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“Indeed. But this time, we shall not let them within even fifteen miles of them…”

The voice of the second Hawk sent goose bumps running along my arms.

Arron.

I tried to open the main door but it wouldn’t budge. Any attempt to force it open would attract the unwanted attention of at least fifty Hawks perched on benches near the entrance.

I looked back at Derek in panic.

We’d better hope to God our disguises hold up. What this Battalion full of Hawks would do to a vampire in their midst…

Chapter 35: Derek

Sofia and I were beginning to attract attention with our insistence on standing by the entrance, so we relented and sat down in spare seats as close to the entrance as possible. Sofia trembled beside me and I reached out to grasp her hand, hoping to instill some form of comfort in her.

As Arron continued to address the audience, we ducked down as much as we could without looking strange.

“… And from today, the humans must all be kept strictly contained to their designated area. We can’t afford to allow the leeches access to any fuel. As you all know, being near their blood alone, without even tasting it, can serve to strengthen their influence…”

Each Hawk’s eyes were glued on the two men on stage. Sofia’s eyes widened. She clamped a hand over her mouth.

“Dad!” she breathed.

Sure enough, Aiden was sitting a few rows along from us. Although he had been transformed into a Hawk, his vibrant eyes and hair that matched Sofia’s were unmistakable.

Before I knew what was happening, Sofia slunk out of her seat and, crouching down low, made her way to where Aiden was seated. Her head disappeared from sight as she arrived next to Aiden’s seat. Aiden’s head swiveled around and his body jolted as though he’d just been electrocuted. His head bent and his mouth moved furiously. Then he composed himself and looked straight ahead as if nothing had happened.

Sofia crept back to me.

“When I tell you to follow me, you follow. Understood?”

“What is happen—”

“Shh.”

After ten minutes, Aiden got up from his seat and made his way toward one of the Hawks standing near the entrance. He whispered something into his ear, and the Hawk nodded and opened the door.

“Now!” Sofia hissed. We left the bench and moved discreetly toward the entrance. The Hawk looked confused as to why we were all leaving at the same time, but Aiden seemed to have enough of a position of authority for him to not question it.

As soon as we had stepped outside and the Hawk shut the door behind us, Aiden marched forward without a word. As he walked, he looked around to be sure no Hawks were following us. I was about to open my mouth when Sofia tugged on my hand and gave me a glare.

Aiden led us back along the wooden walkways to the cluster of tree houses we’d stopped by earlier. This time, we travelled much deeper into the cluster. Outside one of the cabins he rapped on the door and a pale human girl with green eyes and black hair opened it. It took me a second to recognize her as Anna. Despite our disguises, she clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle a scream.

“What… Oh my…”

“Just let us in,” Aiden growled. Anna stepped aside and allowed us into the tiny living quarters. Sitting on an uncomfortable-looking couch was Kyle.

As soon as we were all safely inside, Sofia rushed to Anna and swept her up into a tight embrace. Kyle stood up and gave me a hug.

“Wow. Good of you to visit us, Derek!” he said with a broad smile.

I turned to Aiden, but he said, “I can’t stay here any longer. I can’t have Arron noticing my absence. Stay here until I return. I know that we don’t have more than a few hours left…”

Sofia rushed to hug him before he could leave. “Don’t you dare be late. I can’t lose you again,” she said.

Aiden nodded curtly and exited the cabin. Then Sofia gazed around the room. “Where’s Ian?”

“They housed him in a different place, a few trees away from here,” Anna explained. “So, they turned you into Hawks?”

“No.” I shook my head. “This is a witch’s spell, just a disguise. We don’t even know how long it’ll last before it wears off and reveals our true forms.”

“Aiden filled us in on what’s been happening back home over the past few months. And Sofia”—her eyes lit up with an odd excitement—“I have something to show you.”

She ran into the back room and came out carrying what appeared to be a rolled-up blanket. But rolled-up blankets didn’t move. Rolled-up blankets didn’t cry.

Anna handed the bundle to Sofia. A baby boy with green eyes and black hair. Sofia broke out into hysterics and knelt, clutching the baby in her arms.

“Derek, oh, Derek. Am I dreaming? Tell me, am I dreaming?”

I knelt beside her and brushed the hair away from her face, kissing her wet cheek. “You’re not dreaming, my love,” I whispered. Her eyes were filled with tears of ecstasy as she looked up at me. “It’s our baby… our baby boy… Ben.”

I’d tried to hold in my own tears in the face of Sofia’s breakdown, but when Ben turned his small face to gaze up at me, I couldn’t any longer. I pulled Sofia onto my lap and wrapped my arms around hers, so we could both cradle our child simultaneously.

The rest of the world ceased to exist as we sat there, in a bubble of happiness. Kyle and Anna looked on silently.

Eventually I said, “But how? How is Ben here?”

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