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    Prologue: Caleb

    Tick, tock.

    Tick, tock.

    I sat in my armchair, staring up at the clock in the corner of the room. The hours seemed to drag by, the time between Annora’s nightly visits growing longer. Or perhaps it was just the absence of music.

    Nobody knew what the witches’ plans were now that Mona was protecting The Shade. Annora hadn’t told any of us. I didn’t care, as long as I never had to go near the island again. I wasn’t sure if human abductions were to continue as usual, or whether she would continue harassing The Shade until she managed to penetrate it.

    Somehow, I suspected the latter. But it didn’t concern me. I’d already made clear to Annora that I wanted to be left out of visits to The Shade from now on.

    There was a knock at my door.

    I swallowed the last of my drink before opening it. Annora glided in and sat down on the edge of my bed.

    “I wasn’t expecting you early today,” I said.

    “I’m in a good mood.” She loosened her robe, allowing it to slide down her shoulders and reveal her silk underwear.

    She stood up, roughly unbuttoning my shirt and throwing it aside. She manifested a knife and ran it across my chest, leaving a line of blood. I barely flinched. She crawled back onto the bed, kneeling and beckoning me over. I remained still.

    “What?” she snapped.

    Breathing steadily, I held her gaze, taking in her dark beauty. Her long hair, sharp cheekbones, cool grey eyes, pillowy lips. How I used to yearn for this woman. She’d once been my vision of perfection.

    It wasn’t often that I reminded myself of the life Annora and I used to share. The promises we’d exchanged. The plans we’d made. But now I did. Perhaps it was because the vision of Rose was still fresh in my memory, her soft voice still ringing in my ears.

    Rose likely considered me a coward. Weak. For running away. For not being willing to fight for what we had. Of course, I couldn’t expect her to think anything different. She didn’t understand.

    I’d already witnessed the wilting of one blossom. I wasn’t about to risk the petals of another. Least of all Rose.

    The princess still haunted me and it was all I could do to distract myself from the pain.

    That night, I touched Annora in a way I hadn’t for decades. Instead of extending my claws and cutting her, I gripped her waist and pulled her against me. Running my hands down her back, I caught her lips in mine.

    Her eyes widened, and I thought I saw within them a flicker of emotion as I crawled over her, still kneading my lips against hers. But I could have been mistaken, for it lasted but a moment.

    I closed my eyes and remembered. Annora. The girl who’d once owned my every thought and breath, whom I would have done anything for. The girl I’d sworn to marry.

    I knew better than to expect Annora to feel anything other than mild boredom at my advances. But it didn’t matter.

    She pushed against my chest.

    “Caleb?”

    I ignored her. I lay beside her, pulling her flush against me as I continued caressing her lips, running my fingers through her sleek hair.

    To my shock, she began returning my kisses. I thought for a moment it was out of passion, perhaps even hunger for me. But then her hands slid down my back and spasms erupted at the base of my spine.

    She broke away from my kiss, her eyes sharpening.

    I shouldn’t have allowed myself to hope for anything different. The only thing that aroused her was pain. Violence. So I positioned myself over her, dug my fangs into her neck and pressed down hard, sinking her into the mattress.

    She moaned and squirmed beneath me.

    She wanted to feel pain. I’d make her feel it.

    Chapter 1: Sofia

    There wasn’t much we could do other than just wait and hope for the best. We didn’t know when or if the witches would attempt to attack us again with more force, and whether Mona would be able to keep them out if they did.

    Our other witches weren’t of any real help to Mona in securing the spell. The security of our island, and all our lives, depended entirely on this witch we barely knew.

    Derek and I had done our part in preparing the island for an attack. We’d had all the storage chambers in the Catacombs cleared out and filled with food, water and bedding. But really, if Annora managed to penetrate the island, it would only be a matter of time before we were all brought down.

    For now, Kiev and his people had agreed to stay. We just had to hope that they wouldn’t change their minds any time soon.

    Although we were all on edge, we had to continue with our lives. Ben and Rose resumed classes at school, and the witches went back to teaching.

    While I had been making an effort to acquaint myself better with our guests, now living in the northwest of the island, Derek took any opportunity to shut himself in our apartment. Whenever he didn’t have a meeting, or some other important matter to attend to, he stayed indoors. I didn’t need to possess more than a few brain cells to realize why that was.

    So far, I had paid a visit to Matteo, Mona and Kiev, his siblings and a few other vampires. Now I planned to spend some time with Saira and the other werewolves, and then stop by Brett the ogre’s cave on the way back.

    Before leaving the apartment, I poked my head through the door of Derek’s study. He sat at his desk, sifting through a pile of papers. I approached and looked over his shoulder. I recognized Eli’s meticulous handwriting. He’d had a meeting with Eli earlier to discuss reconsidering our lookout spots around the island.

    I wrapped my arms around Derek’s neck, placing a slow, tender kiss beneath his right ear.

    “Hey,” I whispered.

    “Resorting to seduction now, Mrs. Novak?” he muttered, not bothering to look up from his work. “I thought you were more classy than that.”

    I giggled, tightening my grip around his neck. “What about resorting to force?”

    He leant his head back, staring up at me with his blue eyes, calmly raising a brow.

    “You can always try, darling. Though I don’t suggest it if you place any value on the time you spent combing your hair this morning…”

    I squeezed his cheeks and pulled a face at him. I couldn’t stop grinning as I knelt next to him. I removed one of his hands from the desk and held it.

    “Derek, seriously. You’re king of this island. They are now your citizens. You need to get to know them.”

    “It’s not required that both of us get to know them. You’re queen. My other half. My representative. You going is the same as my going. It’s a waste of time both of us doing the same task. Besides, I already spoke to Matteo. And as for Kiev, I know more about that vampire than I can ever hope to erase from my memory.”

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