“Stop it! Listen to me.” I cocked my head to the right, avoiding hers again. “The gods are going to war because of what Seth is doing.”
“Good! Let them bring it.” She laughed, lowering her feet to the floor. “We will destroy each of them. Starting with that idiot Apollo.”
I sighed, running out of patience. Yeah, I wasn’t as saintly as Seth claimed. “You can’t continue like th—”
Her elbow thrust into my stomach and she broke free. I sprang forward, catching her around the waist, and flipped her onto the mattress when I should’ve just dropped her on her head. It wasn’t like she’d repay me the same kindness.
Alex reared up, trying to hook her legs around my waist to roll me. I pressed down, using my weight to trap her lower body. Her hands flew at my face, fingers curved into claws. Snatching her wrists, I pinned them down above her head.
“Look at me,” I said, leaning down so that only a few inches separated our faces. “Look at me and listen.”
She started to turn her head, but I pressed my forehead against hers, trapping her. Her eyes squeezed shut and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about that.
Taking a deep breath, I willed for her to understand me. Just this once… “This isn’t you, Alex. You would never act like this. This isn t you.”
“Yes, it is!” Pain broke her voice as she arched again, almost throwing me off. “You’re just pissed because I don’t want you anymore. You’re jealous and obsessive.”
I ignored her words. “You’re letting Seth control you. Do you remember how afraid of that you were? How terrified that you’d lose yourself to him? What happened to that?”
She stilled except for the ragged fall and rise of her chest.
My eyes traced the contours of her face. “I swore to you that I wouldn’t let that happen, and I know I’ve failed you, but I’m not going to just give up, Alex. I’ll never give up on you.”
Her lips formed a tight line and a shudder rolled through her.
“You’ve always been so strong—unique. Only you controlled your life. No one made decisions for you. But this—not even questioning or fighting what’s happening—is weak”
Alex’s eyes flew open. “I am not weak.”
“Then prove it!” Dammit, I wanted to shake her. “Shut him out, just for a few minutes. I know you can. I know you worked for months on blocking him. Shut him out, Alex, and talk to me. Prove to me you’re not weak.”
Amber eyes churned, luminous and powerful. They were beautiful, like a god had placed two topaz jewels in her face, but I hated them. Hated what they meant and stood for. Hated that no matter what Alex had done—no matter what we’d done—she’d connected with Seth anyway and lost herself within seconds.
“I know you can do it,” I said. “I know you have that strength in you, because that’s what I love about you most. Your strength is admirable—beautiful. It is who you are. And what you’ve become is not you.”
“Love?” she repeated the word as if it were foreign to her tongue.
My chest tightened and the words spilled out of my mouth before I could stop them. And dammit, I begged—something I’d never done before. “Please come back to me, Alex. Please. I love you too much to lose you. And I love you too much to allow what’s about to happen, but you’re leaving me no choice.”
Her lashes fluttered down and a heartbeat passed, then they reopened. I sucked in a breath, too astonished to feel or think anything other than the fact that her eyes were brown—warm, whiskey brown.
Her eyes were brown.
Face pale and lips trembling, her brows puckered. “I’m so sorry. Aiden, I lo—” A scream tore from her, and she arched clear off the mattress, eyes widening.
My heart stopped. “Alex?”
“I can’t… it’s everywhere. It… hurts. Aiden, please… make it stop… please…” She slumped back, whimpering and twisting, thrashing her head back and forth.
With my heart in my throat, I started to let up, but then her eyes opened again and I wanted to rage. Golden eyes stared back into mine. I’d almost had her—almost.
Alex went wild underneath me.
The erratic mix of emotions funneling inside me made it hard to wait this out. Hope crashed and burned into barb-tipped disappointment that eventually gave way to anger. Alex was in there and she was hurting. Five seconds of catching a glimpse of her and she’d been sucked right back into Seth. I didn’t know if I should be happy or sick to my soul.
Even with the lack of food and sleep, it still took a godsawful amount of time for her to tire herself out. She thrashed, screamed, kicked and even tried to bite me.
But finally, she grew weary and was panting. “Does this make you happy? Hurting me like this? Make you feel all big and bad?”
“I’m not hurting you.” I opened my eyes, weary.
“You’re killing me!” She tried to rise up, but fell back. The damn girl was going to hurt herself.
“Dear gods, Alex, can you stop fighting me for a damn second?” She opened her mouth, but I placed my other hand over her lips. “Don’t say something smartass. You have no idea what kind of shitty night I’ve had.”
Her eyes narrowed.
“I mean it. Not one smartass comment.”
She grew very still, and I removed my hand. The tip of her tongue darted out, wetting her lips. I could tell she had something entirely infuriating to say but was holding back.
“I need you to try again, Alex. Block him. Cut the cord, and I’ll help you through it this time. I swear. I’ll get you through it.”
Alex stared at me for so long that I feared she’d lost the ability to speak. “You don’t get it. I don’t want to. I need him, Aiden. Not you. A half and a pure can’t love each other. Just let me go.”
Someone must have punched a hole right through my chest. The pain was that real—just as real as the pain I’d witnessed moments ago.
Aiden, please make it stop.
I focused on that instead of what she’d said. Alex was in pain when she fought him, and who knew if there were periods of times when she was fighting him and we just didn’t see. All I did know was that when she’d been herself—her real self—she’d asked me to make it stop, begged me. And there was only one way I could make it stop.
I knew right then, as much as it tore me apart, there was no other choice.
Leaning down, I placed a kiss against her damp temple and closed my eyes. A second—only a second—passed, and I soaked up her warmth and the moment of closeness without her fighting me. Then she jerked her head to the side and said something too horrible to really even acknowledge. Lifting myself off her, I rose to my feet and backed off, leaving the cell.
Alex remained on the mattress, not bothering to rush the door as I locked it. I stood there, watching her, knowing that what I was about to do had nothing to do with my duty to humanity or to my own kind. It really didn’t have anything to do with Apollo and his warnings.
Aiden, please make it stop.
There was only one way I could make it stop.
THE NEXT MORNING, APOLLO, MARCUS, AND I STOOD IN the small sunroom that overflowed with plants and flowers. The sweet tangy scent reminded me of Alex. Hell, everything reminded me of Alex.
She was right about one thing last night. I was obsessed.
Apollo cut to the chase. “Have you agreed?”
I glanced at Marcus, knowing that he’d finally made up his mind sometime last night. So had I. Weary and bone-tired, I scrubbed my hand over my rough cheek. Man, I needed to shave.
“Aiden,” Marcus said.
Exhaling roughly, my eyes narrowed. They didn’t know that Alex had snapped out of it for a few seconds last night. The tiny glimpse of her was something I held close to my heart, but in the harsh glare of the sunlight, I wasn’t sure if it had really happened, or if it had been wishful thinking.
I cleared my suddenly dry throat. The words were hard to get my tongue to form. “Give her the Elixir.”
And that was it—all it took.
What sounded like a series of champagne corks shattered the silence. The air was sucked out of the room as I spun toward the crackling sound. A shimmery blue dust formed in the rays of sunlight. Each particle shined like a sapphire. They came together quickly, as if drawn to become whole. Within seconds, a woman stood before us.
Swathed in blue silk robes that clung to her curves, the goddess tipped her golden head back. Long, thick curls fell to her waist as she drifted toward Apollo with a twitch in her hips.
Marcus sucked in a breath, obviously affected by the goddess’ beauty, and I felt nothing but chilled numbness as we both bowed.
There was something seriously wrong with me.
Or perhaps I was just too focused on what she held in her delicate-looking hands—an ancient-looking porcelain pitcher engraved with a hateful symbol. A circle with a slash through it—the mark of servitude.
“Ananke,” Apollo said, bowing before the older goddess.
My brows shot up. That was quick. It was eerie seeing how in-the-know the gods could be when they wanted. Immediately I disliked her, but I forced my expression blank.
She handed Apollo the pitcher and then turned toward me, her lip tipping up at one corner before facing Apollo again. “You will only need to use a… shot of this. You will need to finish with the compulsion.”
Hands clenching, I started to turn but stopped. I’d heard the compulsion time and time again over the years. Already it was flowing through my thoughts. My stomach rolled.
The goddess moved away from Apollo, returning to the center of the room. “It will take a few minutes to take effect. It will shut down all of her Apollyon powers, therefore breaking the bond. She will be… different.”
Not liking the sound of this, I asked, “What do you mean by ‘different’?”
Her lip tipped up again. “She will be more pliable to deal with—compliant in nature. The… girl will know who she is on the most basic level, but no more.”
“What?” I glanced at Apollo. “I didn’t agree to that.”
Apollo shot me a look that said shut the hell up and then some. Taking in a deep breath, I clasped my hands behind my back. “I apologize.”
The goddess arched a brow and nodded. “I have added Ma-Huang, which affects the memory. Her memories link her to the First. Without them, he simply does not exist. It is not perfect, but the best we can do given the situation.”
A chill crept up my spine. If Seth didn’t exist, then neither did anyone she cared about or trusted. Neither did I.
“She will tire easily,” Ananke continued. “And will be very easy to handle while we search for a more permanent fix.”
The permanent fix was in the room—Apollo—but thankfully the bulk of the gods didn’t know that he could take her out.
“How long will it last?” Apollo asked.
Ananke shook her head. “There is no telling. Maybe a few days if you’re lucky, but you will know when it’s wearing off. She will grow restless, may start to remember things. When this happens, she will need a new dose.”