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Origins (Chapter 15)

As soon as twilight fell, I sneaked down the stairs, opened the back door, and tiptoed out onto the grass, already wet with dew. I was extra cautious, since there were torches surrounding the estate and I knew Father would be displeased that I was venturing out after dark. But the carriage house was only a stone's throw from the house itself–about twenty paces from the porch.

I stole across the yard, staying in the shadows, feeling my heart pound against my rib cage. I wasn't concerned about animal attacks or creatures of the night. I was more concerned that I'd be found by Alfred or, worse, Father. But the notion of not being able to see Katherine that night made me feel hysterical.

Once again, a heavy fog blanketed the ground and rose to the sky, an odd reversal of nature that most likely was due to the changing of the seasons. I shivered and made sure to look away from the willow tree as I ran to the bridle path and up the porch steps of the carriage house.

I paused at the whitewashed door. The curtains on the windowpanes were pulled shut, and I couldn't see any candlelight seeping under the windows. For a second, I feared I had come too late. What if Katherine and Emily had retired to bed? Still, I rapped my knuckles sharply against the wooden door frame.

The door creaked open and a hand grabbed my wrist.

"Come in!" I heard a rough whisper as I was swept into the house. Behind me, I heard the click of the lock and realized I was standing face-to- face with Emily.

"Sir," Emily said, smiling as she curtseyed. She was dressed in a simple navy gown, and her hair fell in dark waves around her shoulders.

"Good evening," I said, bowing gently. I glanced around the little house, allowing my eyes to adjust to the dim light. A red lantern glowed on the rough-hewn table in the living room, casting shadows against the wooden beams of the ceiling. The carriage house had been in a state of disrepair for years, ever since Mother had died and her relatives had stopped visiting. But now that it was inhabited, there was a warmth to the rooms that was absent in the main house.

"What can I do for you, sir?" Emily asked, her dark eyes unblinking.

"Um … I'm here to see Katherine," I stammered, suddenly embarrassed. What would Emily think of her mistress? Of course, maids are meant to be discreet, but I knew how servants talked, and I certainly didn't want Katherine's virtue to be compromised if Emily was the type to engage in idle servant gossip.

"Katherine has been expecting you," Emily said, a glint of mischief in her dark eyes.

She took the lantern from the table and led me up the wooden stairs, stopping at the white door at the end of the hallway. I squinted. When Damon and I were little, we'd always been vaguely afraid of the upstairs of the carriage house. Maybe it was because the servants had said it was haunted, maybe because every floorboard had creaked, but something about the space had stopped us from staying very long. Now that Katherine was here, though, there was nowhere else I'd rather be.

Emily turned toward me, her knuckles on the door. She rapped three times. Then she swung the door open.

I walked cautiously into the room, the floorboards creaking as Emily disappeared down the hallway. The room itself was furnished simply: a cast-iron bed covered by a simple green quilt, an armoire in one corner, a washbasin in another, and a gilt-plated, freestanding mirror in a third corner.

Katherine sat on her bed, facing the window, her back to me. Her legs were tucked under her short white nightgown and her long curls were loose over her shoulders.

I stood there, watching Katherine, then finally coughed.

She turned around, an expression of amusement in her dark, cat-like eyes.

"I'm here," I said, shifting from one booted foot to the other.

"So I see." Katherine grinned. "I watched you walk here. Were you frightened to be out after dark?"

"No!" I said defensively, embarrassed she'd seen me dart from tree to tree like an overcautious squirrel.

Katherine arched a dark eyebrow and held her arms out toward me. "Y need to stop worrying.

ou Come here. I'll help you take your mind off things," she said, raising her eyebrow. I walked toward her as if in a dream, knelt on the bed, and hugged her tightly. As soon as I felt her body in my hands, I relaxed. Just feeling her was a reminder that she was real, that tonight was real, that nothing else mattered–not Father, not Rosalyn, not the spirits the townspeople were convinced roamed outside in the dark.

All that mattered was that my arms were around my love. Her hand worked its way down my shoulders, and I imagined us walking into the Founders Ball together. As her hand stopped at my shoulder blade and I felt her fingernails dig through the thin cotton of my shirt, I had a split- second image of us, ten years from now, with plenty of children who'd fill the estate with sounds of laughter. I wanted this life to be mine, now and forever. I moaned with desire and leaned in, allowing my lips to brush hers, first slowly, as we'd do in front of everyone when we announced our love at our wedding, and then harder and more urgently, allowing my lips to travel from her mouth to her neck, inching toward her snow-white bosom.

She grabbed my chin and pulled my face to hers and kissed me hard. I reciprocated. It was as if I were a starving man who'd finally found sustenance in her mouth. We kissed, and I closed my eyes and forgot about the future.

All of a sudden, I felt a sharp pain on my neck, as if I were being stabbed. I called out, but Katherine was still kissing me. But no, not kissing, biting, sucking the blood from beneath my skin. My eyes flew open, and I saw Katherine's eyes, wild and bloodshot, her face ghostly white in the moonlight. I wrenched my head back, but the pain was unrelenting, and I couldn't scream, couldn't fight, could only see the full moon out the window, and could only feel the blood leaving my body, and desire and heat and anger and terror all welling up inside me. If this was what death felt like, then I wanted it. I wanted it, and that was when I flung my arms around Katherine, giving myself to her. Then everything faded to black.

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