“Caleb… You’re a tease. Do you know that?”
A smile curved his lips. “And what do you think you are?”
When I didn’t answer, he slid me back down against the base of the tub and rinsed the shampoo from my hair. Then he reached for a towel and, standing up in the tub with me, wrapped it round me tightly. He picked me up and carried me to the bedroom. He laid me on the bed and, grabbing another towel, dried me off.
I pulled on my nightdress as he dried himself and slipped into his underwear. I gazed at him from across the room before heaving a sigh and sliding into bed beneath the sheets. I nestled against a pillow and closed my eyes.
His arm wrapped around my waist and he spooned himself around me. I shivered as he kissed the back of my neck.
“I’ll make love to you, Rose,” he whispered. “But we have time. I’m not going anywhere.”
￼Chapter 3: Caleb
As I watched Rose fall asleep in my arms, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was trapped in some strange, wondrous dream. A dream I had no business being in.
And yet the nightmare that was my former life had given way to this.
Rose Novak. Princess of The Shade.
Careful not to wake her, I slid down the pillows until my face was level with hers and gathered her closer to me. I brushed aside a lock of her long dark hair that had fallen across her face so I could fully take her in while listening to her soft breathing. Gently, I leaned in and traced the outline of her beautiful mouth with my lips.
I remembered only a short while ago, I’d been afraid to kiss her. Hell, I’d been afraid to even look at her. I remembered watching her sleeping from behind a window pane. I never could have imagined that I’d one day be holding her as she slept.
I didn’t know what I’d done to deserve this. But Rose calling me her boyfriend was something I didn’t take lightly. Her parents—particularly her father—seemed to have accepted me after the explanation Rose had given of our exploits. She was convinced that everyone else in The Shade would accept me here with open arms, too.
But I was still having trouble accepting myself.
I’d saved her life several times over while putting mine at risk. I’d kept her safe when I could have so easily taken advantage of her. I’d finally gathered the courage to confess that I loved her.
Yet, even after everything, I still winced internally each time Rose called me hers. It almost felt like she was sentencing herself to disappointment. And I wasn’t sure why.
Perhaps the darkness that had shrouded me for so many decades while living with Annora still remained with me. I wondered if I would ever fully shake it.
Whatever the case, I had to face the reality I found myself in, however strange it was.
Rose was calling me her boyfriend. Her man. Her lover.
And, by God, I was going to do the best I could to live up to that role.
￼Chapter 4: Aiden
“One twin down, one more to go,” Kailyn said as we made our way up one of The Shade’s highest mountains.
“Yeah,” I replied. “And let’s hope Ben returns sooner rather than later.”
Kailyn and I were taking a walk to let off some steam. Things had been so tense on the island with all the drama brought about by the ghoul, Mona’s absence, Ben’s departure and the shock of finding a dragon at our port. Now that at least some things had been resolved, it felt like everyone needed a little downtime.
As we reached the top, we walked to the edge of the cliff and stared out at the dark sky and the brightening horizon beyond The Shade’s boundary in the distance. A sharp wind prickled my skin. I slipped my hands into my pockets, avoiding the temptation to steal a glance at Kailyn’s face while she wasn’t looking.
“I wonder what’s to become of this place,” she said quietly.
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. None of us knew what was going to happen now. We all suspected the black witches would strike at some point and attempt to break through Mona’s barrier. We didn’t know if they would be successful, and what would become of us all if they were. But it felt like I’d lived most of my life on edge. Save the seventeen-odd years when we’d all had a break from the craziness of our world, living on edge was what I was used to. There was no other way to live as a hunter. It was all or nothing. I guessed I’d learned to become numb.
When I didn’t answer, Kailyn took a step closer to me, and to my surprise, slipped a hand into my right pocket and wrapped it around my hand. I turned my head to look down into her eyes. Dimples formed in her cheeks as she flashed me a small smile, giving me the confidence to squeeze her hand a little.
“I guess none of us know what’s going to happen,” she whispered after a pause. “But I do know one thing.” She stepped in front of me, slipping her other hand into my left pocket so she now held both of my hands. “I really like you, Aiden Claremont.”
I wasn’t sure what I was thinking in the moments that followed—if I even had a thought process. All I was aware of was the pounding of my heart as Kailyn’s arms draped around my neck and pulled me downward until her pillowy lips were pressed against mine. My hands found the sides of her face as I returned her kiss, slowly at first, then with hunger.
Her cheeks were flushed when we broke apart, as I was sure mine were. She bit her lower lip and laughed nervously.
“How was that for a first kiss?” she asked, her voice slightly hoarse.
I responded by sliding my arms around her slowly until my hands rested on the small of her back. Gathering her to me again, I caught her lips in mine once again, kissing them gently.