeling his energy into hard exercise, dimly aware that he must not
use the Powers. It didn't matter; even without them he was in every way superior to the mortal boys who
competed with him on the football field.
His sight was sharper, his reflexes faster, his muscles stronger. Presently a hand had clapped him on the
back and Matt's voice had rung in his ears:
"Congratulations! Welcome to the team!"
Looking into that honest, smiling face, Stefan had been overcome with shame. If you knew what I was,
you wouldn't smile at me, he'd thought grimly. I've won this competition of yours by deception. And the
girl you love—you do love her, don't you?—is in my thoughts right now.
And she had remained in his thoughts despite all his efforts to banish her that afternoon. He had
wandered to the graveyard blindly, pulled from the woods by a force he did not understand. Once there
he had watched her, fighting himself, fighting the need, until the surge of Power had sent her and her
friends running. And then he'd come home—but only after feeding. After losing control of himself.
He couldn't remember exactly how it had happened, how he'd let it happen. That flare of Power had
started it, awakening things inside him best left sleeping. The hunting need. The craving for the chase, for
the smell of fear and the savage triumph of the kill. It had been years—centuries—since he'd felt the need
with such force. His veins had begun burning like fire. And all his thoughts had turned red: he could think
of nothing else but the hot coppery taste, the primal vibrancy, of blood.
With that excitement still raging through him, he'd taken a step or two after the girls. Whatmight have
happened if he hadn't scented the old man was better not thought about. But as he reached the end of the
bridge, his nostrils had flared at the sharp, distinctive odor of human flesh.
Humanblood . The ultimate elixir, the forbidden wine. More intoxicating than any liquor, the steaming
essence of life itself. And he was so tired of fighting the need.
There had been a movement on the bank under the bridge, as a pile of old rags stirred. And the next
instant, Stefan had landed gracefully, catlike, beside it. His hand shot out and pulled the rags away,
exposing a wizened, blinking face atop a scrawny neck. His lips drew back.
And then there was no sound but the feeding.
Now, as he stumbled up the main staircase of the boarding house, he tried not to think about it, and not
to think about her—about the girl who tempted him with her warmth, her life. She had been the one he
truly desired, but he must put a stop to that, he must kill any such thoughts before they were started from
now on. For his sake, and for her own. He was her worst nightmare come true, and she didn't even
know it.
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"Who's there? Is that you, boy?" a cracked voice called sharply. One of the second-story doors
opened, and a gray head poked out.
"Yes,signora —Mrs. Flowers. I'm sorry if I disturbed you."
"Ah, it takes more than a creaky floorboard to disturb me. You locked the door behind you?"
"Yes,signora . You're… safe."
"That's right. We need to be safe here. You never know what might be out there in those woods, do
you?" He looked quickly at the smiling little face surrounded by wisps of gray hair, the bright darting
eyes. Was there a secret hidden in them?
"Good night,signora ."
"Good night, boy." She shut the door.
In his own room he fell onto the bed and lay staring up at the low, slanting ceiling.
Usually he rested uneasily at night; it was not his natural sleeping time. But tonight he
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