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.