I rolled onto my stomach and, leaning on my forearms, smiled up at Griffin. “Let’s talk about you for a change. What have you been up to since I’ve been away?”

“Worrying about you,” he said.

I expected him to flash me a goofy smile, but his expression remained serious as his warm hazelnut-brown eyes stared down into mine.

“You really don’t have much of a life then,” I teased, prodding him in the stomach.

“Maybe I don’t,” he muttered, looking down at the water lapping over his toned chest. “But the thing is… I really like you, Rose.”

“Well, that’s nice.” I grinned. “I really like you too, Griff.”

He gave me a pained smile. “No.” His voice was hoarse as he shook his head. “I mean, I really like you.”

Realization dawned upon me, my heartbeat quickening. My lips parted and I fell silent.

He sat up straight, looking down at me. “I’d been meaning to tell you before you left, and I’ve regretted not doing so every single day that you’ve been gone. And when I thought I almost lost you… I wanted to ask you out on a date. I mean, I still do.” His cheeks grew red. He cursed himself beneath his breath. Inhaling deeply, he said, “Rose, will you go out with me?”

I sat up and knelt in the water, still staring at him, my mouth hanging open. Part of me willed this to be one of Griffin’s pranks. Some kind of joke. But there wasn’t a hint of frivolity in Griffin’s eyes. I clenched my jaw and tried to speak, but my throat felt parched and no words came out.

The truth was, his confession had punched me right in the gut. I felt winded.

I’d never thought of Griffin like this before in my life. He’d always been my friend. And now, knowing that he had been feeling this way for me all along—how long, I didn’t even know—somehow our relationship felt false. Like we’d been living a lie.

“Griffin,” I stammered.

“Uh-oh. There’s always trouble coming when you call me that.” He was trying to make light of the situation, but it was too late. He’d just dropped a ton of bricks on me and I was suffocating beneath the rubble.

“Oh, man.” I sighed and stood up, clasping a hand to my forehead, staring out at the waves. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?” I almost resented him. I had always thought that we were close enough to not hide things from each other.

His expression became serious again and he stood up, looking down at me. His Adam’s apple moved as he swallowed hard.

“Because I was afraid,” he said quietly. “I was afraid that you didn’t feel the same way.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that. Now I wished I had never asked the question. His answer had just made the situation ten times worse. Because the truth was, throughout our friendship, it had never once occurred to me to think of Griffin as anything more than a friend.

And now I found myself afraid to admit this to him. I didn’t know what it would do to him. His expression seemed so hopeful, so full of nervous anticipation. I just didn’t feel like I had it in me to dash all his hopes. Yet, at the same time, I didn’t want to raise his hopes higher than they already were.

In the end, I took the cowardly option.

“Griffin,” I said, gripping his hand. “This has all come as a real shock. I never knew you felt like this about me. I-I need time and space to think about all of this. To even get used to the concept of you liking me as more than a friend.”

He reached a hand to my face and I flinched. “Is it really that hard to imagine I could have felt more for you?” I felt my heart being crushed as he looked down at me with adoration in his eyes.

I gulped and reached for his hand, pulling it away from my face. “Just… give me some time,” I repeated.

This was so unlike Griffin. I was used to him mocking scenes like this in movies. And yet here he was, acting as though he was in a romance movie with me. I thought to tease him about it, but his face was still so serious that I just patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll see you around, okay?”

He grinned finally and nodded. “All right, princess.”

I turned around and began walking in the opposite direction. I sped up after a few feet until I was running. Why? I didn’t know. I just felt the urge to feel the wind whipping past my face, the unearthed sand stinging my heels.

As I continued running alone on that beach, I began to wonder if there was a deeper reason for being so averse to thinking about Griffin in a different light than a friend. In theory, it wouldn’t be difficult to love him in a different way. Friends to lovers was the biggest cliche of all time. Even my mom had fallen for it with her best friend, Benjamin Hudson.

Friends to lovers was cliche for a reason: it was so easily done.

Now I wondered if the resistance within me was something deeper… something related to that vampire I’d kissed at the port.

As I raced faster, a chilling fear took hold of me, running from the base of my neck down to my spine, sending tingling sensations throughout my body.

I feared that Caleb had disappeared beneath the waves carrying a piece of me with him. That he’d brought me back to his castle, and there I still remained… only this time, as his willing captive.

Chapter 11: Ben

It had been a full day now since our parents had left us. And, thanks to Corrine, I was finally feeling well enough to stand on my own two feet again.

Rose had been oddly absent from my bedside for the latter part of the last twenty-four hours. She’d said she needed some fresh air.

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