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As we both reached our climax, his electric-blue eyes never left mine. They allowed me a vision into his soul: all the hurt he’d endured at my hands, and all the love, relief, desire and hunger that now filled him up on seeing me again. I saw it all in those beautiful irises of his.

As we rolled to our sides, finally allowing ourselves to catch a breath, part of me wanted to just stay in that room, wrapped safely in his warmth, and never face reality again.

But there were too many questions burning in my mind to ignore for much longer.

Chapter 27: Derek

“Any news about our son?” Sofia broke the silence.

How do I answer that without shattering her heart into a thousand pieces?

I brushed my fingers slowly through her hair.

“The truth is, I still don’t know,” I said. “During the time that you were insisting that you stay in your room, I was working with Aiden…” My voice trailed off at the mention of her father. “Sofia, I don’t know how to tell you this but… Aiden’s been taken to Aviary.”

She clutched both of my hands and squeezed hard, her eyes widening. “What…” she stuttered. “But he’ll come back soon, right? Along with Kyle and Anna and Ian?”

I heaved a sigh. “When you were first taken to The Blood Keep all those months ago, we were desperate to bring you back. One of Arron’s conditions for helping us storm The Keep was that he wanted Aiden in Aviary… permanently.” Her breaths started coming faster and tears welled in her eyes. “Please understand, Sofia, that I tried to object. I knew that you would never approve of Aiden’s decision. But he simply wouldn’t hear of it. Bringing you back was his first priority. And then, shortly before I found you in the dungeon, Arron took him. I tried to stop Arron. But he paralyzed me and got away.”

“No… No!” She sobbed against my chest. “What is Arron going to do with him?”

“I doubt very much that he will harm Aiden. He claimed that he wanted to turn Aiden into one of them. A Hawk.”

I wanted to alleviate Sofia’s grief by suggesting that if Aiden had now been transformed into a big strong Hawk, he might be able to find his way back to Sofia. But now that the gates to the Aviary had been wiped out, I knew this was impossible and I didn’t want to give her any false hopes.

She cried for several hours, and I held her all the while, stroking her and trying to give her whatever comfort I could.

I attempted to reel in my own despair over the possibility of having lost my sister forever too. Sofia needed me to be her rock at this time, and I couldn’t melt away and leave her stranded in her own waves of grief. Vivienne, will I ever see you again?

Sofia eventually quieted down and concluded, “So there’s been no progress on our baby.”

I took a few deep breaths, trying to steady my voice. “I guess you didn’t catch what Arron said to me amidst all the chaos back in that chamber. When I had him on the floor and was about to burn off his wings, you were on the verge of evaporating the last gate. He claimed that our son is in Aviary. After you passed out, Arron returned through the gate and the witch insisted on wiping it out after him. So… so there’s no way that we could check now even if we wanted to.”

I explained about the four hours the witch had offered me and why I had rejected the opportunity.

“I understand, Derek. I could never blame you. I-I just pray that Arron was lying and that Ben is still within this realm.” She shut her eyes and breathed deeply. “What about the others? Oh God, Derek. You still don’t know what the Elder made me do to Vivienne, Cameron and Claudia…”

Sofia didn’t manage to finish her sentence. We were interrupted by a sharp knock at the door.

“Stay here, I’ll get it,” I said, grabbing a spare sheet and wrapping it around my waist.

I looked through the peephole and saw Gavin and Zinnia. As soon as I opened the door, the flustered pair barged in.

“It’s just Zinnia and Gavin,” I called to Sofia, warning her to cover up so she wouldn’t get the same shock I had given Zinnia earlier that morning.

“No, wait, keep the door open,” Zinnia panted. “There’s Craig too. He’s slower and just fell a bit behind us.”

I poked my head out of the door and sure enough, Craig was limping toward me on crutches. His right leg was wrapped in a thick cast.

“Whatever happened to you?” I asked.

“Just let me sit down first,” he said, wincing.

I beckoned them all through to the sitting room before going into the bedroom to find something more suitable to cover myself with. Sofia was already pulling on a dressing gown. We both went next door and they all gasped on seeing Sofia.

“Well, at least you found Sofia, Derek," Gavin said. "We got news on the others, but not Sofia, so I was really starting to worry. Whatever happened to you, girl?”

“Her story can come later,” I interrupted. “What news on the others?”

“Well,” Zinnia began, “after we suspected Arron might have been involved in their disappearance, that kind of switched a lightbulb on in my head.” I held my breath, fearing the worst. “I knew from experience that Arron nearly always uses Craig here to carry out his dirty jobs, the ones that aren’t made common knowledge among the community of hunters. Ain’t that right, Craig?”

Craig grimaced.

“So,” Zinnia continued, “I went to his apartment and when he opened the door with his broken leg, it was kinda obvious something was up. I managed to figure out a way to manipulate him for information…”

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