She stared at me, as though not sure what to make of me.

“That’s just the standard fare we feed all humans here. Afraid we don’t have much else.”

“Can you please take me to the kitchens? I’m sure there must be something better…”

“Listen, I’m no cook. I’m just bringing you this up because Caleb specifically asked me to—I don’t know why he requested me.”

“Okay, well, just tell me which direction the kitchens are in and I’ll find it myself.”

She frowned at me. “Caleb didn’t tell me that you could be wandering about by yourself.”

“Well, your witch said I’m a guest here. Not a prisoner.”

When she continued to look hesitant, I said, “Look, I promise you that I’ll be back within half an hour. I’ve been locked up in this little room for ages. I need to stretch my legs.”

“All right,” she said, sighing. “But I’ll come with you. I’m sure Caleb wouldn’t object if I accompanied you.”

She put the tray down on the ground inside my apartment, then caught hold of my hand and led me away down the dark corridor.

As we descended down to the lower levels of the castle, I didn’t notice many other vampires roaming about. Perhaps because it was still early. “So do you steal away humans regularly then?” I asked, trying to sound casual, but failing miserably.

She stopped in her tracks and eyed me, as if wondering whether or not she should answer.

“Hm,” she said. “We go once every few months. It’s getting harder and harder.”

“What do you mean?”

She frowned at me again.

“Well, obviously after years of disappearances, we can only go to open areas where there aren’t CCTV cameras, or we’ll get caught on film. It will be much more difficult if our faces are publicized everywhere.”

Years of disappearances.

Why am I so ignorant of all this? Why didn’t our parents tell us?

“And all those humans you catch, you just use them for blood?”

“That’s not your business.”

“Okay,” I said quickly. “Well, can you tell me where all of you vampires came from? Because I’ve lived in The Shade all my life and I never knew there were any other covens left.”

“One thing you’d best learn sooner rather than later is that the less you know, the better.”

I refrained from asking more questions as we arrived in the kitchens—a chamber underground. There were shelves filled with bottles containing a red liquid that made me shudder. There were also bottles of liquor.

As it turned out, Frieda was right about not having much more than oatmeal. There were several sacks of oats in the corner of the room, and the only other thing I spotted was a bowl of apples and bananas. I grabbed two apples and a banana. If I had to eat oatmeal, at least these would make it a little more bearable.

We walked back up the staircases until we arrived again outside my room. She opened the door for me to step inside. Just as she was about to close the door, I held out my hand to stop her.

“What goes on up there at night?” I asked, pointing toward the ceiling.

Frieda glared at me.

“What goes on up there is between him and the witch, understood?”

With that, she stormed off.

Chapter 19: Rose

She forgot to lock the door.

I must have agitated her so much that she’d just walked off with the key still in her pocket. Dropping the fruit, I eased the door open and looked either way along the dark corridor. Seeing nobody there, I stepped out, careful to shut the door again behind me.

Barefoot, I made my way back toward the staircase I’d just come up with with Frieda. I crouched down by the banister and looked down to see if anybody was on the stairs below. Satisfied that there was nobody, I began my descent to the ground floor. My breath rasping, my heart hammering against my chest, I managed to make it to the bottom floor without anybody noticing. It appeared to be empty. I ran straight to the oak doors and tried to turn the heavy metal door handle. It wouldn’t budge, no matter how much I twisted it.

Damn it.

Windows.

I left the front door and moved to my right, into the first room that was open. It appeared to be some sort of dining hall, with high towering ceilings, stained-glass windows and a long oak table in the center.

I threw myself beneath the table and crawled beneath it until I reached one of the windows. I grasped the handle and it pushed open easily. But again, I found myself staring down at a steep drop, hardly any less steep than outside my balcony. There was nothing to hold onto, no way to climb down.

There’s no way I’ll survive that. Even if I did by some miracle survive the drop, I’d freeze in the snow before I could even reach the woods.

The only escape seemed to be out the front door.

I made my way to the staircase and began climbing back up. I passed a couple of male vampires on my way up, but thankfully they didn’t pay much notice to me. They must have assumed that I had permission to walk around.

Instead of returning to my room, I climbed up one more flight of stairs until I reached Caleb’s floor. I inched toward his door and placed my ear against it. I couldn’t hear anything.

I gripped the handle and tried to open it, but it was locked. I knocked.

I heard a low groan and footsteps walking toward the door. The door unlatched to reveal a half-naked, bleary-eyed Caleb. His dark hair was ruffled and he wore a sheet wrapped low round his waist. My breath hitched at his bare torso.

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