Aiden’s eyes widened. “No.”
He folded up the letter in one hand and grabbed my arm with the other. I dug in my heels. “What are you—?”
“Not here,” he ordered quietly.
Confused and a bit startled by the fact that Aiden was actually touching me, I let him lead me to the med office across the hall. He shut the door behind him, turning the lock. An uncomfortable heat flooded my system as I realized we were alone in a room with no windows, and Aiden had just locked the door. Seriously, I needed to get a grip because this was so not the time for my ridiculous hormones. Okay, there really wasn’t a time for them.
Aiden faced me. His jaw flexed. “What are you thinking?”
“Uh…” I took a step back. No way was I admitting that. Then I realized he was angry—furious with me. “What did I do now?”
He placed the letter on the table I’d once sat upon. “You will not do something crazy.”
My eyes narrowed as I snatched up the letter, finally catching onto why he was so angry. “You expect me to do nothing? And to just let my father rot in servitude?”
“You need to calm down.”
“Calm down? That servant in New York is my father. The father I’d been told was dead!” Suddenly, I remembered Laadan in the library and how she talked about my father as if he was still alive. Rage socked me in the stomach. Why hadn’t she told me? I could’ve spoken to him. “How can I calm down?”
“I… I can’t imagine what you’re going through, or what you’re thinking.” He frowned. “Well, yes, I can imagine what you’re thinking. You want to storm the Catskills and free him. I know that’s what you’re thinking.”
Of course I was.
He started toward me, his eyes turning a brilliant silver. “No.”
I backed up, clutching Laadan’s letter to my chest. “I have to do something.”
“I know you feel like you need to, but Alex, you cannot return to the Catskills.”
“I wouldn’t storm it.” I edged around the table as he grew closer. “I’ll think of something. Maybe I’ll get in trouble. Telly said all I needed to do was make one more mistake and I was being sent to the Catskills.”
The table was now between us. “If I could get back there, then I can talk to him. I have to talk to him.”
“Absolutely not,” Aiden growled.
My muscles locked. “You can’t stop me.”
“You want to bet?” He started around the table.
Not really. The fierceness in his expression told me he’d do everything to stop me, which meant I needed to convince him. “He’s my father, Aiden. What would you do if it was Deacon?”
Low blow, I know.
“Don’t you even dare bring him into this, Alex. I won’t allow you to get yourself killed. I don’t care who it’s for. I won’t.”
Tears burned the back of my throat. “I can’t leave him in that kind of life. I can’t.”
Pain flickered in his steely gaze. “I know, but he’s not worth your life.”
My arms fell to my sides and I stopped trying to outmaneuver him. “How can you make that decision?” And then the tears I’d been fighting broke free. “How can I not do something?”
Aiden didn’t say anything as he placed his hands on my upper arms and guided me to him. Instead of pulling me straight into his embrace, he backed up against the wall and slid down, bringing me along with him. I was nestled in his arms. My legs curled against him, one of my hands fisting his shirt.
The breath I took was shallow, filled with a kind of hurt I couldn’t let go. “I’m tired of people lying to me. Everyone lied about my mom, and now this? I thought he was dead. And gods, I wish he were, because death is better than what he has to live through.” My voice broke and more tears spilled over my cheeks.
Aiden’s arms tightened around me, and his hand smoothed a comforting circle over my back. I wanted to stop crying because it was weak and humiliating, but I couldn’t stop. Discovering my father’s true fate was horrifying. When the worst of the tears subsided, I pulled back a little and lifted my teary gaze.
Damp silky waves of dark hair clung to his forehead and temples. The dim light of the room still highlighted those high cheekbones and lips I’d memorized so long ago. Aiden rarely ever fully smiled, but when he did, it was breathtaking. There’d been a few times I’d gotten to bask in that rare smile; the last time had been at the zoo.
Seeing him now, truly seeing him, the first time after he’d risked everything to protect me—I wanted to start crying again. Over the last week, I’d replayed what had happened over and over again. Could I’ve done something differently? Disarmed the Guard instead of shoving my blade deep into his chest? And why had Aiden used compulsion to cover up what I’d done? Why would he risk so much?
And none of that seemed important right now, not after learning about my father. I wiped under my eyes with my palms. “Sorry for… crying all over you.”
“Never apologize for that,” he said. I expected him to let go of me at that point, but his arms were still around me. I knew I shouldn’t, because it would just bring a world of hurt later, but I let myself relax against him. “You have this knee-jerk reaction to everything.”
He lowered an arm and tapped my knee. “It’s the first initial response. The immediate thought when you hear something. You act on that instead of thinking things through.”
I burrowed my cheek against his chest. “That’s not a compliment.”
His hand moved to the back of my neck, fingers tangling deep in the mess of hair at the nape of my neck. Wondering if he was aware of what he was doing, I held my breath. His hand tightened, holding me so I couldn’t pull back too far. Not that I would—no matter how wrong it was, how dangerous or stupid.
“It’s not an insult,” he said softly. “It’s just who you are. You don’t stop to think of the danger, only what is right. But sometimes it’s not…right.”
I mulled that over. “Was using compulsion on Dawn and the other pure a knee-jerk reaction?”
He took what seemed like forever to answer. “It was, and it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I couldn’t do anything else.”
Aiden didn’t answer.
I didn’t push it. There was a comfort in his arms, in the way his hand traced a soothing circle along my back, that I couldn’t find anyplace else. I didn’t want to ruin it. In his arms, I was calmer—strangely. I could breathe. I felt safe, grounded. No one else offered that. His was like my very own prescription of Ritalin.
“Becoming a Sentinel was a knee-jerk reaction,” I whispered.
Aiden’s chest rose and fell under my cheek. “Yeah, it was.”
“Do… do you regret it?”
I wished I had his kind of resolve. “I don’t know what to do, Aiden.”
His chin tipped down, brushing over my cheek. His skin was smooth, warm, thrilling, and calming all in one. “We’ll figure out a way to get in touch with him. You said he never seemed like he was under the elixir? We could get a letter to Laadan; she could pass it to him. That would be the safest step.”
My heart did a stupid, happy dance. Hope was spreading out of control inside me. “We?”
“Yes. I can easily get a letter to Laadan—a message. It’s the safest way for right now.”
I wanted to squeeze him, but refrained. “No. If you get caught… I can’t have that happening.”
Aiden laughed softly. “Alex, we’ve probably broken every rule there is. I’m not worried about getting busted over passing on a message.”
No, we hadn’t broken every rule.
He pulled back slightly, and I could feel his intense stare on my face. “Did you think I wouldn’t help you with something as important as this?”
I kept my eyes closed, because looking at him was a weakness. He was my weakness. “Things are… different.”
“I know things are different, Alex, but I will always be here for you. I will always help you.” He paused. “How can you ever doubt that?”
Like a fool, I opened my eyes. I was sucked right in. It was like everything that’d been said, everything I knew, didn’t matter anymore. “I don’t doubt that,” I whispered.
His lips tipped up on one side. “Sometimes I just don’t get you.”
“I don’t get myself half of the time.” I lowered my eyes. “You’ve already done… too much. What you did in the Catskills?” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Gods, I never thanked you for it.”
“Don’t say it’s not worth thanking you for.” My gaze flicked up, locking with his. “You saved my life, Aiden, at the risk of your own. So, thank you.”
He looked away, his eyes focusing on a spot over my head. “I told you I’d never let anything happen to you.” His gaze came back to me and amusement sparkled in those silver pools. “It seems more like a full-time job, though.”
My lips quirked. “I’ve really been trying, you know. Today was the first day I even did anything remotely stupid.” I left out the part where I’d been sequestered in my room with a nasty head cold.
“What did you do?”
“You really don’t want to know.”
He laughed again. “I figured Seth would be keeping you out of trouble.”
Realizing I hadn’t even thought about Seth since the moment I’d read the letter, I stiffened. I hadn’t even thought about the bond. Dammit.
Aiden drew in a deep breath and dropped his arms. “You do know what this means, Alex?”
I struggled to pull myself together. There were important things to deal with. My father, the Council, Telly, the furies, a dozen or so pissed off gods, and Seth. But my brain felt like mush. “What?”
Aiden glanced at the door, as if he was afraid to say it out loud. “Your father wasn’t a mortal. He’s a half-blood.”
I DIDN’T GO BACK TO MY CLASSES. INSTEAD, I WENT TO my dorm room and sat on my bed, the letter resting in front of me like a snake ready to spread its venom. I was reeling from learning that my dad was still alive and…. I felt so stupid for not figuring it out right away. Laadan’s letter didn’t come out and say it. Obviously, I understood why she skirted the true bomb she was dropping in the brief letter. How else would the Council have been able to get my father under control? And I’d seen him fight. He was like a ninja with those candleholders.
My father was a freaking half-blood—a trained half-blood. Hell, he’d probably been a damn Sentinel, which totally explained how my mom had known him before she met Lucian.
So what in the holy Hades did that make me?
The answer seemed too simple. I flopped on my back, staring blindly at the ceiling. Gods, I wanted Caleb to talk this through with, because this couldn’t be what it was.