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Tyler glanced around the room once more but seemed too wound up in Zinnia’s charms to give the situation much further thought. The three of them made their way back up toward the exit.

Just as Zinnia was about to close the door behind them, she threw a quick glance back at Gavin and mouthed, “I’m sorry.”

Once their footsteps had faded away, Gavin scowled, but he shrugged it off quickly. “Well, she did what she had to do,” he said. “Now, before anything else happens, let’s get these vampires out of here.”

I reopened all the locks, which was thankfully easier the second time around. Eli grabbed hold of Shadow once again and we all climbed up the steps and hurried across the top deck, back to the metal railing.

The speedboat was still where we had left it. Gavin leaped onto the roof first, and then I assisted each vampire one by one in jumping over, where Gavin waited to help them keep their balance and lower them down through the window.

Finally, only Shadow and myself were left on the ship. I helped the massive animal perch on the edge of the railing and hurled him off. He landed with a thud on the roof and very nearly sent Gavin skidding into the rough waters. Eli reached out from below and helped Shadow climb clumsily down into the boat’s control room, almost falling into the waves himself.

I looked back across the dark wet deck toward the direction in which Zinnia had vanished. I wondered what the men would do to her in the morning once they’d realized all the vampires had vanished during the night.

Something told me though that the small hunter would find a way to wrangle herself out of it. I chuckled softly before thrusting myself off the railing.

Chapter 28: Sofia

Craig had been surprisingly easy to deal with. He’d made no attempt to give me trouble as we waited for Derek and the others to return. He barely spoke a word. Admittedly, I’d had my claws extended the entire time we were sitting together, and had placed my hands on my knees so they were clearly visible to him.

As soon as they had arrived back and slid safely down into the boat’s cockpit, Derek barked at Craig to start the engine and speed us away.

Despite the cabin now being cramped—with a soggy Shadow hogging an unholy amount of space—Derek squeezed over to me. I reached for his wet face and examined him, relieved that he appeared to be unscathed. He slid his hands down my body and wrapped them around my hips, pulling me closer to him in a tight embrace. He caught my lips between his and kissed me intensely. He didn’t say anything, but I knew from the look in his eyes what was going through his mind. He’d been afraid something could have gone wrong while I was alone with Craig.

Our kiss was interrupted rather unceremoniously by a third party. Something coarse and wet slapped against my cheek. Shadow was attacking me with his smelly snake-like tongue.

“Urgh, thanks.” I grimaced, wiping my face against my sleeve. “It’s good to see you again too, Shadow.” The dog placed his front paws on my knees, flattening them against the hard wooden bench.

Derek grabbed the mutt’s collar and yanked him back down to the ground on all fours, where Shadow continued to brandish his tongue, attempting to lavish me with more uninvited affection. Despite the surprise, I really had no right to feel irritated with Shadow. He’d saved my life and that of my two babies in carrying me out of the Keep, and endured great personal suffering in doing so.

“There, boy,” I said, grabbing his enormous head between my hands and giving him a generous ear scratch. He settled down contentedly at my feet.

I looked around the cabin to get a better look at our newly arrived passengers. The first sight that met my eyes made me break out into a wide smile. Liana and Cameron sat opposite us. Cameron’s body shook with tears of joy as he held Liana in his arms and showered her with kisses.

And next to them sat Claudia and Yuri. The feisty blonde had placed herself on Yuri’s lap, her small legs wrapped around his waist. They kissed as though they were having a competition of who could get to the back of the other’s throat first. I diverted my gaze, feeling uncomfortable watching a scene that was escalating too rapidly to belong anywhere other than their bedroom. I caught Derek’s eye and we both broke out giggling. When we noticed Eli sitting at an awkward angle nearby, positioned to distract himself from the couple, we laughed even harder.

Taking pity on him, Derek tugged on Shadow’s collar. “Come on, boy. Stand up. Go to Daddy over there in the corner. He looks like he’s in need of some company.” Eli glanced over at us and smiled with embarrassment, mouthing a “thank you” to Derek when Shadow got up and made his way over to his master.

Then my eyes fell on Vivienne in the far corner and any joy I’d just felt vanished. Her eyes were fixed on the ground and beads of tears trickled silently down her cheeks. Landis sat next to her, an arm placed around her shoulder, although he too looked devastated.

Derek followed my gaze and, on noticing her too, he looked back at me. “My sister deserves more than this. She’s sacrificed more than any of us.”

“I-I don’t think Xavier made it, Derek,” I whispered, recalling the state of his body when the Elder had transferred to me. I hadn’t seen him since and neither had Ashley. It seemed that Yuri and Liana had no news of the man either.

Derek held his head in his hands and fell silent, a silence that lasted until Craig addressed him.

“We’re back at the port. What now?”

“We’ll drop you off here,” Derek said. “You’re free to go back to Headquarters.”

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