It took everything in him not to smile.

He’d been trying to maintain his cool-as-ice, somewhat sober demeanor for quite awhile now, and the chinks in his chilly armor were only visible if you were watching closely.

Which Kiana was.

There was something about him that intrigued her, although she wasn’t sure what or why. It didn’t really matter. It wouldn’t do for her to get involved with a human anyway. She’d heard enough horror stories about that kind of thing to want any personal experience.

Not that she would have been able to satisfy her curiosity. Bastien wouldn’t have allowed for it. He’d become more and more demanding lately, needing something from her every second. Her sister hadn’t been helping. She had been spending all her time backing him up and generally being a nuisance. It wasn’t making Kia's life any easier.

She was dealing, however, despite their obvious attempts to interfere. She wasn’t sure they weren’t trying to be helpful or if they thought they were being that way. She had been overreacting just a little lately. That might be the case now.

She was watching him without being too obvious. After all, nothing was going to come out of this. She’d already lectured herself about falling in love with a human. While it didn’t bother her that someone else would do it, she knew better than to think that she could handle it. She just wasn’t cut out for that kind of thing.

It didn’t stop a thrill from running through her as she caught him sliding an interested gaze from his dark, thickly lashed mahogany eyes. He was gorgeous. What girl wouldn’t be excited to catch his notice?

She wanted to run her fingers through his dark hair, to touch him. She suddenly had this odd feeling that she shouldn’t do that. It popped into her head as she saw him draw himself up, seemingly come to a decision, and then start in her direction.

Don’t let him touch you.

Stiffening, just a little shocked, she wondered if maybe disregarding the second warning was a good idea. She didn’t think so. Okay, no big deal. So she wouldn’t let him touch her. She could handle that, couldn’t she? Yeah, he did seem to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but he didn’t look all that alarming to her. There was something elusive in his eyes that made her think of…

"Excuse me, do I know you?" His voice startled her out of her reverie. It was as cold as he looked, almost chillingly polite.

She shook her head, her long blond hair falling around her like a silk curtain, reminding him of a waterfall. Especially the way it spilled down over her shoulders in a silky blond mess. Something about that hair made him want to touch it and see if it was as soft as it looked.

He knew he couldn’t let himself get close to someone again. It had been too painful the last time, when Cassie had chosen Adam over him. He fought the impulse to smile at her again, trying to keep his mask in place.

He couldn’t do this.

The decision came abruptly. He nodded curtly to her, then turned on his heel to walk away. To walk out of her life.

Her earlier resolution forgotten, she jumped forward and laid her hand gently on the exposed skin of his forearm and asked him simply, "Please wait."

At least, that’s how it was supposed to happen. But when she laid her hand on his arm, her world melted away. Suddenly she was five again and didn’t know how to swim. She was drowning in his mind. The shock of it was almost too sudden for her to accept. All at once there were colors and pictures crowding her, pulling at her. She saw him at ten, with his cousin… What was her name?


That was it. It was a beautiful picture, all full of color and life and happiness. Except that he was outside of it. Hurt flowed through her, the hurt of a ten-year-old boy who would not and could not join in, even if it was his own decision.

As an older boy, being reprimanded for smoking a cigarette on school grounds. He’d looked at the principal with his cold mahogany eyes and the principal had backed away in fear. She could feel his sadness at this response. He’d turned away, lighting a cigarette as he went, practically throwing his crime in the principal’s face.

Ugh, she thought. What a nasty habit.

She heard him snort suddenly and realized that he was in her mind as much as she was in his. Rearing back, she shoved at him mentally. He refused to budge.

You started this. He said it quietly, without rancor. He wasn’t fighting it. Instead, he was opening his mind to her willingly and inviting her in. Nothing would scare her off better than seeing what he was.

She started to get angry. Get out! she heard herself snap at him angrily. Oh, no, she thought, she sounded like a shrew. He ignored her anyway, clinging tenaciously, forcing her to see him for what he was.

Impatient, she flipped through the memories quickly, wanting to get this over with and to be out of his mind. It was then that she saw his memory of the girl. Not just any girl, but the girl that he had loved. The girl that had been taken away from him by someone who was close to him, someone in his… coven?

She took a deep breath and backed off. It was possible, she supposed, and it made this a little bit easier for her. Just a little. But it just wasn’t likely.

He laughed sardonically, his laughter filling her head. Believe it, bella, he said, I’m a witch. Just like you see in the fairy tales.

She could tell that he expected her to be scared by this. She almost laughed. He was much nicer than the normal witches she dealt with were. She let her amusement distract her from what he was saying.

It took a moment for his words to pierce through her foggy brain so that she could hear him. It took her another moment to understand them. And another to grasp the implications of what he said.

This human girl will never be able to cope. She’s useless, like so many of them. The coven just doesn’t understand. He wasn’t speaking to her, didn’t mean for her to hear, but she did. She got angry.

She pulled her hand away from his arm with a jerk, as though she was removing it from something disgusting, something she didn’t want to touch. As she yanked it back, an inhuman hiss rose from her throat and her face twisted into an angry snarl. It made her even angrier that the bond was still there, although she wasn’t touching him. The look of genuine shock on his face didn’t stop her from letting her canines extend or from snapping at his neck. It encouraged it.

Believe it, Nick, she mocked silently, for his ears alone. I’m a vampire. Just like you see in the fairy tales.

"Except that I’m real," she bit out, barely resisting the urge to really bite him, just to teach him a lesson. She’d never wanted to do that to someone before in her life. The realization scared her.

He was breathing heavily, like someone who had just run the biggest race of his life. She ignored it, attributing it to the shock and the fear. Her mouth hovered over the vein in his neck that throbbed wildly with life. She allowed herself one little lick, just one little taste of his skin. She couldn’t help herself. He really was too delicious.

"One day, you’ll understand, Nicky," she said snidely. He met her wide hazel eyes with his deep mahogany ones as she looked at him in consideration. He was definitely not a toy she wanted to keep.

She turned, ignoring the fact that he almost fell as she walked away from him. She disregarded the twinge of pity she felt and the need to go back to him. Straightening her spine, she kept walking.

From behind her, she heard movement. It wasn’t Nick moving. He was still sitting where he’d slid to the ground. It was someone else. Her.


Her eyes widened gently in rage as she heard him call his name. She couldn’t have him. She laughed at her reaction softly. Of course, Cassie could have him. What would she do with him? He would be better off his coven. She slipped nimbly behind a box before leaping up. She landed gently on a nearby roof with barely a thud.

She paused a moment, thinking. She was lucky she’d been in a deserted alley for that encounter. Although she didn’t follow the laws of the Night World any longer, the price she would have had to pay for telling a human was death. They didn’t need the panic her teeth and that hiss would have caused either. Oh, yes, she’d been lucky.

She needed to get out of this pathetic little town.



Chapter 1

He was standing silently at the edge of the group that was crowded around Diana. She was showing them something she had found on the beach earlier that week. It had them all excited. He couldn’t really say that it was holding his attention.

Not that anything had been able to for the last four months. Every time he got lost in thought, he remembered her. He remembered the way her blond hair had fallen over his shoulders and the way it had slid over his hand like raw silk. He remembered her angry hazel eyes and her long spiky lashes. And the way he’d felt when she had touched him.

But most of all, he remembered her teeth.

He shuddered slightly without realizing it as he pictured her in his mind. Long, curved, and pointed, those teeth were the birth of every nightmare he’d ever had. They reminded him of every little sound that made him want to crawl into his parents’ bed and hide. Except for the part where he didn’t have parents.

That made his mouth twist slightly. Even the girl who was a vampire had parents. They might be blood-sucking monsters, but they were still there for her. He’d caught her last fleeting thought as she’d slipped away. She was going to go home. And when she got there, she was going to hide for a very long time.

Good, he thought in resentment. She’d done something to him that he didn’t like. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he knew it had been something. There wasn’t any other explanation for it. Why else would he be thinking about her all the time? It was bad enough that it lasted while he was awake. He wished she hadn’t made it so he dreamed about her as well.

He shifted just a little, uncomfortable with the thought of his last dream. He noticed Diana looking at him in concern, and sent her a weak smile in return. He hoped that would satisfy her. He couldn’t manage anything else at the moment.

It took him a few moments to realize that the rest of the Circle was staring at him expectantly. He flushed. "I wasn’t paying attention," he admitted. His voice was somewhat apologetic, but it had lost none of its distance or its coldness.

Diana opened her mouth to reassure him, but Faye jumped in cattily before she had a chance. With her golden eyes narrowed on him in suspicion, he felt kind of like a lobster waiting to be chosen for dinner. The memory of that he’d had lobster for dinner made him start to feel sick.

"What were you thinking about, Nick?" she asked smoothly. "Tell us what it is that’s held your attention for past few months."

He felt like squirming, but he refused to give her the satisfaction. He ran a strong hand through his thick mahogany hair, leaving it mussed in his hand’s wake. It made him look slightly boyish. "It doesn’t matter," he replied, "because it's not something that we’ll ever encounter again."

Faye shrugged, one smooth, elegant shoulder rising carelessly. "Tell us anyway. I always did like a good story."

"I don’t want to talk about it," he answered, annoyed. Why couldn’t Faye take a hint? He didn’t want to get into the details. He didn’t want them to be exposed to the realization that the nightmares really were out there.

She looked him straight in the face, then lowered her eyes to examine her blood red nails. Cocking her head and not looking at him, she murmured, "Because your soulmate enjoys her food a little rare?"

Her strange gold eyes were triumphant, laughter playing in their depths. They took in his shock, stealing it from him. He almost couldn’t speak. His throat was stuck; his eyes were wide and hurt. He didn’t know what to say.

She laughed throatily. "Admit it, Nick, your one true love is a vampire. The rest of us get humans, but you… You get stuck with a nice, lovely leech. It fits, doesn’t it?"

He tried to repress his anger. He really did. After all, Faye didn’t know what she was talking about. "She’s not my soulmate," he finally managed. It was only after he heard himself speak that he realized it wasn’t what he wanted to say.

She made little tsking sounds in her throat. "Now, Nick, don’t deny it," she reprimanded mildly. "I have my information from a very reliable source." Then she smiled secretively. "A very reliable source."

"What are you talking about?" Diana finally asked. She was obviously confused. It wasn’t every day that she heard things like this.

It was Faye who answered her. With a wide smile, she said, "I think it’s rather obvious, isn’t it? I did state it rather clearly."

Diana shook her golden head slowly. "But, Faye, there are no such thing as vampires." Her clear green eyes shone as brightly as peridot, their depths unmuddled by confusion.

"There are." Faye’s voice was apologetic. "Would you like to meet one?"

"No," Nick interrupted. "Leave Diana alone." There was a warning in his voice that she couldn’t have mistaken.

It didn’t stop her from ignoring it. Her red tipped nails beckoned into the darkness, drawing forth a shadowed figure that was remarkably… short.

He frowned. This is what had caused the disturbance in him a few seconds ago? Oh, he really needed to get a grip on his imagination. He didn’t look threatening, at least not to Nick. If anything, he looked, well, normal. Normal haircut, normal clothes, even if they were all black. All in all, pretty ordinary.

It was then that he saw his eyes. They were darker than his own were, reminding him of the hematite that was Cassie’s working stone. No, not the hematite. They were too deep and compelling to be compared to that. They were dark chips of obsidian, set in a white and hard face. He wanted to flinch beneath their gaze.

Faye smiled gaily, ignoring the tension that was rising between them. Faye was good at ignoring the things she didn’t want to deal with. Although he was almost sure that this time, she was ignoring it in order to heighten that same tension. She wanted a fight. He wanted to know why.

Her smile never faltering, she brightly announced, "This is Damon."

Damon stepped fully into the light. His attention was directed at Nick. "Kiana has been having nightmares," he said conversationally, going straight to the point. Like Faye, he was ignoring the tension and the danger emanating from Nick. "From what I understand, they’re rather unpleasant. There are lots of nasty things in them. And it’s funny, but she seems to think they’re from you." The last words were snarled and the only thing that held Damon back was Faye’s restraining grip on his arm.

Nick’s eyes should have given him frostbite, they were so cold. "I have nothing to do with Kiana’s dreams," he stated flatly. He didn’t even flinch when Damon moved toward him threateningly.

"Listen," Damon hissed. "I don’t care if they’re from you or not. Kiana needs you, and if she wants you, she’s going to get you." His lips pulled back from his teeth, baring them for the entire Circle to see.

They lengthened under their watchful eyes, some gasping, while others simply stared in shock. Still others reasoned to themselves that vampires had every right to be real. Witches were, weren’t they?

Meanwhile, Nick backed carefully away. He knew better than to stay close to an angry vampire. "I’m not Kiana’s property. And I’m not going to her."

Damon laughed a soft, menacing laugh. "I’m glad you think that you can stop me," he answered in amusement. "But you see, what Kiana wants is more important than what you want, so you really don’t have a choice."

"Why is what Kiana wants so important to you?"

Damon hid the surprise that jumped into his black eyes quickly, but not fast enough that Nick didn’t see it. His black lashes swept down a fraction of a second too late.

"Be honest," Nick taunted. "If the answer is good enough, I might come with you willingly."

The expression on Damon’s face melted into one that was considering, as though he were thinking about those words. Then he smiled. It was chilling. "It won’t matter, you know," he said softly. "You’ll come whether you want to or not." He paused again. "But I will tell you that Kiana is special. She is special not only for what she is, but also for how she is."

"For what she is?" Diana questioned, jumping into the conversation although the rest of her Circle was too afraid to do the same. "She’s a vampire. That isn’t any different than what you are. It doesn’t make her special."

Damon’s dark eyes narrowed on her. "She is special, for more than one reason." He turned back to Nick. "Are you coming willingly?"

He took a deep breath, hesitating. He knew he was going to go. That wasn’t a question. But he wasn’t sure he was going to stay for anything more than the introductions. He wasn’t sure he had a reason to go. The pull that Kiana had on him was different from the pull that Adam and Cassie had on each other. It wasn’t a silver cord; it was a raging inferno. A melee of vibrant colors and sounds and confusion. It wasn’t soft or gentle or even the knowledge of the other person’s soul. It was the calm before a storm and the driving winds of a hurricane. It was the difference between a puppy and a rabid wolf. It was the gentle dripping of rain and the horrid sound of metal scraping against metal in a tragic accident. It was everything.

And that wasn’t what he’d been taught soul mates were. Oh, he knew Kiana. He knew more about her than he should have. He would have known her better if she had let him in, if she had let him see her and what she was. Other than the vampire part, of course.

But she hadn’t.

She’d kept him at arm’s length, blocking the warmth of her mind from his. He’d let her see his, but it hadn’t been the same. Nick was the one who had lost on that deal.

He knew it, too.

Maybe he should go with the intention of staying awhile. Maybe he should get to know this girl. He knew that it was dangerous. He could see himself getting lost in her mind. But it would be worth it, because… In the time that they’d been together, he’d had the oddest feeling. It was the last thing that he would have ever expected, especially from a stranger. But…

She had completed him.

She’d been the second half of him and he wasn’t sure he wanted to give that up, at least not without experiencing it first. He looked at Damon, his mind made up. Somewhat grimly, he committed himself.

"I’ll go."




Chapter 2

She was lost in thought, blocking Bastien out as he lectured her. It was all the same thing anyway. She’d heard it numerous times in the last month. In fact, she would bet that she could recite it in her sleep. It always went the same way. He started the conversation with a compliment—which was the first thing that always tipped her off. She just wished…

She wished he understood. Understood like the boy in the back alley had understood. But Bastien would never know her. He wouldn’t make the time or the effort to do something like that. Anyway, he already thought he did know her. She wondered when she would finally prove him wrong.

Bastien was still talking, but he knew that she wasn’t listening. She never did. And then she wondered why she got into so much trouble. Well, that was obvious. She didn’t listen.

Out of spite, he asked her, "Katze, are you listening to me?"

She shook herself, forcing herself to pay attention. "Why should I listen?" she asked resignedly. "I’ve heard it all before. And I’ve heard all the ones like it. Please do me a favor," she petitioned him with just a hint of nastiness in her voice, "and try to lecture me on something new. If you’re going to pick apart my every move, at least try to be inventive."

He inclined his head nobly. "Then let’s move on. Who is he, Kia?"

She was shocked into silence. "Who is who?" she asked carefully, knowing better than to give anything away.

He smiled benevolently at her. "The boy who has been occupying all of your thoughts for the last four months. The one that you’ve been trying to hide from me. Rather unsuccessfully, I might add."

"I don’t know what you’re talking about." She met his eyes squarely, an obstinate set to her jaw. She wasn’t going to give up willingly.

"Don’t lie, Kiana," he chided gently. "It doesn’t do anything for you, especially since I can see right through you. Who is he?"

She caved. "He’s not a Night Worlder," she admitted reluctantly. "But he’s not human either. He’s a witch. I met him in Massachusetts, when I was there looking for Hunter’s imposter."

His mouth was twisted unpleasantly and his eyes bored into her. "You’re not turning into a damned Daybreaker, are you?" he asked sharply. "Because I will make it my own personal duty to kill every single one of them."

She shook her head vehemently. "There’s no way I would join Circle Daybreak. I want to be on the winning side." She managed to inject just the right amount of scorn into her voice to make herself sound believable. At least, she hoped she did. Bastien would be true to his word—and she didn’t want to see her friends dead.

She knew it had worked when he relaxed. "Good. You’re a Redfern, Kiana, in spirit if not in blood. Although I’m sure you have a little of that in you as well," he finished wryly.

A dull red flush covered her face. He was referring to an incident that happened little more than a week ago at the Black Iris Club. One of the more distant Redferns by the name of Trevan had been bothering her and, being what she was, she’d bit him to prove her point. It had been a show of dominance and not of hunger. He’d learned his lesson. Sebastien had made sure of that after Kia had made her point. It hadn’t cost him any effort at all—Trevan had been weak.

"It doesn’t matter," she sighed. "I knew better than to think that I could have him. He’s a human and not for me. But I couldn’t kill him either."

His heavily lashed eyes fell, hiding his thoughts from her. She would learn, he thought. And he would kill this boy. But first, he had to find out who he was. "It’s not always necessary to kill them, even if they are vermin," he told her, hiding his true thoughts. "What was this boy’s name?"

She reacted without thinking. It didn’t give her time to stop and revel in the shock she was feeling. "No."

He was startled. "Why not? It’s not going to hurt anything."

"Because," she answered grimly, "I don’t want to think about him anymore. I just want to let this go. I want to go back to how it was before. And that means I can’t share this with you."

He shrugged, hiding his anger. He would find out. Eventually, somewhere, she would slip. Sebastien would be waiting for it. "If that’s how you feel," he answered, hiding his anger.

She felt the tension leave her. He wasn’t going to push it. Oh, thank you, Sebastien, she thought, smiling at him warmly. "I do," she admitted, still smiling.

She rose from her seat on his bed, straightening the solid blue cover as she did so. The smile had softened and all the love she felt for him showed in her eyes. Sometimes she wanted to hurt him in the little ways he hurt her. Sometimes she wanted to hug him and remember all the little things they’d shared as children. And sometimes… Sometimes she just wanted to be alone.

Now was one of those times. She hesitated where she stood, uncertain whether it would be rude to walk out now. Unsure if she wanted to loose this sort of peace that they’d formed.

His forest green eyes smiled at her, realizing her dilemma. "You can go," he told her gently, amused. She smiled gratefully at him. She knew that he understood.

She turned around and quickly left, not giving him a chance to change his mind. He watched her go, his eyes darkening even further. She might hate him when he killed this boy, but eventually she would realize that it was better for them all. He knew that it would hurt her—that he would hurt her—and it saddened him. He tried to protect his little sister as much as he could. He hoped she understood when it happened that was what he was doing. But there’d been something in her eyes….

It didn’t matter. He strengthened his resolve. She didn’t need this human boy, not even the thought of him. So he would solve that problem for her. It had always been that way.

But first he had to find out who he was. That was the big problem, because he knew Kiana wasn’t talking. To any of them. His circle of friends was greatly depleted now that most them had defected to that damned Circle Daybreak. He didn’t see the appeal.

And he certainly didn’t believe in that soulmate nonsense that everyone was talking about. It was ridiculous. They were fooling themselves if they believed that they were linked to vermin. Hell, that was like saying that he was linked to his dog. Absently, he reached down to give the old girl a pat. She’d been so quiet when Kiana was there that he’d forgotten about her.

He flung himself down on his bed, resting his head on his folded arms. Who could he have help him? Quinn would have been the obvious choice, but Quinn was gone now. That left… No, Ash was gone too. "Damn," he swore viciously. "There’s no one left!"

What about… Blaise. She would help him. And she was a witch, which would make it easier on him to find the boy. Yeah, she was one of the damned Daybreakers, too, but he and Blaise went way back. He didn’t have to explain why he wanted her help. That he did would be enough. Besides, she owed him one.

Satisfied, he rolled over onto his back and smirked at the ceiling. He’d win this one yet. Nothing could possibly go wrong now. He glanced at the clock next to his bed, wondering if it was too late to go over there and see her. Probably not. Blaise never had been one to turn in early.

Grinning, he leaped off the bed and grabbed his jacket. Now would be the perfect time. He could get it out of the way and stop worrying about it. Cheered by this thought, he almost ran out of his room, snagging his keys as he went. Good-bye, whoever you are, he thought. We’ve got you now.

Kiana heard him leave. She wondered idly where he was going, but didn’t worry about it. Bastien always went out to cause trouble at the weirdest hours. He would probably come in at three or four in the morning, reeking of human blood and cheap perfume. That’s how he was.

It was heartening that he hadn’t yelled at her tonight. Maybe he was starting to come around. Excitement bubbled up inside of her and she shifted in agitation. She might even be able to talk to him about Circle Daybreak soon. He hadn’t yelled about her human friends in weeks and then there was always this.

She’d been afraid to tell him, with good reason. Bastien had always been the true Night Worlder, a stickler for the law and a troublemaker for the humans. Ash, Quinn, and he had almost disgusted her with some of the things they’d done. But always, no matter how she’d treated them, they had treated her with respect. She couldn’t fault them for that.

And now especially, she was able to say that she got along with them quite well.

They, in turn, could say that they had gotten the biggest freak in the Night World to join Circle Daybreak.

It was because of her own fame that she wasn’t permitted to stay with her circle. They had some misconception that she would do more good there with her brother. They thought he’d tell her something that would help them in their fight.

The only problem was, she wouldn’t let her choices come between family. And so every time Bastien started to tell her something she knew would put her in the position of having to choose, she steered the discussion away from that topic. Not that it had been much of a problem in the last few months, since all he seemed to want to talk about was her distraction and the cause of it.

She guessed that she still hadn’t made the choice between light and dark. But something inside her wouldn’t let her abandon Bastien. He’d always been there for her, no matter what.

She needed to do the same for him.

It was some misguided sense of debt that really kept her there. She was grateful to Sebastien and his long-dead parents for taking her in when there had been no one else. She’d been little then, no more than a baby. They had read about her in the papers one Sunday morning, during that time when she’d been in the hospital. Something about the situation had struck them as odd, and they’d come to visit. She’d been there, in the incubator, trying to suck up as much nourishment was possible from the IV that fed into her little arm. The IV hadn’t worked. Nothing had.

They’d stood over her tiny body, watching her waste away from malnutrition in front of them. And then, when the nurse had come in to change her diaper, they’d all watched as baby Kia bit her.

Oh, she’d been an oddity, all right. The tiny baby with the taste for blood.

The only lamia ever to be born to two human parents.



Chapter 3

Damon and Bastien faced each other warily, uncertain how to deal with each other. Damon had managed to keep his defection to Circle Daybreak a secret, but he and Bastien had never liked each other much to begin with. They both had too much at stake with Kiana to be friends with each other. Baby Kia’s affection hadn’t been something that was easy to win. In fact, a person was lucky if they had been allowed within ten feet of the little monster that she’d been.

Damon had been enchanted from the first moment he’d seen her. She had smiled up at him, her wide hazel eyes filled with wonder and—knowing. The intelligence, the knowledge that he’d seen in her eyes had surprised even him. Especially since he’d been able to recognize it. Kiana hadn’t been a normal baby.

He’d been her constant companion ever since. He had picked her up when she’d fallen; he had dried her tears when she cried. Almost every memory he had of the past few centuries were interlaced with the essence of Kia.

He was everything to her, past and present. He had remained her companion, her playmate, and her mentor. The only thing he hadn’t been was her soulmate. It annoyed him to no end that the soulmate she did have refused to have anything to do with her.

Well, everything except what he’d been forced to do. Right now he was residing with the members of Circle Daybreak. Damon didn’t know if he’d realized that not everyone in the circle was human yet. He’d find out soon enough.

Presently, however, Nicholas was not his main concern. Bastien was. And Sebastien Harman was quite a concern. A mixture of vampire and witch, with devastatingly good looks, he was a force to be reckoned with, and that was only if Damon didn’t factor in his cunning and intelligence.

Damon wasn’t stupid enough to do that.

He smiled lazily at Sebastien, ignoring the tension that radiated from him. "Kiana can take care of herself. Why even waste the effort? So she found a soulmate. I don’t see the problem."

"He’s human," Sebastien answered flatly, as if that explained it all.

Damon shrugged one shoulder neligently, allowing his upper lip to curl in just enough disgust to seem believable. "Then he’ll die soon anyway."

Sebastien’s eyes were cold. "I’m not willing to wait."

"What do you want me to do about it?" Damon asked unsympathetically, hiding his surprise too quickly for the other to catch it. He smothered a yawn.

It was clear to Sebastien that Damon thought he was wasting both of their time. If possible, his eyes got even colder. Their deep green depths swirled with cold chips of ice.

Frostbite, Damon thought immediately. I am definitely getting frostbite. Of course, he knew better than to think that Bastien could do anything to him. He was too powerful for him to even try… Although he sometimes wondered if he realized that. He doubted it.

He let a small smile curve his mouth slowly, as if in realization. "You want me to find out who he is, don’t you?" He watched as Bastien’s face became even more uncomfortable and wary. "Tsk, tsk, tsk… What would Kia do if she knew you were asking me to betray her trust?"

"She’s not going to find out, so it doesn’t matter, does it?" he replied silkily. He considered Damon for a minute, then moved around to the back of his desk, where he pulled out a small book. It took Damon a minute to realize what it was. Oh, my God, I don’t believe this, he thought, wanting to burst into laughter.

He managed to control himself as Bastien looked up, still unamused. "I’m willing to pay whatever your asking price is for this. Kiana will never know. I don’t trust you not to talk." He paused, his pen poised over the checkbook, then continued, "But know this: if she ever does find out, your life will be fair game."

Damon didn’t think it would be polite to remind him how hard that threat would be to carry out.

He drew himself up languidly, every movement belying his aristocratic heritage. Something like amusement played over his features. "I’ll think about it," he answered insolently. "And if I decide to do it, I’ll let you know."

Anger flashed over Bastien’s face and he had to keep himself from lashing out. It wouldn’t do to incur the wrath of possible allies. Not when they were allies that he needed. He had to at least pretend that Damon hadn’t really angered him. His plans depended on it.

Damon hid his smirk. As if he would really betray Kiana… As if. But then, Sebastien couldn’t know that. Everything he’d seen or heard of Damon had smacked of disloyalty. Damon rather liked it that way. People trusted him because they had to do so, not because they wanted to. It gave him an edge that he wouldn’t have had otherwise. Yeah, his age helped, but really it was the uncertainty—the fear—that everyone felt when they were forced to deal with him.

He wondered what they’d do if they really knew. Kiana was his one true weakness. If anything happened to her… He smothered that thought quickly. Nothing would happen to her. He would make sure of that, the same way he always had.

And besides, Kiana was invincible. He still remembered the fear he’d felt the first time that she’d been hurt by wood. The funny thing was, it hadn’t done anything to her. It had taken him awhile, not to mention a lot of shock, before he realized that she was human. Of course wood wouldn’t hurt her. He’d wondered then if she could be killed the way that normal humans could. He’d been afraid for her; it would have made her too vulnerable. He’d forgotten that she was a vampire.

Either way, he figured she was pretty much set. He also wondered what exactly she was. She didn’t really fit into any of the categories. Not witch, not shapeshifter, not vampire… So what did that make her?

She’d said it herself numerous times. It made her a freak.

Whatever she was, he was glad. He didn’t worry about her nearly as much as he would have if she had been pure vampire. Or, God forbid, pure human. He shuddered at the thought. She would have wreaked havoc in the human world had she grown up among those that belonged to it.

He turned back to Sebastien, who had finally gotten himself under control. He should have walked out while Bastien was too shocked to do anything about it. It was a damned shame he didn’t think of these things sooner.

"I’ll be in touch," he said finally as Damon walked out the door. He didn’t even look back. He simply kept walking.

Kia, he called, searching for her as soon as he was out of her brother’s house. I need a shower, cara mia. Your brother positively reeks ill will.

He wasn’t sure how he’d known that she was nearby, but something had told him that from the minute he entered the area. A mental giggle filled his head as she laughed in pure delight.

He’s not all that bad, she answered sweetly. And neither are you. Unfortunately, you’re both too pigheaded to realize that about each other.

A small smile softened his beautifully sculpted mouth. Trust Kiana to lace a compliment with an insult, or vice versa. But then, that was part of what he loved about her.

Where are you?

Nearby, she answered ambiguously. She knew it would drive him crazy. She was in one of her reckless moods. He could tell that already. Perfect. Now would be a smashing good time to drive her over to Thierry’s mansion. He wouldn’t miss this for the world.

Wonderful, he responded sarcastically. I have an idea. Why don’t you meet me by the Ferrari? We’ll drive over to the mansion and visit with all the poor, deluded individuals that really think they can save the world.

He could feel her indignation at that statement. The sudden silence made it even more obvious. Finally. It would do her good to get some of her own back. Besides, it was fun to rile her every once in awhile.

He covered the distance to his car quickly. She was already inside, idly examining his compact disc selection. Knowing her, she would find it wanting. He just hoped she could refrain from commenting, because he would refuse to change the music out of spite. The argument was long standing.

"Why are we going to the mansion?" she asked, with only a hint of true curiosity in her voice. It wasn’t abnormal for them to go; she was simply surprised that he had suggested it so quickly. They usually drove aimlessly for a few hours before deciding to head in that direction.

Damon shrugged casually as he pulled the car out of the parking space. "I have some things I need to give to Thierry. Might as well get it out of the way."

She nodded absently. That made sense. Why waste time on things like that when they could be doing something fun? She was in the mood for something exciting. Maybe they’d do something different tonight… It was her off night. No stalking for her. It gave her a curiously free feeling in the pit of her stomach. Something, some premonition, was building inside of her.

Something was about to happen.

Damon caught that, as fleeting as it was. If you only knew, Kiana. If you only knew…

He realized that she was probably going to hate him for what he’d done. As much as she needed her soulmate, she didn’t want him. But… She’d hate him more if he did what her brother wanted him to do. He’d lied to Sebastien when he’d told him that he’d think about it. Bitterness rose in the pit of his stomach. It disturbed him that he would do this to Kiana, even if he did think it was for her own benefit.

They drove the rest of the way in silence. Kiana had turned up the music almost as loud as it could go and she was singing along to the music. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that she was off-key.

They came up on the mansion quickly. Maybe it just seemed like it hadn’t taken that long. It didn’t really matter. They were here. He could feel his body tensing, bracing itself. He forced himself to relax.

But he couldn’t quite forget how vicious she could get when she was angry.

"Well," he said with forced cheerfulness, plastering his normal, annoying expression on his face, "let’s go."

She slipped her arm around his waist as he slammed the door shut. They walked quietly up the steps of the house. The feeling inside her grew to an almost deafening roar until her head started to spin. He stopped then, looking at her in concern.

"Kiana, are you okay?"

She mentally pushed herself past the buzzing noise. "I’m fine," she answered. She only wished felt as calm as she sounded. What was wrong with her today? She was in a placed that she loved. There was no danger here. Definitely not a basis for the premonitions she was feeling.

He suddenly wished he could warn her, but it was too late. She had already rung the doorbell. The door was already swinging open. The look of shock that crossed over her face caused him to move closer to her, rousing his protective instincts. But it was too late for that.

"What are you doing here?"


He looked at her coolly, with obvious resentment. "I think I should be asking you that, since you’re the reason I’m here."

She shut her eyes quickly as she gathered her strength around her like a shield. Damon and Nick both felt her closeting herself away from them, then she turned to Damon with vengeance written in her eyes. "What is he doing here?"

"You needed him," he answered simply, one elegant shoulder lifting in a shrug.

She backed away, shaking her head in denial the entire time. "No, you were wrong. I don’t need him. You need to get him away."

Nick bristled with indignation, but Damon heard the fear in her voice. So that’s what this was all about. He’d wondered. He quieted Nick by laying his hand heavily on one of his shoulders. Just shut up for two seconds, he thought, and we’ll have this all worked out.

"Sebastien’s not going to get him," he told her gently. He brushed a strand of silky blond hair out of her wild eyes. "He doesn’t even know who he is."

"He’ll find out." Her voice was full of dead certainty. He desperately wanted to make the panic recede from her eyes, to gather her in his arms and comfort her like he always had in the past. Unfortunately, he also knew that it was no longer his place.

He was almost shocked when Nick pushed past him and gathered her in his arms. "Don’t cry, Kiana," he soothed, stroking her golden hair lightly. Then, just a bit more desperately, tightening his arms around her, he said, "Don’t do this to me. I can feel your pain."

Damon withdrew slightly, feeling excluded from the scene before him. He knew it was unintentional; she would never do that to him. Nonetheless, he was uncomfortable with intruding on them like this. Quietly, he slipped away, knowing that they would be safe within the confines of Thierry’s property.

"Kiana," he said again, trying to tip her face towards him. She pulled away in resistance, tears running unheeded down her cheeks. Suddenly feeling reckless, wanting to snap her out of whatever state she’d fallen into, he bent down and sealed her mouth with his.

It was a chaste kiss, but full of so much emotion that the passion behind it couldn’t be ignored. She made a sound deep in her throat and surrendered. And suddenly, it was no longer just her. He was there with her, holding her hand and smiling at her, drawing her into his arms. Their mouths stilled, rested, hovered. Not moving, maybe touching, but more than anything else, simply feeling.

It didn’t matter anyway. She was drawn deep into his mind for the second time. She was in his memories and in his thoughts. Everything was there before her.

But, it’s so dark in here, she whispered. How do you live? Where’s the sunshine? Where’s your happiness??

Here. It felt almost like a physical sensation, like he was taking her hand and guiding her through the darkness. A great golden light spread out in front of her. She felt safe and secure in its warmth. And besides, it was pretty. But what was it?

You, he answered, accidentally hearing her thoughts.

Me? She was confused. What was he talking about? She wanted to know what the golden light was. She wanted to know what had made him so happy. She hadn’t seen it the last time she’d been inside and it bothered her. How could she possibly have missed this?

It’s you, he repeated quietly as they got closer. And that was when she saw herself as he saw her. As someone too perfect to be real. As someone that he could never be good enough for.

And, of course, as someone who would outlive him by thousands of years.

The second picture she’d seen was the one that really mattered. The golden light dulled it enough that it was easily missed. How lucky for her that she hadn’t.

It was exactly as she’d been that day in the back alley, with her fangs extended and anger flashing in her eyes. She’d looked beautiful to him; she knew that. But not even that fact could distract her from the film of disgust that overlaid it all. He simply couldn’t accept what she was.

She flinched and pushed herself out of his arms, tearing her mouth away from his. "I knew this would happen!" she said viciously. She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth in disgust.

He looked only mildly surprised. It made her even angrier.

Holding herself rigidly, she stated, "I will never change. I will always be a bloodsucking monster. I’m not the pretty golden picture you have painted in your thick head of me. I will NEVER be like that."

She started to walk away, but paused at the top of the stairs, turning back to face him proudly. "More importantly, Nicky, I don’t want to be."

With that said, she turned and walked away.

For the second time, he watched her go, full of confusion and pain. He was just trying to help. She didn’t have to get so offended. And as he watched her, he learned what it was to be afraid. He was full of fear. He was afraid of her and he was afraid of what she would do. But above all that…

He was afraid for her.

He sighed. There wasn’t much he could do about it anyway. She was a vampire! He wouldn’t be surprised if she attacked him the first time they were alone together. He shivered remembering the scene in the back alley and those wicked looking fangs. He’d be lucky if she didn’t bite him the first chance she got.

It didn’t occur to him that she’d had plenty of chances already.

He jumped when Kestrel placed a hand on his shoulder, startling him. He hadn’t even heard her coming. It always disturbed him when they did that—walked up on him so quietly that he couldn’t tell they were there. It wasn’t normal.

"Where did Kiana go to?" she asked casually, squeezing the muscles in his neck lightly. From anyone else, the touch would have been comforting. Coming from her, it made him feel like prey.

"She left," he answered shortly, moving away. It was none of her business. What was going on between them was for them to deal with. He didn’t appreciate the interference.

He shifted uncomfortably. She was staring at the vein pulsing in his neck, fascinated. He wasn't sure why she was doing that. He wondered what this place that they'd brought him to was, what kind of people were here. As of yet, he hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary. No one who had reminded him of Kiana. But this girl Kestrel was starting to make him wonder. At least Kiana never made him feel like he was food when she looked at him. She smiled suddenly, the expression disappearing. Maybe he'd just imagined it. Kiana had had an adverse effect on him.

"I have someone I'd like you to meet," she explained. "She's heard about you, about how you're little Kiana's soulmate. She really wants to meet you."

"What's her name?" he asked carefully. He didn't trust these people at all. Her smile deepened, the predatory edge returning. "Why, it's Blaise."



Part 5—Chapter 4

Kiana hummed softly to herself as she idly flipped through the hangers in her closet. What to wear? She sighed, realizing that she wasn’t going to find anything new on her second time through. She turned away. She was back to her patrolling duties, which meant yet another trip to the Black Iris. And tonight, for some reason, she wanted something special.

I wonder if Blaise has anything I can borrow, she thought to herself. Blaise’s clothes were appropriately… slutty. She was in a mood tonight, and she wasn’t sure that she liked it. It definitely didn’t mean good things for whoever happened to be on the streets. Oh, well. She shrugged. At least she knew she’d be in top form. That always helped.

She didn’t want to have to hurt anyone tonight, but if she had to kill anyone, she wanted it to be a mahogany-eyed witch. Not that she thought she’d be able to actually do it. She knew better than that. Still, it would be extremely satisfying. And, of course, she’d have more of a reason to hate herself later when he was gone.

She knew she probably shouldn’t have pushed him like that earlier, but really! She was a vampire. If he couldn’t deal with that, then it was his problem.

And hers, a voice in the back of her mind said. Her nose wrinkled in distaste. It was her problem. Maybe that was why it was so hard to accept his rejection. It wasn’t like she could change anything! What did he want her to do? She wasn’t going to have him for breakfast one morning, so she couldn’t understand why he was worried. The blood bank was very nice about donating. It helped that she tipped well.

Her wide hazel eyes scanned over the room, finally coming to rest on the clock. Another hour and it would be dark. Another hour before she had to go to work. Her hand itched to pick up the phone and call him. She almost laughed aloud; she wouldn’t talk to him anyway. It was much more likely that she’d call and hang up like the boy crazy child she’d been. Oh, but to hear the sound of his voice….

And then freeze to death, she silently added. Those eyes of his were so cold. As deep and compelling as his mind, but with so much less feeling. At least she could tell that he had feelings when she was in his mind. Simply looking at him, she sometimes wondered.

He seemed so passionless on the outside…

And to him, she was a great golden light. That description almost made her laugh. Maybe if she kept at him, she could melt all those icicles in his mind. Her smile suddenly faded.

Not to mention the one in his heart.

Her gaze skated over to the clock again, then out the window. She needed to get ready. Thinking about the long, lonely night ahead of her, she brought out a lethal looking wooden stake, which would fit nicely into the knee-high black boots she’d just decided she would wear. If she was going to get bloody, she might as well look chic while she did it.

A soft knock sounded on her door just as it swung inward. "Kiana, would you mind having some company on patrol tonight?"

Kiana blinked in surprise. Gillian stood in her doorway, her tiny frame almost dwarfed by the door. Gillian wanted to go with her? Kia was touched. "I don’t know if I’d be great company tonight," she admitted. "I’m not in the best mood."

Gillian hesitated. "Well, actually, I’m not the one who wants to go." She brushed her silky blond hair out of her vividly violet eyes with a graceful swipe of her hand. Her motion allowed Kiana to see the empathy in her eyes.

"Who is it, then?" she asked, suddenly wary. That look, especially in Gillian’s eyes, was never good.

Gillian abruptly stood up straight. She slipped out the door quietly, saying, "He said his name is Nick."

Kiana’s breath caught in her throat. Maybe he was stronger than she’d thought. If he’d come here after yesterday’s nastiness… Maybe they did have a chance. Of course, she hadn’t talked to him yet, so she could be jumping to conclusions. She hoped that wasn’t the case. Anticipation or apprehension built inside her. Maybe it was both.

Steeling herself, trying not to run out the door, she walked out of the room at a sedate pace. Her heart was jumping wildly in her throat; she could hear it pounding in her temples. Oh, my God, she thought. If I don’t calm down, I’m going to pass out.

The short trip down the steps seemed to take four times as long as usual and the hallway stretched before her like miles. She hoped that it wouldn’t always be like this. Her eyes searched for him, just waiting for the first glimpse.

It was like a blow to the head. Her senses reeled. She drank in the sight of him. He was facing her, but he didn’t seem to see her. His tall frame was slouched casually against the wall, but there was a tenseness in his muscles that she could see even from where she was. It made her want to… No, she couldn’t think about that.

Just focus on getting out of this with your heart intact, she reprimanded herself.

She must have made some noise then—a noise loud enough for a human to hear—because he looked up at her, startled. His deep mahogany eyes bored into her, searching, but never revealing what was hidden in their depths. "What do you want?" she asked. She suddenly remembered that she hadn’t meant to be quite so cold.

He straightened up, his expression never changing. "I want to go with you," he answered quietly. She hated the fact that his voice was so emotionless. She didn’t know what was going through his head.

"I don’t think so," she answered smoothly. "I don’t need to spend my time protecting you tonight, as well as myself and anyone else who is in danger."

If he had gotten angry, if he had tried to convince her, she would have said no. But she wasn’t prepared when he looked at her, saying simply, "Please."

Her defenses crumbled. That one word would always be her downfall. He said it so simply, so sincerely that she couldn’t say no. She shrugged half-heartedly, obviously wanting to refuse but not willing to do so.

He didn’t smile at her; he couldn’t. Her response was too grudging. But at least he’d convinced her to take him with her. That was a start, wasn’t it? He certainly hoped so. He was fully aware of the fact that he’d screwed up. He didn’t know how to fix it.

Maybe this would help. He wanted to reach out and take her hand, but something told him that she wasn’t ready for that yet. He was so confused about her, about the whole situation. On one hand, he didn’t trust her. He didn’t even like her. On the other… She was like air. He needed her to live.

"Where are we going?" he asked casually, as though he hadn’t just realized how addicted he was to her.

Her gaze raked over him contemptuously. She was ignoring the compelling depths of his dark eyes and the lean attractiveness of his chiseled face. "The Black Iris," she answered. "You’ll need to find something else to wear. They won’t even let you in wearing that."

He flushed. He’d been so concerned with coming to see her that he’d forgotten to change. He’d been working on his car earlier, so he was pretty greasy. He absently rubbed at one of the spots on his clothes. "It’s relaxing," he mumbled.

She rolled her eyes and turned away. "Ash!"

There was a deep grumble from inside the room beside them. "What?!" he snapped sleepily. He appeared a few seconds later, rubbing his ever-changing eyes and trying to calm his impossibly tousled hair. He stretched like a lean cat awakening from its nap, his spine uncurling.

Stifling the urge to pet him, Kiana answered, "Do you have clothes that Nick can borrow?"

He gave his eyes one last resentful rub, then eyed him carefully. "Let me guess. You went to the zoo and they tried to put him in with the grease monkeys. No, that’s not it. Let me think…"

"Ash," she warned, moving toward Nick protectively.

Ash put up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. Come on, I’m sure we can find something."

She rolled her eyes and followed him, dragging Nick with her.



"You’ll fit right in," she insisted, brushing at some lint on his shoulder. "Trust me."

He didn’t look convinced. "Those are the words that always get me into trouble," he answered. He didn’t even flinch when she sent him an awful look.

"We’ll be lucky if they even let you in," she muttered. "You’re not a Nightworlder, even if you are a witch. That counts as human to them. I can’t even claim that you’re a Harman, because you’re not."

"I have to be related to them somehow, don’t I? I thought all witches were descended from Hellewise."

She sent him a wry look. "Believe me, that doesn’t matter in the least. Your name is almost more important than who you’re descended from at this club." She sighed and pushed her heavy golden hair off her neck. "But if you’re with me and I approve you, they should let you in."

He looked interested by that. "Are you that important?" he asked. "That they’ll trust you to bring in who you want?"

He let his gaze wander over the room, dressed in its soft gold and rose. The last fading rays of light shone clearly through the gauzy curtains, bathing her face in gentle rose. Her gold hair had a slightly burnished look in this light and her eyes were shadowed. It took him a moment to realize that she hadn’t answered.

She was staring into space sadly. After what seemed like an eternity, she shifted around to face him. Her eyes were urgent. "You shouldn’t come with me tonight, Nick. I know you want to, but… I didn’t even think when I said yes. Bastien might be there."

This didn’t disturb him in the least. "Who’s Bastien?"

She waited so long to answer that he was prepared for some big revelation. He almost laughed when she replied, "My brother."

She saw the look on his face. "It’s not funny," she insisted. "You don’t know Bastien. He didn’t protest that I’d found my soulmate, which in and of itself is strange, because he doesn’t believe in soulmates. But if he knew you were here… I don’t know what he would do."

"He’s your brother," he answered, stroking her hair softly. "He wouldn’t hurt you, would he?"

She laughed bitterly. "Would he hurt me?" she repeated. "Well, that all depends. Is he being the big brother this time or the big, evil Nightworld law enforcer? Oh, wait, I guess it doesn’t matter. Either way, he would think it was for the best. Yes, my feelings would be hurt, but I’d get over it. It might take me a few millennia, but I would eventually be okay."

She wanted to laugh at the nonplussed expression on his face, but she couldn’t do it. He was so innocent still, at least compared to the way she’d been brought up. It all came back to the same thing—he didn’t understand.

"Sebastien Harman is not someone you want to deal with," Damon said lazily from the doorway. He casually walked through the door to Kia’s desk, idly picking up a pencil and tracing the heart line on his hand.

Nicholas was bothered by the familiarity of his actions. He clearly felt comfortable enough that he could walk into her room uninvited. He could feel jealousy surging up.

"Don’t," Damon said, amused. He dropped the pencil and sat down. "I have known Kiana for too long to be bothered with formalities. Think of me as a brother, if you will."

She felt tired suddenly, not to mention totally unprepared to deal with any of this. "What do you want, Damon?"

"I have only your best interests at heart, cara mia. You don’t want him to go. I agree. It wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest. First of all, it would ruin your cover. You know as well as I do how Bastien feels about Daybreakers. Second, you can’t take the chance that your dearest brother is there. He fully intends to have Nicholas killed. Why give him the opportunity? And third, I know for a fact that Kendal will be there. She’s met all of the witches from Cape Cod. You know she won’t think twice before exposing him. She’s still too attached to Sebastien to do otherwise. Take him with you tomorrow, when you’re doing something less dangerous. When there’s less of a chance you will run into someone you know," he suggested.

"You don’t want to lose him any more than I want you to," he finished softly.

She simply groaned. "Why didn’t you tell me that she was going to be there? I would never have offered to do this area in the first place."

"Who is Kendal?" Nick asked quietly. He slid his hand across the bed, entwining his fingers with hers.

Damon didn’t miss the intimacy of the gesture or the reasons behind it. "Kendalynn Harman," he answered grimly. "The bane of Kiana’s existence. Vampire extraordinaire, witch to the fullest. She will do anything Sebastien tells her and I have it on the highest authority that she knows you are wanted by him, dead or alive. Preferably dead."

"My sister," she added miserably. Her little sister, born a year after Kiana to Sebastien’s long dead parents. She never had liked Kia much, even from the time she’d been little. From the moment she’d learned the word "vermin," she’d never called her anything else.

"I want to go with you tonight," he said stubbornly.

"No." Damon shook his head. "Any other time but tonight."

"I’m going," Nick repeated coldly.

Kiana was torn. If she let him go, she risked losing him. But she’d promised, and she never went back on her word. What was she going to do? She could stop him… Or she could stop Damon. Either way, she lost.

"Damon, please take him back to Thierry’s mansion."



Part 6-Chapter 5

"It’s never been like this! I’ve never been like this!" Nick raged, pacing back and forth in his borrowed room. "Why should I even care if she gets hurt? I’ve never felt closer to someone in my life and I hate it!"

He whirled to face Damon, who had dragged him back to Thierry’s mansion as Kiana had asked. "I don’t want to be her soulmate," he added, just to make sure Damon understood him.

Damon sighed. "You say that like you have a choice," he answered tiredly. "Just as you thought you had a choice in coming here or staying in Massachusetts. I hate to break it to you, but this is out of your hands."

Nick glared sullenly at him, his arms folded across his chest. "I have never been like this," he repeated.

Damon smiled thinly. "Yes, I know. Faye told me a lot when she found out you were the reason I was there. What did she say again? Oh, yes. I believe the words ‘iguana,’ ‘snake,’ and ‘emotionless’ were used quite a few times."

He dropped into a chair, his proud, handsome face no less sullen than it had been moments ago. "Faye was always one to talk," he muttered. He brushed a lock of dark hair off his forehead.

The smile faded from Damon’s face slowly. "Faye was worried about you," he replied succinctly, "although she’s much too catty to show it." Then he smiled again. "I think she would be more worried about you if she were to see you with Kiana. She might start believing that you’re human."

He opened his mouth, starting to reply that he was human, then shut it abruptly. Damon had a point. Sometimes he didn’t act like he was, didn’t show any emotion at all. It wasn’t surprising that Kiana sometimes wondered about him, not to mention his Circle.

"I don’t want her," he repeated stubbornly. It was starting to become his mantra. He stared out his open window into the dark night. Dark like obsidian or soot…Endless, empty, and cold. It reminded him of Mary-Lynnette’s black holes.

He frowned suddenly. How did the window get open?

He started to lean forward, unaware of Damon watching him intently, when the window suddenly slammed shut. It rattled a little with the force. "What…"

Damon clamped a hand down on his shoulder, warning him to stay still. He had a bad, bad feeling about this. His instincts told him… Shit. Suddenly alert, he sniffed the air delicately. Either Kiana had borrowed something from her sister lately, which wasn’t likely, or Kendalynn Harman was about to make an appearance.

He would stake his life on the latter.

"Kendal?" he called, his voice soft. As unpredictable as she was, he knew better than to alarm her.

A pair of wild violet eyes popped around the corner. "Damon," she greeted irreverently. She stepped gracefully out of what seemed like thin air, like a thistle swaying in the breeze. "I’ve been looking for you."

"You just saw me," he reminded her. Not that it mattered. Kendal remembered things how she wanted to remember them and not how they truly were. He tried to submerge the wariness in his eyes.

She paused in mid-motion, like a cobra ready to strike. "I did, didn’t I?" she agreed softly. "But I wanted to see you again."

As she stepped closer to him, he moved deftly away, avoiding her trap. If he didn’t know better, he’d think he was her prey. But Kendal wasn’t stupid, so that ruled that out. He could see Nick in his peripheral vision. She hadn’t noticed him yet, but he saw that he’d composed himself. The cold, hard mask was back in place. Good. Maybe they could pull this off.

No such luck. "Who are you?" she asked, whirling. She hadn’t missed him; she just hadn’t felt it was necessary to acknowledge him.

"Adam," he lied smoothly, going with the first name that popped into his head. He knew better than to tell her the truth. If she was as dangerous as Kiana thought, he was going to have to feed her a huge pack of lies. He hoped he could remember them all.

She cocked her head to the side and seemingly wilted onto his bed. "I knew an Adam once," she said. "He was a witch. What are you? You smell like a human."

"I’m a witch," he said calmly, while Damon held his breath.

She considered him, her eyes travelling up and down, unimpressed, as Damon slowly moved to a strategic position between them. "What kind of witch?" she asked idly.

Damon breathed a sigh of relief. That question meant she’d accepted his answer—and fewer problems for them. At least, he hoped so. It was then he remembered Nick knew nothing about the Nightworld. He opened his mouth to intervene, but she was already changing the subject. Lucky for them, her mind didn’t work quite like everyone else’s did.

"Where is Kia?" she asked abruptly, her whole demeanor changing. Ignoring the question she had just asked. She straightened up, uncoiling herself, suddenly alert.

The guys floundered. They couldn’t very well tell her that Kiana was stalking vampires for Circle Daybreak—first, it wasn’t true, and second, it would make Kendal very, very angry. Neither of them wanted to see her angry.

Then, gathering his wits about him, Damon told her the truth. "She went to the Black Iris," he informed her.

She bounced off the bed in surprise. "She hates the Black Iris," she answered. Her eyes were wide and suspicious. "She wouldn’t ever go there!"

 Damon shrugged. "She was looking for Bastien. Or so she said."

Her eyes narrowed. "Why would she be looking for Bastien? She saw him earlier today."

She was trying to trap him, of which he was well aware. He knew better than to fall into it. "She doesn't tell me everything," he responded. "Ask her yourself."

Her smile was cold. "I may just have to do that."

With that, she turned and slithered into thin air. No warning, no good-byes. She simply disappeared. Nick watched the place she had just been warily.

"How does she do that?" he asked.

Damon simply shrugged.


The club was dark and smoky inside, leaving little light to see by. Leaving little light to protect herself.

Kiana hated this place.

It was the epitome of everything she hated about the Nightworld… The secrecy, the lies, the rejection of the human race… The refusal to acknowledge humans as anything but food.

In a way, it reminded her of her brother.

She sighed, wondering what she was going to do about that whole situation. She'd been in hiding too long, spent too much time pretending. Now she wanted to break free and couldn't. Her ties to Bastien and Kendal were too many. Every second she spent within them allowed them to grow stronger.

And lying to Bastien about her loyalties didn't help, either.

She could feel her decisions tightening around her neck like a noose. She allowed Circle Daybreak to control her relationship with her family, allowed them to force her to stay within her brother's grasp. She guessed it was no different than the rest of her life. She'd always allowed herself to be controlled, at least as far as anyone could tell. Granted, she'd had her little tantrums and played with disobedience, but it hadn't been enough. She'd still followed the rules.

Well, she was done with that now.

Her soulmate was human--as far as the Nightworld was concerned--and she'd paid her dues. She smiled slowly. She might be setting herself up for a fall; she wasn't sure. But she wasn't going to give this up. Nick, whether witch or human, was worth the fight.

She was ready to melt the icicles, even if it took everything she had. Something had to break in her life and, dammit, it wasn't going to be her.

She shifted her drink idly from one hand to the other, contemplating the people around her. A silver-haired vampire caught her eye, winking at her from across the room. Electric blue eyes, silver hair. A very striking combination. As he moved through the throng of people between them, she set down her glass and straightened up.

She knew this vampire. Garrett Harrelson. He'd been on quite the killing streak lately. She couldn't count on two hands the number of humans he'd killed in the last week, let alone the last month. He hadn't been quiet about it, either. Boston, Chicago, Denver, Washington… Maybe thirty humans had died. Garrett didn't like to drink and run… He had to kill them as well. And now he was here.

Kiana thought it was rather appropriate and well-timed.

"Can I buy you a drink?" he asked in a husky, seductive voice. He'd turned on all the charm.

She smiled enchantingly, knowing better than to fall into that trap. "I prefer mine fresh, thank you," she replied.

His electric blue eyes lit up with pleasure. "Oh, allow me," he murmured, taking her arm and drawing her towards the door.

He couldn't see Kiana's smile as she allowed herself to be led away.

It was brutal.


 Part 7- Chapter 6


"I can smell him," Garrett said with satisfaction. He was too arrogant to keep his voice down or whisper. Maybe he had reason to be. Thirty people in thirty days said much for his hunting skills. And much for his cruelty.

No vampire--no matter what the reason--needed to feed every night, draining every last drop of blood. Draining humans was said to be the ultimate high, but Kia imagined it to be like drugs. After so many times, the effect faded.

Therefore, no reason. She would put a stop to him tonight.

A small smile curved her mouth, hiding the direction of her thoughts. She kept a tight rein on the shield around her mind. Every once in awhile she felt him probing, lightly like a feather whispering against her skin. A lesser vampire would have felt nothing, but then, Kia wasn't a lesser vampire.

"I can as well," she answered, more softly. Not to hide from her prey. He wouldn't approve of that, and she was too smart to earn his contempt. "He's not far."

"No, not far at all," he responded, blood-lust dripping from every word. The scent of the man alone had made his teeth lengthen in anticipation.

The man they were stalking smelled of weeks-old whiskey and cheap beer. Kia could identify the scents even though they were a good half mile away. She imagined he was a beggar like so many lining the streets, but beggar or not, he deserved a chance to live, just like any human.

Kia would give him that chance.

They crept quietly around the corner--a needless precaution. The man wouldn't be able to hear them for quite some time. Human ears were not as sensitive as theirs. He probably wouldn't be able to hear them even when they were right next to him. Alcohol had a tendency to dull the human senses. He reeked of enough of it.

She saw the children then. They were playing carelessly in a nearby house's front yard, oblivious to the danger awaiting them. Children, innocent and trusting. A much easier target than the one Garrett had been searching earlier.

His smile was cold, cruel, devoid of any caring. "The man can wait."

Then she realized he meant not only to kill the children, but also the man they'd been tracking. Her blood froze in her veins. He was more cold-blooded than she'd even imagined.

She couldn't allow them to be sacrificed.

She saw him move in slow motion, his lanky frame moving toward the children and his mouth opening slowly, so slowly. The first syllable forming on his lips. She didn't think; she simply reacted. The lethal wooden stake slipped fluidly out of her knee-high boots, arching through the air like a sword. Which, in a way, it was. She whispered his name, barely as loud as a breath being drawn in the quiet, and saw him turn. She registered the shock on his face, saw him move to block her arm. In slow motion, like a movie slowed to catch every detail of the scene, she watched his eyes widen until the whites were visible all the way around. Stark against the electric blue. His nostrils flared in surprise. He took one deep breath, and then… She staked him.

Everything flew back to reality. A sudden gasp and he staggered to the ground. His hands clawed uselessly at his chest. They finally landed on the wooden stake, his fingers grappling, as though removing it would stop him from dying. One last time his fingers clenched around it. She watched the skin on his body mummify, showing his true age in death if not in life. Then everything was still.

The children had disappeared; the lights in the house had dimmed.

Kiana was alone.

She sighed, hefting his body up over her shoulder. She just couldn't leave certain things lying around. What would the police think if they found him lying in the street? And then the children… The children would have nightmares. What good was saving their lives if they spent the rest of them psychologically damaged? Yes, the body definitely needed to go.

She smiled. One less killer to haunt the streets and she was happy. Her smiled faded. If only the rest of life were that easy. When she was finished burying the body, another battle awaited her. Home. There, she would need to face Nick.

It was time they had a talk.

Things not to think about right now. She still had a job to do.

Shifting the weight on her shoulder, she set forward at a steady pace. The body was just stiff enough that it flapped uncomfortably against her back. Moving it didn't help; it just annoyed her in another place. Lucky for her, woods started nearby, giving her an excellent place to hide the body. Not that she needed woods. She'd become adept at burying them in the most unlikely places. This body would just be easier.

The woods came quickly, ominous shadows stretching out where the moonlight shone on the trees. She loved the woods with their misshapen phantoms and earthly smells. Some people were afraid to be here alone at night, but Kia felt at home. She wound through the branches and weeds quickly. She didn't want to waste time that could be spent on the next battle.

Kia was never one to back away from a fight, but she found she'd been doing so far too often lately. Time to face her fears.

She reached the center of the woods--or as close as she was willing to come tonight--and dropped the body with a thud. Dust rose from the corpse like a sandstorm, but with far less velocity. She picked up a stick and began to dig. Hitting roots, she pulled them carefully from the dirt without hurting them, moving them out of the way before she continued to dig. At least, she hoped she hadn't hurt them. Her witch friends lectured her long and hard on the damage done to nature. Although they'd never know, she still felt guilty. When the ground held a dark, gaping hole, she set aside her branch (which had been dead before she started using it--no guilt there). Glancing down at the stiff, cold body, she wondered if he had ever been warm, even in life.

She doubted it.

With a sigh, she picked him up, ignoring the electric blue eyes gone flat with death. He was heavy, but no heavier than any other murderer she'd buried. She hefted him into the hole, regret absent from her emotions.

Turning away, she again found her branch and started pushing the dirt back into the hole. Refilling it took even less time than creating the hole. When most of the dirt was back in its original home--she knew better than to think it would all go back--she picked up some moss, a few plants, and a handful of leaves, and carefully arranged them to make the ground appear undisturbed, which was another talent of hers.

She turned away from the unmarked grave apathetically. It resembled too many others she'd created for her to feel saddened. A monster's grave deserved no markings. Garrett Harrelson had definitely been just that--a monster.

Okay, shower, then Nick. She had it all worked out. But first, she needed to get home…

God, where had she left her car?

Good question, Kia, she mocked herself silently. You're getting forgetful in your old age. She grinned at herself, her spirits lifting. If nothing else, something would be finished tonight. She only hoped it wasn't the wrong thing.

 Things couldn't get much worse, either way. At least she'd know where things stood between the two of them. Right now, it was an enigma. They were soulmates. She knew that much for certain, as much as she knew their bond was something she couldn't escape. If she wanted to. She wasn't sure she did. She'd never glimpsed anyone's soul so thoroughly before, even if said glimpse had been brief. And it had.

She slipped forward through the forest, her pace steady and determined. The club was located perhaps six or seven miles away--an easy walk. One she intended to take quickly. A thrill raced down her body and extended itself out of her fingertips. She almost expected sparks.

She grinned. Sparks might be flying out of them tonight, she thought. Everything depended on what would happen in this confrontation. She'd shown him her vampiric side, now he could learn about her witch heritage as well. Growing up in a family of Harmans was good for that, especially the one she'd grown up in.

Continuing, never slowing, attuned but not consumed by what was happening in the semi-deserted streets, she thought about her family. A twinge of sadness pierced through the haze of anticipation when she thought about Mama and Papa Harman. Like it always did.

Oh, yes, they'd been good to her, even after Kendal was born. They hadn't had much time for her then--Kendal had needed constant supervision--but they'd still given her the love and support she'd needed. Love and support were odd words when combined with most of the Nightworld families she'd known. The Redferns were a prime example.

More specifically, Hunter Redfern's family. That family was definitely a piece of work.  Unfortunately, she bore their name, which often led others to the most frightening conclusions. Kia shuddered when she thought about her supposed relatives. Not many people knew they weren't truly related.

Her last name obviously indicated they were. Why would anyone think otherwise? She did have connections with them, but those were through her father. Her father who had been so in love with her mother that he'd given up his name and his heritage for her. Sebastien and Kendalynn, both witch children and leeches, had grown up with more than a little power and influence at their disposal.

The results hadn't been so good.

Kendal needed to be locked in a mental hospital--which, unfortunately, no one would dare do--and Bastien needed to learn the world was not his play toy, nor could he control it at his will. Kia highly doubted either would get what they needed.

She smiled, pushing aside the branches as she moved. She would love to see her brother find a soulmate. Someone just stubborn enough--and brave enough--to stand firm in the face of his controlling behavior. If he didn't kill her first.

Deftly avoiding a thorn bush, she rubbed a hand over her cheek, then let it fall. Pushed aside the tree limbs encumbering her path. She was almost out of the woods now, nearing the area behind the club. She hadn't come in this direction with Garrett, but she was all too familiar with it. These woods were her siblings' playground.

She sighed. She left her car… On one of the streets close to the club. Her eyes narrowed on the roads, now visible from the edge of the forest. There--that one. Her hand dug idly in her pocket, searching for her keys. Anticipation and apprehension blossomed inside her. Not long now.

Her eyes shadowed, she strode quickly to her car. The little black car was nothing if not conspicuous. She had, as usual, left the top down, doors unlocked. She knew better than to think anyone would steal it. Too many of those who inhabited this neighborhood knew her and feared her. And what they thought of her didn't even compare to how they viewed Sebastien. Maybe the family reputation was good for something after all.

Opening the door, she slid inside, the smell of leather enveloping her. Covering the stench of blood that was always near. She slipped the keys in the ignition, the engine purring to life. God help her if Sebastien didn't think she had the best or make sure she didn't purchase anything less.

She was sick of all the facades.

She took the turns without paying attention to where she was going; somehow she always ended up at home. Home the mansion, not the home where she felt she truly belonged. Her days of happiness in the mansion had ended with her parents' lives. Some of her happiest memories belonged there; she wouldn't deny that. However, those memories came from long ago. Sometimes it was hard to dredge them up without feeling slightly empty.

Sprinting lightly inside, she wound up the stairs as quietly as she could. Bastien shouldn’t be back yet—he would more likely be gone for at least another three hours—but she still didn’t want to risk seeing him. She crept into her room, feeling like a thief breaking in for the family jewels. Too bad they didn’t actually have any family jewels. Well, none that held any worth.

None except the one she had come for.

Oh, yes, the Harman family had been good to her. Especially Mama Harman. Mama Harman-her confidant, her mentor, her conscience (which had more than once kept Kendal alive and in good health after the stunts she always pulled), and her rock—had trusted Kiana more than either of her two children. Not that Kia would say her reasoning skills were off on that one.

Kia had come here because of that same trust. Her mother had made one thing excessively clear before she died: Kendalynn and Sebastien were not to get their hands on this necklace.

She wasn’t even sure they knew of its existence. Mama and Papa Harman had guarded the necklace better than prized Dobermans. Not even Hunter Redfern had known. The secret had been that well kept.

She’d often questioned how it came into their possession in the first place. Especially since no one else seemed to know about it. She worried about safeguarding that much power. One slip, one break, and she could see all hell breaking loose. Best not to leave it so close to those who could cause that fracture.

And besides… She wasn’t so sure she was ever coming back.

She knew she wasn’t doing Circle Daybreak any favors by staying with Sebastien. She would be far more useful helping some other way. This house and these walls were closing in on her, suffocating her slowly. She hated it.

What was the solution to the problem? Well, that was easy. She’d simply disappear. No trace left behind and no good-byes. Quick and clean. But not painless…

She sighed. Leaving behind her life and her family could never be painless. She was too emotionally involved.

Shaking her head, she eased the door to her room open quietly, praying briefly that it didn’t creak. She was in luck. The door swung open easily, the well-oiled hinges making not even the hint of a sound. Now if only the floor were on her side as well… Then she could get out of here quickly.

Slipping past the bed and the dressers, she moved into her bathroom and knelt before the sink. The lowest drawer's bottom slipped back with a little push and a tug in the right direction, revealing more space. Such a cliché, but it worked for her, didn't it? The space contained a small, nondescript wooden box carved with curious symbols on all sides.

Kia knew well enough the ancient spells of protection. She'd seen them since she was born, noting their power and reveling in it. Now she would use it to her advantage. She slipped the jewelry case into her pocket and rose from the ground fluidly, turning as she did so. The box rattled slightly.

She would look at the contents later. She'd already seen the necklace numerous times anyway. It was in the box, she knew that for certain. She fingered the box lightly, her fingertips tracing the writings on the case.

And then she fled.


Part 8- Chapter 7


She patted her pockets nervously, searching for her keys. The fact that she didn't need them never crossed her mind. Searching gave her something to do with her hands. She didn't ask for anything more. Or care, for that matter. All she wanted was time to stall, to prepare herself. As though she hadn't been thinking about it all night.

It's now or never, Kiana. Get a grip on yourself, she thought. It was easy leading up to the actual discussion. She could imagine how their talk was going to go, whether the end came out bad or good. She could imagine the sweet--or rude--things he'd say to her. She could imagine him cold and angry or warm and understanding, but… She couldn't imagine him gone.

And that summed up the whole problem.

Telling Nicholas what she wanted from him equaled setting a stake in front of her heart and telling an angry vampire hunter to push. The action itself wouldn't really do anything, but the results would hurt like hell. Although Kiana seemed to be a glutton for punishment, she hated pain. She didn't really differentiate between physical or mental.

 A hiss whispered through the air and she jumped. From the corner of her eye, she saw a brief flicker of light shooting up through the darkness. The flame disappeared quickly, leaving a burning red coal floating in its wake.

Nick had just joined her, although she was almost certain he didn't notice her presence on the porch. She heard the nearly indiscernible crackle of a burning cigarette and inhaled the acrid scent of smoke. This habit could possibly be the only thing she hated about him.

Decision time. She quickly debated what to do. Did she leave him here, missing a prime and perhaps only opportunity to confront him alone? Or did she drown in her misgivings and leave before she did something that may not be changeable? This choice was one she didn't want to make.

"Oh, be brave, Kia," she whispered disgustedly. Dear God, now she was talking to herself. Again. What to do?

She rolled her eyes, shaking her head. As if there was a decision to be made. Gathering every last shred of her courage, she stepped out of the shadows.

He jumped slightly when he noticed her presence. How long had she been there?

He didn't say anything, instead waited for her to speak, to make some comment… to do something. Hopefully that something wouldn't include biting his neck. His eyes narrowed dangerously. He was still angry she'd entrusted Damon to take him home.

Seconds passed, but neither noticed. The seconds quickly turned to minutes and Kia could feel her bravado falling away. They watched each other warily, uncertain. Kiana searched the tiny flecks of green and gold in his deep mahogany eyes, but all he saw of her were shadows. Neither moved.

Her eyes slid shut briefly, pulling on her inner strength. "I thought about you tonight," she stated quietly. His breath drew in sharply, but still he didn't say anything.  He wasn't going to make this easy on her.

She gritted her teeth, but continued, "I thought about us." She paused. The tension radiating from him was palatable. This whole discussion thing--although she wasn't sure it counted as a discussion because he wasn't talking--just kept getting harder. "I want there to be an us, Nick. I… I don't think I can live without you."

She heard his breath, the one he'd just drawn in, hiss out between his teeth. A sudden panic shot through her. Quickly, she amended, "Not that I couldn't live without you. That's not what I meant at all. I just meant…" Her voice trailed off. "I meant that I want to try."

His voice was a little unsteady, or maybe she just imagined it, because he lost none of his coldness. "You want to try to live without me?"

"No! I meant I want to try. To be with you," she responded hurriedly. Oh, her little speech had not come out good at all.

She almost missed the relief flashing across his face. Almost, but not quite. "I've been thinking about it, too," he admitted, his anger falling away.

Her eyes lowered, avoiding his gaze. "This… vampire thing. I can't change it. I was born that way."

"Vampires aren't born vampires," he responded cynically. "I've seen the movies. There is no such thing." Then quickly, he amended, "Unless you mean 'born' as in 'changed.'"

Kiana looked at him, her hazel eyes clear and honest. "No, I mean I was born a vampire. Have you never heard of the lamia?"

"Lamia?" he asked, tasting the word on his lips. "Isn't that some kind of lizard?"

A smile curved her mouth. "No, the lamia are the family vampires. The ones who can have children."

He cocked his head, considering. "I thought that wasn't possible."

"Obviously it is. But… I'm not lamia." She shrugged. "I wasn't born into a family of vampires."

He stared at her, obviously not comprehending. "Then what are you?"

She smiled again, nervously, still not looking at him. "Me? Well, I guess I'm a freak. I was born into a family of humans, except… I wasn't human." She sighed. "No one's quite sure how it happened."

" You were born a vampire… to humans?" His dark eyes were searching. What she was telling him defied everything he thought he knew about her and about vampires in general. He was realizing how hard it was to admit he was wrong when everything suddenly meant so much. Right now, he wasn't sure anything meant more than she did. She'd been the focus of his thoughts for so long…

"I didn't have a choice," she answered. "And I've never known anything else. I was raised by a family of vampires and witches."

He shook his head. "But how could you be born a vampire to humans?"

"I don't know," she answered slowly, as if talking to a small child, somewhat exasperated. "No one does. It's never happened before."

 He noted the edge to her words, but ignored it. "However you were born, you're still a vampire. How can I trust you knowing that?"

Kia desperately tried to hold on to her temper. "I may have to drink blood to survive, but I am not a monster. I don't go killing innocent people just for the fun of it. I have feelings and dreams and hopes and expectations, just like you do."

Bitterness tinged her words and he looked at her sharply. "You used it to frighten me in the back alley the day we met."

She groaned mentally. How to explain that? She certainly had been trying to frighten him. She'd used every tool she'd had at her disposal, including her heritage. Dammit. "I did," she admitted. "I was angry. Just angry enough that I felt you deserved it. I will never do that again."

He accepted that answer immediately, which almost surprised him. She would have been shocked had she realized how easily he'd taken her words as truth. He still needed to ask for his own sake--for what he felt was his future, "How can I trust you?"

"How can I trust you?" she countered. She watched the surprise blossom on his face. "You didn't think of that, did you, Nick? I know I won't hurt you. I can't. It would destroy me." She shrugged. "You don’t know that, though, do you? No matter how many times I've told you, even though you've seen inside my soul. You still don't understand. How do I know I won't wake up one morning and see you standing over me, my own stake in your hand? And how do I know you won't use that stake against me? But I do know. I know because I've seen you. I've seen what you are. You wouldn't do that to me."

 Several moments passed as he overcame his speechlessness. He looked at her carefully, his gaze running over the long, silky honey colored hair, her clear and intriguing hazel eyes, and her oval shaped face. He felt like he was taking in every detail for the first time. No, she didn't look like a murderer, not that it was easy to pick them out on the street. If anything she looked honest. With some people their appearance was misleading. Kiana's appearance was as well. It didn't show the depth of her soul, at least not like he'd seen it.

She wouldn't hurt him, at least not intentionally. As for what happened beyond that, he just refused to think about it.

He had that cringing feeling inside him again, as always when he'd been blatantly wrong and knew it. He hid it well. His voice held only sincerity when he replied, "No, you wouldn't hurt me."

Kia jumped, surprise written on her face. "What?"

He might have been offended, but he hadn't exactly been honest with himself or with her. Her reaction was probably something he should have expected. "I said you wouldn't hurt me."

 She was quiet, then she asked, "How do you know?"

"Because I've seen your soul," he whispered, like it was tearing him apart. He sagged against the thick, white pillar on the porch.