Some things never changed.
The thought was the first thing to catch Gabriella LaJumelle’s wandering attention. She slowly looked around the cafeteria, wondering who was strong enough to project their thoughts so clearly. It wasn’t often that she was able to hear what the humans were thinking when she wasn’t trying. They were just too muddled most of the time. It wasn’t that she didn’t sometimes listen, but they usually weren’t worth the effort.
This human was. Whoever it was, wherever they were, she needed to find them. She could feel excitement bubbling up inside. Maybe she could show this one, make them understand. The person seemed to have enough power inside of them...
"Gabri, look who just walked into the cafeteria." Siona White’s voice, as usual, was coolly mocking.
Gabrielle glanced up, still trying to find the human and only vaguely interested in what Shaun was trying to bring to her attention. She focused in as the lunchroom fell deathly silent. Paris Amnonne stood framed in the doorway, her face slowly turning a bright red.
Gabriella could sense everything Paris was feeling radiating from her, including what she had heard earlier. Disappointment rushed through her. She’d hoped that they’d be able to find someone that could relate to them. Paris didn’t really count.
She realized suddenly that the girl was still standing there by herself. No one even made an effort to bring her into the room. They simply sat and stared. Pity stabbed through her.
"I’m inviting her over," she told the group sitting around her. She deliberately stood up, knowing that all eyes would now be drawn to her. No one dared to make a sound.
"Gabri," Ashleigh hissed urgently, "Monique is going to kill you for this! You know what she’s doing." She suddenly realized that even those who were sitting in the back of the cafeteria could hear her. Blushing, she subsided.
Gabri captured her gaze steadily. "I do know. And I feel like it’s partially my fault." With that said, she slipped away from their table to the self-conscious girl. Every time Paris started toward a table, heads turned away and people refused to look at her. Gabri suddenly wondered where Paris got the nerve to even come to school anymore.
Her pity for Paris deepening every second, she called out, "Paris, why don’t you come sit with us?"
Paris’ face filled with hope as she turned toward the voice. Her face fell when she saw who was inviting her. She didn’t say anything as she turned away in humiliation.
"Paris?" Gabri repeated gently.
Paris turned back, her shoulders slumped in defeat. "Why do you keep doing this to me?" she whispered pitifully.
She didn’t understand why they were making such an effort to ostracize her and make her life miserable. She had never done anything to Monique. There was no reason for her to treat her this way. Except for Jeremy... But that wasn’t her fault.
White-hot rage at her sister flared through Gabrielle. This was not necessary to their plans for her. She didn’t care what her sister said. "Please," she answered, "come and sit with us. I don’t agree with what my sister is doing and I don’t approve of it, either."
"Gabrielle?" the girl asked tentatively. She hadn’t thought about the fact that it might be her, especially since it was almost impossible to tell the twins apart. They were too much alike.
"Gabri, please." She smiled warmly and, after a few seconds, Paris smiled back.
Hope surged through her once again. She knew that Monique was extremely popular, but if Gabrielle accepted you, everyone accepted you. Even Monique. Luckily for Paris, Gabri was probably the nicest person at Williams Academy.
Then another thought struck her. What if this was Monique pretending to be Gabri? Her smile faded. She wouldn’t put it past her, especially not after all the other stunts she’d pulled. She almost couldn’t wait until next year when Monique would be gone.
"Paris, do you know everyone?" Gabrielle’s voice was gentle, like she didn’t want to interrupt Paris’ private thoughts. It was ridiculous, she knew, but there was something in her that wanted to believe that Gabri knew what she was thinking.
She shook her head shyly and waited to be introduced.
"These are my best friends. This is Ashleigh Montgomery, Siona White, Gianna Forthe, and Kelsia Solomon," she said, gesturing to each girl in turn.
The first was a girl with thick, silky black hair falling waveless to her waist and pale, crystalline green eyes. She was positively tiny and petite, but perfectly proportioned. She smiled calmly at Paris.
The second person she indicated was a tall, willow-thin blond with a model’s elegant figure. Her pale, almost white hair contrasted sharply with the darkness of her midnight blue eyes and sooty black lashes. It gave her face a startling effect. She stared coolly back.
Gianna, in contrast, was somewhat shocking. She was definitely the most exotic. Her hair was a metallic tangle of gold streaks of varying shades. Her eyes matched the gold of her hair. Paris could have sworn that the last time she had seen Gia, her eyes had been as gray as her own. Her eyelashes were tipped with gold and silver and bounced off them at every angle. She even had iridescent glitter sparkling on her skin.
Kelsia was the last. She had thick, shiny hair that fell to her shoulder blades, but it was a deep burgundy that Paris refused to believe was real. There was a tiny butterfly tattooed beneath one of her hazel eyes and the color of her mouth was the exact shade of her hair. Paris wondered how many shades she’d had to buy until she found the right one.
She shifted her gaze to Gabri, who somehow managed to fit in with all of them. Who somehow made them seem like reflections of her. She was slender, petite, and tall all at the same time. Her hair was as normal as Leigh’s and Shaun’s, but at the same time it was as wild as Gia’s and Kelsi’s. It was a deep, rich black that tumbled over her shoulders perfectly straight, but when she pulled it back, there was a myriad of rainbow colors streaked through it. Her eyes outshone all of her other features, huge and dominant in her face, even though they were only a non-descript golden brown. They were fringed by the heaviest, thickest, curliest black lashes Paris had ever seen in her life.
Realizing that she was staring, she smiled tentatively and dropped into the only seat available. She felt out of place and somewhat inadequate, but she’d been invited, hadn’t she? That had to mean something.
Gabri’s friends weren’t quite as willing to go against Monique as she seemed to be. Siona glared, while frostily commanding her, "That’s Monique’s seat. Get another chair."
She was surprised when Gabri answered her just as coolly. "She’ll just have to find somewhere else to sit today."
The girl that she had introduced as Ashleigh spoke up. "She probably won’t even be in lunch anyway. You know Monique." She smiled at Paris again before returning her attention to her lunch.
"She’s not going to like it," Gia sighed. She leaned back lazily in her chair and regarded her thoughtfully, her gold eyes sweeping over Paris. She continued, "Personally, I think she would fit in nicely. Do you see her as more of a witch or a shapeshifter?"
"Excuse me?" Paris asked. She couldn’t help but wonder if maybe Gianna weren’t crazy. A witch or a shapeshifter? Those were only real in the movies.
Gabri glared at her, fully aware of the game Gia was playing. They all knew that there were no witches in this town, not to mention that the shapeshifters were nearly extinct.
"I’m sorry about what Monique is doing to you. I think she’s trying to get back at Jeremy, but it could be that she’s just being nasty."
She shrugged apologetically. She couldn’t really explain Monique’s actions. What would she tell her? That she was going to be inducted into the Circle and this was just a test? She’d think Gabri was as insane as she thought Gianna was. Gabrielle had caught that thought easily. Besides, Monique was mad that Jeremy had turned her down. So mad that now she seemed to keep him on a leash.
"She’s mad about Jeremy? Oh, no!" Paris buried her face in her hands. It was too much for her to handle. Something between a hysterical sob and a laugh escaped her.
"What?" Shaun asked defensively. She didn’t find anything funny about Monique’s crush on Jeremy.
Paris sighed. She really didn’t find it funny at all, despite her laughter. "Jeremy’s in love with Gabri," she moaned.
Ashleigh dissolved into laughter before she could stop herself. Gasping for breath, she giggled, "He fell for the wrong sister! Oh, my, wouldn’t Moni just die?"
Shaun’s reaction was a little grimmer. "I don’t know what she’d do, but I can guarantee that it wouldn’t be pleasant."
"I don’t think I want to find out." Kelsi shuddered. She glanced at the entrances to the room as if expecting Monique to appear.
"It may be a good idea not to tell her. It’s bad enough that she’s going to hear about this little episode. She’s just count it as further betrayal on Gabby’s part." Gia turned toward her. The look on her face stopped her cold. "Gabri?"
"She knows," Gabri whispered. She couldn’t tell them why he wouldn’t go out with Monique or why he and Gabrielle would be together. Now was not the time. She and her twin had agreed on that. She felt a sudden flash of resentment toward her.
It wasn’t fair that she should have to stay away from the one person who meant something to her. Not that Monique cared. But then, she had her own reasons for trying to make Gabri deal without her soulmate. She didn’t understand what Gabri wanted. The only person she’d ever told was Jessica. If only Jessica were here... Gabri quickly forced her mind away from that subject.
"Gabri!" Gia called her friend’s name for the second time. There was definitely something wrong. The unfocused expression she wore didn’t cross her face for just anything.
Gabri’s head snapped around like a puppet’s. "What? I’m fine." She ignored the worried expressions on their faces and quickly began gathering up her things. She slung her book bag over her shoulder.
"I have to go take care of some things, okay?" Her voice was carefully controlled. So carefully that it sounded like would break at the slightest disturbance. "I’ll see you later, okay?"
Paris finally found her voice. "Gabri?"
She stopped, but didn’t turn around to face them again. Paris hesitated, not wanting to hurt her further, but she had to make sure. "Don’t say anything to Jeremy."
Gabri nodded almost imperceptibly before she ran out of the cafeteria.
The other girls’ faces were sober. "You know where she’s going," Shaun stated. She leaned back in her seat and watched Gabrielle disappear out of sight through the window.
"Where does she always go when something upsets her?" Kelsi returned bitterly. "She’s going to ‘visit’ Jessica." She shoved back her chair and stalked over to throw away her lunch.
"Who’s Jessica?" Paris asked innocently.
"I don’t think..." Shaun began, only to be cut off by Ashleigh.
"Don’t you understand? Monique started it, Gabri approved it..."
"And I finished it. There’s nothing you can do about it. She’s one of us now." Gianna’s voice was laced with amusement. She turned to Paris. "But before we answer your question, tell me something. What does Jeremy think of what Monique is doing to you?"
"That’s what’s so strange about it," she answered. "He never says a word about it and he seems to be around her all of the time. It hurts."
She didn’t know why she answered Gianna’s question. It wasn’t like her to share her private life or her feelings with a bunch of people that she’d just formally met.
"Soulmates," Shaun whispered. Her eyes widened in away, but then they narrowed. "Are you one of us, Paris? Really one of us? Until death?"
She had the feeling that this question was somehow important. She looked at the others for some kind of clue how to answer, but they were talking quietly among themselves. Did she? She didn’t know. Any group that included someone as nice as Gabrielle had to be somewhat worthwhile. And then there were the people around her. Except for Shaun, they were at least making an effort. That was more than most people did for her these days.
Hesitantly, she answered, "I’d like to be."
"What about after death, Paris? Are you with us then?"
The other three girls stopped talking then and sat looking at her silently. In fact, the entire cafeteria became deathly silent for the second time. Paris didn’t even notice the stillness; she was too used to the quiet whenever she approached a group or entered a room.
She stared uncertainly back at them. She asked herself again. Did she want to be part of this group, which so obviously included Monique? Was it worth the risk? Apprehension bloomed within her. She didn’t know! She thought of Gabri again. Anyone who was that nice and belonged to a group like this had to have some reason behind it. A strange sort of calmness settled over her.
"Forever," she said clearly.
"I think that settles it rather nicely, don’t you?" A new voice entered the conversation. Dread flooded through Paris as she turned to see Monique standing behind her.
"Well, don’t just sit there," Gabri’s twin chided gently. "There are things to be done before tomorrow night. One of the first things that we have to do is retrieve Gabrielle. She really needs to stop running off. The key is dealing." She lifted one elegant shoulder. "But, if it works for her."
Paris tried not to watch or listen to her little speech. She sat numbly in her chair, waiting for her to cause a scene. She was almost shocked to hear her call her name and not in the mocking manner that she usually used.
"Are you coming? You did say you were with us. It’s not good to go back on your word." She laughed softly to herself. "Yes, bad things can definitely happen if you go back on your word."
Her golden eyes, so like Gabrielle’s, seemed to pierce into her. She wanted to say something, maybe to ask why Monique suddenly decided that she would be nice to her.
After a moment’s thought, Paris slowly rose from her chair. "Where are we going?" she asked warily.
Monique sighed impatiently and began to walk toward the door. It was like the Red Sea parting. Students tripped and fell to get out of her way. Paris almost wondered if she was royalty. "I already told you. We’re going to fetch Gabrielle. And Jessica. Yes, I do believe it’s time to bring Jessica back to us."
Ashleigh drew in her breath sharply. "Monique, that isn’t funny. Even you can’t raise the dead."
Gia interrupted before Monique could respond. "Oh, but she’s not dead, Leigh. She’s merely sleeping. Isn’t that right?" Gia looked pointedly at Monique, challenging her to lie.
Monique looked back at her steadily. "Sleeping? Perhaps that is not the word I would have chosen, yet... she is definitely not dead." Her eyes challenged them to contradict her.
"So what does that make her? Comatose, maybe?" Shaun asked archly.
The side of Monique’s mouth curled up in something like a smile. The tension within the group was lessened as she showed true amusement at Shaun’s comment.
She paused at the exit of the cafeteria, her eyes alight. "To the cemetery, then," she sang out chillingly.
Paris shuddered, suddenly not sure that she really wanted to go through with this. She only hoped Monique wasn’t lying about not raising the dead.
Kelsi tilted her face up to the brightly shining sun and inhaled the crisp spring air. "It’s always so quiet here, so peaceful, so..."
"Dead," Gia suggested succinctly. Kelsi threw her annoyed look over her shoulder as she climbed out of the car. Paris giggled nervously.
Monique emerged from her sleek red car and slammed the door. She surveyed the entrance to the graveyard coolly, then asked, "Does anyone remember where we put Jessica? The last time I came out here I couldn’t find her."
They looked at her, startled. She couldn’t be serious. Leigh scrutinized her expression carefully, but all she saw was honest curiosity. Monique really couldn’t remember. That was interesting. How long had it been since she’d visited her?
"Did you ever bother to tell Gabriella that Jessica isn’t dead?" Gia asked quietly and maybe a little accusingly. "Or didn’t it occur to you that it might be more humane?"
Surprised, Monique moved closer to her. She answered her question carefully. "I had nothing to do with Jessica’s so-called death. I thought you knew the whole story."
She knew she should be probably be offended by Gia’s question, but she also knew how they thought of her. Gabri was the peacemaker while she was the one who caused trouble. But did they really think she’d do that to her own sister? She squashed down the hurt that was rising inside of her. She would never hurt Gabrielle. Never.
"What do you mean you had nothing to do with it?" Ashleigh chimed in. "You practically told us that it was your fault."
Monique shook her head slowly. "No, Gabri was the one who staged Jessica’s death. Jessica asked her to put her to sleep. It was the rule. I just found them."
Shaun’s mouth tightened. "Well, why didn’t you tell us? All this time we thought she was dead."
"It was the rule," she answered adamantly. There was a thoughtfulness about her that hadn’t been there before.
"What rule?" Gianna asked. She wasn’t sure what Monique was talking about.
Monique dropped down onto a nearby headstone, fully aware of the action’s irreverence. "The rules," she said, "were designed to keep the original Circle in line."
"You never told us about any rules when we were born." Gianna’s voice began to tremble slightly. It scared her to know that there were parts of her life she was unaware of.
"I didn’t tell you because the rules don’t directly affect you. They were only for the Original Ten. They are only for the Original Ten." She laughed bitterly. "At least, those of us who are still alive."
She shook her head and started into the cemetery. She passed by the newer headstones, and then by even the older ones. Finally, at the deepest, oldest section, she stopped.
There, Gabriella was kneeling with her palms laid flat against a crumbling headstone. It was very old; the date read 1779. Her eyes were closed and she was concentrating deeply. Not even the noise of their coming to stand around her disrupted her engrossment in what she was doing.
"She’s talking to Jessica," Monique explained softly, watching her twin with a tenderness that she never showed anyone else. It was touching.
She really cares about her, Paris realized. Tears misted in her eyes. She couldn’t remember anyone in her life ever looking at her with that degree of tenderness. Not even Jeremy.
If only someone cared about me like that, she thought. If only I could be accepted as she is, unconditionally.
Ashleigh turned toward her. "But you have. Haven’t you realized that yet?" Her pale green eyes were somehow hurt. She looked like she had been rejected.
There was a moment of stunned silence before Paris burst out, "I didn’t say anything! How did you know what I was thinking?"
A small smile tilted her mouth up at the corners. "Tomorrow," she said. Then she walked away, leaving her with no real answer to her question. She muttered something unintelligible under her breath.
Monique continued to watch Gabrielle where she sat, oblivious, but now she moved forward and laid her hand on her shoulder. It was a movement designed to get her attention.
Her twin’s startled gaze flew up to meet her solemn face. It then dropped to the object she was offering her. Sunlight glinted coldly off it. Paris felt chills run through her as she realized what it was.
She took the silver-wrought dagger, which would have been beautiful had it not looked so sinister, and simply looked at it. Then, gritting her teeth, she laid it against her skin and slashed it across her wrist. The thick crimson blood welled out of the jagged gash and dripped slowly into the earth. She stared at her wrist dispassionately until, to Paris’ shock, the wound scabbed over, healing itself in mere seconds. Gabri leaned over to wipe the blood off the dagger on the nearby grass. Her eyes gleaming with anticipation, she rose to her feet. "Let’s go."
"What?" Kelsi interjected, disappointed. "We can’t leave now. You said we were going to wake Jessica up!"
I’ll be damned if we’re leaving now, she thought.
Gia broke into startled laughter. "I hate to tell you, but you already are."
Monique interrupted them, saying, "We have to go now." She glanced at the grave, her face full of apprehension. She obviously didn’t want to wait around to see Jessica come out of it.
"Monique is right. We don’t know what’s going to happen now," Gabri said. She paused then, listening carefully. The ground trembled in warning. Her eyes widened and she leapt into action.
"Run!" she screamed.
She whirled around toward Monique’s little red car, breaking into a steady sprint. Paris jogged more slowly behind them, not realizing the danger. Gabri glanced back once to check on her and yelled, "Paris, you have to come faster!"
"I can’t!" she shrieked. The ground rumbled beneath her feet and she stumbled. Ashleigh was immediately beside her, helping her up and pulling her away, but her body wasn’t cooperating. Her pant leg was caught on something. Ashleigh let out a bloodcurdling scream.
"What?!" Paris asked, panicking.
"Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God..." she was sobbing hysterically. "Don’t look. Oh, my God, don’t look!"
Paris looked. Oh, God, Monique had promised, she thought. She stared down at the hand of the rotting corpse that had been holding her in place. Things like this didn’t happen. It wasn’t real.
Ashleigh regained her composure, just barely. She kicked at the hand, trying to free Paris from its grasp. She finally got it to break away from the arm it was attached to. They watched in shock as the grip tightened and then loosened. It fell lifeless to the ground in front of them.
Paris told herself to breathe. This was just a dream, wasn’t it? It had to be. There was no headless body coming toward them. She was just trapped in a really realistic nightmare. In a few minutes she would wake up and it would all be gone.
This is not a nightmare, Ashleigh answered. Paris didn’t even realize that she wasn’t speaking out loud. It wouldn’t have occurred to her anyway. Sure, she could believe that they could hear her thoughts, but she wasn’t one of them. She didn’t have that talent. She was normal. And quickly becoming hysterical.
She couldn’t even do anything as the body came toward her. Gia shoved her out of harm’s way just in time. The thing flopped aimlessly to the ground. It lay there twitching, trying to find its way back up. Kelsi stepped out of its way as it scrabbled at her feet.
It wasn’t real, Paris reminded herself.
"Move," Monique ordered calmly. She took Paris’ arm and pulled the terrified girl toward her car. Paris allowed herself to be led away.
The next thing she knew, she was in Monique’s car with no memory of having gotten there. She sat there, trembling, unable and unwilling to speak. The other girls’ faces were pale and drawn, with one curious exception. Gabrielle was exhilarated by the whole thing.
Psycho, she thought. She shuddered just looking at that happiness. Maybe she didn’t want to be a part of this after all... She’d seen what happened when Gabri sliced her wrist open. Human’s skin didn’t do that, which must mean that she wasn’t human. And if she wasn’t human...
Paris didn’t want to think what she might be.
Monique started the car, the engine purring softly like a contented cat. She backed slowly out of the entrance and started toward the twins’ house. No one was talking.
Finally Gia spoke, breaking the silence. "Monique, Gabriella, what went on back there?"
"We brought Jessica back to life." Monique watched her in the rearview mirror, noting her disappointed expression. "Let me guess. You expected some sort of elaborate ceremony that involved chanting over the grave and human sacrifices, right?"
She blushed. It clashed with the gold of her hair, Paris noted absently, her brain still not working correctly. "Well, maybe not that exciting. Just... something a little different. That’s all." She was getting the impression that Monique was laughing at her. She wasn’t far off the mark.
"Rotting corpses rising from the grave was quite enough for me, thank you. The next time you promise no body-raising, you’d better mean it." Kelsi shuddered delicately.
Monique smiled grimly. "I wasn’t aware that we would be raising any. Kristopher never bothered to mention that part to me." She sighed. "Kristopher... God, I wish he were still alive." The last statement was made with an aching wistfulness.
Gabri looked at her sharply, then hesitated. She knew that Monique was going to believe what she wanted no matter what, but she should know. Even Gabri was able to feel him. Monique had raised too many barriers, even against the mention of him. She wondered if she should even try.
What was she thinking? She had to mention it. It was too important not to.
"He is," she said finally.
"That’s impossible," Monique snapped. "We all saw him die. You were there. There was no way he could have lived through the fire."
Gabri gritted her teeth. Well, she’d known this was going to be difficult. Her twin had spent almost two hundred years erecting shields against him. It would take more than her reassurance to break through them. Still, Monique should be able to feel him better than she could.
"Just like they all saw Jessica die, right, Monique? As for the explosion, Mone, you know what Kristopher was like! If he couldn’t stop that from killing him, he wasn’t what I thought he was. Reach out." She shut her eyes. "He’s there. I can feel him."
Her twin’s eyes filled with tears, her face stricken. "Kristopher," she whispered, almost too afraid to reach out and find that he was not there.
Gabri sighed. She took her sister’s hand, knowing that it was the only comfort she could offer her from across the car. She felt bad for Monique, but couldn’t relate to what she was going through.
The other five girls were trying not to listen or question the conversation the twins were having, but after a few seconds of silence, Siona interrupted.
"I know that we, well, Gabri actually, bought Jessica back or tried to or whatever, but how, and why?" she wanted to know.
Monique glanced at them in the mirror again. "I’ll explain it to you tomorrow," she answered vaguely.
"What’s so important about tomorrow?" Paris asked suddenly. Every time anyone wanted to know something, Monique or Gabrielle told them to wait until tomorrow. She didn’t understand what the wait was for. Why couldn’t they just tell her now and get it over with?
"Because you aren’t one of us yet," Gabrielle answered her. "Tomorrow we will be one."
"One," she sneered under her breath, figuring that they would hear it one way or another. "I think I was better off ignorant."
Ashleigh’s expression was serious as she replied, "You probably were."
"Ashleigh," Monique reprimanded sharply. "Don’t."
She returned her gaze with a belligerent stare. Then she shrugged and hunched down in her seat with a sigh. There was no point in trying to make anyone mad.
"Jessica won’t come right away, Monique. She’ll take care of things first."
"I know, Gabri. Believe me, I know."
The seven girls sat tense and silent in the living room of the twins’ house, waiting for Jessica to come to them. The minutes ticked by slowly. Gabrielle sighed and rolled over onto her stomach. The silence was getting to her. She stood abruptly, suddenly realizing that she had made a mistake. How could she have been so stupid?
"Gabri, what do you think you’re doing?" Monique asked crossly. She was sitting on the floor next to her sister. The whole group was irritable from waiting and she was no exception. She was more tense than the others, for she was worrying about Jessica while the thought of Kristopher prayed on her mind. If Gabri was right... She couldn’t fathom what it would mean. To the Circle and to her.
"She’s not coming," Gabrielle stated calmly. The entire group turned to stare at her.
"What do you mean she’s not coming?" Gia was just as annoyed as Monique. It didn’t bother her one bit to take it out on Gabri. "You said that she was coming here."
"I’m not infallible," was Gabri’s unruffled reply. "I just realized that she can’t come."
"And just why not? It’s not like she hasn’t been here before." Ashleigh jumped into the conversation out of pure boredom.
"It’s not that," she explained. "It’s Paris. Don’t you see? She senses that it’s too dangerous for her if she comes. I have to go to her."
She hoped they did understand. That they remembered what it had been like when they had been changed. Gabrielle remembered clearly. The hunger had been overwhelming, the disorientation almost paralyzing. It was only after she had fed... She shoved the thought out of her mind. She didn’t want to think about what had happened then.
"I’m coming with you," Shaun responded stubbornly. She stood up and faced Gabrielle, her mouth set obstinately.
Seeing that Shaun was prepared to fight, Ashleigh stood and quickly announced, "I’m going, too."
"And me," Gia’s husky voice stated firmly.
"I’m not being left out," Kelsia agreed. The four of them closed in around Gabrielle to form a wall between her and the door.
Gabri stared at the human blockade in amusement. "You can’t," she said finally. "Somebody has to stay with Paris to protect her. All of you do."
"You can’t go alone, Gabri. It’s too dangerous. At least one of us has to go with you. We won’t let you leave by yourself." Shaun’s voice was cool. The others nodded in agreement.
Monique’s rich laughter flowed from behind them. "Do you really think you can stop her? You would only be an added worry to her. She’d end up protecting both herself and all of you at the same time."
"Protect us from what? We can damn well take care of ourselves," Shaun shot back. She was getting mad. What did she think they were? Humans?
Monique’s laughter died a quick death. "Newborns. That’s all you are. Kristopher or anyone from the original Circle would eat you up before you even realized it. As it is, I have to stay here and protect you while you protect Paris."
"Who is Kristopher?"
Gabri answered Kelsi’s question. "Kristopher is Monique’s soulmate. We thought he died, but he’s still out there. I can feel him in my mind."
"If he’s one of us, then why do we need protected from him?" Ashleigh asked.
"Because," Monique replied, "Kristopher believes in survival of the fittest. To him it would be no more than sport to kill you all and you don’t have the power to stop him."
Gabri looked at her sister, wondering about the pride she heard in Monique’s voice. Especially over something like that. "To Kristopher, you’re all children, and she," Gabrielle gestured to Paris, "is food."
"I can see where that may be a problem," Kelsi agreed. "We’ll all stay here."
She didn’t know about the rest of them, but she personally didn’t see the need to put herself in danger voluntarily. She’d stay right here with Monique, thank you, and the rest of them would, too. She didn’t want to see them eaten, either.
Gabri moved to the entrance, hesitating before walking through. Shaun wondered if she were nervous.
She wasn’t happy that Kelsi had spoken for all of them, but she didn’t say anything. She fully intended to slip out the back door after her.
Gabri looked around one last time. Her face was solemn and her eyes were somewhat weary. "Kristopher will come tonight," she warned. Then she disappeared into the darkness.
Monique nodded to herself in agreement. She turned back to the other girls. "Well, I guess the only thing we can do is wait."
Ashleigh groaned. "I hate waiting."
Gabrielle stepped hesitantly into the overgrown clearing. She shivered involuntarily. The grove resembled the one she had been born in so closely that it was like stepping back in time. The only thing it was missing was a cliff. Twisted, tangled weeds grew across the tiny meadow, hinting at unearthly things. That coupled with the misshapen shadows gave the entire place an ominous feeling. She shuddered again. She suddenly decided that she couldn’t take it. Jessica would just have to choose somewhere else to meet her. She turned, fully prepared to leave, when a deep, hauntingly familiar voice broke the silence behind her.
"Are you looking for someone? Me, perhaps?"
"Kristopher," Gabrielle breathed. Anticipation flowed through her veins and she quickly scanned the darkness for her familiar frame. Strong arms closed around her from behind. "Kris!" She twisted around to face him and hugged his lean frame, clinging to him as though he would disappear. Kristopher disentangled himself, keeping only one of her hands in his as he gently led her over a fallen log and sat down. She gazed searchingly into his face.
He hadn’t changed since she’d last seen him. His tall, muscular frame was the same as it had always been and his dark hair still fell engagingly into his eyes. The expression in those hooded, thickly lashed pale green eyes was the only thing that was different. They held a hint of cynicism in them, a hint of cruelty that hadn’t been there before. It made him seem harder and even a little bit frightening.
"I’ve missed you so much," she whispered fiercely. "It was so frustrating to reach out and feel your presence but not be able to find you."
"Monique thought I was dead." It was a statement, not a question, and there was a touch of bitterness in it.
"You just vanished, Kris. What were we supposed to think? You never let up know that you were out there," she protested. She shifted on the log in agitation.
His expression was hard and just a little unforgiving. "Yet you knew I was alive, Gabriella. She is mine. She should have known as well."
"Maybe she didn't want to know, Kris." Resentment crept into her voice. "You just left. You didn't care about what would happen to us or how we would survive. You left us all alone."
The happiness she'd felt at seeing him slowly ebbed away, leaving nothing but a sense of betrayal in its place. "What could have been so important?"
"I found the rest of the Ten," Kristopher replied nastily, "but when I brought them back, you were gone. You," he snarled, "left me."
"How long were we supposed to wait? It was fifty years before we left Paris. Fifty years. That was as long as I could convince Monique to stay. And why should she have stayed? You were dead, remember? She had to wake up every morning believing that, and it almost killed her."
"She should have known," he repeated stubbornly.
What he had said suddenly hit her. "Wait. You found the rest of the Ten?" The barely concealed excitement in her voice was not lost on him.
His beautifully shaped mouth twisted into a sneer. "What was left of them. I arrived in time to see Anastasia burned at the stake as a witch. She escaped, but only to be bled to death. It was pathetic, really."
Gabriella felt no sadness at this news. Anastasia had been selfish and pleasure seeking. She’d never worried about the consequences her actions could have for the entire Circle. And why should she have? The individual members of the Circle had looked out for no one but themselves. "And the Others?"
Kristophe studied her assessingly before he replied. It was almost as if he were looking for something… Finally, he answered, "Chretien survived, as did Isabella."
"Only three?" she whispered, both surprised and shocked. "But… What happened? Where is everyone else?"
He sighed deeply, focusing on a point over her shoulder. She wondered why he wasn’t looking at her. "There are stories… People say that there are times, certain days when they see glimpses of the girls in the mirrors in our old castle. When I call, no one answers."
"Of course they don’t answer," she responded cynically. "They aren’t a part of us anymore."
He laughed. "They will always be a part of us, Gabriella. Nothing can change that. Not even death."
There was a grim finality to his voice. An image flashed through her head almost too quickly for her to recognize it as a memory. Pain accompanied it, bringing her to her knees. He watched her impassively, so she knew that it was coming from him.
The image swam into focus, crystal clear and almost more vibrant than life itself.
|[an error occurred while processing this directive]|