Nightmares hide in the shadows and in the dark, waiting around every corner and in every hastily drawn breath. Cameron had forgotten them, lost in her own threats and her own ultimatums.
They came back in a startling flash of violet eyes.
Every street she walked, she saw them. Blinking from a poster that hung tattered on a beaten brick wall. Winking at her as she passed a regally posed statue in the park. No matter where she went, Kieran's eyes haunted her.
She knew it wasn't Kian she saw as she quickened her pace past the run-down buildings and empty warehouses. His eyes didn't hold that terrifying streak of cruelty or that intriguing flash of vulnerability all at the same time. The cruelty had been tempered, buried under so many layers that only his heart shone through. And in this, too, he and his twin were opposites.
The thought made her shiver. She glanced quickly around the deserted street, empty but for the slinking shadow of a drug dealer or the unhurried prance of a successful prostitute flashing her wares.
She suddenly wished she'd listened to Jessa's pleading as she begged her to stay home. But her stubborn streak had gotten the best of her and she had walked out, irritated with Jessa's depthless and somehow stinging shock.
Now, shivering and violently trying to rub some feeling back into her uncovered arms, she wondered why she hadn't had the foresight to at least bring a stake.
Stupid, Cameron, she scoffed silently. She'd walked miles in her anger. Anger at herself, for lacking the power to kill either of the twins. At her roommate, for her inability to leave well enough alone. At her soulmate…
…for devoting his life to the destruction of her own.
She'd never believed in fairy tale romance, but secretly, somewhere deep down in the depths of her being, she'd hoped it existed anyway. And why not? Didn't everyone want the prince to wake them from eternities of slumber with a soft and tender kiss? Didn't everyone silently hope that fire-breathing dragons would proudly be slain in their name?
She giggled, shaking her head. Even Remy searched for his prince and hoped to find him beneath dew-kissed, starry nights. And, just like her, he ached to rest securely in his arms instead of sending him screaming in the other direction. Or instead of having him slip a knife into his back while he rested.
She shivered again, casting another surreptitious glance around the painfully deserted streets.
When a slender hand slipped to grasp her shoulder, she was completely unprepared. Jerking her body away from the harsh clamp of fingers, her body jerked to face her imagined attacker.
Giacinta stared back at her guilelessly.
Cameron blinked, relief pounding in her head and dragging her heart down from her clogged throat. Her pale, white hand hovered in the air and, realizing that she'd unconsciously lifted it, she lowered it slowly to her side. "You startled me," she gasped, a self-conscious giggle escaping from her full throat.
Giacinta's full mouth curled in a tight smile. "Désolée," she murmured, but not a splash of regret wavered in her voice. "I didn't mean to."
Brushing the vampire's apology aside, Cameron smiled. "It's my own fault for imagining all the terrible things waiting in the shadows. I've a terribly overactive imagination sometimes."
Gracious. Giacinta's black orbs narrowed into slender, shimmering slits. Even when accepting an apology the girl was unintentionally graceful. How sickening. Then her eyes softened, opening wide and guileless. "Shadows can be dangerous," she said simply, with a lissome tilt of her deceptively delicate shoulder.
Like delicacy, the shadows can be deceiving. Giacinta let hers fall over her like a mirage.
"Dangerous," she repeated, her voice soft and slow like the slide of honey down a rough branch. "Perhaps we should stick together. Peril falls on those who walk alone."
Cameron nodded, falling into step beside her, while her body screamed to run and to hide. To be far from this girl with eyes like black stars, absorbing everything and sharing nothing. "Where are you going?"
"To hell," Giacinta replied cheerfully, "but not until I find my hand basket. They're so dreadfully easy to lose."
"I--" Cameron paused, at a loss for words.
"Kidding," the vampire laughed. "You've never heard the expression 'going to hell in a hand basket?'"
Cameron relaxed, letting her unease glide away like a leaf on icy waters. "Not since my grandmother was alive," she admitted. Her sky blue eyes twinkled, a distant reminder of the midday sun in twilight hours.
The full mouth drooped. "I can barely remember mine," Giacinta sighed wistfully.
"I'm sorry," Cameron gasped, horrified that she caused the painful memories dampening this enigmatic girl's expression.
Giacinta shrugged, memories of starvation and beatings at her grandmother's hands swirling below the surface. Overlaid with memories of how sweet her blood had tasted. "Don't be. It was a long time ago." She glanced at Cameron quickly. "Are you hungry? There's an adorable café around the corner."
Flashes of screaming terror danced in her eyes' empty black depths, warning and foretelling, and Cameron hesitated, remembering the promises she'd seen in those eyes a time before. "Maybe just a little," she acknowledged.
"I'm ravenous," Giacinta declared innocuously, widening her eyes. Those flickering, black flames leapt to life, burning darkly in her hollow, ebony pupils, paths of fire cutting into Cameron's skin without even a glimmer of apology. The scorching trails left imaginary bites branded on her smooth skin.
Cameron shivered. "Then let's go," she suggested, suddenly immensely willing to be surrounded by a multitude of people.
Giacinta smiled. "Yes, let's."
"Sugar?" Giacinta asked idly, holding up the last two slender white packets. She waved them teasingly under Cameron's nose, watching as the girl's eyes followed them greedily. "I take mine black, so if you want them, they're all yours."
Grinning, Cameron answered, "I would love them, if you don't mind… My roommates constantly complain about my caffeine addiction. I don't think they realize it's the sugar I crave, not the coffee." She extended her hand, palm facing up, and waited for Giacinta to drop them in her cupped hand.
"There are worse addictions to have," Giacinta responded mildly. Just as she opened her fingers to let the packets fall into Cameron's waiting palm, a large and rough looking man bumped against her chair. Giacinta fell forward and the packets tumbled to the floor. Her eyes sparkled angrily. "Hey! Watch what you're doing!"
The man didn't spare her a glance. "Then keep your fat ass out of the way," he snarled, veering from the table. He walked out of the restaurant without an apology.
"Nasty people," Giacinta muttered to herself as she leaned down to pick up the sugar. Beneath the table, the ghost of a smile flickered over her face. He'd be paid well for that bit of work. She slipped identical packages from her pocket smoothly, the sugar melting into vacant air. She produced the packets with a stunning smile. "There you go."
Cameron smiled back, all earlier distrust vanished like a sudden summer storm. "Thanks," she said gratefully. She ripped the packets open and watched as crystalline specks poured into her mug. Picking up the slightly bent and misshapen spoon, she began to stir. Her hand stilled and she looked up. "What happened between you and Kian?"
Giacinta sighed. "He made me into a vampire and then he left." She shrugged. "Nothing too complicated."
"Did he make you any promises?" Cameron asked uncertainly. She lifted the steaming mug, letting the slightly bitter smell of coffee tantalize her. She breathed in deeply.
Giacinta watched her, those snapping black eyes calculating. Take a drink, she willed impatiently. She picked up her own mug and sipped, hoping Cameron would follow her example. "Too many," she lied sweetly, her voice rueful and full of regret. "Where do you want me to start?"
Cameron set the mug down abruptly, grasping the pitcher of cream and pouring in a healthy amount. She stirred it, then licked the excess liquid from the spoon. "Wherever you think is best."
"He promised me forever," the vampire offered. She toyed idly with her own unused spoon. "And he did give me that, even if it was a different version than he promised." She raised her eyes to meet Cameron's. "The forever that he promised was with him."
"Isn't that what they always promise?" Cameron asked wryly. She shook her head in disgust and took a large swallow of the coffee. Giacinta hid her smile.
"Some of them," she agreed. "Others are a little more honest." She smiled softly. "Some actually mean it, but they're the rare ones."
"Too rare," Cameron sighed. She tapped the spoon thoughtlessly against the Formica tabletop and chewed on her bottom lip. "I don't know what to do about him," she admitted finally.
Giacinta grinned, baring sharp, white teeth. "Personally, I'd stake him." Her eyes glinted as Cameron sipped at her coffee. "But then, I realized what he's like a long time ago."
"I can't stake him," Cameron muttered, with a particularly vicious slam of the spoon. A dent appeared in the shiny table. "He's my soulmate. Him and his damned brother. I'm stuck with them whether I like it or not."
So she'd been right. Giacinta silently commended herself. Sweetly she suggested, "If they're both your soulmate, why don’t you just kill one of them? There's always the other one to take his place."
But Cameron shook her head, her long hair swinging around her like a silken ebony cloak. "I don't think it works like that, although it would be so much simpler if it did."
"Life isn't simple," Giacinta reminded her.
"I know," Cameron answered. The expression in her sky eyes was far away, skipping over places Giacinta could never even imagine. Then they cleared and her mouth curled. "Besides, with my luck, I'd kill the wrong one."
Giacinta giggled. "Believe me, if you killed them both, you probably wouldn't be missing much." She reached into her pocket and threw some money on the table, one coin rolling and teetering dangerously close to the edge. "Finish your coffee and let's go. I think they're ready to close."
Glancing up, Cameron saw that she was right. Their waitress glared at them from across the room, wiping the same spot on the counter until Cameron thought she should have formed a hole. She picked up her mug and downed her drink in one swallow. "Ready?"
"Bien sûr." Giacinta rose, shoving her chair under the table with a loud squeal. The waitress glowered. "Otherwise I think we'd be thrown out."
They wound their way through the empty restaurant. The neon sign proudly proclaiming "open" flickered and died, leaving the window an empty and colorless void. They walked quickly through the smudged glass door. Cameron glanced back at the vampire and remarked, "I thought you said you were hungry."
Giacinta nodded. "The waitress was the wrong vintage," she said with a grin, eyeing Cameron's neck in a way she didn't like at all. "I like mine… fresher."
Unease crashed over Cameron like a tidal wave. "You can't get much fresher than straight from the artery," she answered, desperately wishing Giacinta's expression wasn't quite so famished. She quickened her pace.
"Not really," Giacinta agreed, the stunning hunger never quite vanishing from her endless pupils or the sharp plane of her cheek. Then abruptly, her expression changed. "You know, I don't like you."
Cameron's mouth fell open in surprise. All traces of amicability sucked into some unknown vortex, Giacinta's face was a portrait of unmasked hatred, still flushed with that consuming hunger. "But--"
"No 'buts,'" she interrupted, stopping to face the witch. Cameron couldn't help but notice the street was alarmingly dark -- and deserted. "It's nothing personal," she continued, as though this was everyday conversation, "and I'm being perfectly honest with you. In different circumstances, I might like you. We might have been friends. But Fate had different ideas." She smiled apologetically.
"Why?" Cameron snapped, utterly stunned and trying not to show it. "Do you have a reason other than Fate or am I just supposed to guess?"
Giacinta considered that. "I guess if you really want, we could always play twenty questions or hangman. But what do I get if you lose?"
Cameron's eyes narrowed. "Your life."
A flash of that stunning smile. "Wrong answer. All I've ever wanted is your beloved soulmate. If I can't have him, why play? It takes all the fun away."
Realization seeped over Cameron slowly and pale blue eyes met empty black. "Kian and I are soulmates. He's never been yours and he never will be. Do you think my willingness to hand him over would change that?"
"Not a chance," Giacinta responded cheerfully. "I would have had him long ago if that were the case. But this time, ma chère, all the rules have changed."
"Nothing's changed!" Cameron snapped, her voice furious and full of the subtle violence of an asp. "Kieran is still out to kill me and now I have you after me, too! How is that different?"
Giacinta countered her question with a question. "Do you really think Kieran will be able to kill you this time?" She laughed a rich, throaty laugh that rolled over Cameron's clammy skin like poison. "Is that what you think?" she repeated.
"Do you really think he won't?" Cameron asked coolly.
Giacinta sobered. "No, I don't." Flat and unceremonious, her words rang with shimmering truth. She stared at Cameron emotionlessly. "Kieran will never be able to kill you. Not now, not ever. Because he's weak," she spat the word out venomously, "I have to finish the job."
"Where is that written in stone?" Cameron responded acidly. "Please show me so I can shatter it into a thousands pieces."
"That would be telling." Giacinta checked her watch quickly. "It wouldn't do you much good at this point, anyway."
Cameron rolled her eyes. "Let me guess. I have five minutes to live?" Her mouth curled in a disgusted sneer. "If you're going to try to kill me, please get on with it."
Shaking her head, Giacinta smirked. "Without getting any time to play? Oh, I'm not going to kill you. Not yet. That would be too easy and you'd just come back. No, I'm going to have my fun first."
Chills raced down Cameron's spine. "You don't really think I'm going to come with you willingly, do you?" She backed slowly away, knowing nothing behind her would be in the way.
"Willingly? No. But you will come. You really don't have much choice in the matter." She flipped her identical fall of raven hair over her shoulder, sounding entirely too cheerful. "It's already been taken care of."
Cameron glanced quickly around the street, but no matter how hard she looked, no one else appeared. Her gaze slid skeptically back to Giacinta. "Just how are you expecting to accomplish this? I've taken down more powerful vampires than you." Even as the words left her mouth, her mind screamed she was stupid for antagonizing the vampire, she should run, flee, escape…
But oddly enough, Giacinta hadn't moved, although Cameron had already put at least fifteen feet of open space between them. She remained bathed in shadows, simply watching, simply waiting.
Finally she spoke. "I won't need to fight you, ma chère. You don't seem to understand, but I've already won."
Just then, Cameron felt numbness shoot through her body, stabbing into the tips of her fingers and burying itself in the pit of her stomach. Shocked, she tried desperately to wiggle her toes or her fingers. Anything to get them to move.
They stayed appallingly still.
"What did you do?" Hot, accusing blue eyes, shining like a pulsar star in the middle of boundless black. Whispers of ice creeping along her spine. Each vertebrae slowly dissolving in a cushion of air and her body falling, falling. The hard ground rushing to meet her with a thud but no pain.
"Just a little spell," Giacinta whispered, unable to keep the threads of triumph from her voice. "Really, ma chère, you won't feel a thing. In fact, you won't even be awake for it."
"I thought you said you wanted to play." The words were so hard to force out. Her face, like the rest of her body, was disappearing into a hot pool of blissful nothingness, where not even Giacinta could harm her.
Giacinta watched her muscles relax one by one, drained of energy and feeling. "Oh, I do, almost more than anything. Almost. You're not going to die on me yet. I'll have my fun first."
And with those last ominous words, Cameron slipped out of consciousness.