“And you need to buck up, buttercup,” she said, her full lips tipping up into a megawatt smile. “Loverboy is about to be taken down for the count.”
“What the—?” Her words sank through, and I spun around. My heart dropped.
Aiden was surrounded, two daimons at his back and two at his front. No other Sentinels were around. The daimons were going straight to the pures because they, like Artemis and me, were chock-full of aether. This was good for the halfs, since it gave them the advantage. But not Aiden. Blood trickled from the side of his throat. A female daimon in front of him had blood on her pink, chapped lips.
He’d been tagged.
Aiden had been tagged.
Oh, that flipped my bitch switch from meh to pure “I’m going to cut a bitch” rage.
Whatever funk had invaded my system was overshadowed by my fear for him. Forgetting Artemis and her sudden, unexpected, and really bizarre appearance, I launched forward. My muscles and body knew what to do. Brain clicked off. Instinct kicked in. Finally.
I came up behind the two daimons and slammed my dagger into one of them. The other sensed my aethery goodness and whirled on me.
It screeched. “Apollyon—”
“Shut up,” I said, dipping down as it swung on me. I sprung up, kicking and swiping the legs out from underneath him. “I know I smell good. I’m sure I taste good, too.”
Thrusting the dagger down, I took the daimon out, and then popped up. Slipping under Aiden’s arm, I went straight for the female with his blood on her ugly face. Flipping the blade back, I swung my arm, catching the female daimon in the jaw. Her head smacked back, and the pleasure I felt would worry therapists across the nation.
“Damn,” Aiden said under his breath, and then took down the other daimon.
The female daimon charged me, practically impaling herself on my dagger. Blue dust blew into my face. “Gross.”
Artemis was making short work of the daimons and looking disgustingly beautiful doing so. With her cheeks slightly flushed and her lower lip sucked between her teeth, she darted around, popping the daimons off one after another. And once the Sentinels began to realize that a god was in the mix, everyone pretty much stopped what they were doing.
The legion of daimons wasn’t going to kill us. Nope. Artemis was here.
She sprang onto a tree trunk, spinning like a ballet dancer. Sun glinted off her silver bow. Three arrows flew from her bow, zipping between Sentinels and smacking into daimons.
Holy Hades’ butt crack…
I did not want to piss Artemis off.
Within a minute, over a dozen daimons were nothing but shimmery blue piles of dust, and Artemis hadn’t even broken a sweat. Not a strand of hair was out of place. Slipping the bow into the harness strapped across her back, she winked at Solos before blinking out and reappearing like right in my face.
“Good gods,” I gasped, taking a step back. “Was that necessary?”
She cocked her head to the side. “Ares is playing dirty. These,” she waved her around, “are from him. He led them here, and more will come. The First is on the move.”
“Seth?” Aiden swiped his hand over his neck. “He’s coming here?”
Artemis’ creepy god eyes shot all kinds of static when she looked at him. A fine shimmer surrounded her, like she’d been dipped in glitter, and then the camo get-up disappeared.
My eyes widened.
A true goddess stood before us, dressed in white, nearly transparent linen that hugged her curves and revealed more skin than a thong. A silver band covered her upper arm. A moon hung from it, shining as if it had been dipped in light.
Her lips curled in a smooth, seductive smile. “Hey there, how about you ditch the little Apollyon over there and get with—”
“Hey.” I folded my arms, trying to keep my own eyes on her face. “Aren’t you supposed to be a virgin goddess?”
A soft, tinkling laugh came from her. “Honey, have you ever heard of kiss and don’t tell?”
“Have you ever heard of a bra?” I demanded. “Because I can see your…you know. Everything.”
Aiden cleared his throat as he averted his gaze, brows raised. Artemis laughed again as she turned her attention to me. “I will aid you when I can, as will the others, until Apollo can return to your side. We cannot allow Ares to continue. You must transfer the power of the First to you.”
How she went from hitting on my boyfriend to all serious wardeath-blah talk was beyond me. “It’s at the top of my to-do list, along with—hey!” I leaned back from her suddenly outstretched hand. Her fingers grazed my cheek. “Stop it!” I jumped back as she went to touch me again. “Man, you gods are so weird.”
Artemis wrinkled her nose at me. “There is something wrong with you.”
“Uh…” That didn’t seem very polite. I glanced at Aiden. He was staring at Artemis, but not in the way every other guy except Luke was staring at her. Correction. Even Luke was checking her out. “Care to explain?” I asked.
Her eyes narrowed, and then her hand snaked out again. I forced myself to stand still and let her feel me up, because seriously, she didn’t appear like she was going to stop until she did. She cupped my cheek and placed her other hand below my breasts, between my ribs.
“Um…” I was really starting to feel a bit wigged out. “I really hope this has a point, because half the guys are staring at us like they’re hoping we’re going to make out.”
The goddess’s lashes swept up. “There’s something inside you.”
“Well, I do have organs and…” I trailed off, remembering how Apollo’s son had said the same thing. Concern swelled. “Like something that doesn’t belong there?”
“I don’t know.” She removed her hands—thank the gods. “You should do something with your hair.”
And then she blinked out of existence. Really gone this time, because the marks of the Apollyon calmed down. I reached up, self-consciously patting the jagged ends of my hair as I glanced at Aiden. He stared at me, looking like someone had punched him in the gonads. He opened his mouth to say something, and then he pivoted on his heel.
Having no idea what that was about, I took in the carnage of battle. Blood pooled over sparse grass and bodies littered the ground, some dying and others already dead. There would be more funerals. I saw that my friends still stood. Somehow, the relief of not facing another day without any of them was just a drop in the bucket of suckage.
Fighting was a desire and need that had been bred into me, as it was into all halfs who didn’t go into servitude. Except somewhere between when Poseidon destroyed the Covenant on Deity Island and I woke up after Apollo returned me from Olympus, fighting had lost its appeal.
An entire life of this?
I thought about when I told Aiden I wasn’t sure I wanted do this anymore, but that was back before Ares. Everything was different now.
My gaze found Aiden.
He was kneeling beside a fallen Sentinel, one who couldn’t be much older than me. The wind picked up strands of Aiden’s hair, tossing them off his forehead. He looked up, his somber gaze meeting mine, and I thought I saw the same weariness in his stare.
We both were so…so over this.
Long after the sun had set and the campus was calmed as much as it could be after a nearly disastrous attack, I fell into bed. Freshly showered, I’d stolen a pair of sweats and a T-shirt from Aiden.
I was exhausted but antsy. I knew I should sleep, because I would wake up to the big day to recruit for the A.O.A., but I stared at the ceiling, wiggling my feet until Aiden slipped in, tugging a shirt over his head.
My eyes dropped to those finely designed stomach muscles. Did it make me a bad person that, despite all the terrible stuff happening, I was staring at those indents on either side of his hips?
Aiden let the shirt fall, covering up all that gloriousness as he came to the bed. He bent down, placing his hands beside my head. His lips pressed against mine, and warmth flooded me, like it had before the Hitchcock movie came to life.
The way Aiden kissed me, well, it never ceased to affect me. Every time was like the first time. Butterflies buzzed in my belly the second our lips touched. My chest always fluttered, and I could never get used to the fact that he was kissing me. That we were together in spite of the laws forbidding it and everything that stood in our way, including each other. When he lifted his head, I let out a little sigh, and he kissed the corner of my lips.
Stretching out on his side, he leaned over my stomach, putting his weight on his elbow. “You should be asleep.”
“But you’re not.”
“Neither are you.”
One side of his lips tipped up. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay.” I reached down, my fingers brushing just below the tag he’d received. The skin there would always be a few shades paler than his natural tone. The bite had been so close to his jugular. Although he was a pure-blood, the bite could’ve taken him out of commission for a while, or even killed him. “What about you?”
He wrapped his hand around mine, pulling it away from his neck. He pressed a kiss to my palm. “I’m okay.”
I tried not to let it show, but fear spiked in me. “You’ve never been tagged before.”
“There’s a first for everything.” He lowered my hand, but kept holding it. “It’s really not that bad.”
I disagreed. “I want to kill that daimon all over again.”
Aiden smiled then. A real one, showing off those deep dimples. It seemed like it had been so long since I’d seen him smile like that. “It was kind of hot how you popped out of nowhere and owned her.”
“I need a shirt that says, ‘I owned her.’”
“I can do that for you, but I like seeing you in my clothes.”
A flush crept across my cheeks. “I probably should’ve asked.”
“You never need to ask.” He squeezed my hand gently. “Are you hungry?”
I groaned. “No. Gods, no. My stomach feels like it’s going to burst from all you made me eat earlier.”
He didn’t say anything to that and closed his eyes. Thick lashes fanned his cheekbones, and I got a little lost staring at him. A year ago, I never thought we’d be where we were now. A year ago, I never thought I would’ve frozen in the middle of a fight either.
Aiden’s eyes had opened, and he was staring back at me. “What’s going on inside your head?”
Sometimes his ability to read me was frightening. “I hesitated out there.”
“It happens, agapi mou.”
The endearment almost broke me. “Not to Sentinels,” I whispered, staring over his shoulder. “I completely froze, Aiden. I couldn’t move. I didn’t want…”
“What?” he prodded when I didn’t continue.
I wet my lips and said quietly, “I didn’t want to be out there.”
Pulling my hand free, I shifted my gaze to him. “You don’t understand. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to fight. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was, and when I saw that daimon, I thought I saw—” I cut myself off. I couldn’t admit that I thought I saw Ares. He would think I was insane. “I just locked up. What if I do that again and more people get hurt or killed?”