He smelled real.
“Seth?” I whispered.
Those well-formed lips curved into a smile. “Psychí mou.”
He sounded real.
I was moving before I even realized it, before I let the impossibility of the situation take hold. I threw myself at him, and dear Lord, if he wasn’t really there, I was going to end up on the floor, but there was no stopping me.
Warm, strong arms swept around my waist, stopping me from toppling off the bed. My legs were tangled in the blanket, but I was flat against his chest, my hands on his shoulders.
He felt real.
My vision blurred as I stared at his face. “Is it really you? Are you really here?”
“It’s really me,” he said, those amber eyes luminous. “And I’m really here.”
My heart was racing so fast, I was getting dizzy, and I thought there was a good chance that I might hurl all over the bed.
Seth was sitting on our bed and he was holding me, his hands splayed across my lower back.
This just didn’t make sense.
I didn’t understand.
Lifting my arms, my hands shook as I touched his cheeks. The skin was warm and smooth as I dragged my fingertips over the curve of his jaw. His brows lifted as I touched his lips, all the while telling myself that this was a dream, because this was impossible.
And if it was a dream, I didn’t want to wake up.
My gaze roamed down his throat, over his bare shoulders. I vaguely recognized the white linen pants he wore. I’d seen my father in them before. I dragged my gaze back to his, and those eyes were like pools of warm honey.
He kissed a fingertip. “Josie, babe…”
I jerked as tears blurred the features of his striking face. “I don’t understand.”
His head tilted to the side, and I heard his sharp inhale. “Don’t cry.” His hands left my back and went to my cheeks. He chased the tears with his thumbs. “Babe, don’t cry. Please. You know how I hate it when you cry.”
And that made it me cry all the harder, because this…this couldn’t be real. Seth was gone. He was dead. I’d seen it with my own eyes, and weeks had passed. Months. Whatever this was, it couldn’t be real.
“Is this some kind of cruel trick?” I whispered, shuddering. “Are you going to disappear? Are you going to fade away—?”
“This isn’t a trick. I swear.” He caught another tear, smoothing it away. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not disappearing on you. I’m not leaving you. Never again, Josie.”
Hope dared spark alive deep in my chest, but so did a terror I’d never tasted before, because hope—it could kill me. I jerked back, slipping out of his grasp as I put some space between us.
I stared at him with wide eyes. “I can’t do this again,” Tremors rocked my entire body. “I can’t lose you again. I won’t survive it. I’m barely surviving it now. I can’t—”
Seth moved fast.
One moment he was sitting on the edge of the bed, and then the next he was caging me in, one hand planted on the headboard behind me, the other curled around the nape of my neck.
He brought his mouth to mine, and there was nothing slow or soft about the way he kissed me. It was raw and brutal. Our teeth knocked together, and there was a good chance my lips would be bruised in the morning, but he kissed me without an ounce of restraint or reservation. My already-turbulent senses spun out of control. I was immediately overwhelmed.
He tasted like Seth.
He pulled back just enough that, when he spoke, his lips brushed mine. “It’s me. You used to call me Sethie and I called you Joe.” His voice was full of gravel. “You used to tell me all the time you didn’t like me, but you did, you always did.”
Another shudder rolled through me as I opened my eyes.
His stare was fierce. “You were tagged by a daimon, at the motel with condoms in the reception area. When you first learned how to use the elements, you always tapped into fire when you were trying to summon air. Luke never wanted to be around you when you were practicing.”
A choked-sounding laugh escaped me.
“It’s me,” he repeated, his grip on my neck tightening. “You wanted me even when I wasn’t worthy of you. When you told me that we were going to have a child, I fell flat on my ass. And because of you, and only you, I became a better man. It’s me, psychí mou. I am here, and I am never leaving you again.”
My eyes widened as the truth of everything he said broke through the panic and fear. The hope didn’t just spark now. It flamed gloriously, and when I broke this time, I split wide open in an outpouring of raw emotions.
And it was Seth who pulled me into his arms. It was Seth who held me so tight there was no space between us. It was Seth who was there, alive and breathing.
Burying my head in the mass of hair, I breathed in Josie’s scent, letting it wash over me. Damn. I’d never thought I’d hold her again. I’d never thought I’d hear her voice or feel her soft curves.
When I pushed that dagger into my chest, I thought that was it. And it was. For a while.
I held her until the tremors subsided and the tears slowed. Then and only then did I pull her away so I could see her face.
Gods, she was beautiful.
I wiped away the lingering tears and then tucked her hair back from her face. “Babe, you’re breaking my heart right now.”
“I’m sorry.” Her voice was hoarse. “I thought… I mean, you were gone, Seth. You died.”
“I did.” I dragged my thumb over her cheek. I couldn’t stop touching her. “Kind of.”
Her hands opened and closed against my chest. “I don’t understand. If you weren’t dead, then where were you? Where have you been?”
“Gods, Josie, it’s going to sound crazy.” I looked down at her, and I grinned. “Are you wearing one of my shirts?”
Her brows knitted together. “Yeah, but that’s not really important right now.”
I wasn’t sure I could agree with that. Touching her after being separated from her for so long already had my engine revving, but seeing her in my clothes? So turned on it was almost fucking painful.
“Seth,” she said, and when I lifted my gaze to hers, those stunning blue eyes were warm. “If there was any thought in my mind you weren’t Seth, it is now gone.”
I grinned as I drew my thumb under her lip. “I thought I died. That was how it felt at first. There was you, your voice, and then there was nothing. Just fucking nothing, and then it was like I woke up.”
She slid her hand over my arms as she sat back. “Woke up? Where?”
“I was nowhere. I mean, I was awake on a conscious level, but I had no… Gods, this is insane, but I wasn’t corporeal.”
Josie blinked slowly. “Meaning you didn’t have a body?”
“Yeah, meaning that.” I shook my head. “At first there was just nothing but whiteness. I was surrounded by it, and I woke up, but I had no idea who or what or where I was. I guess it was kind of like being born, but slowly I started to remember things. Pieces of my childhood and my…my mother. Then things started to click into place. I remembered me. I remembered you, but I was just trapped in this nothingness.”
“Seth,” she whispered. “That sounds terrible.”
“It was.” For the next million years, I wouldn’t forget how it felt. “I was so damn pissed and frustrated and I…I felt helpless. A part of me was obviously alive and all I wanted was to get back to you, to our child, but I couldn’t get out of the nothingness.”
Her eyes glimmered, and I drew in a ragged breath. “Gods, I have no idea how long I was there. Felt like years, but then something hit me. I am absolute.”
Josie stared at me. “Um, okay?”
I laughed, and gods, the sound even startled my ass. I hadn’t laughed since before we went to the Olympians. Almost didn’t recognize the sound. “I am absolute, and only another absolute being can kill me. Thanatos’s sword is the sword of death, but he is not absolute. Once I realized that, I sort of…pieced back together. There was a flash of bright light, and then my naked ass was lying in Zeus’s temple.”