When it settled, I slowly lowered my arms. My heart pounded insanely fast as my gaze locked with his.
“Shit,” Seth muttered, his chest rising and falling rapidly. “Just stay…stay away from me.”
I didn’t have a chance to respond. He spun on his heel, leaving me standing there among the remains of the ruined statue. There was no way we could stay away from each other. Right now, we needed each other, especially to transfer the power, but it was more than that.
But I didn’t chase after him. I let him go. He won. We would wait, but we couldn’t wait forever.
The skies were gray and overcast. Clouds were thick. A fine drizzle coated the ground and our vehicles. The slight chill in the air warned that autumn was well on its way. Perses had wanted to travel with the rest of the army, but none of us trusted him enough to let that happen. Gods only knew what he’d get himself into between here and the Catskills.
Luke and Olivia also were traveling with us, mainly because Deacon and I demanded that they did.
“Do you think Deacon will talk the entire trip?” Olivia asked, hoisting a small bag of weapons and tucking several small coins into a pocket on her leg. It was a depressing necessity after what had happened to Lea, and we all carried them now. Just in case. “I’m betting at least fifty bucks that he does until he passes out.”
I laughed. “I’m not betting against that. On the way here, I thought Marcus was going to strangle him.”
“I would’ve if he hadn’t fallen asleep,” Marcus said, coming out from behind us. “Or at the very least, I would’ve knocked him out.”
Olivia giggled. “Want me to get that?” She gestured at my own bag of things made to stab and dismember.
“Nah,” I said. “I got it.”
Smiling at Marcus, she headed toward where Luke and Deacon stood behind a black Expedition. Deacon spun around and pulled Olivia into a dance you’d see in a ballroom while Luke took the bag of weapons from her. A laugh escaped my lips as I watched him dip Olivia over his arm.
“He’s something else, isn’t he?” Marcus folded his arms. “In spite of everything, he’s…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “He’s just Deacon.”
“That’s what I love about him.”
Marcus glanced at me, his expression unreadable. Several seconds passed. “Are you ready for this, Alexandria?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I admitted, wiping the fine sheen of rain off my forehead. Seth appeared with Perses. They headed toward another vehicle. My stomach tipped over. I hadn’t seen Seth since he’d left me in the cemetery last night.
Seth glanced over to where Marcus and I stood. Our eyes met for a second and then he looked away, saying something to Perses.
“You haven’t transferred the power yet,” Marcus said.
My lips pursed. “No. We’re going to do it when we get to New York.” I hope, but I didn’t add that last part. Taking a deep breath, I forced my gaze away from Seth and turned to my uncle.
The lines around his eyes appeared deeper than they had been yesterday. Gray hairs liberally sprinkled his chestnut-colored hair. I hadn’t noticed them before, but they had to have been there. His eyes were sharp with keen intelligence and clear with foresight, as usual.
In a second, I saw him as he’d been the first day I’d returned to the Covenant. He’d sat behind that shiny desk of his, full of stiff, unyielding authority, and his displeased stare had made me dislike him immediately. A lot had changed since the day he’d almost kicked me out of the Covenant. He’d changed. So had I. Somewhere in the last year, he’d gone from being the Dean to becoming my uncle. And I never would’ve believed that last year. I honestly hadn’t believed that he cared one bit about me, but I knew now he always had. He may’ve had a hard time showing it, and I’d just made it even harder for him to do so. I’d been such a brat.
His lips tipped up at the corners. When he spoke, it was as if he knew what I was thinking. “I’m not sure I’ve ever told you this, Alexandria, but I am proud of you.”
My eyes misted over, but I blamed the rain. “You never thought you’d say that, huh?”
“No, I always knew that one day I would say that,” he replied, his slight smile softening his features. “I’d just hoped it would’ve been when you graduated from the Covenant.”
“Same here,” I sighed.
“You make sure you come back here.” His voice thickened. “After all, you haven’t technically graduated yet, and there are a few courses you need to finish up before you can.”
I laughed, but the sound caught in my throat. “Okay. Deal.”
Marcus nodded and unfolded his arms. He started to turn, but he stopped. An emotion I couldn’t quite pick out flickered across his face, and a second later he hugged me. My uncle gave the most awkward hugs in history. But in a way, they were the best.
Closing my eyes, I inhaled the faint scent of his cologne and hugged him back.
“I know you will look for your father when you get there,” he said, his voice low. “I know how much finding him means to you, but you need to be careful. There will be time afterward to find him.”
“Okay,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure I meant it. As much as I wanted to believe that Apollo would hold to his promise, I couldn’t be a hundred percent sure that there would be an afterward for me.
Marcus pulled back, and I swore his eyes were shiny. He muttered something about helping Luke and stalked off. After saying my goodbyes to Laadan and Diana, I waited off to the side while Aiden spoke to my uncle. No doubt he was getting some over-protective warning, because when Aiden joined me, he was a shade or two paler.
My brows rose. “You okay?”
His gray eyes shifted to mine. “Marcus can be really scary when he wants to be.”
I grinned. “Yeah, he can.”
He took my bag from me, placing it in the back as Deacon shimmied across the seat and situated himself between Luke and Olivia.
“You haven’t seen Apollo, have you?” I asked, chewing on my lower lip.
Shutting the door, Aiden shook his head. I’d told him about Apollo’s promise to bring in the rest of the gods and I’d also told him that, obviously, I hadn’t transferred the power from Seth, but I’d left out the blowing up the statue part. “I wouldn’t hold my breath, Alex. While I think Apollo wants to help and get involved, I don’t think the others will.”
“That’s such crap.” Familiar anger simmered in my stomach. “It’s taking the absentee landlord theory to a whole new level.”
“I know.” He dug the keys out of his tactical pants. “But throughout history, they’ve all really only gotten involved once before, and that was with the Titans. Any other time, most of them don’t get involved.”
“This is different,” I grumbled, beating the horse dead and then bringing it back to life to beat again. “This is one of their own—their problem.”
“Maybe Apollo will surprise us.” He bent down, brushing his lips over my forehead. “Either way, we have this.”
Car keys dangling from his fingertips, Seth passed by us. “If you two can stop making doe-eyes at each for a few minutes, we’re all ready to go.” Behind him, Perses inspected the vehicle with a distrustful scowl. One of the other SUVs in our little section of the convoy revved an engine, and the Titan transferred his scowl to the other vehicle.
Aiden straightened, his gaze narrowing on Seth’s back. “Jealous is an ugly thing.”
“So is blind ignorance,” Seth shot back, rounding the front of a Hummer.
Tension rolled off Aiden as he turned to me. “I really do dislike him most of the time.”
“Yeah, well…” What could I say? The two of them would never be friends. “Ready?”
“We are!” Deacon shouted from inside the Expedition. “I’ve already got the first road game picked out, so freaking hurry!”
Shaking his head, Aiden smiled. “This is going to be the longest twenty-six hours of our lives.”
* * *
Turned out, the next twenty-three hours of our lives weren’t the longest, even when they turned into closer to twenty-six hours after our caravan hit a traffic snarl outside of Chicago. I switched places with Aiden and then Luke, giving all of us time to rest up.
As expected, while awake, Deacon kept us somewhere between entertained and five seconds away from pulling the SUV over and ducttaping his mouth shut.
When we entered New York, we followed Seth’s vehicle, keeping to the back of the massive group of Sentinels and Guards. Solos checked in periodically with Aiden from where he rode in one of the lead vehicles. They hadn’t run into any problems, but there was no way Ares didn’t know we were coming. Any number of people we passed on the way here could’ve been spies, mortal or not, even though we were traveling in small clusters of SUVs and cars so as not to stand out. Not to mention that Ares was a god, so it wouldn’t be hard for him to figure out what we were up to.
But the fact that we reached the Catskills without incident had me squirming in my seat, restless and unnerved. When we’d traveled to South Dakota in the first place, we’d been intercepted by Ares’ Sentinels, and that had basically been out in the middle of nowhere. How could it be this easy?
Upon entering the mountainous back roads, my unease tripled to paranoid levels when the vehicle in front of us rolled to a stop. I exchanged a nervous look with Aiden. Ahead, Perses’ arm appeared out the window, waving us forward.
“Why don’t they use a cell?” Luke asked, peering over my seat.
“Does Perses even know to use a cell phone?” Olivia asked.
I snorted while the knot of anxiety worked at giving me an ulcer in record time. “He seems like a quick learner.”
Aiden slipped the Expedition into park and glanced back at his brother. “Stay in the car.”
Deacon rolled his eyes. “Yes, Dad, because I couldn’t possibly be of any help.”
That statement was ignored as Aiden and I stepped out of the SUV and made our way over to Perses’ side. Three Sentinels from the other vehicles joined us—I recognized them as halfs I’d seen in South Dakota, but I didn’t know any of their names.
“What’s going on?” Aiden asked.
Perses stepped out of the vehicle, his all-black eyes fixed on the thick tree line ahead. “Something’s not right.”
“Other than the fact we’re stopped?” I asked, folding my arms. The air was chilly in the mountains, especially where the sun didn’t break through the trees, and my black shirt didn’t offer a lot of warmth.
His lips curled up at the corner in a sardonic twist. “I sense something abnormal among us.”
I peered in through the car at Seth. He just shrugged. “Details?”
“There’s violence in the air; the smell of battle that has yet to begin,” Perses said, stretching his arms above his head. Bones cracked. The twist of his lips spread into a real smile. “Bloodshed is pending.”