Deep, ragged breaths tore loudly through the still night air. Desperation or maybe fear hung suspended in each wild exhalation, pleading for comfort or some outside aid.

 

Help me.

 

But the night was cold and uncaring. The stars basked in their own burning splendor and did not heed the cries of mortals at their feet.

 

This was a game they played, bathing the world in their icy silver light. Perhaps they pretended to care. Wishes flew like diamonds in the endless twilight and fell just short of reaching them. But sometimes, these suffering supplications found them and were answered. Whatever their true nature, whatever purpose they held, the humans believed in them.

 

Tonight the stars were deaf.

 

Help me.

 

The plea clung like icicles on a jagged rock, clawing its way firmly into her brain. The night suddenly lost its beauty. Silent sobs, ones that could not be heard but only understood, dragged her deep into the vermin's mind.

 

And the girl was vermin.

 

Her cynical black eyes watched coldly from the shadows, hooded and hidden, as Kian's pathetic little soulmate flew out of his apartment building, wild-eyed and filled with fear. She knew the girl searched for some sort of escape.

 

She also knew she would not find it.

 

Her mouth twisted scornfully. Kieran should have killed the human bitch long ago, but he hadn't. She had the nagging suspicion that he was going soft on her. She didn't like the implications of that at all. And so…

 

She'd just have to take care of it herself.

 

Frankly, the thought of killing Cameron Aderyn made her insides go all warm and tingly. All these years, she'd sat and watched Kian pursue that helpless little nothing. For what?

 

Not a damned thing. Her mouth curved in a chilling smile. She hadn't gotten anything out of it. Killing the little bitch might actually make her feel worthwhile once again. A person could only take so much before they snapped, after all. It was her turn to snap.

 

But, if she could help it, the only thing that would really snap would be that little witch's neck.

 

Snap, snap. She smiled. Maybe she could find a spell that would add a 'crackle, pop' to that as well. There was nothing like a good explosion to add some excitement to her life.

 

Those hooded onyx eyes followed the girl's path down the street. Don't trip, she thought lazily. The big, bad wolf might get you.

 

But not tonight. Tonight only Giacinta lurked in the woods with her big, sharp teeth. Not at all the kind that were good to eat little girls with. But draining them dry… Well, that was another matter all together.

 

She tossed her raven hair back over her shoulders, breaking into a light run. The ground flew beneath her feet as she loped easily behind the human girl. Humans. Her lips skinned back against her teeth, a silent snarl sliding from her. The girl might have been lucky enough to be born a witch in this life, but one life as a Night Person didn't redeem centuries of being prey.

 

Witch or not, the girl was worthless, especially to her.

 

She followed her silently and steadily, slipping through the perfectly manicured lawns that reflected the humans' perfectly manicured lives. One footstep or one snag and both unraveled faster than a spider's delicate web. But, like that spider's web, it was far too easy to get caught and trapped.

 

Trapped. A word she hated with more passion than she felt for Kian. He had trapped her, inexplicably and with no way to escape. He hadn't even tried, nor had he needed to. She was Kian's destiny. The whiny little witch was not. 

 

With a burst of speed, she shot far enough ahead that she was waiting for her when she turned the corner.

 

The bitch didn't even glance at her. She darted out of the obscurity into the dim light washing over the street in a sheet of pale blue-white color. It cast haggard shadows over her delicate features and exaggerated the fear drawn over her face.

 

Annoyance snaked through Giacinta in red-hot coils. She shifted slightly, sliding out her foot and placing it in Cameron's path. Let the bitch ignore her. She would find a way to get her attention.

 

And as a way of getting attention, this worked.

 

Cameron let out a shrill cry, her legs tangling and flying from beneath her.  She saw the ground rush toward her face in a blur of hard concrete and dark shadows. For a moment the ground grew fangs, sharp and pointed like blade of a finely honed knife. She stifled another scream as the unforgiving ground bit into her palms. She caught herself just before her chin slammed into the sidewalk. Tomorrow she would have bruises.

 

Wincing, she gingerly rolled over, trying desperately not to put pressure on her battered hands. Her elbow gave out, still stinging from the jarring fall, and she collapsed back on her good elbow, barely managing to prop herself up. Her vision cleared slowly, focusing on a woman who looked disturbingly familiar.

 

Eyes and hair as enigmatic as the darkness around them. But it wasn't her coloring that caught her attention. Her gaze trailed over delicate features and a smirking mouth. Something about her was wrong.  Wrong like fire burning a lake of freezing water or like ice melting in the middle of the coldest winter. And then she realized.

 

She was staring into her own face.

 

"I know you," she whispered. She drew herself up slowly, pulling her knees closer to her body. A moment passed before she found the energy to stand, but that moment was barely long enough to draw notice. She rose fluidly despite the pain.

 

The woman smiled and Cameron's breath caught in her throat. It was the same smile a cat had after catching a mouse and tearing it into unrecognizable pieces. She suddenly understood she was that mouse.

 

"Very good," Giacinta murmured.  "The sooner you learn that, the better off you are. You've spent the last millennia as prey and as an analogy, a mouse isn't so far off the mark."

 

Cameron slammed shields around her mind instinctively, as thick and effective as a steel vault. "Who are you?"

 

Giacinta shook her head. "Wrong question. Who I am isn't as important as what I want." Those midnight eyes softened.  "I want to help you."

 

Every cell in Cameron's body screamed against that statement, shrieking that it was a lie, that this girl didn't want to help her. This girl wanted to see her dead. She knew that as surely as she knew Kieran would kill her. But… how did she know?

 

She didn't have an answer to that question.

 

She only had her intuition. As Jessa so liked to tell her, Cameron's intuition was almost more powerful and believable than seeing something with her own eyes. She had to trust it.

 

The dark haired woman who so resembled her had continued talking, oblivious to Cameron's reservations. Her words caught and held Cameron's attention.

 

"My name is Giacinta," she said. "Last names are irrelevant when you're nearly three hundred years old. A vampire, obviously, courtesy of Kian Redfern." She paused at Cameron's gasp, smiling and revealing sharp white teeth. "I believe you know him?"

 

Cameron nodded her affirmation, but remained silent. Her stake was in her purse and her purse was at… Kian's apartment building. She cursed silently. Stupid. Without moving her eyes from Giacinta's, she tried to take stock of the objects around her.

 

A lamppost. Nothing else surrounded her but a piece of crumbled paper and meters upon meters of concrete. Be resourceful, Cameron, she told herself. But first, she had to find something to be resourceful with.

 

"Kian killed me," Giacinta continued softly and persuasively. Her endless onyx eyes glinted tragically and she glided toward her as though strings pulled her. "He killed me and then he abandoned me. No explanation and no apologies."

 

Cameron watched a single tear slip down her cheek. Somehow she knew it was a fake tear, one being used as way to gain her sympathy. She had to keep herself from rolling her eyes. "I'm sorry," she began lamely, not knowing what the woman wanted from her.

Giacinta shrugged, sighing. "I just don't want him to do the same to you," she answered. "I want you to know what you're dealing with."

 

"I don't think Kian intends to kill me."

 

A bitter smile crept across Giacinta's pale face. "Neither did I," she countered. She pushed the raven fall of her hair out of her eyes. The movement caused light to shimmer on an intricate silver ring, catching Cameron's attention.

 

Giacinta noticed. "Beautiful, isn't it?" she questioned. She held out a hand so Cameron could get a better look at it.  The ring was fashioned from rubies and emeralds to form a disturbingly realistic rose, twining beautifully around her finger in an endless circle. "Kian gave it to me. The rubies signify blood, of course, but the green… the green stands for endurance. When you think about how red also stands for passion and red roses say, 'I love you,' it almost makes sense doesn't it?"

 

Cameron stared at her. What exactly was she trying to say? That Kian loved her? That he'd promised her forever? The woman couldn't be so stupid as to lie to her about something like that.

 

"He lied," Giacinta said flatly. She saw the look on Cameron's face and knew she was treading on dangerous ground. "That's the only thing I'm trying to tell you. I'm not going to tell you that he and I had a forever kind of thing, because we didn't. But he did lead me on. I paid dearly for falling for his lies."

 

"What happened?" The question slipped from between her lips before she knew it was happening and in spite of her reservations.

 

Again the bitter smile. "It isn't much of a story, really," Giacinta answered. "He made a few worthless proclamations of love and a few enticing promises of forever. He just never mentioned how lonely forever is when you're all alone."

 

Cameron digested this in silence. Even though she knew the woman in front of her lied, she couldn't help but feel pity for her. She obviously loved -- or at least obsessed over -- the one who was Cameron's soulmate. Because of the soulmate bond, she would always lose. She assumed Giacinta knew that she and Kian were soulmates, but maybe not.

 

She hesitated, wondering if enlightening her was really a good idea.

 

As if she was reading her mind, although Cameron knew her shields were so tight not even the vampire could get past, she added, "Don't think he won't kill you just because you're his soulmate."

 

"I think you have them mixed up," Cameron offered. "Maybe you were thinking about Kieran."

 

Giacinta snorted. "I was most definitely not thinking of Kieran. I'm talking about your soulmate, sweetheart. There's a rather obvious distinction there."

 

"Even for you?" Cameron countered.

 

"Touché." She turned, staring into the infinite darkness with a pain Cameron could never understand. One she never wanted to understand. "I can tell them apart. Probably not as easily as you can, but I've known them for a long time and they each have their idiosyncrasies."

 

Cameron nodded graciously, conceding. Onyx eyes met sapphire and an understanding passed between them. "Thank you for the warning."

 

"Don't take it lightly," Giacinta responded. Her face was pleading. "I don't want to see someone else suffer because of him."

 

Suspended, the statement hung in the air like a ghost that would come back to haunt her. Giacinta left it at that. She turned, gliding away, confident she had accomplished what she had come to do.

 

Cameron watched her walk away, somewhat stunned. Did Giacinta really think she was that gullible?

 

Apparently so.

 

Shaking her head, she hurried back to her apartment, where she hopefully wouldn't run into anymore of these insane people tonight.

 

 

 

Giacinta didn't really walk away. She started to, but when Cameron thought she disappeared into darkness, it was really just an illusion.

 

Their little encounter had gone beautifully.

 

She knew damned well that the witch hadn't believed or listened to a word she was saying. She'd heard the words, though, whether she'd wanted to or not. And by hearing them, she was trapped.

 

Giacinta had planted a seed of doubt that would surface when the witch least expected it. And what Giacinta was about to do next, combined with that doubt, would hopefully set a chain of events into motion.

 

A chain of events that would lead to Cameron's death.

 

Blood didn't bother Giacinta. She had to drink it to survive, so of course she couldn't be sickened by it. That would be ridiculous. But killing Cameron with her own hands was something else entirely. Kian would never forgive her for that. Never.

 

And it wasn't really her style. She preferred to be the manipulative type, getting what she wanted without actually doing any of the dirty work herself. This time especially. Instead she'd decided to leave it up to Kian and Cameron to take care of it.

 

Cameron was almost out of sight now, moving slowly as though she mulled Giacinta's words over in her mind. Giacinta trailed quietly behind her, enjoying the knowledge that it would be at least another sixteen years before this scene could happen again.

 

She paused, never taking her eyes of the witch's dark head. "Remember," she whispered, a malicious smile playing on her lips. She strode away, disappearing into the night.

 

Where she had stood, only a dying, blood-red rose indicated that anyone had ever been there.

 

 

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