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The Craving (Chapter 11)

The following morning, I clutched the soft linen sheets up to my neck, as I had when I was a child. With my eyes squeezed shut, I could almost pretend I was home again. That Damon and I were still human and having our usual brotherly quarrels. That our father was somewhere on the plantation, working. That Katherine was alive.

No – wait. That we had never met Katherine.

Or… maybe I was in bed at Lexi's house, unsure about my new life, but accepted in this new home of fellow vampires.

I slowly came fully awake, and my fantasies crumbled against reality. I was in the Sutherlands' house, still a captive of their generosity and my brother's threats, an uneager groom being run quickly into an unwanted wedding.

The Sutherlands weren't terribly formal but nevertheless expected everyone to show up at breakfast. My dressing went perhaps slower than it might have normally, as I adjusted my sock garters until they were perfect, fiddled with my cuffs, and ran my hands through my hair. I didn't much like looking in mirrors in those days. I hated who I saw there.

By the time I finally made it downstairs to breakfast, the entire family was well into their meal. Mrs. Sutherland greeted me with a warm maternal smile that tore at my insides. Though I felt genuinely fond toward her, she was compelled to accept me.

"Good morning," I mumbled, slinking into my place. "Is there any coffee?"

"You seem a bit down today, m'boy," Winfield said, tucking his watch into his breast pocket. "And a bit thin, may I add. You definitely need fattening up before the wedding – I think I'll take you to the club today. They do a wonderful lamb and pudding."

Lydia gave me an apologetic smile. With a shock I realized that a pretty rose-pink scarf encircled her neck, neatly covering the usual spot for a vampire bite.

Damon had fed on her.

I turned my head from the coffee that had been placed before me, my stomach churning. Unconsciously, I touched my neck where Katherine used to bite me, remembering the pain and pleasure all wound up together so sickly. Was it a message to me? To remind me of what would happen if I failed to marry Bridget?

"Stefan! Don't go to the club until later! We have a full day today," Bridget warned. "We absolutely must, must, must go visit Bram's family. They just love Damon – Brammy's been taking him to all of the latest places, like that bar that serves real English-style Pimm's Cups! I'll have to wear my new blue muslin. To their house, not to the bar, naturally. It isn't a suitable place for ladies. Fanny wanted blue muslin for her trousseau, but her engagement didn't work out, poor thing…."

The door to the kitchen opened, and Damon stepped through. "Good morning, all," he crowed, bright-eyed and chipper. He looked rested and sated as he gave Lydia a flirty bow and me a nasty wink.

My shoulders clenched. "What are you doing here, Damon?" I asked in as innocent a tone as I could muster.

"You didn't hear?" He sat down at the table and unfolded his napkin with a flourish. "Winfield begged me to move in."

"Oh." I pushed my chair back from the table, plastering a wobbly smile on my face to mask my anger. "Er, Damon, would you mind joining me in the foyer for a moment?"

Damon grinned at me. "But I just sat down and I'm ever so hungry."

"It will take but a minute," I said through clenched teeth.

Lydia looked at me curiously, but after a beat, Damon scraped his chair back and followed me to the foyer. "Milady, I'll return shortly."

The second we were out of earshot, I turned to my brother. "You are unbelievable. You're moving in now?"

"Why thank you," Damon said with a facetious bow. "And yes. Were you not listening last night when I talked about all the amazing… amenities the Sutherland abode has to offer?"

The room began to spin around me as rage overtook me. My patience with Damon's game was over.

"Why bother with all of… this?" I demanded. "These shenanigans? If you're so powerful, why not just go into a bank and make them give you all of the gold in their vaults?"

"I suppose I could, but where's the fun in that?"

"The fun?" I echoed in disbelief. "You're doing this for fun?"

Damon's eyes hardened. "Tracks, brother. You're not thinking ahead." He frowned and brushed some imaginary lint off my jacket. "Yes, I could just steal the money and leave town. But we're going to be around forever. Or at least I am. And compulsion doesn't always take. In case you didn't notice, Margaret remains quite stubborn, and having her or Winfield, should he ever shake my Power, go around waving my picture and calling me a thief… well, I can't have that. It's much easier – and more fun – just to inherit it."

I gazed at the door that separated us from the happily dining Sutherlands. "Inherit it? As in, upon death?"

"What? Why, brother, what exactly are you implying?" he asked, pretending to be hurt. "You keep your half of the bargain, and I don't go on a killing spree. Remember? I gave you my word."

"No, Damon," I said. "You said if I didn't marry Bridget you would start killing everyone in that room. You specifically did not say anything about what would happen after we were married."

"Good point," Damon said, nodding. "I'd like to kill a few people in their circle. Starting with that sycophant Bram. I think he has a thing for my Lydia, you know," he added with mock anger.

"Damon," I growled.

His eyes narrowed. "You take care of your wife. I'll take care of mine."

I looked at my brother sharply. "So then you do plan to kill Winfield after he signs over his fortune?"

"For that, you will just have to stick around and see."

"I won't let you hurt any of them," I promised through a clenched jaw.

"You can't stop me. Whatever I choose to do," Damon hissed back.

We glared at each other. My hands curled into fists. He shifted his stance, ready for a fight.

At that moment Mrs. Sutherland poked her head into the foyer. "Boys? Everything okay out here?"

"Yes, ma'am," Damon answered graciously. "We were just acquainting ourselves." He pointed the door to the kitchen and gave a slight bow. "After you, Stefan."

Reluctantly, I passed back into the kitchen, Damon close on my heels.

"So tomorrow we pick out our suits," Damon said. He was acting as though we were continuing a mundane discussion from the foyer, rather than just having ended an argument over the fates of everyone in the room. "Stefan, we should match! Why, Bridget, weren't you just saying last night how someone, I forget who, matched her sister at another wedding? Silk or something?"

He knew. He was my brother and he knew precisely how to torment me. Eternally.

"Yes, of course, Damon," Bridget said with a gratified smile, turning to me. "Stefan, you have to hear this. I thought about matching me and Lydia, but I'm not sure the effect would be as dramatic, what with Lydia's figure…"

I slowly sank down at the table, drowning in her words – and the knowledge that Damon was right. I had never been able to stop my brother, especially not when it mattered most.

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