I’d known that if I gave her just enough reason to believe me, even if there were some doubts in her mind, she would more than likely accept it.

Besides, if she had gotten rid of me, she’d have no one to play her evening games with.

Chapter 4: Caleb

We were expecting another attack from the Novaks soon. Annora wasn’t going to make this time as easy now that we had something of true value—the immune.

Although she didn’t admit to it, she had underestimated the Novaks. She’d thought that they wouldn’t risk the lives of their twins and would just hand over the immune. She didn’t realize how much everyone in The Shade looked out for each other.

As I sat on the stone steps outside the castle that evening, looking down at the snowy landscape, I recalled how Rose had once sat with me here. I remembered the way she’d touched me, curled up against my chest.

She was the embodiment of what The Shade was—warmth, love, loyalty. Everything my dark island wasn’t.

Annora had underestimated them because she’d underestimated their humanity.

But she wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

That was why I was surprised, after several hours of being on the lookout, to see a dozen or so submarines emerge in the harbor. I didn’t understand why Annora had let them enter the boundaries with so little resistance. It was as if she wanted them to come.

Figures bundled out of the vessels and rushed through the forest.

Now it was time to play my part. But, memories of Rose still fresh in my mind, I allowed them a few more seconds’ advantage before rushing back into the castle to alert the others.

“They’re here,” I called.

Every vampire in the castle had been warned in advance, so as soon as they heard me, they came rushing down to the entrance hall, prepared for battle. I scanned the hall for Annora, but didn’t see her.

A few seconds after we’d all assembled, there was a crash against the door.

While I had been surprised at first that Annora had allowed them to enter the island so easily, now that they were seconds from breaking the door down, I realized what her plan was.

I contemplated how foolish giving them an advantage had been. I could have not alerted anyone at all, and it wouldn’t have made a difference to their fate.

Even with the witches they’d brought with them, they had already lost the battle. Hell, even if they’d had a hundred witches from The Sanctuary, it would have been an unfair match.

Because they had no idea what kind of witch Annora was.

Chapter 5: Derek

“It’s almost like they want us to come,” Ibrahim said, frowning as he stood in the center of the control room, his palms raised in the air.

“What?” I asked, staring at him in confusion.

“There’s no forcefield at all around the island.”

Sofia shot me a nervous glance. “Why would they want us to come back?” she asked.

“I have no idea.”

“Perhaps they were just careless enough to leave it open after the last attack,” Aiden said. “After all, not much time has passed. Perhaps they’re still recovering.” Though he didn’t look convinced.

“Well,” Vivienne said, looking back at us from her seat, “it’s not like we have any choice. Whether they’re inviting us or not, we’re going in.”

“Of course,” I said.

We all fell silent as the submarine entered the boundaries of the island freely and, after a few more minutes, arrived at the jetty.

Timing was critical now. We had not a second to lose. They likely would have positioned someone to guard the port and now that we’d emerged, alarm bells would be ringing all around the island.

We dashed out of the control room and raced toward the hatch. As I ran, I yelled at everyone else to follow.

We all gathered outside on the snow. As soon as my feet hit the jetty I grabbed Sofia’s hand and we started running.

Sofia and I led our troops forward, through the forest and up the mountain toward the entrance of the castle. We didn’t know what we’d find there now, but we were better equipped than last time. We had more witches with us. The vampires had a head start on the witches, having bundled out of the submarines before them, and the vampires all ran so fast, we reached the top of the mountain shortly after the witches had transported themselves there with magic.

Sofia and I crashed against the wooden door, loosening it from its hinges. Within three shoves, the doors had swung open.

We found ourselves staring at a hall full of vampires, their claws extended, all waiting for us. My blood boiled as I saw Caleb right at the front of the crowd. His deep brown eyes settled on me, his expression serious. It made my skin crawl to think that Rose had been alone in his care for so long.

I launched forward, heading straight for Caleb. I was so fixed on being the one to reach him first, I barely even noticed what was happening around me.

I’d been expecting him to take a step back, but he remained rooted to the spot. His calmness only fueled my anger.

I closed the final distance between us and dove for his throat. He ducked, though I caught his cheek with my claw, ripping it open. We locked eyes as we circled one another.

The entire hall was now in commotion as our vampires and witches clashed against our opposition. I wanted to cast my eyes around for Sofia, but I couldn’t take my focus off Caleb.

Let’s make this quick.

A second later, I had floored Caleb, pinning his arms against the stone. He struggled and forced a hand free, lashing out and catching my throat. I dodged just in time to avoid being gouged. His claws scraped the surface of my skin, drawing blood.

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