We saw no choice but to return to The Shade. Hanging around in Hawaii wasn’t going to solve anything. We called an urgent meeting in The Great Dome with our closest friends and family. But none of us could figure out what our next step should be. They’d just vanished without a trace.

Now, I was beginning to lose track of how much time had passed since their disappearance. Days merged into a blur. We continued having meetings, but it felt like we were going round in circles.

We’d received no calls from their phone, and whenever we tried calling it, we reached voice mail.

“So we’re sure it’s vampires behind this, Derek?” Vivienne reached out and clasped my arm.

I looked up into her worried eyes.

“That’s the only conclusion we can come to. It’s hard to make out their features from the CCTV, but you can see the pale skin beneath their glasses—they definitely look like they could be vampires.”

“But why?” Anna sat forward in her seat. “Why would they want the twins?”

“I don’t know.”

“If they are vampires,” Xavier said, “it’s possible they targeted the twins on purpose. They may want something from The Shade.”

“But what? And how can we even give it to them?”

“Maybe—”

Eli’s speculation was interrupted by the sound of a phone ringing.

Sofia reached into her pocket and pulled out our phone.

We all stared at it, dumbstruck.

“Put it on speaker!”

Sofia flipped it open and pressed the speaker button, her hand trembling.

“Rose? Ben?”

No response.

“Hello?” I shouted into the phone.

“My name is Stellan,” a deep male voice replied. “And I suggest you listen carefully to what I’m about to say.”

My heart leapt into my throat. Sofia gasped and almost dropped the phone. I took the phone from her and laid it down on the table, staring down at it, trying to steady my racing heart.

“We have your twins,” Stellan continued. “And they are still alive. How long this will be the case depends entirely on your cooperation.”

I wanted to grab the phone from Sofia and shout down the line at this son of a bitch. It took all that I had to stop myself from doing it. Showing emotions would only reinforce their sense of control over us.

“Continue,” I grunted.

“We’re holding your son and daughter captive. We’ve given your twins a rough time already, so I suggest that you don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be.”

“What are you?” Sofia said, her voice weak.

“That’s not important. What’s important is that you pay attention.”

We waited with bated breath for him to continue.

“We know that you hold an immune on your island. In exchange for the return of your children, you will hand over the immune to us.”

All eyes shot toward Anna. Blood drained from her face as she sat resting her hands over her pregnant stomach.

I picked up the phone, my resolve disappearing by the second.

“Why do you want an immune?”

“Is that Derek Novak speaking?” The man chuckled. “You know the value of immunes. And since most of them are locked away in the depths of Cruor now, they are almost impossible to find.”

“We no longer have the immune,” Sofia said. “She passed away a few months ago during labor. But our witches took samples of her blood. We have large stores. We could hand them over to you instead.”

Stellan laughed.

“Only the fresh, hot blood of an immune is of use to us. So if your immune has indeed died, then you’ve nothing to offer us in exchange for the twins. You’d better think long and hard if that immune really is dead.”

We all paused, staring at each other. After a few moments, Stellan said, “I’ll give you time to think things over and not make any rash decisions, eh? Call me back once you have an answer. You have my number. I’ll be waiting.”

The phone buzzed as the line cut off.

“They’re not getting Anna,” almost everyone in the room said at once as soon as the vampire hung up.

I held my hands up for silence. I needed to think fast. Sofia’s panicked eyes settled on me.

I sat down in my seat and closed my eyes, resting my head in my hand.

There was no way we would ever hand over Anna. That much was for certain. But we had to find a way to get our twins home unscathed.

I sat for several more minutes in silence as every pair of eyes in the hall bored into me, waiting for my solution.

Finally I looked up. “Hand me the phone.”

I dialed our twins’ number and waited. Stellan answered after two rings.

“Yes?”

“We do have the immune,” I said. “We’ll offer her to you in exchange for the twins.”

“Hm,” he said. “Good. You are to meet us tomorrow night. I suggest you write down the location.”

I noted down the details.

“Make sure that immune is with you, Novak. And don’t bring any witches. If you breach this agreement, I’ll snap the spines of both of your children with my bare hands.”

He hung up.

Everyone in the room was looking at me like I’d gone mad.

“What did you just say?” Sofia exclaimed.

“We won’t bring Anna with us,” I said loudly, quietening everyone’s protests. “She will remain here.”

***

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