I tensed, my chest tightening. His breath was warm and tantalizing on my lips, and then they brushed across mine so softly. That simple act stole my breath, my heart. But even as he pulled away, I realized that he couldn’t steal something he already had.
Aiden rolled onto his side, pulling me along with him. He eased one arm under me, cradling me to his chest so tightly I could feel his heart thundering. There was something under his shirt that pressed against my cheek. I realized it was his necklace.
He lowered his chin to the top of my head and drew in a deep breath. “Go to sleep, Alex.”
My eyes snapped open. I tried to lift my head, but I couldn’t move an inch. “I don’t think I can sleep now.”
“Well, you better try.”
I tried to wiggle free, but he moved his leg, clamping one of mine between his. My fingers curled into his thermal. “Aiden”
Frustrated, I pushed on his chest. Aiden’s laugh rumbled through me, and even though I wanted to smack him, I started to smile. “Why? Why did you kiss me? I mean, you did just kiss me, right?”
“Yes. No. Sort of.” Aiden sighed. “I wanted to.”
My smile started to turn giddy. It was like there was a part of me that had no perception of the outside world or all the consequences—the part that was completely controlled by my heart. “Okay. Then why did you stop?”
“Can we talk about anything other than that? Please?”
His hand moved up my back, delving into my hair and sending shivers over my skin. “Because I asked you nicely?”
Being this close to him wasn’t helping. Every time I breathed, it was full of his aftershave and the scent of sea salt. If I moved, it only brought us closer. There was no way in hell I was sleeping any time soon. “This is so wrong.”
“That’s the truest thing you’ve said this evening.”
I rolled my eyes. “And this is completely your fault.”
“Not going to argue with that.” Aiden shifted onto his back, and I ended up pinned to his side. I tried to sit up, but he locked his arms together. My head ended up on his shoulder with my arm trapped against his stomach. “Tell me something,” he said after I stopped struggling.
“I don’t think you want me to tell you something right now.”
“True.” He laughed. “Where do you want to be assigned when you graduate?”
“What?” I frowned. Aiden repeated the question. “Yeah, I heard you, but that’s such a random question.”
“So? Answer it.”
Giving up on trying to get free and jump him, I decided to make the best of this weird situation and snuggled closer. I’d probably regret it later, when he came to his senses and pushed me away. Aiden’s arms tightened in response. “I don’t know.”
“You haven’t thought about it?”
“Not really. When I first returned to the Covenant, I didn’t even think I was going to be allowed back in and then I learned about the whole Apollyon thing.” I paused, because I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t really given it much thought. “I guess I just stopped thinking it would even be an option.”
Aiden unlocked his hands and began to trace an idle circle over my upper arm. It was ridiculously soothing. “It’s still an option, Alex. Awakening doesn’t mean your life is over. Where would you go?”
Wishing we’d had the foresight to turn off the light before our impromptu cuddle-fest, I closed my eyes. “I don’t know. I guess I’d pick some place I’d never been, like New Orleans.”
“You’ve never been there?” Surprise colored his voice.
“No. Have you?”
“I’ve been there a couple of times.”
“During Mardi Gras?”
Aiden picked up my hand that was on his stomach, threading his fingers through mine. My chest fluttered. “Once or twice,” he answered.
I smiled, picturing Aiden carrying beads. “Yeah, so maybe some place like that.”
“You remember the weirdest things I say.”
His fingers closed over mine. “I remember everything you say.”
Warmth stole through me and I savored it. He’d said the same thing the day at the zoo, but somehow I’d forgotten that in the mess of everything that had happened after that. “That’s kind of embarrassing. I say a lot of stupid things.”
Aiden laughed. “You do say some pretty weird things.”
I couldn’t argue with that. We lay there together in a companionable silence for a little while. I listened to the even sounds ofhis breathing. “Aiden?”
He tilted his head toward me. “Yeah?”
I finally put voice to something that had been nagging me for a while. “What… what if I don’t want to be a Sentinel anymore?”
Aiden didn’t answer immediately. “What do you mean?”
“It’s not that I don’t see the purpose behind being a Sentinel and I still have that need, but sometimes I feel like being a Sentinel is agreeing with the way things are.” I took a deep breath. Saying this aloud was damn near close to heresy. “It’s like being a Sentinel means I’m okay with how half-bloods are treated and I’m… I’m not okay with that.”
“Neither am I,” he said softly.
“I feel… terrible for even thinking this, but I just don’t know.” I squeezed my eyes shut, partially ashamed. “But after I saw those dead servants in the Catskills, I just can’t be a part of this.”
There was a pause. “I see what you’re saying.”
“There’s a but, isn’t there?”
“No. There’s not.” Aiden squeezed my hand. “I know becoming the Apollyon isn’t something you want, but you will be in the position to change things, Alex. There are pures who will listen to you. And there are some who want things to change. If this is something you feel strongly about, then you should do what you can.”
“It doesn’t mean I’d be shirking my duties as a Sentinel?” My voice sounded tiny. “Because the world needs Sentinels and Guards, and the daimons—they kill indiscriminately. I can’t just—”
“You can do what you want.” Sincerity rang in his tone, and I wanted to believe him, but that wasn’t the case. Even as the Apollyon, I was still a half-blood and I couldn’t do what I wanted. “And it’s not shirking your duty,” he said. “Changing the lives of hundreds of half-bloods will do more than hunting daimons.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.”
A little bit of the pressure eased and I yawned. “What if someone sees us?”
“Don’t worry about it.” He brushed my hair back over my shoulder. “Marcus knows I’m here.”
I doubted that Marcus knew Aiden was in my bed. Maybe all of this was a dream, I decided. But my lips still tingled from the brief kiss. I wanted to ask him why he was here, like this. It didn’t make sense, but I didn’t want to kill the warmth between us with questions rooted in logic. Sometimes logic was just overrated.
Slowly, I pried my eyes opened and blinked. The dusky rays of early morning sunlight filtered through the blinds. Little dots of dust floated in the stream of light. A heavy arm lay over my stomach and a leg was thrown over mine, as if he’d wanted to make sure I couldn’t escape while he slept.
Not that a god could make me move from this bed or his arms.
I delighted in the feel of him pressed against my side, the way his breath stirred the hair at my temple. Last night hadn’t been a weird dream. Or if it had been, I wasn’t sure I wanted to wake up. Maybe he hadn’t been afraid of me running off when he slept. Perhaps he’d hungered for my closeness the way I sought his.
My heart rate picked up even though I hadn’t moved. Lying here, staring at the tiny particles of dust, I wondered how many times I’d dreamt of falling asleep and waking up in Aiden’s arms. A hundred or more? Definitely more. My throat tightened. It didn’t seem right that I’d be teased like this, given a taste of what a future with Aiden could be like, something I could never have.
An ache filled my chest. Being in his arms like this hurt, but there wasn’t an ounce of regret. In the silence of the early morning, I admitted that there was no getting over Aiden. No matter what happened from here on out, my heart would remain his. He could settle down with a pure and I could go leave this island forever and it wouldn’t matter. Against all odds and common sense, Aiden had slipped under my skin, wrapped himself around my heart and embedded himself into my bones. He was a part of me and…
All of me—my heart and my soul—would always belong to him.
And I was foolish to believe otherwise, to even entertain a different scenario. I thought of Seth then and that ache in my chest spread, turned inward and burned like a daimon tag. Whatever I had going on with Seth wasn’t fair to him. If he truly cared for me, he expected to have some kind of hold on my heart and feelings.
Careful not to disturb Aiden, I reached down to the hand that rested on my hip and spread my hand over his. I’d remember this morning forever, no matter how short or long forever turned out to be.
“Alex?” Sleep roughened Aiden’s voice.
“Hey.” My smile was watery.
Aiden stirred beside me, lifting up on one arm. He didn’t speak as he turned his hand over and clasped mine. His silvery gaze moved over my face and he smiled at me, but it never reached his eyes. “It’ll be okay,” he said. “I promise you.”
I hoped so. Telly would’ve left by now, without me. I bet he was ticked. There was no way of knowing what he’d do now. And if anything happened to any of them, it was on my head. I rolled onto my side, but the position was a little uncomfortable since Aiden still held onto my hand.
“You hate this—this not doing anything when you feel responsible for what’s happened.”
I sighed. “I am responsible for this.”
“Alex, you did it to save your life. This isn’t your fault,” he said. “You understand that, right?”
“Do you know if Telly has left?” I asked instead of answering.
“I don’t know, but I assume so. Before I came here last night, Linard had said he hadn’t left the main island since he was at the Covenant.”
“You guys have been watching him, too?”
“We needed to make sure he wasn’t up to anything. The Guards who serve Lucian who remained behind have been an asset. Telly has been watched so closely I know he had steamed lobster for dinner last night.”
I frowned. Last night I’d had a cold-cut sub. “You all should start your own spy business.”
Aiden chuckled. “Maybe in a different life, and if I got cool gadgets out of it.”
I cracked a smile. “The 007 type of gadgets?”
“He has this BMW R1200 C motorcycle in Tomorrow Never Dies” he said, sounding wistful. “Man, that bike was sweet.”