He winced at the unimaginable horror she described. "Why would he do such a thing?"
"Because he was a god and he could. He didn’t want another dream god in his sleep ever again, playing a prank on him. He thought if he took away all our emotions, we would no longer be creative or derive pleasure from teasing him or anyone else. All that mattered was his life and dignity. Ours was nothing in comparison to his."
Aidan felt a tic begin in his jaw as her words seeped in. "So the Greek gods are just as petty and selfish as humanity. Nice."
"And just like humans, we’re not all like that. Some of us are quite aware of our powers and we know better than to abuse them."
Maybe. But it sounded pretty bad to him. Aidan couldn’t fathom what she must have gone through-if this wasn’t a delusion brought on by a brain tumor and if she wasn’t lying. It made his own betrayal seem as insignificant as her father’s dream that had caused him to kill her family. "Why would you come to help me?"
"Because you don’t deserve to die after all you’ve been through. Your brother has taken enough from you. And you have so much anger that I’m hoping we’ll find some way to kill Dolor and stop him from ever harming another person. Someone has to take a stand against him. All I can hear when I think of him is the way he laughed with pleasure when I begged him to spare my daughter’s life. The bastard actually smiled as he suffocated her while his henchmen held me back."
Aidan winced as his heart seized under the weight of what she described.
Her eyes burned him with their own misery. "You want to hurt the people who hurt you, Aidan…Now imagine my need to taste his blood."
He stood there as he tried to sort through this. Could he still be dreaming?
"No. You’re not," she said out loud. "This isn’t a dream. I swear it."
Aidan frowned at her. "How did you know what I was thinking?"
"I can hear your thoughts when I focus on them."
"Good. Then you know I think you’re insane."
She smiled at that. "The truth is, I am. I lost all sanity the night my daughter died and I couldn’t prevent it. All I have left in this world is a thirst for vengeance. And the mere fact I can still feel it-when I shouldn’t have any emotions, tells you just how badly I need it."
He held his hand out to her. "Then we have a lot in common."
She nodded before she took his hand into hers. That one action sent a chill down his spine and he wasn’t sure why.
Her hand tightened on his before she spoke. "We have to find some way to stop him."
"Don’t worry. We will. As I said, I will be the last man standing."
Leta closed her eyes as his words ran through her mind. Last man standing. She remembered a time when she’d felt that way too. Now all she wanted was to strike back at Dolor, and if she had to fall to do it, then she was more than willing. She didn’t care about surviving so long as he died with her. For that, she would crawl nak*d over broken glass.
All of a sudden, Aidan started laughing and let go of her.
Leta scowled at him. "What’s wrong?"
"Mori said that being up here alone would make me crazy one day. Damned if he wasn’t right. I have totally lost my mind."
His misplaced humor wasn’t quite enough to ease the pain inside her. "No you haven’t. I told you I was a bodyguard and so I am. We’re going to get through this together. You and me."
His laughter died instantly as he glared at her. "The last time a woman said that to me, she handed me my heart cut into pieces on a platter. What organ are you going to carve out of me?"
"None, Aidan. I’m going to leave you as I found you. You will be here in your cabin, standing stronger than ever."
"Why don’t I believe you?"
"Because people are ever willing to believe the negative over the positive. It’s easier for you to think me corrupt and evil than it is for you to see me for what I really am. No one wants to believe that some people are willing to help others out of the goodness of their hearts because they can’t stand to see someone suffer. So few people are altruistic that they can’t understand or conceive that anyone else in the world could ever put someone else’s good above their own."
Aidan froze as those words permeated his mistrust. He was doing to her exactly what everyone had done to him.
Assuming the worst even when she hadn’t done anything to warrant it.
The world had wanted to believe he was cold to his family, that he’d done something to warrant their cruelty, because that was a lot less frightening than the truth. No one wanted to think that they could give everything of themselves to someone, only to have the recipient turn on them like a rabid dog for no logical reason.
If they accepted the truth-that Aidan was innocent in all of this, that his only crime had been the fact that he was too giving, open, and kind to someone who didn’t deserve his trust-then it left them vulnerable and questioning everyone around them. But in their hearts, they all knew the truth. At some point in their life everyone had been betrayed like this. No rhyme. No reason.
Just human deficiency in some people who were users and abusers.
As his mother used to say, it’s people who have no home training.
But as Leta had pointed out not everyone was a user. Aidan had never once betrayed anyone. Never once had he set out to destroy or hurt another human being. It wasn’t in him to bring more misery to anyone.
He alone in his world had been loyal and trustworthy. Maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t alone after all.
His throat tight, he glared at Leta. "I’m still not sure this isn’t a hallucination brought on by carbon monoxide poisoning from my stove or heater, but in case it’s not I’m going to trust you, Leta. Don’t you dare let me down."
"Don’t worry. If I let you down, we both die and our pain ends."
"And if we win?"
The teasing light in her eyes went dead. "I guess we live on to ache some more."
He laughed bitterly. "Not much of an incentive to fight, is it?"
"Not really," she said, her gaze softening. "But it’s not in me to lie down and die."
"Me either." He glanced out the window at the world that looked so bright compared to the earlier storm. If only it would stay that way. "So tell me… what do we do now?"
"We are going to see an old friend of mine about some serious pain repellent."
"Do they make such a thing?"
She shrugged. "We’re going to find out. And while we’re at it, we’re going to see exactly what Dolor needs to cross into this plane."
That made sense. "If he crosses over, how strong will he be?"
"You remember the plagues of Egypt?"
"Yeah. I was in that movie too."
She ignored his acidic comment. "That was him just practicing and having fun. If we don’t stop him, he’ll release all his playmates and they will spread utter misery and torment throughout the world."
"Cool. Can’t wait for it." He let out a tired breath before he spoke again. "And what about the other gods? Will they help us?"
She patted his cheek in an almost playful manner. "That, my friend, is what we’re about to go and find out. Buckle up, Buttercup. This ride could be bumpy."
The only problem was, he was used to that. It was when things went smoothly that he became scared.
But even as that thought went through his mind, it was followed by the realization that things weren’t going to be bumpy.
They were going to be deadly.
"I can’t believe you cheated!"
"I can’t believe you didn’t know it. Man, what kind of god are you? I never knew stupidity had a divine representative. Guess I was wrong, huh?"
"You’re such an ass**le."
Aidan frowned as Leta took him into a white marble room where two men were playing a game of chess. Everything in the room was sterile white, except for the two men dressed in black and the odd chess pieces who had been dancing and fighting around the board on their arrival-chess pieces that were living, breathing creatures who now watched the arguing gods with great interest.
At a quick glance, the two gods appeared to be twins except that the one cheating had short brown hair with black streaks laced through it. He also had what appeared to be black tattoos running down his face at sharp lightning-bolt-style angles from his tear ducts to his chin. The man across from him had black hair with tribal tattoos covering his arms from wrists to shoulders. They were both dressed in jeans and sleeveless T-shirts. An odd style for two gods.
Then again, what did he know of such creatures?
"Deimos?" Leta called as she led Aidan toward the players.
The one with the facial tats looked up. "Leta, my lovely. What brings you here?" he asked in a jovial tone-as if he hadn’t been in the middle of a verbal smackdown with his brother three seconds ago.
The other man stood up as if to leave.
"Sit down, Phobos," Deimos snapped. "We’re not through."
"Yeah, we are. I don’t play with cheaters and I don’t care if you are three seconds older than me, you don’t tell me what to do. I’m not your bitch, boy."
Deimos grimaced. "Then stop acting like one. Whoever heard of Fear being a crybaby?"
Phobos crossed his arms over his chest. "The same people who made Dread a cheater."
Deimos scoffed at him. "Oh, go cry to mama, you nancy-boy." Then Deimos looked at Aidan. "You play chess?"
"Extremely not well."
He indicated the chair across from him. "Take a seat while we talk."
"Don’t," Phobos warned. "It’s like playing against a two-year-old who can blast your soul right out of your body. Last time Demon played a human who beat him, he sliced him open from ass**le to appetite."
Aidan arched a brow at the vivid description. "Interesting turn of phrase."
"Consider it a warning."
Leta leaned against Aidan and smiled. "Pay Phobos no attention. His job is stir fear in others. He’s good at it, too."
Aidan shrugged her warning away. "Not really. I have no fear of anything."
Phobos grinned as if he enjoyed the thought of a challenge. "I assure you, I can rectify that."
"I’d rather you didn’t," Leta said quickly before she waved the god away. "Now go scare an old woman or two."
Phobos saluted her with two fingers before he vanished into a circle of flames.
She turned to Deimos who was in the process of directing the chess pieces back into their starting places. "You got a minute, Demon?"
Deimos laughed. "An eternity of them. Why?"
"I need to know how to stop Dolor."
That got him to finally look up at her with a quizzical expression. "Dolor? When did he wake up?"
"A couple of days ago. Now he’s after Aidan here to kill him."
Deimos tsked. "Poor you. It really sucks to be human."
Leta narrowed her gaze at him. "Demon…"
He was unfazed by her chiding tone. "Don’t nag me, little cousin. I don’t want to hear it."
"You’re a Dolophonos, a god of justice. Are you really going to sit there while an innocent man is put to death because someone has PMS?"
Deimos gave her a droll stare. "I’m an executioner, Leta, hence my Demon nickname. They send me in to take the heads off people and gods who’ve stepped over the line, usually only because someone has PMS. You want justice, Themis’s office is down the hall on the left." He flashed an evil grin at her. "You want death and dismemberment, I’m your man… or rather god."
She let out a long-suffering sigh. "So you’re not going to answer my question?"
"I don’t have the answer for you. Just because I’ve been drinking buddies with Dolor in the past doesn’t mean I know how to stop him, especially since no one has ever sent me in to kill him. I only know he prefers double-shot lime-flavored tequilas with bourbon chasers. Sick, I know, but far be it from me to mock his tastebuds. I’m just glad they’re not mine."
Aidan stepped forward with a question of his own. "What about you? Could you stop him?"
Deimos gave him a smug look. "No one stands before me for very long. Dread always trumps pain. Besides, I fight dirty. Chess isn’t the only thing I cheat at." He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands behind his head before he returned his gaze to Leta. "If you really want the inside weakness on Dolor, I’d suggest you try his sister, Lyssa."
Aidan could tell by the look on Leta’s face that she’d rather not. "Who’s Lyssa?"
"Personification of Insanity," they answered simultaneously.
Leta gave Deimos a chiding stare before she elaborated. "She often works as a demon in conjunction with other gods, to incite madness in their victims so that the Erinyes or Furies can do their work. Because of that, she’s a little hard to handle and the madness she used to give to others has nicely taken root inside her own mind."
It figured. "Ooo, perfect. I do believe that in the last twenty-four hours she and I have become really good friends."
Deimos laughed. "I can tell you haven’t met her."
"Maybe not personally, but I’ve definitely been skating around her block a lot today."