“Do you blame us?”
“Nah.” I watched him. “You have a reason for hanging around out here?”
“So why don’t you put your running shoes on and get to the point?”
Aiden laughed under his breath, but the faint smile disappeared when he looked over at me. “I know what you’re going through right now.”
“Do you really?”
“Yeah, I do.” His gaze was unwavering. “When she was connected to you, it was like she was lost to me. A totally different person. That was tough to get through, but it wasn’t the worst. When she was stabbed and actually died in my arms and there was nothing I could do? I held her and watched her bleed all over me and the floor.”
A muscle started tapping along my jaw again.
“Then when Alex faced off with Ares at the University, and I could hear every single thing he was doing to her but I couldn’t get in there to help her? I never felt more—more fucking helpless in my life. Every part of me was full of rage, but the terror consumed me when I finally entered that room and she was gone, taken to Olympus to heal. I was held immobile by that terror. And I don’t think I need to explain how I felt when Alex died in your arms and I thought I’d never see her again.”
I jerked a little.
“So, yeah, I get what you’re feeling. I know that every second feels like an hour and every hour feels like a year. I get that you feel like you should be doing something, anything to get her back, but at the same time knowing there isn’t anything you can do.” He exhaled heavily as he straightened. “I still don’t like you.”
I laughed at that.
“But I don’t wish what you’re going through on anyone,” he added, turning toward me. “We’re going to get her back.”
“I know.” And I would gladly burn down every city to get her back.
Aiden clapped me on my shoulder. “As soon as I hear anything from the Guards, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Thank you.” The two words were easier to speak than before.
“Get some rest.” He stepped back. “Or at least try to.”
I nodded, but as soon as he crossed the balcony, I closed my eyes and searched for Josie. There’d be no sleep tonight. Tomorrow . . . tomorrow I would need to feed, but that was something I didn’t want to really think about at the moment. The void opened up and I didn’t expect—holy shit! There! I felt Josie, felt her entire being, and I could catch the scent of pine and rich soil as if I was standing in the forest instead of by the ocean. I saw her imprint, and I knew I could latch onto it.
“Aiden.” I spun, eyes wide. “I feel her.”
“What?” He whipped around. “Josie?”
“Yes. I feel her. Holy fuck, I feel her. She’s there.” It was like a burning light inside me, calling out to me. “I need to go.”
“Wait.” Aiden hurried back. “Take me with you. You can do that, right? This could be a trap. You know that.”
I supposed it could be. If it was a trap, I’d explode every single one of them, but I had to be smart about this. I could use Aiden. “If I get tied up fighting, you go to her. You get her out of there. Go anywhere. I’ll find you and bring you back here.”
He gave a curt nod.
Wrapping my hand around his forearm, I found the imprint of her again, and then willed myself to where she was, bringing Aiden along with me. It only took seconds to move from the balcony and discover that we were obviously on the other side of the world, under a canopy of thick elms that blocked daylight.
“Holy hell,” Aiden grunted, stumbling back a step. “That doesn’t feel right.”
I stepped forward, scanning the trees and ground as my heart thundered in my chest. Senses were firing off left and right. We weren’t alone. There was something very powerful here that wasn’t Josie. Approaching a moss-covered tree that had been snapped at the trunk and had fallen over, I scanned the area and kept all senses on high alert.
My knees weakened, and fuck, I was about to eat dirt as I lurched forward.
I saw her.
I saw Josie.
She was lying on her side, back to me. Her hair was a tangled mess and the entire back of her shirt was covered in dirt. She was still, too still.
“Josie?” My voice broke, actually cracked when I said her name.
No movement. Not even a twitch.
Slamming a hand down on the fallen tree, I vaulted over it and landed in a crouch next to her. I placed my hand on her arm. Her skin was cold to the touch. I started to say her name again, but I couldn’t find my voice.
Carefully, I eased her onto her back, gently brushing away the strands of hair plastered to her face, and I . . . I forgot how to breathe.
In that moment, I knew two things. I most definitely had a heart. It was there, in my chest, and I knew that a heart could truly break, because mine shattered into jagged pieces.
“Josie,” I whispered, her name pained and brittle.
Bruises of all colors mottled her pale face. A violent purplish contusion covered her right cheek and eye. The skin was swollen, and I doubted she could open the eye if she were awake. Another deep blue bruise marred her forehead. Her lips were chapped, the bottom one cut. Dried blood lined her temple. My gaze drifted over her. Bruises along her neck. Fingerprints clearly marked her skin. Bite marks. Even her feet were scratched and caked with blood. Every piece of skin I could see had been damaged.
But she was alive.
That much I knew, because her chest rose with shallow, uneven breaths.
“Is she okay?” Aiden called from somewhere nearby as I noticed there were two slim, goldish bands on her wrists that I hadn’t seen before.
I tried to speak again, but I had to clear my throat. “I-I don’t think so.”
Aiden muttered a curse.
Sliding an arm under her body, I winced when she whimpered. Intense, blinding, burning rage filled me, a primitive fury that begged to be unleashed. The scent of burnt ozone filled the forest, along with a burst of power.
I sensed the Titan just as I gathered her in my arms. “Aiden,” I warned, rising quickly. “We’re not—”
“Alone,” he answered. “I know.”
Turning around, I spotted the Titan standing several feet from Aiden, and I recognized him immediately. “Perses,” I growled. “It has been a while.”
“It has.” The dark-skinned Titan raised his hands as he followed my movements with his all-black gaze. “I’m not here to make war.”
Keeping my gaze trained on him, I stalked around the fallen tree and stood beside Aiden. His audible inhale when he saw the condition she was in sent nails drilling straight into my spine.
“I’m helping you.” Perses lowered his hands slowly. “They had her warded. I figured that since you’re now a . . . god,” he sneered, “you’d been trying to sense her out. She needed to be removed from the wards for that to happen. This was the second time I brought her out. You’re lucky.”
“I am?” I said.
“I wouldn’t have been able to get her out a third time,” he added.
“Why?” Aiden demanded. “Why would you help her?”
I didn’t care why he’d done it.
“You freed me from my imprisonment,” Perses answered. “I figured I owed you. My brethren will not know how she escaped. It doesn’t matter. They’ll find the other demigods.”
My gaze roamed over Josie’s face, committing to memory the bruises, the torn red skin just under her bottom lip, the deep blue hues under both eyes. I saw the bite mark on her wrist. The torn skin on her upper arm. The fucking fingerprints on her jaw and throat, the contusions along her arms, the ragged and frayed soles of her feet. I felt her in my arms, knowing she’d lost too much weight in a short time to not have been starved.
This was my fault.
“And I figured that in the upcoming battle, because there will inevitably be one, you’ll remember this,” Perses added, speaking directly to me. “You’ll remember what I’ve done for you.”
“Of course,” Aiden murmured. He touched my arm. “We should go.”