On our return to The Shade, before launching into sorting out accommodation for our new group of female jinn, we got to see Claudia’s baby for the first time. A baby girl. She shared Claudia’s blonde hair as well as her brown eyes, though I was sure that she had Yuri’s nose and would likely have his dimples.
“We’ve named her Claudine,” Claudia said to me.
I stared at her. “Are you serious?”
I glanced at Yuri, whose expression was stoic, then back at Claudia. “How can you pick such a similar name to—?”
“Well, she’s my mini-me,” Claudia retorted. “What better name for her?”
I looked at Claudia in disbelief. Then, to my relief, a smile cracked her face. “I’m pulling your leg, Derek. You don’t think I’m still that narcissistic, do you?”
“Her name is Ruby,” Yuri chuckled.
“I like that better,” I said, letting out a breath. I couldn’t deny that for a moment I had actually thought Claudia had reverted to her old self. “A lot better.”
Next, we visited the jinn. After much discussion, they ended up choosing to make their quarters in The Black Heights. Although it meant clearing out a number of our grain storage rooms, the grain could easily be stored elsewhere. I actually couldn’t have picked a better location, since it was far enough from the witches that they wouldn’t step on each other’s toes. Dragons and jinn didn’t have a problem getting on, so there was no issue with them living in close proximity. The jinn preferred to create their own apartments with their magic once we’d cleared the chambers, so we left them to it.
The three fae, Nolan, Chantel and Marcilla also needed accommodation; we ended up offering them two spare beach houses, near where Mona and Kiev used to live. They were thrilled and thanked me countless times. I suspected that, after their stay in The Underworld, they would have been grateful even if I’d sent them to share Brett’s cave.
After attending to a number of other pressing matters that had cropped up during our time away, Sofia and I found ourselves with some time together one evening. As we returned to our apartment, I caught her hand and pulled her into the music room. I seated her on the bench in front of the piano. Sitting next to her, I began to play. Sofia let out a soft sigh and relaxed against me, resting her head against my shoulder.
“I’d almost forgotten how beautifully you play,” Sofia murmured.
“Thank you.” I grinned.
We lapsed into silence, letting the music engulf us.
Ah, peace at last… Both of our twins safe and married. Our island—with the addition of jinn—now a stronger fortress than ever. And now here I was, alone in a room with Sofia and my music.
There were few places I was happier than in front of a piano. It’d been so long since I’d gotten the chance to touch an instrument.
A wave of nostalgia washed over me as I found myself playing one of my favorite tunes. I realized that it was the same tune that I’d played for Sofia the very first time I had taken her into my music room, all those years ago. She had leaned against me then, as she was doing now, breathing gently with her eyes closed as she listened to me play.
“I love you, Derek Novak,” Sofia whispered.
I stopped playing and cupped her face in my hands. I gazed down into her emerald-green eyes that saw through to my soul, and ran the tip of my nose down the bridge of hers before locking our lips. There was no way I could express how much I loved my wife. My love burned as deep for her as the day I’d made her mine.
“Shall we sleep in our special place tonight?” I suggested with a smile.
She grinned up at me. “Why not?”
As I went to gather our toothbrushes while Sofia packed some towels, I was surprised to hear a knock at the door.
Sofia and I exchanged glances. It was rather late for someone to be disturbing us without good reason…
We both dropped our things and went to the front door. We opened it to see Eli standing there. He had a look of concern on his face.
This had happened too many times in the past year for me to not immediately expect bad news.
“What is it?” I asked.
I was relieved when a small smirk curved his lips. “No need to look at me like I’m the Grim Reaper.”
“Well, that’s kind of what you’ve been,” I muttered. “I can’t think of a single instance when you’ve shown up at our doorstep after hours with good news.”
“Well,” Eli said, coughing, “it’s not exactly cause for a party, but it’s not an emergency either. It’s… something to be aware of. It’s on a local news station which I don’t believe you have here, so you might as well come to mine.”
Sofia and I exchanged curious glances before acquiescing.
As the three of us left our treehouse and began running through the redwoods, I had no idea what Eli was about to show us. Just as I had no idea what the future had in store for us. How could I, when, as immortals, our journey through life appeared more winding than the mind of an oracle?
But whatever lay ahead, I could be certain of one thing: this beautiful island that surrounded us. This magnificent haven we were privileged enough to call home. The Shade. One way or another, it would always remain our sanctuary. It had for hundreds of years and it would for the rest of eternity. I knew it from the very core of me.
Because The Shade was a reflection of its people. In its strength. In its tenacity.