“I’m kind of surprised you know what Christmas smells like,” Alex muttered. She sighed as she looked down at herself. “I smell like a coffee shop now.”
Seth touched my arm. It was a gentle brush of his fingers, but it sent a tight shiver dancing over my skin. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine.” Since he’d almost given me a heart attack, I wasn’t really paying attention to my head any longer. “I’m glad you decided to pop yourself into the room. We need to talk.”
Seth glanced at Alex. She smiled broadly back. His eyes narrowed.
“You’re not letting Aiden go by himself to check out the shades,” I told him, and when he opened his mouth, I kept going. “It takes you how long to pop people back and forth? Seconds? I’ll be fine for a few seconds.” Even though I believed that, a icy trickle of fear climbed down my spine. I hated the feeling. “You’re going to take Alex.”
He stared at me a moment and then looked over at Alex again. “Did you talk her into this?”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes. Because she doesn’t have a mind of her own.”
I glared at him. “It was my call. And it’s the right call.”
Seth leaned back, popping a booted foot on the edge of the coffee table. “I’ll think about it, but I need to tell you—”
“Don’t try to distract me.” I twisted toward him. “Alex needs—”
“I just saw Apollo,” Seth cut in.
“What?” He’d officially distracted me.
Alex lurched forward in her chair. “Where?”
Seth’s eyes roamed over my face and then met and held my gaze. “I summoned him in the temple. Apparently, if you shed your blood over flame, you can’t hurt another god in a temple. So he showed up this time.”
I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t know what to say. My father had been here, on this island, and he hadn’t come to see me?
“I asked him about those bands,” Seth said, reaching over and picking up my hand. “He said only Hades can remove them.”
“That’s good news.” Alex clasped her knees. “We just need to get Hades here.”
“He’s not going to come here, not even if the temple is safe. Obviously the Olympians are lacking in the courage department.”
I was still snagged on the fact that my father had been here and I hadn’t seen him.
“Because of you?” Alex asked.
Seth didn’t even try to hide his little smirk. “Apollo is going down there to talk with Hades. He has to come through.”
Alex said something, and I could feel myself nodding, but my entire being felt like it had been stung. All I could think was that he was here and—Wait. Maybe Seth hadn’t let him see me. “Did he . . . did he try to see me?”
He didn’t immediately respond, and I knew the answer right then. I started to pull my hand away, but Seth’s grip tightened. He pulled me toward him, and I wanted to resist, but the moment his arm circled my waist, I gave in. I planted my cheek on Seth’s shoulder and squeezed my eyes shut against the stupid, pointless burn in them.
Why was I surprised?
“We didn’t have a very good conversation,” Seth said after a moment. His free hand smoothed over my cheek. “And I think he knew the moment he left that temple, we wouldn’t be talking.”
I smiled weakly and pretended I didn’t know that Seth was actually making excuses for Apollo. Because it wasn’t for him. It was for me, and I did appreciate it, but it didn’t erase the hurt.
My father had been on the absentee list nearly my entire life. He let my mom sink into mental illness that may or may not have been caused by him. He wasn’t there for me through so much, with the exception of one long, lonely summer. He . . . lied to me about my mother dying, and if he’d wanted to see me he would’ve. Seth wouldn’t have stopped him, and even if he had, Apollo could’ve found a way around him.
The ache in my chest spread, and I didn’t even know why it hurt so much, but as I snuggled into Seth and slowly opened my eyes, I realized that Apollo was my father by blood.
And blood . . . blood meant nothing.
I wasn’t sure what woke me at first, and I was a little surprised that I’d even managed to doze off while Josie had straight up passed out around two in the afternoon. The ever-present concern for her had kept me awake, my thoughts whirling a mile a minute.
Where in the fuck was Apollo?
Three days had passed since I’d seen Apollo—four days since Josie and I had made our deal—and her bruises had either faded into a dull yellow or disappeared completely. Even so, she was still easily exhausted. No amount of sun I had her sit in seemed to make much of a difference. She’d sleep throughout the night, waking once and sometimes twice due to a nightmare, always a nightmare, and then she’d be dead on her feet by the afternoon. She’d gotten sick twice in the last three days, once before eating breakfast and once afterward. There was still no increase in her aether. It flickered rapidly within her.
On the outside, Josie was getting better, but on the inside, she wasn’t. There was no denying that, and no one, not even the high priestess, knew what to do while we waited for Apollo.
And I swore with each passing hour that if he didn’t come through with some way to get these bands off, I would end him the next time I saw him.
The day after I’d seen Apollo, I did take Aiden and Alex to Baton Rouge. They’d called me last night after coming up empty-handed. There had been no signs of the shades. If they had been there, they were long gone now. They wanted to come back here, and since I figured having them around couldn’t hurt, I did the poofing thing with them.
Even though I’d only been gone from Josie for about ten seconds each time, I hated it. Didn’t like it one bit. The Titans might not have had any idea where we were, but they had to be looking for us.
Blinking my eyes open just in time to avoid a flailing arm, I jerked back and then caught Josie’s hand before it connected with my nose. I rose onto my elbow and stared down at her.
A faint sheen of sweat had broken out across her forehead as her head twisted from side to side. Face pale and brow pinched, her chest rose and fell with too-quick breaths.
Another fucking nightmare.
“Josie. Baby,” I said, letting go of her arm and clasping her chin. “Wake up. Come on, wake up.”
The skin around her eyes tightened and then her lashes fluttered. A couple of seconds passed and those azure eyes were locked onto mine, full of confusion.
“Hey.” I trailed my thumb along her lower lip. The cut had healed, leaving her lips lush and perfect once more. I grinned even though my heart thumped painfully in my chest. “You’re okay?”
“Yeah. Did I wake you?” she asked sleepily, brows pinched.
Dragging my thumb over her cheek, I kissed her forehead. “You were having a nightmare.”
I lifted up and met her gaze. “You don’t remember?”
She stared at me for a moment and then sighed, averting her gaze to my shoulder. “I was . . . I was dreaming about being back there,” she said, and she didn’t need to elaborate on where “there” was. “I’m sorry. I—”
“You do not need to apologize.” Smoothing her hair back from her face, I guided her gaze back to mine. “Don’t apologize for that.”
Josie was quiet as she stared back at me, and I didn’t know what to say. Comforting her with words didn’t come easy, but I wanted my words to bring her ease so she could sleep without being haunted by what she’d experienced.
“What were you dreaming about?” I asked.
The corners of her lips turned down. “Just . . . just being stuck in that place and . . .”
“And what?” I leaned back on my elbow as she rolled onto her side facing me.
“It doesn’t matter. It was just a nightmare.”
“Joe . . .”
Her eyes rolled as she placed her hand against my chest. Her fingers were cool. “Whatever, Apolly-anna.” Her nose wrinkled. “Wait. I can’t even call you that anymore. No fair.”