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Although it still felt insane to admit, knowing Mona and Kiev were leading the way, I didn’t feel as restless as I had before. If they couldn’t bring our parents, grandfather, Ibrahim and Zinnia back, nobody could. Ben too looked calmer.

Kiev, whoever he was now… I had faith in his eyes.

I imagined I would have looked into those eyes as an infant when he came to the scene of Ben and my birth. And I imagined then that I would have been looking into the eyes of a monster.

But now when I looked at him, I saw a man starving to reconnect with humanity. A man in desperate need of redemption.

Chapter 29: Rose

Corrine vanished Ben and I to the Catacombs. Our feet hit solid ground and we found ourselves in a rectangular chamber. Sacks of grain were piled in each corner. There were many storage rooms like this in the bowels of the Black Heights, but I recognized this one as the largest of all our mountain chambers. Several dozen humans were already sitting around in here, their irises reflecting the flickering lanterns. It had been almost two decades since humans set foot in these Catacombs for anything more than collecting food grains or piling up the storage rooms with more stock.

They looked up anxiously on noticing us.

“Stay here,” Corrine said to us. “And don’t leave until I come to tell you that it’s safe. Don’t forget that you’re humans too, and while vampires are allowed to remain outside, you’re not.”

Corrine vanished, leaving Ben and I to look for a seat somewhere.

“Rose.”

I turned around. Griffin had stood up and was waving at me. Groaning internally, I left Ben and made my way over to him.

It saddened me. Before, I always looked forward to seeing Griffin. Now it was everything I could do to avoid him. Of course, I’d barely had time to think of him recently with everything that had happened, but now that he stood in front of me, his face pale with concern, my discomfort came flooding back.

Is this is what our relationship will be like from now on?

I walked up to him and we both sat down on a sack of rice.

I was steeling myself for an awkward encounter, but when I looked up at him, he just continued looking concerned. “My father told me everything,” he said. “I’m sorry, Rose.” He gripped my hand.

I swallowed hard, and nodded. My heart ached for Griffin. His mother was trapped with Annora too.

I wasn’t sure how much he’d heard about the situation with Kiev and Mona, so I began updating him on everything that had happened. As expected, he responded with shock, and then relief.

After I’d finished telling him everything, we both fell into silence. I looked around the room. The other humans were talking in hushed voices, worry written on their faces.

So much had come to pass since my confrontation with Caleb in his apartment back on his island, it was only now that I was sitting silent that the full weight of the encounter came crushing down on me again.

I should have pulled that trigger.

Now that I’d heard it from the vampire’s own mouth, there was no more room for doubt. Caleb had deceived me from day one. And there I was feeling sorry for him. I felt embarrassed and angry with myself that I’d allowed him to fool me.

I thought of Mona and Kiev. Corrine had explained that the plan was to wait until Mona sensed Annora’s presence leave the island and then break in during the time she was trying to storm The Shade. That way, they would be attacking Caleb’s island at its weakest.

I was expecting to feel a sense of vengeance or satisfaction on thinking about Caleb getting his comeuppance. But instead I just felt… sadness. A sense of loss. Even though it didn’t make sense, now that I knew that there was nothing between us to lose in the first place.

Again, embarrassment took hold of me. That I’d returned his fake behavior with genuine emotion set my cheeks ablaze and made my heartbeat quicken.

I closed my eyes and leaned my head back against the rough stone wall. Griffin reached for my hand and squeezed it. I looked up at him, afraid of what I might see in his eyes.

But I just saw Griff. He wasn’t trying to be romantic. He was just trying to be there for me in the way that I needed him most at that moment: as my friend. I couldn’t have adored him more for being himself again. For not making me feel awkward around him.

As we sat in the cave for hours, he didn’t give off any sign that he was waiting on my reply to his request for a date. And for that I couldn’t have been more grateful.

Good ol’ Griff.

I wondered then, even if Caleb never had been in the picture, whether I might have still preferred Griffin as a friend. It definitely felt more natural.

I think I love Griff more as a friend than I could a lover.

I just had to hope that telling him this wouldn’t shatter his heart.

But before anything else, I had to get over that stupid vampire.

I had to pull myself together and see him for what he really was: a lie.

Chapter 30: Sofia

I’d fallen unconscious by the time the witch had finished torturing us. When I woke again, we were back in a dungeon. I opened my eyes and found myself lying in Derek’s lap.

I sat up and held his head in my hands. I could still see traces of the agony we’d just experienced in his eyes. I’d thought the witch was going to kill us. I was surprised to find myself awake again. I hadn’t thought that even a vampire could survive such agony.

Derek reached up to touch my own face, brushing the hair away from my forehead. “Are you all right?” he asked.

I scowled. “As all right as I can be after that.”

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