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A Shadow Of Light(A Shade Of Vampire Series Book 4)(1) by Bella Forrest

"I am going to kill him!"

Never before had I been so frustrated than when I met Aiden Claremont during a month-long dig we had deep in the jungles of Cuba. From the first day we arrived, he had proven to be the most annoying, arrogant, conceited man that ever walked the planet and the fact that he was after the Red Orb-my artifact to unearth and discover-was just one of the many things that made him a complete and absolute jackass in my book.

"How dare he?!" I screamed as I threw a fist in the air.

"What's got your panties all up in a twist, Camilla?" my assistant and best friend, Amelia Hudson, asked me as she lifted her black-rimmed glasses over the bridge of her nose.

"That pompous, irritating, waste of perfectly good space, self-absorbed..." I searched my mind for a word bad enough to describe Aiden Claremont and, failing miserably to find one, I ended up with "...doorknob."

"Doorknob?" Amelia chuckled. "That's the best you can come up with? Doorknob?" She rolled her eyes at me. "Aiden Claremont may be a lot of things, but he is too fine and too exciting a man to deserve being called a doorknob." She stood to her feet and walked to one end of our tent to make herself a cup of coffee before staring at me knowingly. "What happened this time?"

I stomped my foot on the ground and crossed my arms over my chest, hating the idea of having to recount to my best friend the reason behind my ire.

Amelia finished making her coffee and had plopped herself over one of the bean bags we brought with us. She then took a sip from her coffee and raised a brow at me. "Well?"

"I don't want to answer your question." I pouted.

"You're acting like a child, Cam. What's going on?"

"I hate him!"

"Yes. You've made that perfectly clear from the very first moment you laid eyes on him, and yet, he's all you seem to talk about!"

"That's because if I don't vent, I really might end up snapping his neck in two!"

Amelia rolled her eyes again. "Right. Don't forget the last time you..."

"Shut up, Amelia." I glared at her, knowing fully well what episode she was going to point out. It was one of those cold nights at our camp and for some reason Aiden decided to pay us a visit. We were in front of the campfire and he was actually being as pleasant as a pompous jerk like him was capable of. The conversation was good and we ended up alone, with everyone else retiring to their tents to rest. He offered me his jacket when he noticed I was shivering. I declined, but he insisted. I couldn't even remember our conversation that night, but it somehow ended up with him kissing me. When our lips parted, I motioned to slap him in the face, but he caught my arm, so I tried to slap him with my other hand, which he once again caught. With him gripping both my hands, he once again kissed me. I resisted until I just somehow found myself giving in. It was perhaps why I hated him so much-I knew that when I was around him, no matter how I tried to keep them up, all my defenses kept crumbling around me. Aiden Claremont made me feel vulnerable and yet, protected at the same time. I wasn't used to feeling that way. That scared me.

Amelia couldn't keep the grin off of her face. "When are you going to admit it, Camilla? You're into him."

"That is not true."

"Keep telling yourself that until you actually believe it."

I frowned, finally spouting out the reason behind my outburst. "He found the orb. They're packing up camp as we speak."

"What?!" Amelia spat her coffee out. "When?! How?!"

I shrugged before letting my shoulders sag in defeat. "I don't know."

I could still remember the glint of amusement in his eyes as he winked and said, "Guess I won, Camilla. Don't worry... I'm sure you'll make for better competition next time."

I found myself groaning at the memory. "Ugh! The nerve of him."

Truth be told, I wasn't sure what was frustrating me more: the fact that he found the artifact first or the fact that I would perhaps never see him again.

"What do you mean someone else found it?"

I couldn't look Mr. Banks in the eye. He was a private collector and he was the one who recruited me and paid for my services in order to find the Red Orb. He was so excited about the artifact, recounting to me how there were rumors about it having dark, mysterious powers. Being an archaeologist and having a deep love for adventure, I couldn't resist the idea of an all-expense paid expedition that would lead me to some random ancient trinket-probably worth less than what the adventure cost. The trinket was rumored to have magical abilities.

I didn't really believe in magic or vampires or even superstition at that time. I just wanted to get away from the museums and laboratories and actually get on the field. This particular artifact was one I hadn't yet heard of, so the idea of discovering something new was something I couldn't resist.

However, initially, I was also skeptical about going on the expedition. Mr. Banks was said to be a hard man to work with. He wanted returns for his investments and was known to have a bad temper when he didn't get what he wanted.

Thus, as I sat across from him on one of the couches in the lounge area of his office, I was desperately trying to figure out how I was going to explain that someone got to the orb before I did.

"There was another crew digging at the site. They were also after the orb."

"And who might I ask is behind this other crew?"

His name tasted bitter in my mouth. "Aiden Claremont," I hissed.

Mr. Banks' wrinkled old face contorted in surprise. "Aiden Claremont? What would a guy like him want with an artifact like that?"

I frowned at Mr. Banks, raising my eyes to meet his for the first time. "You know him?"

"Of course I know him." The man was looking at me like I'd been living under a rock all my life. "He's one of the youngest multi-millionaires in the world. He owns one of the largest security conglomerates in the United States. You'd never heard of him?"

I shook my head. "Hard to know about people like that when you spend all your time inside libraries and museums."

Mr. Banks narrowed his eyes on me. "Well, we had a deal, Miss Saunders. I paid for your dig, you get me the orb. Unless you get the Red Orb in my hands, then I'll ask you to pay me back everything I spent on your expedition."

My hands gripped the armrests of my seat, knowing full well that there was no way I could afford to part with that kind of money. "But...how... Where would I get that much money?"

"Figure it out. I'll give you a month, Miss Saunders."

Mr. Banks' ultimatum was still circling my mind when I returned to the apartment I was sharing with Amelia. The moment I arrived, she threw a pillow at me.

"You will never guess who just called," she exclaimed.

"Not in the mood for your guessing games..." I went straight for the refrigerator to get a cold drink of the pink lemonade I'd made earlier that day. "I have a headache."

"What happened?"

"Don't want to talk about it."

"All right. Well, you'll be happy to find out that the love of your life, Aiden Claremont, just called. He's hoping to meet you for dinner tonight."

I choked on the lemonade and coughed violently-something Amelia found hilarious-especially after she had taken a quick shot of the scene with her Polaroid camera. "I knew your reaction to the news would be precious!"

"Why would he want to meet for dinner?" I asked, suddenly feeling my cheeks grow red at the prospect of seeing him again. I was inwardly slapping myself for acting like a foolish teenager.

"How am I supposed to know?" Amelia shrugged. "Oh my gosh, Cam! Are you blushing?!"

"I'm not!" I screeched in horror. But I was. He was the only guy who'd ever been able to do that-make me blush.

I checked my appearance in the living room's full-length mirror for about the hundredth time. I didn't understand why I cared what he thought about me. I tried to remind myself that I hated him, that he was an arrogant, pompous and conceited "doorknob," but I was fooling myself and I knew it. Aiden Claremont was every bit my match and that made him attractive to me.

Plus he has the Red Orb. Of course I find him attractive, I told myself as I smoothed my palms over the contours of my waist. I wasn't exactly the kind of girl one would find in magazines, with the tall, skinny, hourglass figure. I had more of an athletic build-mostly because of the kind of work I did. Still, I knew I was beautiful. Staring at myself in the mirror, taking in what others often called my assets, a familiar sickening sensation came over me.

For all the glory it got from the world, beauty was a commodity that I had to pay dearly for. Long buried memories of my past began to haunt me and I had to hold on to a nearby chair for support to prevent myself from falling off balance.

"Wow, Cam." Amelia stepped out of her bedroom and looked at me. Concern sparked in her eyes. "Are you alright?"

I nodded. "I'm fine."

"Nervous about your date?"

"It's not a date."

"Uh-huh...for all I know, you'll be making a bunch of little Aidens and Camillas in no time."

I was stunned by how revolting the idea seemed to me. "No. Never. Mark my words, Amelia. I will never have children-his or anyone else's."

I could never forget the way Aiden looked that night. Crisp, white shirt, straight cut jeans, shiny black shoes... That smile... That look in his eyes when he first laid eyes on me-like I was the most beautiful woman in the room.

"Hello, gorgeous," he greeted with a wide smile.

I frowned at him, desperately trying to keep my walls up, afraid of what would happen once they all completely crumbled-something that seemed to be inevitable considering how charming he was being. "Could we just cut to the chase and get to business, Claremont? Why did you ask to meet with me?"

"Get to business, Camilla? Is that why you put on mascara to emphasize those lovely, long lashes of yours? Is that why you're all dolled up and looking incredible tonight?" He narrowed his eyes at me, looking as dashing as ever. "You dressed up just so we could discuss business?"

"The way I look and the way I dress should be of no concern to you, Claremont." I shifted my weight on my seat, hoping that my voice wouldn't break so that he wouldn't see past my bluff. "I want the Red Orb. What do I have to do to get it?"

That cocky infuriating side smirk of his formed on his firm lips. "I don't know. What are you willing to do to get it?"

I was half-expecting his over-bloated ego to make his head explode. Annoyed, I heaved a deep sigh and stood up. "This is such a waste of time."

"No, wait." He gently laid a hand on my shoulder. "I'm sorry. Let's try that again."

I looked into his eyes, seeing his sincerity. "Try what again?"

"Try to have a civilized conversation, Cam. I promise to be less of a jerk." He raised one hand in the air to make his pledge official. "Hear me out."

I kept my eyes on him and slowly sat back on my chair. I hoped that through my actions, he would realize that I was keeping him on a short leash.

He sat back down and cleared his throat.

"Don't give me any more of your crap, Claremont," I warned.

"No more of that."

He then timidly asked if we should order first and I nodded. We made our orders-a strangely awkward ordeal-before I once again eyed him for some sort of explanation for our rather unusual meeting.

He took a deep breath after the waiter left. "So you really want the Red Orb?"

"I told you that."

"I'll give it to you then."

My brow quirked up. "Just like that?"

He slowly nodded. "Yeah. Just like that."

"That doesn't make sense. You've been competing with me and driving me crazy over the past few weeks trying to get a hold of that artifact. Now, you're just going to give it to me?"

"Well, first of all, you have to admit that the competition made the dig a whole lot more fun and interesting. Sorry, but messing with you was the most fun I had during that whole expedition. Seeing your reaction gave me far more satisfaction than actually getting the orb," he admitted with an amused chuckle.

"I'm glad you were entertained," I responded, feigning annoyance even though a smile was threatening to form on my lips as memories of all the bickering and competitive banter I had with him came to mind.

"Look..." He slightly tilted his head to the side. "I'm a guy who knows what I want. I traveled to Cuba wanting the orb and I got it, but I realized that there's something I want more than the orb."

I was afraid to ask, but the words came out of my mouth before I could hold them back. "And what's that?"

"You, Camilla."

That was the first date among many that followed after we got back to the States. I fell in love with Aiden Claremont, so when he proposed to me after several weeks of dating, I couldn't say no. Truth be told, I was terrified. Throughout the time we were dating, we were never intimate. I told him that I wanted to wait until marriage and he respected that. The fact that he respected my choice to wait made me admire him even more, but then it also made me dread the night I had to be intimate with him.

On the night of our honeymoon, I wanted desperately to please him, to be the blushing bride eager to share a bed with her doting husband, but no matter how I tried to enjoy that night and take pleasure in his touch, I simply couldn't. I pretended on his behalf, but the moment he fell asleep, cradling me in his arms, I burst into tears.

I was far too damaged by my past to ever enjoy such pleasures, but he didn't need to know that. Of course, Aiden was no fool. He knew something was wrong. He noticed times when I would sort of shut down whenever he tried to make love to me, but I always avoided answering his questions about it. My past was my own nightmare to live with. He didn't need to share the burden.

The first few months of our marriage were the best months of my life. Aiden was everything I could ask for in a man. He was loving and affectionate. He treated me in a way that made me want to be the best I could be for him. I was satisfied, but I knew that he wasn't, or at least he wouldn't be for long.

Whenever he brought up the topic of children, I skirted around it. I didn't want him to know that I never wanted to have children. I kept taking birth control pills without his knowledge; thus, it came as a complete surprise to me when several months after our honeymoon, I became pregnant. I was mentally kicking myself for allowing Aiden to come with me to the checkup. If he wasn't there, if I hadn't seen the delight in his eyes when he found out, if I didn't see for myself how much joy I would bring him by carrying the child, I would've immediately had an abortion. Sofia never would've been born.

I could never forget the day our daughter was born. I knew from the way Aiden stared at her that I had just lost him. I no longer held all of his heart. A great big chunk of it had just been taken from me by Sofia.

Sofia grew lovelier and lovelier each year. She was precious to me, because I knew that she was precious to him. Still, I was terrified. Though he remained a wonderful husband to me, and though he still looked at me the same way he looked at me on our first date, I was still terrified of losing Aiden. I didn't want him to love Sofia more than he loved me.

I was afraid of being abandoned and every father-daughter outing they went on brought me into despair, the likes of which Aiden could never possibly understand. Never did I feel more weak than when Aiden spent time alone with Sofia, time I was convinced should've been mine. I would've much preferred to keep Sofia to myself than to have her be with her father. Aiden mistook this as me being selfish with Sofia and often teased me about it, but in reality, it was me being selfish with him.

I was getting obsessed with the man that I loved and through the years, I began to notice little things about him that convinced me that he would eventually leave me. Sofia, after all, was the only girl he needed in his life. She had taken my place.

I began to notice strange things about Aiden: his hushed conversations over the phone, prolonged out-of-town trips and his extra hours at work. These things were normal for him, considering the demands of his work, but as time wore on, I was convinced that he was having an affair. I tried to convince myself that I was just being paranoid, but I couldn't help myself. One night, when nine-year-old Sofia was already tucked in bed, I eavesdropped on a conversation Aiden was having over the phone.

"The Maslens are gaining power," he spoke in hushed tones. "We can't have that." A slew of curses escaped his lips. "Damn it. Track him down. Borys Maslen was last seen in Egypt. Find him and destroy him."

The first thought that came to mind was: Aiden has gone mad. He's absolutely insane. How could anybody in their right mind believe in vampires? But I knew Aiden. He was perhaps the most intelligent and rational man I'd ever had the pleasure of meeting. When it came to his work, he wasn't one to believe in any nonsense.

I tried to excuse what I had heard by rationalizing that perhaps Aiden was just talking in some sort of corporate code. Perhaps "vampires" was just code for their competition.

I didn't know how it had happened, but it became an obsession. Much as I hated it, I began to eavesdrop a bit more on Aiden's conversations and heard more talk about vampires and Egypt and the Maslens. At some point, I couldn't take it anymore. I began doing research. I contacted old friends of mine from libraries and told them that I was interested in anything they knew about vampires. I gave them some excuse about wanting to write a novel about it when asked why I was suddenly so interested with such folklore.

The newfound interest wasn't something I couldn't keep from my husband, so when he confronted me about it, I had a ready answer. "I think they exist. Don't you?"

I was waiting for him to lie, to just laugh me off and tell me that I was being crazy, but no, he lifted one of the books I was reading and began thumbing through its pages. He then nodded. "Of course they exist."

I narrowed my eyes at him. "You... Aiden Claremont... You actually believe in vampires?"

He shrugged one shoulder as he placed the book he was thumbing through back on my work desk. "After a decade of marriage, my lovely Camilla, there are still a lot of things about me you don't know."

"Tell me then."

Worry creased his handsome face. "I don't know if I should, Cam. Why are you so interested in them all of a sudden?"

"How can I not be interested?" I shrugged. "They're fascinating, and now, you tell me that you actually believe in them. Can you blame me for not being intrigued?"

I was expecting him to chuckle, give me a sarcastic quip about how he loved my pesky, stubborn and adventurous side. Instead he just shook his head slowly and gravely. "There's nothing fascinating about vampires, Cam. They are the most vile creatures to ever walk the planet. Powerful, but evil beyond measure... Stay away from them."

His admonition for me to stay away from the vampires only served to make me more curious. I began quizzing Aiden about what he knew about vampires and why on earth he knew so much about them. He willingly told me what he knew, but always kept silent about how he knew. I hated that he was keeping things from me. It made me feel betrayed that I'd been married to a man who had this mysterious and secret connection with vampires that he had never told me about, but I didn't voice it out.

At some point, I knew he was getting irritated about all the questions I was asking about vampires. He especially hated it when I mentioned them when Sofia was around.

"Cam, I'm warning you... I don't ever want Sofia to be exposed to these monsters... I don't even want her to know about them. If I could have my way, I'd remove everything in this world that points to the existence of these creatures. I would do everything possible to keep our daughter away from them."

I barely even understood what he was saying at that time. I couldn't understand his hatred toward vampires or why he was so adamant to keep his family away from those creatures. Whenever I thought of vampires, all I could think of was the power that came with them. I wanted that power.

I began asking Aiden about how to find vampires, how to track them down. During times when he obviously did not want to talk about vampires, I would turn on my charm and usually after a tumble in bed, he would oblige me and answer my questions.

I may not have realized it at first but I saw the vampires as my escape from the hopelessness brought about by my own daughter's birth. I was tired of feeling so powerless against all the despair and all the fears, and the fascination I felt for those dark, mysterious creatures began to consume me.

When I felt ready to actually hunt for a vampire, I asked Aiden if I could start working as an archaeologist once again. Of course, he didn't deny this request from me. He even encouraged it.

"I was wondering when you would once again give in to that adventurous streak I know you have," he said as he kissed me on the forehead. "Maybe now that you're on these expeditions of yours, you'll think less about vampires and more about archaeology." He seemed so pleased as he held me in his arms and kissed me.

I was so in love with him and I realized then that my love for him was the reason I was so weak. Two weeks after that, I was off to my first adventure in years. My first destination, of course, was Egypt.

I was determined not to leave Egypt until I found out who Borys Maslen was and whether or not he was what I suspected-a vampire. It took a couple of weeks of digging and prodding, following the tips and tricks I'd learned about to track down vampires, before the man I was looking for came to me.

It was the middle of the night and I had just crawled into my bed, when a hand clamped over my mouth and the weight of a man fell atop me. At first, I thought I was about to be assaulted, but when I saw the fangs, my emotions quickly shifted from terror to complete fascination.

"I know that you've been looking for me, woman," he hissed into my ear. "Why is that? Choose your answer well for it may be your last. And don't you dare scream or I will make sure your death will be a slow and painful one."

He took his hand away from my mouth. I looked right into his face, unflinching and told him my request. "I want to become a vampire."

At that, he scoffed. "You? A vampire?"

"Yes."

"Why on earth would I give you that honor?"

"I'll give you anything, do anything..."

His face broke into a manic smile, his dark eyes glimmering against the lamp's dim light. "Anything? Prove your loyalty to me by giving me the person most precious to you."

"If I do that, what are you going to do to that person?"

"Whatever I please."

The most precious person in my life was and would always be Aiden. For a moment, I considered giving him to this stranger, this vampire, but I couldn't. My love for him overpowered my desire to become like the powerful creature that found me that night. However, there was one person precious in my life whom I could offer to him. "I have a daughter. She's nine years old. I'm willing to offer her up to you to prove my loyalty."

The recollection of the delighted smile on his face still sent chills up my spine many years later. "Perfect," he said, before biting into my neck, injecting the serum that would forever destroy Camilla Claremont and bring Ingrid Maslen into being.

I tried to convince myself that I never felt regret after that night. As Ingrid Maslen, I was immortal, I was powerful and I had a family of vampires who would never leave me. I would never again be abandoned. I did a good job pretending that I was alright, but many years later, I realized that I wasn't.

I was in inner turmoil as I listened to my daughter hissing at Borys, "I'm not your betrothed." She spat the words out, as if it was the most sickening notion she'd ever been forced to contemplate.

I knew then that that was my cue. I braced myself to once again face Sofia. This was after I had offered her up as prey for a vampire to feast on. "Actually, Sofia," I spoke up, desperate to keep my voice steady and confident, as I stepped out of the curtains and took my place beside Borys' throne, "you really are his betrothed."

No words could explain the way I felt upon seeing the shocked and grief-stricken reaction on her face when she laid eyes on me. I wanted to wipe her tears away. I wanted to pull her into my arms and embrace her.

Seeing what a beauty my daughter had become-lovelier than I ever was at eighteen years old, it hit me full force what I had given up when I became Ingrid Maslen. I gave my daughter up. I gave my husband up. I gave my entire life up.

"She looks so happy to see you, Ingrid." Borys tilted his head to the side, a manic smile on his face.

Sofia's eyes were fixed on me. She couldn't have possibly known the effect it had on me when she uttered, "Mom?"

I hated that I felt affection toward Sofia since I was loyal to Borys, but it was the truth nonetheless: I detested the idea of him touching my daughter. The thought made me sick to my stomach. I knew the things that he would put her through. I saw him do it to countless young women, and I didn't want that for her, but I belonged to Borys and I knew it. Thus, being my daughter, Sofia belonged to him too. Not knowing how to handle the adverse reaction I felt, I did the only thing I could do: I inched closer to the dark side and turned my emotions off. I didn't want to care about Sofia. I didn't want to deal with any emotions I couldn't understand, much less control.

Thus, I was able to smile at her-completely indifferent to her plight-and tell her, "Yes, Sofia. It's me. Your mother. I betrothed you to Borys a long time ago. You are rightfully his."

I stood by Sofia's bed, my eyes fixed on the blood trickling down her milky white thighs. Her legs were quivering from the pain. She was obviously trying to fight back the tears. She gave me a quick look-accusing, hurt and full of contempt. I couldn't blame her. I would've hated myself too had I been in her place.

I just stood by and watched her scream as Borys kissed her the same time he sank his claws into her thighs, drawing blood. I did nothing. As I watched him do as he pleased with her, all I could think about was what she had just revealed to us-that she was already married to Derek Novak.

I realized that a part of me was still hoping that I would see her in an exquisite, white gown-a bride walking down the aisle to her groom. I missed it. I missed my own daughter's wedding.

When Borys threatened to make a widow out of her and kill Derek, so that he could take his rightful place as Sofia's husband, I was overwhelmed with relief. I could still be there at her wedding!

My stomach clenched at my own sick thinking, but before guilt could creep in, I snapped into attention when Borys pushed Sofia to the ground and looked my way to instruct me to "heal my daughter." I was transfixed by the sight of Sofia whimpering on the ground. I had no idea what to do. I wanted to help her out and ease her pain. Yet another part of me just wanted to get as far away from her as possible.

I ordered two guards to help me take her to her bedroom.

"Be gentle with her," I snapped at them. "She is, after all, to become your queen."

They gave me strange glances, but I ignored them and walked ahead to the bedroom. Later, I had vampire blood brought to her in order for the wounds on her legs to heal.

"You've drunk vampire blood before," I told her, noticing how the idea of drinking the blood didn't seem to faze her at all.

She just glared at me. That's when I realized that she wasn't like me at all. I thought that she was weak-and from her appearance alone, it seemed that way-but I could see underneath her shaking exterior. I couldn't help but shudder, because at that point, I could only sense one thing from Sofia: power.

Intimidated by her, I tried to break her down the next time I had an encounter with her. Borys sent me to her so that I could bring her to his chambers. I wondered if he was being cruel or if he was testing me to see if my loyalty would belong to him or to Sofia. I found the idea ridiculous. Hadn't I already proven how loyal I was to him?

I went to Sofia's bedroom and found her speaking to her best friend, Ben-Amelia's son. I found myself missing my best friend-one who'd been there for me during some of the toughest days of my life, while I was Camilla Claremont. I hated looking at Ben because of how much he reminded me of Amelia, and I couldn't stand being around him.

"I want time alone with my daughter," I told the guards. "Have the young man brought to the little blonde vampire from The Shade. She's been harping on about him since she got here."

I could feel the atmosphere tense as I watched the look of horror on Sofia's face. For some reason, I found delight in evoking terror in her.

"No..." Sofia begged. "Please...no... Not her... Not Claudia... Mother, please."

Mother. The word was like a splash of cold water calling out to the remaining fibers of maternal instinct left in me-a final plea for me to show the motherly affection my daughter was clearly starving for. I raised a hand toward the guards who were already approaching to take Ben. "Wait. What did you just call me?" I asked, hungry to hear the word again.

"Mother..." Sofia's lips trembled as she spoke. She grabbed Ben's hand, seeming to both give and draw strength from him. "Isn't that what you are? My mother?"

"Yes. That's right, Sofia." I smiled, confused by the emotions whirling inside me. "I'm your mother." Despite the delight I felt over this truth, the powerful Ingrid would always win over weak and pathetic Camilla. "That means you do what I say, right?"

She nodded. "Of course."

"So you're not going to cause any trouble tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow?" I noticed how her grip on Ben's hand tightened.

"Yes. Tomorrow. You're to be wed to Borys tomorrow."

"Why? Why would you do this? Why would you force your own daughter to marry that brute?"

I began brushing strands of her hair away from her face. At that point, I found myself once again shoving Camilla back into my subconscious and letting Ingrid take over. "You just don't know him, Sofia. Borys deserves the best and you, Sofia, are the best. Why wouldn't you be? You're my blood, my beautiful, perfect little girl. You belong to Borys." I then straightened to my full height. "I've changed my mind," I announced. "Leave the boy here. The Shade's little blonde vampire can have him after the wedding. Right now, Borys is requesting the presence of his blooming bride. Have my daughter brought to his chambers."

I watched as the guards dragged my daughter away to whatever fate Borys had for her that day. I watched wondering why I was so threatened by her. I watched hoping that she would break down, because the strength of her spirit only served to highlight the weakness of mine.

One would have to be blind not to see how much Sofia loved the legendary Derek Novak, rumored to be the most powerful vampire alive-king of The Shade, the largest and most influential vampire coven in existence. The look on his face upon seeing her made it quite evident that he felt for her the exact same way. Their reunion would haunt me my whole life, the way they whispered comfort into each other's ears and caressed one another would forever be etched into my mind.

I had hoped that I would experience the same thing upon once again seeing Aiden, but when the hunters attacked and our eyes met for the first time in almost a decade, all I could see was a million unanswered questions behind his eyes and pure and utter hatred.

I still loved Aiden Claremont, but he no longer felt the same way about me. I couldn't blame him, but I hated that he couldn't look at me with affection, yet he could still look at Sofia as if he worshiped the ground she walked on.

Whatever love I felt for my daughter faded away when Aiden chose to ride in the helicopter with her instead of the one I was in. The hunters wanted me dead, but Aiden stopped them. I thought it was because he still cared, but he gave me one glare and coldly said, "I want her dead too, but my daughter isn't about to lose a mother. Not tonight."

Everything just had to be about her.

Sofia ruined my life. Not only that, but the world of all these powerful men seemed to revolve around her-Aiden, Derek, even Borys. I was jealous of her.

Sofia was beautiful inside and out. She had a good heart and an inexplicable strength of spirit. She was powerful and vied for as the immune-a human who could never be turned into a vampire. She was loved.

Sofia was everything that I was not. Whenever I laid eyes on her after that fateful night when The Oasis was destroyed and we were all taken to enemy territory-to the hunters' headquarters-there were three words going through my mind: I hate you.