While I was deeply disappointed that he hadn’t waited to say goodbye to us, I felt nothing but happiness for them. I saw joy in Anna’s eyes too, and an obvious relief. Ian had finally found someone to replace her, and he no longer had to suffer each time he saw her with Kyle.

“Well, I’ll let you go, Sofia,” Anna said. “I’m sure you’ve got lots of work to do settling into your home again. I’ll see you around.”

She kissed me once more and headed off with Kyle and Ariana.

Derek scooped up Ben and placed him on his shoulders. Ben chuckled with delight on being so high up. I took Rose’s hand and kissed her on the nose, which made her giggle.

As we neared the Residences, two more familiar faces came into view. Ashley and Landis—Xavier’s younger brother—were walking toward us, holding hands.

It had taken Ashley two years to finally let Landis in after she had lost Sam in the most brutal way imaginable. But finally, the day had come when she was happy again.

I ran up to Ashley, pulling her into my arms. I kissed her cold pale cheek and whispered, “I missed you so much.”

Tears welled in my eyes as she smiled back at me. I’d grown so used to her smiling only to stop people pitying her. But now she was smiling from her heart. She’d truly found happiness with Landis.

I stayed with Ashley for several more minutes before finally turning away and arriving at the foot of one of the tallest redwood trees on the island, upon which our magnificent penthouse was built. We stepped into the glass elevator and made our way to the top.

Rose and Ben wandered about on the verandah, marveling at the star-strewn sky. We’d made sure to build a high fence around the verandah so that there was no chance of any accidents. Our twins had dangerously adventurous minds and, now that they were becoming independent, it was hard to keep an eye on them sometimes.

Once we’d settled down and finished bringing our luggage up, we left the twins in their playroom with Aiden watching over them and left the house with Vivienne and Xavier.

We headed back through the woods until we reached the clearing outside the witches’ temple. Corrine’s Sanctuary. We knocked on the wooden double doors and Corrine opened them a few moments later.

“Well, hello,” she said, grinning. “Come in.”

We followed her along narrow corridors until we reached a circular study lined with shelves of bottled potions.

Ibrahim looked up from his seat at a small table in the corner of the room.

“Welcome back!” He stood up and gave us both a hug.

We took seats around the table, while Corrine sat herself down on Ibrahim’s lap.

“So,” Corrine began, raising an eyebrow and eyeing us closely. “You both really want to turn back again.”

Derek and I exchanged glances before nodding.

“But we need to know what the situation with Derek is,” I said. “Do you think he can be turned back—with his fire powers and all?”

Ibrahim stroked his chin and continued staring at us, deep in thought.

“Well,” he said, “we still don’t know exactly what kind of spell Cora cast on you to give you those powers. But I am quite certain that it won’t interfere with you turning back. You were a vampire before. I don’t see why you can’t be one again.”

I looked at Derek, gripping his hand.

“Well, let’s do this,” he said.

After we returned to our penthouse, we finished unpacking and then spent the rest of the evening with Ben and Rose. This would be the last night we’d spend with them as humans. Derek and I had decided that Vivienne would turn me the next day. Assuming I felt steady enough after the transformation, the plan was for me to turn Derek the same day.

The twins slept cuddled up with us that night in our warm bed. We slept in late the next morning and had breakfast in bed. I cooked up their favorite: hash browns with cheese and tomato sauce.

Aiden arrived at about eleven o’clock in the morning and kept the twins occupied in their playroom while we left. He’d promised to look after them until we were in a fit state to see them again.

Derek and I held hands as we neared the clearing by the Port. Vivienne had suggested that we do the turning here since there was lots of open space and nothing easily destructible for almost a mile radius around us.

As we neared, my unease grew. Knots formed in my stomach. A small crowd had gathered around the clearing, all familiar faces. I gulped as I looked at Vivienne waiting in the center of the clearing, where a wide stone slab had been placed. She smiled at me as I approached her and gave my hand a reassuring squeeze.

“I’ll be gentle with you,” she said.

As gentle as a vampire can be while ripping into a human’s throat.

I remembered the time I’d witnessed Ashley’s turning in the Sanctuary. Kyle had done it. Ashley had writhed around in agony for what felt like hours. There’d been nothing anyone could do to help ease the pain. She had described it afterwards as being a torture so unbearable that you began willing yourself to die.

But I wondered if it was anything near the agony of turning from vampire to human. I shivered, recalling the sensation of the sun roasting me alive. I had done that and survived.

This can’t be worse than that. Nothing can be worse than that.

The crowd was deathly silent as I positioned myself flat on the stone. Derek bent over me and placed a tender kiss on my lips.

“I’m right here with you,” he said. “I’ll be by your side the whole time.”

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