She pulled her lips back and made a very real-sounding hiss. “How about you come in here?”
I flashed my teeth at her. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Her hands flexed at her sides and she moved back from the bars, keeping her eyes trained on me. “I’d love it.”
The door opened, spilling light down the concrete stairs. Marcus turned, but I kept my gaze on Alex. There was a challenge in her stare—a dare. She wanted to fight, and even with her elemental powers lagging, she’d be a hell of an opponent. More skilled than the last time I’d goaded her into fighting me. Thinking of that, I was reminded of how that fight had ended.
Alex had kissed me.
My stomach tightened, even though I knew it wouldn’t end that way this time. If she got her hands on me, she’d try to kill me. I had to keep reminding myself of that. When connected to Seth, she wasn’t the girl I’d admired when I’d seen her around the Covenant, or the one I’d fallen in love with.
“Marcus? Aiden?” Solos called from the top of the steps. “You guys down there?”
“Don’t come down here,” I reminded him, eyeing a suddenly alert Alex. Halfs were more susceptible to compulsions, and she packed one hell of a punch.
“Wasn’t planning on it,” he replied. “You guys are needed upstairs. Apollo’s back.”
Marcus shot me a look full of meaning, and then glanced at Alex before heading up the stairs. Apollo’s arrival hopefully meant he’d found something to break the connection threading Alex and Seth together.
Alex shot toward the bars, gripping them. “Don’t you dare leave me.”
I heard Marcus’ footfalls stop at the top of the steps. “I thought you were tired of my face, Alex.”
Closing her eyes, she pressed her forehead against the bars. “I hate it in here. I can’t take it. The silence… I hate the silence.”
And I hated the razor edge of real pain in her voice. “You didn’t answer my question.”
The skin around her eyes crinkled as her brows knitted together. “Fine. Leave. I don’t care. I hate you anyway.”
Approaching the bars, I slipped my hand through. My fingers brushed aside the tangled mess of hair. Alex was so still I wasn’t sure she was breathing as I found the chain and gently tugged it up so that the crystal rose was cradled in my palm.
She sucked in a sharp breath but didn’t bolt.
“If you hated me, you would’ve destroyed this.”
“Give me time and I will.”
I laughed and let go of the rose. She opened her eyes, watching me warily. “No. You won’t. As long as you wear that, I know there is still a part of you in there. That there is still hope.”
Alex reached for the necklace, gripping it in a fist as she backed away. Instead of ripping it off her neck, she held onto it and retreated back to her mattress. Sitting down, she leaned against the wall and pulled her knees to her chest.
Hope grew like a fragile seedling, and I guarded it carefully. I pushed off the bars. “I’ll bring you something to eat and drink later.”
There was no answer, and I knew I wasn’t going to get one. Pivoting around, I hurried up the stairs. Marcus and Solos waited in the narrow hallway.
“She still hasn’t eaten?” Solos asked, rubbing his hand along the jagged scar that cut down his face from eye to jaw.
Walking past them, I shook my head. Her not eating was a huge concern. Apollyon or not, she couldn’t last much longer like this without lasting consequences.
Solos snapped at my heels. “We could always hold her down and force-feed her temperamental butt.”
“You come within a foot of her, and she’ll have you hanging yourself from the rafters in the basement.” Marcus shot the half-blood Sentinel a dark look. “Don’t even think it.”
“Not to mention I’m sure she’d just vomit the food back up.” I thrust my fingers through my hair as I headed toward the den. There was an unnatural stirring in the air, a fissure of power.
A god-like power.
“Heads up, guys, Apollo is not in a good mood,” Solos announced, and my stomach sank. “I don’t think he was successful in finding a way to break the bond. I hate to say it—”
I whirled so fast on the half-blood that he took an unsteady step back. “Then don’t say it.”
“Aiden,” Marcus warned.
Solos held up his hands. “Look, all I’m saying is that we have to consider the possibility that we can’t break the bond.”
“There is nothing else to consider.” I took a deep breath, searched for the patience I’d cultivated while raising my brother, and didn’t find it. “We’ll find a way.”
“And if we don’t?” Solos shot back, shaking his head. “Do we let her out of the cage so she and Seth can go all Bonnie-and-Clyde on the world? Or do we let her rot in the basement and starve to death?”
“Solos, I am warning you that it would be wise to stop,” Marcus said.
“Don’t get me wrong. I like Alex. I think she’s a pretty cool kid,” Solos went on. “But isn’t it more humane to put her out of her misery instead—”
My fist connected with his jaw before I even knew what I was doing. His head jerked back as he staggered to the side. I shot forward, grabbing him by his shirt, and slammed him into the wall, rattling several paintings.
“Aiden!” Marcus yelled.
“We are not going to harm Alex,” I snarled, lifting the Sentinel onto the tips of his boots. “We aren’t going to touch a hair on her head. Do you understand me?”
Solos’ eyes bugged. “I know you love her—”
“You don’t know shit. You sure as hell don’t know the lengths I will go to keep her safe.” I dropped him and he slumped against the wall. “And if that means killing one half-blood to make sure nothing happens to her, I won’t hesitate.”
“As entertaining as you going all grrr on Solos is, we need to talk,” came Apollo’s booming voice from inside the den. “So knock it off, Aiden.”
Solos straightened, cupping his jaw. “Aiden, I didn’t mean—”
“Save it.” I spun around and passed Marcus, storming into the den. Upon taking one look at Apollo, my eyes narrowed. “Don’t say it.”
“Oh, you going to hit me again? I kind of liked it that first time.”
No way was I going there. I crossed the room and brushed back a heavy curtain. Night had fallen over the tall elm and oak trees. Their branches were still bare, like skeletons—a landscape I would’ve once found beautiful now seemed desolate and without hope.
“Have you discovered anything?” Marcus asked.
“I have, but we have bigger problems than Alex right now.”
Facing both of them, I leaned against the cool windowpane. “How so?”
“Part of me is afraid to ask,” Marcus said. Solos snickered, and then winced. Moving to the leather sofa, Marcus sat. “Because I really don’t know what could be worse than Alex turning on all of us.”
Apollo arched a brow. “Oh, this has it beat.”
“Are you just dragging this out for dramatic effect?” My patience was seriously lacking.
The eerie whites of his eyes crackled, and the scent of burning ozone filled the room. Marcus shook his head, but I raised my brows, unfazed, because honestly, nothing really fazed me anymore.
Apollo’s lips twitched into a smirk. “There’s a war brewing.”
OKAY, I GUESSED IT WAS KIND OF HARD TO TOP THAT. A dry, biting laugh escaped me as I pushed off the window. “A war?”
Now that he had everyone’s attention, Apollo seemed to grow in height. “A war between the gods and those following the First.”
Marcus cursed. He’d been doing that a lot lately. “The gods are going to take on Seth?”
“They’re planning to take on Seth and anyone who stands with him.” His lip curled with distaste. “That would include Lucian.”
“There is no way Lucian could amass such a following.” Solos leaned over the back of the couch. “Joining him would be insanity.”
“But Lucian has the Apollyon. That alone holds an appeal.” Marcus leaned back, looking as weary as I felt.
“You are correct,” Apollo replied. “We have gained knowledge that many are siding with him.”
“Do you have spies?” I asked, curious.
Apollo smiled, and it was just as creepy as Alex’s childish giggle had been earlier. He snapped his finger and there was a burst of raw power that rolled through the room like a shockwave. A blue light shimmered beside Apollo and a human shape began to take form.
A man—nearly seven feet tall, with a crop of spiky blond hair—appeared. He bore a striking resemblance to Apollo and shared the same, all-white eyes. Dressed in cargo shorts, flip flops, and a Jimmy Buffett shirt, he looked like a college dropout.
And he was a god.
Maybe one day I’d get used to gods popping in and out like no tomorrow, but after spending my entire life never seeing one, it was almost overwhelming to stand in the same room with some of the most powerful creatures to ever exist.
Apparently some of the most pissed off, too.
Marcus shot to his feet quickly and bowed, along with Solos and me. Not that the god noticed. He turned to Apollo with a fierce scowl. “You snap your fingers and demand I just appear? Like I have nothing better to do?”
Apollo smirked. “Isn’t that what happened?”
“I am not one of your servants, brother. Next time I will break that finger off and shove it so far up your—”
“We have an audience.” Apollo gestured toward us, and I was sure we all wore the same expression of shock and awe. “And no one wants to hear about the things you like to do in your spare time, Dionysus.”
The god of wine and nonstop partying laughed at his brother and dropped into a chair. He stretched out his long legs and rubbed the scruff along his chin. “The least you could do is make sure I have some refreshments here.”
Marcus jerked to attention. “We can get something. There’s wine—”
“Not necessary.” Apollo’s eyes narrowed. “And the least you can do is hold a conversation for five minutes without being drunk.”
“Whatever.” Dionysus turned his head toward us and chuckled. Part of me wondered if he was drunk now. “Two pure-bloods and a half, but there’s something much, much more in this house.” His eyes flared as he sniffed the air. “Ah, yes, the little female Apollyon is here.”
I stiffened at the obvious sound of interest in Dionysus’ voice.
Apollo shot me a look, one that warned that no other god would be as tolerant as he’d been when it came to throwing punches. “You know she’s here and you know that’s not why you’re here.”
“Is that why you had Ananke in a tizzy this morning?” Dionysus smiled gamely.
At the sound of Ananke’s name, a thousand violent emotions roared alive inside me. I started to move but stopped. Coiled tension locked up my muscles. Apollo wouldn’t dare. Even Solos had paled. Everyone knew who and what Ananke presided over, and it didn’t bode well for Alex. Rage rendered me speechless, and before I could recover, Marcus spoke.