“I’m sure there will be ample opportunity for that,” I said.

Sofia was a forgiving person. It just was not in her nature to hold a grudge. No matter what atrocities a person might have committed in the past, if she saw genuine repentance in a person’s eyes, she was the first to give them a second chance. I found myself wondering whether Lucas had feelings for her. I had thought at the time that his pull to her was just lust, as it was with all the other young women who had the misfortune of crossing paths with him. Now that I thought back over my brother’s life, I could not summon a single instance when he’d had an actual girlfriend. Claudia was probably the closest he’d come to one, though theirs was anything but an actual relationship. They had been on and off for centuries, but it had been no secret to anyone on the island that they met only for one thing.

As we reached the end of this stretch of beach and turned around, I glanced at my brother thoughtfully while he looked straight ahead. For the first time, it really hit me in a way that it never had before: Has he really never fallen in love? The only person I’d ever known him to be in love with was himself. Maybe Vivienne shared a piece of his heart… though not a large piece, since Lucas had gone along with my father’s plan to bundle her off to Borys Maslen. Lucas couldn’t have loved Jeramiah or his mother much either, or he would not have abandoned them so callously. Both of these incidents had taken place even before he became a vampire—he had been a mere human then. It was as if he’d been born with these cold, harsh traits. Could I really blame all of this on my father?

It had been my very own Sofia who had drilled into my mindset that we could control ourselves, that we were all responsible. Even those infected with the dark disease of vampirism. That was how she’d gotten me to change. The thought brought me full circle and made me recall Claudia’s original point: Lucas had never gotten any good loving, like I had. He had never met a woman who could change him the way I had met Sofia. Maybe one of the reasons he’d been so drawn to her was because he sensed her goodness, but he hadn’t known how to control his nature around her for him to even have a fighting chance of winning her over.

I pulled myself out of my reverie, wondering if I really ought to say what I was tempted to say next.

“You know, I, uh…” I paused as he glanced up at me. I thought to phrase it a different way. “There are a lot of new folks on the island. New since you left, that is… You might be able to find a little twig of your own some day.”

I was relieved when Lucas’ lips curved. He narrowed his eyes on me slightly. “Whatever might happen,” he said in a low voice, “I won’t need the assistance of a little brother.”

Little brother. That was when it struck me. A sly smile spread across my face at the realization. “You do realize that I am no longer your younger brother. I’m your older brother now.”

Lucas blinked as it sank in. “How old are you?” he shot back, rather aggressively compared to the way he’d spoken his previous sentence.

“In terms of physical age, I’m pushing twenty-five.”

He looked wounded.

“Well, then,” he muttered, “it looks like I’ll have to spend the next few years as a human…”

“That’s a war that could get dangerous,” I remarked. “Before we knew it, we’d both be old men.”

Lucas smirked. Then, running a hand through his hair, he heaved a sigh. “But seriously, Derek. Hooking up with a girl is really, really the last thing on my mind. I’ve missed out on my son’s whole life. I suspect that he will occupy much of my time in the foreseeable future. In fact, he would like us to make a trip to his mother’s grave, as soon as I feel ready.”

That was fair enough. Though I was sure that with time, some female on this island would catch Lucas’ eye—he was only a man, after all. And when it did happen, he had better end up treating her right… or he’d have his older brother to answer to.

Something told me, however, that he would. Something had changed in him, seemingly permanently.

Those ghouls really should charge for their service. Ghoul rehab. Guaranteed results for the assholes in your family.

As Lucas and I began to near Jeramiah, who was still sitting on the same patch of sand, I remembered what had triggered me to seek out my brother in the first place.

“Lucas,” I said, stopping. He stopped and looked at me. “I actually came to ask whether you would like to attend Ben’s wedding. Your son is invited too.”

Lucas’ eyes widened a little. He hesitated, then said, “I… I would be honored to.”

A smile spread across my lips. For the first time in my entire life, I actually almost felt like hugging my brother… almost. We sufficed with a handshake instead, but it was the steadiest, firmest handshake we’d ever shared.

Ben

I was pleased that River had enjoyed my second proposal so much. The idea had occurred to me while I’d been on my way to the Sanctuary to request Corrine’s help in preparing a suitable ring. But as Corrine had been halfway through making it, Yuri had come rushing in with Claudia, yelling that she was going into labor. Corrine had hurried to attend to her, and I’d barely managed to wish Claudia good luck before the door closed on me.

That had left me with a half-finished ring. In the end I’d sought out the witch Shayla to help me finish it, and she’d also helped me with the whole sauna setup… including the fluffy white bath robe.

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