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“You all right, Abby?” Ashley asked, looking up from her book.

“Yeah,” I muttered. “I’m fine.”

I buried my head back in homework for the next hour and didn’t look up again until footsteps approached.

My heart raced as I looked up to see Ben approaching. He wore swim shorts and now a damp cotton shirt that clung to his abs. He looked down at me and smiled. I put down my pen and papers down and sat up straighter, returning his smile.

“Hi, Abby.”

“Hi, Ben.”

He reached his hands into his shorts pocket, then looked down at his feet as he kicked the sand. “Do… do you want to go for a walk with me?”

“Oh. Yeah. Sure.”

His gorgeous green eyes left me breathless. He reached out his hand and I gripped it. He pulled me up. I brushed down my beach dress, knocking away the sand.

“See you later, Abby,” Ashley said, giving me a wink.

I rolled my eyes at her.

As I left the beach alone with Ben, I caught sight of a group of girls scowling at me. I grinned to myself.

I wasn’t sure why Ben had asked me to walk with him. But something told me that this was going to beat my usual afternoon walk with Shadow.

Chapter 38: Sofia

After Derek and I had finished discussing the situation with Vivienne, Xavier and our closest companions, we called our new guests in to join us.

Goosebumps ran along my skin as Kiev entered the room. He took a seat at the opposite end of the table from me. Mona sat next to him.

I looked down at my hands. I still found it hard to hold his gaze.

Perhaps sensing my discomfort, Derek reached beneath the table and squeezed my thigh. Kiev’s two siblings, plus Matteo Borgia and Saira the werewolf, also entered the room and sat next to Kiev and Mona. It being daytime, Saira was in her human form—a short plump woman with grey eyes and bushy brown hair. These were apparently the leaders of their strange tribe.

Once they were seated, Derek stood up. I could see he too was on edge in Kiev’s presence. His body felt more tense next to me.

I still couldn’t believe we were trying to make an ally out of Kiev. It was chilling to realize how much we now needed them on the island. We’d already talked during our private meeting as to what other solution there could be, but the simple fact couldn’t be avoided: with Annora targeting us, we couldn’t survive without Mona.

Kiev. The man I once hoped to only see in nightmares… now a man I can’t live without.

Kiev drummed his fingers over the table as we all waited for Derek to begin.

I placed my hand over Derek’s as it rested on the table. He cleared his throat. I could see how torturous this was for him. But desperate times called for desperate measures. Failure to keep them on this island would mean the destruction of all of us. It was time to put aside our pride and prejudices and just do what was best for our people — which was our responsibility as king and queen of The Shade.

“I’ll cut to the chase,” Derek said, glowering at them. “You know we need Mona here on this island. We won’t survive without her… so we are all willing to come to certain compromises to make you stay here with us.”

The party at the end of the table exchanged glances, but neither responded yet.

“What is it that you are seeking?” Vivienne asked. “You claim that you found an open gate in the werewolf realm and entered the human realm, all to return Anna. So, what were you planning to do after that?”

It was Matteo who responded first, his liquid Italian accent filling the room. I was relieved that Matteo had taken it upon himself to bridge the gap between Kiev and Derek. Like Natalie, Matteo seemed to have diplomacy in his blood.

“Derek,” he said. “Let me also cut to the chase on behalf of all of us. The Shade is a legend among all creatures who inhabit the dark. Vampires not just in this realm, but even the supernatural realm speak of it as a legend. It’s described as some kind of heaven.” He paused, looking at his four companions. “Our original plan was to return Anna, perhaps stay a few days and then return to the supernatural realm to begin our search for a fixed residence. But I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we would be honored to make The Shade our home.”

I already felt that Matteo and Derek were going to get on well. After all, his sister had been good friends with Derek too.

Matteo looked at the others. Helina, Erik and Saira nodded. All eyes fell on Kiev and Mona. Mona had reached for Kiev’s arm as she looked to him for a reaction. She at least didn’t seem to object, but Kiev looked anything but honored. He kept a poker face as he looked steadily at Derek.

“Kiev?” Mona pressed.

His jaw twitched. He turned to look at her and his companions. Finally he gave a curt nod. “Yes,” he said slowly, his eyes falling on me again. “I believe I could make The Shade my home.”

I breathed out.

Now that they’d agreed in theory, it was time to nail down the details. First and foremost on my mind was how the werewolves and vampires fed. Especially the werewolves—creatures we were all quite inexperienced with. We couldn’t risk letting them out at night unless it was safe.

“We can section off a portion of the island for you,” I said, steeling myself for the bomb I was about to drop. “We’re willing to come to many compromises in order to make sure that you’re comfortable, but there are some things that we won’t put up with. One of those is feeding on human blood. Now, I don’t know what you wolves and vampires are used to feeding on, but no humans are harmed on this island.”

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