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A Trail of Echoes(A Shade of Vampire,Book 18)(15) by Bella Forrest

I could hardly believe Derek when he told me what he and Ibrahim had discovered on their short trip to one of the hunters’ ships. Although we didn’t want to worry any of our people unnecessarily, we also didn’t want to keep them in the dark, so we leaked the story about what Derek and Ibrahim had witnessed, and news soon spread to everyone.

Ibrahim and Corrine thought that they’d figured out how to tweak the spell so that the hunters could no longer sense our movements, and Mona helped them, although she had lost many of her powers when Lilith died.

There was outrage from the dragons when they found out that the hunters were watching us so closely. It seemed that some of them had not even been aware of the ships stationed around the island to begin with. Clearly they were very territorial creatures and Jeriad was immediately up in arms and wanted to go scorch the ships.

Of course, they could have done that, but that was not what Derek wanted, and that was not what I wanted either. We didn’t want to cause more bloodshed or make enemies out of the hunters. So far at least, they had not harmed us—although we all knew what their intentions were. Still, we had no desire to spark a war between The Shade and the human world. We were on their side, even if they refused to believe it.

I was tempted to go with Derek to visit them and start a dialogue with the hunters, try to reassure them that we meant no harm, but my father said we would be crazy to do it. At this stage, he didn’t think that they would even give us a chance to talk. He suspected that they might agree to meet with us but only as a trap and as soon as we were within range, we would be shot. And so that idea was pushed aside.

Derek forbade anyone to go outside of the boundary except with our express permission. He and I started going for walks along the beach every evening, to check if the ships were still there. Each time, they were. Weeks passed, and they still remained, just waiting and watching… for what exactly, we still weren’t sure.

Although Derek was firm in his decision to let them be and not launch an attack, I could see the effect that the hunters’ presence was having on him psychologically. I knew my husband, every part of him—often better than he knew himself. Even when we were talking about something else, I could sense it playing at the back of his mind, and I couldn’t miss the worry behind his eyes.

Then one evening during our walk, to my dismay, we spotted two more large gray ships moored near the other three. My hand tightened around Derek’s.

His brows furrowed as he stared out toward the new vessels.

I was proud of him for how he’d handled the situation so far—it was quite unlike Derek. Usually he was not the first to suggest a peaceful course of action. Now I worried that if any more ships arrived, he might forget all notions of peace and just start planning to blast them out of the water. But this would not be good for anyone in the long term. And we had both witnessed too much bloodshed already.

But as I stood there with him that night, watching the dark outlines of the five ships above the waters, I wasn’t sure what to say to him. I did not want to tempt fate and assume that he was going to resort to violence. So I just kept quiet and waited for him to reveal his mind to me.

But he didn’t. He stayed just as silent as me. After ten minutes had passed, I didn’t see the point in remaining out here longer. So we had five ships watching us now instead of three. It was what it was.

Turning to face him fully, I reached my arms up and draped them around his neck. I pulled his head down so that he was looking at me instead of the ships.

“Baby,” I said softly. “Let’s go to bed. You’ve had such a long day. Worry about it more in the morning, if you have to.”

He looked reluctantly back at the ships, and then down at me. An expression of regret settled in on his handsome face. Dipping down toward me, he kissed my lips tenderly and whispered, “I’m sorry, Sofia. I haven’t been present with you recently.” He paused, brushing my cheek with his thumb. “But I promise I’ll be yours tonight. All yours.”

The smile that spread across his lips warmed me. He reached around me and picked me up. Relieved, I heaved a sigh and rested my head against his chest as he carried me back toward the forest.

I cast one last glance toward the ships. As Derek sped up, I was about to look forward again when I spotted something odd just beyond the boundary.

“Wait,” I said.

Derek stopped, looking down at me in surprise. “What?”

He put me down on the sand so I could stand on my own two feet and then, grabbing his hand, I ran toward the water again. Just beyond the boundary, a smooth rounded surface stuck out from above the waves. It looked like… the roof of a submarine.

My heartbeat quickened.

“What is it, Sofia?”

I’d forgotten that Derek’s eyesight wasn’t as good as mine. “It looks like a submarine is trying to enter The Shade.”

Derek cursed beneath his breath. “So they’re actually trying to enter the island now…”

I moved into the waves until the water reached my waist. Something clicked, and a hatch opened. A head pushed out. The head of a man. I frowned in confusion as the rest of him was revealed and he stood up straight on the roof, his back facing us as he gained balance. He didn’t appear to be armed with any weapons at all, and he wore just a loose checkered shirt and jeans. The way he was dressed… he did not look like a hunter. When he turned slowly to face us, I used my acute eyesight to study his face closely.

And then I gasped.