"You were my brother, Donnie. I would have died for you. Done anything in this world you asked. But the problem is, you weren’t satisfied with that. You had to take. May God have mercy on you."
"I don’t need your pity, you prick."
Those words squelched any mercy that was left inside him where his brother was concerned. There were people out there that no amount of compassion or love could save and it was time he faced the fact that Donnie was a lost cause. "And I don’t need trash in my life." He glanced to Leta. "Any chance the cell phone will work?"
"Because I want to call the cops to come get this sack of shit out of my house."
"This isn’t over!" Donnie snarled.
Aidan shook his head. "Oh, yes it is. You’re going to leave here in a few minutes and I will never again think about you and what you’ve done. I really don’t care about you. You’re not worth the salt in my tears or the brain power it would take me to even conjure your face."
"I won’t let you rest."
Aidan snorted. "Believe me, I will sleep well at night. I have the resources and the drive to fight you to the bitter end for what matters most-my life and"-he looked at Leta-"my heart… I’m through with you."
Deimos ended his words with a swift kick to his head that rendered Donnie unconscious. "Anyone else getting bored with his crap?"
Leta raised her hand.
Aidan stood up. "Did you kill him?"
"Nah. Against my better judgment, he’s breathing. Still say you should let me cut a few parts off his body."
"No. I want him intact so that the only thing he’ll focus on is what he’s done to himself. Sooner or later his lies will fade and he will see the truth. I’m not the one who hurt him. He is."
Deimos looked disappointed by the fact he couldn’t kill Donnie. "Since this appears to be over, I’m going to head back and force Phobos to play another round with me. Later." He vanished.
Aidan let out an irritated breath at his abrupt departure. "I didn’t have a chance to thank him."
"Don’t worry about it. Demon hates thank-yous."
She nodded. "Like someone else I know, he gets uncomfortable whenever he’s praised."
Aidan felt one corner of his mouth lift as he pulled her closer to him. "I think I’m getting over that."
"Yeah, but only when it comes from you."
She returned his smile with one that left him weak in his knees. "I summoned the police a second ago. They’ll be here in a few minutes."
"Cool." At least that was his thought until he realized something. "What happens to you now that Dolor’s gone?"
"I have to leave."
His stomach shrank as a sick feeling went through him. "Leave?"
She glanced away as if unable to meet his gaze. "I’m a goddess, Aidan. I can’t stay in the human realm. I don’t belong here."
He wanted to beg her to stay with him, but he couldn’t. She’d already told him why she couldn’t stay. All begging would do was make her feel bad for something neither of them could help.
As she said, she was a goddess.
Maybe she could become mortal. But he didn’t want that. She would grow old and die.
How could he ask that of someone who was forever young and beautiful? It would be selfish. "I’m going to miss you."
Leta swallowed at the pain she heard in his voice. He was trying so hard to be strong, but inside he was shattered. She could feel it.
Fear marked his brow. "Will Dolor be there, waiting for you?"
"No. When he failed to kill you and his human body disintegrated, he was rendered powerless. He’s back in stasis now. It’ll take another human sacrifice to reawaken him." At least that was what she believed had happened to him. The truth was, she didn’t know and wouldn’t know for sure until she returned home.
Aidan scowled. "Why does he have to have a human sacrifice to appear as a human when you don’t?"
"With the help of Hades, I cursed him to it. My thought was that no one would be vicious enough to kill someone they loved in order to set him free. I thought I’d found a way to lock him out of the human world for all eternity."
Aidan looked to his brother, who was still unconscious on the floor. "I guess we both overestimated Donnie’s humanity."
"Perhaps, but remember, not everyone else in the world is as sick as he is."
"But you’re not really in this world, are you?"
He silenced her words by placing one finger over her lips. "Don’t prolong the hurt, Leta. Just rip the Band-Aid off my skin and let the burn remind me that for one day, I had something more than misery. I told you earlier that I’d rather have one moment of incredible bliss than a lifetime of nothing." He placed a tender kiss to her forehead. "Now go. Just leave."
The problem was, she didn’t want to leave him. She wanted to stay, but there was no way she could. Her temporary body wouldn’t last in this plane of existence. "I’ll visit you in your dreams."
"No," he said, his voice catching. "That would only make it worse. I couldn’t stand seeing you there, knowing that I’m not really touching you. Let the wound heal. Let me be able to think back on this day and remember the woman who saved my life."
He was right, and it was killing her to admit it. "I won’t forget you, Aidan."
Aidan didn’t respond verbally, but the tormented light in those green eyes said more than words ever could.
He would remember her too.
The sound of police sirens pierced the air.
She stepped back with her heart in her throat. All she wanted was to be with him. If only it could be. But the gods had decreed a different fate for them. There was no need to fight a battle they couldn’t win.
"I love you, Aidan," she said before she flashed herself back to the Vanishing Isle.
Aidan stood there in the center of his cabin, staring at the space where Leta had been. It was only then that he let the tears he felt surface. The pain of them burned in his chest and choked him.
Eventually she would have betrayed you too. Everyone betrays you.
Perhaps, but he no longer believed that. Leta had taught him better.
He heard the thunder of the police running onto his porch. "Put your hands behind your head! Get down on your knees!"
Aidan didn’t flinch as the cops flooded through his broken door with their weapons drawn. He obeyed their orders and knelt on the floor while one of the officers ran behind him and cuffed his hands together.
"For the record, I’m the victim."
But since they didn’t know for sure, they followed standard protocol of securing him before they called an ambulance for Donnie.
Once they realized Donnie was an escaped felon and Aidan did in fact live in the cabin and was the one who’d been attacked, they removed his handcuffs and let him get a cold towel to clean some of the blood off his face and shoulder.
"You sure you don’t want to go to the hospital?" one of the male officers asked.
Aidan shook his head as he watched them haul a semiconscious Donnie out of his living room. There was no helping what really hurt him. Only Leta could do that. "I’ll be all right."
For the first time in years, he actually was. "Yeah. That which doesn’t kill us-"
"Requires a lot of therapy to deal with."
Aidan gave a small laugh as the police officer shrugged.
"Hey, in my business, it’s really true." The officer suddenly looked awkward as he glanced at the mantel where Aidan kept his Oscars. It was a bashful stance Aidan knew extremely well.
"You want an autograph?"
The officer’s face brightened. "I didn’t want to ask with you bleeding and all, but my wife’s a really big fan of yours and this would score me some major points with her. If I could put that under the tree, I know it would make her Christmas."
Aidan smiled even though it hurt his split lip. "Hang on." He went into his office and pulled out a stack of publicity photos Mori had sent that he’d ignored and a Sharpie before he returned to the living room. "What’s her name?"
Another officer stepped forward. "Oh, man, can I have one too? I loved that movieAlabaster . You kicked major butt in it and the chick who was in it with you… Was she as hot in real life?"
"No, she was even better."
The officer laughed.
Aidan hesitated as the old joy he used to feel came flooding back. He could still remember the first time someone had asked for his autograph all those years ago. The first time someone had stopped him on the street to tell him how much they loved his work. There was nothing else like it. No matter when or where, he loved to be stopped by his fans. To share a few minutes chatting with them.
Donnie and Heather had tainted it with their poison. "Those people don’t care about you. They’re just hanger-ons wanting to touch something they’ll never be. God, I hate it whenever they come up to us. I can’t even eat a meal in peace. Why don’t you tell them to go away and leave us alone?"
But Aidan had never minded. Even when it got to the point he couldn’t drive on the street with his windows down or the times he had the press climbing into his backyard, he hadn’t minded it. He was glad he did something that other people enjoyed, and if talking to him made them happy… There was no greater feeling than knowing he’d touched their lives and brought a smile to their faces, even if it was only for a few minutes.
This was what he’d wanted since he was a kid. What he’d fought his ass off to achieve. He’d suffered through enough slings and arrows to make Shakespeare proud.
And he loved every minute of it.
He handed the signed photo for Tammy to the officer before he looked at the other one. "What’s your name?"
"Ricky… and can you make one out for my girlfriend, Tiffany? She’d just die if I came home with that. Oh, and my mom, Sara. She’s been a fan of yours since that weird horror movie you did. I loved that too, but it was a major mind scrambler."
Aidan laughed at the man’s enthusiasm. "It’d be my pleasure."
Before it was over, Aidan signed a total of twenty photos for the police and paramedics. Donnie was screaming in outrage from the ambulance, but no one cared.
"You have a Merry Christmas," Ricky said as he trailed the others out of Aidan’s cabin. He hesitated at the splintered door. "You probably need to call someone to fix this. I don’t think you should be up here without a good door, given what happened today."
"Thanks. I’ll take care of it."
Ricky held his hand out. "You’re a decent man, Mr. O’Conner. Thanks so much for the autographs."
"My pleasure, and call me Aidan."
Ricky grinned. "Aidan. It was a pleasure meeting you. I just wish the circumstances were better."
"Yeah, me too. You have a good Christmas and tell your mom and Tiffany I said hi."
"Will do. Thanks."
Aidan followed him out to the porch where he watched Ricky walk out to his car before all of them drove off. He could still hear Donnie’s muffled voice cursing him as they pulled onto the road. Pity welled up inside him, but then again, maybe it was a good thing Donnie was still being eaten with hatred. One day Donnie would realize exactly what his jealousy had cost him-that in trying to ruin Aidan, he’d destroyed his entire life.
God help his brother then.
The pain of Donnie’s betrayal rolled off his shoulders now. He really didn’t care. "I am the last man standing."
The problem was, he was standing alone and for the first time in years that bothered him.
Closing his eyes, he felt the bite of the cold against him as he summoned an image of Leta in his mind. "I miss you, baby." But there was nothing to be done about it.
Life was what it was.
Defeated, he turned to enter his house and saw that his door had been replaced. "Leta?" he asked with a hopeful note in his voice.
It wasn’t her. Deimos was standing inside the living room, watching him.
Aidan couldn’t understand his presence. "I thought you were playing chess."
"I was going to, but…" He hesitated as if there were something on his mind.
"But?" Aidan prompted.
Deimos indicated the door with a tilt of his head. "I remembered you had a broken door."
"Thanks for repairing it."
Aidan paused, waiting for Deimos to speak or do something. When he didn’t, Aidan arched a brow. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"Not really. It’s more along the lines of something I can help you with."
Now he had Aidan’s full attention. "And that is?"
Deimos’s gaze bored into him. "What would you give to have Leta with you?"
Aidan didn’t hesitate. "Everything."
"Yes." Suddenly, everything went black. Aidan jerked around, trying to get his bearings, but he couldn’t see, feel, or hear anything. It was just dark. "Leta?"
This time she didn’t respond. There was no kind hand to ground him. No words of encouragement and he missed that even more.