Authors: Addison Fox
“This is cozy.”
Montana stood, the smile still firmly planted. “Meg and I were just getting acquainted. Sadly, I need to take off.”
“Don’t go on my account.”
“Unfortunately, I have to go on Spain’s account.” A quick glance at her watch—and the corresponding frown—had her rushing for the door. “And the conference call I was supposed to initiate three minutes ago.”
Montana paused briefly at the doorway, turning back toward Meg. A broad smile—one that spelled relief in big bold letters—flashed toward both of them. “Thanks, Meg.”
Aidan knew he’d never been all that adept at hiding his curiosity, but Montana’s grateful smile had him asking questions the moment she was out of earshot. “What was that all about?”
“Let’s just say it’s not all that easy to adjust to married life, immortality and the overarching threat of goddess-inflicted retaliation. It weighs on a girl’s mind.”
“Has she told Quinn?”
“But she didn’t want to worry him.”
Aidan wasn’t sure why he was arguing the point, but he pressed on anyway. “What’s the point of being married if you don’t share that type of stuff? It can’t be all hearts and unicorns flying out your ass all the time.”
Meg’s dropped mouth and her strangled laugh drew a smile from him before he could stop it. “Come on, Aidan. It’s hard to live alone your entire life and then transition into marriage with another person without a bit of upheaval. It takes some adjusting. I think she’s just trying to figure out how to do that.”
“If you say so. I’m hardly the expert.”
“I’m hardly one, either. But I’ve seen enough people go through it.” A merry twinkle lit up her eyes, crinkling them at the corners. “It’s not all hearts and ass unicorns.”
“Society certainly seems to think it is.”
“I’m sure it can be much of the time. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard, too.”
“You never married?” The words were out before he could even stamp on the impulse to express them.
“No. My personality isn’t conducive to relationships.” She hesitated briefly before adding, “You?”
“That’s a shame.”
Meg nodded and the movement drew his eyes to the heavy sweep of her hair as it framed her face. The lush, rich brown called to him, begging for his touch. “I do think. You have so much good inside of you, I guess I always saw you sharing it with some lucky woman.”
“Well, the average woman’s not all that keen on a husband who will outlive her by oh, about forever.”
“The Pantheon is full of completely lovely women.”
Why was she pushing this?
A small itch burrowed under the back of his neck as Aidan fought the urge to shift from foot to foot. He hadn’t felt this exposed since he was a boy, the constant taunts from Tyrus and so many others a never-ending source of discomfort and fear.
He’d vowed to never go back to that place.
To never feel that vulnerable again.
Meg’s words broke through the sudden blast of memory. “I’m sorry. I’ve embarrassed you.”
“You are a wonderful man, Aidan. I’ve known it since you were a small boy.”
“What did you know?”
A soft sigh escaped her as she sat back on the couch. “You were so fierce, even then. That first day I met you, outside your father’s chambers.”
The itch under his skin worked its way down his spine. “I was a scrawny kid who didn’t know anything.”
“You actually knew a lot and even I couldn’t know the depths of your intelligence.” She cocked her head as she looked up at him, those dark eyes blazing with questions. “Have you ever been tested? Now, in modern times?”
“Tested for what?”
Why would he want to do that? “No. We all work pretty hard to stay off the grid and out of anyone’s files.”
“That’s probably wise. Add to that, I’ve no doubt you’d be off the charts, only adding greater interest.”
“You still haven’t outgrown it.”
Aidan reluctantly took the seat next to her. “Outgrown what?”
“Your embarrassment over your intelligence.”
“Actually, it’s quite a lot. The fact you hide from it only gives it even more power.”
Meg knew she’d hit pay dirt as a decidedly mulish expression descended over Aidan’s face. She could all but see the blinking sign shrieking GET OUT.
Images arced like heat lightening across her mind, as if in tune with the flashing neon. Remembered discussions, similar reactions.
“Your father values your mind as much as he values your battle-honed body.”
“Your enemies underestimate you and that is your true strength.”
“Your sense of where the enemy will strike next is as evident to you—as innate to you—as breathing.”
An oft-repeated theme in their short time together.
“I hide from nothing, Meg.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“I’ve gotten along just fine without you all these years. Clearly it hasn’t been a problem up to now. I don’t anticipate that will change any time soon.”
Meg wasn’t sure if it was the tension of the last few months or simply the overwhelming responses Aidan generated within her, but her willingness to sit idly by and placate him was at an end.
“It seems to me not much has changed at all.”
“You don’t like it, the door’s right out there, sweetheart.”
She ignored the sweet rush of pleasure at the endearment and pushed her point. “You have no idea what I’ve lived with since you’ve been gone.”
If she’d thought him cold before, the frost in that single word was impossible to miss. Unable to bear it a moment longer—and more than willing to sacrifice the protection of his home if it meant escaping this horrible anger between the two of them—Meg took him up on his offer and headed for the door.
“I can see this was an even bigger mistake than I’d anticipated.”
Meg whirled on her heel, unwilling to even stick around to gather up the few things she’d brought with her. She could have Callie send them to her once she got herself settled in a hotel.
She could deal with the mundane once she had some time to think. Once she had time to put distance between them and find her center of gravity.
The front door buzzed from the break in security but she ignored it, slamming the heavy wood behind her as she escaped.
Gods damn his stubborn attitude and unwillingness to listen to her. Even if Aidan did know her enemy better than anyone, she couldn’t bear to ask for his help any longer.
Her long strides ate up the sidewalk and she saw trees in the distance. While she wasn’t intimately familiar with New York, always favoring to keep her distance from Aidan’s adopted hometown, she had enough sense to know its basic layout. His home on the Upper West Side was bordered by parks on both ends of the neighborhood.
And the thought of trees, fresh air and a quiet bench felt like the answer to her prayers.
On a heavy sigh, she continued to put one foot in front of the other. She’d find another answer to her problem. There had to be a way to make some other ally against Tyrus and whomever was pulling his strings.
A bright light blinked up ahead of her and Meg ignored the image of an orange hand telling her to stop. The need for freedom—for a moment’s peace from her thoughts and her raging emotions—kept her moving forward.
A path beckoned ahead of her and Meg ran the last half of the crosswalk.
The fresh scent of grass greeted her as she moved further into the park. Almost as if a spell had descended over her, the sounds of the nearby traffic muted, fading away as if it didn’t even exist.
She slowed, but maintained a brisk pace as she detoured deeper down the path.
And never even had the chance to scream as heavy arms came around her from behind, dragging her off the path and behind a heavy copse of trees.
* * *
“Fuck and bugger and shit and damn,” Aidan muttered to himself as he lost sight of Meg. She raced through the crosswalk and into Riverside Park like the very hounds of hell nipped at her ankles.
The razor-sharp bite of guilt gnawed at his stomach as he ran after her. Damn the woman and all the shit she’d managed to churn up.
He’d been doing just fine, thank you very much. Damn fine. Not hearts and ass-unicorns fine, but he was doing all right.
Which was probably the biggest lie he’d ever tried to float to himself, aside from the whole “he was totally over Meg,” lie that he’d perpetrated for two millennia.
Aidan picked up his pace and moved through the crosswalk, waving off the honking horns as he dodged traffic. He cleared the inside of the park and rounded the first bend, immediately on alert when he didn’t see a single sign of Meg.
His gaze flashed in a sweeping half-circle in front of him. The early hour meant there were relatively few people out—a runner jogged in the distance and a few people with dogs headed for the run about halfway down the center promenade.
None of them were Meg.
He did the same sweep again as the heavy thud of adrenaline began pumping through his veins.
Where was she?
And why had he let her go?
A small flash caught his eye—he’d likely have missed it if he weren’t so preternaturally attuned to her. He could see her struggling with a man whose arm was draped over her shoulders, the gesture anything but casual. With no other thought than to get to her, he threw himself into a port, unwilling to waste even the few seconds it would take to run to her.
And damn anyone who might possibly see him disappear.
A renewed wave of anger surged through him as he appeared behind her captor, the sight of her struggling form striking him with brutal clarity. He leaped immediately, catching the back of her aggressor around the neck with both hands.
The immediate spark of electricity confirmed what he was dealing with.
Aidan knew his advantage with a surprise attack would be short-lived, so he put as much force into the movement as he could. He jerked hard on the Destroyer, the motion dislodging the asshole’s feet as it pulled him backward, but it also dragged Meg down in the process.
“Meg! Get out. Get away.”
She didn’t waste time, twisting and turning from the man’s now-slack hold.
“Don’t kill him, Aidan! We need to question him.”
The words registered somewhere in the red haze of his thoughts, but Aidan ignored it in favor of a tighter clamp on the guy’s neck. The asshole was bull-strong and he couldn’t get quite a good enough hold to snap the neck—a necessity if he was going to kill him.
Aidan flipped hard to his left as the man fought to regain his feet, dragging the two of them backward. He knew the move was dangerous as he gave up his own center of gravity to break his opponent, but he knew there was no other choice. The tattoo that lived on his upper right shoulder twitched under his skin and he wondered if he dare use it here.
And then the guy threw out a surge of static electricity so sharp Aidan nearly dropped his hands and knew he couldn’t wait any longer, innocent passers-by be damned.
They could deal with that after the fact.
“Get away from here. Go back to the house,” Aidan bit out to Meg as he shifted to allow his tattoo to grow and expand around his aura.
“I won’t leave you.”
Another blast of energy had him biting back a heavy moan, the thick shock of it ringing the length and breadth of his arms.
Fuck, but this guy was strong and he wasn’t going down without a fight.
Enyo had created her elite fighting force centuries ago, as she realized her battles with Themis’s warriors were depleting her faster than she could manage on her own. Her fighters were a deceptive bunch, appearing on the surface to be men.
Aidan and his warrior brothers knew better.
The Destroyers’ human appearance was nothing but a husk that allowed them to blend in. It surrounded a core of electricity that throbbed with the same energy that fired Zeus’s thunderbolt.
Enyo might not like her father all that much, but she’d managed to put his genetic gifts to good use.
“Get out of here,” he hollered again, unwilling to leave Meg in the line of fire.
And then there was no further room to argue as the gift that lived in his own skin began to grow and expand, shift and morph.
Unlike his warrior brothers, there was no animal totem to support him. Instead, he had the elements at his disposal. Pulling on the natural forces that surrounded him, the brand on his back reached out with a clever sort of energy, seeking whatever water was in the area.
Aidan felt the response around him, rising up from the very earth underneath him. They’d had a heavy stretch of rain recently and the well-soaked ground responded to his body’s call.
The air grew heavy as his opponent continued to struggle, oblivious to what built around them. Aidan knew the static electricity inherent in a Destroyer’s body would actually work to his advantage—all he had to do was wait.
Wait as the drops of water were dragged from the earth, pulled from the nearby roots of the trees, dredged from every last blade of grass beneath his feet.
Wait as his body channeled its magnificent gifts, those bestowed by Themis when she turned him into a lethal instrument of justice.
Wait while he maintained a death grip on his enemy, that creature who dared to touch Meg.
Then it broke, like a proverbial dam bursting, as water pressed in on them from all sides. Aidan was immune to it, managing through it as if there were no change to his environment, while his opponent struggled against the new threat.
Water coalesced around the Destroyer, swirling around them and invading from every molecule of air that surrounded their bodies. The water’s footprint was a small, concentrated force of energy that wrapped around them in a tight vise. It pressed inward while channeling all the electricity in the Destroyer’s body, turning it back on the asshole in heavy bursts.
Within seconds, Aidan had the opportunity he was waiting for.
He lifted his hands and snapped the Destroyer’s neck with skills honed over more centuries than he cared to count. As the body went limp under his touch, Aidan dropped the body and pulled back on his gift.
The threat was over.
It was only when he glanced in Meg’s direction that he realized his mistake.
The Destroyer’s partner—and they always traveled in pairs—had Meg by the throat as he pressed her to the ground.
* * *
Meg gasped for breath. Spots colored her vision as she fought desperately for air, her fingers scrabbling at the hands that held her pinned.
Her mind screamed, even as she simply fought to survive.
Think and find a way to use your gifts
Her last vision had been of Aidan, locked in his own battle, oblivious to the silent threat who now had her in his hold.
The fury that lived inside of her rose up and fought to battle at the unconsciousness threatening to pull her under. She had to stay coherent.
Had to stay in the moment.
Had to fight back.
Drawing on the anger that always seemed to simmer just under the surface, she pushed out with her hands, swinging in a wild arc. Although she missed the Destroyer’s head, she hit him just hard enough on the shoulder to dislodge his hand slightly.
The move was enough to give her even more reason to stay conscious and she swung once more before he could readjust himself.
Before he could regain his tight grip on her throat.
The hit connected with his jaw and she vaguely heard a grunt. Despite the greater power she’d managed to imbue in the hit, his grip didn’t lessen any further.
His hold didn’t falter.
As she tried to ball her fist for a third hit, the world faded to black.