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A Trail of Echoes(A Shade of Vampire,Book 18)(2) by Bella Forrest

The same man who’d checked us in was sitting behind the desk. He looked up as I approached.

“Is the room to your liking?” he asked.

“It’s fine,” I said. “I came to ask you if there are any pawnbrokers near here?”

“Hmm. That depends on what you mean by ‘near’. There are several, but they are situated more centrally.”

“Distance is not a problem,” I said. “Could you please write down the address of the nearest one, and would you also have a map?”

“Yes,” he said, eyeing me curiously. He reached beneath his desk and pulled out a blank piece of paper, and a map of Cairo. Once he had written the address on the paper, he drew an “X” on the map where the street was located.

“Thank you.” I said, taking both items from him. I studied the map as I exited the guesthouse. I could run so fast now, I guessed that it would take me less than half an hour to reach the destination. Assuming things went smoothly at the pawnbroker and I managed to find a pay phone, I would be back in no time.

I tucked the map and the piece of paper into the deep pockets of my robe and tightened my shoes before launching into a sprint. I kept referring to the map every now and then, stopping to check street names.

I ran so fast, I arrived in fifteen minutes. I wasn’t even breathless either.

I looked up at the signpost of the shop. Cleopatra Jewelers. Adjusting my veil, which had gotten a little askew during my running, I looked down at the wound I’d caused by cutting myself. It had almost entirely healed by now.

I stepped into the shop. I was the only customer, which I was thankful for, and there was just one employee sitting behind the counter. I walked up to him and placed my backpack on the table. I undid the zipper and pulled out just a handful of the gold coins.

I explained to him in Arabic that I wanted to sell the gold for cash. His eyes widened a little as I handed him the precious metal. I tried to wait patiently as he went about examining the gold, until finally, about half an hour later, I was walking out of the shop with a backpack stuffed with cash. It was so full, the zipper was close to breaking.

The first thing I had to do was buy a new bag. I found a bag shop in the second street along and, once I had chosen a bag and paid for it, I placed my backpack inside the larger one, then put that on my back instead.

After only five minutes of searching, I managed to locate a phone box. My hand was shaking as I reached for the receiver and inserted a coin. My heart pounding, I dialed my grandfather’s number and clutched the phone to my ear.

Ring. Ring.

Ring. Ring.

Come on, Grandpa. Pick up.

When the phone kept ringing and eventually reached voicemail, I hung up and tried to call again after waiting a minute. The phone continued to ring with no answer. This time I left a message.

“G-Grandpa, this is River. I hope you’ve been reunited with Lalia by now. I’m calling to tell you that I’m fine. I can’t say much, and I can’t tell you where I am, but I’m going to try to make it back to you, or back to Mom, as soon as I can. Please just try not to worry about me. I’m… I’m in safe hands. Sending my love to you, Lalia, Dafne, Jamil and Mom.”

I placed the phone back on the receiver, exhaling deeply. It felt like some of the weight on my chest had lifted. I hoped my grandfather would check his voicemail soon.

Backing away from the phone box, I began to hurry back along the winding streets toward our guesthouse. When I entered the reception area, there was no one sitting behind the desk. I headed for the staircase and ran, moving quickly along the corridor upstairs until I reached the room.

I was about to knock on the door when I noticed that it was ajar.

Pushing it open, I looked around.

Ben’s bed was empty, as was the rest of the room.

Ben was gone.

Chapter 2: River

I rushed to the bathroom. That too was empty. My mouth became parched as my eyes fixed on the dressing table. The note and the bottle of my blood still sat on the table, untouched.

Fear gripped me as doubts began to flood my mind. Where is he? Did he change his mind and just leave without me?

A bloodcurdling scream stopped me short. It came from downstairs. Panic coursing through my veins, I shot out of the room and hurried back down the stairs. The screaming continued. It was coming from the room behind the empty reception desk. Racing around it, I forced the door open and barged in.

It was all I could do to not scream too.

The room looked like a scene out of a horror movie. The bodies of three men lay strewn about the room, one of whom I recognized as the man who’d sat at the desk. There were deep puncture marks in their necks, their bodies splattered with blood.

And in the far right corner of the room, Ben was sucking the life from a young woman before my very eyes. His hips crushed against her thin frame, holding her in place against the wall as he took deep gulps of her blood.

“No!” I croaked. “Ben!”

I threw myself across the room at him, sliding my arms around his neck and pulling myself up onto his back. Holding him in a choke, I tried to force him to release the girl. That was not the wisest idea though because even if I managed to pull him away, his fangs would rip through her jugular. Instead, I placed one palm over his forehead, holding his head steady, then positioned my right wrist directly beneath his nose.

“Let her go,” I begged, whispering into his ear. His eyes narrowed, and I could feel shudders passing through his body as he drank. But then the scent of my blood, so close to him, began to take its effect. Apparently I smelled so disgusting that I was spoiling his appetite. After four more gulps, his jaw loosened, and he released the girl.