Claudia and Sofia meeting wasn’t something I found myself eagerly anticipating. It was too late, however, because Sofia just came through the front door, a smile on her face, her green eyes twinkling with delight.
Claudia stood up, turned and eyed Sofia from head to feet.
“So this is her.” She said, enviously.
As if that weren’t already bad enough, something else about the awkward situation began eating at me. Apart from the obvious disdain for Sofia that Claudia had in her eyes, I was bothered by the pure shock on Sofia’s face the moment she laid eyes on Claudia’s slave.
“Ben,” she gasped, tears moistening her eyes.
The same amount of shock was evident in the boy’s face upon seeing her. His face paled as fearful concern replaced his sallow and indifferent appearance only moments before. Sofia threw her arms around him and he returned her embrace. As he leaned his chin over the top of her head, he looked my way. I could almost hear the accusations and the threats he was throwing my way. It was obvious that he feared for Sofia, that he was concerned over what I could’ve already possibly done to her.
A snide smirk formed on Claudia’s face as she stared at the reunion between her slave and mine.
“Interesting. Very interesting indeed.”
I stood there, not knowing what to do. Or what to think. But I was sure that what I was seeing right there in front of me, was Sofia embracing her reason to leave the Blood Shade forever.
CHAPTER 23: SOFIA
Chills were running down my spine as I eased into Ben’s strong arms that wrapped tightly around me. There were so many questions running through my mind, so much anxiety over what he’d been through. I didn’t know whether to be happy or to be horrified that I would see him in a place like the Blood Shade.
“With all due respect, my beloved prince,” Derek’s guest purred in a tone that made me think of no other word than seduction, “I don’t like other girls touching what’s mine, and from the look on your face, I doubt you’re enjoying this sight either.”
I could feel Ben’s body tense the moment she spoke. It was sickening to think of the possibilities surrounding his presence at the Shade. I wanted to speak, to say something to him, ask him at least one of the questions swimming around in my head, but I knew that the moment I tried, I wouldn’t be able to hold back the sobs. I wanted to hold on to him, but we both knew that we had to let go. Holding on was nothing but trouble… for both of us, so we reluctantly let go of each other and stood still in front of the man and woman keeping us captive.
“Who is he, Sofia?” Derek asked.
I didn’t miss the tension in his voice. “A friend.”
His gorgeous blonde guest wrinkled her nose in question. “Just a friend?!”
“The best I’ve ever had,” I replied, my voice breaking in the process as a tear ran down my cheek.
“Grant me a request, will you, Claudia?” Derek spoke up, his eyes fixed on me.
I couldn’t make out the expression on his face. I wasn’t sure if I vexed him in any way. For some reason, my heart went out to him. I felt like I wanted to assure him that Ben being there changed nothing between us, but that was a lie. It changed everything. I remembered what I told him the night before – that he’d begun to feel like home. I can never forget the way he looked at me afterwards – like I meant the world to him. I was so moved by how this strong and powerful man could look at me that way. It was strange, because at that moment, I felt like I had the power and he was the one who was vulnerable and under my mercy.
As I stood beside Ben, fearing for him, I took another glance at the master I’d grown to deeply care about and began to wonder. Is it possible for me to break Derek?
I snapped out of my internal monologue when I realized how disgustedly Claudia was looking at me.
“Yes, your Majesty? What can I do for you?”
Derek made his way to her, his hand snaking along her waist from behind as he pulled her back against his body. She didn’t hide the delight in her face as she eyed me as if she’d somehow won something over me. My gut clenched. I had the strangest reaction to seeing Derek touch another woman the way he was touching her. It was quite similar to the way I felt when I saw Ben at the beach with Tanya, but this was different… more intense… more painful. I hated to admit it, but I was jealous. I wanted to give in to the irrational urge to slap Derek in the face and rip Claudia’s hair off, but that would only spell trouble so I looked away instead.
What Derek said next completely crushed all my resolve to ignore him for the rest of the day.
“As you already know, Claudia, the lovely Sofia has become very precious to me, and she seems to have quite a liking for your slave here. You’ve come to pay me homage, have you not?”
Claudia’s face tensed. “I have.”
“It will please me greatly if you give me the boy. My slave, Gwen, was recently murdered as you may have already heard… I need a new one.”
“Surely there are others…” Claudia tried to protest. “I know you well enough to know that you don’t have the penchant for young men the way others do.”
Derek’s grip tightened on her waist, his mouth speaking directly to her ear. “As I said, Sofia has obviously taken a liking to him. I don’t want anyone else, because it’s this one Sofia wants. What pleases her pleases me. Do you dare deny me this request, Claudia?”
Claudia pulled away from him and straightened to her full height, as if trying to regain a dignity I doubted she even had to begin with. We all knew that to deny Derek what he was asking for would be fatal on her part. He was her prince, and he was asking for but one slave. There was no reason for her to say no. She frowned and shot me a glare before eyeing Ben with unbridled lust.
“I rather liked this one, but I have more than I know what to do with.” She approached Ben and caressed his cheek with the back of her hand. She glared at me and stood on her tiptoes as she kissed Ben on the lips.
From the way his muscles tensed the moment their lips touched, it was obvious that Ben hated her guts.
I looked at Ben and wondered if he felt toward her the way I felt toward Lucas. The sick feeling that settled in my stomach refused to go away. I refused to even start imagining what Ben had been going through while at the Shade.
Claudia took one last look at Derek. “I could never deny you anything, dear prince. I shall visit again soon.” She then walked away, disappointment evident in the scowl on her face as she returned to her home.
With her gone, I grabbed Ben’s hand and pulled him in an embrace. I eyed Derek and mouthed a sincere thank you his way. He nodded and forced a smile. Having Ben there, I found myself confused, because while I was ecstatic to see my best friend, what I felt most at that moment was how much I adored Derek for what he did. I held on tightly to Ben almost in hopes of regaining my attraction to him if I held on tight enough.
“I hate her,” Ben hissed in my ear. “I hate them all.”
I hugged him tighter. “Don’t worry, Ben. You’re okay now. Derek will keep us both safe.”
“Don’t be a fool, Sofia. We need to get out of here before he decides that he’s tired of you and kills us both.”
The idea made me sick to my stomach. What will happen if Derek ever realizes that I’m no one special… and decides he’s had enough of me? I wanted to believe that such a thing couldn’t ever happen, but Ben always had a way of swaying me with his words. I gave Derek a worried glance. It felt as though I’d just lost him.
CHAPTER 24: DEREK
I hated the tension. Since she moved into my bedroom, Sofia and I naturally developed a familiarity to each other. There wasn’t even any awkwardness to begin with. It was like we just knew how to adjust to each other. Of course, there were times when I was greatly tempted to take a sip of her blood, but it wasn’t anything a glass of blood couldn’t fix.
The night Ben arrived, however, it was like we’d become strangers to each other. The large room suddenly felt too small for the two of us. Any form of balance we’d developed over time completely disappeared. She was slipping away from my fingers by the minute.
Finally, she was lying down on her side of the bed while I sat over the edge of mine, fully intending to lose myself in a book.
She was the one who eventually broke the silence.
“Thank you, Derek. For what you did.”
I had no desire to talk about the boy, so I ignored her thankfulness and changed the topic.
“Lucas approached you earlier. What did he tell you?”
“Nothing,” she responded a little too quickly. “You know your brother… says a lot of meaningless things.”
“From the way you reacted, what he said looked far from meaningless.” I remembered what Corrine told me about Sofia’s psychological condition and how it was impossible for her not to remember what happened the night she was attacked.
“Has he been hurting you, Sofia?”
She didn’t respond. “It doesn’t matter.”
“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?” I gripped the sheets of the bed, wondering why I was asking questions whose answers I wouldn’t even know how to act on.