Marcus placed a hand on his shoulder. “Aiden, this is not the place. We need to go.”
My breath caught as my eyes darted between the two. “I just don’t know how we’re going to win this.”
“No one wins if you kill yourself,” Marcus said quietly. “We must go.”
Drawing in a deep breath, Aiden dropped his hands. His look warned that there would be a later, most likely the moment we stepped back in the car. Solos waited by the door, his sharp gaze narrowed on Aiden as he took a sip of his energy drink.
“Are you okay?” Aiden asked Deacon.
He nodded slowly. “Yeah, I’m great. Nothing like witnessing a death match between gods when I’m trying to get some Cheetos.”
My lips twitched. Poor Deacon. He clutched that bag to his chest, too.
The cashier’s soft snores were the only sound. Remembering the whole purpose of coming to this place, I hastened back to the counter.
“What are you doing?” Aiden asked.
I dropped some cash on the counter and grabbed my bag. “I’m hungry.”
Aiden stared a moment, then a slow smile crept across his face. Maybe I wouldn’t get bitched out too badly. On the way out, he picked up a package of Hostess CupCakes off the floor and caught my look. “Me, too,” he said.
“At least I paid for my stuff.”
I DID GET BITCHED OUT—A LOT. AND I DESERVED IT. Aiden had been through the wringer when it came to me lately. He understood why—my motives—but he didn’t agree with me. But I knew what I’d been thinking, and it still made sense. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to see anybody else hurt when handing myself over would stop everything.
Halfway into the second part of the trip, as the tires ate away the miles, he grabbed my hand and held onto it. He hadn’t forgiven me, but he didn’t want to shake me anymore. That was progress. I still wasn’t sure if Artemis shooting Hades in the head was a good move or not by the time we reached Athens.
Tall pines and mounds of snow greeted us when we reached the lodge nestled at the edge of the national forest. Without Marcus and the air element, there would’ve been no way that we would’ve made it up the remote road. Even so, it took him over an hour to clear the road.
The lodge was magnificent, made of logs and surrounded by a wraparound deck. If I hadn’t been so exhausted, I would’ve appreciated its beauty much more.
“Do you know that Athens is one of the most haunted locales in Ohio?” Solos said as he opened the door.
“She doesn’t believe in ghosts.” Aiden lugged our bags over his shoulder, cheeks flushed from the cold. I could barely feel it. All I wanted was a bed to sleep the rest of the day away in.
“Really?” Solos grinned. “We’ll have to take you down to the old Athens Lunatic Asylum and see if that changes your mind.”
“Sounds like fun,” I murmured, watching Luke and Deacon usher Lea inside. “How will we be safe here? What’s stopping any god from carpet-bombing us?”
Solos’ brows furrowed. “We’re safe here.”
“Look up there.” Aiden shifted the bags and pointed above the front door. Carved into the wood was the same S-shaped rune that was on my neck. “Apollo said no god who means ill will against persons in this house can pass through.”
“The invincibility rune.” I rubbed the back of my neck absently as I stepped over the threshold. “Didn’t know you could just rune up a house. That’s pretty handy.”
Inside was just as beautiful. Wide windows let in the last of the sunset and the wood floors had been buffed until they shined. It sort of reminded me of the cabin in Gatlinburg. I shuddered.
“You okay?” Aiden whispered, coming up behind me.
I swallowed. “Yeah, I’m just really tired.”
Solos showed us to the rooms. Lea was placed downstairs, along with Marcus and Luke. Deacon grabbed the loft above the rec room and the rest of us got rooms upstairs. Everyone huddled in small groups or, like Marcus, stared out one of the windows, appearing lost in deep thought.
Aiden carried my bags into a cozy, rustic-looking bedroom and placed them by the bed. Turning around, our gazes locked. Since the day I’d left with Seth, we hadn’t been alone together. The car ride didn’t count. We’d been running for our lives after witnessing a tragedy. Kissing and touching hadn’t been on our minds.
It kind of returned with a vengeance then.
He crossed the distance, cupping my cheeks in his hands. They were elegant fingers, but calloused from years of training. I loved his hands. He angled his head to mine, his lips hovering just within distance. “Later,” he promised, and then he pressed his lips to mine.
The kiss was gentle, sweet, and way too quick. My lips tingled awhile after he’d left the room. Later? How could there be a “later” in a house full of people? I took a hot shower and let the water ease my aching muscles once I figured out how to use the three showerheads without drowning myself. Afterward, I changed into sweats and sent the bed a yearning glance on the way out of the room. I had something to do before I rested.
Lea was sitting on the bed, legs crossed as she stared down at her phone. When I knocked on the open door, she glanced up. “Hey,” I said.
She watched me for several long seconds and then cleared her throat. “I texted Olivia in Vail, told her we were okay.”
“Does she know what’s she going to do?” I sat on the bed beside her, running my hands through the wet tangles in my hair. I thought about Caleb’s message to her. Hopefully, I could tell her soon.
“No. Her mom…” her voice caught and she swallowed. “Her mom is freaking out. I think they’re going to New York.”
Thinking of my father, I felt my chest tighten. Would I ever see him again? Then I felt bad for even thinking that. Lea had lost all of her family. “Will they be safe there?”
Long, coppery hair I’d envied for years shielded her face as she tipped her head down. “She thinks so. She’ll let me know once her mom knows more.”
I nodded, dropping my hands to my lap. “Lea, I’m so sorry for what happened.”
She drew in a breath of air that seemed to shake her entire body. “We’ve been here before.”
Lea lifted her head. Her amethyst-colored eyes glittered with tears. “I know it’s not your fault. What your mom did or what… what Seth did. Every death that I’ve seen or been around has had to do with you. They’re not your fault, but they still happened.”
I looked away, feeling the weight of the last ten months settle over me. Ten months of death, starting with my mom in Miami, and I knew it wasn’t over. With the gods involved as they were, with my birthday tomorrow, and with Seth out there looking for us, it wasn’t over. But still, what I was feeling was nothing compared to what Lea was going through.
“And I can’t… I can’t look at you without seeing all those faces,” Lea whispered. “I’m sorry. I don’t blame you, but I… I just can’t look at you right now.”
I nodded stiffly and stood. “I’m sorry,” I said again. It was the only thing I could say.
Leaving her room didn’t diminish the guilt. Crawling into bed didn’t make any of what happened disappear. And my guilt wasn’t like what I’d felt after Caleb’s death. This was like having a child who had done something terrible and everyone was staring at me, wondering where it all had gone wrong. Guilt by association.
I rolled onto my side, facing the window. Snow continued to fall outside. Nature was at its best when it was both beautiful and deadly.
Watching the snow cleared my mind of everything that was happening, leaving behind a thin layer of static until exhaustion claimed and pulled me under.
A feathery light kiss woke me up sometime later, drawing my eyes open. Aiden smiled down at me as his thumb traced the shape of my cheekbone. “What are you doing?” I asked sleepily. “What if someone finds you in here?”
“Solos took Deacon and Luke to the store since the snow has let up a little. Lea is resting and Marcus is keeping an eye on things.” He curled around me, finding my hand and threading his fingers through it. “And I think the cat’s pretty much out of the bag on this.”
I tipped my head back, my eyes searching his intently. “What do you mean?”
“We’re in a house full of halfs, with the exception of Marcus and my brother. Deacon surely doesn’t care and Marcus—”
“My uncle’s a stickler for rules,” I whispered.
Aiden brushed his lips over the tip of my nose. “Marcus knows, Alex. He’s not blind.”
“He’s okay with it?”
“I wouldn’t say okay” Aiden grinned. “He actually punched me when he figured it out.”
I stared. “What?”
He chuckled under his breath. “Yeah, he punched me right in the face when he got back from Nashville—twice.”
“Oh my…” I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing. It wasn’t funny, but it was.
“The first hit was because you were with Seth and Lucian. The second one was after he figured out about us.”
“How did he find out? We were careful.” And we had been.
“I think he’s suspected something for awhile,” he mused. “But it was when you were gone he figured it out. I think I was pretty transparent during those days.”
I wanted to ease the lines of concern that’d appeared on his forehead. We’d talked about my time spent in Lucian’s house on the way here and I’d reassured him a dozen times or more that I hadn’t been harmed there, but it still bothered him. Just like when I’d died, it was something that would linger with Aiden.
“What did he say to you?” I finally asked him.
“I don’t think you want to know. It was one of the only times I’ve heard Marcus cuss.”
I smiled as I lowered my cheek back to the pillow. Gods know I was all too familiar with Marcus being angry. “You don’t seem too worried about him knowing.”
“I’m not. Right now, there are more… pressing issues to focus on.”
Wasn’t that the truth? “Part of me wishes tomorrow wouldn’t come.”
He kissed the top of my head. “Everything will be okay, Alex.”
“I know.” I closed my eyes and snuggled in. “I just don’t know what to expect, you know? Will I automatically turn into a super badass tomorrow or something? Or will I be accidentally blasting people with akasha?” Or would I connect with Seth? That I didn’t want to put into words.
“Whatever happens, you’ll still be Alex… you’ll still be agapi mou, my life. Just…just don’t ever scare me like you did today, okay? We’re still in this together.”
“To the end?”
“To the end,” he whispered.
Damnable tears rushed to my eyes. I was such a girl, but those words were perfect, what I needed to hear. “Let’s make plans again. I liked that.” My brows rose when he laughed again. “What?”