“Then I’ll leave.” I took in a deep breath, but it did nothing to calm the pounding in my chest. “You can’t keep me here! I don’t care that Lucian is my legal guardian.”
He tipped his head to the side, his stare becoming almost curious. “Do you think there is any place in this world that I couldn’t find you if I wanted to?”
“Gods, Seth, do you even know how stalkerish that sounds—how creepy?”
“I’m just pointing out the truth,” he replied blithely. “When you turn eighteen, which is in what? Five days? You don’t have any control over that.”
My hands balled into fists. Gods, I hated when he was right. Especially when he was scary right and Seth was pretty damn scary right now. I couldn’t—I refused to show that. So I relied on anger. “You don’t have any control over me, Seth!”
Seth arched one eyebrow. A slow, wicked smile spread across his face. Recognizing that look, I shot back, but he was so incredibly fast. His arm snaked out, catching me around the waist.
Instinct took over. My brain switched off and I flipped into fight mode. Letting my legs go limp, I became dead weight in his arms. Seth cussed and as he dipped to catch me, I sprang up, slamming my knee into his midsection. A whoosh of air left his lungs as he stumbled back.
Spinning around, I threw out my arm, catching him across the chest. It wasn’t a meek hit. I put everything into it and Seth went down on one knee.
I darted toward the door, ready to fight my way out of the house and down the street if necessary.
I never made it—not really.
My fingers wrapped around the doorknob the same second I felt a rush of power in the room that raised the tiny hairs all over my body. Then suddenly, I was off my feet, flying backward. Hair blew around my face, clouding my vision.
Seth’s arms went around my waist and he tugged me against his chest. “You know, I like you better when you’re furious. Do you want to know why?”
I struggled in his embrace, but he held on, and it was like trying to move a semi-truck. “No. I really don’t care, Seth. Let me go.”
He chuckled deeply, and the sound rumbled through me. “Because when you’re angry, you’re always one step from doing something irrational. And that’s how I like you.”
Seth let go without any warning and I spun around. I saw it in his eyes then, in the way his lips parted. Panic froze the blood in my veins. “Don’t—”
Seth’s hand shot out, wrapping around my neck. The marks of the Apollyon spread across his skin with dizzying speed. What existed in me, that part that had been created to complete him, responded in a heady rush. The marks flew down his arm, reaching over his fingers. A second later, amber light crackled in the air, and then a weaker sheen of blue. His hand circled, pressing down, burning the skin on the back of my neck, creating the fourth rune.
There was a second, right before my brain overloaded with sensation, an instant where I regretted ever allowing Seth to get close to me, to forge the bond between us into something that seemed unbreakable. He had planned this all along.
And then I wasn’t thinking anymore.
SETH’S EYES GLEAMED AS THE PRESSURE INSIDE ME shifted through the cord, leaving me and flowing into him. Suddenly, light flared from four points: my stomach, both palms, and now the back of my neck. Pain pricked along my skin like an angry wasp and then dulled. My head grew heavy, legs weak as the pleasant tug and pull continued.
His free arm caught me just as my legs buckled. I must’ve blacked out, for how long, I didn’t know. I was flat on my back when the room came back into focus. A thick haze settled over me, dragging me down through the bed.
“There you are,” Seth said. The hand he smoothed through my hair trembled slightly.
There was a strange, almost metallic taste in the back of my throat. “What… what happened?”
Seth slipped his hand out from my hair. “You didn’t Awaken, but…” He grabbed my hand and pressed down on my palm.
The response was immediate. My back arched. It felt like something had reached down into my core, grabbed hold and then yanked. It wasn’t painful but not pleasant either. “Seth…”
When he let go, the invisible strings were cut. I collapsed, boneless and weak and Seth… he sat back on his haunches, holding his hand in front of his face. An awed, childlike expression filled his face as the bright blue light covered his hand, burning brighter than ever before.
“Akasha… this is good, Alex. This is more… I can feel you under my skin.”
Dazed, I watched the ball of light dull and the excitement went out of Seth’s eyes. Somehow I knew, even as his dipped and pressed his lips to my cheek, that Seth had harnessed the kind of power needed to kill a god, if only for a few moments.
Lightning struck outside the window, but still no more brilliant than the glimpse of the end. I knew I needed to get out of here, but when I tried to sit up, I felt like I was glued to my bed.
He smiled as he settled beside me, moving his hand back to my cheek, turning my head toward him. His thumb trailed over my lower lip. “Did you see that?”
I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t and I felt sick to my soul. Thunder drowned out the beating of my heart.
“It was beautiful, wasn’t it? So much power. Lucian will be disappointed that you didn’t Awaken after the fourth mark, but something happened.”
What did that mean? I didn’t understand and my thoughts were too fuzzy. The cord jumped as his hand slipped under my head and drifted back to the rune on my neck. “This is the rune of invincibility,” he explained. “When you Awaken, it will be activated. Then the gods cannot touch you.”
I met his eyes and forced my heavy tongue to work “I don’t… want you to touch me.”
Seth smiled and the marks returned, gliding over his golden complexion. I knew the moment our marks touched. He lowered his head till a breath separated our lips. My senses went crazy. Electricity jolted across my skin and down.
“You’re so beautiful like this,” he murmured, and pressed his forehead against mine.
What was in me, what lay between us, was ugly. How hadn’t I noticed that before? There had been signs from the beginning. The night I’d discovered what I was and Seth had remained behind, with Lucian. Seth’s need for power and how my response to him seemed out of my control, even when we first stood beside the courtyard months ago and again, several times over. I thought of that fleeting look of satisfaction I’d seen as I stood by the pool and chose to see what happened with him—I’d chosen him. All that time he’d been spending with Lucian…
I’d been so blind.
Seth’s lips pressed against my wildly beating pulse and I shuddered, revolted, angry, terrified, and helpless.
“Don’t,” I begged, before the twisted connection between us spun so tightly that I couldn’t tell where he began and I ended.
“You don’t want this? You can’t deny that a part of you does need me.”
“That part isn’t real.” My body was tingling, throbbing, and yearning for him, but my heart and soul were shriveling up, growing cold. Tears filled my eyes. “Please don’t make me do this, Seth.” My voice broke. “Please”
Seth froze. Confusion clouded his eyes, the hard glint of amber fire shattering with pain. “I’d… I’d never force you, Alex. I wouldn’t do that.” His voice was curiously fragile, vulnerable, and unsure.
I started crying. I didn’t know if it was the relief from the fear or that deep down the Seth I knew was still in there somewhere. For now.
Seth sat up, running a hand through his hair. “Alex, don’t… don’t cry.”
My hands felt like blocks of cement as I lifted them and wiped under my eyes. I knew not to cry in front of daimons, to show weakness, and Seth… he was no different.
He reached down, but stopped. Several seconds passed before he spoke. “It’ll get easier. I promise.”
“Just leave,” I said hoarsely.
“I can’t.” He eased down beside me, keeping a discreet distance between us. “The moment I leave this room you’ll do something stupid.”
Truth be told, I was too tired to stand, let alone stage a daring escape. I managed to roll onto my side, away from him. Sleep didn’t come easy that night. The only comfort I took was that, when I closed my eyes, I pictured Aiden. And even though the image did him no justice, his love did the one thing I’d asked for. Not to protect me, but to give me strength to figure a way out of this mess.
Seth rarely left my side the next two days, having food brought to the room, and it took those two days for me to regain any real strength. The last rune had taken more from me than the others, and I knew just like Seth had said, that something was different.
He’d only pulled akasha from me once more, when he’d brought Lucian in to witness.
Seth had been right. Lucian had been disappointed that I hadn’t Awakened, but he’d been pleased by the new power Seth gained, even though it had been temporary.
And gods, Seth had beamed like a kid showing his father his prized science fair project. I thought I’d feel sickened by Seth, but during the long afternoons he spent talking to me while I tried to convince him to let me go, I began to feel sorry for him.
There were two sides to him, and the side I had held close to my heart was losing out to the one that craved power like a daimon thirsted for aether. I wanted to fix him somehow, save him.
I also wanted to strangle him, but that was nothing new.
During the evening of the second night, a commotion downstairs roused me from the bed. Recognizing Marcus’ deep booming voice, I stood on weak legs and ambled toward the door.
Seth was beside me in an instant, placing a hand on the door. “You can’t.”
I blinked away the dizziness. “He’s my uncle. I want to see him.”
“Since when?” Seth grinned, and I sucked in a breath, because it reminded me of the other Seth—one who wouldn’t hold me hostage. “You hate him.”
“I… I don’t hate him.” At that moment, I realized I’d been a giant douche to my uncle. Granted, he wasn’t the warmest of people, but he wouldn’t shut me in a room with a potential sociopath. I swore I’d be different…If I ever got to see him again. “Seth, I want—”
“Why would you refuse to let Marcus see his niece? Is something wrong?”
My breath caught in my throat as I pressed my hands against the door, under Seth’s. Aiden’s voice was like a burst of sunlight and warmth. I was this close to kicking Seth in the junk just to make him move, and he must’ve anticipated that, because the warning in his eyes told me not to even think it.
“She is resting, but fine. There is no need for concern,” I heard Lucian say and then his voice faded out.
Drawing in a shallow breath, I closed my eyes. Aiden was so close and yet I couldn’t get to him. I knew he had to be worried, assuming the worst. If I could just see him, let him know that I was okay… it would ease some of the aching around my heart.