ALEX CLENCHED THE TITANIUM BARS HONED BY Hephaestus and Apollo, amber-colored eyes burning with hate. But those eyes… they didn’t belong to Alex.
Alex’s eyes were warm and brown like good whiskey. I’d memorized those eyes the first time I saw them in that warehouse in Atlanta. This was a different creature entirely.
When we’d moved her to the safe house deep in Apple River, Illinois, we’d almost lost her. None of us, including me, had been ready for the full display of her power. If Apollo hadn’t finagled Hephaestus—the only god who could build something that could withstand the Apollyon—into creating a room to keep Alex in, we wouldn’t have been able to control her.
“If you don’t let me out of here, I’m going to rip your brother’s ribs out and wear them as a crown.”
I showed no emotion. Perhaps I’d grown used to the intimidations over the last couple of days. Threatening to kill Deacon was one of Alex’s favorites. She’d grow bored with it soon enough. It hadn’t been like that at first. She’d been… almost normal, except for her amber-colored eyes. She’d talked and sounded like Alex. Cracked jokes like Alex. Argued like Alex. And she’d reasoned like Alex.
She clenched the titanium bars. Each bar had been encased with an unbreakable chain-link net that Hephaestus had used on Aphrodite once. Not even the Apollyon could break through it.
Above her, several marks had been carved into the cement, neutralizing most of her newly-discovered abilities—not fully stopping her, but enough that she wasn’t a danger to herself or others.
My blood boiled at the memory of what’d happened after she’d Awakened. She’d connected with the First—Seth—and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that she’d given up her location. I’d completely understood that she needed to be moved and quickly, but I didn’t agree with how Apollo had done it.
He’d hit her with a god-bolt.
And I’d punched him.
I was still surprised that I was alive.
“Do you know how it’s going to feel when you stand there and watch me do it?” she taunted. “Just like you stood there and watched your parents get slaughtered by daimons, but this will be much, much sweeter.”
I folded my arms.
Exhaling slowly, she lowered her head and blinked back tears. “Please. Aiden please let me out of here.”
I closed my eyes. A muscle spasmed along my jaw. This… this tactic was the hardest.
“Why are you treating me like this? I don’t feel good. I hurt. Why did you let them hurt me like this?”
My eyes flew open. Every muscle in my body went rigid. Tears spilled down her cheeks, and for a moment—just a moment—I forgot that it wasn’t really Alex in there, pleading and begging me.
“I thought you loved me?”
I moved so fast I startled her. My hands shot through the bars, clasping the sides of her face. My forehead pressed against the cold bars and my lips were on hers. The kiss was hard and fast. Angry. Desperate. She went still, unsure of how to respond. Several times in the past forty-eight hours it had been the only way to shut her up.
I pulled back, releasing her. “Because I love you, I won’t release you.”
Frustration rolled off her and threatened to tear the skin from my bones. The teary gaze was gone in an instant. Alex screamed and threw herself to the back of the cell. Ten feet away from the bars, she leaned against the wall, back bowed. “You can’t keep me in here forever.”
“I can try.”
“He’s coming for me.”
“He’ll never find you,” I said, sitting down in the metal chair placed before the cell. I’d made sure she had everything she needed in there—a small bathroom off the one room, a bed that she’d destroyed and had been stripped down to just a mattress, and clothing.
Alex laughed, pushing off the wall. “You can’t take him.”
My gaze fell to the untouched plate of food by the barred door. “Eat, Alex. You need to eat.”
“You can never be him.”
I rubbed the growth of facial hair along my jaw as she slowly approached the plate of food, and hope sparked deep inside me. She hadn’t eaten in the four days since she’d Awakened. I had no idea how she was still walking around. Picking up the plate of food, she backed away.
“Are you going to eat the food this time?” I asked wearily.
Alex smiled and then threw the plate directly at where I sat. Plastic crashed against titanium before clattering on the floor. Pieces of food—maybe mashed potatoes and some kind of meat—made it through the bars, splattering my chest and cheek. We’d stopped giving her ceramic plates after she’d tried to turn the broken shards into weapons.
Drawing on patience I was running out of, I slowly knocked the chunks of food off me. “Did that make you feel better, Alex?”
She pouted. “Not really.” Then she started pacing, her movements fluid and spellbinding in spite of the fact she’d thrown her dinner at me again. “I can’t take this any longer. Let me out or, so help me, I will destroy you.”
I shook my head. “Alex, you have to be in there. I know you. My heart would not be beating if you were truly gone.”
Dropping onto the mattress, she growled. “Gods, isn’t that just so sweet? My heart is all aflutter.”
“There he is.” I stood and grasped the bars, mirroring her earlier actions. “I wondered how long it would take to bring you out. Does my love for her bother you, Seth?”
She rolled onto her side, brows pinched and face pale. “Seth’s not in here, you stupid pure-blood.”
“It hurts when he’s connected to you, doesn’t it?”
“He’s not in here!” she screamed, her voice cracking.
I knew she was lying. “He’s there.” I leaned against the bars. “I can see him in your eyes.”
Alex curled, tucking her knees to her chest. A shiver rolled through her. I knew what she was doing—retreating inside herself, reaching out to Seth, making contact with him.
“Alex,” I said.
Her hands curled into fists as she lifted her head. “Go away.”
My eyes met hers. “Never.”
“I hate you,” she hissed, and she sounded like she meant it. “I hate you!”
“That’s not true. Alex loves me.”
She rolled her eyes. “I am Alex, you idiot. And I don’t love you. I need—”
“You need Seth.” Fire snapped through me as I gripped the bars until my knuckles ached. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t just Seth that was forcing her to behave like this. Yeah, some of what she said was Seth to the core, but it was the need driving her. The need to be near the First was a tangible thing—potent and real.
I could taste it.
I remembered what the oracle had told her about need over the summer. Part of me hadn’t fully understood it then, but I did now. Need was destroying her, destroying me.
“Need is not love, Alex.”
Before Alex could respond, the door opened. “Oh!” She unfurled her legs and clapped her hands. “More visitors for little old me? I’m just so damn lucky. I’m tired of seeing his face.”
Marcus, Alex’s pure-blooded uncle, glanced at me. “I see she’s in good spirits.”
She rose to her feet, swaying unnaturally to the far right. The mattress, the last item left in the room, floated several feet off the floor. We’d removed everything else. Elemental use now came easy to her. She seemed to just will it to happen and it did. And gods, did she ever love doing it.
Marcus and I stared, morbidly fascinated with the display. It was stronger than yesterday, which meant the protective magic was wearing off. Hephaestus would need to make another visit and soon.
“And where is here?” She pushed with those words, fueling them with power.
I stepped back as her words rippled through me, breathed inside me. Forcing myself to break eye contact with Alex, I turned to Marcus. His eyes were glazed over and vacant. He was seconds away from spilling our location. I placed my hand on Marcus’ shoulder.
He blinked, and then swore. “Is it just me or is she getting better at that?”
Alex giggled, and it sounded off, reminding me of that creepy little boy in Pet Sematary. The one who had ran around killing people with a scalpel.
“I think so. You’d think she’d grow weaker, since she hasn’t eaten a damn thing.” I watched her move back to the mattress. She stopped, glancing over her shoulder at us. Her eyes narrowed, and I couldn’t wait to find out what she was now up to. “Anyway, we need to make sure no one comes down here.”
Marcus nodded. The house was another piece of property owned by Solos’ father, but this one had more Sentinel traffic. Some stopped in while traveling to new assignments, although we had to keep the door to the basement sealed when strangers were in the house, which was often. The place was hopping with the most recent events. Many were being moved out of the west, heading either toward what was left of Deity Island or to the Covenant in New York.
“Marcus?” Alex faced us.
One side of her lips tipped up as her gaze slid to mine. “Does it bother you that Aiden and I have been. how do I put this? He’s seen me naked? Multiple times.”
Oh. Dear. Gods. Here we go again. Shaking my head, I scrubbed my hand over my eyes. “Alex…”
Marcus stiffened. “I’ve had time to come to terms with it. I can’t say that I’m surprised, though.” He glanced at me, scowling. “If there’s a rule, you’ll break it, Alex. But I didn’t expect Aiden to be so…”
“Irresponsible?” she supplied helpfully, and I rolled my eyes. “And such a bastard to take advantage of me—your poor niece who has been through so much? He took advantage of me. Used a compulsion on me. He forced me.”
My hand dropped to my side. Horror rolled through me, leaving me reeling. She didn’t just… she had.
“He’s a bastard,” Marcus responded coolly, “but I doubt he took advantage of you or used a compulsion.”
“Thanks,” I muttered.
Alex shrugged as she drifted toward us. “He broke the rules. Shouldn’t you be more upset?”
“Honestly, out of everything that is going on, that’s the least of my worries.” Marcus smiled, and her eyes flared a heated tawny color. “And really, if we are going to make a list tallying up how many rules have been broken, I think you top it.”
“But he used compulsion on a pure.”
“And you killed one. Tit for tat, Alexandria.” Although this wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation with Alex, it never failed to amaze me how calm Marcus remained through it.
“Then you should punish us.” She leaned into the bars, but kept her hands to her sides. “Rules are rules, Uncle. Take us to the Council.”
“We’re not letting you out,” I cut in. “Move on to something else, Alex.”