I lost myself in his eyes. “I love you too, Aric.”

The corner of his lips curled.

_______________

He dozed with me tucked against his side. I peeked up and sighed over his spellbinding face, wondering how I could ever have hurt this tender, caring man.

But now we’d rewritten history.

He stirred and opened his eyes, his amber gaze studying my expression. “Regrets?”

We’d had sex four more times over the night. “None.” Aric deserved whatever happiness I could give him. Did I think I deserved him? No. But I still wanted him for my own. “You?”

He shook his head. “I was dreaming in color.”

37

Day 452 A.F.

“You want to tell me what you were doing with the dish?” I asked as we readied for the trip back. Morning had arrived far too soon.

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He finished lacing his black pants, then dragged on a long-sleeved shirt to wear under his armor. “I’ve been trying to repair it.”

“What does it do?” I picked clothes from my bag. Good thing I’d packed some. I currently wore only one of his T-shirts.

“It picks up radar and radio signals from all over the earth. And in space. Everything from distress beacons to ham radios.”

“How’d you find it?”

He sat beside me on the bed and pulled on his boots. “I had it built.”

“That must’ve cost a fortune.”

“We’re very rich. Not that it matters much anymore.” Now he was rich in food, water, and fuel. “In any case, I knew whatever catastrophe the game brought would likely take out widespread communication. . . .” He started talking about wavelengths and parabolas and other stuff I didn’t understand.

“In English?”

“It enabled me to listen, to track, and, if needed, to transmit.” He stood, stretching his tall frame.

“Why keep the dish away from the castle?” I pulled on panties under the T-shirt.

He watched avidly. “Enemies can use transmissions to triangulate positions.”

“Can you track Fortune’s next helicopter?” I tugged on my jeans.

He canted his head at my movements, absently saying, “I could have, but the dish will no longer work without certain parts.”

“What do you mean?”

“I checked it while you slept. The hail battered it almost beyond salvage.”

“You aren’t angry?”

He grasped my hand and pressed a kiss to my wrist. “For some reason, I’m in a fantastic mood. The best of my entire life.”

My cheeks heated.

Releasing me, he crossed to his things. “We’ll have to rely on this.” From his saddlebag he produced what looked like a cordless phone with a thick antenna.

“Is that a satellite phone?” Brand’s dad had had one for his yacht. Jack’s dad as well. Tighten . . . “Are satellites still in space anymore?”

“I believe they remain untouched.”

“But what about the Flash? The solar flare?”

“After last night’s storm, I wonder if the Flash came from outside the planet at all.”

“I don’t follow.”

He sat, pulling me into his lap. “What if the entire earth is Tar Ro, the gods’ sacred arena? What if they’re controlling everything within? Even down to a storm to warn Death and Life never to unite.”

“What will happen now that we have?” Can’t lose him!

Full arrogance on display, he said, “Nothing. I refuse to give you up. After all we’ve been through to get to this point, we deserve each other.” Seeing my worried expression, he said, “I’ll sell my soul if I have to.”

I let the subject go for now—the horse was out of the barn on this score—but I decided he would wear his armor whenever he went outside. And that he could never leave the castle without me. “Do you think the gods would purposely ruin their Tar Ro arena with an apocalypse?”

He shrugged. “Perhaps this is the game of all games, with a field of battle to match. Or perhaps they are punishing our abuse of the planet.”

Either way, they still sounded like dicks. “Who would you call on that phone, anyway?”

“The Centurion. Kentarch might be the game changer for us.”

Like I’d thought Tess would be. But the carousel couldn’t be reversed. The game continued. I’d desperately wanted to stop it. Now that felt more impossible than ever.

My three current missions: to make Aric happy, to ensure we had no regrets when we died, and to kill Richter. I vowed I would complete all three. “Circe said he’s searching for his wife.”

“He was the last time we talked. They got separated.”

“How would Kentarch change the game?”

“His powers could help us defeat the Emperor. When the Centurion’s intangible, nothing can stop him, not a wall of steel, not a volcanic eruption. Unfortunately, Kentarch hasn’t answered the last few times I’ve called. I thought it might be the signal from the castle, but it’s not.”

The castle. Returning to it. Soon I’d have to see my grandmother again. The thought made me queasy.

Aric noticed. “What’s wrong?”

Real life kept intruding on our honeymoon. “I wish we could just stay here, hit the pause button, and forget about the game. Forget about my grandmother. I dread going back to see her, and that fills me with guilt.”

“I can’t imagine how difficult that must be, but you won’t have to endure it alone.” Cupping my face, he said, “You’re my wife. We are united in all things. Any burden you carry, I carry as well.”