The thought weighed down on me so heavily, it was a struggle to breathe.
We’d both have to live with this guilt for the rest of our lives.
I looked at Ben again. He hadn’t shed tears, but the expression on his face was enough to reveal the grief consuming him.
“And what happened to you, Ben?” I whispered, placing a hand over his.
He still hadn’t told me. I’d asked him once before and he’d refused. Corrine had told me not to ask him again until he was fully recovered. Now I couldn’t help myself.
He frowned at me even as he propped himself up higher against his pillows.
“Do you really want to know?”
“Yes,” I said, my voice hoarse.
“I was kept in a dungeon,” he began, “along with dozens of other humans. It was dark. It was cold. They barely fed us. Nobody knew why we were being kept there. Every so often, a vampire came down and took some of us away. And the next day, their empty cells would be filled again with new humans. They’d sectioned me off from the other humans. I had my own cell. So I assumed they wanted me for something in particular.”
Ben paused, his eyes glazing over as they fixed on the opposite wall. I squeezed his hand, urging him to continue.
“The worst part about it all was just… not knowing. The vampires who came down to feed us refused to answer even the simplest of questions. Honestly, Rose… I thought I would spend my last breath in that dungeon.”
“Then Stellan came to collect you?”
“Yes. He drugged me. Dumped me in a submarine. By the time I came to, Dad had already hijacked me.”
Silence fell between us.
My thoughts roamed back to Kristal and her brother.
There were no words of comfort that either of us could offer one another that would help to relieve our guilt. We just sat there staring at each other, mourning the loss of the two siblings who’d made the mistake of extending us their hospitality.
Chapter 3: Caleb
Annora summoned me to her study the moment we arrived back at the island. I was relieved that she hadn’t brought Stellan along too. I wasn’t sure that I would have been able to stand his presence without launching myself at his throat again.
Annora held out her palms. I sank to the floor. My limbs stretched out on the carpet, held down by invisible bonds.
“You know what we do to traitors,” the witch said, looming over me.
“I didn’t betray you, witch,” I said.
“Oh?” She scowled, narrowing her eyes on me. “Pray tell then, why did you lie to me about Stellan wanting you to take the girl instead of him? Why did you break his neck? Why did you return the girl to The Shade?”
“I thought you would have been smart enough to figure this out,” I retorted, my eyes never leaving hers.
She bent down and gripped my jaw. “Stop playing with me, Caleb. Whatever feeble excuses you have, now’s the time to spit them out. My patience wears thin.”
I knew she would detect even the slightest hesitation in my eyes, so I made sure I showed none. “This misunderstanding never would have arisen had Stellan not gotten to the immune before me,” I said coolly. “Why do you think I would have risked my life traveling to the Novaks’ island had it not been to collect her?” Annora raised an eyebrow and opened her mouth to respond, but I bulldozed over her. “Stellan stole Anna off the back of my own hard work, then claimed the credit for himself.”
“Why would he do that?”
I scoffed. “Do I really need to answer that?”
She pursed her lips. She knew Stellan and I had been at odds with each other ever since we had been put in charge of the two islands. “Why would you lie to me and disjoint Stellan’s neck?”
“The Novak girl was with me. Of course I couldn’t tell you the truth. And by lying to you, it made her think that I was on her side. I’d told her that I wanted her gone from the island because her presence aggravated me. Time was of the essence. I didn’t want to waste it trying to convince you Rose was better used as a key to The Shade rather having Stellan take her back through the gate. But I knew you’d thank me for it later. As for disjointing Stellan’s neck… he got in my way. As with you, I had neither time nor patience to resolve things verbally.”
She chewed on her lower lip, still eyeing me suspiciously.
“Stellan tells a very different story,” she said, but even as she said the words, the bonds holding me down loosened.
“It’s my word against his,” I said, standing up. “You decide who to trust.”
My eyes blazed into hers as she continued scrutinizing me.
Finally, she reached up and ran a finger along my cheek. I tensed beneath her touch and my skin began to sting. When she withdrew her finger, its tip was covered with my blood. She sucked it off, a stain of red remaining on her soft lower lip.
“I hope you’re not lying to me, Caleb. Because if you are, you’ve just made things much, much worse for yourself.”
I kept my gaze steady, my lips sealed.
“You can leave now,” she said.
She shot me one last glance as I left the room.
I had played Annora well. I’d known that she wanted to keep both Stellan and I. It would have been work to find and train a replacement. This way, she could keep us both—Stellan was only guilty of trying to outdo me, and that wasn’t a crime in her eyes. She enjoyed the competition between the two of us because she thought it made us both work harder.