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A Trail of Echoes(A Shade of Vampire,Book 18)(19) by Bella Forrest

Finally one night, as we sat next to each other, I plucked up the courage to ask him the question that I had found myself wondering more and more recently.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

He gave me a smile. “Why?”

I felt blood rush to my cheeks a bit. I’d been hoping that he wouldn’t ask me that. “Just curious.”

“No, I don’t,” he replied. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

I shook my head. I’d had crushes in high school before, but never a boyfriend.

I looked away from his face and down at the fire. Though I could feel his gaze still on me. I busied myself with my mug of instant hot chocolate, blowing on the liquid and tracing the rim of the cup with my finger.

“Well, I quite like you, Benjamin,” I said. “Especially when you’re not acting like a serial killer.”

He chuckled. “I like you too, River. This situation… sucks. But I’m honestly grateful that it’s you that I ended up stranded with.”

I raised a brow, prompting him to clarify.

He leaned back, resting on his palms as he looked at me, a thoughtful expression on his face. “You make me feel…” He paused. “Like I’m not Satan.”

I snorted. “Well, thank you.”

“You should take that as a compliment,” he said, a wry smile forming on his lips. “Not even my family could manage it.”

Setting my mug down, I bowed my head in honor. “Do you think they might present me with some kind of reward for being the one to tame the prince?”

“What kind of reward would satisfy you?”

Good question, I thought as I looked into his vivid green eyes. Eyes I was beginning to lose myself in.

“I… I, uh…” I found myself tongue-tied.

I knew what I should say—that all I wanted was to turn back into a human so I could return to my family—yet somehow, that wasn’t what I felt like saying in this moment as we sat together. I bit my lower lip.

Then something made me lean closer to him, and rest my head against his shoulder.

His arm slid around me.

I leaned up to kiss his cheek, then looked back at the fire. His fingers played with the tips of my hair, tugging gently against my scalp. It felt like a kind of massage, and, combined with the warmth of the fire, made me feel deeply relaxed.

Then his palm brushed over my forehead, moving aside my hair, and his lips pressed against the top of my head. Tingles ran down my spine and when he stopped, I found myself wishing his kiss had lasted longer.

My thoughts were interrupted as the boat rocked violently.

Detaching himself from me, Ben shot to his feet.

“What was that?” I whispered.

He raised a finger to his lips.

I heard the clanging of metal. It came from the stern of the boat, which was out of view from where we’d been sitting. We crept toward the control room in the center of the boat and peered around it.

Four tall, thin African men were standing on the deck, carrying guns. I gasped.

At first I thought they might be hunters. But something about their appearance told me they were not. For one thing, their guns looked too outdated, and their clothes were ragged and tattered.

“Who are these men?” I breathed, as a fifth man clambered on board and they began to walk toward us in the shadows.

“Pirates,” Ben whispered. “Wait here.”

Pirates. Of course, it made sense. By now we had reached the Gulf of Aden. Looking closer at the men, it appeared that they were Somali pirates.

Oh, dear.

They really picked the wrong boat.

Chapter 13: River

The pirates barely managed to release a gunshot before Ben sprang on them. Considering they might’ve even intended to kill us in order to hijack the boat, I couldn’t bring myself to feel too much sympathy for them. Still, I couldn’t bear to watch the scene. I’d witnessed too much gore already. I turned around and sat down by the fire, my hands over my ears as I tried to distract myself from what was going on at the stern of the ship.

After Ben had finished with them, he came into view, splattered with blood. I assumed that he had killed all five of the men. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had drained all of them in one go. I didn’t understand how he actually contained all that blood in his body. It was a mystery to me.

He had a look of satisfaction on his face, that much was undeniable, but he also looked guilt-ridden—just as he had looked during the attack in the guesthouse.

He stepped into the control room and, to my surprise, stopped the engine. Once the boat had slowed down, he stepped out and walked to the edge of the railing.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Going for a dip.”

He removed the sheet around his waist, now just in his boxer shorts, and dove into the sea. I walked up to the railing and watched him submerge and then re-emerge, rubbing his face. Although it was a cool night, I decided to join him since I was feeling sticky myself.

Fastening my sheet dress so that it wouldn’t slip off the moment I dropped in the water, I dove into the sea and resurfaced near Ben.

The water was rougher than I had expected. As I neared Ben, a wave carried me right up close to him—so close I ended up colliding with him. His hands caught my waist, the strength of his arms engulfing me as he kept me in place, anchoring me. I placed my arms around his neck as we floated together in the waves.

My eyes level with his, I gazed into his green irises that reflected the glimmer of moonlight on the waters.