Stefan’s Diaries: Bloodlust Chapter 10

I awoke next as dusk was settling over the city.From my window, I could see the goldfish-orange sun sinking low behind a white steeple.The entire house was silent, and for a moment, I couldnt remember where I was.

Then everything came back: the butcher shop, the vampires, me being flung against the wall.

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Lexi.

As if on cue, she glided into the room, barely making a sound as she pushed open the door. Her blond hair was loose around her shoulders, and she was wearing a simple black dress. If looked at quickly, she could be mistaken for a child. But I could tell from the slight creases around her eyes and the fullness of her lips that shed been a full-grown woman, probably around nineteen or twenty. I had no idea how many years shed seen since then.

She perched on the edge of my bed, smoothing back my hair.

“Good evening, Stefan,” she said, a mischievous glint in her eye. She clutched a tumbler of dark liquid between her fingers. “You slept,” she noted.

I nodded. Until Id sunk into the featherbed on the third floor of the house, I hadnt realized that Id barely slept in the past week. Even on the train, Id always been twitching, aware of the sighs and snores of my fellow passengers and always,alwaysthe steady thrum of blood coursing through their veins. But here no heartbeats had kept me from slumber.

“I brought this for you,” she said, proffering the glass. I pushed it away. The blood in it smelled stale, sour.

“You need to drink,” she said, sounding so much like me speaking to Damon that I couldnt help but feel a tiny pang of irritation–and sorrow. I brought the tumbler to my lips and took a tiny sip, fighting the urge to spit it out. As I expected, the drink tasted like dank water and the scent made me feel vaguely ill.

Lexi smiled to herself, as if enjoying a private joke. “Its goats blood. Its good for you. Youll make yourself sick, the way you were feeding. A diet made exclusively of human blood isnt good for the digestion. Or the soul.”

“We dont have souls,” I scoffed. But I brought the cup to my lips once more.

Lexi sighed and took the tumbler, placing it on the nightstand next to me. “So much to learn,” she whispered, almost to herself.

“Well, we have nothing but time, right?” I pointed out. I was rewarded with a rich laugh, which was surprisingly loud and throaty coming from her waif-like body.

“You catch on quickly. Come. Get up. Its time to show you our city,” she said, handing me a plain white shirt and trousers.

After changing, I followed her down the creaking wooden stairs to where the other vampires milled about in the ballroom. They were dressed up, but all looked faintly old-fashioned, as if theyd stepped out of one of the many portraits on the wall. Hugo sat at the piano, playing an out-of-tune rendition of Mozart while wearing a blue velvet cape. Buxton, the hulking, violent vampire, was wearing a loose, ruffled, white shirt. and Percy had on faded britches and suspenders that made him look as though he were running late to play a game of ball with his schoolmates.

When they saw me, the vampires froze. Hugo managed a slight nod, but the rest merely stared in stony silence.

“Lets go!” Lexi commanded, leading our group out the door, down the slate path, through zigzagging alleyways, and finally onto a street marked Bourbon. Each entryway led to a dimly lit bar, from which inebriated patrons stumbled out into the night air. Suggestively clad women gathered in clumps beneath awnings, and revelers acted punch-drunk, ready to laugh or fight at a moments notice. I instantly knew why Lexi took us here. Despite our odd attire, we attracted no more attention than any of the other lively revelers.

As we walked, the others flanked me, keeping me in the center of their circle at all times. I knew I was being watched sharply, and I tried to remain unaffected by the scent of blood and the rhythm of beating hearts.

“Here!” Lexi said, not bothering to consult the rest of the group as she pushed open a saloon door that read M ILADIESin curlicue script. I was impressed by her boldness–back in Mystic Falls, only women of ill repute would ever enter a barroom. But as I was fast realizing, New Orleans wasnt Mystic Falls.

The floor of Miladies was caked with sawdust, and I winced at the overwhelmingly acrid smell of sweat, whiskey, and cologne. The tables were packed shoulder to shoulder with men playing cards, gambling, and gossiping. One entire side of the room was filled with Union soldiers, and in another corner, a motley band consisting of players with an accordion, two fiddles, and a flute was playing a jaunty rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

“What do you think?” Lexi asked, leading me to the bar.

“Is this a Union bar?” I asked. The Union army had captured the city some months back, and soldiers stood sentinel on nearly every corner, maintaining order and reminding Confederates that the war they were fighting looked to be a losing cause.

“Yes. You know what that means, right?”

I scanned the room. Aside from the soldiers, it was a solitary crowd. Single men drowned their loneliness at wooden tables, barely acknowledging their neighbors. The bartenders filled glasses with a mechanical air, never seeming to register the people for whom they poured their wares.

I understood immediately. “Everyone here is a stranger passing through.”

“Exactly.” Lexi smiled, clearly pleased that I was catching on.

Buxton cleared his throat in disapproval. I could tell he didnt like me–that he was waiting for me to slip up so he could stake me without incurring Lexis wrath.

“Hugo, find us a table!” Lexi commanded. Hugo walked his hulkish frame over to a rough-hewn table next to the band. Before he could even open his mouth, the blue-coated soldiers at the table glanced at each other and stood up, leaving half-filled mugs behind.

Lexi pulled out two chairs. “Stefan, sit next to me.”

I sat, vaguely embarrassed that I was so compliant, like a child. But I reminded myself that even Hugo followed her lead. Lexi had Power, and she knew how to use it.

Percy, Hugo, and Buxton also settled around.

“Now,” Lexi said, taking one of the abandoned beer mugs and waving it around in the air, just as the waitress approached us. “Lets teach you how to behave in public.”

My cheeks flushed with anger. “I am behaving,” I said through clenched teeth. “Despite the fact that there are so many people that its nearly impossible to concentrate.”

Percy and Hugo snickered.

“Hes not ready ” Buxton said in a surly tone.

“Yes, he is.” Lexis words were low and slightly menacing. Buxton clenched his jaw, clearly trying to rein in his temper. I shifted in my chair. I suddenly felt like I was ten years old again, with Damon protecting me from the Giffin brothers. Only this time it was a girl standing up for me. I was about to point out that I didnt need Lexi to answer for me when she placed a hand on my knee. The touch was gentle and calmed me.

“It gets easier,” she said, briefly catching my eyes. “So, lesson one,” she stated, addressing the entire group. A kindness on her part, I realized, since I was the only one who didnt know the finer points of being a vampire. “Lesson one is learning how to compel without drawing attention to yourself.” She leaned back and eyed the band. “I dont like this song. Stefan, what song would you like to hear?”

“Uh .” I glanced around the table, confused. Percy snickered again, but stopped when Lexi glared at him. “,,God Save the South?” I said hesitantly. The first thing that came to my head, it was a tune Damon used to whistle when he was on leave from the army.

Lexi scooted her chair back, the legs kicking up a layer of sawdust. She sauntered over to the band and looked each of the members in the eye as she said something I couldnt hear.

The band stopped mid-chord and immediately switched to “God Save the South.”

“Hey!” one soldier shouted. His comrades glanced at one another, clearly wondering why a band in a Union bar had suddenly been inspired to play a pro-Southern song.

Lexi grinned, as if delighted by her trick. “Are you impressed?”

“Very,” I said, meaning it. Even Percy and Hugo nodded in agreement.

Lexi took a sip of her beer. “Your turn. Pick someone,” she said.

I glanced around the bar, my eye catching on a dark-haired barmaid. Her eyes were deep brown, and her hair was tied in a low knot at the nape of her neck. Her lips were parted, and she wore a cameo pendant that nestled in the notch of her neck. In the split second between seeing and knowing, I was reminded of Katherine. I thought of my first glimpse of Miss Molly, and how Id mistaken her for Katherine as well. It felt as though my maker were intent to haunt me in New Orleans.

“Her,” I said, nodding toward the girl.

Lexi looked at me sharply, as if she knew there was a story behind this decision. But she didnt pry. “Clear your mind,” she said instead, “and allow your energy to enter her.”

I nodded, remembering the moment on the train when my thoughts had touched Lavinias. I fixed my gaze on the barmaid. She was laughing, her head tilted back toward the ceiling, but as soon as my focus locked on her, her eyes lowered to mine, almost as if Id bidden her to do so.

“Good,” Lexi murmured. “Now, use your mind to tell her what you want from her.”

That was the piece I had missed. When Id tried to compel the conductor, Id had thousands of thoughts about possible scenarios that could happen during our interaction, but I had not asked for any of them.

Come here, I willed, staring into her liquid chocolate eyes.Come to me.For a moment she held her place behind the bar, but then she took a hesitant step forward.Yes, keep going.She stepped forward again, more confidently this time, making her way toward me. I had expected her to look dazed, almost as though she were sleepwalking. But she didnt appear to be in a trance. To any bystander, she could have simply been coming to our table to take our drink orders.

“Hello,” I said when she reached us.

“Dont break eye contact,” Lexi whispered. “Tell her what you want her to do now.” Sit down,I thought. And, almost instantly, the girl wedged herself between me and Buxton, her thigh warm against mine.

“Hello,” she said unblinkingly. “Its the strangest thing, but suddenly I just knew that I needed to sit here with you.”

“Im Stefan,” I said, shaking her hand. My fangs elongated, and the sides of my stomach knocked together. I wanted her. Badly.

“Dont embarrass us,” came Lexis final words before she turned from me to face the band. It was clear that while she wasnt condoning any of my subsequent actions, she wasnt necessarily condemning them.

Invite me outside, I thought, placing my hand on the barmaids thigh. But even as I thought the words, I glanced at Lexi, breaking my connection with the girl.

The girl shifted, pulled her hair up, then dropped it down on her back. She glanced at the band, rubbing her forefinger on the rim of a glass.

Invite me outside, I thought again, refocusing my attention fully on her. Sweat prickled my temple. Had I lost the connection for good?

But then she gave a slight nod. “You know, its awfully loud in here, and I want to speak with you. Would you mind if we went outside?” she asked, staring at me.

I stood up, my chair scraping against the floor. “Id like that very much,” I said, offering her my arm.

“Bring her back alive, boy, or youll be answering to me,” said a voice so low that I wondered if Id imagined it.

But when I turned back, Lexi merely smiled and waved.

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