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“I love you, Vivienne.”

There it was again.

I rolled onto my back and opened my eyes, expecting to take in the beauty of the stars. And while I beheld their beauty, my eyes were met with so much more.

The face of my beloved, staring down at me, a smile etched on his lips. The unshaven face of that beautiful dark-haired man I craved with every fiber of my being.

I reached up, expecting my hand to pass right through the apparition.

“Ouch, Vivienne. That was my eye.”

Now you’ve done it, Vivienne. You’ve gone mad. You’ve truly gone mad.

I sat up and looked at the ghost of Xavier. I extended my hand once again, this time aiming for his cheek. It was rough with stubble. I brushed my fingers over his lips. They were soft and moist. I wondered what would happen if I kissed them. Whether I would be able to feel his lips against mine, or whether he might vanish before I could experience such a pleasure.

I didn’t need to wait long to find out. Strong arms enveloped my waist and pulled me against him. And then came his kiss. Gentle at first, his lips brushing against the corners of mine, tracing the outline of my mouth, and then increasing in intensity until I was absorbed in his taste.

As I breathed in his scent, tears fell afresh from my eyes. Delirious tears of ecstasy.

“I love you, Xavier… I-I wanted to t-tell you…”

“I know. I know,” he whispered into my ear, cupping my face with his large hands. “And, um, I’d be surprised if there’s a single person on this island who doesn’t know after that…”

“Just kiss me.”

Chapter 41: Derek

My search for my sister had led me to the side of the island where the submarines were moored. I suspected that perhaps she had retreated into one of them for some peace and quiet. So when I uncovered Xavier’s unconscious form lying beneath a bench in one of the old, dilapidated vessels, I almost jumped out of my skin.

At first I believed him to be dead. His body was more wrecked than Sofia’s had been when we rescued her, his skin covered with yellow patches, so dry that pieces of it had already flaked off onto the floor.

But when I bent down and placed my ear to his chest, and could just about make out a heartbeat, I was lent at least a small scrap of hope.

I heaved him over my shoulder and sprinted back toward the Port with as much speed as my legs could muster.

“Ibrahim! Ibrahim!” I yelled as I ran through the woods.

Eventually I passed the spot where they were working on the renovations and the warlock came hurrying toward me.

I laid Xavier’s body down on the dirt path and Ibrahim bent over him.

“Corrine!” he shouted. “I’m going to need your help with this one.”

“Good grief,” Corrine murmured, taking in Xavier’s appearance.

“Please!” I gasped, falling to my knees. “Just tell me you can save him. Just say the words, I beg of you!”

But neither of them said anything to me. I closed my eyes. It was too painful to watch them struggle to save him. I just wanted to open my eyes again once they’d fixed him.

I heard Corrine calling more witches over to assist them. More than twenty minutes must have passed, with half a dozen witches muttering chants at the same time. The hope I had for his survival was slipping away from me by the second.

But then I reminded myself, I know my friend. And I know that he’s a survivor. So half an hour later, when he came to and sat up, part of me wasn’t surprised.

He looked around with a bewildered expression on his face. I rushed to him and grabbed his shoulders, pulling him into a tight embrace.

“Thank heavens,” I whispered. “How the hell did you end up in that submarine?”

“I-I…” He rubbed his eyes as if trying to clear his mind. “I crawled. My Elder left me for Sofia… it left me lying inside the temple. Somehow, I managed to crawl there undetected.”

As soon as he had regained enough balance to stand on his own two feet, he asked anxiously, “Where’s Vivienne?”

“She’s alive and on the island. I was just looking for her, in fact.”

And then he sped off into the darkness of the woods without another word. Trusting that Xavier would find Vivienne soon enough, I was eager to return to Sofia, to my new family.

She was where I had left her, in the clearing outside the Cells. She sat in a circle with Aiden, Ashley and Abby. Kyle, Ian and Anna also sat nearby along with two other couples; Cameron and Liana, and Gavin and Zinnia.

I’d noted Yuri and Claudia’s absence ever since we’d arrived back on the island. Though I didn’t need to put much thought into where they might be. Although our new Residences weren’t ready yet, I knew that any enclosed area would be more than suitable for their needs.

On seeing me approach, Abby shrieked with laughter. “Hello, Mr. Derek! I know what you and Sofia did…”

“Tell me, Miss Abby. What did we do?” Although I spoke to Abby, I looked at Sofia, a suggestive smile forming on my lips.

“You gave each other babies!” She pointed to the twins who were both resting in Aiden’s arms.

Sofia giggled and her face flushed, not quite as bright as it would have if she were still a human, but exceptionally bright for a vampire.

“Huh, really? Is that what happened now?” I sat down next to Sofia and pulled her between my legs, snaking my arms around her waist and holding her tight against my chest. “And is there anything wrong with that, Miss Abby?”

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