Ibrahim stepped out from the sitting room and walked toward me. Since the Ageless had taken Corrine’s powers away, and I was barely in control of my own newfound power, Ibrahim said it was only “right” that he should be here to offer us support. I didn’t object because I knew of what value he could be whenever I worked myself up into a fit. Yet I didn’t welcome him with open arms either. I knew where his ultimate loyalties lay; with the Ageless, the witch who tore my life apart with a snap of her fingers.

“Beautiful morning, huh?” He spoke quietly as he took a seat on the terrace. “Any further thoughts on leaving?”

I remained silent. We’d had a heated discussion the night before. I’d told him I couldn’t leave this place until I’d found someone who was loyal to me and capable of protecting Rose. I wasn’t about to risk losing her too. He had volunteered himself, at which point I had laughed in his face and left the room.

“We’ve just received a text message from Eli,” Ibrahim continued. “He’s arrived safely at Hawk Headquarters with Shadow and…”

Before he could finish his sentence, I whirled round and stared at the phone in horror. “I thought I told you to keep that damned thing switched off! It’s meant for emergencies, not for communicating with the hunters. Do you realize how easy it will be for them to track us now?”

I snatched the phone from his hand, jumped off the terrace, and ran toward the ocean, hurling it into the waves. Then I ripped off my clothes and dove in myself, desperate for relief.

I knew I was overreacting. Eli knew what this privacy meant to me and would have texted only from a secure location. But I couldn’t help myself. I was burning up inside and no amount of water could extinguish me.

I lay on my back and allowed the waves to carry me. A morning breeze blew over me. I looked up at the clear sky, feeling weightless. Only a few months ago, I would have given anything to be lying here, not afraid of the sun that was about to rise. And then we had found the cure.

Is this to be my life? To rise up only to be brought back down to my knees, shattered into shards?

We’d only been at the hut for a few nights, but it was time for me to leave. Ready or not, I couldn’t remain stagnant on this beach any longer. There wasn’t a second of the day when my mind wasn’t plagued with thoughts of Sofia and our son. Ben. That was the name Sofia had wanted for our first boy. I needed to reach Aiden and work out a plan.

I felt sand beneath my back; the waves had carried me back to shore. I sat up and someone called my name. Corrine approached and sat down next to me.

“Derek, I know how hard this is for you. But you know better than I that you can’t keep delaying this decision. The longer Sofia is in the clutches of the Elders… Look, either take Rose with you to Hawk Headquarters—”

“You know that’s impossible. Her grandfather may be there, but that place is still under the control of Arron, whom we obviously can’t trust.”

“Then leave her here with me and Ibrahim.”

I snorted, then motioned to stand up and walk back to the hut, aware that Rose was now alone with Ibrahim. But Corrine held on to my arm and yanked me back down.

“If Ibrahim wanted to harm or kidnap Rose, he could do it even in your presence. There’s nothing stopping him from grabbing her right from your arms and vanishing back to The Sanctuary. I know Ibrahim. And I trust him. He’s here to help us. And you need to get to Aiden as soon as possible.”

“How can you expect me to trust him when his mistress just…” I trailed off, memories of that night threatening to choke me up again.

“The Ageless came for Sofia. Not your children. I’m telling you, you won’t find anyone more capable than Ibrahim of protecting your daughter and me. If Ibrahim says that Rose will be safe, then she will be. She will have the protection of the witches’ realm, because Ibrahim is acting as The Sanctuary’s emissary. Whoever crosses him will answer to the Ageless herself.”

I looked into Corrine’s brown eyes and reluctantly saw truth in them. Ibrahim could outmatch any vampire, Hawk or hunter. I remained silent for a few minutes, diverting my attention back to the ocean. The sun had now risen above the horizon, warming my skin.

I was about to speak again when Ibrahim appeared next to us. He was carrying Rose, who had now woken up. He handed her to me and said, “You can go to the hunters, Derek. I swear that Rose won’t be harmed.”

I looked down into my baby’s beautiful green eyes and ached inside. She looked up at me with wide-eyed innocence. I kissed her warm cheeks and stroked her fine black hair, then pulled her close against my chest. If anything should happen to you while I’m gone, I will have nothing left to live for.

Chapter 3: Sofia

Once Abby had almost finished sucking the young man dry, the male vampire grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the room, leaving Abby alone to finish her feast.

“One thing you would do well to learn sooner rather than later is that we Elders are not the most patient of creatures,” he said, tightening his grip on my arm.

My heart began racing. So this is an Elder. He led me along the hallway, turned right into another chamber and slammed the door behind us. It was much larger than the last room and bare inside save for a table on which rested an assortment of whips. I struggled against his grasp but he held me tight.

He forced me to the ground, ripped the back of my dress open and poured a cold liquid onto my skin, which began stinging. Then came the lashes. One after another, beating against my spine and tearing into my flesh.

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