Cameron opened the door and darted inside, intent on leaving him standing in the cold. The door pushed behind her, catching. She paused. Somewhere in the apartment -- it sounded like the kitchen -- someone was humming softly to herself and dreaming. Not that she could read minds, but somehow -- someway -- she knew.
"Caam-renn," a voice like tinkling silver bells called. The voice could only be Jessa's, full of warmth and mischief, sparkling with that something that was uniquely her. And besides, Jessa was the only one who could possibly be home at this time in the afternoon.
Smiling, she glided into the kitchen. "Hey, Jessa," she greeted. "Productive day?"
"You have no idea," Jessa replied, rummaging in the refrigerator. For what, Cameron wasn't sure. Jessa didn't eat human food. "First," she said, finally settling on the orange juice, then straightening up and turning around, "Xanthe managed to… Oh," she paused. "What have we here?"
Shit. She must not have shut the door all the way. Not at all like she'd thought. Jessa's gaze was frankly admiring. That meant only one person could be standing behind her. Kian. He must have taken it upon himself to come inside.
A moment of silence stretched between the three of them while Jessa and Kian inspected each other. She already knew what Jessa would see. A haunted, desperate, and somewhat pathetic Kian Redfern. Those soulful flame eyes staring at her with his inner self laid bare. But what Kian saw, Cameron didn't know.
She glanced over Jessa with appraising eyes. Straight golden hair tumbled down her back with not a hint of curl. A slim, slightly boyish figure, clad in short gray shorts made from something like sweatshirt material and a tee shirt that barely grazed the bottom of her ribcage. Melting, chocolate brown eyes. The effect of all this resulting in a dazed Kian Redfern.
Something flared inside her. With shock, she realized it was jealousy. Don't be stupid, she told herself harshly. You don't want him. He kills you, remember? You want him to stay away.
But telling herself that didn't make the jealousy go away.
She realized then that Jess was speaking, asking her something, and she forced herself to concentrate on those words. They were much less painful than the thoughts running through her head.
"…introduce me to your friend?"
Cameron shook her head grimly, pitch black hair cascading around her. "He's not my friend," she replied, her voice matter-of-fact. "Actually, I believe I told him to stay out of our apartment."
"I never have been good with instructions," he shrugged apologetically. He wasn't really sorry. She could tell from the look in his eyes. No, not sorry at all. He looked downright pleased with himself.
She almost had to stop herself from staking him. Jealousy was an awful thing. Add that to a self-satisfied vampire who just happened to look exactly like her soulmate and you wouldn't find Cameron in a good mood. Just the opposite.
Jessa shrugged. She leaned back against the refrigerator, uncapping the orange juice and letting her brown eyes warm in Kian's direction. Cameron had to grit her teeth. Men just melted at that look. "He's here now. Not much we can do about it. So what's his name?"
"Kian Redfern," she replied, smiling coldly, knowing the reaction that statement would elicit.
She was the only one who wasn't surprised when Jessa's eyes narrowed, a shimmering silver sheen overlaying the melting chocolate, and her mouth opened in a grimace, baring her sharp white teeth.
"In that case," Jess demanded, "why haven't you staked him yet?"
Kian felt his eyes widen. Stake him? He hadn't done anything! Well, nothing to merit being staked. Not in his opinion. And anyway, the only thing this girl knew about him was his name. That wasn't…
Her name was Jessa. As in Jessa Winters, the soulmate of Kieran's last "project." Or the last one Kian had heard of. He would stake money on this guess. Unfortunately for him, Kieran often "borrowed" his name to cover himself and any horrible deeds he'd done. He must have used Kian's name for that endeavor, because there was no other reason this girl would hate him.
"I don't know what happened," he started, "but…"
"You don't know what happened?" she interrupted icily. "You were there. Don't you remember slitting Deven's throat? Watching as layer after layer of skin was peeled off by your damn lackeys? Sneering as--"
He cut her off cleanly. "No, I don't. But I remember watching my soulmate die the same way, thousands of times."
That earned him a scornful glare. "Killed her, too, did you?"
"No," he replied calmly. "My brother did. He seems to get around."
His eyes were wide and guileless, but his mind was shut. He knew he should open it, allowing her to probe inside so she could see the truth of his words. He couldn't. His mind guarded too many memories, all grim, most brutal. He was afraid if she looked inside, all she would see was endless darkness, like a tunnel with no end. Sparse and far between, happiness --but only a few moments of happiness -- glimmered like weak torches.
They weren't easily seen.
Kian knew how she felt, at least to some degree. To know your soulmate was dead, out of reach, was like having something vital cut from you. Nothing fit together and everything washed around you in a way that was almost surreal. On the other hand… Kian had found his soulmate again. And in every other lifetime she had lived, even if those lives had been cut abruptly short. Deven, a made vampire, wasn't ever coming back.
But Jessa was strong. She survived. Kian didn't think he could ever do that, living day after day in torment, knowing he would forever be alone. Jessa was a fighter and Kian was, too. But in very, very different ways. He had only just met her, but he could feel strength -- not physical, but spiritual-- radiating from her like a burning white aura. Jessa didn't seem the type to wallow in self-pity.
Right now she eyed him warily, suspiciously, still leaning against the refrigerator in that deceptively casual pose. He knew in one second she could be across the room with a stake already planted in his heart.
"Really?" she asked skeptically. "How nice of him. What was his name again?"
He could tell she didn't believe him. He answered carefully, knowing better than to risk more anger. "He's gone by many names, but now he goes by Christian. His real name is Kieran Redfern."
Aeshli --no, Cameron, he corrected himself -- gasped. He glanced at her quickly, reaching out to touch her mind. It was as carefully guarded as a brick wall, complete with barbed wire and electricity. He felt a shock when he brushed against it, but without touching her, he could not get past the barriers.
Jessa didn't seem to notice. She relaxed slightly, but without letting down her guard. "I could have heard the name wrong," she admitted, although he knew she would watch him every second until he proved himself. Her brown eyes were sad. "I never saw him, the boy who killed my soulmate. I only heard the names. Heard the stories."
"I saw him," Cameron injected softly.
They both turned to stare at her. Jessa's voice suddenly sharp, she asked, "Was this him?"
She shook her head. "He looks like him. The very image of the Christian Redfern I knew, down to the way he walks and each strand of his hear. But he's not Christian."
"Kieran," Kian corrected, while at the same time, Jessa asked, "How do you know?" Something hawklike played over her features.
"His mind doesn't feel the same," Cameron answered honestly.
Now it was Jess' turn to gasp. "You're… soulmates?" she whispered, hurt waving across her features and pulsing from her almost tangibly. She stood up straight then and looked at Kian in a new light. "Well, then," she said briskly. "It seems we have a problem."
Panic flared through Aeshli's -- Cameron's -- eyes and she shook her head adamantly. He heard her in his mind, but it wasn't a thought. At least not a rational one. Just one word, running over and over like a broken record, gathering speed like a ball careening madly down a steep hill.
The word was "no."
NO, NO, No, No, no, no, no no nononononononono…
The word repeated itself in her head. Whisperings in her mind alerted her that her guard had dropped and she slammed it back down with the force of a battering ram. Oh, no, Jessa. How could you?, she asked silently. As if being Christian's, or rather Kieran's, soulmate wasn't bad enough, she was going to make the problem worse. How did she know Kian wouldn't go straight to his brother? How did she know Kian wouldn't betray them? Cameron knew, but even she wasn't positive. This could all be an act, some kind of spell.
It wasn't possible to have two soulmates. This was a fact. One soulmate to each person, thank you, please come back tomorrow and try again. But you could try as many times as you liked and you wouldn't be able to trade him or her in. Tough luck. Soulmates were someone you were stuck with, even if you didn't like that person.
Cameron felt this especially, with one soulmate out to kill her and the other just a little off his rocker. But there it was again. Two soulmates. How did she explain that? The answer was simple.
She simply hadn't thought about it. When Kian had touched her the first time, she had frankly ignored the signs, although ignoring it was easily as difficult as ignoring a flashing billboard. She had thought he would go away, which was fine by her. One less problem to deal with.
Only this problem blatantly refused leave. This problem followed her, invaded her house, and wounded her friend. But… she guessed the problem could be worse. He could be Christian Redfern.
Again she corrected herself. Kieran Redfern. It was hard to think of him by that name, although it suited him much better. Kieran was nowhere near religious. The name she knew him by originally now felt like blasphemy. Regardless of his religious habits, or lack thereof as the case may be, his name wasn't Christian. This revelation didn't make him any less dangerous or any more Puritan -- although that would be a nice change, considering the rumor of the "no damage, no death" rule in the vampire Puritan history.
Yes, she could definitely live with that and the key word here was "living." Goddess, how she wanted to stay alive.
"Now," Jess was saying, "try to understand what exactly is going on here. Cameron and I are on a mission. Joining us are three friends: Xanthe, Damalis, and Remy."
Oh, good, Cameron thought, panicked. Give him all our names. Maybe he'll send flowers when he kills us.
"You waltz into our apartment--"
He interrupted. "I really wouldn't say that was a waltz, although I can show you one sometime if you like."
That earned him a glare. "--and you tell me you're Kian Redfern. The vampire who supposedly destroyed my soulmate. For us, this is a beautiful opportunity. Because our mission is to kill you." A bright smile. Cameron felt suddenly nauseated. "Then, I find out not only do you have a brother who is also a vampire," she continued, losing the smile, "but you and my dear Cameron are soulmates."
"Kieran is my twin," he replied grimly. "And believe me, if I had known it would be better to kill him at birth, he would not be here now."
"You're not twins," Cameron interjected, finally finding her voice. That knowledge washed over her like dam breaking, sudden and consuming.
Shock made Kian's face whiter, if there could possibly be a shade that pale. "We are twins," he insisted dryly. "I was there, remember?"
She shook her head. She didn't know why, but somehow his statement seemed wrong. But no words came to refute this and she was left feeling blank. Why had she said that?
Jessa, intent on accomplishing something, although Cameron didn't know what that was, persisted, saying, "Whatever you and your brother are, I can't kill you. I won't take from Cameron what you took from me. And that leaves us at a stalemate."
Cameron ignored the relief flooding through her body. "If you won't kill him, I will."
Two pairs of shocked eyes snapped to her face, which was set with grim resolve. And on Kian's face wavered hurt and disbelief.
"I have spent my life waiting to die," she hissed. "First because of my heart and second because of his brother. And if one of them is dead, it makes it that much easier to kill the other, because then I don't have to guess which one I'm staking."
"He's your soulmate," Jessa answered, shocked. An emotion that did not often express itself in her. "You can tell which one it is by only his presence."
She didn't think now was the time to tell her that they were both her soulmate. Or soulmates. Touching wouldn't do her any good. Too many spells existed to disguise one or the other. She just didn't want to deal with it.
Instead, she replied evenly, "So you would think." To Kian, doing nothing to hide the lethal edge in her voice, she said softly, "Get out of our apartment before I do it now."
Kian didn't want to go. Something told him if he could stay here or convince her, she would change her mind. But one look into her flat blue eyes altered that opinion. Without a word, he pushed past her and walked out the door.
But hopefully not out of her life.
Every time he found her, some problem prevented him from keeping her. Usually it was that his brother killed her in the next few days. He was getting rather desperate. After all, there was only so much a person could take before they were driven to something really awful. He didn't want to think about what this new problem was driving him towards.
Besides, he was confused. Aeshli -- he could hardly think of her by any other name -- hadn't died. Somehow he knew she was nineteen, an age she had never reached before. The limit had always been sixteen. Three extra years. But what could that possibly mean?
He racked his brain, trying to think of some reason that could have kept his brother from killing her. He came up blank. Maybe Kieran was slipping in his old age, although he doubted it. Something was off with this scenario.
He had every intention of finding out what it was.