The Craving (Chapter 19)

By the time we reached the Sutherlands', our horse's lips were covered in foam and its eyes were rolling back until they were ringed with white.

"Not much of a racehorse," he said carelessly, leaping down and giving it a pat on its neck. "Wouldn't surprise me if it dropped dead from the exertion."

I stepped out of the carriage, a putrid smell assaulting my nose as if the Thayers had taken up residence next to a slaughter yard. "I think he may already be dead," I said gingerly. I took a deep breath and steadied myself. I had to be ready for whatever came next, be it Damon taking action against the Sutherlands or having to spend the night with my new bride. If that happened, it would be hard to keep my own promise of no more compelling humans….

Steeling myself, I headed for the door.

"Not so fast, brother," Damon said, putting a hand on my chest. Then he slipped it inside my waistcoat as lightly as a pickpocket, and pulled out the check Winfield had written me. "I'll be needing this," he explained happily.

"Oh yes. Money without the tracks," I said bitterly. "Much less obvious than robbing a bank vault. So tell me, what about the cab driver? A dead man in the middle of the road – what about those tracks?"

"Him? No one will notice him," Damon said, obviously surprised by my interest. "Look around, Stefan. People die in the streets here all the time. He's no one."

Damon had become the type of vampire who had no problem with killing even when it didn't directly benefit him, and he committed murder at the drop of a hat. When I killed in my first days, it was always for thirst, or self-protection. Not for sport. And never simply for the kill.

"Besides, it really, really irritated you," he added with a grin. "And isn't that what it's all about?"

He gave a little bow and indicated I should enter our new home first. Looking up at its beautiful gray walls and growling gargoyles, I wished no one had ever invited me in, that I had been forced to remain outside forever, a poor creature relegated to the park.

And then somebody screamed.

Damon and I both rushed in, practically tearing the door off its hinges in our effort to get through.

Margaret was standing in the living room, white as a sheet, her hand over her mouth. And it was very obvious why.

The entire place was spattered in what my spinning mind could only assume was black paint, until its smell hit my nose with the force of a truck: blood. Human blood. Gallons and gallons of it slowly dripping down the walls and congealing in pools on the floor. It threw me off guard, my vampire senses reeling from the sheer quantity.

Damon held one hand over his face, as if trying to stifle the sensations, and pointed with his other hand.

At first all I saw was a pair of stockinged legs askew on the rug, as if someone had too much to drink and fell down. Then I realized they weren't attached to a body.

"No…" I whispered, sinking to my knees in horror.

The bodies of Lydia, Bridget, Winfield, and Mrs. Sutherland were scattered around the room in pieces.

The family I had married into to protect, the innocent humans I was trying to keep safe from Damon's psychopathic tendencies, were all dead. But they hadn't just been murdered – they had been torn apart and brutalized.

"What did you do?" I growled at Damon, fury turning my eyes red and beginning the change. "What did you do?"

I was going to rip his neck out. It was as simple as that. He was a monster, and I should have killed him long ago, long before he had a chance to destroy other people's lives.

But Damon looked just as shocked as I felt. His ice-blue eyes were wide with unfeigned surprise.

"It wasn't me," he said. Margaret shot him a look that could have killed. The way he spoke it was as if he could have been him, just as easily – just not this time.

"I believe you," Margaret said softly, shaking her head in abject grief.

I was surprised. Why, after all the questions, all the glares, all the arguments, why did she believe him now? Why, when she – again rightfully – assumed he was just after the money and had fled the moment the documents were dry, did she believe he wasn't the murderer? But oddly I believed him, if for no other reason than the callousness of his tone.

As if she could read my thoughts, Margaret turned her eyes to me. "I can always tell when someone is lying," she said simply. "It's a… gift, I suppose."

I thought about what Bram had said – how Margaret had hurt him just by looking at him. I touched my ring, thinking of the witch, Emily, who'd cast a spell over it to protect me from the sun. Was it possible that Margaret had powers, too?

I opened my mouth to ask her, but tears were leaking from her eyes. Now was not the time for an interrogation. Taking a deep breath I rose and went over to what was left of the bodies, trying to discover a clue or reason for the massacre.

The other half of Mrs. Sutherland's body was sprawled on its belly next to the couch. One arm was stretched out, as if she were trying to get up, trying to crawl to her youngest daughter.

Bridget's throat had been torn out and all of her limbs had been snapped in half. Her face was untouched, however. In death she looked like the little girl she really was, the soft rose of her cheeks slowly fading to an icy white, her lips opened slightly as if she were asleep. Her eyes, wide and green and clear as a china doll's, were still open in shock. I gently put my hand over her face and pulled her lids down.

Lydia was frozen with a hand over her face, like an ancient Roman tomb carving, dignified even in death. I turned away from her ruined torso, the white bones of her back sticking through her cracked chest.

Winfield looked like a big, slain animal, a buffalo brought down in its prime. There were surprisingly neat gashes down his side, like something had been trying to butcher him.

Finally, I went over to Margaret and put my arms around her, turning her head so she wasn't staring at the scene of carnage anymore. She clung to me, but stiffened in surprise when my hand brushed the skin on the back of her neck.

After a moment she pulled away. Shock seemed to slowly settle down over her features. She sank into a chair and regarded the room again, this time with a blank face.

"They were like this when I arrived," she began slowly. "I stayed at the Richards' longer than everyone else, looking for the two of you, trying to find someone who had seen you leave. Bram and Hilda and the usual gang had left earlier, planning some silly antics for your wedding night. A shivaree or something. I just assumed you two took off for Europe with your dowry."

"Europe," Damon said thoughtfully. I glared at him.

"The door was open," she continued, "and the stench…"

We fell into silence. I didn't know what to say or do. In ordinary, human circumstances, my first move would have been to get Margaret away from the house and call for help.

"Did you call for the police?" I asked suddenly.

Margaret met my gaze. "Yes. They'll be here soon. And they'll think it was you, you know."

"It wasn't," Damon repeated.

She nodded, not bothering to look at him. Her skin was milky pale, as if some of the life had gone out of her when her family had died. "I know, but you are not innocent, either."

"No, no, we are not," Damon said in a distant voice, looking at Lydia's cold body. For a moment, his features softened and he looked almost like a human in mourning. Then, he shook his head, as if snapping himself out of a reverie. "Margaret, I'm sorry for your loss," he said perfunctorily. "But Stefan and I must run."

"Why should I leave with you?" I challenged, the blood making my head spin, my thoughts whirling dizzily in my brain.

"Fine, stay here, get arrested."

I turned to Margaret. "Are you going to be all right?"

She gave me a look as if I was mad. "My entire family is dead."

Her voice quavered on the edge of sanity. I put my hand out and touched her shoulder, wishing I could say or do something. No one deserved this. But words wouldn't bring her family back.

As Damon and I turned to go, the telltale clip clop of a police wagon pulling up in front of the house sounded, along with the firm orders of a chief directing his men.

"Out the back," I said. Damon nodded and we ran through the dining room and kitchen to the door that opened on the courtyard. My hand was just about to touch the doorknob when Damon grabbed me, finger to his mouth. He pressed himself up against the wall, indicating I should do the same. My predator's senses picked up what Damon had already figured out: There was a man, no, a pair of men, waiting silently outside with guns drawn, exactly prepared for us to escape that way.

"I'll just quickly dispose of them," Damon said.

"No! Upstairs," I whispered. "Window."

"Fine." Damon sighed, and the two of us started to creep quietly up the servants' staircase.

An explosive bang from the front hall made us freeze in our tracks.

"You, upstairs, you and you, to the parlor!" A stern voice was barking orders. From the sounds of footsteps, an entire fleet of policemen was beginning to sweep through the house.

Damon and I gave up any attempt at being quiet, storming up the stairs as fast as we could. There was a casement window at the top, which he threw open triumphantly, prepared to jump to freedom.

Below, in the side yard, a dozen armed policeman stood, aiming rifles at the building. And with his drama, Damon had neatly alerted them all to our presence.

Bullets began to fly.

Though they would not kill us, they would slow us down. I threw myself to the floor, feeling the sting of lead graze my neck.

"Coal chute," I suggested. Without bothering to wait for an answer I streaked back downstairs with vampiric speed, my brother close behind. Police now swarmed all over the rooms on the main floor, but even those who caught a glimpse of us running to the cellar didn't quite know what they saw: blurry shadows, a trick of the eye.

The darkness of the basement proved no problem for us, and in a split second we were in the coal room, behind the furnace. I forced open the tiny slanted door that led to the driveway and leaped out, turning to give my brother a hand.

And that's when I felt the gun at my neck.

I turned around slowly and raised my hands. A small crowd of New York's finest stood there, along with most of the neighborhood, who had come to watch the manhunt.

Damon and I could, with little difficulty, have taken them all. And it looked like my brother was itching for a fight.

I shook my head, whispering, "We'll draw far more attention resisting arrest right now." The truth was, it would be far easier to escape later, when we didn't have a crowd gawking at us. Damon knew it as well as I did.

Damon sighed a dramatic sigh and pulled himself out of the chute, leaping neatly to the ground.

An officer strode forward bravely – but only once his men had our arms behind our backs and jostled us a bit, letting us know who was in charge.

"You two are under arrest for grand larceny, murder, and anything else I can find that will have you hanging from a tree in Washington Square for the death of the Sutherlands," the officer said through even, square teeth.

They dragged us out, pushing more than was necessary. With shoves and a final kick each we were thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, and then the door was slammed behind us.

"They were good people," the chief hissed in Damon's face, through the bars.

Damon shook his head back and forth. "I've had better," he whispered to me.

Through the bars of the wagon I stared back at the house I'd called home for the past week. Margaret stood framed in the doorway, her black hair stark against the glowing lights of the house. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she said something so softly that even my sensitive ears barely heard it.

"Whoever did this will pay."