I AWOKE, GROGGY, HEAD THROBBING. SLOWLY sitting up, I looked around, trying to get my bearings. A window to my right. A small bench with a fitted cushion beneath the sill. I was in an average sized room furnished with a twin-size bed, dresser, desk with a chair, and a door leading to another room.
I scrambled off the bed and stumbled. Searing pain punched at my temples. I leaned against the wall to steady myself and placed my hand on my forehead, hoping some of the pain would ease.
“Ow.” I winced as another sharp stab hit my temple. Nausea rolled through my stomach.
Slowly, the events of the previous night came into focus. Getting dressed up with Whitney. My birthday party. Trent asking me to change for him. The coven showing up at the cabin. Me sneaking out to visit Abby. Ivy kidnapping me from the middle of the road.
“Oh God,” I groaned.
Ivy had kidnapped me! More than likely, she had stashed me somewhere safe, and well hidden—which meant the chances of Trent finding me were slim. He was probably freaking out, worried about where I was. I’d left him a note, but when he went to Keene Valley, he’d realize I wasn’t there.
I’d been so stupid to sneak out of the cabin. What had I been thinking? I hadn’t, which was the problem. And now I was paying for my impulsive stupidity.
Finally, the pain in my head eased, and my mind cleared. Now, there was only one thought tumbling around—escape. I straightened and walked toward the door. What were the chances it was unlocked? I went to it and turned the knob. Locked. I rushed toward the window, but that wouldn’t budge, either, though I couldn’t see any lock anywhere. Ivy probably had it sealed with magic. Like it or not, I was trapped in here.
Sighing, I wandered toward the other door, which led to a small bathroom. How cozy. Well, so much for working together with the coven. Then again, Ivy was under the very wrong impression that I’d been trying to run from her. If only she’d listen to me, I could explain.
I opened the dresser drawers to find all my clothes neatly folded and organized. My mother’s urn sat atop the dresser, not a crack or scratch on it. Eyes wide, I gasped.
How had they gotten my things? They must have gone back to the cabin, but… If they had, then Trent must know the coven had me, which meant he’d find me eventually. A spark of hope bloomed in my chest.
Wait—if the coven had gone back to the cabin, and if they’d spoken to Trent, surely, he would’ve shown them the note I left. And if Ivy saw my note, then she must know I wasn’t running. So, then, why was I locked in this stupid room?
I needed to find a way out, something I could use to pick the lock. Moving on to the desk, I found it completely empty—not so much as a scrap of paper or a pen. That wasn’t helpful. I returned to the bathroom, searching the cabinet beneath the sink, the drawers, and the medicine cabinet.
All empty save for an unopened toothbrush, a bottle of mouthwash, and a tube of toothpaste. One of the drawers rattled, indicating a loose screw. That might come in handy later. I yanked open the shower curtain. A bottle of shampoo, conditioner, and a bar of soap.
“Ugh.” I stomped out of the bathroom.
The sound of keys jangling outside the bedroom door caught my attention. I spun around, ready to face whoever was about to enter.
A woman I vaguely recognized from last night entered with a tray of food. “Oh, good. You’re finally awake.” She smiled, crossed the room, and set the tray on top of the desk. “I hope you’re hungry.”
“Where am I?”
She ignored me and busied herself with fidgeting with my tray. I watched her closely to make sure she didn’t put something in my food. Though, if they wanted to poison me, they’d be smart enough not to do it in front of me.
“How long have I been asleep?” I asked.
She took the lid off a dish to reveal a heaping plate of vegetables and noodles smothered in a white cream sauce. Steam billowed from the food.
“Enjoy.” And then she left the room, locking me in again.
My stomach grumbled. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten. Cake with Trent and everyone else. What time had that been? Maybe the hot food would help my headache.
I sat at the desk and stared at the heap of pasta. I was starving, but how did I know they didn’t mess with the food? I took a small bite. A mixture of garlic, mushrooms, and cheese exploded in my mouth. I closed my eyes and groaned. It was really good, and I ate the entire meal too fast.
Now, it was my stomach that ached. Either from eating too fast or poison, I wasn’t sure. Probably from eating too fast. Ivy had no reason to poison me, not when she needed my help to restore the magical balance.
I twisted the top off the bottle of water and drank half of it in several large gulps. What was I supposed to do now? Just sit in this room and wait for them to bring me meals?
For eight days straight, that’s exactly what I did. I wandered around the room aimlessly in between meals, which were delivered by either Coral or Heaven Leigh—the same two witches who had helped Ivy kidnap me.
Coral was always so tight-lipped and would never say anything to me, other than what was on the menu. Heaven Leigh, however, was a little friendlier, and I began to look forward to her visits. With any luck, I could befriend her and somehow use that to my advantage.
Severe boredom had set in by the end of day two, and time ceased to exist in any logical manner, so I slept a lot. Or rather, I tried. But the nightmares were back, worse than ever, and without Trent to comfort me, I was a tight ball of tiredness, anxiety, and anger.
Every fiber in my being hurt when I thought about him, about how he’d warned me and I hadn’t listened. God, I’d been so stupid. I should have stayed with him. We should have figured this out together.
I should have said yes to him and let him change me. Then I wouldn’t even be here. But instead, I was too much of a coward, and now I was a prisoner of the Rose Coven. No one was coming to rescue me. Not this time.
I wandered toward the window and gazed outside. Tree branches blocked most of my view, but the sun shone through, and I pressed my hand to the glass, longing to feel the warmth of the sun on my face.
Sitting on the small bench, I tucked my knees to my chest and rested my head on the window. From this angle, I could see a small part of what appeared to be a pond, or maybe it was a lake. I had no idea, but the stillness of the water helped calm me. And it reminded me of the pond Jax had shown me.
I closed my eyes, recalling every smell and sound, remembering the way he’d looked at me. It was the way Trent always looked at me. I missed Trent so much. I couldn’t imagine how he must be feeling. Lonely. Scared. Angry. I could picture him pacing, worrying if I was safe, or alive.
The door opened, but I didn’t bother to move. Must be lunchtime. But I didn’t smell any food. I glanced away from the window. Ivy stood in the room, hands clasped in front of her. She wore a billowy yellow skirt with a white blouse. She looked like summer.
“You’ve finally decided to grace me with your presence?” I asked, my tone snarky. I’d been asking to see her since I’d arrived, and today was the first day she’d bothered to show her face.
“I was hoping we could chat.” She flicked her wrist, and the door closed magically.
I remained silent, waiting for her to speak again.
She sat in the desk chair. “Now that you’ve had some time to think, have you made a decision?”
I dropped my feet to the floor and sat up straight. “Well, I’m still not joining your coven, if that’s what you mean.” I couldn’t shake the feeling that’s what she wanted more than anything—a Zoya in her coven. She didn’t really care about breaking the curse; she simply wanted more power.
Ivy sighed and shook her head. “Don’t you realize the consequences of your inaction? The entire magical community is at odds. Lives are being lost. Nature is being upended. And you have the power to stop all of it.”
Sure, and all I had to do was become a witch or a vampire. Such an easy choice. I stood and stretched. “So, that’s it, then? You’re going to hold me hostage until I agree to help you?”
“You’re not a hostage. You came here willingly, remember?”
“Uh, no, I didn’t. I distinctly remember you kidnapping me.” I crossed my arms, daring her to argue.
“You’re our guest, Chloe.”
I snorted. “Guests are allowed to come and go as they please. Am I free to leave?” I raised a brow. When she didn’t answer, I said, “That’s what I thought. Y’know, even criminals get an hour a day outside.”
“You’re not a criminal.”
“Okay, fine. A prisoner.” I had no idea why I was arguing this with her, but her smug attitude grated on my last nerve. “Yes, I suppose you’re technically a prisoner here.” She stood. “Would you like to take a walk with me?”
I hesitated. More than anything, I wanted out of this room, but fear and caution kept me rooted in place. Was this some sort of trap?
“Come. Fresh air will help you think clearer,” Ivy said.
Finally, I nodded. She’d already locked me up and admitted I was her prisoner. What more could she do to me? She wouldn’t kill me—she needed me, so that gave me some comfort.
I followed her out of the room and down a short hallway. She pushed open a back door and stepped aside so I could exit first.
The sun hit my face, and I stopped to bask in it. I missed the days of going to the beach with Mom, laying in the sun, staring up at the clouds and dreaming about our future. If she only knew how badly I’d messed things up. She’d be so disappointed, especially knowing the sacrifices she’d made to keep me safe.
“This way.” Ivy walked ahead of me.
The grounds were alive with trees, shrubs, colorful flowers, and animals. A light breeze rustled the leaves, kicking up the unique scent of fresh cut grass and pollen.
“It’s beautiful here,” I said. And that annoyed me beyond belief. I wanted everything around me to be as miserable as I was. Ivy smiled with pride. “It is,” she agreed with a nod. “For what it’s worth, I am sorry we’ve had to come to this point, Chloe. I had truly hoped we could work together. Amicably.”
“That went out the window the moment you snatched me and locked me up in that room.”
She sighed. “I told you not to run. You disobeyed. What else was I supposed to do?”
“I wasn’t running,” I said through gritted teeth.
“Yes, well, you’re much too valuable to take any chances. Besides, we can’t risk the Zoya finding you.”
My steps faltered. “What?”
“If we know about you, surely the Zoya do, too, and I can promise you they won’t attempt to negotiate. They’ll just kill you and be done with it.” She said all of that as casually as if she were talking about the weather.
Fear snaked down my spine. I hadn’t really given much thought to the Zoya lately, but Ivy was right. If they found out who I was, I was dead. Maybe I should be thanking her for locking me up.
“So, let’s discuss how we’re going to work together to fix this mess,” she said. Her gait was slow and steady, making it easy for me to take in my surroundings. “That is, if you still want to work together.”
Do I really have a choice?
“We can, but not at the expense of what I want.” I tucked my hands into my pockets and strolled beside her.
Under any other circumstances, this would have been a pleasant walk with a friend. But this was far from that—this was a negotiation for my life.
“But the things you want are impossible. You know that,” Ivy said, bewildered.
“Let’s say I did agree to join your coven and let you train me, what would that mean for my relationship with Trent? Is a witch allowed to love a vampire?” I asked.
“I’m not willing to give him up,” I said with a defiant head shake.
“Yet, you’re not willing to change for him, either.”
I stopped in my tracks.
Ivy continued as if nothing was wrong. “Don’t you think that’s strange? You love him enough to refuse a life of power and sisterhood, but you don’t love him enough to devote yourself to him for an eternity.” She stopped and turned back to look at me. “Why is that?”
I swallowed the lump in my throat, remembering having this same conversation with Trent. He’d been so heartbroken when he’d asked me that question. I hadn’t been able to give him an answer then, and I couldn’t give her one now, either. “No one grows up wanting to become a vampire,” I said, my voice hoarse.
“No, I suppose not.” She sighed. “But isn’t the promise of an eternity with the man you so desperately love worth that kind of sacrifice?”
She headed back toward the house, and I jogged to catch up with her. Not that I wanted to go back to that room, but I highly doubted she’d leave me outside alone.
“Why do you care?” Then it him me. “Oh, I get it. I won’t join your coven and help you regain the power you’ve lost, so now you’re trying to convince me to change. If I break the curse, the balance is restored, and your coven gets its power back.”
“You’re a smart girl, Chloe.” She stopped at the back door and opened it, waiting for me to step over the threshold. I took a moment to look back at the lush greenery, to let the sun hit my face one more time. Who knew when I’d get another chance to be outside? Then, with a reluctant sigh, I entered the house.