RED SILK CLUNG TO MY HIPS, TWISTING INTO A TIGHT bodice that accentuated my curves. My hair was down, silky around my shoulders like the petals of an exotic flower. The lights in the ballroom caught each ripple in the fabric so that, with every step, I looked like I was blooming from fire.
He stopped, lips parting as if the mere sight of me had rendered him incapable of doing anything else. A warm blush stole over my skin. This wouldn’t end well—not when we were surrounded by people and he was looking at me like that, but I couldn’t make myself leave. I belonged here, with him. That had been the right choice.
The choice I… hadn’t made.
Dancers slowed around me, their faces hidden behind dazzling bejeweled masks. The haunting melody the orchestra played slipped under my skin and sunk into my bones as the dancers parted.
Nothing separated us.
I tried to breathe, but he had stolen not just my heart, but the very air I needed.
He stood there, dressed in a black tux cut to fit the hard lines of his body. A lopsided smile, full of mischief and playfulness, curved his lips as he bowed at the waist, extending his arm toward me.
My legs felt weak as I took the first step. The twinkling lights from above lit the way to him, but I would’ve found him in the dark if necessary. The beat of his heart sounded just like mine.
His smile spread.
That was all the reinforcement I needed. I took off toward him, the dress streaming behind me in a river of crimson silk. He straightened, catching me by the waist as I looped my arms around his neck. I burrowed my face against his chest, soaking in the scent of ocean and burning leaves.
Everyone was watching, but it didn’t matter. We were in our own world, where only what we wanted—what we’d desired for so long—mattered.
He chuckled deeply as he spun me around. My feet didn’t even touch the ballroom floor. “So reckless,” he murmured.
I smiled in response, knowing he secretly loved that part of me.
Placing me on my feet, he clasped my hand and placed the other on the small of my back. When he spoke again, his voice was a low, sultry whisper. “You look so beautiful, Alex.”
My heart swelled. “I love you, Aiden.”
He kissed the top of my head, and then we spun in dizzying circles. Couples slowly joined us, and I caught glimpses of wide smiles and strange eyes behind the masks—eyes completely white, no irises. Unease spread. Those eyes… I knew what they meant. We drifted toward a corner where I heard soft cries coming from the darkness.
I peered into the shadowy corner of the ballroom. “Aiden…?”
“Shh.” His hand slipped up my spine and cupped the nape of my neck. “Do you love me?”
Our eyes met and held. “Yes. Yes. I love you more than anything.”
Aiden’s smile faded. “Do you love me more than him?”
I stilled in his suddenly lax embrace. “More than who?”
“Him,” Aiden repeated. “Do you love me more than him?”
My gaze fell past him again, to the darkness. Aman had his back to us. He was pressed against a woman, his lips on her throat.
“Do you love me more than him?”
“Who?” I tried to press closer, but he held me back. Uncertainty blossomed in my belly when I saw the disappointment in his silvery eyes. “Aiden, what’s wrong?”
“You don’t love me.” He dropped his hands, stepping back. “Not when you’re with him, when you chose him.”
The man twisted at the waist, facing us. Seth smiled, his gaze offering a world of dark promises. Promises that I’d agreed to, that I’d chosen.
“You don’t love me,” Aiden said again, fading into the shadows. “You can’t. You never could.”
I reached for him. “But—”
It was too late. The dancers converged and I was lost in a sea of dresses and whispered words. I pushed at them, but I couldn’t break through, couldn’t find Aiden or Seth. Someone pushed me and I fell to my knees, the red silk ripping. I cried out for Aiden and then Seth, but neither heeded my pleas. I was lost, staring up at faces hidden behind masks, staring at strange eyes. I knew those eyes.
They were the eyes of the gods.
I jerked straight up in bed, a fine sheen of sweat covering my body as my heart continued to try to come out of my chest. Several moments passed before my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I recognized the bare walls of my dorm room.
“What the hell?” I ran the back of my hand over my damp and warm forehead. I squeezed my watery eyes shut.
“Hmm?” murmured a half-awake Seth.
I sneezed in response, once, and then twice.
“That’s hot.” He blindly reached for the box of tissues. “I can’t believe you’re still sick. Here.”
Sighing, I took the tissues from him and cradled the box to my chest as I pulled a few free. “It’s your fault—achoo! It was your stupid idea to go swimming in—achoo!—forty-degree weather, jerk-face.”
“I’m not sick.”
I wiped my nose, waiting a few more seconds to make sure I was done sneezing my brains out, and then dropped the box on the floor. Colds sucked daimon butt. In my seventeen years of life, I’d never gotten a cold until now. I hadn’t even known I could get one. “Aren’t you just so damn special?”
“You know it,” was his muffled response.
Twisting at the waist, I glared at the back of Seth’s head. He almost looked normal with his face planted into a pillow—my pillow. Not like someone who’d become a God Killer in less than four months. To our world, Seth was sort of like any mythical creature: beautiful, but usually downright deadly. “I had a weird dream.”
Seth rolled onto his side. “Come on. Go back to sleep.”
Since we’d returned from the Catskills a week ago, he’d been up my butt like never before. It wasn’t like I didn’t understand why, with the whole furie business and me killing a pure. He probably was never going to let me out of his sight again. “You really need to start sleeping in your own bed.”
He turned his head slightly. A sleepy smile spread across his face. “I prefer your bed.”
“I prefer that we actually celebrate Christmas around here, and then I’d get some Christmas presents and get to sing Christmas songs, but I don’t get what I want.”
Seth tugged me down, his arm a heavy weight that pinned me on my back. “Alex, I always get what I want.”
Afine shiver coursed over my skin. “Seth?”
“You were in my dream.”
One amber-colored eye opened. “Please tell me we were naked.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re such a perv.”
He sighed mournfully as he wiggled closer. “I’ll take that as a no.”
“You’d be correct.” Unable to fall back to sleep, I started chewing on my lip. So many worries surfaced at once that my brain spun. “Seth?”
I watched him snuggle further down into the pillow before I continued. There was something charming about Seth when he was like this, a vulnerability and boyishness missing when he was fully awake. “What happened when I was fighting the furies?”
His eyes opened into thin slits. This was a question I’d asked several times since we’d returned to North Carolina. The kind of strength and power I’d displayed as I’d faced the gods was something only Seth, as a full-blown Apollyon, should’ve been able to accomplish.
As an un-Awakened half-blood? Yeah, not so much. I should’ve gotten my rosy rear handed to me when I fought the furies.
Seth’s mouth tightened. “Go back to sleep, Alex.”
He refused to answer. Again. Anger and frustration rushed to the surface. I flung his arm off me. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“You’re being paranoid.” His arm landed on my stomach again.
I tried wiggling out of his grasp, but his grip tightened. Grinding my teeth, I rolled onto my side and settled next to him. “I’m not being paranoid, you asshat. Something happened. I’ve told you that. Everything… everything looked amber. Like the color of your eyes.”
He blew out a long breath. “I’ve heard that people in high stress situations have increased strength and senses.”
“That wasn’t it.”
“And that people can hallucinate while under pressure.”
I swung my arm back, narrowly missing his head. “I didn’t hallucinate.”
“I don’t know what to tell you.” Seth lifted his arm and rolled onto his back. “Anyway, are you going to go back to class in the morning?”
Instantly, a new worry surfaced. Classes meant facing everyone—Olivia—without my best friend. Pressure built in my chest. I squeezed my eyes shut, but Caleb’s pale face appeared, eyes wide and unseeing, a Covenant dagger shoved deep in his chest. It seemed I could only remember what he’d really looked like in my dreams.
Seth sat up, and I felt his eyes boring holes in my back. “Alex…?”
I hated our super-special bond—absolutely loathed that whatever I was feeling fed into him. There was no such thing as privacy anymore. I sighed. “I’m fine.”
He didn’t respond.
“Yeah, I’m going to class in the morning. Marcus will have a fit when he gets back and realizes I haven’t been to class.” I flopped onto my back. “Seth?”
He inclined his heard toward me. Shadows cloaked his features, but his eyes cut through the darkness. “Yeah?”
“When do you think they’re coming back?” By they I meant Marcus and Lucian… and Aiden. My breath caught. It happened whenever I thought about Aiden and what he’d done for me—what he’d risked.
Easing down on his side, Seth reached across me and grabbed my right hand. His fingers threaded through mine, palm to palm. My skin tingled in response. The mark of the Apollyon—the one that shouldn’t be on my hand—warmed. I stared at our joined hands, not at all surprised when I saw the faint lines—also the marks of the Apollyon—making their way up Seth’s arm. I turned my head, watching as the marks spread across Seth’s face. His eyes seemed to brighten. They’d been doing that a lot more lately—both the runes and his eyes.
“Lucian said they’d be back soon, possibly later today.” Very slowly, he moved the pad of his thumb down the line of the rune. My toes curled as my free hand dug into the blankets. Seth smiled. “No one’s mentioned the pure-blood Guard. And Dawn Samos has already returned. It appears Aiden’s compulsion worked.”
I wanted to pull my hand free. It was hard to concentrate when Seth messed with the rune on my palm. Of course, he knew that. And being the tool that he was, he liked it.
“No one knows what really happened.” His thumb now traced the horizontal line. “And it’ll remain that way.”
My eyes drifted shut. The truth of how the pure-blood Guard had died would have to remain a secret, or both Aiden and I would be in deep trouble. Not only had we almost hooked up over the summer—and then I’d had to go and tell him that I loved him, which was totally forbidden—I’d killed a pure-blood out of self-defense. And Aiden had used compulsion on two pures to cover it up. Killing a pure meant death for a half-blood, no matter the situation, and a pure was forbidden to use compulsion on another pure. If any of it came out, we’d both be totally screwed.