A cool, wind chime voice pushed through her head. "Again, Cameron?" Xanthe sighed, the sound brushing disappointed and disapproving. Murmurs drifted to her in shallow, sluggish spurts and Xanthe's mind floated away.


Then Damie's voice pealed, replacing Xanthe's coolness with hurried and worried tones. "Oh, Cam," she gasped, "why couldn't you listen to Jessa and just stay put?" Quick flashes of yellow and sunlight streaming briefly through the otherwise silent void.


And Remy, his slow, lazy purr rumbling softly. "Pas encore, ma chère," he added, like the gentle growl of far-off thunder, listless and disgruntled. And somehow she knew that Jessa would be the only one to keep silent, saving her censure for a later time.


They melded, swirling through the empty space, while each silently gave their support and encouragement, so badly needed and so far away. One thought slipped unheeded through each of their minds, one they each meant to catch and hide. We cannot help you now.


She was strapped securely to a cold, metal table.


Something -- ropes, she would guess -- bit harsh and uncaring into her wrists and tore at her flesh. She moved her hands gingerly, aching at the pain and yet welcoming that she could again feel them. Her body alternately burned and chilled, but at least she knew it was there. Right now, that was the most important thing.


Wincing, she slowly opened her eyes. Light flooded at her in blinding spikes and she involuntarily sucked in a quick breath. Don't fight it, focus, let it in… And then suddenly, everything was blazingly clear.


Not a dungeon or some high tech torture chamber like she'd first imagined. Just a simple, ordinary room, decorated in true seventeenth-century style and complete with gilt. The stainless steel table was sorely out of place.


Raising her upper body and ignoring the blistering pain scratching at every limb, she was fortunate to find that not only were her hands bound, but her feet were, too. Lovely. Giacinta must have something fun and exciting planned.


She collapsed back against the hard table. Her muscles pulled and groaned, taking her mind away from the nauseating fear threatening to consume her. The pain, at least, was good for something.


Now, she guessed, the only thing she could do was wait. Perhaps only seconds passed. Giacinta wasn't long in coming.


She entered the room laughing and her eyes never left Cameron's scornful face. In her hand was a glass of winding blue liquid, which she sipped absently. Her expression was thoughtful, yet anticipatory. "We can make this easy or we can make this hard," she said suddenly, setting down her glass.


"Easy?" Cameron gasped in mock horror, brilliant blue eyes glaring. "I thought you said this would be fun!"


Giacinta only smiled and stepped closer. "Sarcasm doesn't suit you," she advised calmly. "Perhaps you should try another technique. Begging, maybe?"


"I'll take Stupid Suggestions for four hundred, Alex." Her voice was derisive. "I don't beg," she continued flatly, keeping her body still and relaxed, unwilling to let Giacinta see just how afraid she was. 


A brief widening of that hateful smile. "Oh, you will," she promised. That promise glittered in her eyes like slicing diamond blades and Cameron would have shivered, if she'd been able to move.


Giacinta turned, walking to one of the ornate cabinets and sliding open an exquisitely carved drawer.  A glint of silver flashed brightly. She turned. "I would gag you," she said conversationally, "but then I wouldn't be able to hear you scream."


"Why don't I just scream now and get it over with?" Cameron suggested brightly. "That way we can skip the pain."


Giacinta shook her head. "Ma chère, you were the one who wanted this done the hard way. It's too easy if it doesn't involve blood."


Alarm shot through Cameron like a cannonball, not merely destroying her hopes, but demolishing them into slivers of unease. "Obviously, I can't stop you." Her head turned to follow the vampire's slinking footsteps. "I don't think whatever pain you cause me will influence Kian in your favor."


The slow pacing stopped. "Who said I wanted Kian's favor?" she asked softly, her eyes sparkling with the hurt of betrayal. "I'm long past that."


The pacing resumed and Cameron once again followed her progress with shadowed eyes. "If you're not doing this to win Kian, then why are you doing it?"


"Revenge," she answered simply. She glided toward her gracefully, stopping just at the foot of the table. This time Cameron knew it was for real. "He hurt me more than anyone has. Payback might be a bitch," she added, a malicious smile playing on her lips, "but I taught her all my tricks."


"Lovely," Cameron sighed, exasperated. "Not only do I pay for being his soulmate, but I also pay for his mistakes."


Giacinta shrugged, idly beginning to twirl a finely honed and beautifully crafted knife. Cameron guessed the knife was what she'd taken from the drawer. Her pitiless black eyes met Cameron's squarely. "Il ne se blesse qu'une seconde."


And Cameron suddenly knew she would be merciless and she would be cruel.


I will not scream, she thought wildly. I will not give her the pleasure of seeing my pain. Her eyes slid shut and she braced herself for the fire-hot agony she knew would come.


"Seulement pour une seconde," she repeated and her black eyes snapped merrily. The knife sliced down, smooth and clean, as though it cut through butter and not bone. Despite what she had promised herself, the stabbing pain curled and rose in the pit of her stomach. Shouldn't her arm or her wrist or her hand hurt?  Shouldn't the pain radiate from the wound and not from the very core of her being?


And when the pain shot through her veins, racing like a molten river from her stomach to the very tips of her fingers, jumping from nerve to nerve in blinding, tear-inducing flashes, she could only welcome the kiss of cold steel. The scream ripped through her throat without warning.


It only hurts for a second, but that second can seem long.






Her screams rang in Jessa's ears like gunshots, short and bursting. She wanted to muffle the sound, to stop its slithering slide through her head, but it echoed like a plea reverberating through an empty canyon. It was a sound more desperate than any she'd heard and one she would never forget.


Only the most cruel can forget death.


Winding through the streets, she ran, ignoring the rough slam of cement against her feet and the startled gasp of human bystanders. She stopped for nothing and for no one. Their astonishment rolled over her slowly, barely clinging before dropping swiftly away. She ran.


Faster, run, find your charge and save her… She could still hear the tepid, sluggish beat of her heart and her screams, those awful, high wails of pain. But just because she could hear them didn't mean she was alive. The gentle tug wrestling Jessa away from the street did.


She veered to the left, down a moss-covered, slimy alley. Puddles lay murkily, deep and unrepentant, and she ran through them with little thought. She would not fail this time and the Gucci shoes meant little to her mission.


One fat, homeless man was brave enough to get in her way. "Lady, can I--?"


She ran past him without even hearing and he resumed his slumped position against the hard and filthy brick wall. He watched her go, wondering what could possibly be so important that she couldn't spare some change.


Only a few more blocks now. She burst out of the alley, shoving her way through throngs of humans who glared and pushed her back. She ignored them. The tug was stronger now, wrenching through her chest in heated flashes. Only a few more blocks.


Then, abruptly, the feeling dissipated, vanishing from her mind as quickly and as coldly as mist. She stopped and horror flooded over her delicate features.


The bond was gone.


Someone had broken the spell.


And if Jessa didn't find her soon, Cameron may very well be doomed.






So close. Perhaps only one hundred feet away, but still she could not find her. Tears of frustration welled in Jessa's eyes. Again, she was running, but this time away from the place where Cameron writhed in agony. She wound through street after street and down dirty alleys.


Finally, she stopped.


The apartments were old and dingy, the paint chipped as though it had seen thousands of lives pass before it, with an air of sullen neglect. She didn't see the sagging white pillars or the cracking cement as she passed them. The battered door squealed when she opened it and slammed behind her on its volition. She took the steps quickly.


When she reached apartment 4C, she didn't bother to knock. She simply kicked the door in.


A rather rumpled Kian looked up from his place on the couch, shock bringing his red-rimmed eyes and sulky mouth to life. He stood, alarmed, and raked a strong hand through his tousled burgundy hair. "What do you want?"


"Giacinta has Cameron," she said flatly, waiting for his eyes to light with anger.  They remained curiously empty.


He stared at her and then he shrugged. Sadly, he answered, "She and Kieran already won. Are you really that surprised? They always win." He turned away to resume his slumped position on the sagging couch.


Jessa blinked, torn between the desire to comfort him and the desire to slap him across the face. She did neither. "Your esteemed brother has nothing to do with this," she informed him coolly. "I doubt he even knows."


He lowered his head, dropping it into his hands. He looked… broken. As if someone had tried to put him back together and erred horribly, leaving on this grotesque and misshapen parody of a boy. One who could walk and talk, but could no longer feel. "Don't let him fool you," he advised. "No matter what he says, he's right in the middle of this."


"I didn't ask him," Jessa answered, her eyes swirling with amber flecks of anger. "Regardless of whether he's involved or not, I need your help. I can't find her without you."


He shook his head, fingers twisting through his burgundy locks as though he was trying to rip it out.  "She doesn't need me," he sighed.


"She doesn't need you?" she asked, repeating his statement softly and lethally. He didn't answer her, didn't even flinch at the tone of her voice.


She lost her temper. Without realizing what she was doing, she stalked over to the couch, leaning over to until her face was level with his. "Kian," she said calmly. He simply shook his head in denial.  She straightened, rising from her bent position, and contemplated his broken posture. Then she slapped him. Her palm cracked across his face with a resounding smack. 


He blinked, startled.


"We don’t have time to for you to sit around and feel sorry for yourself." A cool wind blew in her voice.  "Even if you don't want to save her, I do, and if I have to hurt you to get your help, I will."


His sharp cheeks slowly flushed a savage crimson. "I can't help you," he said quietly and turned away.


She knocked him to the floor with a swift roundhouse kick. He fell to his knees, his hands breaking the fall and keeping his proud face from smashing through the glass table next to the couch. "Wrong answer," she replied. Her accompanying smile was sweet.


Pushing himself carefully off the floor, those heady violet eyes snapped with fury. "Maybe you don't understand. I can't help you."


A bit of snooping in the jade green recesses of her mind told her he believed that. She calmed down just a little, letting her blood cool and her pulse settle to a more sedate pace. "Why not?" she asked, hoping he would explain, because she certainly didn't understand.


His eyes were hot. "Because I can't feel her. Only Kieran and I together will ever be able to figure out where she is." His burning gaze dropped, tracing the carpet's oriental pattern.


"Then we find Kieran," she stated. She started for the broken door, expecting him to follow. If he didn't, she'd just drag him. She had the feeling he knew that. "And then we find Cameron. Where is he?"


Just like a faithful puppy, he trailed behind her. "At the airport." No concern and no emotion -- nothing -- filtered into his voice. He was resigned, and clearly sure that Cameron was as good as dead. "My car's out front."


"Why would he be at the airport?" she wondered, while Kian tried half-heartedly to make the door stay shut.


With a disgusted sigh, he gave up. "I would assume because he's leaving," he answered with an unconcerned shrug. He led the way down the broken stairs, car keys materializing into his hand.


"Where would he go?" she probed. If she had to chase him to Africa, he would pay dearly, and not just in cash. If they were lucky, they'd make it to the airport before his plane left. She could only hope.


He held the door open for her, genteel even after she'd threatened to harm him, and waited for her to exit the building before he answered. "He has an apartment in Las Vegas he goes to sometimes. Maybe to visit our cousin Jihn, if he can find her. She has a habit of disappearing."


She almost stopped in shock. "Jihn Redfern is your cousin?"


Stepping down from the soon to be condemned porch, he sent her a wry look. "Jihn is a cousin, yes. I can see how that would surprise you."


Oh, it surprised her all right. Like her, Jihn was a Guardian, newly appointed and quite disgruntled about it. The last time Jessa had seen her, she'd been muttering something about how Antarctica had more people than the place she was being sent.


But her reason for being surprised would mean nothing to Kian. Few people knew about Guardians or what they did.


He walked to a sporty black car, kicking trash and broken bottles out of his way as he went.  Inserting the key into the lock quickly, he gallantly opened the door, then waited patiently until she settled into the plush gray seat. He closed the door behind her with a quick jerk of his wrist.


"I would never have guessed," she admitted, shrugging, as he climbed in the other side. "Although I suppose the last name should have been a good tip."


He shook his tousled head. "There are so many Redferns running around that even if you were to trace back their genealogy, you probably wouldn't find the link."


Silently, she agreed, but out loud she said, "Which airport?"


"Logan International." He glanced at her, frowning, that gorgeous mouth curving in concern. "Seatbelt, please." He started the car. "You know he's not going to come willingly."


"Neither were you," she pointed out, raising an eyebrow and fastening her seatbelt, "and yet now you're driving to the airport to kidnap your brother."


He sighed, pulling the car easily out of the cramped parking space. His eyes were trained on the road, but she wasn't sure he even noticed what was around them. He'd put himself on autopilot, she knew. "Yes, but when Kieran gets angry, people die. He's not--" he searched hopelessly for a word to describe him, but none came. "He's dangerous."


Jessa's eyes glinted. "So am I."


Kian glanced at her, turning the car down a deserted street, and smiled. "He's had more practice and he's never dealt well with opposition. Just a warning."


"I've never been good with those," Jessa admitted. She reached to flip on the radio. Music flooded into the car, straining chords rising around them in a melodious dance. "Do you mind?"


"A little late to ask, isn't it?" he questioned, but he shook his head. "It's fine. It's pointless to argue about something so small when the fight we're about to get into is far worse."


She had a sudden, sinking feeling he was right.






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