Silence fell between us, and her breathing became steady and deep. So the headaches were a sign of Seth trying to contact her, which explained the brief flashes of pain I’d seen before the Elixir and confirmed my suspicions all along. The connection hurt somehow. And now the bond was muted, but it meant she definitely needed another dose tomorrow.

A new wave of fury rolled through me, but I kept my body relaxed, not wanting to frighten her. I’d truly believed that Seth had grown to care for Alex, perhaps even love her in his own way—whatever way that was. Especially after Caleb died, he’d cared for her, protected her when I hadn’t. In New York, he watched over her and would’ve killed without a thought to make sure no one learned that she’d killed a pure in self-defense. Had it all been a ruse? An act to ensure that Alex would live so that she could Awaken, giving him the power of a god-killer?

Yeah, I’d never fully trusted the punk, moments when I’d seen something I could never name in his cold eyes—eyes that had belonged to Alex for a period of time. Something about him set off my warning system and pissed me off like nothing else. That could’ve just been his interest in Alex, but still.

I’d never expected him to hurt her.

If I ever got my hands on that little bastard, I was going to kill him or die trying.

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But right now, Alex was lying beside me, and hell if I was going to think about Seth. Very carefully, I lowered my left arm and wrapped it around her too-slender waist. There was another soft sigh from her. She seemed incredibly small beside me. How could I’ve not noticed that in the past? Maybe because all I ever saw was her strength.

I could’ve suggested that she go back to the bed or that both of us move there, but I didn’t have the heart or desire to move her. Not when she was close to me like this, pulling loose bittersweet and tender memories. I flicked through the days spent in my parents’ house and the brief time in Ohio.

Alex murmured something and tipped her head back, brushing the tip of her nose along my chin and jaw. A wealth of warmth spread through me and before I knew what I was doing, I turned my head. My lips brushed her forehead.

“G’night, Aiden…”

My pulse sped up and a smile pulled at my lips—a real one. “Good night, agapi”

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CHAPTER 8

ALEX TOOK THE ELIXIR AND THE COMPULSION WITHOUT protest the following morning. Four days later, she did so again. Each time, I was more affected by the process than she was. Alex didn’t really understand what I was giving her, only that afterward I spoke to her in Greek and she was generally tired.

But with each passing day, a little of her old self shone through while we were alone. Her typical sharp tongue was still absent, much to my dismay. Who could’ve known how badly I’d miss her smartass responses? She did smile more often and even though she rarely left my side, she didn’t freak out too badly when Lea and Luke popped in on us one day. They were good with Alex, if not a little shocked by how different she was. They didn’t stay too long.

I think it scared them—seeing how very real the Elixir was, what it could do to them. How it stripped Alex down to nothing more than a shell. I caught Lea staring at her once, and it was clear what she was thinking. This could be me. She was seeing herself in Alex’s dull, shattered eyes.

By the third day, the headaches started, and each time she looked at me and mentioned the pain, I wanted to break each of Seth’s ribs individually.

A sort of routine developed between us while we waited for Apollo to show, hopefully with good news. We spent the day together and at night she eventually made her way over to the couch. Admittedly it was my favorite part of the day. The bed was still off-limits. There was an intimacy to that, one I desired and had a hell of a time refusing, but with her like this, it would’ve crossed the line.

Alex pulled out the chessboard and placed it on the coffee table while I watched her. Gods, I loved just watching her. Sounded creepy as hell, I know, but my eyes just sought her out. There was a gracefulness about her that she’d retained, even after three doses.

“Play?” She plopped down on the floor on the other side of the coffee table.

I’d been teaching her how to play chess. When I nodded and moved to sit on the floor, she grabbed one of the pawns and placed it in the row closest to her.

Teaching her how to play wasn’t really going well.

When she looked away, I reached over, replacing the pawn with a knight. Clasping her hands under her chin, she listened while I went over the rules again. Once I was finished, she went first, moving a pawn forward one space.

I tried picturing playing chess with Alex in a different time, like a month ago. Imagining her sitting still long enough and having the patience for a game like chess was impossible. Knowing her, she’d have thrown a chess piece by now. I laughed.

Alex’s chin jerked up and she grinned. “What?”

“Nothing,” I told her.

Still smiling, she crawled over and sat beside me, then reached across the board, moving another pawn right into position to be taken by mine. I laughed again. “You can’t sit next to me and play chess, agapi”

Her shoulders lifted. “I like sitting beside you.”

And I liked it, too. I moved a pawn forward, not taking hers.

“I like when you laugh, too.” She placed a finger to her lips, her brows furrowing as she studied the board. “I think I just like you.”

My mouth opened but nothing came out.

“Sometimes I feel… I feel like I should be doing more,” she picked up a rook, “than this. With my life.” She placed it back and looked up, searching my face. “With you, too.”

I knew I needed to say something, but there was too much I wanted to say.

She scooted closer and rested her head on my shoulder. A heartbeat passed. “I have these memories. They are like dreams. Some are really good and others are dark and red.” She rubbed her cheek against my shoulder. “I know there is more… to all of this.”

“There is,” I whispered, watching her lashes fan her cheeks, her lips part.

“I like this. I like when you hold me at night. That feels right… real.” She paused, lashes lifting. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” My voice sounded, felt heavy.

Alex raised her head, lips puckered. “I have a feeling you do not say that often.”

My breath caught. A ball of emotion formed in my chest. “I don’t.”

“Do you like it?” She gazed at the board, her fingers now hovering over the wrong pieces.

“Of course I do, agapi” I slid an arm around her shoulders and leaned over, pressing my lips against her temple, then her forehead. Her cheeks rose with her smile and so did my chest, and that ball tightened and tightened. I pressed my face into the mass of wavy hair and inhaled.

Apollo had said he knew what this kind of love was capable of. And I finally understood why Paris had risked his country and his blood for Helen. Selfish, yes, but I understood. I would burn down the world if that meant Alex would be safe.

“Knock, knock,” came Deacon’s voice.

Alex stiffened.

Pulling away from her, I looked up. He stood in the door, a slight smile on his face. Withdrawing my arm, I stood, surprised to find my legs weak.

Alex’s eyes bounced from my brother to me and she must’ve read something in my eyes, because she relaxed and went back to the chessboard.

“What’s up?” I asked.

He sauntered into the room. “What’s up with you?”

My lips twitched. “Playing chess with Alex.”

“Stimulating.” Deacon watched Alex move her chess pieces around the board in no particular order. “Luke’s been in contact with Olivia.

She’s with her mom and they’ve hooked up with Laadan. They want to come here.”

“If they are with Laadan, then I trust them. Clear it with Marcus, though.”

“I like Marcus.” Alex stood and drifted over to me.

Deacon arched a brow. “Now, that’s odd…”

“Deacon,” I warned.

Alex smiled up at me, holding a bishop in her hand. “Checkmate?”

He chortled. “Good gods, she’s like Rain Man.”

Anger whipped through me so fast I saw red, and then Alex frowned. “Is this ‘Rain Man’ a good thing?” she asked.

Taking a step toward my idiot brother, I exploded. “Get the hell out of here before I strangle you within an inch of your life.”

Eyes wide, Deacon’s hands flew up. “Whoa, I was just kidding. I mean, come on, she’s pretty random now.”

Rage swept through me. He was my brother. I loved him, but dammit, he never thought before he spoke. Voice low, I said, “Do you even know how insulting that is to Alex?”

He blinked, his cheeks flushing. “I wasn’t thinking—”

“No shit.”

“I didn’t mean anything by it, Aiden. I’m sorry.” His gaze went behind me and he frowned. “I really am.”

Taking a deep breath, I let the red-hot anger slip off my brittle skin. “I know. It’s just that…” There was no need to finish. Deacon knew. “I didn’t mean to… yell at you. Just let Marcus know about Laadan and Olivia. Okay?”

Deacon looked like he wanted to say more, but wisely nodded and backed out of the room.

Sighing, I turned around. “Alex—”

The spot she’d stood in was empty. Dammit. I should’ve known better. Yelling and threatening to choke the ever-loving crap out of Deacon in front of her hadn’t been wise. I kept forgetting that this wasn’t Alex.

This was a frightened girl.

My eyes scanned the room, stopping on the linen closet door. It was ajar, revealing a thin strip of darkness. She wouldn’t…

To think of Alex—my strong, beautiful and resilient Alex—hiding in a closet killed me. For a heartbeat, I couldn’t move or breathe. I’d done this to her—given her the Elixir, changed her into something that ran when voices were raised. And I wanted to blame Seth for his influence, the bond he’d forged with her that’d led us to this choice, but I’d been the one who’d forced the Elixir down her throat.

There wasn’t forgiveness for me.

Stamping down the whirling mix of grief and rage, I made my way to the closet and slowly opened the double doors. It was a deep closet, with several shelves on the top stocked with quilts. A few garment bags hung from a rail. My gaze dropped. Five tiny toes peeked out from behind a bag.

I closed my eyes and swore under my breath, and then I eased the bags apart. Alex’s foot jerked back, and I could hear her moving deeper into the recesses. Kneeling down, I found her pressed against the wall, knees tucked against her chest and eyes wide.

“Oh, Alex.”

She watched me warily. “My name is Alexandria.”

And just like that, all those days of drawing her out of the Elixir-induced shell were lost.

“Okay.” I sat down cross-legged and dragged my fingers through my hair, debating on how to proceed with this. Deacon used to get nightmares when he was a kid. He hadn’t hidden in the closet, but he had screamed like a furie. I used to read to him. Somehow I doubted that would work now. “Are you all right?”

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