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The Craving (Chapter 2)

I felt the veins in my face crackle with Power. My fangs came out quickly and violently, painfully ripping through my gums. Instantly I became the hunter again: balanced on my toes, fingers flexed, ready to claw. As I made my way closer to her, all my senses became even more aroused – eyes widened to capture every shadow, nostrils flared to gather in the smells. Even my skin prickled, ready to detect the slightest change in air movement, in heat, in the minute pulses that indicated life. Despite my vow, my body was more than ready to slice into the soft, dying flesh and lap up her essence.

The girl was small, but not sickly or dainty. She looked to be about sixteen. Her bosom jerked as she stuggled for breath. Her hair was dark, with curls highlighted gold in the light of the rising moon. She had been wearing silk flowers and ribbons in her hair, but these, along with her tresses, had come undone, trailing out behind her head like sea foam.

Her dress had a dark red slip buoyed by frothy white cotton tulle. Where her petticoats were torn, slashes of scarlet silk showed through, matching the blood that was seeping from her chest and down her bodice. One of her doeskin gloves was white, while the other was nearly black with soaked blood, as if she had tried to stanch her wound before she'd passed out.

Thick, curly lashes fluttered as her eyes rolled beneath their lids. This was a girl who clung to life, who was fighting as hard as she could to stay awake and survive the violence that had befallen her.

My ears could easily make out her heartbeat. Despite the girl's strength and will, it was slowing, and I could count seconds between each beat.

Thud . . .

Thud . . .

Thud . . .

Thud . . .

The rest of the world was silent. It was just me, the moon, and this dying girl. Her breath was coming slower now. She would most likely be dead in mere moments, and not by my hands.

I ran my tongue over my teeth. I had done my best. I had hunted down a squirrel – a squirrel – to sate my appetite. I was doing everything I could to resist the lure of my dark side, the hunger that had been slowly destroying me from within. I had refrained from using my Power.

But the smell . . .

Spicy, rusty, sweet. It made my head spin. It wasn't my fault she had been attacked. It wasn't I who had caused the pool of blood to form around her prone body. Just one little sip couldn't hurt. . . . I couldn't hurt her more than someone already had. . . .

I shivered, a delicious pain fluttering up my spine and down my body. My muscles flexed and relaxed of their own accord. I took a step closer, so close that I could reach out and touch the red substance.

Human blood would do far more than sustain me. It would fill me with warmth and Power. Nothing tasted like human blood, and nothing felt like it. Just a mouthful and I would be back to the vampire I'd been in New Orleans: invincible, lightning fast, strong. I'd be able to compel humans to do my bidding, I'd be able to drink away my guilt and embrace my darkness. I'd be a real vampire again.

In that moment, I forgot everything: why I was in New York, what happened in New Orleans, why I left Mystic Falls. Callie, Katherine, Damon . . . All were lost, and I was drawn mindlessly to the source of my agony and ectasy.

I knelt down in the grass. My parched lips drew back from my mouth, fangs fully exposed.

One lick. One drop. One taste. I needed it so badly. And technically, I wouldn't be killing her. Technically, she would die because of someone else.

Narrow streams of blood ebbed and flowed down her chest, pulsing with her heart. I leaned over, my tongue reaching forward. . . . One of her eyes fluttered open weakly, her thick lashes parting to reveal clear green eyes, eyes the color of clover and grass.

The same color eyes Callie had.

In my last memory of her, Callie was lying on the ground, dying, in a similar helpless pose. Callie had died of a knife wound in her back. Damon didn't even have the decency to let her defend herself. He stabbed her while she was distracted, telling me how much she loved me. And then, before I could feed her my own blood and save her, Damon threw me aside and drained her completely. He left her a dry, dead husk and then tried to kill me, too. Had it not been for Lexi, he would have succeeded.

With a tortured scream, I pulled my hands back from the girl and pounded the ground. I forced the bloodlust that was in my eyes and cheeks back down to the dark place from which they came.

I took a moment longer to compose myself, then pulled the girl's bodice aside to view her wound. She had been stabbed with a knife, or some other small and sharp blade. It had been shoved with near perfect precision between her breasts and into her rib cage – but had missed her heart. It was as though the attacker had wanted her to suffer, had wanted her to slowly bleed out rather than die immediately.

The attacker had not left the blade behind, so I placed my teeth against my wrist and tore open the skin there. The pain helped me to focus, a good, clean pain compared to that of my fangs coming out.

With incredible effort I pushed my wrist to her mouth and squeezed my fist. I had so little blood to spare – this would nearly kill me. I had no idea if it would even work now that I was feeding just on animals.

Thump-thump.

Pause.

Thump-thump.

Pause.

Her heart continued to slow.

"Come on," I pleaded, my teeth gritted in pain. "Come on."

The first few drops of blood hit her lips. She winced, stirring slightly. Her mouth parted, desperate.

With all my strength, I squeezed my wrist, pushing the blood out of my vein and into her mouth. When it finally hit her tongue she almost gagged.

"Drink," I ordered. "It will help. Drink."

She turned her head. "No," she mumbled.

Ignoring her feeble protests, I shoved my wrist against her mouth, forcing the blood into her.

She moaned, still trying not to swallow. A wind picked up around us, rustling her skirts. An earthworm dug itself deeper into the soft, moist earth, avoiding the cold air of the night.

And then she stopped fighting.

Her lips closed down on the wound in my wrist, and her soft tongue sought out the source of my blood. She began to suck.

Thump-thump.

Thumpthump.

Thump thump thump.

Her hand, the one in the blood-soaked glove, came fluttering up weakly and grasped my arm, trying to draw it closer to her face. She wanted more. I understood her desire all too well, but I had no more to offer.

"That's enough," I said, feeling faint myself. I gently disengaged my arm despite her mewling cries. Her heart was beating more regularly now.

"Who are you? Where do you live?" I asked.

She whimpered and clung to me.

"Open your eyes," I ordered.

She did, once again revealing her Callie-green eyes.

"Tell me where you live," I compelled her, the world spinning around me as I used the very last remaining drops of my Power.

"Fifth Avenue," she answered dreamily.

I tried not to grow impatient. "Where on Fifth Avenue?"

"Seventy-third Street . . . One East Seventy-third Street . . ." she whispered.

I scooped her up, a perfumed confection of silk and gauze and lace and warm, human flesh. Her curls brushed my face, tickling across my cheek and neck. Her eyes were still closed and she hung limply in my arms. Blood, either hers or mine, dripped down into the dust.

I gritted my teeth and began to run.

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