“There’s nothing you could possibly say that I want to hear.” I took a breath, forcing myself not to pull the trigger for the fun of seeing him go splat. “And if you think you’re going to be able to convince me to side with you after what Ares did, you can go screw yourself.”
“That’s not why I’m here.”
His head tilted to the side, a near mirror image of what I had done. Again, his stunning amber gaze traveled over my face. He shook his head, and then he dropped onto his knees and closed his eyes.
Okay. Sure wasn’t expecting that.
I opened my mouth, but there were no words. Glancing at Aiden, I saw he looked as dumbfounded as I felt. A keen wariness kept me from lowering my gun. Seth could be a tricky little devil, but this? I didn’t know.
Seth’s arms fell to his sides. He didn’t speak out loud. You’re right. This won’t kill me, but I deserve it. So do it.
So stunned by what he said, I spoke out loud. “What?”
Do it. A breath shuddered from his body. If it wipes out the memory of what Ares did to you, then do it. Do it!
Taken aback, I stared down at him. You felt everything, right? Everything that he did to me?
Seth’s eyes fluttered open, and I didn’t want to believe what I saw in them. Regret was too late for both of us. “Everything,” he said out loud, voice hoarse.
“What’s he talking about?” Aiden demanded.
I shook my head as my stomach plummeted. You know how I felt? What I wanted?
He squeezed his eyes shut. Yes.
And you want me to take those memories from you? You really think a bullet will do that? Fuck that. I lowered the gun, hand shaking. Violent anger rushed to the surface. I can’t get rid of those memories, so neither can you. “Fuck you.”
On guard, Aiden shifted behind Seth. “Come on, Alex, talk to me. What’s going on?”
“I never meant for any of this to happen,” Seth said before I could answer. His eyes were open again, and there was no denying the pain in them. And there were only two things that waited behind that kind of sharp-edged hurt: anger and the truth. “I would never be okay with what happened. I didn’t know he was going to do that to you.”
“Is he talking about Ares?” A misleading, deadly calmness entered Aiden’s voice as he stepped forward, the muzzle of his gun coming awfully close to the back of Seth’s head. “That he didn’t know what Ares was going to do?”
Seth turned his head to the side, looking over his shoulder. “I know it doesn’t change anything or make it right, but I didn’t know, and I would never be okay with anyone hurting Alex.”
“You hurt Alex, you son of a bitch.” Adangerous glint filled his gray eyes.
The First bit down on his lower lip as his lashes lowered. “Well, you have a good point there, Saint Delphi, but I love her—”
“Don’t shoot him!” I warned Aiden, catching how Aiden’s finger spasmed on the trigger. “Whatever you do, don’t shoot him.”
A muscle popped in Aiden’s jaw. “I can’t make any promises.”
A weak, barely-there smirk appeared on Seth’s lips.
“Don’t,” I said, slipping my gun into its holster, unwilling to take my eyes off Seth. Shock rippled through me. “Other than trying to piss you off, he’s not trying to trick us.”
Aiden’s eyes widened. “How can you be so sure?”
How could I be? It was something I just knew. “Seth wouldn’t bow to anyone unless…” I couldn’t even finish, because Seth turned back to me and our eyes met again.
I’m so sorry, he said, and although it wasn’t out loud, the apology rocked me to my core. Seth never apologized. That wasn’t his thing. I’m so, so sorry.
Blood drained from my face, and then quickly returned, spreading along my cheeks. “He’s not trying to trick us.”
Aiden stared. “Alex—”
“He’s not. I…I just know.” My hands suddenly felt weak. “Why are you here, Seth? You know we can’t trust you. And you can’t be near me.” Even now, the cord stretched tight between us, drawing me to him like a moth to an Olympus-made bug zapper. Part of me yearned to get closer to him in spite of whatever common sense said, how I felt about him, and about a dozen other things.
“I know you won’t take my word or hear me out. You don’t have any reason to. That’s why I brought you something.”
My stomach roiled, because the last time he brought me a gift, it had been an obliterated Head Minister Telly. “You brought me something? You bring me some bat-shit crazy stuff, Seth.”
“You’re going to love this.” A little bit of his dark humor crept into his glowing eyes, but it quickly dulled. “Can I stand since you’re not going to shoot me?”
“Like I said, I’m not making any promises,” Aiden replied, his lips tipping up grimly.
Seth’s chest rose. “I wasn’t asking you.”
“And I’m the one with a gun still pointed at the back of your head.”
“Well, then,” Seth murmured.
I sighed. Even though I didn’t believe Seth was trying to trick us, I didn’t fully trust him. And when he said I would love something, I would rather spin-kick myself in the face than see what he had up his sleeve. “Stand very slowly.”
Seth rose to his feet fluidly, keeping his hands raised at his sides. Daggers and a Glock hung from his waist and thighs. I caught Marcus’ eye, and while I’d prefer someone else but him get closer to Seth, he nodded. He moved forward quickly, removing the visible weapons, and it was clear Seth allowed him to. We couldn’t do anything about his deadliest weapons—the control of the elements and akasha.
“What, Seth?” I asked.
He tilted his head back to the gate. “Give them a second.”
“There’s movement outside the gates—Sentinels.” A Guard gripped the handle of his gun. He took a step forward, held tilting to the side. “There’s a Minister with them.”
“What?” My gaze darted back to Seth. “Who is it, Seth?”
His gaze locked with mine. “The one person you want to see dead more than me.”
I held his stare. “Let them in, but be ready for a Trojan Horse.”
Seth gave a little grin as he turned his gaze to the gate. Aiden kept his eyes trained on him, and I was sure if baby Apollo walked through that gate and shook his baby butt, he wouldn’t look.
My heart pounded as the first Sentinel came through the gates, followed by another. They exchanged wary stares with the Sentinels on our side as they stepped aside, revealing who stood between them.
“Holy crap on a cracker,” I whispered.
Between the two Sentinels stood a completely out-of-it Lucian—my stepfather and the pure-blood responsible for Seth turning on the Council. I did hate that man more than I hated Seth. He’d used Seth’s need for a family, for acceptance, against him, twisting it into some kind of sick familial bond. Lucian had never been a fan of mine, not since he’d married my mother, and one of the few reasons he’d paid any attention to me was because I was the second Apollyon. As long as he controlled Seth, I could give him what he wanted—absolute power.
His long, dark hair looked oily and unkempt, and those obsidian-colored eyes were glazed. He was definitely under a compulsion, but that didn’t explain why he was here. I took a step to the side, my fingers hovering over the handle on my gun. “What is this?”
“He knew,” Seth said simply.
My head jerked toward him.
He knew, he repeated, taking our conversation private. We were at the Catskills, and I knew…I knew that Ares had left, but I didn’t know that he’d gone for you. He didn’t tell me that. He promised that you would never be hurt in any of this and…so did Lucian. I believed them. I completely believed them.
I started to feel like I was going to hurl. I didn’t want to hear any of this, but I had to.
But then I connected to you, and I knew something was happening. You were in so much…. Seth trailed off, his eyes drifting shut. His face tensed. I went to Lucian, and I told him what I’d felt on your end. I told him how bad it was and how I hadn’t agreed to this and never would. That I couldn’t be okay with what Ares had done, and Lucian, he knew. He knew why Ares had left. He knew what Ares would do if you didn’t submit.
My gaze shifted to my stepfather. He stared back at me blankly. I didn’t know what to feel as Seth continued, or maybe I was feeling too much. This man may’ve loathed the ground I walked on, as I was a constant reminder of my mother’s only true love, but to know what Ares planned to do and be okay with it? Had he not felt even a sliver of compassion for me? Nothing?
You need to be broken. Lucian had said that to me once before. Well, if he agreed with what Ares had done, he had succeeded. I had been broken.
Lucian laughed. Seth’s voice twisted up my insides. He laughed, and in that moment, I couldn’t do this any longer. When Ares returned, I told him I was going to find you and transfer your power to me. That you’d be weak enough for it to work, and that I was bringing Lucian to talk to those who were here and sway them to our side. Ares believed me. Seth laughed out loud, the sound as dry and shattered as broken twigs. “I’m a lot like him.”
“Ares?” I whispered, aware that everyone who had cognitive control was staring at us.
He gave a curt nod. “I get my…blinding arrogance from him. He wouldn’t dare think that I’d disobey him. Well, he will soon, very soon. I doubt he’ll be happy.”
“Wait,” Marcus said, stepping forward. “You two need to stop with the covert conversations. What the hell is going on?”
Seth ignored him and took a step toward me. He didn’t make it very far before Aiden’s gun pressed against the back of his head. “One more step,” Aiden warned, eyes flashing. “And we’ll find out how an Apollyon survives a head wound.”
“You have no idea how badly I want to find that out myself,” Seth replied, one side of his lips curling up. “Did I tell you about the time I slept—”
“Seth,” I snapped, drawing his attention back to me. “Can you take Lucian out of the compulsion, or did you fry his brain?”
“I didn’t fry him.” His eyes met mine again. “I figured I’d leave that to you.”
I didn’t need to ask Seth to release Lucian, because a second later, Lucian stumbled forward, dragging in air as if he’d been underwater. His dark eyes cleared as his gaze took in his surroundings.
“What is going on?” he demanded, pulling himself away from the two Sentinels. His hands pressed into his chest. “Seth?”
“How many Sentinels do you have with you?” I asked Seth, staring at my stepfather.
“Hundreds,” he replied, his voice weary. “An army of them, all loyal to me.”
Lucian’s head swung toward Seth. “What? Yours? Seth, what are you doing?”