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“We don’t know.” His cool eyes settled on me.

“Don’t talk to me like I’m stupid, Hawk. If you don’t have anything to do with this, where would they have all gone suddenly?”

“How do you know that your wife isn’t the one behind it? She’s been acting strangely lately, hasn’t she?”

Irritated by Aiden’s continued silence, I walked up to him and shook him. “What’s wrong with you?”

My father-in-law’s face was ashen and he stared back at me blankly.

“Or,” Arron continued, “they could all have gone for a walk in the woods during the night and lost their way. But what you’re forgetting, Novak, is that none of this is my concern any more. I agreed to cooperate until we stormed the Keep and you were brought to Sofia. It’s not my fault that you managed to lose her again. Do you even remember my two conditions for agreeing to help you storm the Keep?”

So much had happened since, and my mind was riddled with such confusion and panic, I could barely recall them now.

“No? Well then, let me remind you. Firstly, all the vampires we held in our custody were meant to be turned into humans. And secondly, Aiden agreed to become one of us and be transported to Aviary. You may recall that I allowed them to remain vampires on their plea that they weren’t yet ready to become humans… a generous concession on my part, was it not? But now it’s time for me to claim my second condition. I’ve waited long enough.”

“No. No. Not now. You can’t take him yet,” I said, jumping to my feet. “Not before he’s said goodbye to Sofia. She doesn’t even know he made this deal with you.”

I looked down at Aiden and shook him again, this time more violently. “Are you just accepting this? Where has your spirit gone? Where’s the warrior I thought I knew?”

Finally he spoke, his voice cracking. “Derek, if I believed that I had even an ounce of control over this situation, I would fight. But we struck a deal with Arron.”

And what about Rose? You would leave forever without even seeing her once? What about Ben? I would have said the words to Aiden, but I tried to avoid discussing my children in front of him whenever possible. I crouched down so that my eyes were level with his and begged, “Please, Aiden. Your daughter and I still need you.”

“The house on the beachfront you told me about, the one you and Sofia visited. Do you remember that? I took the liberty of buying it for you. It’s been transferred to both of your names. And all my wealth, properties and other assets I’m leaving to you.” He reached into his pocket, pulling out a business card and a set of keys. “Mr. Campbell is the man you need to contact for further details. I’ve placed him in charge of my legal affairs. And here are the keys to the beach house.” He put both items in my hands.

It was as if Aiden hadn’t heard me.

“If I have no family to share it with,” I said through gritted teeth, slamming my fist down on the table, “what use is any of this to me?”

“I think Aiden’s made himself clear, Derek.” Arron walked to Aiden’s side and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t touch him,” I snapped. The heat in my palms rose to a dangerous level. But I had to control myself; I couldn’t start a fire in Aiden’s office. There were too many valuable documents here to risk destroying.

“Is that a threat?” Arron’s brows arched and his grip on Aiden tightened.

Desperation coursed through my veins. I didn’t have any semblance of a plan. All I knew was that Aiden simply couldn’t leave with Arron. I walked over to the door and shut it, then stood myself in front of it, blocking their exit.

“Look, Derek,” Arron said. “I don’t want to fight with you.” He walked over to me. “I’m sure we can settle this amicably.” Before I realized what was happening, he’d withdrawn a syringe from his cloak and dug it deep into my neck. The effect was instant; although my consciousness remained, my limbs became paralyzed and I could no longer hold my own weight. I sank to the ground. “Thanks for understanding, I knew you’d come round in the end,” the Hawk said before dragging Aiden out of the room and slamming the door shut.

“No!” I screamed, praying that someone would hear me. “Gavin! Zinnia! Somebody stop him!”

When two hours had passed with my screaming out and still nobody coming to my aid, I knew that it was already too late to save Aiden. Arron would have made off with him by now.

Is there only so much pain a man can stand before he becomes irreparably broken?

If such a threshold existed, I was sure that I had crossed it. My wife, my son, my sister, my closest friends… I’d lost them all. And now that Aiden was gone, my last true ally with any power, I didn’t know where to draw hope from in the darkness.

It had been days now since the witch had promised to call a meeting. I didn’t know why I’d expected anything other than more grief from her kind. Maintaining even a sliver of hope now seemed laughable to me.

Just as hopelessness was about to consume me, footsteps raced along the corridor outside. Two loud knocks sounded at the door.

“Help!” I shouted.

Yuri and Liana burst into the room. Their clothes were ripped and they were covered with cuts and bruises. It seemed so surreal to me that I considered perhaps the drug flowing through my veins was causing me to hallucinate.

“Derek!” they gasped in unison. Yuri wrapped his arms around me and pulled my motionless body upright.

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