Truth be told, I had already expected this, so her words didn’t come as much of a surprise. I eyed her steadily as she looked toward me for a reaction.

“So?” she said. “What do you think?”

There was no denying it. I would relish every second of scorching the island that had held me prisoner for decades and been my residence during the darkest period of my life. But the thought of Rose venturing into their territory made my stomach churn.

“I think it’s a good idea,” I said. “But I don’t want you coming.”

She stopped soaping herself and stared at me.

“It pains me just thinking about it,” I said. “Even with your ability to wield fire, after everything we’ve been through, I just want there to be a few days in a row when you’re not facing mortal danger.”

Silence fell between us. She cast her eyes away from me and finished washing herself. Then she stepped out of the shower, reaching for a towel and wrapping it around her. She walked up to me, placing her arms around my waist and resting her head against my chest. I held her closer, breathing in her scent.

“I think I would drive myself out of my mind staying here while you went without me,” she said, “but, Caleb, if you don’t want me to go, I won’t.”

I was shocked by her words. I’d expected her to reply with an argument, to be adamant that there was no way she wasn’t coming. I hardly knew how to respond.

I reached for her head, looking deep into her green irises, and tried to understand what had brought about this sudden submissiveness. As the corners of her eyes moistened, I realized. Gone was even the slightest trace of the steely determination I’d grown accustomed to seeing in Rose Novak. She’d become putty in my hands.

Running my hands down her back, I pressed her against the wall. I dipped my head and closed my lips around hers. She breathed heavily, reaching her warm hands beneath my shirt and tracing her fingertips along my chest.

“I love you,” I breathed, brushing my thumbs against the sides of her mouth as I continued to taste her again and again.

She responded in a hoarse whisper, “I love you,” but she didn’t need to. She’d just shown that her love for me was strong enough to overcome her nature as a Novak. She was willing to submit to my request to not cause me unhappiness, even though it pained her in equal measure.

Perhaps I’m now the only one who can tame the ball of fire that Rose Novak has become.

Even as I looked at her, my resolve ebbed away. Although I despised the idea of her riding toward danger once again, her submission was melting me.

A battle now raging within me, I scooped her up in my arms and carried her to the bedroom. I sat her on the edge of the bed, gazing down at her.

She looked up at me, her expression calm, her eyes wide with surrender.

I realized then that, even in our better days, Annora had never behaved like this with me. Although I loved Annora and would have done anything for her, I could hardly remember a single instance when she had put my desires before hers.

A storm of conflicting thoughts continued to whirl in my mind. On the one hand, I just wanted to do what was best for Rose. I wanted to keep her safe. But on the other hand, now I felt guilt stabbing me for causing her unhappiness by making her stay.

I swallowed hard.

You are impossible, Rose Novak.

After several more minutes of wrangling with myself, even though I hated myself for it, the softer side of me gave in. I bent down to her level.

“Okay,” I said, taking her hands in mine. “Get dressed.”

She frowned in confusion, her lips parting.

“Come with me,” I said, even as I heaved a sigh.

“But I don’t want to cause you pain,” she said.

A smile crept across my lips. “As insane as it sounds, I’ll probably be in more pain thinking of you and your sorry face left behind in this cabin while I’m riding toward danger by myself.”

Her face lit up. Standing, she reached her arms around my neck, drawing me in for another passionate kiss before she hurried to the closet to get dressed.

Chapter 23: Rose

Caleb and I rushed to Kiev and Mona’s tree. I was glad to see that there was a small crowd already waiting for us there—consisting of my grandfather, Micah, Ibrahim, Gavin, and, to my surprise, Griffin. They stood alongside Mona and Kiev.

My grandfather looked at me with concern as I hurried up and gave him a hug. I was so sure that he wanted to request me to stay behind, but I was both relieved and surprised when he didn’t. He just kissed the top of my head.

I turned to Griffin, raising my brow. He grinned at me. “I convinced my mom to allow me to come instead of her. I’ve been a vampire long enough now that I’m used to my strengths and abilities.”

As for Micah, I wasn’t surprised that he was here. His expression was one of determination. He’d been through hell at the hands of those witches. I was sure that he had been the first wolf to step forward and volunteer to help us.

“So,” I said, looking around at each of them. “I suggest we head over to the dragons now.”

We hurried through the forest toward the Black Heights. As we ran along the tunnels and reached the first corridor where all the dragons’ apartments were, we found Jeriad along with several other dragons standing together and talking. They turned around to face us as we approached.

“Hello,” I said tentatively. “Are you ready to accompany us?”

Jeriad eyed each of us, then nodded slowly. He shot a glance at the dragon standing beside him, who walked away and began knocking on doors along the corridor.

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