“But why do you have to go?”
“I don’t know, Alex. Can we talk about this later?” He looked down at me, eyes glowing. “There are other things I want to do.”
The cord buzzed its approval. “But—”
Seth kissed me again and the hand against my stomach pressed down. I let go of his wrist, intending on pushing him off, but then I was gripping his shirt. The air around us seemed to crackle. There was something building inside me, a warning that the damn bond was up to no good.
I felt the cord rushing to the surface before I actually opened my eyes. Amber and blue lights cast strange shadows across the wall of my bedroom. I was transfixed by them for a moment. It was so bizarre that we were responsible for them. That they even came from within us.
It freaked me out a little.
But Seth’s free hand was everywhere, skimming down my arm, over my leg, and our cords were spiraling together, connecting us. My fingers clenched his shirt and I was pulling him down one second, then pushing him away the next.
Suddenly, the skin under his palm burned. Tiny pricks of pain stole my breath. I felt the rushing building in my stomach, akasha passing through the cords. A brief flicker of sanity reminded me of what had happened the last time we’d held on. Us, moving together on the bed, and there were fewer clothes to be removed this time.
Panic dug its claws deep in me. I wasn’t ready for this—with Seth. Letting go of his shirt, I pushed him hard enough that I was able to wiggle out from underneath him, breaking the connection. I scrambled onto my knees, clutching my stomach. “That… hurt.”
Seth looked dazed. “Sorry, it kind of just happened.”
Hands shaking, I pulled my shirt up far enough to see what I suspected was going to be there. Centered above my navel, right under my rib cage, was a glowing mark that looked like two check marks joined at the top.
“The power of the gods mark,” Seth whispered, sitting up. “Damn Alex, that’s a big one. Tomorrow, we should try blowing something up. I know you completely sucked at it when you did it the first time, but I bet it would work now.”
I couldn’t believe how quickly he went from wanting to get it on to wanting to blow something up. Seth seemed more excited about the rune than the other thing. Hell, his eyes had that crazy look again.
He placed his hands around the mark reverently. “There are four marks that appear first: courage, strength, power, and invincibility. But the power one, that’s akasha. See how it’s placed here?” He went to touch the mark, but I scooted back. He frowned. “Anyway, that’s where you pull power from.”
It was also where the cord slumbered when it wasn’t trying to turn me into one giant, raging hormone. “What happens when you get the fourth mark?”
Seth ran a hand through his hair, tugging it back from his face. Moonlight cut through the blinds, slicing across his face. “I don’t know. Mine came all at once, but they appeared in that order: on both of my palms, my stomach, and then on the back of my neck. Then everywhere else.”
My mouth suddenly felt dry. I dropped my shirt and backed up to the edge of the bed. “Do you think I’ll Awaken early if the fourth one appears?”
He lifted his eyes. “I don’t know, but would it be such a bad thing?”
Dizziness swept through me. “Maybe we should stop… touching or whatever until I turn eighteen.”
“Seth, I can’t Awaken ahead of schedule.”
He shook his head. “I don’t understand, Alex. Things will be so much better once you Awaken. You wouldn’t have to worry about Telly or the furies. Hell, the gods won’t even be able to touch us. How is that not a good thing?”
It wasn’t a good thing, because once I Awakened, there was a strong chance I’d lose myself in the process. Seth had warned me long ago that it would be like two halves coming together, that whatever he wanted would color my choices and decisions. I’d have no control over myself or my future.
And Aiden had been right that day in the sensory deprivation chamber. It terrified me.
“Alex.” Seth took my hand carefully, gently. “You Awakening now would be the best thing for… us. We could even try it. See if we can get the fourth mark to appear. Maybe nothing will happen after that. Maybe you’ll Awaken.”
I pulled my hand free. The eagerness in his voice creeped me out. “Are… are you doing this on purpose, Seth?”
“Trying to get me to Awaken early by touching me or whatever?”
“I’m touching you because I enjoy it.” Then he reached for me again, but I knocked his hand away. “What is your deal?” he asked.
“I swear to the gods, Seth—if you are doing this on purpose I will destroy you.”
Seth’s brows furrowed. “Don’t you think you’re being a tad bit melodramatic here?”
“I don’t know.” And I really didn’t. My palms tingled, my stomach burned, and the cord was finally settling down. “You haven’t done anything with me except training in weeks and then you show up tonight, all touchy and feely. Then this happens?”
“I was all touchy and feely because I’m going to be gone for weeks.” Seth slid off the bed, standing in one fluid motion. “And I wasn’t really avoiding you. I was just giving you some space.”
“Then why did you come here tonight?”
“Whatever the reason was, clearly it was a mistake.” He bent, grabbing his shoes. “Apparently, I’m just here to use you for my nefarious plans.”
I climbed off the bed, hugging my elbows. Was I being paranoid? “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like? I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted.”
An uncomfortable feeling started to twist my insides. “So why did you come here if it… wasn’t because of that?”
His head snapped up, eyes a furious shade of ocher. Like a lion that’d been cornered, caught between wanting to run and attack. “I missed you, Alex. That’s why. And I’m going to miss you. Did that ever cross your mind?”
Oh, oh gods. Guilt brought a hot flush to my face. That hadn’t even crossed my mind. I felt like the worst kind of bitch.
A moment passed and something flared in his eyes. “It’s Aiden, isn’t it?”
My heart tripped over itself. “What?”
“It’s always about Aiden.” He laughed, but there was no humor there.
This wasn’t about Aiden—had nothing to do with him. It was about Seth and me, but before I could even say a word, Seth looked away.
“I guess I’ll see you when I get back.” He started toward the doorway. “Just… just be careful.”
“Crap,” I muttered. I darted around the bed, blocking the door. “Seth—”
“Get out of the way, Alex.”
His words irked me, but I took a deep breath. “Look, this whole marking and Awakening thing freaks me out. You know that, but… but I shouldn’t have accused you.”
There was no change in his expression. “No, you shouldn’t have.”
“And this has nothing to do with Aiden.” It didn’t, or at least that’s what I kept telling myself as I grabbed his free hand, and he flinched. “I’m sorry, Seth.”
He stared behind me, lips thin.
“I really am sorry.” I let go of his hand and placed my head against his chest. Carefully, I wrapped my arms around him. “I just don’t want to become someone else.”
Seth inhaled sharply. “Alex…”
I squeezed my eyes shut. Bond or no bond, I did care about him. He was important to me and maybe there was more to how I felt about him than what the bond was making me feel. Maybe it was just that I cared for him like I’d cared for Caleb. Either way, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
He dropped his shoes and swept his arms around me. “You drive me crazy.”
“I know.” I smiled. “The feeling is mutual.”
He laughed and then brushed his lips over my forehead. “Come on.” He started pulling me back to the bed.
I stalled a little. Not hurting his feelings did not equal me ending up with a mark on the back of my neck.
Seth dropped down, tugging me forward. “To sleep, Alex. Nothing more… unless…” His gaze dropped to my tank top. “You know, you should wear that more often. It leaves very little to the imagination, which is something I like.”
Flushing to the roots of my hair, I quickly climbed over him and pulled the covers up to my chin. Seth laughed as he lay down. He threw an arm around my waist, snuggling close. His breathing was steady. Nothing like mine, which seemed to be racing my heartbeat. And he was smiling easily, as if we hadn’t just argued.
“You’re such a perv,” I said for the hundredth time.
“You’ve called me worse.”
And I had a feeling I probably would in the future, too.
“WOW. LOOK WHO’S SMILING. THE WORLD IS GOING TO end.” Two silvery eyes peeked out behind a mop of curly blond hair, and Deacon St. Delphi smirked as he dropped into the seat beside me. “How’s it going, my favorite half-blood?”
“Good.” I glanced down at my textbook, lips pursed. “Sorry I haven’t been real chatty.”
He leaned over, nudging me in the side. “I understand.”
Deacon did. That’s probably why he hadn’t pressured me into talking with him since I’d been back. He’d just sat beside me in class, not saying a word. I hadn’t realized he’d been waiting for me to come around.
I glanced at him again. That’s the thing about Deacon. Everyone, including Aiden, saw him as a lazy party-boy who didn’t pay attention to anything, but he was far more observant than anyone gave him credit for. He’d had a real hard time growing up without his parents, and I think he was finally coming out of the “party-boy who doesn’t care about anything” stage.
“Are you doing anything for winter break?”
He rolled his eyes. “That would require Aiden taking time off, since he won’t let me off this island without him. He’s been super-paranoid ever since the whole thing in the Catskills. I think he’s expecting daimons or furies to drop in here any minute.”
I cringed. “Sorry.”
“Whatever,” he replied. “It’s not your fault. So I’m not going to be doing anything exciting. I hear my esteemed older brother is playing guard for you.”
I rolled my eyes.
“You know, I overheard him and the Dean talking when he visited the house.”
“What house? Aiden’s cabin?”
Deacon arched a brow. “No, like the house.” He saw my dumbfounded look and took pity on me. “Our parents’ house? Well, it’s really Aiden’s house now. It’s on the other side of the Island, near Zarak’s.”
I had no idea that there was another house. I’d just assumed that Aiden had the cabin and Deacon stayed in the dorm. Come to think of it, why in the hell was Aiden living in that tiny shack if he owned one of those huge, opulent houses on the main island?