Home > The Compelled (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #6)(8)

The Compelled (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #6)(8)
Author: L.J. Smith

7

We climbed out of the tunnel and into the sunlight. I shivered. Despite the bright sky, it was a colder day than any in recent memory, and I even saw a few smal , white snowflakes swirling about the sky.

Cora slipped her smal , cold hand in mine and I squeezed it. I liked taking care of her. It made me feel as if maybe, in some smal way, I was making this entire nightmarish experience better for her. The city was bustling as usual, and it didn’t take long for us to cross through the busy streets of Tottenham Court Road. From there, the streets were broader and better swept. Instead of vendors and flower girls hawking their wares on the corner, hansom cabs crowded the curb, eager to pick up one of the many groups of wel -dressed women toting parcels from Harrods.

Mary Jane walked in front, leading the way to Lady Alice’s house. As I fol owed, lost in my thoughts, everything started to make sense. Of course Samuel would seek his prey in the East End and pay special attention to the Magdalene Asylum. He was clearly hoping that the purebred witch he’d traced hadn’t moved far from her birthplace. And he’d been right. Anger at Lady Alice sliced through my stomach. If she’d just adopted Mary Jane as promised, then Mary Jane would never have been in this position. Her refusal to do so was like signing Mary Jane’s death sentence. I’d do everything I could to ensure that wasn’t true.

“We’re almost to Lady Alice’s house. Now fol ow my lead and let me do the talking,” Mary Jane said nervously, arching an eyebrow at Jemima.

“I’l try. Al I want is to look out for you,” Jemima said.

“You too, Damon,” Mary Jane said. “It’s important we present a united front.”

“Yes, ma’am!” Damon said sarcastical y. I didn’t bother to shush him. For better or worse, the old Damon was back.

“House” was an understatement for the sprawling Georgian mansion that lay in front of us. It was set back from the road, surrounded by acres of greenery, as though it were a private park. A twelve-foot-tal wrought-iron fence wrapped around the property. Its spiked top was garlanded with twisting rose vines, an attempt to make it less foreboding. Now, however, the flowers had yet to be cut back for winter, and the brown, flowerless stems looked ugly and ominous.

Mary Jane didn’t even pause at the grand sight and marched up the winding slate path to the front entrance. In the distance, I could see the stables, and beyond that, the expanse of Regents Park. When I’d come to London, the park had been al lush green grass and a canopy of trees.

Now, ghostly bare branches dotted the landscape, and the ground was covered with brown leaves.

Mary Jane rapped on the front door. Almost immediately the door swung open, revealing a dour woman with white hair pul ed back in a tight bun.

“Is Lady Alice expecting you?” Disgust was stamped on her face as she looked Mary Jane up and down.

“No, she’s not. But please tel her that Mary Jane Kel y is here for her. She’l know who that is.”

“Mary Jane Kel y?” the woman asked. “And what about the rest of you lot?”

“Just tel her that Mary Jane’s here. I’l explain the rest,” Mary Jane said firmly.

“Al right,” the maid sighed. “I’l see if my missus wants to see you,” she said, turning on her heel and closing the door firmly behind her.

Mary Jane turned toward us. “She’l remember me. She has to,” she said, as if convincing herself.

I clenched my jaw, wondering what would happen when Lady Alice came to the door and realized Mary Jane wasn’t alone. I knew it wouldn’t take long for Lady Alice to realize Damon and I were vampires. I wasn’t sure whether they could smel the blood on our hands or sense our nature some other way, but the witches knew.

Before I had time to al ow al the what-if scenarios to unravel in my mind, a woman wearing a gauzy white dress opened the door, her blond curls piled on top of her head. I blinked. She was beautiful in an otherworldly way, like the angels depicted in stained-glass cathedral windows. Her eyelashes were golden-white, and her skin sparkled as though it had been dusted with finely crushed diamonds. It was impossible to tel her age, although I assumed, from what Mary Jane had told us, she had to be wel into her forties.

“Mary Jane, it’s real y you!” she cried, pul ing Mary Jane to her body and tightly hugging her as she rocked back and forth. Then she stepped back and appraised us, her eyes glittering.

She sucked in her breath as she glanced between Damon and me.

“Mary Jane, what are you doing with those men?” she hissed. “Don’t you know what they are?”

“They’re helping me,” Mary Jane said, anger edging her voice. “I need people I can count on.”

“After everything that happened, you owe Mary Jane, and you know it,” Jemima piped up.

Confusion crossed Lady Alice’s face. “I wanted to adopt you, Mary Jane, I real y did. But the day I was supposed to pick you up, I received word that my husband, who was fighting the war in Africa, was injured. I dropped everything to be by his side. I sent a message to the orphanage that I would be back for you when we had a more stable home.

But by the time I went to the orphanage to fetch you, you were gone.”

“Real y?” Mary Jane asked.

“Yes!” Lady Alice said passionately.

“I never knew any of that,” Mary Jane said in a smal voice.

“You know I’m tel ing the truth,” Lady Alice said meaningful y. Behind us, Jemima coughed sarcastical y.

Lady Alice directed her attention to Jemima. “I’m being honest, and you know it. We’re cut from the same cloth, and I want to help you, just as I want to help Mary Jane. But first, tel me, why are you here, now? Why did you bring vampires to my doorstep?”

She glanced at our group, al owing her gaze to rest on each of us. I wanted to believe her. But no matter what she said, she wasn’t obligated to Mary Jane, and from the hateful looks she gave Damon and me, I wasn’t sure she’d help Mary Jane if it also meant helping us. I had to say something.

“Stefan Salvatore, ma’am,” I said. No lying, I reminded myself. “And yes, we are helping Mary Jane. A dangerous vampire is after her heart, and we’re doing the best we can to protect her. But we need your help. Know that we come here with nothing but good intentions.”

“After her heart?” Lady Alice murmured in concern.

“Yes. I was attacked down by the docks, and Stefan saved me,” Mary Jane explained.

Lady Alice stepped back as though she’d been struck by an unseen hand. “Who attacked you? Tel me everything.”

“Samuel Mortimer, ma’am,” I said. “He’s…”

“Next in line to be London’s councilor. Of course. Of course.” Lady Alice said, blinking several times in quick succession. Final y, she placed her hand over her mouth to compose herself. “Samuel Mortimer? Why, we’ve been to his house. We’ve been to the Continent with him. Are you saying that…”

“Yes,” Damon said, seething with impatience. “He’s a vampire, and no one’s noticed. Not even you.”

“Wel , he must have some powerful magic on his side,” Lady Alice said, ignoring Damon’s rude remark. “But I’m powerful, too. And I can protect Mary Jane. It’s the least I can do after al these years. Come,” she said, putting her hand on Mary Jane’s shoulder and urging her inside.

“Wait!” I cal ed. “You need to let us in, too. We may be vampires, but we’re committed to destroying Samuel.

That’s why we’re here. Cora, too. He turned her sister into a vampire.”

Lady Alice whirled around, her lips set in a firm line.

“Why should I help you? I’m thankful you saved Mary Jane, but I don’t see how getting involved in a battle with a vampire would benefit me.”

“You don’t have a choice,” Jemima said, stepping in front of us. “I’m involved, and so are three other witches.

Whether you like it or not, this is a war. And Samuel wil think nothing of going after anyone connected to Mary Jane if he thinks it would help him. He’s done his research. As someone who was planning to adopt Mary Jane, I’m sure your name appears in some ledgers,” Jemima said, as if issuing a chal enge. “It wouldn’t take much for him to come after you, too.”

“She’s right. And Stefan and I know how Samuel works.

We’l be helping you as much as you’re helping us. And we al want to help Mary Jane,” Damon said, taking a step closer to Alice. His foot toed the entrance to the door, and I knew we were both wondering how we could possibly get Alice to invite us in.

“Wel , let’s talk,” she said reluctantly. She stepped into the portico and closed the door behind her. “Not inside. You understand, I’m sure,” she said. Her dress was a thin silk, and the sleeves were sheer lace, yet she didn’t seem cold, despite the chil . She also wasn’t wearing shoes or stockings, the clearest sign that she wasn’t at al any typical lady of London.

“I’m afraid I can’t offer any of you a drink. Especial y not the beverages you boys enjoy,” she cal ed over her shoulder as she glided through the grass. It was almost as if her feet didn’t touch the ground. She led us past the stables to a smal hil . A rose-covered trel is covered its top.

Unlike the vines adorning the fence, these were in ful bloom and bursting with red and pink blossoms, despite the season. A smal wel , surrounded by low stone benches, sat beneath them.

“This is one of my favorite places. Please, sit,” she said, gesturing to the benches. I sat opposite her, and Cora slid into place beside me. Mary Jane sat between Lady Alice and Jemima. Damon, rather than sitting, leaned against the wel .

Several sparrows flew over to perch on the wooden roof of the wel , chirping quizzical y. I thought back to the story of Mary Jane and the rat and wondered if the birds were speaking to Lady Alice. I suddenly wished my past hadn’t included a diet quite so heavy on sparrows.

“Now,” Lady Alice said urgently, leaning forward. “I know Mary Jane wouldn’t take the decision to consort with vampires lightly. And I doubt vampires would want to consort with witches, even if a life is in danger,” she said, emphasizing the word vampire in the same way she’d inflect dung beetle or lunatic. “This is about more than just Mary Jane’s wel -being.”

“No!” I protested loudly.

“It is. Vampires never do anything unless it wil benefit them. It’s the way you are, part of nature, same as the trees losing their leaves in fal .” She crossed her arms and appraised us critical y.

“Partial y,” I admitted. “The Ripper is Samuel Mortimer.

He’s framing Damon and trying to kil us both.”

“And he’s still after me. I was able to hold him off, and they were able to wound him, but he’l be back,” Mary Jane said flatly. “Damon says it’s because he’s looking for the heart of a purebred witch. Is that true? Do you know who I am?”

“I never knew for certain, but I had suspicions,” Lady Alice said, her amber eyes wide. “Your eyes, for one. I’ve seen a few powerful witches with them. But that wasn’t why I wanted to adopt you,” she added quickly. “I’m so glad you’re safe and you’re here. I’l do anything to save you.

Even if it does mean working with vampires,” she said final y.

“How does everyone know I’m a purebred witch but me?” Mary Jane asked.

Lady Alice sighed. “You have so much to learn, my dear.

I could sense you were special, just like I knew these two were vampires. And Samuel must only have rumors to go on, which is why he was ripping apart any girl who seemed to vaguely fit your description. The only real way to find a to vaguely fit your description. The only real way to find a purebred witch is to see her heart, which shimmers gold instead of red. That’s why the Ripper—Samuel—has been hacking his victims to pieces.”

Of course. The knife wounds, the innards torn from the chest…the gruesome murders al made sense. Samuel wasn’t simply trying to shock London with his murders—he was on a mission that we couldn’t even have imagined.

“Kind of gives a new meaning to the phrase ‘heartsick,’

doesn’t it?” Damon quipped.

I glared at Damon. Then I glanced over at Mary Jane.

Her trembling lower lip was the only sign that she was terrified.

“So do you have any idea who my parents are?” Mary Jane asked.

Lady Alice shook her head sadly. “I’m afraid I don’t. But I do know that al the nuns at the orphanage thought you were a miracle baby. You were placed on the doorstep on the coldest night of the year, and yet, when they found you the next morning, your body was warm. That was powerful magic coursing through your veins,” she said. “You must somehow be related to a member of the Original coven. It’s our secret history, but Samuel has obviously done his research.”

“But why?” Damon interrupted angrily. “What’s so special about some witch?”

“You must be a young vampire,” she said, snorting in disgust. “How old are you? Two years? And don’t cal me ma’am. It makes me sound ancient.”

“We both turned in 1864, ma’am,” I said quickly before Damon could butt in with a caustic comment.

“I see. Wel , there are many reasons a power-crazed vampire would want a witch. But there’s only one reason a vampire would want a purebred heart.”

“Why?” Mary Jane asked in a whisper, as though she were afraid to hear the answer.

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