He cried out as the boiling water splashed against his face. It gave me a few seconds to leap over the counter and race back out of the kitchen. I ran for the front door, hoping to make it into the corridor where I could scream for help, but I didn’t make it that far. The vampire who had wrestled Kristal to the ground grabbed hold of me and tripped me up.

The blue-eyed vampire reentered the living room, his chest heaving with rage. He gripped my neck and pushed me down to my knees.

“Kristoff,” he said, breathing heavily. “Take the Novak boy. I’ll take the girl. We may as well bring those two along with us too.” He gestured toward Jake and Kristal. “Christian and Sebastian—you bring them. Make sure that none of them scream.”

I yelled, but he gagged me. He pushed me flat against the ground, face down, and the next thing I knew, there was a loud thud against my skull and all faded to black.

Chapter 10: Sofia

Derek and I had stayed up with Eli all night, helping him pore over maps in his study. We had made mark upon mark on the maps and taken copious notes, but we’d completely failed to make any sense of the targets.

“I’m just not seeing anything,” Eli muttered, rubbing his temples.

“Maybe that’s because there is no pattern.” I sighed. “We’re trying too hard to see something that’s not there because it’s the only thing we have to cling to right now.”

I got up from my chair and paced around the room.

“Mexico… The West Coast,” I muttered slowly. “Hm…”

Derek looked up at me.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said.

“And it’s crazy, right? Nobody here could be doing this.”

Derek shook his head.

“I just can’t believe any vampire on this island could betray our trust like this on such a massive scale,” he said. “I mean, Sofia, we’re talking decades! How could any of them pull something like this off for so long? Even leaving aside the inconceivable betrayal, just think about the logistics of it all. Somebody around here would notice.”

“It’s just that these are all the exact locations The Shade targeted for stealing humans,” I said.

Derek rubbed his face in his hands and sighed heavily.

I continued. “And we know that all the vampires who weren’t living here when the gates were shut were taken back to Cruor—all those who remained came here.”

Eli twirled his pen between his fingers.

“Of course,” he said, “it’s not like we had any way of verifying that. In theory, there could be other vampires out there that we don’t know about.”

I turned on Eli and frowned at him.

“But how would they survive? All those other covens were wrecked by the Elders and they deliberately sucked all the vampires they could out of there. And where would they be keeping all these humans? How would they transport themselves there and back?”

Eli shrugged.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I’m just saying that we don’t have evidence that there aren’t other vampires existing on Earth outside of The Shade.”

“I don’t know,” I muttered, stretching my palms out on the table. “Everything points back right here to The Shade. I mean, it’s a large island. And we know how hard it is to live exclusively on animal blood. Hell, I find myself craving my own children’s blood sometimes.”

I locked eyes with Derek. We both shared the same expression. Neither of us wanted to believe that anyone could be betraying our trust and breaking a law of The Shade that we’d instituted two decades ago.

But most of all, neither of us wanted to be the ones to make an accusation like this of our own people.

“Maybe we should investigate,” Eli said finally, breaking the silence. “Then we can at least rule it out as an option.”

Derek nodded reluctantly.

“All right,” he said, clearing his throat. “I guess we’ll start once we’ve had some rest.”

“You are aware that our law calls for expulsion if someone here was found guilty?” Eli said, eyeing me.

I nodded, gulping.

Derek and I left Eli and returned to our penthouse. We undressed and got into bed. I snuggled against Derek beneath the sheets.

“Who do you think it could be?” I asked quietly, resting my head against his chest. “I mean, if it was somebody here, who do you think would be behind it?”

Derek shrugged, running his hands along my back.

“I can’t answer that. I just know that no matter who is behind this, we can’t allow ourselves to go back to our old ways.”

Chapter 11: Rose

I woke up to a searing pain in the back of my head. I reached for it and felt a round bump. I was lying on a hard metal floor. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. Ben lay a few feet away from me. I scanned the room for Kristal and Jake, but they were nowhere to be seen.

I was sitting in a dark, damp room. And it felt like we were in some kind of vehicle or vessel, because we were moving forward. The lower deck of a boat, or perhaps the storage chamber of a submarine.

Memories flooding back, I scrambled over to Ben and shook him. He didn’t budge at first.

Oh, God.

I turned him over onto his back and placed my ear against his chest. I exhaled sharply when I heard his heartbeat.

“Ben!” I whispered, shaking his shoulders. “Ben, wake up!”

I shook him more violently. When he still didn’t open his eyes, I gave him a slap across his face.


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