It was one of those days that should have been cloudy, the sun covered in misty blankets and the sky bleached a depressing gray. Instead the sun's burning rays fell gently and kissed everything they touched with a glowing halo. It was a day that made you think of lazy afternoons spent lazing in the heat or of chasing butterflies through flower-drenched fields.
The raging wind was completely at odds with the streaming sunlight.
Reflecting her fury, it whipped her hair violently into her eyes and snatched at her cheeks. Every beat of her heart sent another blast of wind crashing through the streets. Cold and unforgiving, it beat away her last pretense of concern and robbed her of all caution.
She stood in front of Starbucks and watched the coldly careless boy who dared ignore the wind's wrath. Her eyes narrowed dangerously, willing him to look up at her, but he remained oblivious to her silent urging.
She'd just have to get his attention another way.
Striding toward him purposefully, she relied on her anger to give her courage. Kieran frightened her more than death.
She slammed her hands down on the table where he sat, idly fingering what looked like plane tickets. He looked up, startled violet eyes finally meeting hers. "I've stopped running," she said flatly. "Consider this a warning, Kieran Redfern, for you have just played your last game. You are the hunted now."
Throwing a couple of dollars carelessly on the table and not bothering to stop them as they blew away, he rose. He grasped her arm and dragged her away from the café. "What are you doing?" he hissed as he threw a cautious glance over his shoulder.
She tried futilely to yank her arm out of his grasp. "I stopped by for tea," she replied scathingly. "A little honey, no milk, and please hold the blood."
He stopped then, so suddenly she bit her lower lip and tasted coppery liquid on her tongue. She kept that bit of information to herself. As he swung her around to face him, she saw the storm trapped in his piercing eyes. The dark clouds that should have been in the heavens tumbled through violet skies and lightning radiated from the endless black of his pupils.
It took her a moment to realize he'd been speaking. "What?"
He repeated his question, cheeks flushed with anger and pupils nearly swallowing the tempest in his eyes. "Are you crazy?" he demanded.
"Not since my last evaluation," she snapped, "but I'm sure that could be a fluke."
"Clearly a blatant error on their part," he agreed icily. He resumed walking and his iron grip never left her arm. She stumbled behind him with no choice but to follow. "Do you normally make a habit of antagonizing people who intend to kill you?"
"Psychopaths and homicidal maniacs aren't generally included in my circle of friends. That tends to limit contact." Her foot caught on the curb and she lost her balance, reaching for him instinctively. An arm slipped around his neck and brought their faces only inches apart.
He bestowed her with a wry look, but gripped her under the elbow and righted her. Being this close to her was having an odd effect on him. Once she was again standing, he continued away from the café.
"Where are you going?" she asked. He didn't answer her and, annoyed, she followed him of her own volition this time. "I tell you I've stopped running and you just ignore me? Isn't that supposed to elicit some reaction?"
"No." He didn't look at her, nor did he slow his pace. "Although it does look rather like you're running now, my dear soulmate."
She flushed. "You know what I meant." But angrily, she realized he was right.
Nodding briefly, he acknowledged that he did. "Tell me why," he requested. "I'm curious as to what prompted your newfound courage. After all, you do play the victim rather well."
"Kian killed me." Each word said succinctly, anger dripping from every one.
Kieran had the grace to look startled. "You're mixing us up, Cameron. I'd have thought better of you."
She was the one to stop this time, one hand violently tugging at his sleeve and halting him as well. He saw the certainty buried in her aquamarine eyes. "You and Kian are as easy to mix as oil and water. I know who I saw, and it wasn't you."
"When?" Only one word, but Cameron knew it meant she had won. He wasn't going to pretend he didn't know what she was talking about any longer.
"My last lifetime," she answered triumphantly.
He glanced away, staring into the distance, and she suddenly realized they'd walked to the park. It was empty this time of day. The children were at school and the adults were at work. It gave her a wonderful feeling of privacy, as though she could tell or accuse him of anything and no one else would know.
"You're right," he admitted finally. "I didn't have anything to do with your death twenty-one years ago."
Her eyes flashed brilliantly, like a current of electricity jumping from one wire to another. "You lied to me," she accused. "You and Kian and Giacinta all lied."
He sighed, debating the wisdom of letting her know what truly happened. "He didn't lie to you. He doesn't remember killing you."
"How convenient." Sarcasm dripped like poison from her voice.
Kieran's eyes blazed. "Listen, you little witch, he doesn't remember because I made sure he didn't."
Stunned, she dropped onto a scarred wooden bench. "Why would you do that?" she asked. She lifted her gaze to meet his, confusion shining in their depths.
The fire in his eyes died and he sat next to her. "Because he loves you and because it wasn't entirely his fault. And… it was kinder. You've seen the ring Giacinta wears?" It wasn't a question. He knew she'd seen it. "Kian didn't give it to her. I'm sure she told you that."
"She did," Cameron admitted, surprised. "But… If the ring didn't come from Kian, what --"
"It's a charm," he interrupted. "Or at least it was. I'm reasonably certain the spell no longer works." He paused a moment, considering. "No, it couldn't possibly work anymore. Your death ended the spell."
She paused. "What spell?"
"The one Giacinta put on the ring," he answered, as if it was obvious. "The second Kian touched it, he was lost." At her silent prompting, he continued, "It bound her to him and connected them. Not nearly the same as the connection we have, but it was enough to make him believe anything she told him."
Glaring, she said, "The soulmate connection should have made him see through that." She tossed her dark hair back and waited defiantly.
He reached out, a strand of that hair slipping through his fingers like a drop of rain running down a windowpane. "He didn't touch you. How would he have known?"
"How do you know that?" she countered, wondering. "You weren't in the memory. You weren't there."
"I just do," he responded with an infuriating shrug of his broad shoulders. "And I know that when he drained you, he shut himself off. He couldn't feel you and you couldn't feel him."
"How--" she repeated, letting the question trail away in the frigid, calm air.
He hesitated a moment in answering. "For the last twenty-one years, Kian was dying in the bottom of a sewer. He didn't know why he was there or why he felt the need to lock himself away from everything, but he did. It was the only way he could deal with knowing -- albeit unconsciously -- what he'd done."
"But I thought you wiped his memory."
He nodded. "I did. But even thinking I had killed you, he was riddled with guilt. During that second before your soul left your body, the spell broke and he realized what he'd done. Not even my influence could take that away. Your draw is too strong."
"Well, at least I'm good for something," she muttered. "Even if I have to die to accomplish anything."
His face softened and his fingers twined with hers. "You're good for more than that," he said softly, brushing the pad of his thumb gently over her cheek. His mind burned with all the intensity of a forest fire against hers.
She pulled away. Kieran angry was dangerous, but this was something else entirely. Her thoughts flew back to the kiss they'd shared in Kian's apartment building. Soft and wild and heart wrenching, but above all else, dangerous. It had been a kiss that called to the depths of her soul. Pleading for forgiveness and promising forever.
But more likely ending with a severe lack of blood.
"Don't touch me," she warned.
"Or what? You'll cut off my hand and throw it in the bushes? Would you like me to provide you with a knife?" He disentangled one wrist, holding it in front of her, while fishing around in his pocket with the other.
She knocked his hand away. "Stop it," she commanded. She glanced away from him, sadness and fear choking her. That it would come to this hurt her more than anything physical possibly could. Despite everything, she didn't want to injure him, didn't want to spend her life looking over her shoulder, wondering when he would come after her or who would die first. Sad because she knew this time she would kill him if he threatened her life with more than words.
"Consider this a warning, Kieran." She repeated her earlier words softly and met his eyes squarely. "I will not let you hurt me."
A spark of laughter flared in those violet depths. "You're too late to stop me." The corner of his mouth curled. "Don't you think you're hurting now?"
One gasping sob, escaping before she could stop it. "I hurt every day of my life."
"You'll hurt more if you cross me," he promised. All the warmth had disappeared from him, the traces of it as faint as a dying whisper. There was no emotion left. "You know, this is the second time I've been attacked today -- verbally or physically. It's getting somewhat redundant, and this conversation seems to be over. Unless you have something new and interesting to say, go away." That probing lavender gaze dropped for a split second and when he brought his eyes back up to meet hers, anger shone in their depths. "I've discovered some intriguing methods of Indian torture. I'm sure you don't want me to try them on you."
Stunned and trying not to show it, it still took her a moment to regain her composure. "I'm not afraid of you," she whispered. They both knew it was a lie. "I will fight you and I will win."
The startling anger on his face faded to amusement once again and his fingers wrapped around her wrist, sending sparks shooting through her body. "Keeping telling yourself that. You don't have the track record to back it up."
"I never had a chance before," she snarled, wrenching her wrist out of his iron grasp.
He rose from the bench, backing away from her, his arms dropping to his sides and his palms facing out. She suspected -- no, she knew -- his defenseless posture was deceptive. He could hurt her in so many more ways than physically. "You have that chance now," he answered softly. "So take it."
Fury flared inside her for the second time that hour. The wind had died and her anger had calmed, but now both came back in full force. He did not flinch at the wind's stinging bite. Cameron felt at one with it, raging and fierce and yet helpless. Both flung the full extent of their anger and still he stood there, mocking and careless.
She stood, too, reaching out and snapping the end of a branch with strength she didn't know she had. Her eyes had gone pale as ice, belying her gentle nature. Belying her painful history.
The wind pushed her toward him like an unseen hand guiding her toward Death. Her gaze never left his, but despite their steadiness, her hand trembled.
He smiled as she came near, that gorgeous mouth softening and curving sensually. "Do I at least get a kiss to remember you by, mon coeur?"
And with that one question, Cameron knew she was doomed.
"You can't kill me, Cameron." A faint softening of those disturbingly depthless eyes. "I am a part of you."
"You seem to have managed well enough," she answered calmly, steeling herself against the thoughts running through her head. Don’t do it, don't lose him, convince him that there's a chance… She ignored the words of advice her head kept throwing at her.
He shrugged, one broad and muscular shoulder lifting carelessly. "Don't let that fool you. Constant death does strange things to a person's mind. Point in case: I'm standing here waiting for you to stake me. Now where do you think that falls on the normality scale?"
"Somewhere between 'psychopathic' and 'schizophrenic,'" she returned sweetly. "Any more questions?"
Raising an eyebrow, he reminded her, "You've not answered my first, my darling witch. Even condemned murderers get a last request."
"They also die by electrocution, not dehydration," she answered, her voice still sweet and so reasonable that he wondered if perhaps she wasn't just a little bit insane as well.
He laughed. "Dehydration? Is that what you're calling it these days?"
Her eyes narrowed until they were only thin blue slices of sky. "Can you think of something better?"
"Not particularly," he admitted. "My ancestors did exhibit a certain lack of fluids when they were staked."
Don't think about his voice or the way his eyes shine like amethysts or how it feels to touch him. Don't think about how lost you will be without him or about the void not even Kian can fill.
And then it hit her. She was killing him in cold blood.
"Don't lose your courage now," he taunted. He saw the stricken expression flashing over her face and knew what she was thinking without even trying. "I've killed you thousands of times. You've got a lot of catching up to do."
But she wouldn't catch up. She couldn't. She would kill him and he would be gone. Gone forever, like a flower wilting and dying alone in a blistering desert. And with him would disappear part of her soul.
"I can't --"
"Shhh," he soothed her, only inches away but still immobile. "Don't think. Just act. It takes away the pain, at least until it's over."
The branch fell from her hand. He knelt, picking it up and offering it to her. A gift. The only gift that Kieran could ever give her, for he had no choice but to destroy her. And so he would let her destroy him first.
A gift, one she had no choice but to accept.
"Take it," he encouraged, and yet she knew he didn't want to die any more than she wanted to kill him. Selfless and self-sacrificing.
Tears welled in her eyes and her own horror at what she was about to do erupted. "Why can't you fight me, damn you?!" she cried as her fingers wrapped around the branch involuntarily. "Why do you have to make this harder?"
He pulled back, eyes wide. "I rather thought I was making it easier," he protested.
She shook her head mutely and clutched the makeshift stake tighter in her hand. "I can't kill you if you're not fighting me or hurting me," she whispered and her voice broke. "I have tried so hard, but I can't."
Kieran brushed his knuckles over her cheekbone, both filled with a pain that neither could understand and neither could forget. Her skin was silky soft beneath his fingers, but when he dropped his hand, it came away damp. Those tears had spilled over and slid down her face in glistening crystal rivulets.
And then he knew that despite everything, he could never kill her again.