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Origins (Chapter 3)

August 21, 1864

I can't stop thinking about her. I will not even write her name; I daren't. She is beautiful, entrancing, singular. When I'm with Rosalyn, I am Giuseppe's son, the Salvatore boy, essentially interchangeable with Damon. I know it would not matter one whit to the Cartwrights if Damon took my place. It is only me because Father knew Damon would not stand for it, knew I would say yes, just like always.

But when I saw her, her lithe figure, her red lips, her eyes that were flickering and sad and thrilling all at once … it was as though I was finally just myself, just Stefan Salvatore.

I must be strong. I must treat her like a sister. I must fall in love with the woman who is to be my wife.

But I fear it is already too late…. Rosalyn Salvatore, I thought to myself the next day, tasting the words as I walked out the door, ready to fulfill my duty by paying a second call on my soon-to-be-betrothed. I imagined living with Rosalyn in the carriage house–or perhaps some smaller mansion my father would build as our wedding present–me working all day, poring through ledgers with my father in his stuffy study, while she took care of our children. I tried to feel excitement. But all I felt was cold dread seeping through my veins.

I walked around the grand path of Veritas and gazed wistfully up at the carriage house. I hadn't seen Katherine since she arrived yesterday afternoon. Father had dispatched Alfred to invite her to supper, but she'd declined. I'd spent the evening looking out the window toward the house, but I couldn't see any flicker of candlelight. If I hadn't known she and Emily had moved in, I'd have assumed the house had remained unoccupied. Finally, I went to sleep, wondering the whole time what Katherine was doing and whether she needed comforting.

I tore my eyes away from the drawn upstairs shades and trudged down the driveway. The dirt road under my feet was hard and cracked; we needed a good rainstorm. There was no breeze, and the air felt dead. There wasn't another person outside as far as the eye could see, yet as I walked, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on walked, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, and I got the uneasy feeling that I wasn't alone. Unbidden, Robert's warnings about walking off on my own floated through my mind.

"Hello?" I called out as I turned around.

I started. Standing just a few feet behind me, leaning against one of the angel statues that flanked the drive, was Katherine. She wore a white sunbonnet that protected her ivory skin and a white dress dotted with tiny rosebuds. Despite the heat, her fair skin looked as cool as the pond on a December morning.

She smiled at me, displaying perfectly straight, white teeth. "I had hoped for a tour of the grounds, but it seems you are otherwise engaged."

My heart pounded at the word "engaged," the ring box in my back pocket as heavy as a branding iron. "I'm not … no. I mean," I stammered, "I could stay."

"Nonsense." Katherine shook her head. "I already am taking lodging from you and your father. I will not take your time as well." She raised a dark eyebrow at me.

Never before had I spoken with a girl who seemed so at ease and sure of herself. I felt the sudden, overwhelming urge to whip the ring from my pocket and offer it to Katherine on one knee. But then I thought of Father and forced my hand to stay put.

"May I at least walk with you for a bit?" Katherine asked, swinging her sun umbrella back and forth.

Companionably, we walked down the road. I kept glancing to my left and right, wondering why she didn't seem nervous to walk, unaccompanied, with a man. Perhaps it was because she was an orphan and so utterly alone in the world. Whatever the reason, I was grateful for it.

A light wind blew around us, and I inhaled her lemony ginger scent, feeling as though I could die of happiness, right there, next to Katherine. Simply being near her was a reminder that beauty and love did exist in the world, even if I couldn't have them.

"I think I shall call you Silent Stefan," Katherine said as we walked through the cluster of oaks that marked the line between the village of Mystic Falls and the outlying plantations and estates.

"I'm sorry …," I started, fearing that I was as dull to her as Rosalyn was to me. "It's simply that we don't get very many strangers in Mystic Falls. It's difficult to speak to someone who doesn't know my whole history. I suppose I don't want to bore you. After Atlanta, I'm sure you find Mystic Falls a bit quiet." I felt mortified as soon as the sentence left my lips. Her parents had died in Atlanta, and here I was, making it sound like she'd left some exciting life to live here. I cleared my throat. "I mean, not that you had found Atlanta exciting, or that you wouldn't enjoy getting away exciting, or that you wouldn't enjoy getting away from everything."

Katherine smiled. "Thank you, Stefan. That's sweet." Her tone made it clear she didn't want to delve into the topic any further.

We walked in silence for a few long moments. I kept my stride deliberately short so Katherine could keep up. Then, whether by accident or by design I'm not sure, Katherine's fingers brushed against my arm. They were cold as ice, even in the humid air. "Just so you know," she said, "I don't find anything about you boring."

My entire body flamed hot as a conflagration. I glanced up the road, as if trying to ascertain the best route for us to follow, though really I was hiding my blush from Katherine. I felt the weight of the ring in my pocket again, heavier than ever.

I turned to face Katherine, to say what, I'm not even sure. But she was no longer by my side.

"Katherine?" I called, shielding my eyes against the sun, waiting for her lilting laugh to rise up in the underbrush along the road. But all I heard was the echo of my own voice. She had vanished.

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