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The Singer Elizabeth Hunter 2022/7/22 11:38:33

“I’m fine,” Ava managed to choke out. “I appreciate you’re all worried about me, but really, I’m fine.”

Renata’s eyes cut to her. “Of course you’re not fine. What a ridiculous thing to say.”

This time it was Astrid who put her hand on Ava’s arm before she opened her mouth in anger. “The important thing is everyone grieves in different ways. I think Ava knows we’re worried about her. She knows we care. And she can take as much time as she wants to come to terms with the loss of her mate.”

“Malachi,” she whispered.

“His name was Malachi.” She blinked back tears. “You don’t have to avoid his name or pretend he was just some faceless guy.” Her eyes met Damien’s. “He was your friend. Your brother. And you never say his name. I know you miss him, too.”

Damien’s eyes burned into hers. “I’m sorry, Ava.”

“And I sleep…” Ava cleared her throat and decided to just tell them. “I sleep because, in my dreams, he’s there. And for a little while, I’m happy.”

Astrid said, “That’s very normal, Ava.”

“So if I want to sleep a little more, then it’s my own business. I had nightmares for months, and now they’re gone.”

“Good.” Astrid squeezed her arm. “That’s good. I’m glad you’re sleeping better.”

“Thank you.” She paused and took a deep breath, trying to see their interference for what it was. Concern. Caring. Even love. Part of her acknowledged that the pattern she’d developed wasn’t healthy. But most of her didn’t care a bit. Still, she decided to throw a line to the people she’d come to know as friends.

“I guess… since you’re all here, I’ll stay up a little later.”

She didn’t want to. She wanted to sleep. Wanted to feel Malachi’s arms, even if it was only a dream. Ava sat down again, but there was silence for a few moments until Bruno spoke.

“I could eat more cake.”

Karen said, “You can always eat more cake.”

“Then I was smart to fall in love with a baker.”

A knock came at the door. Ava took the opportunity to distract herself and walked to answer it. She cracked open the door and saw the unexpected sight of Sari on the other side. Sari never came to the cottage, and she certainly never did it looking nervous. But there she was. And she was definitely nervous.

“Um…” Ava blinked and opened the door wider. “Hi.”

Ava felt Damien behind her. She backed away and let him hold the door.

He looked as shocked as Ava felt. Even after the sing, when they seemed to stop antagonizing each other, she never visited.

“Sari!” Renata, clueless to the tension or deliberately ignoring it, called out to her friend. “Come in! Wine or coffee?”

Karen rose to fill another coffee cup as Damien stood motionless at the door. Finally, Ava stepped forward and closed it.

“What’s the matter with you?” she asked under her breath. “She’s not the queen of England.”

“She came to my door,” he said, his voice tinged with confusion. “With… all of you here.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Get over it.”

“I’ll explain later.” He nudged her toward the table where Sari had sat. “Maybe.”

Damien’s eyes burned into Sari as he sat across from her; Ava saw a smile lifting the corner of his lip.

“My dove,” he finally said, and Ava could almost see Sari flinch at the endearment. “What brings you here—to my door—tonight?”

“You know…” Sari sipped the coffee Renata put in front of her. “This is my land. My guesthouse. So technically, I don’t think this is your door.”

“I believe that’s what they call ‘splitting hairs.’”

Astrid looked amused. “Well, this is entertaining, but I do think there might be some larger purpose to this visit than just coffee and cake.”

“There was a group of Grigori spotted in Bergen,” Sari said.

An entirely different tension fell across the table.

“How many?” Damien and Renata both asked at once.