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There, we were met with another hunter whose job it clearly was to guard the vessels. When the man asked for explanation for our visit, Zinnia didn’t say a word. She pulled out a little gun from her pocket and shot a dart into his neck.

“Just a tranquilizer,” she muttered when he collapsed to the floor unconscious. “He’ll be all right by the morning.” She leaned over and grabbed a set of keys from behind his desk.

As we walked over to a speedboat, Sofia asked the question that had been nagging at the back of my mind ever since I’d reunited with Zinnia.

“Why are you doing this, Zinnia? I thought you hated us.”

Zinnia paused. “It’s a good question. It’s one I’ve asked of myself many, many times recently. Maybe it’s got something to do with hanging around with this guy.” She flicked a finger in the direction of Gavin, who was walking alongside her. “He seems to like and respect you two. So maybe it rubbed off on me a bit. Or maybe, just maybe, it runs a little deeper than that.”

Gavin looked mortally offended. “And there I was thinking that you were just blinded by my shocking good looks.”

Zinnia jabbed him in the ribs. “Despite what you might think, Sofia, I’ve always been one to follow rather than lead. I like to have a strong leader I can place my faith in. Aiden was that for me, until his visit to The Shade… and then he changed. It unsettled me at first, but after a while I realized that he was right. You know what he told me? He said, ‘Revenge is not a cause, it’s a controlling obsession’. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to distance myself from the hunters’ cause, which of course we now know was only ever the Guardians’ cause.” She opened up the door to the speedboat and let us all in. “And, as I said, I like having a leader. I have a feeling in my bones for what makes a good one. I’ve come to like and respect you both, Derek and Sofia. I saw what you managed to accomplish at The Shade and I believe in what you’re fighting for. My bones approve of you.”

With that, she inserted the key into the ignition and started up the engine.

“Craig!” Zinnia sounded like a nagging housewife as she called him over. “Come here and navigate this thing.” Craig shuffled over and took hold of the controls. “And if you want to return to shore with your balls still attached, don’t even think about getting us lost.”

I took a seat next to Sofia on the long bench as the boat lurched forward. I worried that Craig would get lost unintentionally, since it was so dark, and the strong gusts of wind that had just started up didn’t make our path through the waves any easier.

“Did you leave any hunters on the ship with them?” I asked Craig nervously.

“Yep, at least half a dozen. And they’ll be armed, of course,” he said. “I’d like to see how you manage to talk yourself out of that one, missy,” he added to Zinnia.

The others seated on the bench looked as concerned as I felt. Damn. How could I not have considered that possibility before we set off? It seemed blindingly obvious to me now that Arron wouldn’t have left the ship unguarded.

“Zinnia and I did consider that possibility, actually.” Gavin whisked out four handguns from beneath his overcoat.

“And if I’m not mistaken,” Zinnia said, “they normally keep at least a few backup weapons on these boats.” She opened a small wooden cupboard beneath one of the benches. “Aha. There are two more guns here. And plenty of bullets too.”

“Good,” I said. “Sofia should stay on the boat with Craig. Remember, Craig, she’s got claws too now, along with a nice sharp set of fangs, and she’s more than ready to use them, believe me.” I pointed to the bite marks on my arms and neck. “So don’t even think about trying anything with her. Make sure we bring all arms with us onto the boat so there’s nothing here Craig could possibly find and use against her.”

“Wait, hold on, guys,” Sofia said. “Zinnia, why can’t you just get Craig to tell them that Arron sent orders to have them brought back to shore? It’s not like they can call Arron up and check.”

“These hunters are part of Arron’s inner circle,” Zinnia explained. “And I learned from Craig that any drastic change of course during a mission requires direct approval from Arron. So even our darling Craig’s word may not be enough. And if they find that they can’t contact Arron, that could arouse suspicion.”

“We’ll try to avoid a fight at all costs. I assure you that much,” I said to Sofia, brushing a hand over her knee. Then we set to work gathering up weapons and hiding them beneath our clothing.

“As soon as we board the ship, we locate the vampires,” I said. “Yuri and Liana, you’re in charge of detecting their scent and leading the way toward them. Gavin, Zinnia and myself will watch everyone’s backs.”

“I’m really hoping most of them will be asleep at this hour,” Gavin muttered. “Getting into a fight with hunters is going to be way too messy. I’m sure they have those UV guns on board…”

I gulped as I remembered the effect those guns had on vampires. Indeed, my own brother had died from one of their bullets.

After several more tense minutes had passed, Craig called out, “All right, people. Look to your right. That’s the ship.”

We all gazed in the direction his finger was pointing in. A large black ship bobbed on the waves. No lights shone through any of the windows. A hopeful first sign.

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