"Please wake up," she breathed, but she knew better. He was too far under. There wouldn’t be any more waking for him. At least not for a long time.
Someone was kicking against the cabin door, trying to break it down.
She brushed her hand against Aidan’s whiskered cheek before she rose from the bed. "We have to defeat them."
"I’m right here by your side."
She impulsively kissed Deimos’ cheek. "Thank you."
He inclined his head before he flashed himself to the living room. Leta followed after him, knowing they were the only thing standing between Aidan and death.
She glanced back to the bedroom where he slept before she whispered a solemn vow. "I won’t let you down, Aidan. I swear it."
Aidan jerked back in surprise as he heard Leta’s voice in his dream state. He hovered in the room, unable to wake up. It was as if he were caught between the dream and reality. That strange nether realm where lucid dreams were made. He could see her and Deimos, see Dolor and Donnie as they broke through his door and spilled into his living room.
"I have to wake up." But no matter what he tried, he couldn’t. It was the most frustrating thing he could imagine.
He looked at his brother, whose blond hair was shaved close to his head. Donnie had beefed up in prison and his green eyes were insane as he looked about. Aidan wasn’t sure how Dolor had gotten his brother out of jail, but then it probably wasn’t hard for a god to do whatever he wanted to.
"Where is he?" Donnie snarled. "Aidan!"
Leta braced herself in the middle of the room. "You’re not getting him."
Donnie turned on her with a look of steel. "Like hell, bitch. He’s mine, and if you don’t move, I’m going through you to get him."
She closed her eyes an instant before a staff appeared in her hands. "Then let’s dance because the only way to get to him is through me."
Dolor, who was in Ronald’s body, stared at Deimos. "You don’t belong in this fight, Demon. You sure you want to stand there?"
"No place I’d rather be."
Ronald/Dolor blasted him off his feet. Deimos rolled with it before he returned the blast with one of his own.
Leta scissor-kicked Donnie and drove him back from Aidan’s room.
Aidan watched the fighting with bated breath. It was inconceivable to him that the two of them were willing to be battered to protect him. No one had ever done that for him before.
Donnie swept Leta off her feet. As he went to kick her, she rolled away and twisted her body to knock him down. Damn, the woman was a better fighter than Jackie Chan. But Donnie was no slacker and obviously jail had taught him a few things.
Deimos and Dolor were locked in a massive battle as they slammed from wall to floor to wall again. They were equally matched, and there wouldn’t be an easy victor in that fight.
And just when he was certain Leta would take Donnie, Donnie caught her from behind with a garroting chord.
Aidan’s heart stilled as he watched her struggle.
"I can’t flash out," she called to Deimos.
Dolor laughed. "It’s one of Artemis’s toys. You’re snared."
"No," Donnie laughed in a sinister tone. "You’re dead."
Aidan felt his rage building to an unbelievable level. There was no way in hell he was going to let her die because of him. He threw his head back and roared with the ferocity of everything he felt.
His adrenaline pumping, he ordered himself awake.
Still Donnie tightened the chord.
"Leta!" Aidan shouted.
Her face was turning blue as she fought for breath. He reached out to touch her, but it was too late.
Leta slumped in Donnie’s arms.
Aidan came awake with the taste of rage bitter on his tongue. As he heard the fighting outside his bedroom, his anger built to a stellar level.
"Leta," he snarled, throwing himself toward the door. He snatched it open to see her on the floor at Donnie’s feet.
Without stopping, he dove at his brother, catching him about the shoulders before they fell to the ground. His gaze turning red, Aidan slugged him with everything he was worth, over and over again. Donnie tried to throw him off, but he was having none of it. He was through with his brother’s crap.
"I hate you," Donnie shouted.
"Feeling’s mutual," Aidan said an instant before he slammed Donnie’s head against the slate floor as hard as he could. Blood exploded over the hardwood floor. His brother’s blood should have appeased him. It didn’t.
And as he looked into his brother’s dilated eyes that were an exact match to the shade of his own, Aidan wanted to weep.
How had they come to this? How?
That moment of weakness cost him as Donnie kicked him back. His brother grabbed him by the shoulders and rolled until Aidan was pinned to the floor. There was no mercy in Donnie’s eyes as he rained blows on Aidan.
"How could you?" Aidan demanded furiously as he blocked most of the hits.
"Because I hate you, you piece of shit. You got everything that should have been mine. Everything! The looks, the money, the hot girlfriend. It’s not fair for you to have so much and for me to have so little."
That was so not true. Donnie had been even better looking than Aidan when he’d been younger. Where Aidan had been lean and had to work for muscle tone, Donnie had always been naturally muscled. Donnie had been the one to get married and have a family. Tracy had only left him because he’d cheated on her. As for the money, Donnie could have had that too, but rather than start a business for himself, he’d been content to make the steady salary of a cable installer. Good money that he’d spent on drugs, alcohol, and strippers-which had also caused the break-up of his marriage. "You’re insane."
"Yeah and you’re a dick. Do you have any idea what it’s like to watch your wife lust after your kid brother? To listen to her sing your brother’s praises and tell you how you don’t measure up?"
What was he talking about? Tracy had never seen him as anything more than a little brother. Donnie’s wife had barely even spoken to him the handful of times he’d been around her.
"Youstole Heather from me."
"No," Donnie said bitterly. "The bitch still loved you even after we hooked up. All she could talk about was you and how good-looking you were. How much money you made and all the great places you’d taken her when you dated. How you couldn’t go out without being mobbed by people who loved you. She was as obsessed with you as Tracy was. It’s why I offered her soul to Dolor first."
Aidan was so stunned by the words that he allowed Donnie to land a solid punch on his jaw. He tasted blood before he kicked him back. "What?"
Donnie caught himself. He stood before Aidan with twisted lips, clenching and unclenching his fists. "Whiny f**king bitch. The only reason she even went with me was to hurt you. She didn’t care about me. She just wanted you to think there was someone out there who didn’t find you irresistible. She thought you’d come crawling back to her, begging for her to take you back. So I broke out of jail, cut her throat, and used her blood to wake Dolor."
Aidan cursed. His heart bleak, he rushed at Donnie and caught him in a headlock. He glanced to Leta on the floor who appeared to be breathing easier than she had before. He wanted to check on her, but knew better than to try. Donnie wouldn’t let him near her until he was down for the count.
Aidan tightened his hold on Donnie’s neck. "How could you kill Ronald? He was your son!"
"He may have been my blood," he said in a raspy tone, "but he wasn’t my son. He loved you more than me. He always did. My house wasn’t as fancy as Uncle Aidan’s. My money wasn’t as good. He wanted to apologize to you. Tell you how sorry he was for everything we’d done. He said we had no right to hurt you, so I told Dolor to take him out and use his body to get to you."
Aidan felt sick at the words. How could his brother be reduced to this? "I loved you, Donnie. I would have done anything in the world for you." His grip loosened as he tried to reach through the hatred to find the brother he’d once known and loved.
"Then die." Donnie spun on him with a kick that landed hard on Aidan’s ribs.
Aidan grunted as he caught his balance.
Donnie pulled a knife out of his pocket and flipped it open. Aidan caught his wrist before Donnie could plunge it into him. He wrenched Donnie’s hand and sent the knife flying before he backhanded him and kicked him down.
Aidan sneered at him. "I never once in my life thought I was better than you until now. I could never have hurt my family the way you have. Loyalty is everything to me. It always has been and always will be. But you… you don’t know how to love. Your jealousy won’t even let you recognize it when you have it. I can’t hate you anymore, you wretched excuse for a human. All I can do is feel sorry for you."
Donnie shrieked before he ran at him.
Aidan caught him and slung him back to the ground.
Donnie pushed himself up. "You’re the one who’s pathetic. You got nothing now."
"Not true. I have my dignity and a million people in this world who love me. The only thing you have in your life is anger, bitterness, and a mistrust that you’ll never overcome. All you know how to do is envy other people. You’ll never have anything. Your hatred and greed won’t let you."
Donnie launched himself at Aidan, but before he could reach him, Leta was there between them. She kicked Donnie back.
Aidan kissed her hand before he stepped around her. "Thank you, Donnie, for allowing me to recognize and appreciate real friendship. Had you not screwed me over, I would have married Heather and allowed her to make me miserable for the rest of my life, because unlike you, I don’t walk away from important relationships. I don’t turn my back on the people I love. Hell, I was even one step away from signing my entire estate over to her before we married. More than that, you flushed all the snakes out of my garden and set me free."
He looked at Leta and Deimos. "Now I know who I can depend on. I understand what real love is and what it means to put someone else above my own pettiness. I’m grateful to God that you’re wretched and in trying to ruin me, all you did was make my life a hell of a lot better. Thank you."
He screamed and Aidan laughed.
The minute he did, Dolor looked up with a frown.
Donnie gestured toward the god. "Kill the bastard!"
Aidan braced himself for the fight, but didn’t feel his anger rekindle. All he felt was pity for the brother who’d allowed his petty jealousy to ruin his entire life. More than that, Donnie’s jealousy had caused him to kill the very people who loved him most.
His stomach wrenched at the thought of what Donnie had done to himself.
There was no more pain inside him now. No bitterness or hatred. Aidan felt nothing except gratitude that he wasn’t Donnie. More than that, he was grateful that Leta had kept him from becoming his brother’s shadow.
Dolor, who looked exactly like Donnie had when Aidan had left home to seek his fortune, stepped forward. Aidan wanted to weep over the fact that his nephew was dead. But there were no tears. Again, it was pity he felt for Donnie. For the first time since Donnie had turned on him, he didn’t want revenge.
He was through with it.
"You’re not fighting me," Dolor growled.
Aidan shook his head slowly. "I’ll fight only for what matters." He looked over his shoulder at Leta. "Her safety."
Dolor’s gaze followed his until it rested on Leta. Rage darkened his brow. He stepped forward, then froze.
Aidan frowned as he saw the god struggle, as if held in place by some invisible force. Dolor reached for him, then shattered into a shimmery dust that drifted down to the ground where it sparkled against the floor.
He looked around the room, expecting the god to rematerialize.
Confused, Aidan turned to Leta. "What happened?"
"He’s gone," Deimos said, brushing his hands against his pants. "You defeated him."
Leta spoke in a quiet tone. " ‘Pain is here,
" ‘sharp and clear.
" ‘Even so, it must fade,
"And a new way should he made’"She stepped forward. "That’s what Lyssa was trying to tell us. You released the pain and betrayal inside you… the fear… and it left him powerless to fight you."
"No!" Donnie shouted, rushing at Aidan.
Aidan turned to face him, but before he could he felt a sharp, stinging pain in his shoulder. He flipped his brother over his arm, and pinned him to the ground. It was only then he saw the knife in Donnie’s hand. With a feral grimace, Aidan disarmed him.
Fury gripped him, but it didn’t stay. Donnie wasn’t worth it. He wasn’t worth anything.
Deimos picked the knife up from the floor. "You want me to kill him for you?"
Aidan shook his head. "I want him to live with the knowledge that he destroyed everything and everyone in his life who loved him." He caught Donnie’s hand as he tried to hit him and held it in his fist.
Donnie tried to spit, but Aidan dodged it.
Aidan swallowed against the lump in his throat that choked him. Even after everything that had gone on between them, there was still a part of him that wanted to love Donnie… to forgive him.
But in the end, he couldn’t. Donnie would never allow that and he knew it.