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A Trail of Echoes(A Shade of Vampire,Book 18)(6) by Bella Forrest

Ben sat opposite me and swiveled in his chair to look out of the window, his back to me. We didn’t talk at all for the next ten minutes as I stuffed myself. When he did swing back around to face me, he looked disturbed.

“Did you hear that?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

“Hear what?” I asked, swallowing a mouthful of juice.

His eyes narrowed and he seemed to be listening to something. For all my supernatural hearing, I couldn’t understand what Ben had noticed. All I could hear were quite ordinary sounds of the ship and the humans around us.

“That,” he replied.

I stared at him. “What?”

He paused again. Then he shook his head.

“I guess it was nothing.”

Chapter 3: Ben

The sounds echoing in my ears didn’t match my surroundings. It was as if invisible walls came down around me, blocking out the sounds of the cruise ship, and all went quiet… but for a few sounds. Chillingly familiar sounds.

The wind sighing above me. The dripping of water. The echoing of footsteps against marble. The distant strumming of an instrument. All these might not have been so peculiar in themselves, and I might have even believed that they were noises from the cruise ship, but then came the dull grinding. The same grinding River and I had heard before we escaped. The sound was unmistakable to me.

It felt like I was back in The Oasis.

And then the noises faded away as suddenly as they had arrived, being replaced with the bustle of my current surroundings. I wasn’t sure whether to tell River what I had just experienced, or wait until I had a grasp of what was happening. I had scared her more than enough in the past twenty-four hours, so I decided not to. Just in case what I’d heard, or thought I’d heard, had been my imagination—some strange return to the past. Perhaps the noises were imprinted in my mind due to spending weeks down in that atrium.

“What is it?” she pressed, this time reaching for my forearm.

I shook my head again. “I’m not even sure what I heard.”

She frowned at me, then rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to her food. We didn’t discuss it again until the noises echoed in my ears for a second time later that evening. They remained in my head much longer than before.

This time, I told her.

“You haven’t experienced anything like that?” I asked.

She shook her head, her eyes wide with alarm. “How can you be hearing those noises?”

“I have no idea,” I replied.

After we discussed it for the next half-hour, River came up with the theory that I must be manifesting some kind of post-traumatic symptoms from being trapped there. I had my doubts about that, but since I wasn’t ready to share any theories of my own, I kept quiet.

During the hours that followed, I kept expecting the sounds to return and surround me again, and from the look on River’s face, she was expecting it too. But I did not experience it again.

As we waited, although I kept close to River, I found myself occasionally needing to draw her closer to me, lower my face inches above the curve of her neck and breathe in deeply.

About an hour before sunset, River wanted to rest on the bed. I didn’t have a choice but to lie with her on the mattress. She slid beneath the sheets and bunched up the blankets around her, and then I settled next to her, close enough that her knees almost touched mine but not too close that I might disturb her. I intended to remain in this position until she’d finished resting. I was surprised that she was the one who drew nearer still. Raising her head from the mattress, she shuffled closer to me, and then rested her head against my shoulder.

“I’m scared to let you out of my sight,” she muttered. “At least if I’m touching you, I’ll notice if you slip away.”

She was right, of course. I was still a wild animal around human blood. The closer I was to her, the better. I just hadn’t wanted to overstep a boundary by moving nearer to her myself. Now that she had broached it, I slid an arm around her and rested my hand against her hip.

“I think you’ll definitely notice if I slip away now.”

She chuckled, then closed her eyes, apparently comforted by my gesture. My chin resting against the top of her head, I could feel her breathing grow deeper and steadier, until finally she was asleep.

I remained still, careful not to wake her as I looked out of the window, watching the river bank.

Once the boat began to slow, it was time for us to move on. I looked down at River’s face. She had an expression of serenity, her pillowy lips flushed. I paused for a moment to admire her beauty, then removed my hand from her hip and brushed her shoulder. When she still didn’t stir, I shook her gently.

Her eyelids flickered open, her turquoise gaze fixing on me through her long dark lashes.

“Hmm?”

“The boat’s stopping.”

She shivered a little as she pushed the blankets away from her, and then stood up. Her eyes were distant as she brushed a hand over her forehead and swayed slightly on the spot. She looked in a daze.

“I had a… strange dream,” she said, furrowing her brows.

“What?”

“My mother, two sisters and brother were in it. They had moved to a pretty part of Manhattan, and were living in a nice apartment. And my brother… He’s nineteen and severely autistic, but in the dream, I… I had an actual conversation with him for the first time in my life.”

Her words hung in the air as she continued standing, lost in her own thoughts. Then she shook herself and snapped out of it. She walked to the table, poured herself a glass of water, and downed it. Then she took my hand and we moved toward the balcony and looked out. The boat had almost stopped and there was a small harbor nearby.