“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“I wasn’t asleep. I just liked making you sneak around.”
Grabbing a pillow from the rocking chair, she threw it at his head. He deftly caught it and launched it back at her. Ducking, the pillow sailed over her head and knocked some books off a shelf. They both froze and looked toward the door. When it became apparent no one was coming, Ree looked at Roland and covered her mouth.
“What?” He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, sitting up straight.
“You should have seen your face. I’ve never seen you look panicked before.”
“I haven’t had to worry about parents for a long time.” Shaking his head, he smiled ruefully at her.
“You deal with alien monsters on a regular basis, but my parents scare you?” Flopping down into the rocking chair, Ree giggled.
“Parents are infinitely scarier than bloodsucking aliens. It’s a matter of scientific law.” Standing up, he walked over to Ree and held his hand out. Without thinking, she took it and let him pull her to her feet. He played with the braid lying on her shoulder; Ree felt her humor being replaced with something more serious and couldn’t take her eyes away from his.
“You have a wonderful laugh. It’s so free and honest.”
“Thank you.” She smiled and hoped it concealed her nervousness. The feel of his hand wrapped around hers was causing odd things to happen to her stomach. She also had the strangest sense of déjà vu, as if she needed to remember something.
“You need to sleep.” Gently pushing her toward the bed, he yanked the blanket back. “I can see how tired you are.”
“Where are you going to sleep? Do you want a pillow or something?”
“No, I think the rocking chair will more than suffice for tonight.”
“Thanks,” Ree said. “For staying. I appreciate you putting your life on hold for me.”
“You are my life now.” He reached over and turned off the bedside light, filling the room with shadows. Ree was immensely glad for the cover of darkness. His words had sent a shiver through her, and she wasn’t ready to understand why.
Thankfully, sleep claimed her thoughts almost immediately. Unfortunately, her dreams were anything but restful. Images of the darkling’s body crumbling, the uneasy feeling of being watched, and a pressure on her chest made it impossible for her to sleep for long. Flipping from side to side and only half-awake, she tried to make herself comfortable.
“Alastriana.” A deep, angry voice boomed in her ears.
Pain crackled through her head, causing her to wake instantly. Her breathing was labored and she could barely open her eyes, but she knew the power was slipping out of her control. Cool hands brushed the hair back from her face, and she concentrated on trying to do deal with the pain in her head. Once it started to fade, she opened her eyes to meet Roland’s worried sapphire ones.
“Someone is here,” she gasped.
“They’re outside. Can you sit up?” Levering her up, he handed her the water from her night stand.
“Who is it?” She sipped the water and winced at the lingering pain in her head.
“There is a god nearby.” Quietly, he padded to the window and looked outside. “Very close.”
“When Brigid came to the island, I didn’t feel this way.” The Celtic goddess had made Ree feel weak in the knees, but there had not been a pounding headache. “Did you say my name?”
“No.” Roland glanced over his shoulder at her. “But I felt the power crackling through the room. Is that all they said? Your name?”
“Yes. Well, and they gave me a splitting headache.”
“It is hard for mortals to hear the gods’ true voice. Painful. That’s why Brigid didn’t speak to you on the island. Most of the gods consider it demeaning to speak in a way that is other than their real voice.” Roland looked back to the yard outside her room. “But I have a feeling this is not Brigid.”
Sitting up, Ree slipped her feet into the tennis shoes she had placed next to her bed. Fear had her senses on high alert and everything seemed a little sharper with the clarity adrenaline brought. “Are we in danger?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s one of our gods, right? I mean, one of the good guys?” Ree moved closer to Roland and looked out the window but didn’t see anything other than a dense fog.
“Do not be fooled, Ree. Just because they are on our side does not make them good guys.” Roland turned to look at her, his eyes heavy with memories. “Trust none of the gods. You are nothing but a tool to them.” He looked back out the window, searching for whatever was outside of her house.
Swallowing, Ree nodded her head and tried to squelch the nausea that swam in her stomach. “Okay. Don’t trust the gods.”
“Some of them aren’t that bad. Brigid is one of those you may be able to trust. A few others, too, though you can only trust them so far. Their definition of good and bad, right and wrong, is very different than ours.” Without looking at her, he reached back and grabbed her hand and squeezed. She squeezed back, grateful for the comfort. So many things were happening, and the longer this scenario played out, the more she felt like a pawn.
“Are my parents—”
“Shh.” Roland held up his hand and nodded to the yard. A tall, dark-haired man stood looking at them with an angry expression.
“Ares,” breathed Roland. His hand tightened on hers, and she realized she wasn’t the only one in need of support.
What sounded like a crack of lightning filled Ree’s head, and she covered her ears. Suddenly, Ares was no longer standing in the yard, but right in front of the window. Dark brown eyes swirled with literal fire, causing Ree to flinch when he met her gaze. She realized he looked like someone that would star in movies. However, the sardonic twist to his mouth and haughty expression would always cast him as the bad guy. The serial killer, Ree thought. Or the zealot ready to destroy millions of people.
“Pathetic.” His mouth formed the word slowly, as if he took joy in torturing Ree.
Falling to her knees, she clasped her hands tightly over her ears and whimpered in pain. Roland was right next to her, his hands lifting her face so that he could see her. Wiping away a tear with his thumb he said something, but she couldn’t hear it. Shaking her head in confusion, she pointed to one ear. He lifted her in his arms and carried her to her bed. Laying her down gently, he sat next to her and waited for her hearing to return.
She couldn’t help looking at the window, worried the fiery-eyed god would still be staring at them, waiting to say more.
“He’s gone,” she whispered.
Roland nodded his head and sat there quietly. When the ringing stopped, she sat up and met Roland’s worried eyes. “I… I can hear now.”
“I’m sorry, Ree. I don’t know why he made an appearance here.”
“Are my parents safe? Did he hurt them as well?”
“No. I know it felt like he spoke out loud, but it was only in your mind. I’m sure they have no idea he was even here.” Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he tapped out a message and hit send. Within moments, the screen on his phone lit up with a response. “Sophie thinks it would be best if you stay on the island from now on. I think she’s right.”
“What? I can’t do that. My parents would never go for it.”
“You don’t have to ask permission, Ree. You can just go.”
“Are you kidding? You’ve seen my mom! She wouldn’t be able to handle it if I just disappeared. She would end up in the madhouse. I can’t do that.” Standing up, Ree paced across her room to the window, then back to the bed. “I won’t do that, Roland.”
“What if you have to?” His voice was calm, his face blank.
“You’re going to make me? I don’t think so.” Anger set Ree’s jaw and made her shoulders stiff.
“I could, but I don’t want to.” Calmly, he placed his phone back in his pocket and rested his hands on his knees.
“Oh, yeah? Try it.” The power washed across the room, making things on the tables and shelves tremble. “I will not be the reason my mom ends up in a psych unit.”
“You know the power will not affect me.”
“Not directly, but it can use things against you.” Widening her stance, she straightened her shoulders and felt her chin lift.
“What if it’s to keep them safe, Ree?”
All of her anger vanished instantly and she sat down on the bed next to him. “I’m putting them in more danger by being here? I thought it would be safer for them with you guys here as guards.”
“Yes and no.” Roland shook his head. “Look, I know this is tough. Okay, that’s the biggest understatement ever. What I mean is that I know what you’re going through. There is no easy answer or clear solution. But you need to be prepared for a time when you very well may have to leave.”
Nodding her head, Ree chewed on her bottom lip and considered how she could possibly do that to her parents. Roland stood up and walked back to the rocking chair.
“Get some sleep, Ree. I doubt he will be back tonight, and you have to be up to pretend to go to school.” He settled into the rocking chair so that he could see out the window and folded his arms across his chest. “I’m here, and I won’t let anything happen to you or your parents tonight.”
Lying back in her bed, Ree stared at the ceiling for a long time. Pain lingered behind her eyes from earlier that night, and her mind would not stop going over the what-ifs. At some point she must have drifted off, but gruesome images and nightmares still haunted her.
Someone shook her shoulder and she grunted. The buzzing of her alarm clock filled the room at a deafening volume. She jerked awake, sitting up in bed and hitting the off button.
“Ree, are you sure you aren’t sick? “
When she heard her father’s voice, she looked around the room in shock. Where was Roland? Why hadn’t he woken her up?
“Ree?” Her father reached out and touched her forehead. “Are you okay, sweet potato?”
“Um, yeah, Dad. I’m good. Just overslept, I guess.” Brushing the hair out of her eyes, she looked at the clock and didn’t have to fake the panicked look. “I’ve got to get ready for school. Mel will be here any minute.” Hopping out of bed, she ran to her closet and yanked open the doors. Her mouth fell open, and she could feel her eyes bugging out of her head. Roland was standing in the back of the closet amidst a pile of random shoes, shoved between some winter coats and old dresses. He put a finger to his mouth and winked at her. Shutting the door as quickly as possible, she turned around and pressed her back against the crack.
“Dad? Can you grab me a muffin or something? I need to get dressed….” She let her sentence trail off and jerked her head toward her door.
“Are you okay, Ree? You’re acting really odd.” Her father stood up and walked toward her. Panic moved her feet in his direction. Grabbing his elbow, she turned him and guided him out her door.
“I’m fine, Dad. Really. Just in a hurry, you know? I can’t believe I overslept. Must’ve been really tired.”
“Okay, Ree. I’ll go get you something to eat.”
“Thanks, Dad!” Shutting the door, she turned around and ran to the closet. When she yanked open the door and peeked in, Roland was holding up an old homecoming dress with his eyebrows drawn together.
“This is not the color for you.” He tsked.
Yanking the dress out of his hands, she threw it on the floor and pulled him out of the closet. “It was eighth grade—and don’t go through my clothes!” She dove into the closet and grabbed a school uniform before running over to her dresser and grabbing some street clothes to shove into her backpack. “What happened? Why didn’t you wake me up before my dad came looking for me? And the closet is not the best place to hide. I’m really going to have to come up with a better place to stash people.”
“I had to move my car. I didn’t want your parents to see it and grow suspicious. I made it back in the window just as your father was knocking on the door. I didn’t have much time to look for a more suitable hidey-hole.” He sat on the foot of her bed and watched her flurried movements. “You do remember you aren’t going to school today, right?”
“My parents think I am! And Mel will be here to pick me up soon.”
“Well, then, by all means, hurry up and change into your uniform.” One corner of his mouth quirked up when Ree glared at him.
“I’m going to the bathroom to change. I suggest you get out of here.”
“What? No goodbye kiss?”
“I’m sure I’ll see you later. Now, go!” Rolling her eyes, she dashed to the bathroom to change.
Her father had a banana-nut muffin sitting on a napkin next to a bottle of apple juice. Grabbing her breakfast, Ree hollered a goodbye over her shoulder, just in time to hear Melanie honk her horn.
“Ree, I want to talk to you.” Her father came striding from the back of the house, but she was already out the door.
“After school, Dad! Love you!”
She practically dove into the front seat of Melanie’s car, shoving her bag into the backseat and clicking the seat belt into place.
“Well, good morning to you, too.” Melanie frowned at her rushed behavior as she backed out of the driveway.
“Sorry. I overslept. Want half a muffin?”
“Did your mom make it?”
“Do you really have to ask?” Ree shook her head, broke the muffin in two, and handed Melanie a piece. Her friend groaned in happiness after taking a bite. Ree nibbled on her breakfast and tried to calm her beating heart. That had been a really close call this morning.
“So, how’d it go last night?”
“What do you mean?” Ree tucked her hair behind her ears and wondered if she had an extra hairband in her bag.
“I was on patrol last night, Ree.” Melanie rolled her eyes. “I know Roland stayed the night.”
“Oh, yeah. He slept in the rocking chair. Well, I don’t know if he really slept. I think he stayed up to guard the house. Thank goodness he did, though. I hate to think what would have happened if Ares had shown up while I was by myself.” Taking a long gulp of apple juice, Ree grimaced. Note to self, apple juice and toothpaste are a bad combination.
“Whoa, whoa. Ares? As in the god of war, Ares?” Melanie’s voice squeaked on the name each time.READ MORE >>