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The Craving (Chapter 13)

That night I lay in bed, gazing up at the ceiling. The moon shone through the gauzy white curtains, and the house hummed with activity, a melee of footsteps, heartbeats, and mice skittering inside the walls. It felt as though the entire house were alive, with the exception, of course, of myself and Damon. The Sutherlands had no idea, but when they'd opened their home to me, they had invited Death in. I was a cancer on their happy existence, and soon the darkness would spread, eating through their world until there was nothing left.

Though I was no willing participant in Damon's twisted plan, it would be no different from how Katherine insinuated herself into my life and decimated the entire Salvatore family. Like it or not, this family's well-being rested squarely on my shoulders. If Damon killed them, their blood would be on my hands, too. But how could I stop him? I was so much weaker than my brother, and I had no plans to begin feeding on humans again for fear that I'd be unable to stop.

I rose from bed and pushed the curtains aside with a violent flick. As I stared at the moon, that orb that had witnessed so much of my ill-doing, I replayed the conversation we'd had with Margaret over and over in my head. The firm set of her jaw. The clear tone of her eyes. The way her lucid blue eyes had sized up me and Damon, as though she could see straight through our skin to our unbeating hearts. Winfield was ready to sign his fortune over to Damon, yet his daughter remained immune to my brother's Power.

But how?

The only protection I knew against vampires was vervain, but I'd not inhaled its cloying scent since arriving in New York. When trying to draw out Katherine, my father had spiked my whiskey with vervain, sending Katherine into a miasmic fit when she drank my blood. If only my father had thought to protect me sooner, he and I might still be in Mystic Falls, poring over accounting books as I studied to take over Veritas.

Sliding the window open, I stepped out onto the narrow balcony. The night was eerily still. No wind rustled the trees, and even the pigeons that roosted on the neighbor's roof were quiet. My balcony faced east, toward the muddy East River and the narrow spit of land they called Blackwell's Island, where the city had recently rebuilt the lunatic asylum. A wry smile twisted my lips. If only I could check Damon in there.

But then I let out a groan and clutched the wrought-iron rail with my hands. I had to stop wishing and hoping and thinking of millions of if onlys. I could not wish Damon into oblivion and I could not rewrite the past. What was done was done. Even at my peak Power, I could not cause the world to spin backward, could not turn back time and undo what Katherine did to me and my family. But I was not powerless over the future. I had free will, I had experience, and I had the choice to fight.

Hoisting myself up on the rail, I leaped to the roof, landing on the tar with a soft thud. New York was a large city, and someone, somewhere, had to grow vervain or at least have dried sprigs. I'd run up and down the streets until I caught the telltale scent of the herb. Spiking Lydia's drinks would be impossible – Damon was feeding from her – but if I could just sprinkle some in Winfield's whiskey…

I ran across the roof, preparing to jump to that of the neighbor, before scaling down their fire escape to the street below.

"Where are you going, brother?" The cheery words sliced through the night like gunshot, and I froze on the ledge.

Slowly, I turned around to face a smiling Damon. He looked ready for the second part of his evening jaunt, wearing a three-piece suit and twirling a gold cane in his hand. I recognized it immediately – it had belonged to Callie's father, the man who had imprisoned Damon, torturing him and starving him before forcing him to do battle with a mountain lion. Damon must have stolen it after he killed Callie.

Unbidden, an image of Callie bloomed in my mind. Her kind green eyes smiling at me, the freckles that dusted every inch of her body, the way she had so bravely given herself to me on the shore of the lake, offering her blood even though she knew what I was and what I could do to her….

Her dead, twisted body lying in the grass behind Lexi's house.

"You bastard," I said in a low, fury-filled voice that I barely recognized as my own. Rage that had been building for weeks with no outlet tore through my veins, and I felt as though my muscles were on fire. With a growl, I threw myself at him. "Why won't you just let me be?"

Our bodies collided, like stone on stone. Startled, Damon fell backward, but instantly he pushed me off and flipped to his feet. He wrapped his arms around my neck with a vise-like grip. "If you were so desperate to be free of me, you shouldn't have forced me to become a vampire with you," he hissed, all traces of joviality gone from his demeanor. I struggled to free myself, but his knee pressed more forcefully into my spine, pinning me to the roof. "You were the one who urged me to become what I am – to see what Katherine gave us as a gift rather than a curse."

"Trust me," I gasped, trying to twist from his grip. "I would take it back if I could."

"Tsk-tsk," Damon chided. "Didn't Father teach you that part of being a man is living with your choices?" He pressed my cheek into the tar roof, scraping open the skin there. "Then again, you were such a disappointment to him at the end – not wanting to marry Rosalyn, taking up with a vampire, killing him…"

"You were always a disappointment," I spat. "I should have killed you when I had the chance."

Damon let out a dry laugh. "Well, that would have been a shame, because then I couldn't do this."

The pressure on my spine abated as Damon hoisted me up by the back of the shirt.

"What are you – " I started.

Before I could finish, Damon launched me forward with the force of a lit cannon. My body careened through the night air, and for a brief, weightless moment, I wondered if I was flying. Then the hard pavement of the alley between the Sutherlands' and their neighbor's home rushed up to greet me, and my bones cracked loudly on the impact.

I groaned, pain radiating through my limbs as I rolled to my back, blood dripping down my face. I lay like that for hours, staring at the stars until my Power healed me, resetting my bones and stitching up the gash in my cheek more swiftly than the most skilled medic could.

But when I stood, a new pain shot through my chest. Because there on the brick wall of the Sutherlands' home, written in red ink that could only be blood, were three terrifying words:

I'm always watching.

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