Unable to help myself, I grinned. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”
At the sound of Aiden’s approaching footsteps, he stepped back and pinned the other pure with a dark look. “If anything happens to her, it’s your ass.”
My mouth dropped. “Did you just cuss? I’ve never heard you cuss before. Wow.”
Instead of responding, Marcus hugged me. He let go quickly and looked away, swallowing hard. Within seconds, we’d said our goodbyes to the rest of the group.
“Try not to let any souls free,” Luke said, grinning.
“Unless it’s Sam or Dean’s souls, right?” When they laughed, I gave them each a quick hug and then trotted over to where Aiden was packing the Hummer.
Once I got a load of the heavy sack of weapons and provisions, I said, “Not it.”
Aiden chuckled. “I got it.” He lifted it with one arm—impressive—and tossed it in the back. “I’ve already stashed a few daggers in front. You ready?”
“Yeah.” I glanced over my shoulder, taking in those waiting on the porch. An odd ache filled my chest. For a moment, everything was peaceful, though. Birds called. Rays of bright light sliced through the thick trees. It was almost like Aiden and I were going on a vacation or something.
Not going to the Underworld.
Aiden placed a hand on my arm. “We’ll see them again.”
“I know.” I smiled, but it felt all kinds of wrong. “It’s just…”
“What?” He closed the trunk.
Shaking my head, I tore my gaze from my friends—my family. As I turned to Aiden, a flash of movement caught my attention. Near the edge of the oak trees stood a doe on thin, elegant legs, and I’d swear our eyes met. There was something intelligent in the gaze—something foreign. Then it shot off, disappearing into the abundant foliage.
“Do you think they’ll be okay?” I asked, meeting Aiden’s eyes.
“I wouldn’t leave my brother behind if I didn’t think so.”
There was truth in those words. Nodding, I headed to the passenger side, my gaze drifting to where the doe had stood. I thought of Artemis. The gods shouldn’t be able to find us, but it took no stretch of the imagination to assume that Apollo would’ve told his twin where we were.
A small smile played at my lips as I climbed in. They would be okay. Over half of them were trained and damn good with a dagger. Not to mention that all of Deacon’s playing around with fire was paying off. With Laadan and Marcus capable of controlling air, they could protect themselves. And if Artemis was really hanging around, they had one badass goddess on their side.
Belting myself in, I then placed my hands in my lap. They balled into fists. I glanced over at Aiden as he started the engine. The Hummer rumbled to life. “You know I suck at long car rides, right?”
A half-grin appeared. “I remember.”
“You’ll need to entertain me. A lot.”
He laughed as he coaxed the massive vehicle down the narrow, one-lane dirt road that was all new to me. “By the way,” Aiden said, casting me a long look that had me totally forgetting about the seriousness of our mission. “You look damn good in a Sentinel uniform.”
A hot flush that had nothing to do with embarrassment spread over me. “So do you.”
I laughed outright. “Wow. Healthy ego there.”
Aiden’s eyes were light, a heather gray, as they focused on the rural road. “Check out the glove box.”
Curious, I leaned forward and threw the latch. Inside were two black, shiny objects. I pulled one out carefully, turning the heavy thing over. It was a specially designed Glock. Feeling like a badass, I checked the clip—titanium bullets.
The gun felt weird in my hands, though. “I’ve only held one of these once outside the Covenant.”
Aiden was quiet as he waited for me to continue. Of course, he knew when. “I didn’t use it. I hesitated.”
“You were facing down your own mother, Alex. It’s understandable.”
I nodded, ignoring the lump in my throat as I placed the gun back in the glove box. “What else is stashed away?”
“Look under the seats,” he murmured as the Hummer’s tires evened out on pavement.
Under the seat were two daggers and a sickle blade. “The same under yours?”
“What are you expecting? A daimon siege?”
“Safe than sorry, Alex. We have no idea what or who we’re going to run into out here.”
I straightened. “Seth’s nowhere near here and we’re protected.” I tapped a finger off the talisman I wore, and then gestured at the mark above our heads.
Aiden grunted something unintelligible.
My brows rose, but I dropped it. Not like I was bothered by the things designed to stab, shoot, and otherwise kill. “Man, I wish we had coffee.”
“Like you need more caffeine.”
“Ha. Ha.” I stared out the window, nibbling on my lower lip. “Caffeine is my friend.”
“And red meat—can’t forget red meat.”
I grinned at his teasing tone. “Whatever. Eat your bland chicken breast, but soon… very soon, I shall sway you to the dark side of red meat.”
We went back and forth for a while, distracting ourselves, and it worked. My muscles relaxed with each passing mile and we weren’t bombarded by daimons dropping from the sky from the moment we hit civilization, otherwise known as the interstate. When we took a detour to grab a quick lunch from the drive-through, I ordered a hamburger…
Aiden got a grilled chicken sandwich… and took one of the buns off.
Rolling up the wrapper, I laughed. “Why do you do that? It’s like you have something against two-bun sandwiches.”
“One bun is enough.” He glanced down at his lap, one hand on the steering wheel and the other covered with specks of seasoning. Looking up, he sighed. “Did you take all the napkins?”
I looked at him sheepishly. “Maybe, but I saved you… half of one.” Digging into my bag, I pulled out a napkin and tore it into two. Then I dabbed at his hand, not as graceful as he’d been when he’d washed my hands the night in the kitchen.
I think I may have rubbed his skin raw.
Snatching the bag out of his lap, I pulled out the other bun, wiggling it near his mouth.
“Alex…” He leaned toward the window, avoiding the dangerous second bun. “Come on.”
“Eat it,” I ordered, holding it with two hands now, making it dance in the air. “It’s begging you. ‘Eat me’.”
He arched a brow.
“Perv,” I muttered.
Aiden pressed his lips together, but when he glanced at me and my dancing bun, he burst into laughter. “All right, give me the bun.”
Grinning, I watched him eat the bun, and then pulled out the small order of fries. “Want some?”
Surprisingly, he didn’t turn them down. But after the food was gone and neither of us could find anything remotely worth listening to on the radio, I started to get twitchy. Four hours in, we hit a convenience store a few miles beyond Des Moines, refilling the tank and stocking up on what looked like gerbil food. Considering my run-in with Hades last time I was in a convenience store, I stayed in the car and asked for some Doritos, but apparently nacho cheese wasn’t appropriate Underworld food.
“Want to drive?”
I shook my head as I buckled in. “If I was driving this, I’d take out a family of four.”
“What?” he laughed.
“I’ve only driven a car, like, once. And it was a bug compared to this thing. I mean, I know how to drive, but I don’t think you want me on the interstate.”
Aiden reached over, wrapping his hand around mine. “When all of this is over, I’ll get you up-to-speed. You’ll be driving one of those trucks over there.”
I laughed as I eyed the eighteen-wheeler. “You might want to add ‘small town’ to the list of casualties.”
“You’ll do okay—more than okay.” He slid the Hummer between two trucks. “Anything you set your mind to, you succeed at it. So no worries.”
Tipping my head back against the leather seat, I smiled. “You always say the right things.”
Aiden brows furrowed. “Nah, I don’t think so.”
“You do,” I said quietly, holding his hand tighter. “I don’t think you even try. It just comes natural to you.”
Two points on his cheeks flushed, and I found it terribly cute. So I leaned over the center console and kissed one of those flaming cheeks. I settled back, grinning at the bemused look he sent my way.
The rest of the trip was uneventful, and I actually dozed off about an hour or so from Stull. At first I didn’t realize I was dreaming. Everything was foggy, like I was staring down a narrow tube filled with mist. As it cleared and the glimpse of images settled into place, I thought the circular chamber and its sandstone walls looked vaguely familiar. But it wasn’t the place that caught my attention.
It was what was on the floor.
Apollo was on his knees, his hands outstretched, and he wasn’t alone. Aiden was there, his back to me as he held something—someone—to his chest, his body bowed over the still form as he rocked back and forth, his broad shoulders trembling. There was another person in the room, but their form and image was too hazy to make out.
Unease slithered through me like murky fog as I focused on Aiden, wanting to reach out to him. I called his name, but I had no voice. The anxiety grew and I felt cold—too cold. Something wasn’t right. I felt like I was there but detached, as if I was watching what was happening from a great distance.
Aiden was saying something, but it was too low for me to make out. All I heard was Apollo’s response.
Without warning, Aiden straightened and threw his head back, letting loose a roar full of pain and fury.
I jerked awake to the low sound of Aiden singing along to The Maine’s “Saving Grace,” slamming my knee into the dashboard.
“You okay?” he asked.
Dragging in a deep breath, I nodded as I pushed loose strands of hair out of my face. My heart pounded in my chest. I’d seen the lifeless body Aiden had been holding and I’d understand that scream that tore from the depths of his soul.
It had been me in his arms.
I slumped back against the seat, staring out the window. It was just a dream—only a dream. And could I be surprised that I was having messed-up dreams like that? All the stress and crazy stuff going on had to foster some whacked-out nightmares, but…
There had been something to the dream that made it hard to shake, that had left behind a chill deep in my bones. It took a lot to push the dream out of my thoughts. I settled back against the seat, watching Aiden from behind my lashes, picturing us going somewhere else—anywhere other than a freaking cemetery. Like maybe if we were driving to Disney World. Okay, maybe not. Maybe a beach for a sunny, romantic weekend, and I could almost see it. I could taste it.
Us being normal, living among mortals like we’d talked about, having a future where we weren’t doing crazy stuff like this, where I wasn’t connected to a psychotic Seth. We’d have a house, because I couldn’t picture Aiden in an apartment or a townhouse. He’d want space—a yard—and even though a dog was out of the question because of the power daimons had over animals, it was my perfect future, so we had a Labrador that ran along the fence.