I can do this. I just need to take it slowly…

I placed the second foot on the ground and found enough confidence to let go of the door completely.

Swiveling around, I turned myself to face Caleb, who was watching me, his expression blank. Glancing down the side of the mountain, I was so taken by the sheer beauty of the frozen landscape, I lost concentration and slipped. Just as I was about to make contact with the ice, Caleb’s arms wrapped around me, breaking my fall.

His face inches from my own, I could feel his cool breath against my cheek as he pulled me upright.

Okay, these slippers weren’t designed for the Antarctic.

“So that witch,” I said, clearing my throat and looping an arm firmly though his, “Annora. She makes this island freezing like this just to make it more difficult for the humans to escape?”

“That’s the main reason.”

“And you have to put up with this weather all year round. What an asshole.”

Caleb didn’t respond to my outburst, though I could have sworn I saw the shadow of a smile on his lips.

I gripped onto him as we began to make our way down the narrow steps.

“So, what’s your name?” I asked.

“You know my name.”

“Your full name.”

“Caleb… Achilles.”

“Achilles? As in the tragic Greek hero Achilles?”

I was about to say “as in the Brad Pitt Achilles”. But I wasn’t sure if he would have seen that movie. I wasn’t sure if he even watched movies.

“It’s also a Germanic surname.”

“Oh. I see.”

I started wondering about what his boundaries were in terms of questions he would answer. I suppose there’s only one way to find out.

“Do you have family?”

He shook his head, his eyes fixed on the icy steps.

“How old are you?”

“Nineteen.”

“And how long ago were you turned?”

“A while ago.”

Hm.

“So when you’re not out kidnapping girls, you’re moping around this gloomy old castle?”

“You could put it like that.”

No wonder you’re depressed.

By now I was beginning to get tired of walking down the steps in my slippers. “Would you carry me the rest of the way down?”

He grunted and scooped me up in his arms. Then he began dashing down the mountain. My eyes watered from his speed coupled with the fierce wind blowing against us. I half expected him to slip and for both of us to go tumbling down the mountainside, but he didn’t falter once. Every step was perfect.

He placed me down again once we reached the bottom of the mountain. Feeling more confident on this flat surface, I didn’t reach for his arm again as we walked toward the entrance of the woods.

“So,” I said. “I take it that you don’t have a girlfriend?”

No duh, Captain Obvious. Unless she doesn’t mind taking a bedtime beating alongside him every night when the witch comes to visit.

“You’d be correct in assuming that.”

Change the subject.

“So how did you know about me?”

He glanced down at me, an eyebrow raised.

“You seemed to know who I was the moment I mentioned my name back on the beach.”

He ran a hand through his hair and clenched his jaw. “Most vampires have heard of you,” he muttered. “You’re princess of The Shade. That place is a legend.”

“Have you ever visited The Shade?”

He shook his head.

“It’s beautiful. Much nicer than this bleak place. Why don’t you come live with us there instead? We could leave now. I’d make sure that my parents welcomed you and—”

Exhaling sharply, he broke away from me and ran to a nearby tree. Ripping off a thick branch, he snapped it in two over his knee. Then he rested his arm against the tree, his back still turned to me, his whole body heaving.

“Caleb?” I whispered.

He turned back round to face me, composing himself again and standing up straight, his face once again unreadable.

“We should return.”

Chapter 26: Rose

Annora.

I need to understand what’s going on between her and Caleb. I don’t know how or why, but I’m certain that she’s what’s preventing Caleb from helping me escape this island.

I lay awake in bed late that night once again, expecting to hear the commotion start upstairs as soon as midnight struck. But there was nothing. I waited until one o’clock, and when I still heard nothing, I climbed out of bed, pulled on my coat and slippers, and crept out of the door.

What does this mean? She’s visited him every single evening ever since I got here. Why not tonight?

I crept up to Caleb’s floor and stood outside his apartment. Placing my ear to the door, I tried to catch any indication that the witch could be in there.

But the whole castle was deathly silent.

Instead of returning to my room, I took the staircase leading up to the witch’s apartment. As I reached the red-carpeted landing, I was taken aback to see that her front door was open. Looking around me, my breathing quickening, I peeked inside. The entrance hall appeared empty, so I stepped in. I walked around the room, running a hand along the dusty wooden furniture as I looked around.

Finding nothing of interest, I moved into the adjoining room. Again empty.

This appeared to be a dining room. Shelves lined the walls, mostly containing books with a strange language scrawled down their spines.

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