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Sofia gripped my knee, begging me to stop encouraging Abby in front of everyone.

“Well, that depends how you did it, Mister. Did you pray to angels or”—Abby winked—“did you kiss her belly button?”

Everyone in the group roared with laughter.

“Oh dear, I kissed her belly button. Am I in trouble with you, Miss Abby?”

“Yes!” she squealed, wagging a finger at me. “Because that’s the gross one!”

“Oh dear, dear, dear,” I muttered, just loud enough for Sofia to hear. “Because I might just want to kiss her belly button again.”

Sofia shushed me, still giggling. I pressed my lips against the back of her cold neck and stood up, lifting her up with me. I held her hand and said to the others, “We’ll see you in a bit.”

Then I walked her over to a quiet spot in the woods, away from the construction sounds of wood clanking and glass chinking. I led her to a tree and pressed her against it. I caught her lips with mine and kissed her, tasting her coldness in my mouth.

“And now?” I looked down into her eyes, a serious expression falling over my face. “How will I ever kiss your lovely belly button again?”

She giggled, then touched my cheek and said, “More like, how am I going to breastfeed our babies while I’m a vampire? I don’t want them to grow up without ever having their mother’s milk. And how will I build sandcastles with them?”

“And what will happen when I’m an old man? You’ll want to swap me for a younger model,” I teased.

“But seriously, Derek.” She stopped laughing. “What are we going to do? I can’t remain a vampire.”

I stepped back from her a little and sighed. “I don’t know. My greatest fear is losing you again.”

“Well, the cure worked on both you and Kyle. Why shouldn’t it work on me? We’ve no evidence that I’m any different a vampire than you or Kyle were. Yes, I was turned in Cruor, and yes, I was an immune… but the whole point is that my immunity was broken down and I became normal. That’s how I was turned in the first place. And it’s the same disease. Plus, we have our immune, Anna. She won’t mind giving me some of her blood.”

The thought of Sofia undergoing the same torture I had made me ache inside. “The pain is excruciating. Unlike anything you can imagine. I don’t… I just don’t know if I can handle putting you through that,” I said.

“Well, Mr. Derek, you’re just going to have to toughen up if you ever want to kiss my belly button again.” She lifted my chin up so that I was facing her. She kissed my cheek and said, “Look, I’ve already been to hell and back. Believe me when I say that one more burn isn’t going to make a lot of difference.”

I grinned but couldn’t deny that her words hurt at the same time. “I guess not,” I said. “I haven’t exactly done a good job at keeping you safe from harm.”

“Oh, don’t go into this whole self-blame thing again. I knew what I was getting myself into when I married you.” She pulled my head down toward her and kissed me again. “Now, if it’s all right with you, I’d like to get this over with.”

Chapter 42: Derek

Aiden protested at first, but Sofia persuaded him. We left the twins with him and walked with Anna toward the Pit, the one tiny area of the island where the sun shone through. Others wanted to accompany us, but Sofia refused them all. She wanted only Anna and myself.

She barely said a word as we walked. A determined expression set on her face as we marched her up to the entrance of the Pit. She didn’t want to make a “big fuss” out of it as we had done with my own turning.

Even when I went to hug her, she pulled away, as though she didn’t want to even consider that she might not see me again.

Anna bared her neck to her, and Sofia dug her fangs in and took a sip. She licked her lips and waited a few minutes for the blood to enter her system. Then she stepped through the doors to the Pit and slammed them behind her.

And then the screaming began. I now understood what it must have been like for Sofia to witness me undergoing such a procedure. Hours and hours passed by. Even though her voice had grown hoarse, she still cried out.

Anna stayed with me the whole time, laying a hand on my shoulder. I tried to draw comfort from her, but it was impossible. Eventually the only way I could cope was by curling up into a ball on the ground and cupping my hands over my ears.

Finally, Sofia’s noises stopped. I was tempted to barge in to check what was happening, but then the doors creaked open themselves.

Sofia, in all her mortal glory, emerged from the bright pit, stumbling into my arms. She looked exhausted, but at the same time, to my great relief, she had a vibrant glow.

“So,” she gasped. “About going to hell and back? Huh. Yeah, now I can say I’ve officially done that.”

Chapter 43: Sofia

I slept for ten hours after my turning; my body had been crying out for sleep. Derek took me to an empty room in the Catacombs that was still in decent condition. He sat by my bed as I fell asleep, and was still there when I awoke.

Aiden also sat beside me, still cradling his beloved grandchildren. And then my eyes fell on Xavier and Vivienne. They sat in a corner wrapped in each other’s arms.

“Xavier!” I cried out. I jumped up and ran over to him, pulling him into a hug.

I could say with absolute certainty that I had never seen Vivienne so happy. She beamed as she looked at me. I clasped her to me and kissed her cheek again and again, until she’d finally had enough of my affection and said, “Hey, girl, it’s Xavier I’m marrying, not you. And besides, look at Derek. You’re making him all jealous.”

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