Home > The Compelled (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #6)(16)

The Compelled (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #6)(16)
Author: L.J. Smith

Cora entered the room, the train of a red silk dress trailing on the floor behind her.

“Stefan, are you feeling better?” she said.

“I’m fine, I just had a headache. I stil do,” I said.

“Wel , I would too if I spent al my time moping,” Damon said. “Come on! I stil haven’t told you my plan. My name has been cleared, we’re not dressed like paupers, and I think the only thing we can do is go out tonight. There are dozens of bal s in honor of the Lord Mayor’s Parade. Why, there’s even one at White’s that Lord Ainsley is giving.

Heard about it this morning at breakfast.”

“That isn’t a plan, it’s a party. You can go if you want, but I’m going to stay here and think.”

“It’s a party with people who know Samuel. We go, we gather information, and then we plan. Who knows? Maybe we can even prevent some attacks. It’s worth a try.” Cora nodded. “That sounds like a good idea. After al , if we’re there, maybe we can find out if Samuel’s already starting to turn people into vampires. And maybe we wil find information about what he’s doing with them.” I glanced from Cora to Damon. Both were staring at me, wil ing me to say yes. What did I have to lose? The childish part of me wanted to stay in, but I realized they were right.

At this point, the only thing we could do was gather as much information as possible.

“Al right. I’l be down in a moment,” I said.

Ten minutes later, courtesy of a compel ed coach driver, we were in front of what looked like an average residence in central London. It was a townhouse, with a lit gas lamp out front. The only sign that it was a nightclub was the stream of people constantly entering and exiting. To the left of the entrance, a man in a top hat sat on a high stool, scrutinizing a list of names.

“Welcome to White’s!” Damon said grandly, as if it were his own private establishment. I rol ed my eyes as I helped Cora out of the carriage.

Upon hearing Damon’s voice, the man by the door looked up.

“Count de Sangue. Welcome back!” He bowed with a flourish and ushered us inside. We walked down a carpeted staircase and into the party.

“Just like old times.” Damon sighed happily, rubbing his hands together. The air was fil ed with the sound of instruments tuning up, ice cubes clinking in high-bal glasses, and chattering conversations punctuated by laughter. The crush of the crowd created an intoxicating aroma, and every thought in my brain was superseded by the sound of hundreds of heartbeats th-thumping under the din.

“Why, hel o there!” A girl’s voice yanked me from my reverie. I whirled around to see a tal woman with dainty features and butterscotch-colored hair. I sniffed, taking in the burnt-coffee smel of her blood. Her slow, sleepy smile and slight waver indicated it would almost certainly be tinged with rum, and I could imagine my fangs gently sliding against her skin until…

“Charlotte!” Damon said, licking his upper lip. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”

Charlotte. I stepped back as though I’d been slapped.

I’d been so entranced by the scent of her blood that I’d forgotten I knew her. She was the actress Damon had taken up with before the Jack the Ripper accusations. I hastily took a glass of wine from a passing waiter’s tray, downing it fast. Hopeful y the alcohol would numb my craving for blood.

“Wel , I can’t say the same of you, you brute,” Charlotte said. She pouted, but I could tel from the way her eyes danced that she was only putting on a display of anger. “Not only did you disappear, but you became a wanted criminal in the blink of an eye. Of course, I knew it wasn’t true. You only travel in the best circles, so you’d never go to that awful East End, even if you were a murderer.” She laughed. Her fingers grazed her neck. It was an unconscious gesture, but seeing it caused my pulse to pound.

“It real y is rather funny, when you think about it. Me, in the East End, with prostitutes, when I could be here, with you on my arm.” Damon flashed her one of his charming half-smiles.

“It is, isn’t it?” Charlotte laughed again, but her eyes seemed hol ow. Something about her was amiss, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I hadn’t known her wel , but on the few occasions our paths had crossed, she’d always seemed flirtatious. Now, her statements were half a second too slow, as if she were struggling to remember her lines.

She ran her finger along Damon’s col arbone. “Wel , you’l have to tel us al about life on the lam. How delightful y have to tel us al about life on the lam. How delightful y slum-worthy it must have been.”

“Oh, believe me, it was,” Damon said. “But more important, tel me about you. What have I missed?” This was Damon’s plan for the evening? To flirt his way back into society?

But Charlotte smiled, oblivious to me and my frustration as she turned al her womanly charms on Damon. “Wel , I just opened a new play. It’s cal ed The Temptress, and you can only imagine what my part is,” she said suggestively, arching a blond eyebrow.

“Perfect casting,” Damon said, smoothly taking Charlotte’s hand in his. But before he could kiss it, Charlotte snatched it away.

“You’l have to get me a drink first,” she demanded. “You have a lot of apologizing to do for disappearing on me like that.”

“I’m at your service,” Damon said, wiggling his eyebrows.

I turned away, disgusted, even though I shouldn’t have been surprised. Damon’s reaction to death and destruction was always to dance through the ashes. Instead of dwel ing on it, I took in my surroundings. In the center of the room, the band struck up one of the current music hal favorites.

I stopped when I saw the curving staircase that led up to the hotel. Ordinarily, white-gloved butlers would be guarding the stairs to ensure partygoers without hotel keys didn’t slip past. Tonight, however, there were none. In fact, despite the bustling atmosphere, the evening seemed odd. Dancers were half a step behind the music, conversations sounded stilted, and hardly anyone had touched the sumptuous buffet table, laden with éclairs, oysters from the Atlantic, and cheeses and meats from France. But although there wasn’t anything on the buffet table that I wanted, it was strange that the other partygoers felt the same. Could they al be thirsting for blood?

I heard a sound coming from the upper landing. It could have merely been a butler moving a piece of furniture, or two lovers who’d found a quieter spot to entertain each other. But I decided to investigate. After al , if my suspicions were correct, someone might be in trouble.

I stole quietly up the staircase. When I reached the landing, it was just what I’d feared. One of the wel -dressed men from downstairs was holding a servant girl in an embrace. But the servant girl wasn’t reciprocating. Instead, she’d fal en over his arms in a faint, and he was sucking blood from her neck.

Before I knew what I was doing, I raced toward them. I didn’t have vervain or a stake. But I had Power. I hoped that would be enough.

The vampire turned toward me, his eyes blazing in surprise as he dropped the girl to the ground. I could tel he was a brand-new vampire. His feeding had been manic and forceful, his chin at an awkward angle to her throat.

I bared my fangs and emitted a low, guttural growl that sent the vampire beating a hasty retreat. As he vanished down the staircase, the servant girl sat up, rubbing her head.

“What happened?” she asked in confusion, unaware of the two smal wounds stil dripping blood down her neck.

“You passed out. You must have been exhausted.” I compel ed her to believe it. “You should head home.” I felt the lining of my pocket, surprised when my fingertips grazed several heavy coins. The owner of this pair of pants was obviously wealthy. I pul ed them out.

“Here,” I said, dropping the change into the girl’s hand.

“This should pay you for tonight.”

The girl smiled a slow, sleepy smile. “Thank you, sir. I feel like you’re my guardian angel.”

“Trust me, I’m not,” I said roughly.

I escorted the girl down the stairs, making sure she safely left the building. Then, I turned to survey the scene. I had to find the vampire before he did more damage.

My heart dropped. How had I not noticed before?

Because even though Samuel wasn’t here, he was everywhere: stamped on the blank faces of the men eschewing the buffet table, in the hol ow gestures of women adjusting their neck scarves, and in the somber, funereal atmosphere. It wasn’t as if the partygoers were doing anything unusual or out of place. Rather, their movements were studied and deliberate, as if they were performing on a stage. Mostly, it was their vacant stares that made it obvious.

They were al vampires. And they were al compel ed.

I saw Cora weave her way through the crowd toward me.

At least she was safe. “Stefan, where were you?” Cora asked, placing her hands on her hips. “I’ve been looking for you. Lord Ainsley’s right over there.”

Ahead of us was a ginger-haired man I’d met several times, back when Damon was part of Samuel’s elite social circle. He was heir to a British banking fortune and had always seemed to be one of Samuel’s closest confidants.

“Lord Ainsley!” I cal ed loudly. I needed to see for myself if he was compel ed, too. A few people, including Cora, turned to stare. Lord Ainsley nodded briefly, ended his conversation, and began picking his way toward me. He was only a few feet away when a short man in a suit, top hat, and bow tie lurched in front of me. I held out my arm to keep him from fal ing. As I steadied him, his glazed eyes turned up toward me and he blinked in confusion.

“Are you al right?” I asked in annoyance.

He nodded, then his eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Do I know you?”

“Friend of Samuel’s,” I lied as Cora squeezed my hand.

“Is he coming tonight?”

The man shook his head. “We know how busy Samuel is. He’s got business at Ten Downing Street. Say, wil you be going tomorrow? I hear he’s only picking a few of his best soldiers to join him.”

“Downing Street?” The name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. There was no response; the man had already faded back into the crowd.

At this point, we’d lost Lord Ainsley, too. I saw Damon, twirling Charlotte in the center of the dance floor, as though nothing was wrong. Her movements were wooden.

I had to get Cora out of there before she became the party’s next victim. I grabbed her arm and began weaving between the dancers toward Damon.

I tapped my brother’s shoulder. “A word?” He glanced at me, annoyance evident in his face. “Yes, brother?”

“In private,” I said.

“You can go ahead,” Charlotte said stiffly.

Not taking my hand off Cora’s arm, I led the way outside, away from any prying eyes. My breath came out in white puffs in the cold.

I locked eyes with my brother. “Do you know what’s going on in there?” I asked.

“That the party’s ful of vampires? Yes, and apparently, compel ed vampires are as dul as dishwater,” he said disdainful y.

“We have to leave, Damon. It’s not safe here.” Damon shrugged. “Relax. I’l have a few more dances, then maybe a quick meal off a servant girl. I’l be right behind you.”

“Fine, do what you like,” I said in disgust. “I’l see you at home.” Let Damon shirk responsibility in favor of one last dance. I was determined to prevent anyone else from fal ing into the clutches of Samuel’s army of vampires.

Without another word, I hailed one of the cabs waiting on the corner and directed it back to our Bedford Street home.

13

“What happened?” Cora asked when we final y made our way back to the house.

“That wasn’t a normal party. Samuel’s already hard at work,” I said, explaining what I’d seen upstairs. “His next stop is Ten Downing Street.” Cora’s face whitened, and then she turned on her heel and marched into the kitchen.

“What are you doing?” I cal ed, trailing behind her as she flung open the cupboards and pul ed out sacks of flour and sugar before placing them on the rough-hewn wooden table in the center of the room.

“If we want to have any chance of getting in to stop Samuel, we’l need reinforcements. You do know what Ten Downing Street is, don’t you?”

I shook my head.

“It’s where Robert Cecil lives. The prime minister?” Cora said in exasperation. “Stefan, this is serious!”

“I know it is. If he gets inside, then he can turn him and compel him to do his bidding.” I hung my head in my hands.

“But how, exactly, wil baking help solve this problem?” I asked as I watched Cora crisply measure flour into a cup. A smudge of flour landed on her cheek, but she didn’t bother to wipe it off.

“Vervain,” she said crisply. “We’l bribe the guards with vervain-laced cookies, so they’l be protected from compulsion when Samuel arrives. I think Damon stil has some lying around. I saw it in his pack upstairs. It’s in a vial

—be a dear and get it?” she asked sweetly.

I happily obliged, glad someone was able to come up with a plan. Sure enough, Damon had several vials of vervain, along with a crossbow and wooden bul ets. He was wel stocked for a vampire battle. He should have brought that to the party, I thought darkly as I gingerly grabbed the vervain bottles and brought them downstairs.

I placed the vials on the kitchen counter and then moved as far away as possible. Even through the glass, the herb caused my eyes to water and my fingers to sting.

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