Rising from the bed, Seth walked toward a cabinet. Despite everything that we needed to talk about and all that had happened to me, I couldn’t stop my gaze from roaming over all the exposed skin. He’d been shirtless earlier, but I hadn’t noticed him. I did now. The defined pecs. The tightly coiled abs. The sweats hanging low enough that they showed off those indentations on either side of his hips. Even his back was amazing. Long, lean and muscled.
Why couldn’t he be wearing a shirt?
But it was Seth, so of course not.
“My whole life, I’ve had this . . . this unexplainable draw to aether. It always called to me, even before I awakened as the Apollyon.” Bending down, he grabbed a bottle of water out of a mini-fridge hidden in the cabinet. Turning, he faced me. “It got worse when I became the Apollyon, but I never understood it. Other than the pures and halfs who got addicted to aether and turned into daimons, I didn’t know anyone else who could feel what I could feel. When Alex awakened, she didn’t feel that way. I always thought there was just something wired wrong in me, you know? But I . . . I understand now.”
Walking back to the bed, he sat beside me. Unscrewing the lid, he offered the open bottle of water. I took it. “There was this . . . this voice inside me when I became the God Killer, guiding what I was doing. I know that sounds crazy, but that was how it felt. Like everything inside me had been building to that moment or leading me to that moment.” He paused, frowning. “You need to drink, Josie.”
In a daze, I took a decent gulp of water.
Appearing to be satisfied, he said, “You know, now that I think about it, I wonder if Ares knew the truth. He wanted me to become the God Killer. Through me, he sought to control the other gods, but I . . . I cannot be controlled.”
My eyes widened, because he said that without an ounce of arrogance. It was just a statement of fact. A truth bomb delicately detonated. Seth couldn’t be controlled now.
“I guess he didn’t realize what I would become once I was the God Killer.” The muscles in his shoulders tensed as he shrugged. “Who knows, though? Anyway, I didn’t understand fully what was happening. That’s why I left, and I know that’s not a good enough excuse for leaving you. It will never be, but I was . . . I was afraid that I would hurt you. That I wouldn’t be able to control myself.”
Hearing him admit that he was afraid was always a shock, because Seth didn’t seem scared of anything.
I took another drink of water.
“Do you remember the nymphs that had helped us outside of your grandparents’ house? One of them has been around on and off. His name is Ewan. He rarely makes any sense.” A wry grin appeared on his lips. “But he was the first to tell me I was not just a God Killer, but a god.”
I almost choked on the water. “What?”
“A god,” he repeated, his amber gaze latching onto mine. “I’m a god, Josie, and I’m not saying that to be funny.”
Shock rendered me speechless as I stared at him. Part of me wanted to laugh, because it sounded legit crazy, but I was a demigod and that had also sounded crazy at first.
“I didn’t believe it at first. Even when I could do things I hadn’t been able to do before, it still sounded ridiculous to me.” Seth shifted closer, catching a strand of my hair. His fingertips brushed along the curve of my cheek as he tucked it back behind my ear, causing me to shiver. “But it is true. Somehow, and for some reason, this was what I was always meant to be. The Appointed God. The God of Life and Death.” He laughed at that as he lowered his hand. “There’s even a temple here.”
I blinked. “A temple? For you?”
He grinned. “For me.”
“Holy crap,” I whispered, and that was the best I could come up with. Seth was a god—a god that was worshipped.
“The woman you saw me with outside? She is the high priestess. There are several priests and priestesses here.”
At the mention of the woman, I tensed. “And they do what? Service you?”
His eyes flashed. “Not in the manner in which you’re insinuating.”
“I’m not insinuating anything.”
One brow rose. “The whole ‘being a god’ thing actually ties into the whole ‘you seeing me outside with Karina and feeding’ thing.”
The plastic bottle crinkled as my fingers tightened around it. Honestly, I hadn’t fully processed Seth being an actual god, but the shock was wearing off. I knew deep down I wasn’t going to be happy with what he was about to say.
“I’m not making this up to justify anything, because it sounds like something an addict would say, but I . . . I have to feed,” he explained quietly, his gaze never wavering from mine. “It’s how the gods are gods. For them, when they’re on Olympus or in the Underworld, they are surrounded by aether. It’s how their powers are fueled. And it’s why I’ve always been drawn to it.”
“That makes sense,” I said after a moment. “That’s why the Titans were feeding—”
“I’ll never do that to you,” he responded urgently. “I would never force you to go through that.” His gaze dropped to my arm and then to my wrist. The sleeves of the robe had fallen back, and I suddenly wanted to shove both arms under the blanket. “Feeding is not like it used to be for me. None of it is the same. Beforehand, I got . . . I got buzzed off it, but now . . .” He shook his head. “It’s like breathing air. If I don’t do it after a while, I need to. It doesn’t get me wired up or high. It’s just the way it is.”
I glanced down at the half-empty bottle I held. Taking another drink, I then leaned over and placed the bottle on the nightstand. “It didn’t hurt when you did it before. I didn’t even know that you’d done it. It was nothing like . . . nothing like what Hyperion and Cronus did.”
“It doesn’t have to be painful, but that doesn’t matter now. I would never take that from you. Never again,” he swore, and my stomach dipped, because he said it in a way that left no doubt in my mind that was what he fully intended. “Josie?”
A moment after he said my name, I felt the tips of his fingers pressing gently under my chin. He lifted my gaze to his. “I will never let another thing hurt you again. Never.”
The protective vibe was . . . it was sweet, and seeing the fierceness in his gaze, was also, well, hot, but I couldn’t rely on him to protect me. I couldn’t rely on anyone, and that wasn’t because he hadn’t stopped Hyperion. I was still, no matter what was done to me, a powerful demigod. I didn’t need protection.
Well . . .
That wasn’t exactly true. Right at this moment, I couldn’t fight off a bed bug, which reminded me of something. I glanced down. “These bands—they’re blocking my abilities.”
“What?” Seth took my right hand in his. He frowned. “I tried to take them off, but they won’t budge.”
“I don’t know if they will come off,” I admitted, and my stomach turned over heavily. “Hyperion said they were made of Cronus and Zeus’s blood. That they were what was used to entomb the Titans.”
“Hell,” he muttered, sliding a finger over the band. “We’ll figure out how to get them off. Someone has to know.” His gaze flicked up to mine. “This might be why you’re not healing as fast as you should.”
“I guess.” Being drained of my aether and not being fed any sort of regular meal also probably had something to do with it. Closing my eyes, I pushed those thoughts away before they crowded everything out. I slipped my hand free from his. “How did I get here?”
His features tightened. “I tried to locate you, but I couldn’t feel you anywhere. Dammit,” he growled, sitting back. “I didn’t even know until I went to Malibu just to make sure you were okay.” Looking away, his gaze fixed on the gauze-shaded door. “Then I went to the University. Saw Marcus and Luke—“
“Luke and Deacon are okay? Gable?” When he nodded, relief washed over me.
“Everyone is okay. They are at the University—well, everyone is there except Alex and Aiden. They ended up coming here to tell me you’d been taken.”