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“Shh! Speak more softly. Don’t tell me that you haven’t noticed, Derek. You’re not that thick, I pray. There’s something very wrong with your wife.” The witch looked at me with fear in her eyes. “I don’t know what, I can’t put my finger on it. But there’s a feeling in my bones that I can’t shake. She’s not mentally stable.”

“The way she looked at Rose,” Ibrahim whispered. “At first her eyes were filled with motherly affection, but the next moment, a darkness had settled over them… only to vanish again. She’s not in control of her own nature. She’s unpredictable.”

This conversation was doing nothing to allay my fears.

“All right. I agree,” I breathed. “Take Rose. Take her far away. I’m trusting you and Ibrahim to guard her with your lives. Remember to bring the phone with you.”

Corrine looked relieved. “What about you? What will you do, Derek?”

“I need to stay here with Sofia. I need to find a cure for her. And I need to find my son.” I looked at the warlock. “Ibrahim, how do I know that the Ageless won’t come for Sofia again?”

“You don’t,” he said simply. “But the fact that your wife has been here for more than fifteen hours and the Ageless hasn’t showed up suggests to me that, for whatever reason, she’s not interested in handing Sofia back to Cruor.”

Like a cup of water in the desert, his words gave me a dose of relief.

Then Corrine stood up, wrapped a blanket around Rose, and handed her to me. I kissed my baby girl goodbye for the second time in less than seventy-two hours and placed her back in the witch’s arms. Ibrahim picked up a suitcase that Corrine must have packed.

“I’m going to go next door and distract Sofia,” I said. “So that she doesn’t see you leave without telling her. I don’t know how she would react.”

Corrine nodded and I left for Sofia’s bedroom. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

An empty bed.

“Sofia?”

I ducked down beneath the bed to check she wasn’t hiding. I ripped open the cupboards. Then I dashed back out and checked every other room in the hut, yelling out her name as I did.

She wasn’t in the building.

Would she be so mad as to leave for Headquarters in broad daylight? How does she even plan to get there?

Panic gripped me as I ran outside onto the terrace. It was still morning but the sun was already beating down, the heat rising by the second.

She could die out there.

Chapter 10: Sofia

Soon after Derek left the room, I found myself jumping out of the window and landing on the hot sand below. The moment the sun’s rays came in direct contact with my skin, my whole body erupted in agony. It felt like someone had poured gasoline over me and lit me on fire.

What is the Elder thinking? Is it trying to murder me?

Despite the torture, my legs moved quickly, rushing across the beach toward Liana and the submarine. I ran for several minutes, and just as it felt like my skin was starting to peel away, I dove into the ocean. The water cooled my skin and gave me some relief, but the sunlight was still trickling down on me through the waves.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long before the submarine came into view. I swam deeper and knocked on the hatch. A few moments later, it surfaced and bobbed up above the waves. I swam up and grabbed onto the side of the black vessel, hoisting myself up and exposing myself once again to the full heat of the day. I quickly climbed into the hatch and closed the door behind me.

Once inside, I sank into a corner. Liana frowned as she eyed my body.

“Your vessel’s in terrible shape.”

Christ, if you wanted to leave, couldn’t you have waited a few more hours until nightfall? I shouted at the Elder. This is my body you’re wrecking.

Liana took a small vial of blood from her cloak pocket and poured it into my mouth. “That should heal your wounds and stop the skin from peeling.” Then she retreated to the control room. The submarine jolted downward and started picking up speed toward… I had no idea where.

It took only a few minutes for the blood—that of an immune, I assumed from its sweet taste—to work its magic. My skin stopped stinging and started to feel smooth and cold again.

Where are we going? Headquarters? I asked. My Elder remained silent.

I was glad that there was no mirror in the submarine; I probably would have frightened myself to death when I’d first entered. But despite the torture I’d just endured, I was immensely grateful to be leaving Derek and Rose. I recalled the hurt in Derek’s eyes after my behavior. He’d be turning the hut upside down, looking for me, crying out my name, wondering why I’d left him. I knew he’d be worrying himself sick that I might have ventured out in broad daylight. I tried to suck in my emotions.

You’re safe without me, my love. I can’t hurt you while we’re apart.

“Don’t get too comfortable.” My parasite finally broke the silence. “Your family hasn’t seen the last of you.”

I shuddered internally but decided to change the subject. I finally dared to ask the question that had been recurring in my mind ever since I woke up in Cruor.

I’m supposed to be an immune. How did you turn me? Why am I a vampire?

There was a long pause, but the Elder answered me, perhaps out of boredom. “Indeed, you were an immune. In this human realm, no vampire could turn you. But once an immune is brought to our realm… well, Cruor has a way of breaking down that immunity.”

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