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.”