Whatever the case was, we weren’t as alone as before.
I’d never thought the day would come when I’d draw comfort from Kiev Novalic. But now, as I sat next to him, his striking green eyes gazing at me, I did.
The Novaks and Novalics… We were stronger combined. Strong enough? Only time would tell.
Either way, as insane as it still seemed, we were all in this together now.
One force. One family.
Chapter 40: Derek
I made a beeline for Matteo as soon as the meeting was over. Standing a few feet away from him, I was filled with melancholy. I saw so much of his sister in his warm brown eyes.
Casting my mind back to the centuries I’d known Natalie Borgia, I couldn’t remember her mentioning that she’d had a brother. I’d certainly never met him.
I shook hands with him. He seemed to be eyeing me just as closely as I was him.
“This place,” he said, gesturing around the room, “I still haven’t gotten over how surreal it is to be here.”
There was one question burning at the forefront of my mind. I hesitated, worried how he’d take it. He seemed to be the calm, level-headed type.
“Do you know about your sister’s death?”
His smile faded. He looked down at the floor, wetting his lower lip.
“Yes. I know.”
I led him toward the Dome’s exit, away from Mona and Kiev’s siblings. “Then I assume you know how she died?” I asked beneath my breath as we entered the clearing outside.
He looked up at me resolutely, placing a hand on my shoulder.
“I know how Natalie died.”
I wondered if he really did.
“You’re wondering how I could have possibly forgiven Kiev.”
He turned away from me and gazed out at the ocean in the distance.
“It hasn’t been easy,” he said, his eyes glazing over. “God knows, it hasn’t...”
“How could you even start to forgive him?”
Matteo rubbed a palm over his face, heaving a sigh. “Because, Derek, I saw myself in him. I too was once a child of the Elders. No matter how much I tried to hate him, I saw that he wasn’t a true creature of the darkness. Like many of us were, he was trapped in a life fashioned by the Elders.”
Natalie’s brother, a child of the Elders? I wondered how on earth that ever came to be. Although I was filled with curiosity to learn about his history, I was still too confused by how Matteo could have pardoned Kiev. I hadn’t detected any malice from him toward Kiev as they’d both sat opposite me during the meeting.
“So, you… you’ve completely forgiven him?”
“Ah.” He held up a hand. “Forgiveness is a strong word. I’m not sure that I will ever be able to forgive him.” His eyes darkened as he shot a glance at me. “I believe that acceptance is a better way of describing where I am right now. Although he has given me no shortage of reasons to doubt him, I’ve come to accept that he is capable of remorse. That he mourns for Natalie as I do. That he’s trying to clean up his life.”
He looked conflicted as he spoke, as though a part of him was still fighting against accepting this.
“What is your opinion on Erik and Helina?” I asked. “Are they like him?”
A deep scowl lined his face. “Oh, my crew and I have ample reason to despise them too… But, as with Kiev, it’s hard to continue abhorring people when you see that they too have been lost, and are trying to find their way again.”
“Well, you’re a better man than I,” I said darkly. Even entertaining the idea that Kiev could be innocent was painful to me. I still felt the urge to punish him the way I’d never gotten a chance to. Even after he’d saved us from the dungeon and returned Anna, I still found my hands twitching to rip out his heart whenever he was in my presence. My bias against him was so deep-seated, the physical agitation he brought out in me was involuntary.
Matteo let out a dry laugh. “I doubt that. You just need to look harder… Beneath the monster, maybe you’ll see a man.”
Chapter 41: Kiev
I had trouble sleeping that night, the events of the past few days replaying in my mind.
I’d imagined more than once what it would be like to meet Sofia again. She had plagued my mind much of the time I’d been away. I’d thought mostly of the things I should have done differently when she was pregnant and in my care.
I looked down at Mona’s peaceful face and listened to her gentle breathing. Her smooth skin melded with mine as she lay in my arms. Stroking her forehead, I kissed her lips.
She stirred, a smile spreading across her face. She let out a soft moan and nestled closer against me.
Mona. Darling, how the tables have turned.
I remembered a time when she was as weak as a human. And now, everyone was fighting to take shelter in her strength. My chest swelled with pride at how far she’d come.
I ran my hands along her bare back, burying my face in her hair, breathing in her scent.
I couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t still attracted to Sofia. Hell, that redhead still drew me in like a moth to a flame even after all this time. I was sure that even Mona had sensed that.
But Sofia was my past, while Mona was my future.
I didn’t envy Derek Novak the way I used to, for having Sofia when I couldn’t. Because I would have ruined her. Even her light wouldn’t have been strong enough to keep me from extinguishing it. I feared I almost had when she’d been in my care in The Blood Keep.