Kristal was excited about the idea of a girls’ night out. “We’ll go out for dinner together,” she said, pulling me into her room and sitting me down in front of her dressing table. “Let me do your hair and makeup.”

I’d gotten used to the fact that she always liked to dress me up before going out. It was for my own benefit, since she always made me look better than I could. I wasn’t used to wearing makeup. I’d never had much occasion to around The Shade.

Kristal began tugging at my long dark hair with a brush, taming it into a slick ponytail. Then she took out her makeup box and set about giving me what she called a “smoky eye” look.

Smoky or not, I had to admit when I looked in the mirror that it suited me. And once I’d changed into one of my new dresses, fastened Griffin’s necklace around my neck and pulled on a pair of heels, I felt thoroughly sexy. I even caught Jake eyeing me as we made our way out through the front door.

Just as we were about to enter the elevator, Kristal stopped abruptly.

“Oh, damn it. Wait here. I forgot something.”

She ran back to the apartment and returned a minute later carrying a small black handbag.

“This is Chloe’s,” Kristal explained. “She left it with me when we were all out the other night and I forgot to return it to her.”

We exited the building and, to my discomfort, she turned right—toward the beach. She picked up her mobile phone and dialed a number.

“Chloe? Hi, you’re at Jacob’s right now? Okay, don’t go anywhere because I’m coming with your bag.”

Hurrying alongside her, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. We reached the beach and stopped once we reached Jacob’s Restaurant. Chloe, a short brunette, sat next to her boyfriend, John. Kristal walked over and handed her the bag. They were sitting at a table outside in the open air, with a clear view onto the beach.

We were about to leave when Chloe said, “Hey, why don’t you join us? There’s plenty of room and we haven’t even started eating yet.”

Kristal answered before even consulting me.

“That sounds like a great idea,” she said.

I didn’t argue since it would have been too awkward. I took a seat next to Kristal, opposite Chloe and John across the table.

I tried to convince myself that I was being paranoid. Yes, it was night. And yes, we were sitting right on the beach. But we were near a restaurant, and that was probably the worst kind of place to collect humans, with everybody seated at tables. No way to mingle with drunk crowds.

Still, I failed to relax as we sat for hours on the beachfront, so close to where those girls had been abducted. I found myself looking suspiciously at each person who walked by us.

“Are you all right, Rose?” Kristal asked, squeezing my knee beneath the table. “You’re awfully quiet.”

“Yes, I’m fine,” I muttered. “I’m just a little tired.”

“We can go back home now if you want. We don’t have to stay for dessert.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding and clutching her hand. “Let’s do that.”

Kristal called for the bill and insisted on paying for all of us.

We all got up to leave together and I breathed a sigh of relief as we bade goodbye to the couple and left the beach.

I was so focussed on getting back to our apartment that I didn’t think to check if anyone was following us.

If I had, I would have noticed two tall, dark figures trailing in the shadows behind us.

Chapter 8: Sofia

Walking along that Cancún beach that evening after the sun went down was chilling. It looked uncannily similar to the beach I’d been kidnapped from by Lucas all those years ago.

That evening when it all began.

I fantasized briefly about what might have happened had Benjamin Hudson, my best friend, not forgotten it was my birthday that day.

Would none of this have happened? Would I not be standing next to Derek now?

I smiled bitterly as I felt the sand beneath my bare feet. Memories of Ben came flooding back through my mind. That handsome, perfect, blond blue-eyed boy who had once held my heart within the palm of his hand. I could almost feel the exact emotions I’d felt that evening when he’d let me down on my birthday yet again. All because of that cheerleader, Tanya Wilson.

If only you had known then, Sofia, how stupid those feelings would seem now.

That used to be all my world consisted of—Ben and my pain over his latest girlfriend. My pining for his attention.

Derek must have detected what was going through my mind, because he wrapped an arm around me and placed a tender kiss on my forehead. I looked out at the deep dark ocean, fighting to hold back the tears.

Where are you now, Ben?

If only you could see what a beautiful young woman Abby has blossomed into.

If only you could be here with us now.

If only you could have found a love of your own to give you the strength to fight the battle you could have won…

It still haunted me to this day, the way he had just given up on his life. Had he just allowed us to feed him the blood from Derek’s palm in those crucial few moments that his soul was still one with his body, he might have been with us now. No matter how hard I tried to understand, I still felt defeated by it. He’d had so much to live for. Yet he’d given it all up willingly, without even a struggle.

I still hadn’t forgiven him for it after all these years. And now I doubted that I ever would.

By the time we were halfway along the beach, I’d lost my battle with tears—the memories cutting open my wounds afresh. Wounds that I’d thought had healed years ago.

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