Mona shuddered as she finished vomiting and stood up straight, wiping her mouth with the back of her sleeve. “Wha—Where’s Rhys? The black witches?”

“They’re all gone,” Kiev said, guiding her back to the bed and reseating her.

She clutched her head. “Ugh. I feel so dizzy.”

“Then lie down,” Kiev said. He eased her back against the pillows as Corrine handed her a glass of water. “When you’re ready, tell us what you remember.”

After swallowing the glass, she let out a sigh. “Rhys,” she began. “He was the last thing I remember. We were having a duel. He was winning… by far. We ended up in a tree. He strapped me there. That’s the last thing I remember. Everything went black after that.”

“Do you have any idea how you ended up in the rowing boat in the middle of the lake?” I asked.

“The lake?” She frowned. “That’s where you found me?”

“That’s where your dear fiancé found you,” Corrine replied, gesturing toward Kiev.

“I have no idea,” Mona said, rubbing her forehead.

“Well, that is bizarre,” Derek muttered.

I was curious to discuss it further, but we had more pressing matters at hand.

“Um, Mona,” I said. “As much as I’m sure you just want to rest right now, we really need your help. The black witches paralyzed our army—we need you to help us break their spell. Ibrahim, Corrine, all our witches, they’ve been trying but—”

“Yes,” Mona said. She sat up from the pillows and, using Kiev’s shoulder as support, pulled herself into standing position. “I’ll see what I can do.” She looked gingerly down at her torn clothes, covered in dirt and vomit. “I’d just like to, er, change.”

“And feel free to use the bathroom. There are fresh towels on the rack,” Corrine said, walking over to her wardrobe and pulling out a pair of pants and a shirt. She handed them to Mona before we all left the room, leaving Kiev and Mona some privacy.

We were only waiting five minutes in the corridor outside before the couple emerged.

“Okay,” Mona said, an anxious look on her face. “Let’s do this.”

Chapter 38: Sofia

I was a bag of nerves as we stood outside the caves, watching Mona as she moved from person to person. She hadn’t wanted us hanging over her, so we all watched from a distance as she worked whatever magic she was trying to work.

After half an hour passed and not a single person had stirred, I was beginning to lose hope.

“What if she can’t get rid of the spell?” I whispered.

I was addressing Derek, but it was Rose who answered as she stood behind me next to Caleb.

“Mom,” she said, sliding her hand into mine and squeezing it, “never fear what-ifs.”

She exchanged a glance with Caleb, who beamed down at her. I was grateful for this unexpected comfort coming from my daughter. I smiled at her and kissed her cheek, holding her hand closer to me.

“You’re right, my darling,” I said, “I shouldn’t fear them.”

And she was right.

After an hour, Mona finally cracked the spell. Cheers erupted from the crowds outside the caves who’d gathered to watch as the first captive—Saira, the werewolf—sat up and staggered to her feet. Mona worked much faster after that. Soon, everyone was either standing or sitting upright in the caves. Only then did Mona nod toward our direction and give us permission to enter the caves.

We all rushed inside in a stampede.

“Dad!” I squealed like a little girl as I caught sight of my father and flung myself into his arms.

He chuckled and kissed my head. “Hi, sweetheart. How are you?”

“Great, now you’re back.”

“Grandpa!”

I stepped back to give Rose a turn to embrace him.

“Hello, Gramps,” Derek said, drawing him in for a man-hug.

“Don’t get too cheeky, Novak,” Aiden said, feigning a glare at Derek. “You’ll be a Gramps before you know it.” He glanced briefly at Rose and Caleb, who was standing by her side. Rose’s cheeks turned red as she looked down at her feet.

The five of us began moving around the caves, greeting all our newly awakened warriors.

“Yuri!” Claudia’s shriek pierced my eardrums.

Yuri was a blur as he shot toward Claudia. Locking his lips with hers, he gripped her waist and propped her up against the cave wall, bringing her to his level.

“Claudia,” he breathed in between kisses. “Baby, I need to ask you something.”

“Hm?” Her eyes still closed, she was lost in her husband’s embrace.

He lowered her down to the floor and, holding her hand, lowered to his knees. Claudia’s eyes widened, her flushed lips parting.

“Mrs. Lazaroff,” Yuri began, his eyes fixed on hers. “Will you have a baby with me?”

Claudia looked like she was about to hyperventilate. Her breathing came fast and uneven as her mouth opened and closed. “I-Is this a joke?”

Yuri shook his head, his eyes glistening with tears.

Claudia broke down crying. Speechless, she nodded and gave her husband a watery smile before he enveloped her in his arms again.

Aiden slapped Yuri on the back. “Nicely done, my man. Nicely done… About time, too.”

Yuri’s dimples showed as he grinned from ear to ear.

When Claudia finally stopped shaking, she looked up at Yuri with a teasing gleam in her eyes. “So, Lazaroff… now I know the secret to getting what I want from you. I should make you believe I’m dead more often.”

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