Derek stopped walking and cradled me against his chest. When Eli and Ibrahim stopped to ask what was wrong, he told them to keep walking.

“I know he’s not coming back,” I breathed. “And I know it’s been years. But, God, it still hurts. It hurts like it was yesterday.”

Derek bent down and kissed my cheek, then brushed his own cool cheek against mine and whispered into my ear, “Some scars just don’t heal, Sofia. You need to accept that.”

I gripped Derek tighter against me.

“Thank you,” I gasped, breaking down into a fresh wave of tears. “I-I needed to hear that.”

I sank to my knees and he sat with me. I stayed there sobbing in his arms until I felt steady enough to get up and continue walking.

We ran to catch up with Ibrahim, Eli and Shadow.

“I’m sorry,” I said, my voice hoarse.

“The last thing you need to do is apologize, Sofia,” Eli said.

I gave them a watery smile.

“Okay,” I said, drawing in a deep breath. “Let’s get down to business.”

We walked along the length of the beach that night until we reached the area the humans had disappeared from.

We searched all around, scanned the sand, splashed around in the waves looking for any clue that could tell us what had happened. Shadow was finding nothing of interest to us—although he was certainly finding things that were of interest to him. An orange buoy, a dead whale shark and an unholy amount of seaweed.

Of course, we’d expected not to find anything. After all, if these were supernatural creatures, they wouldn’t leave traces.

Once there wasn’t any more beach to scan, we all gathered together in a circle and looked at each other. Then all eyes fixed on Eli.

“So?” Ibrahim said.

Eli ran a hand through his hair and heaved a sigh.

“We need to return home and I need to get my maps out.”

“And?” Derek said.

“I need to analyze all the locations they’ve hit over the past few years. I want to see if I can spot any pattern.”

“And what if there isn’t any pattern?” I asked.

“I agree, it’s a long shot,” Eli said. “But whoever or whatever is taking these humans has never been caught on any CCTV camera, even after all these years. They—or it—deliberately target wide open areas like this. I don’t see what else we can do right now other than try to piece together a pattern. If we are able to spot something, it might give us some clue as to what area they might hit next.”

“I suppose it might also give us a clearer guess as to their location,” Ibrahim suggested.

Eli nodded. “Because so far, only one thing is apparent. They like their beach parties.”

Chapter 9: Rose

The elevator doors were about to close when a gloved hand slipped through. Two men wearing sunglasses entered the elevator and pressed the button for the doors to close.

“Sorry,” one of them muttered, as he ran a finger over the floor number we had already pressed.

The elevator being small, I huddled closer to Kristal and looked down at the floor. I always felt awkward standing in elevators with strangers.

The ding sounded once we arrived at level seven and the doors opened. The two men’s footsteps followed behind us. When we stopped outside the door, I gripped Kristal’s hand before she could open the door with her keys. We stayed standing still, waiting for the footsteps to pass.

They got fainter as they disappeared down the corridor. I breathed out. I released Kristal’s hand and she opened the door.

“You sure are jittery tonight,” Kristal said as she locked the door behind us.

The television blared from the living room. We left our shoes by the doorway and I sat down on the couch next to the boys, who were munching on popcorn and yelling at the screen. Kristal went into the kitchen and returned later with some fruit tea for us.

“Agh, I can’t take any more of this,” she said after about two minutes of trying to watch their match. “Let’s go into my room.”

I followed her and we changed into our pajamas. Then we went into her bathroom. Kristal decided to take a shower while I perched on the counter, removing my smoky eyes. As I was wiping off the last smudge of mascara, my heart leapt into my throat as a crash filled the apartment, followed by yells.

“What the—”

Kristal leapt out of the shower and, flinging on a bathrobe, raced out of the room after me.

Jake and Ben lay flat on the floor with gags in their mouths, struggling against two tall figures wearing long black leather cloaks. Two more men stood standing near the TV, facing Kristal and I. All four men wore balaclavas that covered everything but their eyes.

But those eyes… they were several shades more vivid than they should have been. And the skin surrounding them was far too pallid to be that of a human.

I was too stunned to even scream, though Kristal managed to. As soon as she opened her mouth, the two men launched forward. One grabbed Kristal, stuffed a gag in her mouth, and wrestled her to the ground, while another blue-eyed man chased after me. I sprinted into the kitchen and grabbed a knife from the drawer as the vampire entered.

The vampire extended his claws.

“You want to play with knives?” he said. “I can play that game.”

As he stepped closer, I waved the knife in front of me and backed up against the kitchen counter. Reaching out, I gripped the kettle and, thanking God that there was water left over in it, chucked it over him.

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