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This is more like it.

I closed my eyes again, relishing the feeling of his strength enveloping me. Protecting me. Keeping me safe. Just as he had done since the day we met.

Chapter 9: Sofia

I’d thought that talking to Mona would at least ease my uncertainty and doubts. Now I partly wished I hadn’t talked to her. Our conversation had only added more heat to my already burning mind. The worst thing was, there wasn’t anything anybody here could do about it. We had all these theories, but no way of actually confirming any of them since we were all stuck on the island. And if I was honest with myself, even if we weren’t stuck, there was still no way of knowing unless one of the black witches behind all this decided to reveal their true motives.

Derek and I had tried to comfort each other, but there were only so many times we could say to each other that Ibrahim and Corrine were the best people to find our daughter. Even though it was true, it didn’t stop anxiety eating away at us.

I left Derek at home and headed toward my father’s treehouse. We’d been promising each other that we’d make time for each other for weeks, but we still hadn’t followed through. It seemed that there would never be a perfect time, so I decided to go and visit him now.

I reached Aiden’s tree and ascended in the elevator. When I knocked on the front door, he answered after two seconds. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me against him, kissing my forehead. Something about the strength of my father’s arms made me break down in a way that I hadn’t with Derek. I’d been trying to put on a brave face for my husband, because my breaking down in front of him would only increase his suffering.

While I knew my father suffered Rose’s absence too, somehow I felt like I could let myself loose without feeling as much guilt as I did with Derek.

My father led me to the couch and I cried for the next hour. He didn’t even try to offer me words of comfort, he just held me and let me feel my grief. I let out emotions I’d been trying to bottle up for days. He was there for me, the way I’d always dreamed he would be one day as I was growing up.

When it felt like I had no more tears left to shed, I sat up and dried my face with a tissue.

“Thank you,” I croaked.

He squeezed my hand and smiled. “Any time, darling.”

I looked around the room, craving a change of subject. The memory of Adelle opening the door to Eli’s apartment in her dressing gown came flooding back to me. To this day, I still hadn’t talked about Adelle with my father, and now seemed as good a time as any to broach the subject. Although I didn’t want to hurt him, I wanted to understand what was going on.

“You know that Eli and Adelle are going out?” I asked. I watched him closely, studying every flicker of emotion that crossed his face.

His smile faded. “Yes.”

“Dad… you like her, don’t you?”

He nodded, looking down at the floor.

“Did you ever ask her out?”

He sighed. “I was late to the party.”

While I was happy for Eli, my heart broke for my father. He deserved a good woman more than anyone after all he’d been through with my mother.

“But don’t feel sorry for me, honey,” he said, forcing a smile back on his face. This time it reached his eyes a little more. “You have enough on your shoulders already. I’ll get over her soon enough.”

“I just worry about you,” I said, kissing his cheek. “It’s been almost two decades since Mom passed away. I want to see you with another woman in your life, someone who deserves you. You’re a vampire now… and forever is a long time to be alone.”

There was a pause. I felt his chest constrict beneath me, and I felt a drop of water—a tear—drop onto my shoulder. But I didn’t look up, in case he’d feel embarrassed that I’d caught him crying in front of me. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen him cry.

He cleared his throat, though I could tell that he struggled to keep his voice steady as he said, “I’ll find someone, Sofia. I promise.”

Chapter 10: Aiden

I hadn’t dared go to the lake again since the day I’d spotted Adelle and Eli there in the boathouse. That same boathouse where I’d initially intended to ask her out. It seemed that it was a regular haunt of theirs, because Claudia had told me she’d spied them there on several occasions since. But now, as I took a walk through the woods, my mind more absent than present, I found myself passing by it.

I stopped short, straining my ears for any indication that they might be down there. Once I felt confident that they weren’t, I started down along the path toward the lake and stopped at its bank. This lake was one of my favorite parts of the island, perhaps even more than the beaches. It held a serenity that affected my entire being.

I recalled the words my daughter had spoken to me. Mention of her mother had cut me to the core. Sofia was right that after what had happened to Camilla, I’d thought I’d never be able to open up to another person again. She’d ripped an open wound in my heart I’d thought would never heal. Perhaps it wouldn’t—not fully—and anyone who came after her now would be a layer on top. Perhaps, deep down, I always would be cut.

Although I’d rather be with nobody than someone who wasn’t right for me, I’d meant it when I told my daughter that I would find someone.

I sat down on one of the benches that afforded the best view of the lily-speckled lake and closed my eyes, breathing out slowly.

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