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Craig looked suspiciously at Derek, but then he nodded and limped his way out of the boat. He scurried away from the port and drove off in one of the buggies still parked up on the beach.

I looked up at Derek in question, as did Gavin. “He’s of no use to us any more. And I don’t want him knowing the location of our new home.” Then Derek said, “Liana, you’re the most experienced captain on this boat. I need you to navigate us to the beach where our new house is.”

Liana pulled herself away from Cameron’s arms and stood up.

“Well, I’ll do my best. I really hope there are some decent maps here.” She began searching through a drawer beneath the controls and pulled out several large maps, spreading them out against the dashboard. Derek went over to her, gave her the address and helped her locate our villa. Once Liana seemed to be confident of our destination, she took Craig’s place and the boat went shooting forward.

“We need to hurry,” said Derek. “We’ve only a few more hours until the sun starts to rise.”

By the time we arrived at the villa, daybreak looked about half an hour away. Liana steered the boat toward the shore until it hit shallow waters, at which point we all abandoned it. We jumped into the ocean and rushed across the sand, and then up the stairs to the boulevard our house was situated on.

A wave of nostalgia hit me as we arrived outside our charming home. I remembered all too clearly visiting the place months ago with Derek. I remembered how we’d fantasized about raising a family here. A dream that now seemed destined to be elusive.

Derek was the first to arrive at the front door. He reached for the keys from his pocket and unlocked it. We all bundled inside, leaving a trail of dirt behind us on the white floors. Shadow shook his giant mane, spraying the pale walls with mud.

My immediate concern was the impending sunshine. Thankfully, the house had come furnished and blinds lined the windows.

Once we’d closed the blinds, it was clear that everyone was itching for some rest, or in a certain couple’s case, privacy. It had been a long, stressful night.

“Is there a basement here, Sofia?” Eli asked me politely, Shadow trailing along behind him.

“Um… let’s take a look.” We found the door to a large basement located in the washing room. We descended the steps and Eli looked around, nodding.

“This looks like a good place for Shadow to rest for now, out of everyone’s way.”

Shadow padded over to a corner and nestled down. Then I took Eli upstairs to find him a bedroom that hadn’t already been snagged by the others. It turned out that he had to share with Landis. The two couples had already locked themselves up and Vivienne must have already retreated into a room by herself.

I wished Eli and Landis goodnight before heading off to find Derek. He wasn’t in the master bedroom that had been left for us to share. I went down the stairs and into the living room, but only saw Gavin lying on the sofa.

Then voices came from the kitchen. Derek stood leaning against the kitchen counter, in conversation with a tall dark-haired man I immediately recognized as Ibrahim.

As soon as Derek saw me enter, he said, “Ibrahim, I hear what you’re saying. But let’s please discuss all this in a few hours once we’ve had some rest. The bedrooms are all taken but if you want to stay here, there’s plenty of comfortable sofa space in the living room.”

Ibrahim nodded and gave me a brief smile before leaving the room.

“How come he’s here all of a sudden?” I asked.

“Sofia,” Derek said sleepily, “let’s talk about it in a few hours. We both need to get some rest.” Without waiting for my response, he picked me up and whisked me to our bedroom.

We undressed and tucked ourselves under the freshly starched sheets. A suspicious noise was starting to emanate from the direction of Claudia and Yuri’s room. I cuddled up next to Derek and muttered, “Well, this sure isn’t the housewarming party I would have expected.”

Chapter 29: Derek

I woke up after six hours of sleep. The temperature in the room had risen considerably. I moved the sheets away from my body and looked down to see Sofia still asleep, her head against my chest. I lifted her head gently onto the pillow and wriggled down in bed so my face was level with hers. I placed a hand against her back and pulled her closer, pressing my lips against her neck and breathing in her scent. She stirred after several minutes and looked up at me. Confusion spread across her face.

“That was strange. I thought for a second that I was back at your penthouse in The Shade,” she said, rubbing her eyes. Then she squeezed my hand and looked at me seriously. “We need to rescue The Shade, Derek. Our people are in a terrible state, I can’t even begin to describe…”

“That’s partly what I was talking to Ibrahim about last night.” I slid out of bed and began getting dressed. “Let’s go down and continue that conversation with you present this time.” She found a clean dressing gown in the bathroom cupboard and fastened it around her.

When we arrived downstairs, Ibrahim was already waiting for us in the kitchen. We both greeted him with a nod and took seats next to him at the table.

“So, as I was saying,” Ibrahim said, “the council’s next plan is to finish wiping out the gates to Cruor. I’ve just come directly from destroying the gate at The Underground. Now the only gate to Cruor that remains is the one within the witch’s temple at The Shade.”

“I’m curious,” Sofia said. “Why do you witches even need our help in wiping out The Shade’s gate when you seemed to be able to ruin The Underground’s without much problem?”

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