"Don't you think this is a little public?" Kieran questioned, amusement tingeing his voice with shadows and dreams, brushing like a sigh over Jessa's sensitive skin.

 

It was beautiful and it was seductive, and no matter how hard Jessa searched for an excuse, she could not fathom why Cameron had sent them both away. How she'd had the strength. The twins were violent and they were cruel, but they could also be as tender as a mother cradling her newborn babe and as gentle as the sun's summer kiss. They could be cold and they could be kind, but never at the same time.

 

Now their cruelty shone as brightly as a blazing candle, facing each other with furious promises flashing between them.

 

Kian, while he'd decided to ignore Kieran's admission for the time being, clearly saw no reason to forgive and forget -- or to pretend civility. Why bother? His brother knew exactly how he felt and returned the favor. His last comment was only a wrath-inducing reminder.

 

Violet eyes flared, angry red flecks flickering at the edges of Kian's pupils. "I offered the use of my apartment," he reminded, concentrating on each steadily drawn breath as if to soothe his fickle temper. "You said it smelled like a Christmas tree and you'd rather be outside because smog improves your mood. Now we're outside and you're complaining that it's too public. I know you weren't born this difficult, so you must be trying--"

 

"Do you two always fight this much?" Jessa interrupted coolly. "No one told me I would be babysitting when I signed up for this. I would have brought you both pacifiers."

 

Kieran shrugged, a wicked gleam lighting his sensual violet eyes. "It might've kept him quiet," he responded, ignoring the insult blithely.

 

Looking ready to strangle his twin, Kian retorted, "And perhaps you would have choked on it and done us all a favor. Give me your hand."

 

His twin looked positively scandalized. "Absolutely not. Do I look flaming?"

 

"As a blowtorch," Jessa snapped. "Will you two stop it?"

 

Kieran turned an incredulous and beautifully sculpted visage in her direction. "We're in the middle of a crowded street and my esteemed brother wants to hold hands. Just because Cameron is both my soulmate and his soulmate doesn't mean I should engage in--"

 

"Don't say it," Kian cut him off, gritting his teeth. "Either give me your damned hand or I'll find some other way of getting your cooperation, one that is considerably less pleasant. You know we won't find Cameron any other way."

 

Mouth curved in a depraved smile, Kieran shook his tousled head. "You're giving Giacinta too much credit, mon frère. If there's anything she lacks besides intelligence, it's creativity. Keeping this in mind, if you were her, where would you be hiding our soulmate?"

 

Kian considered his question a moment, realization dawning slowly. "At her house," he predicted slowly, suddenly cursing himself for his lack of foresight.

 

Sending a sly look in Jessa's direction, Kieran informed her, "And by now you must realize that Kian didn't come to find me because of the bond, but because I was the twin gifted with a functioning brain."

 

"Where is Giacinta's house?" Jessa asked quickly, before the two could begin sparring yet again.

 

Sparing her only a brief glance, incensed, Kian regarded his twin with narrow eyes. Kieran stared back innocently and met his anger with an unapologetic smile. A smile designed to heighten Kian's rage. "It's not far."

 

"I did come in this direction for a reason," Kieran inserted dryly. "I don't get my thrills from wandering around Boston in circles unless I've a purpose."

 

"Torture, maiming, mass murder," Kian agreed, sneering. He turned away from them, rolling his eyes, and moved down the street with the fluid grace of a predator. "We've all got our hobbies."

 

Jessa sprinted after him, Kieran trailing behind, hard-pressed to relinquish his obstinacy. "Stop baiting each other," she commanded, once she'd caught up. Her long blond hair flowed behind her like a silken banner wafting in a gentle breeze. "You only have to put up with each other until we find Cameron. Then you can go for each other's throats, for all I care."

 

She was beginning to understand why Cameron might not want them around. They were like two sleek wolves fighting over choice territory, only their barbs were words instead of snapping teeth.

 

"It's not his throat I'm interested in," Kieran answered angelically, materializing beside her. "Just Cameron's."

 

The hot spark jumping in Kian's eyes promised danger. "You won't touch her--"

 

"You can't stop me," Kieran said succinctly. "Be careful or you might be making promises you can't keep." He slipped an arm carefully around Jessa's waist, drawing her away from his brother. "We're here, and if we get any closer, we might as well ring the doorbell. I personally see no reason to give her warning."

 

"Do you think she's home?" Kian asked dubiously, eyeing the shadows streaming through the gleaming glass. Please, he pleaded silently, let this be easy. Let me have my soulmate for one lifetime.

 

"She's watching us." His eyes flickered briefly to a curtained window on the right of the street, then he turned his back to the seemingly empty house.

 

Kian nodded. "I didn't really want to hold your hand, you know," he defended himself suddenly, almost as an afterthought.

 

Kieran smiled thinly. "Incest and homosexuality. If only you'd been born in ancient Greece." A sympathetic sigh, drawn out and exaggerated for maximum effect. 

 

Flushing a wrathful crimson, Kian opened his mouth to bite out an angry retort, but his words wavered and died as Jessa said, "That's enough. Are you trying to delay until Cameron dies, Kieran?"

 

Coldness etched itself over his face like a wall of ice, pity and passion locked deep inside the frigid confines, hidden and hunted and destroyed. He nodded carelessly.

 

She shot him an incredulous look from beneath lowered lashes. The mask you wear is exquisitely wrought and so full of conviction, she told him silently. But if I look closely enough, I can see the cracks in your steel-plated armor. Your pain is brighter than a supernova and almost more blinding.

 

Your heartless act does not fool me. You care far more than you let on.

 

And from the darkening of his bruised violet eyes and the shy droop of his thick lashes, he knew she saw through his façade.

 

Then he sighed. "You know damned well I'm not. If you're going to blame someone about the delay, blame him." He paused, his features wearing an emotion that was decidedly wrathful. "Does anyone have a plan or do you just barge in and get yourselves staked?" The curve of his mouth was suddenly sulky and his words laced with the poisonous bite of sarcasm.

 

Kian's eyes narrowed to dangerous slits. "As long as you're going first, I'm all for the second option."

 

Kieran's answering smile stretched thin and taut. "Remember, brother dear, that if I die, you come with me. Then where would you be?"

 

Uncertainty played on his twin's face, so strong that every emotion except the niggling jet of fear was wiped away, and Jessa almost wished she was a witch so she could seal Kieran's mouth shut. "If he's following you, probably in hell." He cocked an eyebrow, unruffled. Suppressing the urge to hit him, she asked, "Do you know the layout of the house?"

 

"Hell's too cold," he retorted, looking distinctly uncomfortable despite the mischievous twinkle that lit his vivid eyes, "and it doesn't matter if I know the layout. I'm not going inside."

 

Jessa was the only one surprised at this statement.

 

Moodily Kian reminded her, "You did say he didn't have to help us save her. Only find her. He's fulfilled his promise; now he's going to be difficult."

 

His twin didn't bother to deny it. He simply shrugged, his lanky body shifting like mercury under intense heat. It was a shame his attitude wasn't as malleable. He flashed Jessa a charming smile.

 

"Let's make a deal," she said, thoroughly unaffected by either his charm or his stubbornness. "If you help us save her, I'll help you kill Giacinta."

 

Both twins stared at her in shock, as if the idea had never occurred to them. And in truth, it probably hadn't. But whereas Kieran simply continued to look aghast at this offer, Kian started to laugh. "Well, as Shakespeare said in Hamlet, 'all that lives must die,' and she's been living on borrowed time for several hundred years now."

 

Several seconds passed before Kieran's mouth slackened and closed thoughtfully, his lips pursed in consideration. "On one condition," he said finally. And from the determined set of his features, she knew she would have to agree or he would walk away.

 

"What condition?" she asked.

 

His voice was flat. "Nobody hurts Morgan."

 

A lengthy pause. One where Kian raised an eyebrow, amused, and where Jessa cocked her head to the side like a parrot, confused. "Who is Morgan?"

 

"Giacinta's 'pet,'" Kian explained.  "A four-year-old child that she made into a vampire." He shot a quick and troubled glance at his brother. "But, Kieran, she's… warped."

 

"No, she's not," his brother said, sounding for all the world like he believed it. He ran a hand through the thick wave of burgundy hair, agitated, and gnawed on his lower lip with wicked ivory fangs.

 

Jessa took pity on him. "No one will touch her," she promised. "Now, are we ready? How are we going to get inside?"

 

"I can distract her so you can enter through the back.  If I keep her occupied, she probably won't notice," Kieran suggested. The offer was surprisingly helpful and selfless, murmured while he ducked his head self-consciously.

 

Jessa nodded, shifting a few steps away in agitation. "Just keep her alive until we know where Cam is and what state she's in. That way we know how painful to make her death."

 

Kieran, however, didn't move. "There is one other thing." His smile had suddenly turned fierce and oddly anticipatory.

 

"And what's that?" Kian asked. He expected his twin to throw out some impossible ultimatum or something equally annoying.

 

If possible, Kieran's smile became even fiercer. "Giacinta's been watching us act like brothers should. Sarcasm and verbal nastiness aside, we seem to be getting along. If I walk in there now, she's going to be suspicious."

 

Kian threw up his hands in disgust, rolling his eyes and heaving an appalled sigh.  "And how are we supposed to fix that?"

 

Kieran punched him.

 

 

***

 

 

The gauzy blue curtain fell, dropping the room into more shadows.

 

As usual, the twins were fighting. Quelle surprise. She only hoped they didn't kill each other before she got to have her fun. From what she could tell, Kian had a vicious right hook. Either that or Kieran's nose was a lot more pliable than she would have expected.

 

"Ironic, isn't it?" she asked, turning from the window. She remained bathed in shadows, the light streaming at her back and casting cerulean streaks over her tumbling black hair. Those same lustrous silhouettes sifted sinuously over her lithe form. She paused to assure herself that Cameron was paying attention.

 

Cameron glared, but the constricting gag swallowed any words she might have said. She'd given up struggling once she realized how it made Giacinta flush with pleasure. So she simply lay there, bound and gagged and helpless.

 

The curve of Giacinta's mouth gleamed through the twilight obscurity.  "Almost strikingly so. Those poor, estranged twins fighting over pathetic little you, only to lose to me -- who may not be your twin by birth, but in looks we might as well be."

 

A derisive and muffled rush of air sounded from beneath the gag. As if to say, please, take your smirking psychosis and inflict it elsewhere, on others who deserve the stabbing pain of your threats. Others who have reason to care about your insecurities and no time to dwell on the imminent death of those they love in spite of themselves. And as if to say, no matter what you do, no matter how much you destroy…

 

You can never win.

 

~ Take off the gag and we'll talk about irony ~ she suggested sweetly, her mental voice sugary and yet annoyingly weak. She shouldn't be able to establish any sort of telepathic link, but considering the amount of blood Giacinta had taken from her, she was reasonably certain she would hear her anyway.

 

The vampire moved closer, one eyebrow arching, perfectly sculpted and perfectly reflected in Cameron's angry face. ~ Why would I do something like that when I can hear you perfectly well as you are? ~

 

~ Because I'm choking on my own blood ~ Cameron answered, her body spasming and her throat muscles heaving against the dry white cloth as if to echo the truth of those words.

 

Giacinta immediately inferred what those words meant. If she continued to choke, she would die, meaning that all of Giacinta's plans would be ruined. Scowling, she ripped the gag out of her mouth and frowned, noting the vast quantity of blood that had been wasted on the once pristine white cloth. She hadn't been lying.

 

"Happy now?" she asked icily.

 

A crimson bead trailed from Cameron's mouth to the arch of her chin, soaking into the midnight fall of her hair. She turned her head and spit blood into the intricately patterned carpet. Her voice, raspy from disuse, held only hostility.  "Thrilled. Let's do it again."

 

Giacinta grimaced. "If you insist. I couldn't possibly do any more damage to the carpets at this point, so I might as well make you bleed." She shrugged and glided to an elegant oak console graced with a pallid marble top. The knife's blade glistened in the scant light.

 

"I'm not afraid of you," Cameron declared flatly. Her eyes burned into Giacinta's own and she didn't flinch even when Giacinta shifted to give her ankle a vicious twist. "You can carve me up as many times as you want, but in the end, you're going to die."

 

Giacinta laughed, the sound rising like the squeal of nails against a new chalkboard. "So are you, ma chère," she pointed out almost gleefully.

 

Her expression didn't change or lose even a fraction of its serenity. "I'm used to it, remember? And unlike you, I'll get another chance."

 

The vampire's face suddenly contorted with fury. "You might think that," she said coldly, "but I'm working on making sure that doesn't happen, either. I'll find a way to break the pattern if it's the last thing I do. There must be some way to keep Old Souls from coming back."

 

"It won't matter," Cameron answered softly. Something fierce caught and held in her eyes. A sort of luminous resolution, glimmering like a distant beacon to those who had lost all hope.

 

But Cameron was the only one who had anything to hope for or anything to pray for. Giacinta had nothing else to lose, while Cameron had nothing else to gain. And therein lay a world of difference.

 

"Whatever you do to us, you won't win." The glow in her eyes augmented, spreading over the planes of her face and bringing a dignified flush to her cheeks. Her whole body lighting with an inner sort of peace.

 

The indignant passion and elated arrogance on Giacinta's face wavered, the fervent fires banked quickly into smoldering ashes. Uncertainty washing like a flash flood.

 

A quick, gasping breath. "Whatever happens to me is only secondary. The twins and I are connected in a way that you cannot even imagine."

 

The fires leapt again, anger burning like wildfire in every nuance of her expression and in every contained wince Cameron's words induced. And in that tragic animosity, promises flared unspoken, but they did not touch her or stop that unfailing truth.

 

"Whatever spells you cast and whatever charms you make cannot stop true love or break our entwined destinies. We are one heart and one soul, even if we are not one body." She paused a split second, triumph flashing over her features as she noted Giacinta's expression.

 

Raging now, uncontrolled and irrepressible. Those black eyes snapped with crackling white wrath. Her mouth twisted with menacing emotions her lips could not express. Hands clenching until the nails dug into her pliant skin. Tense, like a panther ready to spring.

 

Those finals words, softly spoken, so full of audacity and truth…

 

"You have already lost."

 

Giacinta snarled, her emotions exploding into dangerous motion, and she leapt forward with the knife clutched firmly between her fingers. The resolve in Cameron's face did not fade nor did her eyes drop from the vampire's, even as she closed that short and falsely comforting distance.

 

The cold blade pressed roughly against the base of her throat. Giacinta shifted her weight, threatening, only iron control keeping the pressure from slicing through skin and vein.  "I always win," she growled.

 

The pressure lessened and for one blissful second, no sound and no pain and no weapons threatened her. For one confused second, she was free… then the blade sliced down sharply.

 

Cameron bit brutally into her lower lip to keep from screaming. Waiting for her chance --

 

Bracing a hand against the icy metal table, Giacinta leaned over her to place an identical cut across her other arm. Quickly, without rational thought behind the motion, Cameron wrapped her fingers around the vampire's wrist, nails digging into the soft flesh.

 

Giacinta gasped. "What --?"

 

Cameron smiled grimly and tightened her grip, ripping her nails into supple skin.

 

The world erupted around them.

 

 

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