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“You make what you did sound skillful,” Craig interrupted with a scowl. “Threatened an invalid was all she did. Put a knife to my goddamn throat.”

“Well, anyway, Craig, come on,” Zinnia said nonchalantly. “Tell them what happened to the vampires.”

Craig cleared his throat and said, “Orders came from Arron to sneak into the vampires’ rooms and paralyze them. Then he wanted us to transport them all to one of the boats and ship them off. He didn’t want them at Headquarters any more.”

At least they haven’t been taken to Aviary. But this alternative didn’t sound too appealing either.

“Ship them off where?” I asked.

“Now listen here.” Craig’s eyes narrowed on me. “If Arron ever finds out that I’m the one who told you…”

“You don’t need to worry about that. Arron’s gone. All the Guardians have left this place. The gates between this realm and Aviary are all destroyed. Now tell me, where did you ship them off to?”

“We just took them a few miles out to sea and dropped anchor. I honestly don’t know what he was planning to do with them after that, or why he wanted them gone in the first place…. but damn, it was hard work gathering up that feisty one. Your sister, Vivienne.” He let out a dry chuckle. “She ripped her claws right through my leg just as I was injecting her.”

His mention of my sister sent an urge rushing through me to finish the job, but I couldn’t injure him further. He had to be our guide.

“All right,” I said. “Now that we have Sofia, the first thing we need to do is find the other vampires. You, Craig, are going to help us to the shore and navigate a boat for us. I’m sure Zinnia will happily volunteer to make sure you cooperate.”

“Sure, Derek.” She flashed a sideways grin at Craig and half withdrew a dagger strapped to her belt.

“Gavin, where are Yuri and Liana?” I asked.

“They’re still at my place. They’re fine, don’t worry. I even found some animal blood for them,” Gavin replied. Sofia relaxed a little beside me at his assurance.

“Go fetch them now. My room is nearest to the back exit of the building. We’ll leave together.”

Once Gavin had left, I began to think out loud. “I want all of us out of Headquarters. The Hawks may be gone, but we’re still surrounded by people like Craig who hate vampires. Not all seem to have had such a drastic change of heart as Zinnia here. And now Aiden is gone too, it’s just not safe for us any longer.”

“But where, Derek? Where can we possibly go?” Sofia asked.

“Zinnia, take Craig into the bedroom,” I said. “I don’t want him to hear this discussion.”

Craig jumped up to his feet before Zinnia could brandish her knife at him. He walked obediently into the next room.

I walked over to the sofa where I had dumped my jeans, reached into their pockets, and drew out the keys and the business card Arron had handed me before his departure.

“Remember that beach house we visited together in California? I’d mentioned it in passing to Aiden. I thought it odd he asked me for the exact address of the place, but I didn’t expect him to just go ahead and buy it.” I rattled the keys in front of her and she clasped a hand to her mouth. “Well, he did. And he’s left it in our names along with the rest of his fortune. Aiden loved you more than you could ever imagine, Sofia.”

She broke down into tears again as she took the keys from my hand and stared at them. “He sacrificed himself for me… for us… to have a future together.”

I allowed her a few minutes before I had no choice but to interrupt. “We need to get a move on, my love.” She wiped the tears from her eyes and nodded. “Let’s get dressed properly and then once Gavin has returned with Liana and Yuri, we must leave this place immediately.”

I found a fresh pair of jeans and a new shirt and pulled them on. Then I grabbed a small bag in which I placed the keys, the business card and my phone, and fastened it to my belt. Sofia looked around the room with a bewildered expression on her face. I realized we had nothing that she could wear. None of my clothes fit her, and I didn’t want to waste time having Zinnia return to her chambers for some spare clothes, so she had to make do with her dressing gown.

There was another knock at the door. On seeing our two vampire friends enter the room with Gavin, Sofia leapt into their arms, kissing their cheeks and embracing them.

“Thank heavens you got out,” she said.

Once I’d called Craig and Zinnia back, we were ready to head off. We made our way down to the kitchens, which were empty at this late hour. We exited through the back door and walked toward a collection of motor buggies near the entrance of the main building. We all bundled into two of them, Zinnia driving one and Gavin driving the other. Zinnia made sure to keep Craig sandwiched between Yuri and Liana. We drove until we reached the main electronic gates, where two guards were waiting to inspect us.

“We’re on orders from Arron to transport these vampires out to sea along with the others,” Zinnia said. “Ain’t that right, Craig?”

Craig grunted, but this seemed to pacify the guards, for they let us go.

We sped through the gates and hit the winding dirt road. After about forty minutes of driving, I began to catch the scent of salt in the air. We drove onto a sandy beach, where we parked, got out of the vehicles and made our way toward the silhouette of several boats stationed in a small private harbor.

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