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It pained me to think that I’d never even experienced the simple pleasure of feeding my own children. And I never would so long as I remained a vampire.

Derek began explaining to me everything that had transpired since I was first taken to The Blood Keep: how he’d escaped The Keep himself, his stay at The Sanctuary with Ibrahim and the Ageless, the Guardians… His story blew my mind. He was talking fast and I wanted to stop him and ask questions, but frustratingly, my mouth remained sealed. He’d been talking for over an hour until his story reached the part where I was taken by the witch, at which point he paused. He tilted my head up with his hand and his bright blue eyes bored into mine.

“I thought I’d lost you, Sofia. I can’t tell you how scared I was.” His arms tightened around me and he placed a tender kiss on my forehead.

You did lose me, Derek. I’m not your Sofia.

After a moment of silence, he cleared his throat and continued. “Aiden asked me to bring you to Headquarters. He desperately wants to see you. But at the time he made this request, he was too overcome with emotion to realize what a terrible idea that is… especially now you’re…” Derek’s voice trailed off. “We don’t yet understand what the Guardians’ true motives are. I don’t know how Arron would react to seeing you as a vampire and I’m not about to take any risks with you. Even staying in this hut is dangerous now the hunters know its location. We need to find a new place to stay on a different coast as soon as possible.”

“Derek.” I heard my voice interrupt him softly. “I really, really want to go to Headquarters. I want to see my dad.”

Derek brushed the back of my head with his hand.

“Sofia, of course I understand that. But there’s no reason to risk going to Headquarters just to see your father. Aiden’s busy trying to locate Ben, but I’m sure he can fly here for a few hours to see you.”

“No, Derek.” I pulled away from his arms, sitting upright on the bed. “I want to go to Headquarters. It’s not just Aiden I want to see.” Memories of people I’d seen at Headquarters during my stay there whirred through my brain. “There’s also Zinnia, Craig, Julian…”

Utter confusion spread across Derek’s face. “Craig? Zinnia? Sofia, is this supposed to be a joke? Because it’s not funny. I’m not getting it.”

“I just want to go to Headquarters. I feel safer there than in some little hut.”

“But listen…”

“And if you won’t take me, I’ll leave you and go there myself.”

Chapter 9: Derek

Sofia just blackmailed me.

I was in a state of shock as I walked out of the bedroom and stood in the sitting room, grabbing the back of a chair to steady my hands. I’d left Sofia sitting on the bed after promising her that I’d consider her request. I’d told her that I needed to discuss some things with Corrine and Ibrahim.

Since I had known Sofia, she had never threatened me in this way. And over what? Her insistence on visiting Headquarters was completely irrational. Sofia had never been whimsical. When faced with any decision, she always weighed the pros and cons.

Has she lost her mind? Maybe the shock of turning has made her mentally unstable. Maybe she just needs time to recover. There was only one thing I knew for sure: the person sitting in my bedroom was not the girl I’d married.

A vision from one of my nightmares flashed before my eyes, nightmares that still plagued me on the rare occasions that I slept.

Sofia stood in a fountain outside the witch’s temple in The Shade. Her long hair covered her face like a curtain. Her body swayed from side to side, as if moved by the breeze.

I called out her name. No response.

“What’s wrong with you?”

I started walking toward her. As I got closer, the fountain’s clear water turned to red. A shriek emanated from Sofia’s mouth as she flipped her hair aside to reveal her face.

Her eyes were black as a coal pit. Blood dripped from her lips. Her skin was cracked and aged.

“What have you done with my Sofia?”

I found myself breathing heavily just remembering the dream. Are these simply my worst fears playing tricks on my mind? Or could these nightmares actually bear some meaning? I shuddered the thought away and wrapped a robe around my body.

Maybe vampires created in Cruor just find it far more difficult to control themselves, and that’s why even Sofia is struggling. She helped me out of my darkness. Now it’s my turn to help her.

I pushed open the door to the bedroom we had transformed into a nursery for Rose. Corrine was sitting on a sofa, holding little Rose on her lap. Ibrahim had his arm around Corrine’s waist, but quickly removed it.

Corrine looked up at me.

“Thank God you’ve come here without her. I would have said something last night, but I didn’t have the heart to interrupt when I saw you two standing there.”

“Why?” Her anxiety took me by surprise.

“Come closer.” She grabbed my hand and pulled my head down so that my ear was less than an inch away from her lips. Then she continued in a voice that was barely louder than a breath. “Ibrahim and I… We’ve been discussing. We don’t think Rose should be in the same house as Sofia. Hell, not even in the same country. I have some more contacts, old classmates, down in Argentina. Ibrahim will come with us of course…”

“What is it that you’ve noticed about Sofia?” I interrupted.

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