We walked through the forest making small talk. I stopped once we reached the old boathouse on the border of the lake. I led her inside and to the edge of the wall, where the windows were open, affording us full view of the beauty of the lake. The scent of fragrant lotuses drifted up toward us.

“Even in the darkness, it’s so beautiful here in the summer,” she remarked. “I always look forward to this time of year.”

“Don’t you miss your real home? The Sanctuary? I’ve heard that the witches’ realm is ten times more beautiful than this.”

She leaned her arms over the banister and stared down at the water, gathering her thick hair so it fell down one shoulder.

“Everything is superficially beautiful there,” she said. “Me? I like raw beauty. Everything feels real, genuine, on this island. And the people. Oh, the people here. They have heart. Something that’s rare to find back where I come from.”

“And it’s all worth it even with a shortened lifespan?”

“That’s a myth, in my opinion. I’ve seen no evidence of witches aging faster on Earth than they do back in The Sanctuary. We can stay youthful for hundreds, sometimes even thousands of years… depending on how we look after ourselves, of course.”

I stared at her lovely face and wondered how old she really was, but dared not ask.

“Do you ever regret your decision to turn into a vampire?” she asked, looking up at me seriously.

I gazed down into her light blue eyes.

“I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t. Not a bit. The first few years were rough, yes. But now, it’s all been worth it.”

“Well, I for one am glad that you turned,” she said softly. “It would have been sad to lose you.”

We stared at each other for a few moments before I finally gathered enough courage to stop procrastinating.

“Adelle, listen,” I said, taking her hands in mine. “I wanted to ask you something—”

Ring. Ring. Ring.

The phone in my pocket began vibrating.

Oh, bloody hell.

Since Derek and Sofia had left the island with Eli and Ibrahim, I’d been entrusted with the phone in case the twins called.

“I-I’m so sorry,” I said. “Just a moment.”

Adelle withdrew her hands from mine. I turned away from her and flipped open the phone. “Hello?”

“Hey, this is Ben.”

“Hi, Ben.”

“Where’s Mom and Dad?”

“They’re not around. They’ve… gone out for the day.”

“Oh, okay. Well, I’m just calling to let you know that Scotland is actually awesome.”

“Oh. That’s good.”

“It’s so much better than it looked in the brochure.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Seriously, great job booking this place.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“And we’re doing just fine. No need to worry about us at all. We’ve already made friends.”

“Well, that’s great to hear, Ben.”

“So tell Mom and Dad when they get back that we’re having fun and they don’t need to worry about us. We’ll call again in a few days.”

“Will do.”

“Cool. Bye, Grandpa!”

I flipped the phone shut as Ben hung up.

Grandpa. I winced at the word. As much as I adored being a grandfather to such beautiful children, this was the one moment in my life when I didn’t want to be reminded of the fact.

I glanced over at Adelle, slipping the phone back into my pocket.

“It was just Ben,” I said, as though she hadn’t been in earshot of the entire conversation.

She blushed and smiled. “You’re so good with them.”

“Yeah,” I muttered, averting my eyes to the floor and kicking around a twig. “I suppose I am.”

“So, um. What was it that you wanted to say to me?”

“Oh… I just wanted to thank you for doing such a good job with my, uh, grandchildren.”

Keep digging, Gramps. Keep digging.

“Oh,” she said. She looked surprised—perhaps even disappointed—by my response. “You’re more than welcome. They’ve always been an absolute pleasure to teach.”

Now sit back and enjoy the view of that perfect moment blowing right out of the window, asshole…

Chapter 7: Rose

Ben and I made excuses to avoid the beach when it was dark from then on. We spent many daylight hours there, soaking up the sun and swimming in the sea. But when we went out late at night, we made sure that we went to clubs and restaurants further inland.

Unfortunately, I didn’t meet another boy like Caleb.

But after several nights of practice—and Kristal giving me some extra sessions during the day around the condo—I was beginning to feel a bit less of a klutz. Kristal had been surprised that I seemed so disorientated listening to modern music and asked me if I really had never gone to a party before. I explained to her that I’d just always been bad at dancing.

I also went shopping with Kristal to buy some new clothes and a pair of high heels. Despite Kristal pressuring me, I still didn’t cave into buying miniskirts or minidresses. I did make a compromise, however: the dresses that I came home were all shorter than my long summer gowns—they stopped just above the knee, and I felt confident wearing them.

One evening, there was a big boxing match on the TV, followed immediately by soccer, that Jake didn’t want to miss, so Ben decided to stay in with him.

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