A Gate of Night / Page 2

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I’d spent the greater part of five hundred years living in The Shade. Our coven had been founded and ruled by my family—the Novaks. After the deaths of my father, Gregor, and my older brother, Lucas, the weight of ruling The Shade had fallen entirely on Derek’s shoulders.


I was the Seer of The Shade and I’d always known that Derek was destined to rule. He was prophesied to bring our kind to true sanctuary. With the help of Sofia, he’d found a cure, a way to turn vampires back into humans.


This cure, we believed, was our true sanctuary. Derek longed for it. He’d never wanted to be a vampire, so he’d turned his back on immortality and become human again the first chance he got—right after he’d married Sofia. They deserved their happy ending, but happily ever after wasn’t easily achieved. Not in real life.


When Derek had left for his honeymoon, some saw the move as selfish. I saw it as a well-deserved break, but of course their reprieve came at a price for those of us who were left behind. Now, while Derek and Sofia enjoyed their honeymoon, the island was overrun by hunters.


None of us trusted the hunters. Aiden’s experience alone was a testament that we could not put our faith in them. Because of his love for Sofia, he’d sided with his daughter and for that, even after he’d given his whole life to the cause of the hunters, they’d turned their back on him.


After discussing other matters, the council left the penthouse and, feeling suffocated by the loneliness of my home, I decided to take a breath of fresh air. I strolled past the giant redwood trees which supported the Residences.


The Residences used to be one of the most beautiful areas of The Shade, but after the Elder had attacked the island, many of the homes had been destroyed, along with half of the Crimson Fortress and the entirety of the Vale.


I looked up at the homes at the Residences still intact, now being shared by several vampire clans. At the thought of everything that we’d been able to establish at The Shade—everything that was now threatened—a wave of melancholy came over me. Everything I loved about The Shade was about to disappear. I swallowed back the tears.


“Well, if it isn’t Vivienne Novak,” a voice from behind me cooed.


I didn’t need to turn around to recognize the voice. Memories returned to me. Of all the hunters who’d come to my cell to torment me, he was the worst. Chills ran along my spine, settling at the nape of my neck, as he began to circle me.


“What do you want?” I snapped.


He stopped circling and stood in front of me—too close—crossing his arms over his chest. “I heard you were in charge of this island while your brother is out frolicking around the world with his new wife. Kind of selfish of him, don’t you think?”


“My brother is a lot of things. Selfish isn’t one of them.” Avoiding eye contact, I gazed at the tattoo of a small blue star on his temple.


He chuckled. “Well, I don’t care. It just means that we get to deal with you instead of your brother.”


I swallowed hard, knowing that even though I remained a vampire and Derek was human, I was still nowhere near as intimidating as Derek. “What do you want?”


“We appreciate the quarters you provided us at the Crimson Fortress, but I have to say that the Residences seem to be far more comfortable.”


“If you want comfortable, you can leave anytime.”


It was Aiden who’d suggested that the hunters be assigned to the military bunks at the Crimson Fortress—the large hundred-foot wall surrounding the entire island. A good chunk of the wall and its towers had been torn apart when other vampire covens had attacked The Shade under the command of the Elder. Still, the hunters’ quarters were quite comfortable, especially with a full staff to cater to their needs. As far as I was concerned, they were being treated like royalty, certainly better than the other humans.


He chuckled. “You always were a feisty one, Vivienne. I have to admit it’s interesting to see you in your element.” He gestured with his arms as he looked around. “I never thought The Shade would be like this. I mean, apart from the fact that the sun never rises here, the place is rather breathtaking.”


I didn’t know how to react to him. Has he forgotten what he did to me? “How long are you going to be here?”


“For as long as they tell us to be.” He shrugged. “Look, Vivienne, I know we started off on the wrong foot, but you have to understand that back at headquarters, I was just doing what I was supposed to do.”


“You were doing what you were supposed to do?” My voice was deceptively composed, but I was fighting the urge to strangle him. “You did what you did to me out of hatred. You enjoyed it.”


His jaw tightened and an infuriating smirk formed on his face.


I wanted to hurt him. I could sink my teeth into his neck, claw through his flesh or even rip his heart out, but I wouldn’t. There was more in the balance than just my revenge.


“Now”—I sidestepped him—“as much as I’m enjoying this talk, I have better things to do.”


He grabbed my arm. “Wait a minute. You can’t just walk away from me.”


I gritted my teeth. “In case you haven’t realized, you are at The Shade. I am princess of this place. Touch me again and you will regret it.”


“Okay then, princess, we want better quarters. Do something about it.”


The nerve of this man. My fists clenched and it was all I could do not to inflict some serious pain upon him.


“You are truly a magnificent sight to behold, Vivienne Novak.” He leaned toward my ear, so close that I could feel every breath. “It grates at you, doesn’t it? Everything you fought for all these years is crumbling before your very eyes. I must say that I am honored that I’m here to see it happen.”


I was losing control. I was about to attack him, but to my relief, a familiar voice came to my rescue.


“Vivienne? Is everything all right?” I’d known Xavier for as long as I could remember. He was one of the constants of my life and, among the Elite, he was also one of the most loyal to our family.


The hunter took a step backward, letting go of my hand. Xavier stood beside me. His hand protectively settled on the small of my back.


“Is this guy bothering you, Vivienne?”


“The princess and I were just talking about our living arrangements.”


Xavier cocked his head to the side. “Why? What’s wrong with your living arrangements exactly?”


“I’m sorry.” The hunter returned Xavier’s glare. “Who are you?”


Xavier was attempting to reel in his temper. “I could ask the same thing about you, boy. You have no business talking to our princess. The next time you wish to address her, you go through me.”


The hunter began laughing. “And what do you think you’re going to do if I talk to her, vampire? Do you honestly believe that Princess Vampire here is still in control of this island?”


I went from wanting to attack him to trying to prevent Xavier from breaking his neck.


“Let me maim him,” Xavier whispered beneath his breath.


“He’s not worth it.” I shook my head. “Let’s just walk away.”


“That’s right. Walk away, Vivienne. I hope you realize that you are just as weak and vulnerable here as you were at headquarters.” He then curtsied. “I’ll leave you two alone… for now.” He walked past us and was already several feet away when he screamed. “By the way, princess, I’m not sure I ever told you my name. It’s Craig. Don’t you ever forget!”


Xavier eyed me after Craig was gone. “You know that guy?”


I couldn’t break down. I shook my head as I clung to his arm for support, hoping that my knees wouldn’t buckle beneath me. “I don’t want to talk about it.”


I wish Derek and Sofia were here, because I can’t handle this. I knew that chaos was up ahead. My dreams and visions told me as much. I also knew that I was completely incapable of handling it on my own.


I shut my eyes for a moment. Derek, wherever you are, I hope that you’re having the time of your life, but I also hope that you remember how desperately we need you back here.


Chapter 3: Sofia


The moment Derek and I arrived at California, we took a cab to the neighborhood I’d lived in for nine years, since Aiden had left me under the care of Lyle and Amelia Hudson. As we passed the local elementary school and the familiar suburban homes—all of them attached to specific memories from my childhood—I was beginning to choke up with tears. I reached for Derek, who was sitting in the passenger’s seat beside me, and he put his arm around me.


“So this is where you grew up,” he eventually said, gazing out of the window.


I tried to wipe away the tears that were brimming in my eyes and threatening to fall down my cheeks, but not soon enough.


Derek placed his hand over mine, squeezing hard. “It’s going to be all right, Sofia.”


“I know.” I smiled. “It’s just that this place brings back so many memories.”


It didn’t take long before we pulled over in front of the Hudsons’ house—one that contained so many of the memories I held dear, memories of my best friend, Ben, whom I’d been in love with for most of my teenage years. Ben was the only one who’d ever posed a threat to my love for Derek. He was that important to me. And now he’s gone.


As Derek paid the driver, I swallowed hard when my eyes settled on an estate agency sign in front of the yard that said, “For Sale.”


I sat frozen for a couple of minutes before the sign registered. “They’re no longer here.” The Hudsons might not have been the kind of family I’d always dreamed of having, but they’d been good to me. “I want to see the house one last time, if that’s okay with you.”


“Of course.” Derek looked at me sympathetically.


We got out of the car and walked toward the house. I was expecting it to be locked, but when I twisted the knob, the door opened. A middle-aged woman with brown hair, glasses and a beige suit skipped down the stairs toward us.


I swallowed hard at the familiar scent and homey atmosphere that came with standing in the Hudsons’ hallway before focusing my attention on the woman.


“You must be the Millers! Oh my goodness, you are such a lovely couple!” she exclaimed before shaking our hands. “I didn’t think you’d be so young! Are you ready to tour the house?”


I was momentarily speechless. The woman looked from me to Derek, awaiting our response.


“Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m Monica Andrews. I’m the real estate agent. We talked over the phone. We had an appointment for you to check out the house? You’re actually an hour late.”


Derek and I exchanged glances. It seemed the Millers had ditched her.


“So?” Monica asked. “Shall we start?”


Derek shrugged a shoulder, his blue eyes still on me. “Sure. Why not?”


So, for the next half-hour, Monica gave us a tour around a house that I knew far better than she did. I was still doing pretty well around the living room and dining room, but when our tour reached the second floor I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to keep myself together.


The moment I stepped inside my old bedroom—now empty—vivid memories of times spent with Ben came flooding back. Every cherished memory I had with him: charming and funny, endearing and sometimes lonely. I could practically imagine their faces inside—his and his younger sister, Abby’s. We’d had so much fun in that room, but all the feelings of loss that I’d struggled with since Ben’s death returned to me at full blast.


“He used to call me Rose Red,” I whispered to Derek, memories of Ben’s kisses making my lips tingle. I was clinging to Derek’s arm so tightly, my knuckles were growing white.


Derek nodded and whispered back, “I know. Sofia, if this is too hard for you, we don’t have to go through this…”


Monica was talking about how marvelous the rooms were. She was showing us the cabinets and the wide windows and all I could think of was that I’d spent hours with Ben in that room.


Derek kept one hand on the small of my back. “Still up for this, Sofia?”


Monica spun around and froze when she saw me close to tears. “Oh. What’s the matter? Is something wrong?”


Derek forced a smile. “The room just reminded her of someone important to her. That’s all.”


Monica gave me a sympathetic glance but she obviously had no idea how to handle the situation.


“We’re just going to get a breath of fresh air,” Derek said, before gently tugging me to follow him before I could break down in tears.


We were in the front yard when the waterworks began. I buried my face into Derek’s chest, my arms wrapping around his waist. Guilt was taking hold of me. After the funeral, I’d kept telling myself to give the Hudsons a call, but there had been just too much going on. I owed Ben and his family more than I could ever give them.


Derek seemed to be reading my thoughts. “Sofia, we both know everything that happened after Ben’s funeral. I’m sure they will understand that you weren’t able to communicate with them. I’m sure Ben would’ve understood.”


“I know, I know…” I tried to get a hold of myself as I pulled away from Derek.


He began gently wiping my tears away. “What do you want to do now?” He cupped my face with his hands. “We are still on our honeymoon.”


I gave it some thought. Monica had just stepped out of the house, locking the front door behind her. She had probably realized that there was no way we were going to buy the house. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and looked at Derek. “I’m not sure if I’m being insensitive here, but would you maybe want to check out another house?”


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