A Castle of Sand (A Shade of Vampire #3) by Bella Forrest

PROLOGUE: SOFIA

My blood was pounding within me. A surge of horror rushed through my body as I scoped my surroundings. Gunshots were being fired all over the place. A fiery bullet hit a vampire about seven feet away from me, who screamed in agony as he burst into flames. He was only one among the many vampires present in those tombs—one among many dying excruciating deaths by those fatal gunshots. A few lucky ones were killed with stakes driven through their hearts, but most were shot with the hunters’ bullets, uniquely engineered to mete out death on the vampires.

The sight was sickening, but despite my mortification over the sheer magnitude of death surrounding me, my prime concern was Derek Novak.

I can’t lose you.

He was a vampire. He was a prince. He was the man that I loved. The mere thought of losing him made breathing a struggle.

I looked around and gasped at the sight of him ripping the heart out of a vampire from the Maslen clan before moving on to breaking the neck of a hunter poised to attack him with a stake. He was headed straight for Borys Maslen. Fearing for his life, I stumbled forward. As I weaved through the chaos surrounding me toward my beloved, someone grabbed my arm and pulled me back.

“Get her out of here!” My father, Aiden Claremont, was pointing toward the exit. He was speaking to the stranger gripping my arm. The sight of my father still confused me. What was he doing here? After all the years he had abandoned me and left me under the care of his best friend, Lyle Hudson, he seemed out of place in this world—my world. His attempts to protect me were irritating. He had no business interfering with my life, not after all those years of ignoring me. Still, his presence moved me beyond words. He was still my father and I wanted to run to him and embrace him, feel his strength surround me, hear whispers of assurances in my ear—assurances that would answer my questions about why he had abandoned me. I wanted to know if he loved me, but there was no time for teary-eyed reunions.

War was being waged all around us and the only thing that mattered at that moment—reaching Derek—was being kept from me. I struggled against the hunter’s grasp as he dragged me in the opposite direction. He was far stronger than me and I couldn’t break away from his grasp until he was tackled to the ground by a familiar vampire. Claudia.

Her mass of blonde curls covered her face as she let out a scream before ripping the man’s heart out. Her big brown eyes then turned toward me, a manic smile forming on her face.

“Hello, Sofia.”

I shivered as I looked into her eyes. A broken creature, she embraced darkness like no other and had become one of the most wicked beings I’d ever come across. She surged forward and pinned me against a wall with her bloody hands.

“This is my gift to you,” she hissed before sinking her teeth into my neck. I’d been bitten by vampires before, but I felt right away that what she was doing was different. She wasn’t simply feeding on me. She was trying to turn me.

“No!” I gasped, trying to push her away. “Claudia, don’t… please…”

Before I could fully wrap my mind around what was about to happen to me, I saw my best friend, Benjamin Hudson, hurtling toward us. His blue eyes screamed bloody murder at the sight of what Claudia, the vampire who broke him in many ways, was doing to me. He aimed his gun at her, but she must’ve sensed him, because she whipped around and tackled him to the ground.

“Did you really think I wouldn’t sense you coming to her rescue? Your blood still pumps through my veins, Ben…”

Claudia’s hands rose in the air and claws came out of her fingers, poised to wound Ben. I threw my entire weight against her, hoping to push her away from my best friend, but she easily threw me back, and I crashed to the ground. I cast my eyes away in desperation and scanned the hall, only to be met with another bone-chilling sight.

Across the vast hall, Derek stood bleeding and weakened as he faced off with Borys Maslen and three other vampires. And, in another corner of the room, a vampire rushed toward my father, who was fumbling to reload his gun.

Watching with horror as the lives of three of the most important men in my life hung in the balance, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss. Somehow, I already knew that this was going to happen, that the loss of life was inevitable, but finding myself right in the middle of it was something I wasn’t prepared for.

A voice echoed in my mind—the voice of a friend who sacrificed her own life to bring me back into Derek’s arms. I could almost hear her—Vivienne Novak, Seer of The Shade—speaking to me. Her words not only confirmed my worst fears but painted a future I wasn’t sure I wanted to be part of.

The memory of her spoke to me and said, “Blood will be shed.”

CHAPTER 1: SOFIA

Vivienne held the blood-red rose in her hand and caressed it fondly. Sadness traced her blue-violet eyes as she stood alone in her greenhouse.

Liana Hendry stepped into the princess’ sanctuary. Worry marred the features of the lovely vampire with amber gold eyes. “Vivienne? Xavier and I have been worried about you lately. Are you alright?”

“I didn’t think it would be her. I honestly thought Derek would end up killing her.”

Liana stood still, a patient expression on her face, waiting for Vivienne to offer an explanation.

“But she is lovely, isn’t she?” Vivienne appeared serene, though strangely bothered, as she took a whiff of the rose she was holding.

“Who?” Liana took a step forward. The gaze she was giving the young Seer was pensive and kind, almost motherly.

“Sofia Claremont.”

Liana wrinkled her nose, perplexed. “Your brother’s slave?”

Vivienne shook her head as she placed the rose into a crystal vase. “She’s far more than his slave. I could sense it the moment they first kissed. The premonitions that followed… I can’t even speak of them…” Vivienne jolted to a start, as if seeing a vision, before she grabbed Liana’s hand. “Promise me you’ll be loyal to us, no matter what.”

“Of course. Vivienne, we owe Derek our lives… He will bring us true sanctuary just as you prophesied.”

“Then support him even if you don’t understand what he’s doing. It’s a rough road ahead and he will need the girl. She’s the one the witch spoke of all those years ago. The girl who will help him find true sanctuary.”

“Vivienne, why are you speaking as if you won’t be around for what you say is to come?”

“Because I might not be. Our island will suffer severe loss before all this is over, Liana. None of us are safe.”

The deep frown on her face easily revealed how bothered Liana was over these revelations. Vivienne offered no consolation. Her mind was elsewhere—off to the future where she was seeing her beloved twin’s fate. “They are strongest together. They are weakest apart.”

I couldn’t help but wonder why I woke up to the memory—one that was given to me by Vivienne before the hunters took her. Her memories always seemed to come randomly, triggered by situations I had no control over.

“Why the frown, beautiful?”

Before I could follow the sound of his voice, Derek jumped on the bed, his knees straddling my h*ps as the cushions bounced beneath us. Kneeling over me, he held my waist with one hand and ran his palm from my forehead down to my mouth.

“What are you doing?” I asked in a voice muffled by his palm playfully rubbing over my mouth.

“I’m trying to erase that scowl on your face.” He chuckled as he removed his hand from my lips and made a face at me. His dark hair was still a wet, tousled mess, his pale white skin a breathtaking contrast to his raven locks. His firm lips were curved up in a mischievous smile.

I loved this side of him. Fun, carefree, boyish. He was only this way when he was around me—especially after his father, Gregor, returned to rule as king of The Shade. To the eyes of most of the citizens of The Shade, Derek was prince of the kingdom and I was his favorite slave, his pet. Those who knew us well, however, were aware that we were more to each other than just master and slave. We were in love, but I’d grown to accept that what I had with him was temporary. Losing him felt inevitable. After all, how long could a relationship between a vampire and a human last?

Ben once told me—after ruining a sandcastle I’d built—that sandcastles were temporary. It was better to part with them sooner rather than later. What I had with Derek felt like a sandcastle. I was aware that it was temporary, that the waves of life and time would soon ruin it, but it was too beautiful, too precious to me to just let go of. No. This sandcastle was something I planned to protect and be fascinated over for as long as I could.

I didn’t realize that I was looking at him pensively until he took a deep breath and feigned exasperation by rolling his eyes. “What must I do to make you smile?” His legs stretched out on the bed, his elbows holding him up so that his weight—at least twice as great as mine—wouldn’t fall on me.

I still felt small and fragile compared to him, but I knew he would never intentionally do anything to hurt me. Staring up at him, butterflies fluttered inside my stomach, even more so when his lips caressed my cheekbone and his voice found my ear.

“I know how to make you smile.” He raised his head so he could look at the expression on my face.

I played along. “Oh, really now?”

“It’s easy.” He traced a thumb over my lips and grinned when he felt me shudder beneath his touch. He knew exactly the kind of effect he had on me.

He kissed me full on the mouth, his tongue thrusting in—exploring and tasting. His hands wrapped around my waist as he began to shift us both to an upright position, so that he was kneeling on the bed and I was planted firmly on his lap.

I felt his hands creep beneath the silk night gown I was wearing and I had to break off the kiss before things got a lot more heated. I had plans for that day and he wasn’t about to distract me from them by seducing me back into his bed.

“That’s what you thought would make me smile?” I managed to ask as I tried to catch my breath.

His breaths were also coming in pants, but the way he looked at me spelled trouble. “No. This is…”

One hand began tickling me on the side while the other caressed my knee caps, one of my most ticklish spots.

“No! Derek!” I shrieked before breaking into laughter. “Don’t! You’re supposed to make me smile, not laugh.”

He relished my failed attempts to pry his hands off me before my back fell on the bed and he finally stopped the playful torment.

“You’re supposed to smile when I kiss you,” he announced.

Only I was privileged to see this side of Derek Novak. He was mine and I was his. Derek had this way of making me feel like he knew me. I couldn’t help it; the thought made me smile.

“There you go…” His blue eyes twinkled upon seeing my face light up. “Lovely.”

“Now that you’ve got what you want, could you get off me now?” I tried to push him away, but as usual, failed to move him an inch. “Come on, Derek… I have a whole day planned ahead.”

“Do you now?”

I nodded. This was our day. Ever since Gregor Novak returned, he’d been keeping Derek busy with building up The Shade’s army. Being the commander-in-chief of the island’s military force, he had his work cut out. Much to his father’s disdain, he still managed to find time for me.

I pouted at him. “You promised. For the next twenty-four hours, you’re supposed to be all mine, Prince Derek.”

He frowned. He hated it whenever I called him that. “Fine, but you’re not to call me that again. Ever.”

I grinned. “I’ll try.”

He rolled his eyes in response. I watched him as he got up from the bed, admiring his chiseled form, covered only by his boxers. He grabbed his guitar and sat over the edge of the bed with his back turned to me. I listened to him expertly pluck a tune on the instrument. He must’ve felt my gaze on him, because he looked back at me. “Well? Is this what you had planned? Staring at me all day long?”

“Ha!” I threw a pillow at him. He didn’t bother to dodge it. “You wish I were that into you.”

“Oh please…you know you are.”

To that, I couldn’t think of a worthy comeback, so I just gave him a light shove on the shoulder and walked toward the bathroom to get myself ready for the day ahead. But I stopped just before the door of the bathroom and lowered the spaghetti straps of my night gown down my shoulders and let the silk gown fall to the ground. I knew I’d caught his attention the moment the melody he was strumming went grotesquely out of tune.

“Too bad you already took a shower,” I commented before shutting the door behind me.

A few minutes later, we were both in the tub, my back leaned against his chest.

“Today’s going to be a good day,” he said as he ran both hands from my shoulders down to my elbows.

I had to smile. “You have no idea.”

CHAPTER 2: DEREK

To say that I was curious over what my lovely vixen had up her sleeve was the king of understatements. The knowing smile on her face and the way she looked at me as if she knew something I didn’t was driving me crazy, but not any more than the way she was behaving as we moved around my bedroom dressing ourselves for the day ahead.

I was watching her as she picked out an outfit to wear and I began thumbing through her clothes. I saw a white dress hanging on the rack and recalled the last time I saw her wearing it. “I love the way you look in this dress.”

Sofia winked at me, took the dress from the rack and put it on. She then went and stood in front of the mirror. She lifted her locks high over her head and twisted clumps of them around as if wondering whether to tie her hair up.

“I think you’ll look lovely just wearing your hair down,” I commented.

Thus, stabbing at my curiosity even further, her long auburn locks stayed down, cascading over her waist—just the way I preferred it.

From the very first night I met her, Sofia had a mind of her own and rarely hesitated to speak out whenever she felt the need to. The fact that she never did bend to my will because of fear over the fact that I was a vampire or that I was prince of the kingdom we were residing in was one of the things that drew me to her. Thus, to have her giving in to my slightest suggestions—willingly and without question—was something that I found delightful, intriguing and slightly suspicious.

Still, my wariness over whatever she had in store was easily overpowered by the temptation to test just how far she was willing to go with catering to my “innocent suggestions”.