I stood, staring at her—transported back to the day I’d brought her back to the Covenant and seen what lay beneath the grime and muck—the same maddening rush of feelings sucker-punched me.
Alex was beautiful—flawless—to me.
Her lashes lifted. Our eyes locked, and a sweet flush crept across her cheeks. My gaze dipped to her parted lips and a very different kind of hunger stirred. Before I knew what I was doing, I crossed the room, hands outstretched, reaching for her.
Alex darted back, her knuckles bleaching white. Confusion shot across her face as she sucked her lower lip between her teeth. Anxiety rolled off her as she stared back at me.
I stopped short, pulling my hands back. What was I thinking? She was… afraid of me—afraid of her Master. I cursed.
She jumped, eyes widening.
I’d never hated myself more. Clamping down on my emotions, I gave her space. “Stay here. I’ll find you some clothes.”
“Don’t call me that.” My tone was harsher than I intended and I worked to soften it. “Call me Aiden. Okay?”
Tearing myself away from her, I headed to the door and glanced over my shoulder. My brows furrowed. She stood in the same spot, hands clenching the robe and eyes on the floor as if it was some sort of beacon. What the hell was she doing?
Then it struck me. I’d told her to stay. And she was staying. “Alex…”
“My name is Alexandria.”
“Okay.” I sighed, approaching her carefully. When I was sure she knew I was beside her, I cupped her elbow. “You don’t have to stand here. You can do whatever you want, Alex—Alexandria. Sleep. Or watch TV.” I nodded at the flat screen in the corner as I led her to the bed. “You can do as you wish. Okay?”
Sitting down, Alex nodded and watched me. “You’re coming back,
“Of course,” I assured her. She kept glancing around the room, growing more and more agitated. “I won’t be gone long at all. I promise.” Alex nodded again. “Okay, Ma…” She flinched. “Okay, Aiden.”
It didn’t take me long to find clothes for her. All of her things were still in the room next to mine. Marcus had already checked in, then disappeared back downstairs, and now Deacon hovered by the door.
Gathering up Alex’s clothes, I faced my brother. “What’s up?”
He leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms. “How’d it go?”
“She fought it, as expected, but it worked.” I sat on the arm of a chair, yawning. “She’s… she’s not like she was.”
“As in she’s not Evil Alex…?”
I shook my head. “She’s… just not—it’s only temporary.”
Deacon pressed his lips together. “That bad, huh?”
“I didn’t say it was bad.”
He arched a brow. “I know you, Aiden. Your disappointment—in yourself, not Alex—is written all over you. It’s practically dripping from your grubby face.”
My brows rose. “I’m grubby?”
“You’re kind of gross. Might want to think about shaving, too, unless you’re going for the homeless look with no chance of getting laid.”
I laughed and stood. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
A genuine smile, one that was so rare on my brother, parted his lips, though it quickly faded. “She’s going to be okay, right? I mean, someone will find a way to break the connection and she’ll be snarky-but-not-homicidal Alex in no time? They have to.”
My good humor vanished. A crack broke my control, shattered the weakened wall around me. “Gods, I hope so, Deacon. I can’t…”
“Live without her?”
Turning away, I didn’t answer because there was no need. “Has it always been that obvious?”
“Honestly?” Deacon laughed. “I knew you had a thing for her and her for you from the moment you came back from Atlanta and bitched me out. To me, it was obvious, but only because I know you. It’s funny, because she’s a half, but in a weird way she’s perfect for you, don’t you think?”
I smiled weakly. “Yeah, I think so.”
There was a pause and then he asked, “Even if all of us make it out of this alive and the gods don’t go all god-zilla on the world and she goes back to Team Aiden, how are you two going to get your happily ever after?”
“We’d leave. That was our plan. It would work. Apollo owes us.”
“No shit?” He sounded incredulous, not upset. “You’d give up being a Sentinel? Run off and try to live as mortals?”
Nodding, I faced him. Sadness congealed in my chest. “Yeah, that was our plan. I was going to tell you. We’d work something out so that you and—”
“Dude, I know you’d make sure I knew where to find you,” he said, blinking several times. “Damn, Aiden…”
“It’s just… wow, I’m happy for you. I think this is great. It’s love—the real kind you make sacrifices for. The kind where you scream ‘screw it’ to everyone else. That’s envy-worthy.”
I arched a brow. “Not quite sure any part of my life is envy-worthy right now, considering that Alex thinks I’m her Master”
“Hey, you know, that could be—”
“Don’t even go there.”
“Okay. Okay. But it will get better.” His familiar gaze flicked up, meeting mine. “You’re doing okay, Aiden. Better than most would do in this… situation.”
“Thank you.” I smiled, shifting my bundle. “So are you.”
“I know.” Deacon grinned. “I’m just awesome.”
“And modest.” I stopped in front of him, lowering my chin. “Seriously, how are you holding up?”
He shrugged. “Been through worse, so don’t worry about me. You have enough on your plate.”
Not worrying about Deacon was going against nature. I’d spent the last decade of my life worrying about him—maybe a little too much. Smothering him instead of supporting him.
Deacon tipped his head back, suddenly looking much older than seventeen. “Go get some rest—shower first, though.” A quick flash of a grin appeared. “We’ve got the watch for now.”
I nodded, handing over the proverbial reins. Stopping at the bathroom door, I turned back to him. “Deacon?”
He brushed a curl out of his eyes. “Yeah?”
“I know about you and Luke, and I don’t care as long as you’re happy. Just do right by him, and you know what I mean.”
His mouth dropped open, and for once, it was me surprising my brother and not the other way around.
I didn’t even go into my bedroom, opting to place Alex’s clothes on a shelf and clean up first. After a long and hard look at myself in the mirror, I acknowledged I did look… grubby. Digging out a razor, I showered and then shaved quickly. A pair of clean pajama bottoms was tucked back away in the shelving, but no shirt. Hoping Alex didn’t freak out when she saw my bare chest, I opened the bathroom door.
And I came to a complete standstill.
Alex was curled on her side on top of the bedspread, her hands folded under her chin as if she was praying. Her lips were parted and rosy. Two curvy legs peeked out from under the robe, immediately drawing my attention. I’d always loved Alex’s legs.
She was fast asleep.
Setting her clothing on a nearby chair, I went to her side and called her name. She murmured something, and I felt a damn flutter—an actual flutter—in my chest. Very carefully, I placed another blanket over her legs. Either exhaustion or the Elixir had taken its toll on her. I pulled the cover up, tucking it around her.
Backing away from the bed, I left the room and stalked through the quiet house. Downstairs, off of the basement, was a small room that was nothing but four cinderblock walls. Someone had strung a punching bag from the ceiling.
Pent-up frustration and helpless anger reared its head, and a second later, my bare knuckles crashed into the worn, tough leather. I went crazy, and while each punch brought a spike of pain across my hand, I welcomed it.
Hours passed as I jabbed and kicked. Sweat poured off me, stinging my eyes and the torn skin along my knuckles. Physical pain did nothing to dampen the torment building inside me.
In a flash, I was taken back to the past summer, when I’d seen Alex doing the very same thing, after she’d discovered the truth about her mother. She had been a fierce, beautiful creature as she’d whirled around the practice dummy. A cyclone of raw emotions had reached out across the training room, tapping into my own mixed-up feelings. When she had sensed my presence and our gazes locked, as crazy as it sounded, I’d felt what she had.
Dragging in a ragged breath, I stopped and looked over my shoulder toward the door. Why I’d been expecting to find her standing there I’ll never know. Of course, the doorway was empty.
Alex was empty.
I went back upstairs, grabbed a towel from the dark bathroom and cleaned myself up. Back in the bedroom, I glanced at the oversized couch pushed up against the wall, and then grabbed a thin quilt off the end of the bed. Every cell in my body demanded to be close to her, but it seemed wrong. If she woke with me beside her, I was afraid it would upset and confuse her. That was the last thing I wanted. Easing down on my side, I spread the quilt out and watched her sleep until exhaustion pulled me under.
ALEX SLEPT FOR NEARLY TWENTY-FOUR HOURS, WAKing up minutes before I caved to my growing concern. Late in the night, we went downstairs and, between the two of us, we just about cleaned out the fridge. She was still fidgety and would only do something if I told her to, but by the time morning came around, she’d loosened up enough that it was almost like being around a very calm and sedated Alex.
We moved from the kitchen to the sunroom and stayed there. She didn’t talk to me unless I asked her a question. After investigating every flower and plant in the room, she sat on one of the window seats and remained there, gazing at the thick woods that surrounded the safe house.
I sat beside her, on the other end of the window seat, surprisingly content to just be there with her. I wanted to know what she was thinking and each time I asked, the answer was the same.
“Nothing,” she said, not taking her gaze off the glass walls.
That was like a cut to the chest, but not as bad as when there’d be footsteps in the hallway or voices nearing and Alex would lock up. She’d look away from the woods then, staring at the closed door. Panic would fill the brown and amber eyes. Solos came into the sunroom at one point, checking to see if we needed anything from the nearby town.
The only person she didn’t freak over was her uncle. Was it some kind of leftover familial bond? But even then, she treated him the same way she treated me. Marcus had the same amount of luck that I did drawing her into a conversation. After that, I decided it would be best to keep her away from the rest of the household.
Finally, after hours of being together, her eyes focused on me. I pretended not to notice, but I was aware of her gaze traveling down.