Four months before...
Valin fought to breathe through the layers of dust shifting through the stale air of the cave. One aftershock tremor after another rumbled through the cavern.
He blinked, striving to make out anything in the darkness. Nothing could have possibly survived that blast. Even Valin's skin felt singed, and as a Paladin he was supposedly immune from the burn of heavenly light. Unlike the vamps and demons they'd been battling in this godforsaken place.
He shuddered, dread settling in his core. Gritting his teeth, he pushed out with his senses, striving for any signs of a living, breathing essence. Nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing.
Because you're too late. Just like you were with Angeline. Too late to protect her. Too late to save your unborn child. And now your little vampire is dead too.
He clenched his jaw. He would not believe Gabriella was dead. She might have been a vampire, but she was his vampire.
"Fuck." He raked his hands down over his face. "What the hell am I thinking?" He'd just met the pint-sized pain in the ass. He knew nothing about her other than that she was stubborn, annoying, and...brave. So fucking brave. Brave enough to face down him, her natural enemy, while chained to a wall. Brave enough to stand against her master. Brave enough to run toward death in some vain hope that she might save the lives of two others. Stupid, impossible brat.
Swearing, he pushed off the clammy wall, stumbling along, randomly picking tunnels whenever he came to a split. Maybe she made it far enough. She was fast and determined. Maybe...
His boot kicked into something soft, causing a pile of ash to billow up around him, clogging his lungs.
He ground to a halt, breath trapped tight behind his ribs as he sifted his hand through the cloud of ash. So soft, so light, and all that was left of a life. His hand began to shake, pain radiating from behind his ribs, even though he knew, knew it could just as likely be some random bloodsucker who'd decided to take their chances in these caves rather than facing the Paladin who'd come to eradicate them.
This wasn't her. He'd prove it. He clenched his hand into a fist, taking another step into the darkness. He just had to find her first.