Page 2

I gasped.

This couldn’t be me.

No way.

Uh-uh, it wasn’t, and I refused to believe it, but the damn reflection remained the same. I had changed. Dramatically. The pressure in my chest returned and doubled as I gripped the edge of the sink.

My hair hung an inch or two past my shoulders now, the edges ragged and uneven from the dagger Ares had used. I picked up a strand, wincing as I discovered it was a good deal shorter than the rest. Did the rest of my hair hang in Hades’ war room now?

My skin was pale, as if I’d been sick for months and hadn’t seen the sun. But it wasn’t even that. Hell, it wasn’t even the fact that, yes, my eyes were amber-colored. Identical to Seth’s in clarity and shininess, they were like two topaz gemstones. And they were glowing, like you could see me in the dark kind of creepy glowing, and I got why that set Aiden on edge. Great, I had glowing, honeycomb eyes. Big freaking deal.

It was my face I couldn’t get over.

I was as shallow as any other eighteen-year-old girl, so yeah, this… this was major.

Across my cheekbones and nose, faint pink lines crisscrossed over my skin. My forehead was the same. A web-like network of scars covered my face. Only one side of my jaw, where Aiden had been touching me earlier, had escaped the…well, the deformity.

Dazed by what I was seeing, I slowly lifted my arm and ran my fingers across my cheek, confirming what I suspected. The lines were slightly raised, like stitching. Apollo and his son had healed me. The nectar was still doing its mojo in my system, but I knew these scars were proof of just how badly I’d needed the gods’ help to heal.

Like anything else, there always had to be an exchange.

When anything was gained, something had to be sacrificed. No one needed to tell me. I knew these scars would never fade.

“Oh, my gods…” I swayed.

“Alex, you should sit down.” He reached for me again.

“Don’t,” I snapped, holding a hand up between us. My eyes widened. My hand was also covered with scars. I wasn’t even sure what I was saying “don’t” to, but my mouth kept moving. “Just don’t.”

Aiden pulled back, but he didn’t leave. Leaning against the threshold of the door, he folded his muscular arms across his broad chest. His jaw set in a hard line.

The pressure moved into my throat, swelling like a balloon and then exploding like a late summer’s day thunderstorm. “What are you waiting for? Me to go all Evil Alex on you again?” I swung forward, losing my balance. “That I’m going to use—”

Aiden shot forward, catching me before I cracked my head against the wall. “Dammit Alex, you need to be careful and sit down.”

I wrenched free, stumbled back a step, and plopped down on the closed toilet. Air punched out of me. Dear gods, it felt like my tailbone had been cracked. I sat there on the toilet, my butt feeling like someone had literally kicked me in it. Aiden stared at me with warring levels of hope and distrust in the eyes I loved so much. I felt about seven kinds of dejected.

Aiden stepped forward, crouching down so that we were at the same eye level. “You don’t want to kill me?”

Most of the rage seeped out of me. Nothing like hearing the man I love ask a question like that to really take the wind out of my sails. “No,” I whispered.

There was a sharp intake of breath. “You don’t want what he wants?”

“No.” My gaze dropped to where his hands rested between his knees. Good gods, the knuckles were bruised and the skin was torn open, as if he’d punched a…then I got it. Aiden and Marcus had been banging on the titanium doors of the dean’s office with their fists.

My heart ached as I watched those battered hands open, close, and then open again. “I don’t even feel him. I mean, the cord’s there, so I know he’s somewhere, but I don’t feel him. He’s quiet.”

His hands unclenched, and even though I wasn’t looking at him, I could tell that most of the tension had left him. He believed me for the most part, and I couldn’t hold the residual suspicion against him.

“Gods, Alex, when I saw your eyes, I just… They glowed like that when you escaped the basement and…”

When I had almost killed him.

If I lifted my lashes, we’d be face to face, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. He shifted closer. “I’m sorry. I should—”

“It’s okay.” I was so tired. Not the physical kind. Oddly enough, it was more of a…spirit-weary sort. “I understand. You had every reason to think that. I don’t know why my eyes are glowing. Seth’s there, but he’s not trying to influence me.”

“Yet” hung unspoken between us.

“And he’s not talking,” I added, keeping the fact that Seth had lent me some of his own juice out of the conversation.

I shifted my gaze back to my own hands and the scars that marred them. They hadn’t been like that in Olympus, or at least I hadn’t noticed.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s you, and that’s all that I care about—all that matters.”

I wanted to believe him. I really did, but the horror in his face when he’d seen my eyes haunted me. I knew Aiden had hated them from the moment they appeared after I’d Awakened, and I couldn’t blame him. These eyes would always remind him of Seth and everything I’d said and done back then, especially when they glowed like yellow light bulbs.

“Alex.” His much larger hands covered mine. There was a long stretch of silence. “How are you feeling?”

I shrugged a shoulder, then winced. “Okay.”

His hands circled my wrists, and I suddenly was on the verge of tears but didn’t know why. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball, right there, on the bathroom floor.

“I’ve never been more scared in my life than when you forced me and Marcus out of the room.”

“Me, too.” I swallowed hard. I don’t know what made me do it, but I pulled my hands free and slipped them between my knees. “How is Marcus?”

“He’s hanging in there, but he’s going to be relieved once he learns you’re awake.” Aiden leaned in, his breath warm against my cheek. Every instinct insisted that I lift my chin a fraction of an inch to meet his lips, but I couldn’t move.

There was another pause, and the words he spoke next were heavy. “I know why you made sure Marcus and I were out of that room when Ares attacked. It was incredibly brave, and so like you.”

My fingers dug into my stiff denim jeans. Gods, were they the ones I’d worn during the fight? Patches of dark dried blood covered the legs like paint. Squeezing my eyes shut, I was sickened to find that the images of what has caused the stains lingered.

Aiden took a deep breath. “But if you ever do anything like that again, I will strangle you. Lovingly, of course.”

I almost cracked a smile at the same thing I’d thought about him not too long ago, but the smile never made it to the surface.

He wasn’t done. “We promised each other we’d face this stuff together.”

“Ares would’ve killed you,” I said, and it was the truth. Ares would’ve killed him and Marcus if they had stayed in that room, and he would’ve relished doing so.

“But I would’ve protected you,” Aiden countered. “I would’ve done every godsdamn thing there was to save you from having to go through what you went through in there. When I came into the room and saw you…” He broke off, cursing under his breath.

“You would’ve died trying to protect me. Don’t you get that? I had to do it. I couldn’t live with myself if you or Marcus died—”

“And do you think either of us can live with ourselves knowing what that bastard did to you?” Anger snapped through his voice. So did frustration. “Look at me.”

At a loss of how else to explain the obvious to him, I shook my head.

“Godsdammit, Alex, look at me!”

Startled, my head jerked up and my eyes met his. They were a furious shade of gunmetal gray, and they were so open. Raw pain flowed from them, and I wanted to look away from that, to take the coward’s way out.

“My heart stopped when that damn door closed on me. I could hear you two fighting. I could hear him taunting you, and I could hear him breaking your bones. And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.” He placed his hands on the sides of my legs. Tension rippled through the muscles in his arms. “You never should’ve faced something like that alone.”

“But you would’ve died.”

“And because I love you, I am willing to die to save you from that. Don’t you dare take that decision away from me again.”

My mouth opened, but there were no words. So much was going on inside my head and chest. What he said had split my heart wide open and then stitched the wound closed. But what would I have left if he’d died? I would’ve been beyond heartbroken, and I couldn’t even bear to think about his death without hurting. If I had to do it over again, I would make the same decision because I loved him. So how dare he expect me to do anything less?

I knew I needed to say those words to him, but they…they just couldn’t get past the ball in my chest or pop the lid on the pressure inside me. I shivered, numb and chilled to the core.

Aiden went to grasp my shoulders, but he stopped, his fingers curling around air. “You have my heart, and you also have my strength. Make no mistake, I am willing to die for you, but you have to trust that I don’t want to leave your side. Ares wouldn’t have taken me out easily, because I would’ve fought to stay alive and be there for you.”

I heard him, and I felt what he said, but all I saw were the Guards that Ares hadn’t even touched. Dominic, whom he’d snapped in two with the twist of his hand. The Dean he’d tossed out the window with a wave of his arm. All the wanting and needing in the world wouldn’t have saved their lives.

He let out a ragged breath when silence filled the bathroom. “Say something, Alex.”


He stared at me, dumbfounded.

The numbness had seeped into my muscles. “I want to take a shower. I need to get out of these clothes, and I need to bathe.”

Aiden blinked, and then his gaze dropped. Some of the color brought back by anger drained as if he’d just realized I was in the same blood-splattered clothing I’d worn when I faced Ares. “Alex…”

“Please,” I whispered.

He didn’t move for the longest time, and then he nodded. Rising fluidly, he stopped halfway and pressed his lips to my forehead. My heart thumped heavily, but then I realized his lips were touching those scars and I winced.

Aiden pulled back immediately. Concern etched into his striking face. “Do they—did I hurt you?”

“No. Yes. I mean, it’s tender.” Truth was, it hadn’t hurt at all. Not like the rest of my body did. At first, it had actually felt nice. “I just need to shower.”

He hesitated, and for a moment I thought he wasn’t going to leave, but then he nodded again. “I’ll get something for you to wear when you’re finished.”