I slept fitfully against Jax's shoulder most of the way home, but he never once complained. He’d simply shifted positions so I’d be more comfortable. My honeymoon had come to an abrupt end because my husband had been kidnapped by a sadistic vampire and his psychopathic “queen.” How the hell did that happen? And how was I ever going to get him back?
My mind and body were zombie-like as we left the airport and climbed into Jax’s car. I rested my head on the window and closed my eyes. The hum of the car’s engine lulled me into a somewhat peaceful sleep. Every so often, Jax’s voice would cut through my consciousness, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
Eventually, the car stopped, and then I was in Jax’s arms. He carried me inside, up the stairs, and gently laid me on the bed—the same bed I shared with Trent on our wedding night. The blankets were still disheveled and smelled like him. Sudden, intense heartache clawed at me.
I was back home. Alone. Surrounded by memories of Trent. I hugged his pillow and inhaled his scent as fresh tears filled my eyes.
“Get some rest,” Jax whispered. And then he was gone, too.
A sob choked me, and I hugged the pillow tighter to my body. Wherever Trent was, I hoped he was okay. Dante had the chance to kill him, and he didn’t, which gave me a little bit of hope that Dante was simply delivering Trent to Yolanda. Hopefully, Yolanda’s desire for Trent would outweigh her anger at him for leaving her all those years ago. As painful as it was, and as much as I didn’t want to even think about it, I prayed she treated him well. At least until Jax could find him.
I’d even forgive Trent if he gave in to Yolanda and ended up having sex with her. I didn’t care what he did just as long as he survived and came back to me. I rolled onto my back, still clutching his pillow, and stared up at the ceiling.
After a couple of hours, my tears dried up, and I was numb. What would I do if Trent never came home? How would I go on without him?
Cupping my hand over the mark on my neck, I inhaled a shaky breath. How did a person go on with their life when their soulmate had been ripped away from them? If I’d never met Trent, it wouldn’t matter. But I had met him. I’d fallen hopelessly in love with him. We were soulmates, and now I was alone.
Maybe that’s what Dante had meant when he said death would be preferable to the fate that awaited me. Because he was right. I’d much rather die than live without Trent. That was a silver-lining, I supposed. If Trent never came back, I’d stay human and eventually die.
THE FOLLOWING MORNING, A knock on the door woke me. I was still flat on my back and had a death grip on Trent’s pillow. Stiff and sore, I winced as I pushed myself into a sitting position.
“Chloe? Are you awake?” Whitney stepped into the room. She rushed to my side. “Oh, sweetie. I am so, so sorry.” I nodded, knowing if I tried to speak, I’d only end up crying more.
“Jax filled us in on what happened,” she said and sat on the edge of the bed. “Everyone’s downstairs right now.” “Who’s everyone?” My voice was hoarse, and my throat was scratchy. My head was starting to pound again, too.
“Sean, Colt, Wyatt, and Isach. We didn’t tell Abby anything yet because we weren’t sure if you wanted her to know,” Whitney said.
“Thanks.” My shoulders sagged.
Even though Abby now knew the truth about vampires and witches, I really didn’t want to drag her into the middle of this mess. Besides, if she knew I was back home, she’d probably tell Aunt Beth and Uncle Dean, and how on earth was I supposed to explain that I’d returned from my honeymoon without my husband?
“I know now isn’t the best time, but some things happened while you were gone,” she said, her tone cautious.
“What kinds of things?” I asked hesitantly. Wasn’t losing my husband enough? What more was I expected to deal with? “Well, for starters, Karina and Colt broke up,” she said.
My eyebrows shot up, and I blinked with disbelief. “Why? How? I mean, he claimed her. I thought that meant forever.”
“It’s complicated.” Whitney twisted her hands in front of her. “When he bit her, he made her and Dante believe he was claiming her, but he didn’t. That was never his true intention.”
I rubbed at my throbbing temples. “Why would he do that?”
“He was trying to protect her. He does care for her, but she’s not his soulmate. The night of your wedding, he told her the truth, and she was pretty upset. She took off, and no one’s seen her since.”
I groaned, which caused my head to ache even worse. “So, no one knows if she’s okay?”
Whitney frowned and shook her head.
“Great, so we have two missing people now?”
“Not exactly,” she said and stood. “She was very clear that she didn’t want Colt, or anyone else, coming after her.”
“Wonderful,” I said, my voice flat. “Is that all?”
“No, but I think you’ve had enough for now. Get up.” Whitney pried the pillow from my arms. She set it on the bed. “You need to shower, and then we need to figure out a way to rescue Trent.”
I sank onto the mattress. “I just want to lay here,” I mumbled.
“I know you do, but when Ivy kidnapped you, Trent didn’t lay around feeling sorry for himself. He spent every second of every day looking for you, and now you’re going to do the same for him.” Whitney yanked the blankets off me.
She was right. I couldn’t give up on Trent simply because I was too sad to get out of bed. I needed to help find him. I climbed out of bed, and the second my feet hit the floor, I swayed. Whitney was quick to steady me. I clutched her arm and took a few deep breaths until the dizziness passed.
“You okay?” she asked.
I shook my head. “Everything aches. My head won’t stop pounding, and I feel like I’m going to be sick.”
“You’ve probably got a concussion,” she said. “That lump on your head is pretty nasty.”
I’d almost forgotten about that, but now that she mentioned it, pain radiated from the lump. Ugh. I released Whitney, and when I was positive I could stand on my own without toppling over, I took a few steps.
“Can you shower on your own?” she asked, her expression serious.
“Uh, yeah,” I said, mortified at the thought of Whitney climbing in the shower to help me. “I’m fine.”
“Good. You get cleaned up, and I’m going to call Doctor Mattias to check you out.”
I froze. The tips of my ears burned, and my skin prickled. Trent and I were going to call Doctor Mattias when we got home to find out if… I swallowed the lump in my throat, and my hand instinctively went to my stomach.
What if I was already pregnant?
The bitter taste of bile filled my mouth, and I ran to the bathroom. There wasn’t anything left in my stomach, but that didn’t stop me from dry heaving for what felt like ages.
“Chloe? Are you okay?” Whitney asked through the closed door.
“Yeah. I’m fine, but I think you might be right about me having a concussion,” I said, my voice shaky.
Letting her and everyone else believe I was suffering from a concussion was better than telling them I might be pregnant. I needed their focus to be on finding Trent, not worrying about me.
“I called Doctor Mattias. She’ll be here in a couple hours,” Whitney said.
“Thanks.” I stood. “I’m gonna shower.”
I stripped out of my clothes and shoved them into the trash can—I never wanted to see that outfit again—and then I stepped into the shower, turning the water on as hot as I could stand it.
And then I cried. Again.
Trent and I had showered together the morning we left for our honeymoon. He’d stood behind me, kissing my neck and shoulders as his hands explored my body, and then he’d spun me around, lifted me off my feet, and…
“Stop it,” I scolded myself.
Spending every moment remembering the things Trent and I had done wasn’t helping. It only made the hole in my heart larger and made me miss him even more. I needed to focus on finding him. Nothing else mattered.
I scrubbed my body and washed my hair, and by the time I stepped out of the shower, I felt a little better. When I returned to my room, Whitney was gone, but she’d set clothes out on the bed for me.
I dressed, braided my hair, and then headed downstairs. Sean, Jax, Colt, Wyatt, Isach, and Whitney were in the living room. When I descended the last step, Jax glanced up, his gaze colliding with mine.
“So, what’s the plan?” I asked.
Isach embraced me in a hug. “I’m sorry, Chloe,” he whispered.
Hugging him back, I nodded. “Thanks,” I said.
“How’re you feeling?” Jax asked.
I shrugged. “I’m fine.”
Constantly being asked how I was doing or how I felt was much too reminiscent of being asked those same questions after Mom died. What was I supposed to say? That I was barely holding it together? That I was seconds away from shattering into a million pieces? That there was a hole in my chest that I couldn’t heal?
No one wanted to hear that—they wanted to know I was okay, so that’s what I’d let them believe. It had worked back when Mom died, and it would work now, too.
“Seriously, I’m fine,” I said. “Now, will someone please tell me how we’re going to find Trent?”
Jax’s gaze lingered on me as if he were worried I was going to collapse on the floor right there in front of him. Finally, he returned his attention to everyone else.
“We’re going to need more help than what we have standing in this room,” Jax said.
“More help?” I raised a brow. “Who else is supposed to help us? There’s only one other person who knows about Trent, and she’s a weak, helpless human just like I am,” I snapped.
All eyes turned to me, and my shoulders sagged. Probably not the smartest thing I could’ve said, but it was the truth. The only other person I knew who could help us was Abby, and what good would she be? Not much more than me right now.
“Chloe,” Sean said. “A moment, please?” He nodded toward the sliding glass doors.
With a sigh, I followed him out onto the back porch, which was a mistake. The sight of the pool below had memories of the night Trent and I had gone skinny dipping bombarding me. I turned my back to the pool and leaned against the railing.
“I know this is incredibly difficult for you,” Sean said. “But you’re not to blame.”
I stared at him. “You’re kidding, right? Of course, I’m to blame. I couldn’t do anything to save him, Sean. When it really mattered, I was worthless. I’m the reason your son is missing.”
“Do you think that’s what Trent believes?” he asked, his tone calm despite the severity of our conversation.
“I—” I snapped my mouth closed, knowing there was nothing I could say to that.
Trent wouldn’t for one second blame me for any of this. If anything, he was probably blaming himself for what Dante had done to me, for how Trent got himself captured and left me behind. I shifted on my feet and bit the inside of my cheek to stop from crying. How did I even have any tears left?
“Exactly,” Sean said softly. He rested an arm on the railing and faced me. “What happened wasn’t your fault, and it wasn’t Trent’s, either. But it happened, and now we have to fix it. And we will.”
Sean gently placed his hand on my arm, his touch hesitant. “Believe it or not, I do remember what it was like to be human.” He smiled faintly. “I remember feeling weak and helpless, but you’re a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t feel very strong right now.” I reached up and wiped away tears.
“I know,” he said. “But you are. If I know anything about Trent, it’s that he loves you more than anything, and it’s that love that’s giving him the strength right now to keep fighting.”
I swallowed the emotion clogging my throat.
“Don’t let him fight for nothing. Keep loving him. Stay strong so when he does come home, he can come home to the same woman he left.” Sean squeezed my arm, then dropped his hand. “And I promise you, no one in there blames you, either.”
“Thank you.” I blew out a shaky breath.
He nodded and smiled. “You’re not alone in this, Chloe. We’re all here for you.”
“I know,” I whispered.
I had more family now than I had when Mom died, more people to rally around me and lift me from the depths of my own despair.
“Good. Now, let’s go figure this out.” He opened the sliding doors, and I walked back inside.
Thankfully, no one asked me if I was okay or how I was doing. I settled on the couch, feet tucked beneath me, and nodded for Jax to continue.
But it was Isach who spoke up. “I’ve been trying to do a locator spell, but I keep getting blocked, which means Dante and Yolanda are working with witches.” He dragged his hand through his hair. “I just don’t which coven, or why they’d have witches helping them in the first place. Our kinds don’t exactly get along.”
“I’m not surprised,” Colt said. He’d been standing quietly in the kitchen. “Dante’s always working with witches for one reason or another.”
“Which is why we need extra help,” Jax said.
And then it all clicked in my head. “Ivy,” I said. “You want Ivy to help us?”
Isach nodded. “Me, Ivy, and her coven can easily break through whatever protections have been put in place around Yolanda. Once we do that, we’ll be able to figure out where Trent is.”
“You really think she’s going to help us?” Whitney asked. She stood near the front window, arms crossed.
“Yes,” I said. “She’ll help us.”
“How can you be so sure? What’s in this for her? Because we all know that woman doesn’t do anything without some sort of payoff,” Whitney said.
“I’m the payoff,” I said, frustration and anger burning through me. “I’m always the payoff for her.” I stood, unable to sit still another second, and paced behind the couch. My nerves were frayed and jittery. “She knows Trent is the only one who can change me, and if’s he missing—”
“He can’t change you, and the curse won’t be broken,” Isach finished.
“Exactly. She’s got a vested interested in getting Trent home,” I said, clutching the back of the couch.
“All right. I’ll go see her,” Isach said, digging his keys from his front pocket. “With any luck, when I come back, I’ll know where Trent is.”
Hope flared in my chest. Finding him was the biggest hurdle. Once we knew where he was, it was simply a matter of going to get him.
“Thanks, Isach,” I said, gratitude thick in my tone.
With a nod, he headed for the front door.
“Wait,” I said, and he stopped. “Before you go… My family still thinks I’m on my honeymoon, and I want to keep it that way until we find Trent. There’s no way I can explain this to them.”
“What about Abby?” Isach asked.
I shrugged. “I’m not sure yet. Just… don’t say anything, okay?”
“Okay, but you know how she is. She’s going to start asking questions about what I’m doing and why I’m constantly disappearing on her,” he said.
“I know,” I said, a heavy blanket of exhaustion settling over me. “Give me a day or two, then I’ll call her.”
Isach smiled, though I could tell he wasn’t happy. “Sure. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” And then he left.
I wandered into the kitchen to grab a bottle of water and some aspirin. My head was killing me again. Maybe when Doctor Mattias showed up, she could give me something for the constant pain.
Colt remained in the kitchen, his gaze tracking my movements. Something nagged at the back of my mind, but everything was still so foggy. I popped the pills into my mouth and swallowed them with a drink of water.
And then clarity swamped me.
“Why would Dante want Trent when you’re the one whose been running from him?” I asked, setting the water on the counter harder than necessary. “And different last name or not, how did he not know you were their brother? You all look so much alike.”
The chatter in the living room died, and all eyes were now on me.
“The very first time I met Dante, he mistook me for Trent,” Colt said, his tone weary. “I insisted I wasn’t him, that I had no idea who he was, but Dante wouldn’t let it go. He kept talking about the twin vampires who were cursed.”
My stomach recoiled, and I took a deep breath, willing the water I just drank to stay down.
“So, I proved to him I wasn’t related,” Colt said.
“How?” Sean asked.
“I sired a vampire,” he said simply, refusing to look at his father. “When she didn’t go crazy with bloodlust, Dante finally let it go. After all, no true Halstead could change a human, right?”
“How is that possible?” I asked. “You are a Halstead.”
“Only in name,” Colt said with a sigh. “Sean didn’t sire me, so I don’t have Halstead blood in my veins. Therefore, I’m not bound by the curse.”
My jaw dropped. Based on the same stunned expressions on Sean and Jax’s faces, this was just as much of a surprise to them as it was to me.
“I only sired her so I could protect you guys,” Colt said, finally meeting Sean’s gaze, then Jax’s. “I’m not proud of what I did, but when I realized Dante knew you two, I had to do whatever I could to stop him from coming after you.”
“It’s okay, son,” Sean said, coming over to stand beside Colt. “We don’t blame you.”
“Wait.” I held up my hand, once again trying to corral my thoughts. “So, when you were with Dante, you knew that he knew about Trent and Jax? And you knew Yolanda still wanted Trent?”
“Yes.” Colt hung his head.
Instantaneous rage erupted in my chest. “And you came here anyway? Why would you do that?” I shouted. “You had to know you’d lead Dante straight to Trent.”
“Chloe,” Sean said, his tone holding a warning.
“No.” I shook my head. “Sorry, Sean, but I do blame him. It’s his fault Dante found Trent.”
“Chloe,” Jax said. “I know you’re angry, but no one knew where Trent was taking you on your honeymoon. There was no way Colt was responsible for leading Dante to the Swiss Alps.”
I curled my hands into fists. So what if Jax’s argument made complete logical sense? Colt never should’ve hidden the truth from us. If he hadn’t, maybe we could’ve been prepared, or been more careful. Tears stung my throat, and fresh pain lanced across my forehead. I reached for the pill bottle and popped two more aspirin.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Jax asked, his voice suddenly much closer than it had been a second ago.
Startled, I gasped and spun around to glare at him. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.” I twisted the top off the water bottle and took a long drink. “And yes. I’m fine.”
“That “I’m fine” crap might work on everyone else, but I know better. You’re not fine,” he said.
“That’s it.” I slammed the water onto the counter. “From this point forward, no one is allowed to ask me how I’m doing or if I’m okay,” I said, raising my voice so everyone could hear me. My stomach began that slow churn that happened right before I’d get sick. I covered my hand with my mouth and rushed into the bathroom.