I grinned.

Sighing, Aiden pushed open the door, edging Erik out of the way. “Go put some clothes on. Gods.”

Erik smirked, but he disappeared back into the bathroom. I looked around the room, seeing a small piece of black luggage. Was that all he brought? I guessed he wasn’t planning to be here long.

Erik wasn’t gone long. He walked back into the sitting area, wearing a pair of jeans. And that was all.

“Really?” Seth murmured, his lips thinning.

I wanted to point out just how often Seth failed to wear a shirt, but decided against that. I stepped forward, offering my hand. “I’m Josie.”

The newly acquired demigod took my hand as he checked me out. “Quite nice to meet you, love.”

“It’s not going to be nice if you keep holding her hand,” Seth said from behind me.

I turned, pinning him with a look. Seth raised his brows in return. I shook my head as I looked back at Erik. “Please ignore him. He’s crabby in the morning.”

“I’m sure that’s what it is.” A half-grin appeared on Erik’s lips as he glanced over at where Aiden stood next to Alex. “I was hoping someone would bring me breakfast.”

Seth snorted. “You better do more than hope.”

“So I’m allowed to leave this room then?”

Aiden answered before Seth could. “Not yet. As we told you, there is some stuff going on here. It wouldn’t be wise for you be out there by yourself.”

Sitting down on the couch, Erik stared up at us and there wasn’t an ounce of concern on his face. He glanced at me. “So who’s your father?”

They hadn’t told him? Surprised, I glanced at Seth, but he was eye-balling Erik like he was a single-celled organism he hadn’t decided if he should squash or not.

“My father is Apollo,” I answered.

“Really?” Erik chuckled as he leaned back. “My father was not a fan of yours.”

I blinked. When Seth had told me that Erik had met Ares, I’d been somewhat surprised, but I figured it may have been a one-off thing. I mean, Ares sounded legit psychotic, so I couldn’t imagine he’d been spending much time with his son.

“Did you see your father a lot?” I asked.

Erik lifted a shoulder as he rubbed a finger along his brow. “I guess so. Wasn’t like every day or every week, but he was around. Anyway, what’s the plan?” he asked. “I’m assuming no one brought me here just to keep me stashed away in a room.”

“Well, we’re thinking we’ll start training you, along with the other two you’ll be meeting today,” Aiden said, sitting on the arm of the chair. “At least in the basics when it comes to hand-to-hand combat.”

“Your full demigod abilities are still bound, but you don’t need them to defend yourself,” Alex chimed in. “We can teach you.”

As they talked, a hot, ugly feeling unfurled in the pit of my stomach. I knew I should be paying attention, because I felt responsible for these demigods, even this one who was looking back at Aiden like he hadn’t signed up for any of this, but my brain was tripping over what Erik had said about his father.

Ares had formed a relationship Erik.

Crazy, murderous Ares.

Meanwhile, my father did everything under the sun to avoid being in the same room with me.

I shifted my weight from one side to the next, trying to pay attention to what they were saying, because I was pretty sure they were starting to argue, but my head…it just wasn’t in this right now. My skin felt stretched too tight, brittle and about to break.

In that moment I realized I was going to lose it, right there, in the middle of the room with a stranger who had a better relationship with his murderous, psycho dad who was dead than I did with mine, who was very much alive and mostly not a psycho.

I had to get out of that room.

“Excuse me,” I murmured, and then I left the room. I didn’t wait for a response from anyone, but I knew Seth followed.

He caught up to me a few steps away from Erik’s door. “Josie, are you sick?”

For a moment, I had no idea why he thought that, but then I realized my face felt flushed and he probably thought I was about to vomit. Morning sickness. Duh. “No,” I said quickly. “I’m not sick.”

There wasn’t any relief in his striking features as he walked to where I stood. His hair loosely brushed the curve of his jaw. The moment those churning amber eyes met mine, I felt my self-control begin to crack a little. “Don’t compare what is going on with Apollo to what Ares and Erik had. That’s not a road you want to go down.”

Was I that transparent?

Yeah, like a window.

I sighed. “My head is just not where it needs to be right now. I’m okay, Seth. I just…I just need a few minutes. Please?”

One look at his face told me that he didn’t want to leave me alone, and I could appreciate that. I really could, but I just needed space to get my head back where it needed to be. “I didn’t get the chance to tell you this earlier, but he did ask about you, Josie. He asked about you and the baby. He is thinking of you and he is concerned, he is just shit at showing it.

I drew in a stuttering breath. Somehow him asking Seth about me made it all the worse, because he was thinking about me. “I just need to walk.” My vision blurred. “You said you’d do anything, and that is what I need.”

Seth’s shoulders tensed and it was obvious he didn’t like it, but then he nodded.

I mouthed “thank you” and started to back up, but Seth caught me around the waist and tugged me to his chest. He lifted me clear off the floor, to the point my feet dangled. His mouth was on mine, hot and firm, and making my head spin. Electricity thrummed between us. I opened, and his tongue spread over mine. Despite the sorrow infecting my chest like a poison, molten lava moved through my veins. His kiss was demanding, possessive—devouring.

When he put me back down, I was surprised my legs were still working. All I could do was stare up at him, flushed for a whole different reason.

“I love you,” he said. “Just want you to remember that.”

“Always,” I whispered.

“Find me when you’re ready.”

More than a little shaken, I nodded as I backed away and then hurried off, my lips feeling swollen and my pulse pounding.

I really had no idea where I was going, but I eventually found myself in the gated courtyard, the one that bloomed beautiful flowers all year round and smelled like the best parts of a florist shop.

Walking past the bench, I stopped and stared at it. This was where Colin and I would sit and talk during the time Seth had pushed me away.

Colin was…he had been a good friend.

Blinking back tears, I sat down on the bench and shoved the hair back from my face, clasping the strands to my neck. I closed my eyes as I breathed in the warm air. Maybe I was being overly emotional. Or maybe I would be handling this latest development with Apollo better if Colin hadn’t just been murdered.

I squeezed my eyes shut, but tears snuck through. I wondered, if I just let myself cry, I’d move on and clear my head. Then I could focus on what was important, like the fact that the demigods had no way of their powers being unbound.

But I felt like…I felt like that little girl again, the one who didn’t understand why her father wasn’t a part of her life and who her mother wished she hadn’t had.

It was like being right back there, unwanted.

Letting go of my hair, I wiped at my cheeks and sat up straight. I looked down at my stomach and placed my hands there, just below my belly.

My child wasn’t even born yet and I couldn’t imagine not wanting to see him or her, to not be a part of their life. I just didn’t—

“Josie?”

I looked up at the sound of my name, seeing Laadan rounding the corner. I expected to see Alexander behind her. Whenever I saw her, he wasn’t far behind the raven-haired woman.

They had a…thing.

Wiping at my face, I plastered on a smile. “Hey,” I croaked out, and then cringed. “What’s up?”

Sympathy creased her face as she approached me. Her long hair was pulled back in a smooth ponytail I could never master. Even in jeans and a blouse, there was an innate elegance to Laadan that made me feel like I had the grace of a baby donkey.

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