Authors: Bella Forrest
OF VAMPIRE SERIES
Series 1: Derek & Sofia’s story
Series 2: Rose & Caleb’s story
Series 3: Ben & River’s story
Series 4: A Clan of Novaks
A SHADE OF DRAGON TRILOGY
A SHADE OF KIEV TRILOGY
BEAUTIFUL MONSTER DUOLOGY
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© 2016 by Bella Forrest
Cover design inspired by Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations LLC
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
he mutants’ flames billowed down
. Although I began to descend the tree, my mind remained at the top, beneath the night sky, where Victoria had disappeared. It kept posing the same question…
I touched down on the ground, narrowly dodging falling branches and flames, and launched through the undergrowth. Through the rapidly descending smog, I could make out Brucella and Dane reaching the foothills up ahead.
Somebody must have sounded an alarm inside the mountain, because wolves were already piling out. Everything was a blur of chaos as everyone raced for their lives from the mutants.
“Bastien!” Brucella yelled to me. “Stay with us!” She had reached her husband and was surrounded by a number of other Northstones.
I turned away from her in disgust. Even if every single wolf here tonight was incinerated, I would hardly shed a tear. None of them felt like family. None of them felt like friends. My primary concern would be the fate of my home country with so many of the most influential tribes wiped out.
Brucella continued to bark for me, but her voice became drowned out by the wind whipping against my ears as I lurched toward a swathe of trees still untouched by fire. As always, I felt as if I could not move fast enough.
The sudden scrambling of the wolves had mutants flying in all directions, but I did not look back. I continued surging forward, away from Brucella. Away from Dane. Away from the Northstones.
Away from that girl
wherever she is now.
I felt crippled. Wounded. Confused. All I wanted was to get away. From everyone and everything, familiar and unfamiliar. I wanted the world around me to vanish.
As I shot deeper into the woods, the darkness enshrouding me felt soothing. My feet digging into the soil beneath me, I shut down my mind and focused on the only constants I had left in my life. Constants that nobody could take away. My strength. My speed.
Running as a lone wolf, I managed to shake off the mutants who had been hovering above me. The pounding of their wings and their fearsome cries dissolved in the distance.
I did not stop until I arrived at a beach. A beach that was once an old port of the Woodlands, abandoned several decades ago in favor of a new one further south. A number of old boats bobbed on the shoreline, fastened together by rope. I raced over to a small one and chewed off its binding, separating it from the rest. Then I waded into the water, pushing the boat deeper with my head, until it was deep enough to begin its own course over the waves. I leapt inside and stood on the old rickety deck, gazing back at the island. An orange glow touched the sky in the distance, even as anguished howling pierced the night.
As the waves carried me further and further away, I wondered whether this would be my life from now on. Running, running. Always running.
Running and alone.
hen my parents
returned me to our treehouse, I could no longer stifle my emotions. I hurried to the bathroom and shut the door. Gripping the edges of the sink, I breathed heavily. And then the tears fell—a drizzle at first, then a downpour. I did not want my parents to see me. I did not want them to ask me why I was so affected. The pain was still so fresh. I did not feel ready to talk about it.
But I could not have expected my mother to stay out as I broke down.
She knocked at the door before sliding it open and stepping inside. “Oh, honey,” she said, lowering and gathering me in her arms. “What’s wrong?”
Everything felt wrong in that moment. The world that we lived in, where criminals disguised as protectors reigned supreme. Being doubted and blamed for those bastards’ atrocities. And Bastien’s life. What would become of him?
What might have already become of him?
My mother sat next to me on the carpet and clutched my hands, giving them a squeeze. “Tell me, Vicky,” she coaxed.
Something about the expression in my mother’s violet-blue eyes made me melt. Her deep concern. Her love.
Suddenly I realized I did not want to hold everything back. I wanted to tell her the truth—partly in an attempt to make sense of my own thoughts and feelings, which were currently caught in a storm.
I brushed against my eyes. “Bastien,” I began. “He doubts me… He thinks what happened could be all my fault.”
If Brucella has managed to sink her claws into him deep enough,
I thought bitterly. “I didn’t get time to explain.”
And now I don’t know if I will ever get time.
I was praying that he would remember that my parents had stopped by his cousin’s, and that he would suspect that Detrius was the culprit in all of this. But I did not know how much Bastien really knew about hunter technology. He had been brought up in a world of swords, spears, bows and arrows. Would the idea of a tracker even enter his mind? The Blackhalls’ lair still looked medieval. There were no external signs of the hunters’ influence there yet.
My mother kissed the back of my hand. “He seems to be a resilient young man. If anybody has a chance of surviving, I’m sure it’s him.”
How could I explain to my mother? Physically Bastien was strong and powerful. Brutally so. But inside… he was soft. He was in a vulnerable place in his life. I had been a lifeline to him in the aftermath of his family’s slaughter. And the thought of him believing that I could have betrayed him, played on his emotions at a time when he was most weak, cut me to the core.
I had spent enough time around the Northstones to see that they were no family to him. Now he would be all alone, assuming he was even still alive. Even if he had somehow managed to flee from the hunters, what would become of his life? If he and the Northstones survived, would he eventually succumb to Brucella and marry his cousin, whom he did not love in the slightest? Would he just settle down into the path of least resistance? Would that spark, that fire I’d so admired in him, fizzle out?
The thought was deeply upsetting. Almost as much as the thought of never seeing him again.
I swallowed hard. “Mom, Bastien and I kissed. When we went to check on the portal. And I… I think I’ve fallen in love with him.”
My mother’s eyes widened, although there was no judgment there that I could detect, just surprise. I wondered what was really going through her head, though. I had known Bastien, what, less than a week? Perhaps she was thinking that this was just a whirlwind romance. That I’d gotten attached to him due to the traumatic situation I’d been in and the kindness he’d shown me. That I had fallen for him just because he had been there for me at a time when I’d had no one.
And the same was true for him. He had already admitted to me that I had helped him at the darkest time of his life. He had been going through his own trauma and to him, I had been that hand to hold, that shoulder to lean against, as he had been to me.
Perhaps this really was nothing more than a whirlwind romance spurred on by trauma and isolation.
Perhaps if we’d had a chance to spend more time together and get to know each other better, the feelings would’ve faded. We may have realized that we weren’t meant for each other.
But all these thoughts and hypotheses did little to quell the burning in my chest now. The longing to feel his arms around me. To taste his lips once again. To have even just a brief meeting, where I could tell him what had really happened.
“I have to find him again,” I told my mother, my voice deep with resolution. “I just have to get closure.”
She nodded slightly in understanding even as she chewed on her lower lip. Of course she would not want me going anywhere near that realm again as a human. Technically, I had no excuse to return because when the League traveled back—and they would most certainly go back—they would not bring any vehicle with them. My excuse for joining the League in the first place had been to assist Kyle in manning vehicles.
But I could not be expected to need an excuse to see Bastien. It was something I just needed to do. If I did not get closure with him, I might live with regret for the rest of my life.
“I understand, Vicky.” My mother spoke finally. “I do understand. You’re nineteen now. I’m not going to tell you what you can and cannot do, and neither will your father. Though I can tell you my preference for dealing with this, and what I’m sure your father’s preference is.”
I already knew what she was about to suggest.
“Let us return, do all that we can to find him, and give the message to him,” she went on. “If he is at all capable, we will ask him to return to The Shade for a brief visit to see you, and you can talk alone. One of our witches can transport him back. But honey, you returning to that realm isn’t something he would want for you, if he truly loves you. He would want you to be safe.”
It was a hard pill to swallow. But I had not completely lost my mind. Of course it made no logical sense for me to go back there when I would only be a burden to the League and a constant worry to my parents. I had worried them enough recently. And it wasn’t like they would be able to find Bastien any faster or more efficiently with me present. If they managed to find him and he was alive, my main worry was whether he would even listen to them. Though I was sure that if he just heard the truth about what had happened with Detrius, it would all make sense to him. He would remember the earnestness in my eyes as I had pleaded my innocence before Ben had swept me away. He just needed assistance in connecting the dots.
I heaved a sigh. “I guess you’re right,” I mumbled.
My mother leaned forward to brush her lips against my forehead before rising to her feet and pulling me up with her. She led me into the living room, where my father was visible on the phone through the window pacing up and down on the veranda. As he noticed us emerge from the bathroom, he spoke into the phone. “Yes, ready. We’ll be with you.”
He hung up and entered the apartment, looking from my mother to me. He frowned slightly, probably due to my red and blotchy face. He moved up to me and brushed away a few remaining tears that had been lingering beneath my eyelashes, before kissing my head.
Then he turned to my mother and said in a low voice, “It’s time.”