His only thought to protect her, he cradled her under him even as she fought to shield him. "Stay safe, Leta," he breathed in her ear. "Don’t fight me."
"Dolor’s going to kill you."
Strangely, that didn’t matter to him. It wasn’t like he had anything to live for anyway.
Tired from the fight and weary from the loneliness, he laid his head down against her shoulder and waited for death. But as he did so and caught a teasing scent of her feminine skin, he realized that there was something left in this world that mattered to him. Something that was worth fighting for.
His blood fueled by his fight, he let out a feral growl and closed his eyes. He would not be defeated.
Last man standing.
With his mind, he splintered the sledgehammers and sent the gods flying. He shoved himself to his feet and spun around to face a single Dolor whose eyes were widened.
"Shove it up your ass." Aidan delivered a blow to his jaw that lifted the god up two feet from the ground. In slow motion, the god arced over before he landed on his back with a solid thump.
Timor ran at him. Aidan clotheslined him and followed him to the ground so that he could punch Timor in the chest. Dolor came at his back, but before he could reach him, Leta kicked the god back. Still the rain poured down on them while lightning flashed. The shrubs around them began to bleed.
Timor splashed in the mud that covered them before he sprang to his feet and flew at Aidan and caught him in the shoulder. Aidan heard the fabric of his shirt tearing. He tasted blood from his nose an instant before both gods blasted him.
"Side with us, Leta," Dolor growled. "We’ll get your emotions back for you."
She answered by blasting him with a bolt that took some of the pain away from Aidan.
Aidan manifested another sword. Twisting around, he lifted it to strike down at Timor who caught the blade with his left hand. He moved to kick Aidan. Releasing the sword, Aidan flipped around and manifested another sword to cut deep into Timor’s side.
The god went down with a bright flash of lightning. Dolor threw Leta into Aidan’s arms an instant before the god drove his own sword through her.
Aidan bellowed in pain as he saw the blood pouring out of her body. "You bastard!"
Dolor laughed as he launched himself at Aidan.
But he never made it.
Just as he would have reached him, Dolor vanished. Aidan scowled as he looked around, expecting the god to attack from another area. "Dolor?"
There was no answer, except for the torrential rain that spattered the grass around them.
Forgetting about the god for a moment and focusing on the woman who was bleeding in his arms, Aidan lowered Leta to the ground. He felt sick at the sight of her blood mixing with the mud.
How could this be?
"Leta?" he asked, not bothering to cover the note of fear in his voice.
"Sh," she said, touching his lips. "I’m immortal. I won’t die from this."
"Then why are you bleeding?"
She smiled wanly. "Because this is your fear. Let it go, Aidan."
That was easier said than done. "I don’t know how."
"Yes you do. Think back to the time before your brother turned on you. What was your fear then?"
That he’d lose his career and the studios would stop calling him. That the fans who paid to see his movies would turn on him and no longer show up at the box office. That he’d be alone in the world with no one to rely on.
"I was afraid of bad publicity. Of people hating me."
He hadn’t been hurt by it. Even though the world had heard the lies, had seen his family come for his throat, the fans had stayed and seen the truth of him. He’d even won the Academy Award that year and had starred in one of the highest-grossing movies. A movie that had set him free to retire if he wanted to. Professionally, no one had cared what lies his brother had spewed.
As for being alone, he’d learned that it wasn’t so bad. It’d taught him self-reliance. He’d come away from Donnie’s machinations even stronger than he’d been before.
He’d become fearless, with an inner strength and clarity that was unrivaled.
But that wasn’t the same as Leta bleeding and hurt. "I don’t want to lose you, Leta."
"Then don’t fear it. Believe that I’ll be here with you, always."
Again, that was easier said than done. But he had to put faith in her. Believe in her even though the hurt part of himself didn’t want to have faith in anyone but himself.
He pulled her against him and laid his head against the hollow of her throat. "I believe in you, Leta."
She lifted her hand to bury it deep in his hair as she kissed him. And with every heartbeat inside him, he felt her growing stronger.
He broke off the kiss to find her smiling at him.
"Your fears have power. It’s what feeds Dolor and Timor. Don’t give them a power they don’t deserve."
Nodding, he glanced around. "Speaking of Timor, what happened to him?"
She shook her head. "I’m not sure."
"Did we defeat them?"
"I wish I could say yes, but I don’t think so."
"You didn’t beat them… yet." They looked up to find Deimos standing over them with a cold, gloomy expression.
"What are you doing here?" Leta asked.
He let out a tired breath even though there was a hint of amusement in his eyes. "Getting involved in something I should leave alone but thought I ought to stick my neck out for it anyway. What the hell? Pissing off gods is what I do best."
Leta frowned at him. "And what exactly are you talking about?"
"In short, Dolor found a human sacrifice to the other side. He’s now in human form. His highly nonentertaining birth is why he vanished from here so abruptly. He’s on his way to kill Aidan’s body while his consciousness is trapped here."
Leta cursed to learn that Dolor had found a body donor. Most people tended to pull back from being killed so that a god could use their body to murder their enemies. Apparently they weren’t so lucky this time. "Who was the sacrifice?"
He jerked his chin toward Aidan. "His nephew. Donnie gave the kid up to the ghost to provide a body for Dolor’s use."
Aidan went cold at the news. "No way!"
He shook his head grimly. "You want the god of pain to do your bidding, you have to pay a steep price for it. Blood and bone, my friend. Blood and bone."
That sent Aidan’s senses reeling. He knew his brother hated him, but not this much… Surely to God, Donnie wouldn’t have killed his own son just to get back at him.
No, it wasn’t possible. "He couldn’t have done something like that."
But by the light in Deimos’s eyes, he knew the truth he wanted only to deny. "You’re talking about a man who set out to ruin the doting brother who gave his lazy ass a free ride. Why do you think this is beyond him?"
Because Aidan remembered when they were kids together. He remembered the laughter they’d shared. The hard times when they had been a united front against a world that was out to beat them down. Without Donnie, he wouldn’t have made it through the death of their parents. He wouldn’t have had the confidence to go out and make it on his own.
How could that boy who used to laugh with him have turned into the kind of monster who could kill his own son? "I can’t believe this. I just can’t. How could jealousy do this? How? It can’t sour someone to this extreme, can it? I mean really…"
Deimos gave him a sympathetic look, but there was no relief or comfort in that stare. No peaceful understanding to such a brutal reality. "It can and it does. Believe me. I’ve seen a lot worse than this in my billion or so years of existence-the first murder man committed was one brother against the other for no other reason than that one petty emotion. Jealousy turns to hatred which then turns to poison. It infects and it destroys until it eats someone alive. Your brother was so angry that you made something out of your life, that you had fans who would do anything for you. He couldn’t take it; he couldn’t understand why you would have something like that while he didn’t. His only goal has been to take you down a notch and put you back where you belong… underneath him. If he can’t have it, then damned if you will."
It still didn’t make sense to him why Donnie felt like that about him. "But I never let the fame get to me. I never changed. I’ve always remembered who I am and where I come from."
"Yeah," Deimos said. "And do you remember the old Joe Walsh song ‘Life’s Been Good’?"
"What of it?"
"Everybody’s so different,I haven’t changed."
Aidan stood there in silence as the words echoed in his head. He hadn’t thought about that song in years, but Deimos was right. He was still the same boy who’d run barefoot in the summer because they needed to save their shoes for school. He still said "please" and "thank you" to everyone around him, regardless of who they were.
But Donnie… he wasn’t the man he’d once been. The minute Aidan had given him a taste of wealth, he’d begun to treat people like they were beneath him. Like he was somehow better even though he wasn’t the one who’d earned it.
And Donnie wasn’t the only one who’d changed. So many people had come and gone through Aidan’s life. Those who’d had no use for him when he’d been a starving actor trying to get a break had become his bosom buddy the moment he’d begun getting choice roles. Suddenly he was important and people wanted to meet him. But Aidan still felt like the young actor who’d been left outside of hot nightclubs because he didn’t rate. The same actor others had brushed off as insignificant.
And then there had been Heather…
Damn, old Joe had been a prophet with that song. It made him wonder who had screwed over the songwriter so that he’d been able to express it so eloquently.
Deimos stepped forward. "We have to get the two of you awake. Dolor is on his way to your place to hit the two of you while you’re unconscious."
Leta cursed. "We’re sleeping ducks."
Deimos nodded. "It’s a good plan on his end."
Yes, it was. Aidan glanced to Leta before he asked Deimos, "Can you wake us?"
"I don’t know. But here’s to trying." The god vanished.
Aidan turned toward Leta who watched him carefully. She had a red spot on her face from a backhand one of the other gods had given her. Her hair was tousled and her pale eyes were filled with admiration. That look tore through him and it made him ache.
He held his hand out to her.
Her gentle touch set him on fire as she wrapped her fingers around his. His c**k hardened instantly, making him wish they had a moment alone. He couldn’t believe she’d infiltrated his life so easily, but he was so glad she had.
"If I end up dead tonight, I just want to say thank you."
She gave him an arch stare. "For what?"
"Knocking on my door and forcing your way into my life."
She smiled at him. "No problem. I’m just sorry I didn’t do a better job of saving you."
Those words were a symphony to his ears. "You know, in a weird way, I think you did."
"What do you mean?"
He tugged her closer to him so that he could feel her body heat against his skin. It set his nerves on edge and reminded him exactly what she had brought into his life. "I’ve been asleep for a long time. Living in an empty place. I don’t feel so empty now. There’s something else there."
He nodded, wrapping his arms around her. "It’s you." He touched his heart. "You woke me up and I feel again. It’s actually kind of nice, and if this is the last chance I have to say it, I just thought you should know."
Leta’s heart pounded at the words she knew were so hard for him to utter. They meant everything to her. And she felt the same way. "After my husband died, I never thought I would be able to care for another person. And then I found you. I won’t let them have you, Aidan. I won’t."
He kissed her hand before he cupped her face in his hands and placed the tenderest of kisses on her lips. Her senses spun. If she could, she would stay right here with him. There was nothing she wanted more than to be human and to stay by his side.
If only she could…
"Leta?" She heard Deimos’s voice as a faint whisper in her head.
One more minute.
But it wasn’t meant to be. She felt something pulling her back, away from Aidan.
And still she felt herself slipping, falling down a dark tunnel until she was again waking up in the human plane. So groggy she could barely move, she blinked open her eyes to find Deimos staring at her.
He indicated the area beside her with a lift of his chin. "I can’t get him to wake up."
As if in answer to her question, she heard someone coming up the stairs outside.
Her heart hammering, she rolled over to shake Aidan. "Aidan!" she snapped.
He didn’t move.
Deimos grimaced. "How much did you give him?"
"Apparently more than I should have. I wanted to make sure that neither of us pulled out of the dream early." Leta shook her head as she stared at Aidan lying there in perfect repose. In spite of the turmoil and battle in his dream, his handsome features were so peaceful, his body still and relaxed. However, the time for dreaming was behind them. They now had an enemy to face in this realm.