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The Struggle/Excerpt

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"Damon!"

Icy wind whipped Elena's hair around her face, tearing at her light sweater. Oak leaves swirled among the rows of granite headstones, and the trees lashed their branches together in frenzy. Elena's hands were cold, her lips and cheeks were numb, but she stood facing the screaming wind directly, shouting to it.

"Damon!"

This weather was a show of his Power, meant to frighten her away. It wouldn't work. The thought of that same power being turned against Stefan woke a hot fury inside her that burned against the wind. If Damon had done anything to Stefan, if Damon had hurt him...

"Damn you, answer me!" she shouted at the oaks trees that bordered the graveyard. A dead oak leaf like a withered brown hand skittered up her foot, but there was no answer. Above, the sky wsa gray as glass, gray as the tombstones that surrounded her. Elena felt rage and frustration sting her throat. Damon wasn't here after all; she was alone with the screaming wind.

She turned--and gasped.

He was just behind her, so close that her clothes brushed his as she turned. At that distance, she should have sensed another human being standing there, should have felt his body warmth or heard him. But Damon, of course, wasn't human.

She reeled back a couple of steps before she could stop herself. Every instinct that had lain quiet while she shouted into the violence of the wind was now begging her to run.

She clenched her fists. "Where's Stefan?"

A line appeared between Damon's dark eyebrows. "Stefan who?"

Elena stepped foward and slapped him. She had no thought of doing it before she did it, and afterward she could scarcely believe what she had done. But is was a good, hard slap, with the full force of her body behind it, and it snapped into Damon's head to one side. Her hand stung. She stood, trying to calm her breath, and watched him.

He was dressed as she had first seen him, in black. Soft black boots, black jeans, black sweater, and leather jacket. And he looked like Stefan. She didn't know how she could have missed that before. He had the same dark hair, the same pale skin, the same disturbing good looks. But his hair was straight, not wavy, and his eyes were black as midnight, and his mouth cruel.

He turned his head slowly back to look at her, and she saw blood rising in the cheek she'd slapped.

"Don't lie to me," she said, her voice shaking. "I know who you are. I know what you are. You killed Mr. Tanner last night. And now Stefan's disappeared."

"Has he?"

"You know he has!"

Damon smiled and then turned off instantly.

"I'm warning you; if you've hurt him--"

"Then what?" he said. "What will you do, Elena? What can you do, against me?"

Elena fell silent. For the first time, she realized that the wind had died away. The day he had gone deadly quiet around them, as if they stood motionless at the center of some great circle of power. It seemed as if everything, the leaden sky, the okas and purple beeches, the ground itself, was connected to him, as if he drew Power from all of it. He stood with his head titled back slightly, his eyes fathomless and full of strange lights.

"I don't know," she whispered, "but I'll find something. Believe me."

He laughed suddenly, and Elena's heart jerked and begun pouding hard. God, he was beautiful. Handsome was too weak and colorless a word. As usual, the laughter lasted only a moment, but even when his lips had sobered it left traces in his eyes.

"I do believe you," he said, relaxing, looking around the graveyard. Then he turned back and held out a hand to her. "You're too good for my brother," he said causually.

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