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  • Home > Bella Forrest > A Shade of Novak     

    Prologue: Sofia

    “What did you just say?”

    I didn’t answer Derek for several moments as I continued staring at the television. Although the screen had changed, the image of two missing blonde twins remained etched in my mind.

    Truth be told, I’d been considering this for some time now.

    “You heard me,” I said.

    My husband sat bolt upright on the sofa next to me, his electric-blue eyes staring into mine. “But why?” He reached for my knee and gripped it.

    “Because I’m worried, Derek.”

    He ran a hand through his thick dark hair, an exasperated expression on his face. “But how would this help?”

    “After all we’ve been through… I just hate to feel powerless. Especially now that we have Ben and Rose.”

    “But after everything…” He trailed off, still staring at me disbelievingly. He glanced back at the television, which was showing photo after photo of missing people. Victims of kidnappings, the police assumed. Kidnappings that had become worse over the last couple of years.

    We had been used to such things when the Elders and Hawks had a foothold on Earth. But they were banished now.

    “We don’t even know who is taking these people.” Derek reached out to brush my cheek. “It could be humans at the bottom of this.”

    Even he seemed to lose conviction in his own words.

    I raised a brow at him in disbelief.

    “Eli and Ibrahim would disagree with you there,” I said.

    “Maybe.” He sighed. “But they’re not sure either.”

    “They’re damn sure that whatever force is at work here isn’t human. Something strange is going on. Derek, these people are just disappearing without a trace.”

    “But they still don’t have any evidence that this is anything supernatural. This is all pure suspicion. And I’d say we’re all biased to assume supernatural causes, wouldn’t you agree?”

    I sighed and leaned back against his chest. He wrapped his arms around me and kissed the top of my head.

    “You’re right,” I said. “We don’t have any evidence. But I still feel uneasy living here. We’re smack-bam on one of the coastlines where these disappearances are going on.”

    We both fell silent. I snuggled closer against him, listening to the steady beat of his heart.

    “You know what that would mean, right?” he asked finally.

    I nodded and my throat went dry as all the implications washed over me. We both looked around the sitting room of our Californian dream home.

    We’d have to sell this house and live in The Shade full time. Ben and Rose would have to leave all their friends. We’d say goodbye to making sandcastles on the beach together every Saturday afternoon. No more running around with them outside in the sunshine. Derek and I would once again become vampires.

    I’d had this urge to turn back for a while. The main problem was that if I became a vampire again, Derek would have no choice but to do the same. Otherwise, I’d have to watch as Derek aged and passed away. He had fire-wielding capabilities and he still had superhuman strength thanks to Cora. But he didn’t have immortality.

    “I suppose it won’t be that much of an upheaval for them,” Derek muttered. “They’re still young. The Shade is already their second home during the summer holidays. And—”

    I held a finger to Derek’s lips. He was avoiding the subject.

    “I know what this means for you,” I whispered as he looked down at me. “I know how much you despised what you were before.”

    “I can’t deny that the idea of being a vampire is associated with some pretty traumatic stuff in my past,” he replied, smiling slightly at his understatement. “But you can’t compare what it was like before to now. I’ll have you to tame me.” He kissed my cheek.

    I looked wistfully again around the room. “And what will happen to this place?”

    “Well, this is no longer your dream home if you’re scared living in it.” He shrugged. “And it’s certainly no longer my dream home if you’re unhappy here. We’ll sell it.”

    I looked into his eyes again. Despite his trying to ease my guilt, I knew that turning back into a vampire would be a sacrifice. I couldn’t have loved him more than at that moment for what he was willing to do to make me feel safe.

    “Rose and Ben will have to get used to having vampires for parents,” I muttered. “No more coming to us in the middle of the night for cozy time. We’ll be the ones craving their warmth.”

    I thought again of our beautiful five-year-olds tucked in bed upstairs. Rose with her long straight black hair, Ben with his shorter cut that stopped just above his ears, both sharing the same sparkling green eyes and long dark eyelashes. Derek was right that they were still too young for this to be too much of an upheaval. They made friends easily at this age. And they were used to The Shade. They had so many wellwishers back there—more than they even knew about. They were the sweethearts of the island, the little prince and princess. And everyone spoiled them rotten—especially Corrine.

    Still, I couldn’t shake the worry that I would be depriving them by sheltering them for the rest of their childhood on that small island. I would be depriving them of the more varied experiences they would have had if we’d stayed here and they’d attended a regular school, rather than the one run by the witches of The Shade. Although I had no doubt that those witches were far more knowledgeable and qualified than any junior-school teacher could be, I craved a life of normalcy for my children. Because normalcy was what I had always craved growing up. Normalcy was what I’d never had.

    Derek stroked my head. “You’re right for wanting this, darling. We’re doing what’s best for them. We’re keeping them safe.”

    I nodded, although my throat still felt parched.

    “We’ll send them to summer camp once a year as soon as they’re old enough,” he continued. “Aiden can take them to Europe—far away from these kidnappings.”

    I nodded again. I couldn’t deny that the idea of them going to summer camp made the weight on my chest a little lighter.

    “I just want to shelter our children during these first few years,” I said. “I want them to live without struggling or fearing. We owe them that much after the rough start they had in life.”

    Derek stood up, and, pulling me up toward him, placed both hands on the small of my back and drew me close to him. I wrapped my arms around his neck and held tight.

    “One question that still remains is,” he whispered, caressing my bare shoulder with his lips, “are we finished having children? Is two enough for us? Because… well, you know how it works.”

    I nodded. We would no longer be able to conceive once we were vampires.

    Derek and I had discussed this before over the past five years. We’d gone back and forth on whether we wanted more children. But it always came down to the same fact: we both felt blessed with the children we had and hadn’t felt the urge to have more. They were five years old now, and we still hadn’t made plans for more.

    Still, it was a heavy question to answer, knowing that now it would be final. Unless of course we were both willing to take the cure again and turn back into humans.

    We both stood in each other’s arms in silence for what felt like an eternity. Finally we looked into each other’s eyes.

    “I think we are,” I said quietly.

    He nodded in agreement.

    Then an obvious question struck me. “But do we even know you can be turned?”

    “We’ll have to consult with Ibrahim and get his opinion.”

    “Because if there’s a risk, then—”

    “There’s no point speculating,” Derek said, holding up a hand. “We’ll ask him what the risks are.”

    I nodded and gulped down the lump in my throat.

    “Derek,” I said, removing my arms from round his neck and clutching his hands in mine. “If you can be turned and we go through with this, we must promise not to tell our children why we left the outside world and moved to The Shade. I don’t want them growing up in fear.”

    “I don’t like the idea of them growing up naive,” Derek said, looking down at me seriously. “Oblivious to the world around them. That’s dangerous.”

    “I know,” I said, sighing. “I know we can’t hide them away from the world forever. But I want to wait at least until they’re older, in their late teens.”

    Derek paused and continued looking at me. Eventually he nodded.

    “Seventeen,” he said. “We’ll wait until they’re seventeen. Agreed?”

    “Agreed.”

    We continued staring at each other, the gravity of what we were planning to do settling upon us.

    “Have you considered that, unless Rose and Ben turn too, they could end up older than us?” Derek said.

    “Oh. That would be… strange,” I said slowly, trying to wrap my head around the notion. “Really… really strange.”

    “They would have to turn before they reached our age,” he said, running a hand through my hair. “But what if they’re immunes, like you used to be?”

    “That’s unlikely. According to the witches, immunity to vampirism normally skips a generation. But still, it’s something we’ll have to discuss with them when they’re older,” I said. “There’s no point thinking about it now. So much could happen between now and then. We still have a good few years ahead of us before that time comes.”

    “Hm.” A grin spread across Derek’s face, mischief sparking in his eyes. “So you’ll be my forever sexy twenty-three-year-old wife.”

    I smirked.

    “And you my forever sexy twenty-four-year-old husband… well, technically you’re also twenty-three, actually—”

    “Enough with pedantries.”

    Before I could object, he swept me off my feet and carried me up the stairs to our bedroom. Laying me down on our bed, he began slipping off my nightdress. He paused, the smile on his face fading.

    “If we’re really planning to go through with this, it ought to be sooner rather than later. Because…” He trailed off and looked down at me seriously, so much that I held my breath, wondering what was wrong. He leant down, as though examining me. “I can already see a wrinkle forming in the corner of your eye.”

    I giggled and slapped him on the shoulder.

    “Derek! We shouldn’t be making light of this situation. We still have a lot to—”

    “Yes, we still have a lot to do,” he whispered, his voice husky, “While we’re both still warm.”

    He finished pulling off my nightdress and then ripped off his own clothes. My skin tingled as his heated body slid beneath the sheets next to me.

    Sometimes when we made love, in Derek’s abandon, he would become almost too fiery for me to touch and we had to stop until he calmed down a little. On a few occasions, the sheets he had been gripping had become singed.

    No, a change of temperature wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for my husband.

    Over the next month, we arranged the sale of the house—which thankfully wasn’t difficult due to its location—and made final arrangements for leaving. We packed up all of our belongings and made sure that Ben and Rose had an opportunity to bid farewell to all their pre-school friends.

    When asked by our neighbors and other parents where we were going, we told them that we had decided to relocate to Europe to be close to an ailing relative.

    My father, Aiden, arrived on the doorstep the night before the new owners were due to take possession of the house. He was dressed casually in a loose short-sleeved shirt and jeans. I’d told the twins to sit by the door on some suitcases so that they were out of the way, but they jumped up as soon as their grandfather walked through the door.

    “It’s Grandpa!” Rose squealed.

    “Grandpa!” Ben yelled.

    Aiden’s face lit up as soon as he saw them. He had gotten rid of his Hawk form thanks to Ibrahim who, after several years experimenting with a combination of spells and potions, had finally managed to transform him back into a human with the help of several other witches.

    My father wrapped his arms around each of them, planting kisses on their foreheads. I walked over to him and kissed his cheek.

    “Thanks for being on time,” I said. I turned around and called, “Derek, Grandpa’s here.”

    Derek walked out of the kitchen with our final suitcase. He put the case down on the floor and smiled at Aiden, “Hello, Grandpa.”

    “Hello,” Aiden said, smiling back. “Xavier and Vivienne are waiting in the sub in the usual place.”

    It had been four months since we’d last visited The Shade. Excitement bubbled up inside me at the prospect of seeing my sister and brother-in-law again.

    Aiden headed straight to the submarine to drop off Ben and Rose. Then he returned to help Derek and I carry the rest of our luggage down to the harbor. It took us several shifts until we had it all moved. We’d included all our furniture in the sale of the house, but it was amazing how many personal belongings we had accumulated after having children.

    Once we’d finished, we knocked on the hatch and Vivienne pushed it open. She looked radiant as she smiled down at me, happiness showing in her laughter lines, her violet-blue eyes sparkling.

    Derek, Aiden and I lowered ourselves inside and fastened the hatch above us.

    “I’ve missed you so much!” Vivienne gushed.

    She pulled Derek and I into an embrace and kissed our cheeks. She led us into the control room at the front of the submarine and we each took a seat.

    I smiled on seeing Ben and Rose already there sitting on Uncle Xavier’s lap. They loved the control room. Their eyes were filled with wonder as they fiddled around with different buttons and muttered to each other.

    “Welcome to my abode.” Xavier grinned.

    Derek gripped Xavier’s shoulder and ruffled his hair, while I placed a kiss on his cheek. Then Derek turned to his sister and, pointing at Xavier, asked, “Has this scoundrel been treating you right since I’ve been away?”

    Vivienne grinned and placed a hand on Xavier’s shoulder. “Oh, yes. He has.”

    “Good.”

    Vivienne turned to the twins, “Hey, Rose. Ben. Aren’t you going to give Aunty a hug?”

    They pried their eyes away from the controls. Toothy smiles spread across their faces as they looked up at Vivienne. They reached out their arms so she could pick them both up. She showered their faces with kisses and carried them out of the control room toward the back of the submarine.

    “We’re all… uh… intrigued, to say the least, to hear that you’ve decided to become creatures of the night once again,” Xavier said, as he began to navigate the vessel away from the harbor.

    I looked at my father. I’d discussed our plans with him already over the phone, and he’d seemed to understand my reasons for wanting to turn back. Apparently sensing my uncertainty about his true feelings, he reached out and gripped my knee, smiling.

    “I think we were all surprised,” Aiden said. “But I’m sure everyone in The Shade will be glad to have their queen and king return to their full-time duties.”

    Vivienne entered without the twins. When I looked up, she pointed toward the back of the sub where Rose and Ben sat on a bench munching their way through a bowl of strawberries.

    “Corrine insisted on sending a snack for them for the journey,” she said, smiling.

    Vivienne took a seat in the front row next to Xavier and we spent the rest of the trip answering questions about our decision.

    Finally, Xavier raised a brow and looked at me and Derek.

    “So… assuming Ibrahim says that it’s safe to try turning Derek back into a bloodsucker, have you decided who will turn you both?”

    Derek and I exchanged glances.

    “That should be obvious,” Derek said, looking back at Xavier and raising an eyebrow. “You shall have the great privilege of turning me, while Vivienne will turn Sofia.”

    “Oh…” Xavier said, a look of mock disappointment crossing his face. “I think I’d have more fun turning Sofia. I’m not overly keen on the idea of biting into your thick neck.”

    Vivienne elbowed Xavier in the gut and said, “No, Sofia’s mine. All mine.”

    I giggled and, looking at Derek, shrugged.

    “Seems nobody wants poor Mr. Derek. Maybe I’ll have to turn you myself.”

    I’d meant it as a joke, but his eyes lit up. “Yes, Sofia. Why not? Why don’t you turn me? I’d much rather have you sucking at my neck than this ugly bloke,” he said, shoving Xavier in the shoulder.

    I looked at Derek nervously.

    “Are you serious?”

    “Yes. I’m serious,” he said, staring back. “Vivienne will turn you, and then you’ll turn me.”

    My stomach writhed.

    “Why doesn’t Vivienne just turn you after me?”

    He looked at Vivienne, then back to me. “I just think that it would be more interesting if you turned me.” He raised a brow at me, a small smile curling his lips.

    “Actually, what if you can’t be turned? You need to go first, because if you don’t turn, then I can’t turn.”

    “Well, let’s see what Ibrahim says,” he replied. “If he says I can be turned, then we’ll take his word for it.”

    “But, Derek,” I spluttered. “I’ve never turned anybody before. What if I do something wrong?”

    He stared at me for a moment, considering the possibility.

    “Well, Xavier and Vivienne will be there to guide you… and haul you off of me if necessary.”

    Barely had the hatch of the submarine opened when cheers erupted. I picked up Rose, while Derek carried Ben, and we all climbed out of the submarine.

    A small crowd was standing by the port to welcome us. Tears welled in my eyes as I looked around at the familiar faces.

    I had to quickly hand Rose over to my father as Shadow was the first to reach us. His tongue wagging, he jumped up at me to lick me, almost knocking me over in the process. He had broken free from Eli, who now came hurrying over with a wide grin on his face.

    “I hear you’ve decided to come back over to the dark side again, Sofia.” Claudia smirked and winked at me. “Welcome.”

    Zinnia bared her fangs at me and chuckled. Gavin gave me a friendly punch on the shoulder. “Good to have you back, girl.”

    “Rose!”

    Griffin, their four-year-old son, stepped out from behind Gavin. His curly red hair reminded me so much of his father, while his hazelnut brown eyes were decidedly his mother’s. He made a dash for Rose and wrapped his arms around her, placing a kiss on her cheek. I smiled as Rose blushed.

    “Hello Griffin,” she mumbled.

    Griffin had been a surprise for Zinnia and Gavin. He’d been conceived while they were travelling and helping Aiden disband the worldwide organization of hunters. Only recently had the couple decided to turn into vampires, once they’d deemed their little human boy old enough to handle the shock of mom and dad sprouting fangs.

    It saddened me to think of two vampires who would not be waiting to greet us: Liana and Cameron. Even though it had been years, we still missed their company. They had taken the cure to become humans and left the island. Their children and grandchildren had passed away, but they’d had a burning desire to search out any family living today. They’d told us they would likely return to The Shade after a few years, but we were still waiting for them.

    Once we’d finished greeting everyone who’d been waiting at the Port, Derek and I took the twins’ hands and led them toward the forest. But as we were about to enter the woods, something stirred in the trees. A small vampire walked out. Abby.

    She looked at me and smiled faintly. Something about her was off.

    “Abby!” I said.

    She came to us and I put my arms around her, hugging her close. I pulled her away so I could examine her face more closely.

    “What’s wrong?” I asked quietly.

    A tear rolled down Abby’s cheek and her lip trembled.

    “I want to turn back into a human, Sofia,” she said. “I want to grow up.”

    I breathed in deeply. I felt the pain in her voice. I’d actually been expecting this day to come sooner. She should be reaching her adolescent years by now, yet she was still trapped in the body of a child.

    “We’ll do it, Abby. I promise. We’ll turn you back into a human before this month is over.”

    I placed a kiss on her head and she smiled more fully, reassured by my promise. She kissed my cheek and drew away from me, allowing me to continue forward with Derek, Vivienne, Xavier and the twins.

    “Sofia! Derek!”

    I turned around yet again. Anna walked toward us, her long black hair flowing down her back as she carried her and Kyle’s one-year-old daughter, Ariana, in her arms. Kyle followed closely behind her. I kissed them all and while Anna stayed to talk with me, Kyle walked over to Derek, who started talking animatedly with him.

    Ariana reminded me of Rose when she was younger. She was a beautiful child and had similar features–green eyes and dark hair.

    “Anna!” Ben shouted. He left Derek’s side and wandered over to us.

    Anna beamed and bent down to cuddle him. It warmed my heart to see the special bond the two of them had, and I felt an eternal sense of gratitude. If it wasn’t for Anna’s initiative to take care of Ben when he was still a newborn trapped in Aviary, I doubted I ever would have seen him again.

    Rose also skipped over and tugged on Anna’s sleeve.

    “Hey Anna and Ariana,” she said, smiling sweetly.

    “Hey beautiful.” Anna kissed Rose’s cheeks.

    “Sofia,” Anna said, after she’d finished greeting the twins. “Ian left.”

    I stared at her. “Already?”

    She nodded. “He finally proposed to Katrine about a month ago, and they decided it was time to leave the island and start their new life outside. He was sorry you weren’t here to say goodbye.”

    I smiled. Ian and Katrine—one of the human girls who used to live a few doors along from him in the Catacombs—had started seeing each other three years ago.

    While I was deeply disappointed that he hadn’t waited to say goodbye to us, I felt nothing but happiness for them. I saw joy in Anna’s eyes too, and an obvious relief. Ian had finally found someone to replace her, and he no longer had to suffer each time he saw her with Kyle.

    “Well, I’ll let you go, Sofia,” Anna said. “I’m sure you’ve got lots of work to do settling into your home again. I’ll see you around.”

    She kissed me once more and headed off with Kyle and Ariana.

    Derek scooped up Ben and placed him on his shoulders. Ben chuckled with delight on being so high up. I took Rose’s hand and kissed her on the nose, which made her giggle.

    As we neared the Residences, two more familiar faces came into view. Ashley and Landis—Xavier’s younger brother—were walking toward us, holding hands.

    It had taken Ashley two years to finally let Landis in after she had lost Sam in the most brutal way imaginable. But finally, the day had come when she was happy again.

    I ran up to Ashley, pulling her into my arms. I kissed her cold pale cheek and whispered, “I missed you so much.”

    Tears welled in my eyes as she smiled back at me. I’d grown so used to her smiling only to stop people pitying her. But now she was smiling from her heart. She’d truly found happiness with Landis.

    I stayed with Ashley for several more minutes before finally turning away and arriving at the foot of one of the tallest redwood trees on the island, upon which our magnificent penthouse was built. We stepped into the glass elevator and made our way to the top.

    Rose and Ben wandered about on the verandah, marveling at the star-strewn sky. We’d made sure to build a high fence around the verandah so that there was no chance of any accidents. Our twins had dangerously adventurous minds and, now that they were becoming independent, it was hard to keep an eye on them sometimes.

    Once we’d settled down and finished bringing our luggage up, we left the twins in their playroom with Aiden watching over them and left the house with Vivienne and Xavier.

    We headed back through the woods until we reached the clearing outside the witches’ temple. Corrine’s Sanctuary. We knocked on the wooden double doors and Corrine opened them a few moments later.

    “Well, hello,” she said, grinning. “Come in.”

    We followed her along narrow corridors until we reached a circular study lined with shelves of bottled potions.

    Ibrahim looked up from his seat at a small table in the corner of the room.

    “Welcome back!” He stood up and gave us both a hug.

    We took seats around the table, while Corrine sat herself down on Ibrahim’s lap.

    “So,” Corrine began, raising an eyebrow and eyeing us closely. “You both really want to turn back again.”

    Derek and I exchanged glances before nodding.

    “But we need to know what the situation with Derek is,” I said. “Do you think he can be turned back—with his fire powers and all?”

    Ibrahim stroked his chin and continued staring at us, deep in thought.

    “Well,” he said, “we still don’t know exactly what kind of spell Cora cast on you to give you those powers. But I am quite certain that it won’t interfere with you turning back. You were a vampire before. I don’t see why you can’t be one again.”

    I looked at Derek, gripping his hand.

    “Well, let’s do this,” he said.

    After we returned to our penthouse, we finished unpacking and then spent the rest of the evening with Ben and Rose. This would be the last night we’d spend with them as humans. Derek and I had decided that Vivienne would turn me the next day. Assuming I felt steady enough after the transformation, the plan was for me to turn Derek the same day.

    The twins slept cuddled up with us that night in our warm bed. We slept in late the next morning and had breakfast in bed. I cooked up their favorite: hash browns with cheese and tomato sauce.

    Aiden arrived at about eleven o’clock in the morning and kept the twins occupied in their playroom while we left. He’d promised to look after them until we were in a fit state to see them again.

    Derek and I held hands as we neared the clearing by the Port. Vivienne had suggested that we do the turning here since there was lots of open space and nothing easily destructible for almost a mile radius around us.

    As we neared, my unease grew. Knots formed in my stomach. A small crowd had gathered around the clearing, all familiar faces. I gulped as I looked at Vivienne waiting in the center of the clearing, where a wide stone slab had been placed. She smiled at me as I approached her and gave my hand a reassuring squeeze.

    “I’ll be gentle with you,” she said.

    As gentle as a vampire can be while ripping into a human’s throat.

    I remembered the time I’d witnessed Ashley’s turning in the Sanctuary. Kyle had done it. Ashley had writhed around in agony for what felt like hours. There’d been nothing anyone could do to help ease the pain. She had described it afterwards as being a torture so unbearable that you began willing yourself to die.

    But I wondered if it was anything near the agony of turning from vampire to human. I shivered, recalling the sensation of the sun roasting me alive. I had done that and survived.

    This can’t be worse than that. Nothing can be worse than that.

    The crowd was deathly silent as I positioned myself flat on the stone. Derek bent over me and placed a tender kiss on my lips.

    “I’m right here with you,” he said. “I’ll be by your side the whole time.”

    I gulped and nodded.

    My heart began to race as Derek stepped back and Vivienne leant down so that her face was level with mine.

    As she brushed the hair away from my neck and bared her fangs, I looked up at Derek once more and locked eyes with him.

    That was when it hit me what was truly bothering me about this whole situation.

    “Wait!” I gasped, pushing Vivienne away just before she broke skin.

    “What?” She frowned at me.

    I sat up and rushed over to Derek, taking him by the hand. “I need to have a quick word with Derek first, okay? We’ll be right back.”

    Derek looked just as bewildered as Vivienne as I dragged him back into the woods. I walked with him until we were out of view of the others, then stared up at him.

    “I want you to turn me, Derek.”

    His eyes widened.

    “Huh? Why? We already agreed that you would turn me.”

    Oh, God. How do I say this?

    I paused and felt my cheeks blush crimson. I had to avert my eyes to the ground as I stuttered, “It’s a… fantasy I have. You turning me. Ever since the beginning.”

    It was a fantasy that I’d kept hidden deep within my subconscious ever since I’d first met him. I’d always imagined that if I ever turned, he would be the one to do it. I’d never even admitted this to myself until now.

    The words sounded so awkward that my face burned with embarrassment.

    He reached beneath my chin and pushed it up so I was forced to face him. His intense eyes bored into me.

    “What if I have a fantasy about you turning me?” he asked softly.

    I couldn’t help but giggle at the seriousness of Derek’s questioning glare.

    “Then you’ll be a gentleman and grant your lady her fantasy.”

    He frowned at me for a moment, studying me closely. Then he nodded in defeat. “Hm.”

    He wrapped an arm around my waist and led me back into the clearing.

    “Change of plan, everybody,” he announced. “I’ve decided that I want to turn Sofia. So Vivienne will turn me first.”

    Vivienne looked surprised, as did everybody else. But Derek didn’t leave time for questions. He walked straight over to the slab and lay down.

    Vivienne looked down at him, frowning. Then she sighed and lowered herself down to her brother’s level.

    My heart raced as Vivienne bared her fangs and in one sharp movement dug them into Derek’s neck. I rushed over to the other side of the stone, where I could get a clearer view of Derek. But Xavier gripped my arm and pulled me back.

    “We don’t know what state he’ll be in once he’s turned. Best you keep your distance.”

    I stepped back to stand with everyone else. Ashley reached for my hand and squeezed it.

    “Stop worrying,” she whispered. “Derek’s a warrior. He’ll get through this.”

    Her words did little to ease my nerves as Derek began to shake violently.

    Vivienne would never harm her brother, but I couldn’t stop my heart palpitations as Derek’s convulsions worsened. By the time Vivienne drew away from him, wiping his blood away from her lips, he was shaking so violently that Xavier and Yuri had to grip his arms to hold him down against the slab.

    And then the blood came. Derek began heaving up mouthfuls of it. Ashley’s hold around me tightened as I once again tried to run forward.

    “The blood is a good sign, Sofia,” she whispered. “It means that Vivienne’s venom is working.”

    I tried to breathe more calmly.

    It’s a good sign. It’s a good sign. I repeated the words in my head like a prayer.

    Finally, Derek stopped coughing and his body flattened on the stone. Though his hands and feet still twitched, Xavier and Yuri let go of him and stepped away. Ashley’s hold on me also loosened as I relaxed.

    His eyes remained shut tight. His body now seemed too still for comfort. Before when he was shaking, at least he was giving obvious signs that he was alive. But now that he lay so deathly still…

    Before Ashley could stop me, I broke away from the crowd and ran toward the slab.

    Xavier and Yuri whirled around.

    “No!” they shouted. “Don’t come so close. Your blood—”

    Ashley grabbed me by my midriff and dragged me backward.

    “Stop it, Sofia!” she hissed against my ear. “Xavier already told you we don’t know what state he’s going to be in when he wakes up.”

    But it was too late.

    Derek’s eyes shot open and he sat bolt upright, wiping away the blood from his face with his sleeve.

    He turned his head toward my direction and his blazing eyes—now several shades brighter—settled on me.

    The lion had smelt its prey.

    Xavier and Yuri hurled themselves at him, but he threw them out of his way with force I’d forgotten Derek ever possessed.

    Ashley and Claudia jumped forward to shield me from him, but he brushed them aside too. Grabbing hold of my waist, he flung me over his shoulder and raced into the woods.

    “No!” I screamed. “Derek, stop!”

    He continued moving forward with frightening speed. Only once I could no longer hear the others chasing after us did he stop beneath the foot of a tree. He lowered me to the ground and, gripping my neck between his strong hands, pushed me back against the tree. Then he placed one hand over my mouth to stifle my scream, using the other to brush the hair away from my neck, giving him clear access. His eyes gleamed with a hunger that made me believe he could suck me dry within minutes.

    Oh, no. Not again.

    This isn’t happening.

    This can’t be happening.

    I’d thought that he’d be the same vampire he was just before he turned into a human. I hadn’t thought he’d revert to the uncontrollable bloodsucker he’d been when he’d first woken up after his four-hundred-year sleep. It hadn’t even occurred to me. But now, to my horror, everything about this situation reminded me of that time. The way he had rammed me up against a hard surface, his eyes burning, his cool breath against my skin.

    Everything felt identical to the day we’d first met.

    What about our children?

    I did the only thing I could think to do in the past whenever Derek lost control of himself. I began humming our tune. Even though his hand was placed over my mouth, I hummed it as loudly as possible.

    “Silence.” His voice came as a growl. “Your little tune won’t work any more.”

    What?

    His chest heaving and eyes ablaze, he lowered his head to my throat. I gasped as his fangs scraped against my neck, his cold tongue running along my skin.

    I was beginning to lose all hope that I’d be able to get through to him in time when his grip loosened. I felt him step away.

    When I opened my eyes, gone was the look of mad bloodlust.

    In its place was Derek’s boyish grin.

    As soon as my eyes met his, he doubled over and began laughing.

    “You should have seen the look on your face!” he gasped.

    My mouth fell open. The blood rushed back to my cheeks.

    “Oh my God, Derek!” I breathed.

    “You looked so adorable… and when you tried to hum our tune.” He caught my face between his hands and pressed his lips against mine. “I’m sorry. It was all too easy. I just couldn’t resist.”

    “You almost gave me a heart attack.”

    He broke out laughing again, and this time I couldn’t stop myself from joining in, even though I was still quivering in my shoes from the shock.

    “I thought we were all the way back to square one,” I said. “All that work I put into you, all for nothing.”

    “No,” he said, his chest still heaving as he tried to contain his laughter. “I suppose whatever progress I made when I was a vampire before, I’ve retained… luckily for you.”

    He raised a brow at me and pulled me against him, breathing into my neck.

    “That said, you do smell rather tempting.”

    “Well, you can have a bite of me later,” I muttered, looking up as the others came racing toward us.

    They stared at us, their faces white with panic. The terror in their eyes turned to confusion as they watched us both acting as if nothing had happened.

    “All of that,” I said, glaring at Derek, “was your king’s idea of a joke.”

    “So what does it feel like to be a vampire again?” I asked.

    We were in Vivienne’s penthouse, in one of her spare rooms. Derek lay on his back on the bed while I rested beside him, holding his hand in mine.

    “It’s… strange. Now that I’ve spent time away from it, I don’t detest it as much as I used to. I suppose it’s also a relief to not be constantly worrying about fire bursting from my palms whenever I get too, uh, excited.”

    He winked at me. I grinned back at him.

    I’d suggested that he rest after the trauma of the morning, in order to prepare for what he was to do. Now it was nighttime.

    We both fell silent. Now that the time we had agreed upon had approached, blood rushed to my cheeks again. I was sure that we were both thinking the same thing.

    I bit my lip as I looked up at him. His face was now serious, his eyes intense.

    “Well,” I muttered. “I guess it’s time.”

    Without another word, he stood up and, scooping me up in his arms, walked out of the room. As we passed the living room, we saw Vivienne and Xavier sitting together on the couch.

    “You’re going to do it now?” she asked.

    Derek nodded.

    They both got up and approach us, but Derek shook his head.

    “We won’t be needing either of you. I can handle her… whatever state she might be in once she’s turned.”

    He rushed out before either of them could respond. We took the elevator down to the ground and he began whipping through the trees. His speed left me struggling to breathe as I tightened my hold around him.

    We passed right by the clearing where Vivienne had turned Derek earlier.

    “Where are we going?”

    “You do realize that this is the last night we’ll both be the way we were when we first met? When I first fell in love with you.”

    I nodded as his words sank in.

    Derek, a vampire. Me, a human.

    We ran along the beach, along the outskirts of the wall, until we reached a cluster of giant boulders. He climbed up over them. After a few minutes, it came into view.

    The lighthouse.

    All the memories that came with the place washed over me and I had to fight to hold back tears.

    He approached it and sped up the stairs. Once we reached the top, he pushed the door open to the cozy circular room and laid me down on the four-poster bed we had brought up here especially for occasions when we took time away from everybody.

    He walked around the room, drawing the red velvet curtains and lighting the candles that surrounded the bed.

    “I had my fun earlier,” he said, approaching the bed and looking down at me through his dark lashes. “Now this is your night, Sofia. Your fantasy.”

    My throat went dry as he removed his shirt, revealing his ripped torso.

    “So, baby. What would you like to do first?”

    “I… I, uh…”

    He cocked his head to one side.

    “Sofia Novak tongue-tied? What’s wrong?” He ripped off his jeans in one sudden movement, revealing his underwear. “Do I intimidate you?”

    I swallowed hard.

    He knelt down on the bed and pushed me back. Crawling over me until his face was above mine, he held my arms over my head.

    What is wrong with me? I was breathless as a teenager whose first crush had just walked into the room.

    I closed my eyes as his lips found the softest, most sensitive part of my neck, just beneath my ear. He ran his tongue against it, then I sensed the slightest scrape of his fangs.

    I exhaled sharply.

    “Do you want this, Sofia?” he whispered, reaching behind my back and unzipping my dress.

    “Yes,” I breathed.

    “Do you really want it?” he asked, pulling the dress over my head and unclasping my bra.

    “Yes.”

    Gripping the front of my bra between his teeth, he tossed it over his shoulder. Then he lowered his head to my panties and, biting through the elastic, disposed of them too.

    “And you want me to do it to you?” he asked, now running his wide palms along my thighs.

    “Duh,” I gasped.

    The shadow of a smile crossed his lips.

    I shivered as he positioned himself over my hips.

    “All right,” he whispered. “If you insist.”

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