“Now you’re a prisoner of my castle”—she grinned—“I’d like you to play for me, Mr. Caleb Achilles.”
I smiled down at her and bowed my head. “Very well, your highness.”
I sat down beside her and stretched out my fingers over the keys. Closing my eyes, I began to play. And as soon as I did, I felt glad that she’d made this request.
Losing myself to the music helped to ease the pain that had been eating away at me ever since the moment had arrived for Rose’s escape.
When she rested her head against my shoulder, I still didn’t open my eyes. I wanted to remain lost in that moment, with her warm body against me. I remained still, committing these few seconds into my memory. A memory I hoped I’d be able to draw on for the rest of time.
Her soft hand folded over my forearm.
“I wish you didn’t have to go,” she whispered, pain traced in her voice. Pain I recognized as constricting my own chest.
I opened my eyes to see her lovely face, the shadow of tears brimming in her emerald-green eyes.
I didn’t know what to answer her.
My throat felt dry.
Without considering my actions, I reached out and brushed her warm, flushed cheek with my fingers.
Then a bang from the living room broke through the silence.
Quickly composing myself, I stood up in time for Mr and Mrs Novak to enter the room.
Chapter 39: Rose
My parents drew me into a tight embrace, kissing every part of my cheeks and forehead they could reach.
“What happened?” my mom asked, pointing to the bandage on my cheek.
“Oh, it’s really nothing. Just a scratch.”
Once we had finished hugging, I took a step back and reached for Caleb’s hand. “This is Caleb,” I said. “I’m here because of him.”
My dad looked Caleb over from head to foot, as though he was sizing him up. I wasn’t sure if he approved of Caleb at first, given the serious expression on his face, but then he smiled, reached out a hand and shook his warmly.
“Caleb,” he said. “Thank you.”
My mom drew him in for a hug. “If there’s ever anything we can do to repay you,” she said, gripping his shoulders and looking him in the eye, “please don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Nothing will be required,” Caleb said, taking a step back.
Vivienne and Xavier came racing into the room, followed by a group of other vampires. My aunt and uncle took it in turns to hug me. Then I faced the others. Everyone in the room—including my parents—looked utterly disheveled, their clothes bloody and torn, scars of recently healed wounds covering their body.
As I looked around the room at them, a crushing sense of guilt welled in the pit of my stomach.
Ben and I caused them all so much trouble.
“You,” Zinnia said, pointing an accusing finger at me, “have caused me more aggro in the last twenty-four hours than Griffin has managed in the past year.” Then she nuzzled me on the head. “I’m glad you’re safe, kid.”
Someone tugged on my hair. I turned around to see Ashley glaring at me.
“So, how was Scotland?”
I couldn’t help but laugh at the sarcastic expression on her grimy face.
“Yeah, princess. How was Scotland?” Claudia had entered the room, her clothes looking particularly battle-worn, her thick blonde hair a matted mess. “Next time the two of you decide to go gallivanting about, a little warning would be appreciated.”
“I’m so sorry, guys,” I muttered.
“I should hope so,” Eli said, crossing his arms over his chest and looking down at me sternly. “You both are exceedingly lucky to be alive. We honestly thought that we’d lost you.”
My parents broke through the crowd and approached me. My father put his hand on my shoulder. His fierce eyes always melted me.
“You’re going to get an earful from us too later, don’t you worry,” he said. “But for now, we’re going to check on your brother.”
He bent down and placed a kiss on my head. Then they left and the others trickled out too after them, leaving Caleb and I standing alone in the music room once again. He had moved over to a corner as soon as the crowd of vampires had entered.
One look at his ashen face, and I knew what he was about to say.
Chapter 40: Rose
“I need to leave now.”
I realized that inviting him onto the island had been nothing more than an excuse to delay this moment.
Gulping back the lump in my throat, I nodded. I looped my arm through his and we walked out of the music room, through the corridors and out of the penthouse. Neither of us spoke a word as we took the elevator down to the ground and made our way back along the forest path toward the Port.
Throughout The Shade’s history, the Port always had been a place of goodbyes. But I had never hated the place as much as I did now.
I walked with him until he stopped at the edge of the jetty.
His breathing mirrored my own as he looked down into my eyes one last time. Heavy. Constricted.
“I’d rather not drag this out any longer,” he said, his voice husky as he detached my arm from his.
I nodded, biting my lip to prevent it from trembling.
“Goodbye,” he said.
He turned and motioned to climb back through the hatch.
“Caleb,” I stammered just before he lifted himself off the ground.
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