Morgan lay curled drowsily against Giacinta's side. "Tell it again, 'Cinta," she requested. She referred to the book resting in her foster mother's lap. Fairy tales she'd heard multiple times that night, never mind previous nights. If prompted, she could probably recite it on her own.
Giacinta groaned. "Morgan, it's three in the morning. Do you really need to hear it again?" Morgan nodded, waiting. She smothered a sigh of impatience. "Let's recap. The monsters eat all the goody-two-shoes little princesses and live happily ever after, okay?"
Morgan's lower lip jutted out stubbornly. "I want to hear the whole thing."
"We've read the whole book," she snapped. "Twice."
"I haven't heard it yet," a voice like raw silk said from the doorway. "What's one more time?" Kieran rubbed his eyes wearily. He'd fallen back to sleep only to wake again. He didn't look any better for it.
"Bed, Morgan," Giacinta commanded sharply. This time Morgan knew not to argue. She slid off the couch and rushed over to Kieran. He bent down so she could place a sloppy kiss on his cheek and bestow him with a fierce hug. With a pout aimed at Giacinta, she shuffled out of the room and up the stairs.
Kieran ran a hand through his ruffled hair. He walked across the room, staring blearily at the wall like he was aiming for a certain spot, and dropped on the couch beside her. "Was that really necessary?" he asked.
She glanced over him quickly, taking in the rumbled clothes and creases left by the blankets on his face. "What happened to you?" she responded, ignoring his question. "You look like a bad case of insomnia."
"Insomnia doesn't walk," he corrected. "I do."
"For the time being," she admitted. "Although if your dear brother gets his hands on you, that may change."
Kieran shrugged. "Kian won't do anything to me. He's under the misconception that if I die, he dies. I'm not sure I mind that at all. It keeps me safe with very little trouble."
She nodded, agreeing, but didn't say anything. The silence settled around them like a thick, comfortable blanket. Neither felt the need to break it due to uneasiness or discomfort. They knew each other well enough to treat the silence for what it was--lack of anything important to say.
Watching him without bothering to hide it, she saw the creases fade slowly from his malleable skin. Something like unhappiness haunted his violet eyes, but she was used to seeing that emotion. For as long as she'd known him, Kieran Redfern had not been happy.
She'd tried to change that once, hoping her obsession with Kian would disappear during a relationship with his twin. It hadn't happened and they'd both known it. Finally they'd settled on something that suited them both far better--friendship. But still he was not content.
Knowing that ate at her, but she didn't know what to do about it. Eventually she accepted that only one thing would make him happy. She wasn't it. She didn't know what was. She blinked, then he slowly came back into focus.
He leaned his head back against the couch. It was a habit both twins had and she knew what it meant based on previous experience. He was going to tell her something she probably didn't want to hear.
She was right.
"I'm leaving," he said simply. No other explanation. Just those two words, which held a depth of meaning she could not begin to decipher.
Startled, her black eyes widened and she sat up, swiveling to face him. "Where are you going?"
He didn't look at her or open his eyes. His body was relaxed, but she sensed his muscles tensing beneath his calm façade. "Ireland," he said casually. "Home, I guess."
It wasn't entirely the truth, but she didn't need to know that. He was going home, but now home meant Vegas, in a dingy little apartment close to Thierry's mansion. He wasn't around enough to mind the shabbiness or the tenants occupying the apartment while he wasn't there. At least he didn't have to worry about bugs. Well, not the kind that crawled anyway.
"You're coming back, aren't you?" she asked, with a little more concern than he expected.
He opened his eyes and looked at her. "Why, Giacinta, I didn't know you cared."
"I worry about you," she admitted reluctantly. "You've never been quite the same since that little tiff you had with Kian."
He raised one burgundy eyebrow and waited, but nothing else came. She was downplaying it a little, calling it a tiff. They both knew it had been more of a battle. She may not have been in the room when it happened, but she'd been in the house. As long as she'd been on the same block, she would have heard what went on. The shattering glass and screaming would have been hard to miss.
That she called it a tiff was definitely an understatement, but then again, she had always been good at throwing those in his face. She liked to see how he reacted.
When he felt he'd waited long enough, he promised softly, "I'll always come back."
He saw her visibly relax. The twins kept their promises. And because Kieran always kept his promises, Aeshli had to die. He didn't relish the thought of killing her again. He didn't know how many times he would rue an oath made to Kian in a fit of anger, but there it was. An oath. Something he couldn't break, whether he wanted to or not.
As if she'd been prompted, she asked, "Is that a promise?"
He nodded. She accepted that without any questions, knowing he would be true to his word. He always had, hadn't he? She glanced at him again, then laughed. "Kieran, go to bed. You look like hell."
He glared at her. "Thank you, Giacinta. You always did do wonders for my self-esteem." Nevertheless, he stood up to follow her advice, stretching as he rose. If she said he looked as bad as he felt, she was probably right.
"Goodnight, Kieran," she said sweetly.
The corners of his mouth curled. "Goodnight, Giacinta," he replied, his voice just as sweet and somehow more sarcastic. He walked out of the room slowly and she could see the fatigue curtailing every move he made. Worry curled in her stomach before she dismissed it. She'd tried, but he wouldn't let her help.
Kieran's problems were his.
She sighed, leaning back against the couch. She knew she could no longer interfere in the twins' relationship with each other, but, really, wasn't that what she was doing? She'd spent her entire life meddling in their affairs, but not to improve or destroy anything between them.
She was far more selfish than that. She knew it, too.
Kieran was nothing more than a way to get at Kian, to find a way to make him pay. He'd condemned her to eternal life and then abandoned her. It was not something Giacinta appreciated.
She'd been infatuated with him from the moment she'd seen him. He was gorgeous and strong. And he was a wanderer. Maybe not a gypsy, but close enough that her tribe might accept their courtship. She'd wanted him, so she had pursued him. It had taken quite a bit of effort on her part, but eventually she'd won. Or so she'd thought until he tried to walk out of her life.
A frown wavered over her lips. When Kian made her a vampire, it was supposed to bind her to him. Instead it had only pushed them apart. And when she told him she loved him, he laughed at her. He laughed and walked away.
Kian was good at walking away or disappearing if he didn't want to be found. His latest disappearing act lasted longer than any of the others. Twenty years. She didn't know where he'd been or what he'd been doing. One day he had walked out, and then, twenty years later--to the day--he'd strode back in like nothing had happened.
And then he had the nerve to tell her he'd only come by to get his stuff. She should have burned it.
He'd done nearly the same thing the first time. Not quite the same, but he had changed as much and as many times as a chameleon in only the three hundred years she had known him. She couldn't expect him to do something more than once. No, that would be asking too much of him. Kian, if nothing else, was unpredictable.
The first time… The memory lingered in her mind as clear as the day it had happened. Every action, every thought, every word…
"Make me a vampire." It was so simple, this request, that he stared at her in shock. He didn't realize she knew. Or maybe it was something he didn't want to acknowledge. Either way, she had shut him up rather effectively.
His violet eyes narrowed. "I don't know what you're talking about," he answered blithely.
She raised an eyebrow. "Kian, don't be ridiculous. We both know what you are. I've seen you feeding in the woods."
He blushed. She didn't know vampires could do that. Then he said, "What I am is my own concern. I'm not turning you into a vampire."
She shrugged then, twisting a blade of grass between her fingers. "Why not?" she asked negligently. As though she was asking why he couldn't go for a swim instead of why he couldn't kill her.
He turned to her then, his face more serious than she had ever seen it. "You don't know what it's like," he replied viciously. His violet eyes flamed with anger. "You're a gypsy. You aren't a murderer, but you will become one if I grant you your request."
"To some people, gypsies and murderers are one and the same," she pointed out. She watched him carefully, searching for the slightest sign of weakness. When she saw what she wanted, she continued, "I know what I want. If you won't give it to me, I'll find someone else who will."
He smiled then, his teeth lengthening beneath her gaze. "If you insist," he said. He moved his body so it was closer to her. He leaned in and there was a brief moment of pleasure when she felt his lips against her neck. She shivered. She'd wanted him, this, for so long now.
Then he bit. The pain was fierce, running through her body like poison. Through the haze of pain she heard his mind-voice telling her this would be over soon. A moment later, the pain suddenly stopped.
He pulled back, lying her carefully against the grass before raising a hand. He slit his own neck, just a tiny cut at the base of his throat, and guided her head to it. The blood had flowed into her mouth, rich and thick. Warm life-giving fluid full of the essence that was Kian Redfern.
When it was over, she was slightly dazed. Whatever she'd been expecting, it hadn't been this.
"We must do this two more times before you come a vampire," he said casually.
She reached up to finger the tiny puncture wounds at her neck. "Then I will be immortal." Awe filled her voice.
He shook his head. The two times came and went quickly. The final time, he told her what she needed to know before they started. Things that would help her survive as a vampire. He must have been planning to leave even then. Finally, he told her the thing she feared most. That she would be reborn, but that first she must die. Death was what she tried to escape. She had spent nights awake dreading this moment.
And as she died, her consciousness flowed out of her and darkness overwhelmed her senses. Fear paralyzed her until she remembered nothing else.
When she had woken, he had been gone. No good-byes or promises. Just gone.
She had wanted to hate him for it. She still did. She wanted to hate him for many things. One memory in particular haunted her, making her cringe every time she thought about it. It was when she told Kian she loved him.
"Kian, please don't walk away again," she begged, tears springing to her eyes. She searched for him so long and he was going to disappear. Again. "Please," she whispered. "I love you."
He laughed. Strong, deep laughter that wounded her. "You don't love me," he said bitterly. "You want me. I'm a prize to be won. Nothing else."
Frustrated, she shook her head. "No, it's more than that," she insisted. Why didn't he understand?
He sighed. "Giacinta, you don't know anything about love, except the love you have for yourself. I have a soulmate. Whatever you feel can't replace that."
"How would you know?" she asked. "Have you ever tried returning someone else's love? Have you ever looked for anyone besides this girl?"
"No," he answered. His face was grim. "I haven't. I don't need to and you wouldn't either if you would look for yours instead of wasting your time with me."
She glared at him. "You owe me," she snapped.
His mouth fell open in surprise. "I never made you any promises. You asked to become a vampire. I made you one. I don't owe you anything now." His eyes narrowed. "I tried to talk you out of it, remember?"
Her face set, she replied, "You will be mine one day."
He walked away laughing.
If nothing else, she didn't want him to be happy. He'd left her, dammit. She found out later -- too late, probably -- that he'd only made her a vampire because she looked like someone named Aeshli. And so she got back at him the only way she knew how: she helped his twin kill his soulmate.
She still wasn't sure why Kieran let her help or even why he killed this girl in every lifetime. She didn't ask because it wasn't any of her business. He kept his reasons to himself. She was happy knowing she was helping to destroy Kian's life. It was enough for her.
She checked her watch. Four. The nights she and Morgan read bedtime stories always ran late. She had better get some sleep now, before the sun was up and sleep was impossible. Besides, there was work to do.
Kian's soulmate needed to die.