I had no such distraction. After spending most of the morning with Ben, I found myself craving solitude and left the Sanctuary to take a walk along the beach.

I walked barefoot through the sand, the gentle wind carrying my hair and blowing against my face. I stopped once I reached the water and stared out toward the horizon.

The vision of Caleb’s submarine disappearing beneath the waves was still fresh in my memory, and like salt in a wound, now it stung more than ever.

Could he have really been using me all that time?

I knew him to be capable of worse. And now that he was gone, it seemed that maybe it had been my own feelings leading me to believe that he held some sort of affection for me.

From our first dance right up to our parting kiss… all an act.

Maybe it was no coincidence at all that he showed up on the same beach the same night we were partying. Maybe he somehow discovered we’d gone to Hawaii and planned this all along.

Maybe everything he told me about himself and the witch was a lie. Maybe what they were doing upstairs each night was just because they both like it rough, while all the while I was pitying him. And he used this belief to evoke sympathy from me and draw me in further. After all, I never actually saw what was going on up there…

My mind began to spiral out of control as I began to replay everything that had happened, from when I’d first seen him on the beach right up until we’d parted at the port. By the end of my walk, I found myself losing all hope.

And yet I felt a stubborn knot in my gut each time I blamed him. But perhaps it was just a defense mechanism to avoid the pain.

Tears threatened to spill down my cheeks, but I fought them back. I wasn’t going to cry over this man. I’d already given him my affections, which he’d dashed to the ground. I wasn’t about to give him my tears too.

Although I bit my lip almost until the point of drawing blood, I managed to hold back the waterworks.

Still, even as I was convincing myself that Caleb wasn’t worthy of my affections, I shuddered at the thought of what my father might be doing to him now, or might have already done to him. I knew that my father wouldn’t hesitate to rip Caleb’s heart out the moment he laid eyes on him.

I swallowed back the lump in my throat and breathed deeply. I need to forget about that vampire.

I unzipped my dress, stripping to my underwear, and slid into the ocean. The waves lapping against my body always calmed my nerves. I lay back, submerging my hair in the water, and stared up at the starry night.

I lost track of how long I’d been lying there in the warm waters. I almost dozed off at one point because I started at someone shouting my name above the water. I heard a loud splashing next to my ear. I opened my eyes to see Griffin hovering over me.

“Rose.”

I jumped out of the water and scrambled onto the beach where I’d left my dress, quickly pulling it back over my underwear. Then I turned back to face him.

“What?” I asked, my cheeks flushing from embarrassment that my best friend had just seen me undressed for the first time.

He too looked embarrassed, his eyes fixed determinedly on the sand while I got dressed.

“I’m sorry,” he said, kicking the sand. “I… I know you haven’t been back long, barely more than a day, but I’ve barely seen you since you returned. I just wanted to know how you’re doing.”

I forced a smile and nodded. “I’m fine, Griff. It’s good to be back… and, uh, I’m dressed now. You can look up.”

He looked up and grinned sheepishly as he caught my eye. He cleared his throat and took a few steps closer to me.

“I, uh…” His voice trailed off. He averted his eyes away from me and looked out at the ocean, slipping his hands into his jeans pockets.

I joined him in gazing out at the ocean. And I wished that he hadn’t come to find me. I felt like I was a world apart from everyone right now. Even my own brother. I just needed space for myself. I sighed and sat back down in the water, my dress billowing up in the waves.

Griffin took off his shirt and dumped it on a patch of dry sand, then sat in the water next to me. “I was shocked when my mom told me it was that vampire who stole Anna.”

I bit my lower lip and nodded stiffly, not sure if I could answer him without my voice breaking.

“He seemed like a good guy.” Griffin stole a glance at me. “I mean, rescuing you and all… I guess sometimes you just can’t tell—”

“You know what, Griff,” I said abruptly, “can we please talk about something else? I’m trying to take my mind off of…all that.”

“Oh, sure,” he said, frowning at me. “I’m sorry.” He climbed out of the water and reached into his shirt pocket. “I, uh, brought you some chocolates my mom made. I swear they’re not pig-shaped.”

I smirked and took the small parcel from his hand, pulling away the wrapper to reveal frog-shaped ones.

“Seriously,” I said, popping one into my mouth. “What is it with Zinnia and animal-shaped chocolates?”

Griffin leaned back in the water, resting on his elbows. “Ah, I dunno… I think part of her is stuck back in time. She used to make them for me when I was a kid, and I guess she misses those days. Now she allows the junior-school kids to come round our house on Saturdays and collect them.”

I finished the frogs and washed my hands in the water. With the comforting taste of chocolate on my tongue, I was feeling a bit less tense already. Chocolate is a girl’s best friend, my girlfriends often said. Well, chocolate and Griffin were my two best friends.

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