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“Stellan stole Anna,” I continued. “So why did you say that you stole her? Caleb, please. I promise I won’t keep you long if you’ll just tell me the truth.”

“Yes, Stellan stole her,” he said. “But as far as the world is concerned, I did. I wouldn’t be here now if I’d said that it wasn’t my idea all along.”

“So you didn’t come to our island intending to steal Anna?”

“Of course not.” He scowled. “You saw me snap Stellan’s neck. And I never would have set foot on the island had it not been for your stubbornness.” He paused and heaved a sigh. He stopped pacing and turned his back on me again. “I never should have kissed you,” he muttered.

Holding my breath, I walked up behind him cautiously until I was standing next to him at the edge of the rock. The sea roared all around us, its rough waves spraying our skin.

I swallowed hard.

I’d thought I’d find relief and closure in knowing for sure what had happened. That it would help me move on and stop thinking about him like a loser. But now my stomach just felt even more knotted, knowing that he was innocent. Knowing that all along he had indeed been protecting me.

Before all this had happened, I’d harbored some hope in the back of my mind that maybe one day—if he managed to escape Annora—he’d come to stay with us in The Shade. Now, that could never be the case.

Even if Mona was able to cut his bonds to Annora, even I wasn’t naive enough to think that I could persuade my father that he was innocent. Not after all my father had witnessed with his own eyes. He wouldn’t believe me before, and he certainly wouldn’t now. Caleb had already sealed his own fate in the eyes of my parents and the rest of The Shade.

“I repeat my question,” he said, breaking through the silence. “What difference does it make?”

I stared down at the dark waters licking the edge of the rocks. I opened my mouth to speak but no words came out.

He was right, of course. But my actions, it seemed, weren’t based on what made sense anymore. Rather, they were based on the restlessness eating me away inside. I’d left my brain in The Shade. I knew that already.

“You’re right,” I murmured, “It doesn’t make a difference. I just suppose, even if the whole world believes your lie, at least I know…” My voice trailed off.

A gust of wind showered us with spray. I looked out once again at the churning black monster surrounding us. We seemed so insignificant on this tiny cluster of rocks. The vastness could swallow us up, and very little would change in the world.

My eyes fixed on two clumps of sea flora, colliding with each other in the waves before being torn apart just as suddenly.

“I want to return,” Caleb said.

“Of course,” I whispered.

I stood up and reached into my pocket for the phone. My hand trembling, I flipped it open and dialed Mona’s number.

The witch picked up after a few rings.

“We’re done,” I said.

Even now, Caleb avoided eye contact.

I wanted to reach out to him. I wanted him to hold me in his arms just one last time. Feel his hand in my hair, his palm touching the side of my face. I wanted to kiss his cold cheek. But I held myself back. I knew that it would just make things more painful in the long term, just as his kiss had.

Caleb was right. We never should have shared that kiss.

Mona appeared on a rock a few feet away from us.

I looked at her, biting back the pain.

“Please take Caleb back first,” I said, fighting to keep my voice steady. “I’ll wait here for you.”

Mona walked briskly over to Caleb and placed a hand on his shoulder.

It killed me that even during those final seconds, he was still looking anywhere but at me.

And then he was gone.

Chapter 36: Aiden

That’s it.

I dare a tsunami to try and stop me asking that woman out on a date today.

My muscles were still begging for rest after the ordeal I’d been through, but I washed and changed into clean clothes. I hurried out of my penthouse and began scouring the island for Adelle.

When I was trapped in that dungeon, I’d sworn this would be the first thing I did when I got out. The experience had made me realize that even as a vampire, one could never take life for granted. On more than one occasion I’d believed that we would all perish in that castle at the hands of Annora.

Even though the safety of our island hung in the balance now that Annora knew its location, I sensed that if I didn’t ask Adelle now, I might regret it for the rest of my life.

It was time to realize that there never would be a perfect moment. It would only continue to elude me each time I decided to wait for it.

My first stop was the school. I scanned the classrooms and offices. But the whole place was empty except for two caretakers cleaning up in the dining hall.

I searched every corner of the Vale, asking people for her whereabouts as I went along, but nobody seemed to know. I checked the witch’s residence— a large cabin built into the side of the one of The Shade’s mountains—and then visited the Sanctuary. Neither Corrine nor Ibrahim had seen her.

By this time, I was beginning to worry. I wondered if something could have happened during my absence.

But continuing to go round in circles on the island was useless. I admitted defeat for the time being and decided to check back later. I walked back through the woods toward my apartment.

And that was when I heard it.

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