The hunters phantom, p.7
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       The Hunters: Phantom, p.7
 

         Part #1 of The Vampire Diaries series by L. J. Smith
Chapter 7

 

  "Who's Celia?" Bonnie said indignantly, as soon as they'd wiped off the blood. She'd put the rose down careful y in the middle of the front seat, between her and Matt, and they were al very consciously not touching it. Pretty as it was, it looked more sinister than beautiful now, Stefan thought grimly.

  "Celia Connor," Meredith said sharply. "Dr. Celia Connor. You saw her in a vision once, Bonnie. The forensic anthropologist. "

  "The one who's working with Alaric?" Bonnie said. "But why would her name show up in blood on my arm? In blood. "

  "That's what I'd like to know," Meredith said, frowning.

  "It could be some kind of warning," Elena proposed. "We don't know enough yet. We'l go to the station, we'l meet Alaric and Celia, and then. . . "

  "Then?" prompted Meredith, meeting Elena's cool blue eyes.

  "Then we'l do whatever we have to do," Elena said. "As usual. "

  Bonnie was stil complaining when they got to the train station.

  Patience, Stefan reminded himself. Usual y he enjoyed Bonnie's company, but right now, his body craving the human blood he'd become accustomed to, he felt. . . off. He rubbed his aching jaw.

  "I'd real y hoped we'd get at least a couple days of everything being normal," Bonnie moaned for what seemed like the thousandth time.

  "Life's not fair, Bonnie," Matt said gloomily. Stefan glanced at him in surprise - Matt was usual y the first to leap in and try to cheer up the girls - but the tal blond was leaning against the closed ticket booth, his shoulders drooping, his hands tucked into his pockets. Matt met Stefan's gaze. "It's al starting up again, isn't it?"

  Stefan shook his head and glanced around the station. "I don't know what's going on," he said. "But we al need to be vigilant until we can figure it out. "

  "Oh, that's comforting," Meredith muttered, her gray eyes alertly scanning the platform.

  Stefan folded his arms across his chest and shifted closer to Elena and Bonnie. Al his senses, normal and paranormal, were on ful alert. He reached out with his Power, trying to sense any supernatural consciousnesses near them, but felt nothing new or alarming, just the calm background buzz of ordinary humans going about their everyday business.

  It was impossible to stop worrying, though. Stefan had seen many things in his five hundred years of existence: vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, angels, witches, al sorts of beings who preyed on or influenced humans in ways most people could never even imagine. And, as a vampire, he knew a lot about blood. More than he had cared to admit.

  He'd seen Meredith's eyes flick toward him with suspicion when Bonnie began to bleed. She was right to be wary of him: How could they trust him when his basic nature was to kil them?

  Blood was the essence of life; it was what kept a vampire going centuries after his natural life span should have ended. Blood was the central ingredient in many spel s both benevolent and wicked. Blood had Powers of its own, Powers that were difficult and dangerous to harness. But Stefan had never seen blood behave in the way it had on Bonnie's arm today.

  A thought struck him. "Elena," he said, turning to face her.

  "Hmmm?" she answered distractedly, shading her eyes as she peered down the track.

  "You said the rose was just lying there waiting for you on the porch when you opened the door this morning?"

  Elena brushed her hair out of her eyes. "Actual y, no. Caleb Smal wood found it there and handed it to me when I opened the door to let him in. "

  "Caleb Smal wood?" Stefan narrowed his eyes. Elena had mentioned earlier that her aunt had hired the Smal wood boy to do some work around the house, but she should have told him of Caleb's connection to the rose before. "Tyler Smal wood's cousin? The guy who just showed up out of nowhere to hang around your house? The one who's probably a werewolf, like the rest of his family?"

  "You didn't meet him. He was perfectly fine. Apparently he's been around town al summer without anything weird happening. We just don't remember him. " Her tone was breezy, but her smile didn't quite reach her eyes. Stefan reached out automatical y to speak to her with his mind, to have a private conversation about what she was real y feeling. But he couldn't. He was so used to depending on the connection between them that he kept forgetting it was gone now; he could sense Elena's emotions, could feel her aura, but they could no longer communicate telepathical y. He and Elena were separate again. Stefan hunched his shoulders miserably against the breeze.

  Bonnie frowned, the summer wind whipping her strawberry ringlets around her face. "Is Tyler even a werewolf now? Because if Sue's alive, he didn't kil her to become a werewolf, right?"

  Elena held her palms to the sky. "I don't know. He's gone, anyway, and I'm not sorry. Even before he was a werewolf, he was a real jerk. Remember what a bul y he was at school? And how he was always drinking out of that hip flask and hitting on us? But I'm pretty sure Caleb's just a regular guy. I'd have known if there was something wrong with him. "

  Stefan looked at her. "You've got wonderful instincts about people," he said careful y. "But are you sure you're not relying on senses you don't have anymore to tel you what Caleb is?" He thought of how the Guardians had painful y clipped Elena's Wings and destroyed her Powers, the Powers she and her friends only half-understood. Elena looked taken aback and was opening her mouth to reply when the train chugged into the station, preventing further discussion.

  Only a few people were disembarking at the Fel 's Church station, and Stefan soon spotted Alaric's familiar form. After stepping down to the platform, Alaric reached back to steady a slender African-American woman as she exited behind him.

  Dr. Celia Connor was certainly lovely - Stefan would give her that. She was tiny, as smal as Bonnie, with dark skin and close-cropped hair. The smile she gave Alaric as she took his arm was charming and slightly puckish. She had large brown eyes and a long, elegant neck. Stylish but practical in designer clothing, she wore soft leather boots, skinny jeans, and a sapphire-toned silk shirt. A long, diaphanous scarf was wrapped around her neck, adding to her sophisticated demeanor.

  When Alaric, al tousled sandy hair and boyish grin, whispered familiarly in her ear, Stefan felt Meredith tense. She looked like she'd like nothing better than to try out a few of her martial arts moves on a certain gorgeous forensic anthropologist.

  But then Alaric spotted Meredith, dashed over, and took her in his arms, pul ing her off her feet as he swung her into a hug, and she visibly relaxed. In a few moments, they were both laughing and talking, and they didn't seem to be able to stop touching each other, as if they needed to reassure themselves that they were actual y together again at last. Clearly, Stefan thought, any worries Meredith had had about Alaric and Dr. Connor had been groundless, at least as far as Alaric was concerned. Stefan turned his attention to Celia Connor again.

  His first wary tendrils of Power discovered a slight simmering resentment emanating from the anthropologist. Understandable: She was human, she was quite young despite her poise and her many professional

  achievements, and she had spent a great deal of time working closely with the very attractive Alaric. It wouldn't be surprising if she felt a bit proprietary toward him, and here he was being pul ed away from her and into the orbit of a teenage girl.

  But more important, his Power found no supernatural shadow hanging about her and no answering Power in her. Whatever the meaning of the name Celia written in blood, it seemed Dr. Celia Connor hadn't caused it.

  "Somebody take pictures!" Bonnie cal ed, laughing. "We haven't seen Alaric for months. We have to document his return!"

  Matt got out his phone and took a couple of pictures of Alaric and Meredith, their arms around each other.

  "Al of us!" Bonnie insisted. "You too, Dr. Connor. Let's stand in front of the train - it's a terrific backdrop. You take this one, Matt, and then I'l take some with you in them. "

  They shuffled into various positions: bumping, excusing, introducing themselves to
Celia Connor, throwing their arms around one another in a casual y exuberant style. Stefan found himself pushed to the edge, Elena's arm through his, and he discreetly inhaled the clean, sweet scent of her hair.

  "Al aboard!" the conductor cal ed, and the train doors closed.

  Matt, Stefan realized, had stopped taking pictures and was staring at them, his blue eyes widening in what looked like terror. "Stop the train!" he shouted. "Stop the train!"

  "Matt? What on earth?" Elena said. And then Meredith looked behind them, toward the train, with an expression of dawning comprehension.

  "Celia," she said urgently, reaching out toward the other woman.

  Stefan watched in confusion as Celia jerked away from them abruptly, almost as if an unseen hand had grabbed her. As the train began to move, Celia walked, then ran beside it with stiff, frantic motions, her hands pul ing rapidly at her throat.

  Suddenly Stefan's perspective shifted and he understood what was happening. Celia's diaphanous scarf had somehow been firmly caught by the closing door of the train, and now the train was pul ing her along by the neck. She was running to keep from being strangled, the scarf like a leash yanking her along. And the train was beginning to pick up speed. Her hands pul ed at the scarf, but both ends were caught in the door, and her tugging only seemed to tighten it around her neck.

  Celia was approaching the end of the platform and the train was chugging faster. It was a flat drop from the platform to the scrub ground beyond. In a few moments, she would fal , her neck would be broken, and the train would drag her along for miles.

  Stefan took al this in within the space of a single breath and sprang into action. He felt his canines lengthen as a surge of Power went through him. And then he took off, faster than any human, faster than the train, and sped toward her.

  With one quick motion, he took her in his arms, relieving the pressure around her throat, and tore the scarf in half. He stopped and put Celia down as the train sped up and left the station. The remnants of the scarf slipped from around her neck and fluttered onto the platform by her feet. She and Stefan stared at each other, breathing hard. Behind them, he could hear the others shouting, their feet pounding on the platform as they ran toward them. Celia's dark brown eyes were wide and fil ed with tears of pain. She licked her lips nervously and took several short, gasping breaths, pressing her hands against her chest. He could hear her heart pounding, her blood rushing through her system, and he concentrated on pul ing his canines back and resuming his human face. She staggered suddenly, and Stefan slipped his arm around her.

  "It's okay," he said. "You're al right now. "

  Celia gave a short, slightly hysterical laugh and wiped at her eyes. Then she stood upright, straightening her shoulders, and inhaled deeply. Stefan could see her deliberately calming herself, although her heartbeat was reeling, and he admired her self-control.

  "So," she said, holding out her hand, "you must be the vampire Alaric's told me about. "

  The others were coming up to them now, and Stefan glanced at Alaric in alarm.

  "That's something I'd rather you kept private," Stefan told her, feeling a prick of irritation at Alaric for divulging his secret. But his words were almost drowned out by a gasp from Meredith. Her gray eyes, usual y so serene, were dark with horror.

  "Look," she said, pointing. "Look at what it says. " Stefan turned his attention to the pieces of sheer fabric around their feet.

  Bonnie gave a little whimper and Matt's eyebrows furrowed. Elena's beautiful face was blank with shock, and Alaric and Celia both appeared entirely confused. For a moment, Stefan saw nothing. Then, like a picture coming into focus, his vision adjusted and he saw what everyone was looking at. The torn scarf had fal en into an elaborately twisted heap, and the supposedly random folds of fabric quite clearly formed letters that spel ed: meredith

 

 

 
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