She was in the middle of a sentence, when I just found myself bursting out, “Have you gone mad, Sofia?”

She sealed her lips and looked at me as I stood to my full height, giving her that certain glare fathers gave their daughters when they were very, very displeased.

“You’re a mortal talking about getting married to an immortal. Do you even realize what that means?”

“Well, it’s not like you didn’t know that he is my fiancé to begin with.”

I stared at her in disbelief, her green eyes – the same shade as mine – staring up at me in wide-eyed defense of the talk she was giving.

“Why on earth are you even talking to me about this if you’ve already made up your mind, Sofia?” I leaned against the stone wall across from the cot and crossed my arms over my chest. When she didn’t respond, I glared at her. “You’re still hanging your hopes on this ridiculous idea of a cure, aren’t you?”

She blew out a sigh, her shoulders sagging. “If you’d been listening and not finding yourself too busy preparing to throw one of your fatherly fits, then you would’ve heard me say that I do have my doubts about the marriage. Truth be told, I’m wondering why he’s in such a rush. Why now? Why does he want to get married all of a sudden?”

It took a couple of seconds before her words registered in my mind. I cocked my head to the side, wondering if she was playing some elaborate joke on me, but she really did seem to be truly considering this. Maybe she’s not as stubborn, irrational and immature as I think. I’d been told many times by the people of The Shade that Sofia was a strong and free-spirited young woman. I wanted to see that side of her, but whenever I laid my eyes on her, all I could really see was a stubborn and rebellious teenager lovesick over a vampire, something I could not accept as a hunter.

I wanted to capitalize on her doubts, but for the first time, I gave her the credit she was due and decided to just listen to her. “Why do you think you have these doubts?”

“Well, don’t get me wrong… I want nothing more than to marry Derek…”

At that, my lips twitched, but I fought the urge to give her a violent reaction. Calm down, Aiden. It’s not like you haven’t seen firsthand how much they are in love with each other.

She was waiting for me to react to that one, so when I just stood there and stared at her, waiting for her to explain further, she continued her explanation, “I just feel like something’s wrong. Peace has always been my compass, and I don’t have any of that when it comes to this. I don’t even know why.”

“If that is so, why did you agree to the wedding, Sofia?”

“Because I love him. You know that… He seemed so excited and so into it, it was just hard to say no, but now that I’m thinking about it… I feel like we’re not strong enough for something like this. Not yet.”

“So, what are you going to do now? Are you still going to push through with it?” I was testing her, wondering how her mind worked, how she made her decisions. Up until that time, I always saw her as being rather impulsive, like a child who follows even the slightest of whims. I was hoping that she would prove me wrong.

“I have to be honest with Derek about this. I can’t marry him feeling this way. At least not now. I need to have clarity for a commitment as huge as marriage. It would be unfair for both of us if I just pushed through with it in spite of my apprehensions.”

Every fatherly instinct I had began to applaud for her. I wanted to pull her into my arms and embrace her for thinking straight for once, but all I did was nod my head and shrug one shoulder. “Sounds like a plan.”

“Aiden…” she said my name with a hint of gratefulness.

I raised a brow at her. “Yeah?”

“When I do get married someday, it would mean the world to me if you walked me down the aisle. You’ll do that, right? No matter who I marry?”

“Sofia… I wouldn’t miss your wedding for the world.”

Later, after she had gone off to do whatever it was that kept her busy in the island of vampires, I realized that I meant it. I knew that even if she married Derek Novak, I could never say no to walking her down that aisle. It would be my deepest honor.

I caught that thought and remembered the last time I acknowledged something as my “deepest honor.” It was the day I became a hunter.

Four ugly scars lined the face of my father. Whenever I was in his presence, I would always take a few moments to stare at them, reminding myself that they were one of the reasons I should always hate vampires.

That night, we were at the gardens of his large estate, right beside the koi pond, and he was circling me like he would a vulture.

“This is it, son,” his gruff voice spoke up. “You must avenge the family. You must restore our good name.” His voice broke.

Memories of the tragedy that occurred began to flood back through my mind. Blood streaming out of the hardwood floor, lifeless bodies strewn all over the hall – men, women and children alike. Indiscriminately murdered by vampires.

My stomach clenched as I remembered the faces of those who died that night – all of them familiar, all of them close to me. I belonged to a family of hunters. Every single one of my father’s siblings were hunters and all my cousins were too. Our grandparents were hunters and their parents before them were hunters.

That night, every living member of our family was killed in a bloody massacre. Only my father and I survived. My father risked his life to save me and I owed him everything. I owed him a debt that I could repay by being the greatest and most powerful hunter that ever lived.

The memories served to strengthen my resolve to avenge my family.

“I’m going to make the vampires pay, Father. I will.”

With the vast fortune we inherited from the death of every relative we had, I became Aiden Claremont to the world. With my father’s help we built a security conglomerate trusted by the entire world. In the underground, I was known simply as Reuben, one of the most well-connected and affluent hunters of the Order. It didn’t take long before I rose through the ranks, much to my father’s pride.

My father died battling vampires and his death was another reason I felt I needed to take revenge on those vile creatures. My life revolved around my business and my desire to rid the world of vampires. That is, until I met Camilla.

I always thought that I would have a family who shared my hatred for vampires, but when I married the love of my life, I couldn’t stand the thought of dragging her into the violent world of hunters. So, she only got to know Aiden and never really got to know Reuben.

When Camilla gave birth to Sofia and I held our newborn daughter for the very first time, I took one look at her and knew that I didn’t want the cycle of blood and violence to repeat in her generation. I stared into her lovely green eyes and adored her enough to never want her to encounter a vampire in her life.

At that, I failed, because my precious Sofia ended up falling in love with a vampire, and not just any vampire – Derek Novak, whose head would be any hunter’s prized possession.

I couldn’t help but grunt with frustration as I tried to entertain the idea of giving my daughter away in marriage to Derek Novak. The thought made me sick and yet, despite my hunters’ instincts telling me that it was wrong, I had been in The Shade long enough to know that what she had with Derek wasn’t just a passing flame.

Sofia wasn’t raised to hate vampires like I was. She was raised to never know vampires and when she encountered one, he fought for her and protected her in a way I was never able to. Upon seeing firsthand how she interacted with the vampires in The Shade and how much affection they held toward her, I couldn’t help but see her through the eyes of the island’s citizens. I saw why she was loyal to the vampires, but I also realized that it’s not even really loyalty to any specific sort.

Sofia has simply chosen to take the side of good – to follow where she believes goodness lies. I grimaced. Hate the idea as much as you will, but your daughter sees good even in vampires.

I found myself speaking my thoughts out loud in frustration. “How could you be so naïve, Sofia?”

Right then, it dawned on me that I was wrong. It wasn’t just naïveté.

She has a strength in her that I’ve never seen in anyone else. She is strong enough to trust and forgive and to risk getting hurt again, no matter how much she’s been betrayed. She doesn’t put up walls to protect herself from those who could possibly hurt her. She is strong enough to allow herself to be vulnerable. How does she do it?

Right then, I couldn’t help but contrast her with her mother. The irony that came with a fierce hunter like me ending up with a wife who was a vampire, and a daughter who was madly in love with a vampire, didn’t escape me and I grimaced at the notion. Camilla and Sofia had many similarities between them, but I knew then exactly what set them apart.

No matter how powerful a creature Ingrid has become, she was always weak on the inside in a way Sofia never was.

Chapter 8: Derek

I couldn’t get her off my mind. From the moment Emilia arrived at the island, she invaded my every waking moment and my every dream. The only times I could distract myself from thinking of her was when I was with Sofia, and even then I had to consciously gather the will power to keep my focus on Sofia instead of letting my mind run off to daydreams of the lovely brunette.

What is wrong with you, Novak? It’s like you’ve never seen an attractive vampire before. I knew, however, that something was different about Emilia. When it came to physical appearances, she was my idea of a perfect woman. The fact that she kept talking about a connection between us, one that I couldn’t deny I felt too, made it even more difficult for me to forget her.

At some point, I couldn’t take it anymore, and though it was against my better judgment, I found myself walking through the door of The Cells and heading for the jail we were keeping her in.

A smile lit up her face when she saw who it was that came to visit. Obviously, she was delighted to see me there – something that I found completely unsettling.

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