He looked up to find a tall, beautiful blond woman standing over him. "Who are you?"
"Persephone." She knelt by his side with sympathy in her eyes. "I’m sorry for your loss. Leta was a wonderful woman." Pulling out a small black handkerchief, she wiped his eyes. "You need to return home now. I’ll take care of her for you."
"Aidan," she said quietly. "You can’t stay here. Believe me, you don’t really want to. I will make sure Leta is taken care of, but you have to go."
Aching deep inside his soul, Aidan knew she was right. He pressed his lips to Leta’s cold temple before he allowed Persephone to take her body from his arms. "Will you bury her with her family? She doesn’t like to be alone."
Tears welled in her eyes as she nodded. "You do love her, don’t you?"
"More than my life. I wish to God she’d let me die in her place."
Persephone sniffed as she took Leta from his arms. "Deimos," she said, summoning the god to appear in front of them. "Can you take him back to his world?"
Deimos nodded before he and Aidan vanished.
As soon as he was home again, Aidan turned on him. "Why did you take me there?"
"I wanted you to know how much she cared for you."
"Why? So that it would haunt me for the rest of eternity? No offense, Deimos, but as the ghost of Christmas Present, you suck. At least Scrooge was given a chance to fix his life. I can’t fix this. Why the hell did you show it to me?"
Deimos shrugged. "Zeus was going to kill her anyway. As you told Persephone, she didn’t like to be alone. I thought it would be nice for her if you were at least there when she died. She needed you."
He was right, but it did nothing to stop the pain inside Aidan. "Thank you, Demon. For everything."
He saw the sympathy on the god’s face before he left.
Alone, Aidan stood in the center of his living room, feeling bereft. Closing his eyes, he could feel Leta here. Hear her laughter. Her jacket was still on his tree where she’d left it.
Needing to be closer to her, he walked over to it so that he could touch its softness. "I wish I had you back, Leta. If I did, I’d take better care of you than anyone you’ve ever known."
And if wishes were horses, even beggars would ride.
Aidan pulled the small hat out of her pocket and lifted it to his nose. It contained her scent and that brought another set of tears to his eyes. His chest tight, he went to the mantel where he had pictures of Donnie, Heather, and Ronald. One by one, he plucked them off and tossed them into the fire where the glass heated and shattered and the pictures burned.
The only photo he left was the one of his parents. He set Leta’s knit hat beside it and stepped back.
Yeah. That was his family, and only they deserved a place of honor on his shelf.
Aidan woke up to the sound of someone knocking on his front door. He looked at the clock… it was just after noon on Christmas Eve.
"Leta?" he breathed, tossing back his covers to run to the front door. Wearing nothing more than a loose pair of green boxer shorts, he threw the door open to find Mori and his wife with a medium-sized suitcase.
Shirley raked a hungry and amused look over his body. "I know it does nothing for you, Mor, but that just made getting on an airplane and coming to this godforsaken place worthwhile. Thanks!"
Mori rolled his eyes as he pushed past his wife and came into the house. "Merry Christmas, Aidan."
Aidan stepped back and allowed Shirley to sashay in behind her husband before he closed the door. "What are you doing here?"
He’d barely closed the door before another knock sounded. Frowning, Aidan saw Theresa and Robert on the porch, holding a small tree between them.
He’d hired Robert to be his manager two weeks before Donnie had started blackmailing him. Short and tiny with brown hair and bright blue eyes, Theresa was his publicist. "And again I say, no offense, but what are you doing here?"
"We couldn’t stand the thought of you spending one more Christmas alone," Robert said. "Mori called and asked if we could come out to make you a decent meal on Christmas Eve and we agreed. It’s time you realized that there are people in this world who do love you, Aidan."
Before Leta had come into his life, he would have tossed them out of his house and locked the door behind them.
Today, they were more than welcome.
"Come on in. Let me go get some clothes on."
"I don’t know," Theresa said with a laugh. "I kind of like your Christmas suit."
Shirley laughed. "You mean ‘birthday suit,’ don’t you?"
Theresa set the tree in the corner by his fireplace. "I’d like that even better, but heis dressed in holiday green. Christmas suit."
Aidan smiled before he went to his bedroom and pulled on jeans and a sweater. By he time he returned, Shirley had poured eggnog for everyone while Robert and Mori decorated the tree with tinsel and Theresa unwrapped a HoneyBaked ham in the kitchen.
He was amazed by their actions. "You know you guys don’t have to do this. I know all of you have family you’d rather be with."
Robert scoffed. "Your surly butt or my klepto aunt Coco who always steals the silver by putting it in her purse when no one’s looking… hard choice, buddy."
Theresa chided him. "You’re our family too, Aidan. And this year, I think you need us the most."
She had no idea just how right she was. "Thank you, guys."
Robert grinned. "You say thank you until we burn your house down with these Christmas lights."
Aidan laughed at him as Shirley handed him a glass of eggnog.
"To Aidan," she said cheerfully. "Which reminds me of an old toast my grandfather used to give."
"And that is?" Aidan asked.
"To those who know and love me, I wish you well. All the rest may go to hell."
"Here, here," Mori said as he paused to lift his own cup.
Robert agreed. "Very fitting."
Aidan nodded. "Yeah. I’ll have to remember that."
"I’m sure you will."
Aidan took a sip before he realized something. "I don’t have presents for any of you."
Mori scoffed. "Don’t worry. You’re here with us and that’s all the gift any of us need. We really are here for you, Aidan. Not because you pay us, but because we really do care about you."
And for the first time in years, he believed that. "Thank you.All of you." Then Aidan looked up at the ceiling and whispered "thank you" to it as well, hoping that somehow his words would get back to Leta. He was sure she’d had a hand in this.
The afternoon went by fast as Theresa warmed up the food she’d brought and they had a good lunch of ham, potatoes, gravy, and green beans, with pecan pie for dessert. Aidan could count the traditional Christmases like this that he’d had in his life on one hand.
And none of those had been nearly as special as this one. But all too soon, it was over and his guests were leaving.
He stood on the porch, watching them drive off with a lightness in his heart that had never been there before. Smiling, he picked up his phone and called Mori, who answered on the first ring.
"Did we forget something?"
"You can call the studio on Monday. I’ll take the job."
"Are you screwing with me?"
"No, Mori. I’m serious. I’ll do it."
The rented Town Car stopped in the driveway and Mori got out to look up at him. He pulled the phone from his ear. "I love you, man!" he shouted. "In a purely platonic kind of way."
Aidan laughed as several birds took flight in fright. "Love you too, Mor. Definitely in a platonic way."
Mori saluted him before he got back into the car and drove off.
Aidan hung up the phone and returned inside where the smell of pecan pie warmed him all the way to his toes. The day would have been perfect if only…
He couldn’t finish that thought. It was too painful.
Yeah. There was also something to blight the happiest times of his life. But even so, he’d needed this and he was grateful to his friends for making this day special.
Sighing, he started for his den when he heard a light tapping on his door. He glanced into the kitchen to see if Theresa had forgotten something. She was always misplacing and leaving things behind. But he didn’t see anything.
He opened the door, then froze.
It couldn’t be.
Eyes so blue they didn’t seem to be real stared up at him.
Her smile dazzled him. "Can I come in?"
She launched herself into his arms.
Breathless, Aidan held her close, trying to make sense of this. "How can you be here?"
"Hades released me from the Underworld."
"I don’t understand. Wouldn’t you need a sacrifice?"
"Not if he does it. Once I died, Zeus no longer had power over me. Only Hades." She squeezed him so hard, his back popped. "Persephone was so touched by what you said that she told Hades I had to be with my loved one… You."
"For how long?"
She shrugged. "I’m human now. Just like you."
He couldn’t believe it. More relieved than he’d ever been before, he scooped her up and closed the door with his foot.
She frowned at his actions. "Where are you taking me?"
"To my bedroom where I plan on nibbling on you from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. I love you, Leta, and I intend to make sure you never doubt me."
She brushed his hair back from his eyes. "I would never doubt you, Aidan. And you will never,ever have a reason to doubt me."
One Year Later
Aidan smiled as he watched Leta finish decorating the tree. Her three-carat wedding ring sparkled in the candlelight-they’d gotten married on Valentine’s Day. "You know it kills me that you celebrate my holidays with me when you used to be a Greek god."
Leta shrugged. "All gods and traditions deserve respect."
She was amazing and his life had been nothing short of a miracle since the moment she’d walked into it.
Her presence was breathtaking as she crossed the distance to him and handed him a small box. "For you."
He was confused by her present. "I thought we weren’t exchanging gifts until midnight?"
"I know, but this has been killing me for weeks now, and if you don’t open it, I might die from it."
He sucked his breath in sharply. "Don’t joke about that. I’ve already lost you once. I’m not about to lose you again." Ripping through the paper, he found a gold foil box that he opened.
It contained a single sheet of paper that had her handwriting on it. "July twenty-third. What’s July twenty-third?"
"Look under it."
He did and what he found there stole his breath. It was the sonogram of an infant. "Is this… ?"
She beamed. "July twenty-third."
"Oh, my God," he breathed, staring at her as it sank in. He was going to be a father. Laughing, he scooped her up and twirled around with her. "I love you, Leta. Thank you so much for my life."
"No, Aidan, thank you for reminding me of what it’s like to feel again. To wake up every morning in the arms of someone who loves me."
Aidan laughed as joy raced through his entire body. He was finally the last man standing. But for the first time in his life, he wasn’t standing alone. He was standing stronger than ever before because he knew he had a person at his back who would never betray him. Someone who would and had died to keep him safe.
Life truly never got any better than this.
"Merry Christmas, Aidan."
"Merry Christmas, Leta… and baby."
A Special Holiday Word from Sherrilyn Kenyon
What on earth is this? See, I can read minds LOL. Hi, readers. For those of you used to my series, you will recognize the people in the following pages. For those of you who aren’t, you may get a bit lost.
I tried my best to explain things for those new to my world, but I didn’t want to bog down each scene for those who are familiar with the books. It’s a delicate balance and it’s one I hope I found.
I wanted to include the following vignettes as an extra treat for readers to catch them up on what the people in the previous books are doing before we head off into Xypher’s book (Dream Chaser) and more importantly, Ash’s book, both of which are coming out in 2008.
It’s a quick glimpse into their world, and it’s one I hope you enjoy.
Happy Holidays to everyone! May your season be bright and I hope you’ll return for Xypher’s story in February which takes the series back to New Orleans where he’s on the hunt for the escaped Dimme and exact some revenge on an old love. While there, he’s going to meet Simone, a different kind of medical examiner who shares a few things with Talon and who has a ghost for a sidekick-one who is trapped in the early 1980s. Yeah… Jesse’s a lot of fun and only Simone can corral him. For that matter, she’s the only one who can semi-corral Xypher.
Until next time, take care!
Oh, and one quick caveat. There are spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the previous books, includingDevil May Cry .